Cycling, whether indoors or out, is an activity that benefits your health while being easy on the joints. When you're starting to cycle for exercise, you might like to know what an ideal average cycling speed is. Just keep in mind that when you're a beginner, it is essential to go at your own pace.
Although it's hard to accurately measure a good average speed for cycling outdoors, 15 miles per hour is a very competent pace for a beginner cyclist.
Beginners' Average Cycling Speed
It isn't straightforward to accurately measure an average speed for cycling outdoors since each cyclist will encounter unique riding conditions. Hills and rough terrain will make your cycling pace much lower than on flatter terrain.
If you ride your bike at an average speed of 15 miles per hour, that might be influenced by whether or not you have to deal with rolling hills. Another barrier to a faster pace is wind. Biking against the wind affects cycling speed quite a lot. Climate conditions will also affect average speeds.
Yet another factor that can affect your cycling pace is what kind of bike you are riding. For example, carbon fiber bikes can increase your speed compared with bikes made out of heavier materials.
Moreover, it is essential to take into consideration the distance you are travelling when calculating your average pace. A shorter distance will mean you are working for less time and able to keep up a faster average pace than you would if you were travelling for longer distances.
The Physical Activity Calorie Counter provided by the American Council on Exercise (ACE) describes cycling at a pace of 12 to 13 miles per hour as a middle/moderate level. A cycling speed of 16 to 19 miles per hour is considered a racing speed. Cycling at 5.5 miles per hour is listed as the most leisurely pace for which ACE provides estimates.
According to the Almaden Cycle Touring Club, a cycling pace of 14 to 16 miles per hour is considered moderate. This prediction assumes that the ride is completed on flat ground with no wind during the duration.
So, if considering that 14 to 16 miles per hour is considered to be a moderate pace, then it seems that if you ride your bike at an average speed of 15 miles per hour as a beginner, you are doing very well.
How to Increase Cycling Pace
A small study commissioned by ACE and published in the June 2015 issue of ProSource found that pedaling backward on a stationary bike could help you increase your cycling pace. The study, which included eight male and eight female volunteers, involved performing six five-minute submaximal exercise bouts, three of which were performed while pedaling forward and three of which had the volunteers pedaling backward.
The first half of the subjects pedaled forward and then backward while the other half first pedaled backward and then forward. Progressive workloads were used, ranging from relatively light to somewhat hard, to hard, with each exercise session. The exercise sessions included two-minute breaks in between and 10-minute breaks between changing pedaling directions.
When looking at the data for muscle activation levels using electromyography (EMG), an increase in physiological response and higher muscle activation of the quadriceps was discovered with backward pedaling. The research team recommends backward peddling as a way to target the quadriceps more intensely, which can improve quadriceps strength and may be able to elicit a better physical cycling performance.
ACE also recommends using high-intensity intervals that are very challenging to help improve your cycling pace. ACE recommends that if you're using a heart rate monitor or power meter, you should get into the low zone 4 for your hard intervals.
In order to calculate your target heart rate zone, see the chart from the American Heart Association, based on a percentage of your maximum heart rate, which is calculated as 220 - age in years. Zones from a heart rate monitor correlate to these targets:
- Heart rate zone 1: 50 to 60 percent of HRMAX (very light)
- Heart rate zone 2: 60 to 70 percent of HRMAX (light)
- Heart rate zone 3: 70 to 80 percent of HRMAX (moderate)
- Heart rate zone 4: 80 to 90 percent of HRMAX (hard)
- Heart rate zone 5: 90 to 100 percent of HRMAX (maximum)
ACE recommends a workout in which you cycle easily (zone 2) for almost 30 minutes and then start to increase your effort to zone 3 when you are approaching the 30-minute mark. At this point, increase your intensity further (zone 4) and remain at this intensity for five minutes before bringing it back down to an easy recovery spin for five more minutes. Repeat this process until you have been exercising for 60 minutes.
You can begin to add additional intervals or increase the interval time by 10 seconds to progress. You can perform this interval workout on an indoor exercise bike or your road bike as long as you find a place to cycle that is free of interruptions and is relatively flat. Track your progress to see how your average cycling speed is improving over time.
In regards to more advanced cyclists, a January 2020 article published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports discovered that short intervals were superior to longer intervals. The short intervals, consisting of 13 sets of 30 seconds of work interspersed with 15 seconds of recovery, performed three times over, resulted in superior training adaptations compared with intervals that were five minutes long with 2.5-minute rest periods.
Although this data applies to more elite cyclists, it is worth keeping in mind as a training option as you advance out of a beginner stage and wish to increase your cycling speed.
The Health Benefits of Cycling
Harvard Health Publishing recommends cycling for any individual who is worried about joint pain or age-related stiffness. Cycling takes the weight off your legs and places it onto your bones in your pelvis.
A December 2012 study published in the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy found that cycling can help reduce mild to moderate knee osteoarthritis pain symptoms while walking.
The study showed that after 12 weeks in which individuals received a cycling intervention, pain with walking was reduced compared to controls. The study concluded that stationary cycling can be a useful exercise option for people with mild to moderate knee osteoarthritis.
Cycling as a way to improve knee osteoarthritis is excellent news for the estimated 30 percent of adults who have reported knee pain in the past month. Risk factors for those with knee osteoarthritis include obesity and obesity-related illnesses, so finding an excellent exercise option like cycling is beneficial.
Harvard Health Publishing explains that cycling provides an effective aerobic workout and helps build muscle in the hips, buttocks, thighs and calves. Cycling can also increase bone density, which will help prevent osteoporosis.
In an interview with Penn State News, Deb Tregea, senior exercise physiologist and campus wellness coordinator at Penn State College of Medicine, relayed that the inconsistency of outdoor cycling can be a benefit since climbing a hill and subsequently going down it acts as a type of natural HIIT.
According to Tregea, folks with knee issues related to leg strength can improve their condition through cycling because of its ability to strengthen the muscles in the leg.
So, as a beginning cyclist, you can be assured that your choice to participate in this activity will benefit you no matter what your average cycling pace is. Remember that hills and wind will influence your cycling pace.
- American Council on Exercise: "Physical Activity Calorie Counter"
- Almaden Cycle Touring Club: "Ride Pace Calculator"
- American Council on Exercise: "Get Faster on the Bike With Interval Training"
- Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports: "Superior Performance Improvements in Elite Cyclists Following Short‐Interval vs Effort‐Matched Long‐Interval Training"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "The Top 5 Benefits of Cycling"
- Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy: "The Effects of Group Cycling on Gait and Pain-Related Disability in Individuals With Mild-to-Moderate Knee Osteoarthritis: A Randomized Controlled Trial"
- Penn State News: "The Medical Minute: The Many Health Benefits of Cycling"
- American Heart Association: "Know Your Target Heart Rates for Exercise, Losing Weight and Health"
- American Council on Exercise: "Moving Forward by Pedaling Backward?"