I have a number of health issues (including heart) but love cycling and am determined to train for a long distance ride. I am 68 years old and a beginning cyclist. I have worked up to a distance of 20kms at an average speed of 10-12 km per hour, which feels as though I am really pushing myself, especially if there is wind. My question is: Is it possible for me to improve on this speed over time and with more riding practice? If so, how would you recommend I proceed?
It's not really possible to hand out a speed to you and say "this is how fast you should ride".
If we're talking about a competitive level cyclist, I think you'll find that most riders are comfortable holding a ~32km / 20mph pace for several hours at a time, on flat surfaces. In fact if you look at the RAAM (Race Across America) you'll see average paces frequently crossing over 15MPH, and that's riding 8 days pretty much consistently. So a bit slower than a training ride, but that's averaging in big mountain climbs and obviously an incredible distance (2,000+ miles).
In the RAAM male 60-69 age bracket, the speed drops to ~11.5 MPH (again, for 8 days straight).
In 1989, Greg LeMond did a 24km time trial at an average speed of 54.545 km/h, or 33.9 mp/h.
Three things I'd recommend for you if you'd like to increase your speed:
- Make sure you have a good bike and you're properly fitted to it. Once you know how you're supposed to fit on a bike you'll see that most people riding around are either scrunched up or too spread out, and usually their seat post is far too low.
- Train with faster cyclists. As you can see from the links above, there are plenty of fast riders in every age group. In any good size town there are bound to be some group rides that will give you better bike handling skills, plus force you to maintain a pace that you might not otherwise hold.
2.5. Also in a group setting you'll benefit from drafting, where you'll be riding in the wind shadow of people ahead of you, getting you more comfortable with speed.
- Consider getting a pair of rollers. Rollers, with a fan in front of you and a mirror to your side will help you a lot in riding fast and getting your form dialed in. Rollers in particular are a great way to get rid of hobby-horse-hips and smooth out your strokes. Rollers are also one of the preferred ways to warm up before a race because you can ride 20 feet from the start line, and toss them in your car with a couple of minutes before the gun.
Yes, it's possible to get faster. Initially, all you have to do is just keep riding, and you will improve, and that is what I recommend to start.
Also make sure that you know how to use your gears effectively. Many beginners ride in a gear that is very hard to push and get tired easily. Generally, you want to be turning your feet at 80-90 RPM.