Text Box: I am often asked the question:  How can I ride a faster century?

First letís qualify how fast a century can be realistically ridden solo.  Current top speeds for the best ever professional cyclists in Time Trials of approximately an hour in duration are in the neighborhood of 30mph on a relatively flat course with light winds.  This is with the best of genetics, training and technology.  This is also at a pace which could not be sustained much longer than an hour.  So we are still just talking about a 3rd of a century.  If a rider such as Lance or Jan rode a century as a Time Trial, I would expect to see an average speed of around 27 mph.  Mere mortal professional cyclists would probably be more in the 25 mph range as a best century effort on a mostly flat course.  Now letís take away the wind tunnel tested, aero position, helmet, disc wheels, skin suit, etc. and expect the numbers to drop down closer to 20-22mph.  My experience is that the average pro is about 50% faster than the average good club rider, and guess what, this equates to an average speed of around 15mph.  So this sets your upper limits.

Enough of that, how can you go faster.  

First and foremost, GET AERO!  Start working on lowering your handlebars.  Donít do it all at once.  Do this over at least a one year period.  If you have spacers underneath your stem, start taking one out every 2 months.  80+ of your effort is going toward pushing through the wind.  The wind wonít go away, but you can get smaller.  All the pros that do best on the long flat races are comfortable in the drops with a flat back, that is your long term goal, and probably worth a least 1 mph for free.  Along the same line of improvement is the addition of aero bars. 

Second, get a TRAINING PROGRAM that is targeted towards riding a fast century.  Even a generic canned program often offered in magazines or books is better than no plan at all.  Depending on how much you want to improve, at some point you should look into coaching.  This should get you someone who will tailor a program to fit you, your goals, and your life style.  A good program will address your strengths and weaknesses and set up specific training routines and specific times during the season to bring you to a peak at your goal event or events.   I once worked with an individual, who by the end of his first year of  riding, was able to complete a century at an average speed of 20 mph, comfortably.

Third is shed the HUGE JACKET.  If your clothing is billowing and flapping in the wind that is real slow.  I have coasted down descents many times behind a smaller rider, just barely keeping up, only to strip of my jacket and quickly coast past them and leave them.  If you can hear the wind itís slow.

Fourth, get AERO WHEELS.  Let me be very clear on my definition of Aero.  LOW SPOKE COUNT.  This is fuel for a completely different article, but let me just say that I believe everything else is superfluous and have independent testing which supports my feeling.  You may be limited by you weight, but if you weigh less than 160lbs., go for 16 spokes per wheel.  Above 160lbs. you will have to opt for 20 front and 22-24 rear.

Last, but not least by a long ways, RIDE SMARTER.  So far the discussion has assumed that you are riding solo.  Real fast centuries, like real fast races are a team effort.  Learn pack dynamics and how to profit from them.  If you have watched even one race on television you have seen that the ďPelotonĒ can pretty much pull in a solo rider at will.  While a pro might be hammering by themselves at 25 mph, the pack can easily average 30 mph with the dedicated efforts of about a dozen individuals working together in a rotating echelon.  For your part, when you are riding a century, look for groups that are riding a few miles per hour above you average.  Get in with them and help out, but only with short pulls.  No more than 1 minute.  Time yourself, and donít try and be a hero.  90% of the time that I get in a pace-line in a century I see one person get on the front and drive themselves into the ground.  Part of being a member of a working team is not just doing your time on the front, but getting off the front while you still have enough left to be able to comfortably get back on.  Pulling and then getting dropped doesnít help you or the team effort.  Again, this is probably best discussed in detail in another article, as the dynamics of safely riding in a fast but unknown group can be complex.  Ideally, if you ride and train much with friends or club members, seek out others who share your goals and form you own group.  Then you can work together as a team at your target century.  With a proper functioning team you can expect that you can increase your 12-14 mph avg speed to 15-17mph with the same or less effort.  
Text Box:

How can I ride a faster century?