Tuesday, June 10, 2014

How fast do you ride on a 15 MPH ride?

(Edited on 6/11/2014 to clarify leader of group and the suggested speed of the group)

I rode the 111 kilometer Pioneers Ride put on by Ride Studio Cafe on Saturday.  The route was developed by Pamela Blalock.  The day was fabulous.  There was a brunch before the ride and some downtime while everything was organized and people talked and checked out the cool bikes that people were riding.  The ride was great.  We had clear, dry weather without much wind and the roads were very nice.  I knew the first and last 20 miles and the rest of Pamela's routing was a series of very nice surprises.  There was even a couple of stretches of dirt roads.  I went on the slow, no drop group with a planned speed of 15 MPH (more on that later) and enjoyed the company of Ryan, Lily, Guenther, Lee, Dan, Pamela, and Katja.  We were a pretty relaxed group and I think the ride went well for all of us.  I enjoyed everyone's company and we were lucky with no flats and one mechanical, which did change the second half ride for a couple of us.

All photos by @LeeToma.  His complete of pictures from the ride are here. 

Yes, we did ride on dirt roads:

The ride was the longest I've done in a long time.  In fact, I can't remember the year that I rode at least 80 miles (my ride was a bit longer than 111k, since I had to get to and back from the studio for the ride).  My previous longest ride this year was 40 miles and this ride was a big leap.  With encouragement from @sloansh, I decided that I could do the entire ride and I abandoned my two bailout points (the second bailout option) that I had loaded on to my Garmin unit.

Headed home - on Virginia Road in Concord, near Hanscom:

One issue came up on the ride - how do you use a Garmin to follow the route correctly?  We veered off course a few times (as did the 17 mph group, as we saw) and this was caused by a few things and I was guilty of all of them (thankfully Pamela saved us several times):
  • Riding past the GPS signal - I've seen this before riding and in a car, the GPS icon falls tens of feet or more behind your actual location.  This happened at least twice, once in Bedford on the way out of town.
  • Riding in a tightly packed group and not having the luxury of time to check the GPS unit with bikes behind and in front of you, especially going downhill at a decent speed.  Yes, I missed a turn on a downhill run in a comparative crowd.
  • Just forgetting to watch the GPS unit and not seeing a turn.  I did this at least once on the ride but it didn't cost us more than 50 feet.
I generally don't miss turns when riding solo but there is much more to pay attention to when riding in a group of any size.  Besides any conversation that you might be having, there are multiple people making decisions about when to turn, when to pass you, when to let you pass them, etc.  It was still a great ride and I would have never made it so far on my own.

So what do you mean by a 15 MPH group?

I picked the slowest group to ride in, given that this ride was twice as long as my longest ride this year and most of the miles I rode have been commuting, which aren't a speed workout for me.  Dan led the group and Pamela Blalock was sweeping.  I rode with Pamela on the recent Diverged ride, which she swept, and last year's Highpoint ride. Pamela has done a lot more riding than me and leads regular trips so I felt I was in good hands.  Her expectation was to ride a 15 MPH ride, which was a good speed for me, based on the couple of 40 mile rides I did earlier this year (one at 15 MPH, another at 17 MPH).  It was a stretch but that's what you do when you ride with groups.  There is more energy in a group ride and there is a real gain when you can draft off of people, even if you aren't riding their wheel closely.

My personal experience is that when I average say 15 MPH on a ride, my average rolling speed on the flats is close to 18 MPH.  When I average 17 MPH, my average rolling speed on the flats is more like 20 or 21 MPH.  Hills never seem to balance out so I need a faster average on the flats to tip the balance faster on my average speed and all of this depends on how hilly the ride is.  I never have gone on a solo ride that my average speed on the flats was close to the average speed of the ride.  And, for full disclosure, I don't go on all that many group rides.  In fact, much of my riding is solo so I'm not very experienced in pacing within a group.

So near the start of the ride I got in front and was heading up a decent hill on Grove Street, heading into Bedford from Lexington.  It's a surprisingly long and hard hill and I kept on eye on the riders behind me.  I noticed that we lost at least a couple of people by the top of the hill so I stopped everyone at the end of the following downhill while they caught up.  No one said much about this so I proceed to ride at the same pace.  We eventually passed the 17 MPH group after one of them flatted.  But they soon passed us on 225 heading towards our turn on Maple Street.  Their pace wasn't all that much faster than ours so I slowly picked up the pace ... until Pamela rode up from the sweeper position (last in the group, making sure no one falls behind) to the reel me in.  I wasn't going all that fast but I was going too fast for the group.  Point taken.  It took a rolling discussion for me to understand that in Pamela's world, a 15 MPH ride means a 15 MPH rolling average.  She is generally a much better hill climber than me (even doing the Mount Washington Hillclimb on her fixed gear bike, which she happened to be riding on the Pioneer ride) so she assumes that her average of uphills and downhills works out to be even, something not remotely possible for me in the past, though that is a great goal.  And I would like to be able to keep a desired pace on a group ride.

