Road riding at speed.

After an Indian summer during September we now have something more like a monsoon. I know that this is technically in the wrong order but it’s what we now have to cope with. During Britain’s tenure in India the monsoon would be followed by a glorious period of weather which was not too hot and this is the period which was described as an Indian summer. In England now we are definitely into autumn though our garden is still looking good.

It would have been foolish in the wet weather to venture off road and it was also possible that I could have been caught in a heavy shower so I decided to ride for 20 minutes, turn round and return home. 40 minutes is a reasonable period of exercise as long as I went hard at it. On a mountain bike with squidgy, knobbly tyres I was never going to set any speed records and I’ve wondered recently how fast I could go on a road bike. I hoped to average over 15 mph today on a fairly flat ride. It isn’t possible around my home town of Chorley to completely avoid hills but by heading south on the A6 there wouldn’t be too much ascent.

I started by dropping by 20 meters or 65 feet in height then gaining this height and a little more back. A big difference between road and off road riding is that on the road I was completely in control of my speed and effort. Off road the gradients often force you to dig in and up the effort but here it was all down to me. I could select a gear to keep the pedals spinning around 90 times per minute and listen to my breathing and the feeling in my legs. I looked at my watch after 6 minutes 40 seconds, a third of the way through my outbound journey and was now on flatter terrain. With only gentle downhills I had a sufficient gear range on the Boardman FS Pro to never feel that the pedals were spinning too quickly to get the force into them. I spun round at exactly 20 minutes and immediately noticed a slight headwind. Later I found from the app. Strava that I’d gained a net 116 feet of ascent which was bound to help on the return trip.

I pushed myself fairly hard, knowing exactly how far I had left to go and managed the return in 19 minutes and 9 seconds. The gradient was obviously more helpful than the headwind was disadvantageous. I’d covered 5.065 miles in each direction so how did my speed look? 15.195 outbound and 15.87 on the return. I have no real way to know how fast I would have been on a road bike except by referring to Google. I asked the question and answers varied from as low as “you’d be 10-15% faster on a road bike” to a rider saying that he could cruise at 15 mph on his mountain bike but 21 mph on a road bike. I’ll take the second answer any day. Without having increased my tyre pressures or locking my suspension out in addition to having very knobbly tyres I still rode at over 15 mph so I should have been able to average over 21 mph on a more suitable bike. Add the possible 3 mph improvement of riding in a paceline rather than solo and……..well, who knows. Despite the lack of off road excitement I was buzzing from my efforts at the end and though not completely drained I could tell I’d done some work. My total ascent was 431 feet, which shows the net effect of all the gentle undulations. It was a very worthwhile workout but I haven’t quite told the whole story.

I’d stopped my watch a few times at traffic lights to discount the effect of stopping from my average speeds and was caught at the last lights around half a mile from home. A man with his arm in plaster asked if I could help him measure and photograph a pothole in the road. He’d been riding his Boardman hybrid bike, a rigid bike with flat handlebars, crossed the pothole and been thrown immediately to the ground, breaking his arm in 2 places. He felt he had a claim against the council who don’t sufficiently fulfil their duty to maintain the roads. The indentation measured 55 cm in each direction and was 4 cm deep. I don’t think this would have troubled a bike with front suspension but in his case it had had dire consequences. I can only wish him luck with his claim and his recovery.

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