Perhaps surprisingly, we ended the first 30 miles with a 15.0 MPH average speed.  But I can't say that we really did ride 15 MPH on all of the flats.  It's hard to tell from this graph, from data on my Garmin uploaded to connect.garmin.com, because of the rolling terrain was so varied.  But I'd like to think that I at least understood how to better match my speed with others' expectations.  Here is what I ended with (warning: it's a pretty gross representation of elevation and slope and doesn't contain the detailed changes in elevation that influence speed and managing a constant cadence when cycling):

The straight up speed graph is more damning, at least it looks like there isn't much 15 MPH rolling averages here but then the rolling terrain made straight up level sections rare:

But the pace seems like I'm right around 15 MPH for the entire ride:

At about 40 miles into the ride, Pamela split us into two groups.  One person was having issues with his rear dropouts and skewer - his wheel was getting loose enough to rub his chain stay and he was slowed down periodically then stopped to reset it many times.  He had a nice bike and was a strong rider and didn't show what had to be some frustration with this.  Once he and Pamela left, there were six of us and with Dan leading the group, we increased our pace some by mutual consent (and by Dan setting the pace) and ended up slightly better than 15 MPH (15.2) and slightly faster than 4 minutes per mile (3:57).  But it seems awfully close to our goal.  I'm curious to hear if Pamela thinks we were on her planned pace or my pace, which has me going faster to make up for my lack of speed on hills, and my lack of daring on descents.  In any case, we all got home safely and enjoyed a great day out on bicycles.  And I did try to keep a 15 MPH pace.

On other lesson learned: if you think might actually do the whole ride, let your wife know before you leave the house.


  1. Daniel, It was nice riding with you this weekend.

    I will make this comment about the GPS and navigating in New England. Having a unit with maps makes all the difference in the world. My primary unit has maps, but I do also have a 500 that we picked up at some point as a backup. If I'm doing a route I know, I can just about get by with the 500, but I would have much more trouble doing an unfamiliar route. The problem is we have so many roads here, that without the map to serve as reference, it can be really hard to tell which road to take at times! The other issue is whether the cues have been vetted. Using the TCX files from rwgps gets you the cues generated by that software, but unless the creator goes in and manually checks all the cues, often many will be missing. So you may not see any prompts. For my routes that also serve as RUSA permanents, I have painstakingly edited the cues. The description includes a note that cues have been vetted. I bet these are easier to follow. I did not do this with the pioneers route. But the other issue is *when* you see the prompt. If you pay money for rwgps, you can get the prompts ahead of time! You can even specify exactly how far in advance. If you go with the free version, the default seems to be prompt AT the turn. So all that said, I definitely think it is worthwhile getting a GPS WITH maps.

    Now as regards 15mph rides. I think that our group was listed as the no-drop FUN group. 15 mph was a guestimate for this group, but was not a hard and fast speed limit. I did not have a goal of any speed for the day. As sweep, My goal was to make sure everyone I came upon got back to RSC. The no-drop FUN group (that was being led by Dan) is supposed to be at a conversational pace that adapts pace to keep the group together. I do recall after being passed by the 17.1 mph group and noticing that no gap was forming, that I sprinted to the front and suggested we might be pushing the pace a bit, and to let a gap open up.

    Once it became obvious that Gunther's mechanical issue was going to keep recurring, I did suggest we split up, so the rest of the group wouldn't have to keep stopping. It was funny that we kept catching back up to you guys thanks to the navigation problems ;-)

    Admittedly being on fixed that day did add to my challenge as sweep. Normally when sweeping I can just shift down and ride at the pace of whoever is last. And on descents, I can coast and wouldn''t have trouble keeping up with a Clydesdale. But with fixed, I both have to use momentum and make an effort to keep my cadence high on the climb, so as not to bog down, and then control my descent, so my legs don't just fly off my body! Normally I wouldn't *sweep* on fixed, but fixed was my concession to the "pioneers"

    Finally maybe it's my experience as a fixie rider, or maybe it was intimate knowledge of the route that had me respond that to have an average of 15 at the end of the ride, when riding on flat roads, one should ride at 15 versus say 17 or 18. Having pre-ridden the day before, also on fixed, I was acutely aware of 5 hard climbs on the whole route. I would have described the route as flat to rolling, with those few noticeable efforts. But again I think it's the fixie in me. I can only go so slow up and only so fast down, so I tend not to have as wide of a speed range graph as those with gears.

    1. Pamela,

      Thanks for commenting.

      I agree that a GPS unit with maps is best. I navigated most of my rides prior to last June with maps (Rubel Maps when riding in Massachusetts) and there is no substitute for knowing road names when trying to figure out which road to turn onto. Coming from a few decades of Geo work I have had access to any number of cool mapping technologies but never one of the more sophisticated Garmins for cycling. Based on this ride and other experiences, I think I will be in the market for one when funds permit.

      Thanks for the clarification on no drop versus slow/15 MPH speed. I missed that, probably due to the busy nature of the studio during the announcements and/or the very likely possibility that I wasn't in the room when the announcement was made. I would have still been in the group and even more comfortable going with you had I known that.

      I did appreciate you noting that I wasn't letting the 17.1 MPH group go on 225. It's pretty easy to have your sights set on the person riding in front of you and I certainly fell victim in this case. And I couldn't possibly keep the faster pace for 111 kilometers.

      It's interesting that a fixed gear bike makes you acutely aware of pacing with the caveat of limiting your range on uphills and downhills. One thing is certain is that you have a lot more experience riding than me and I am obviously still trying to figure it all out, including how to keep pace when riding in a group. I appreciated everyone's help on Saturday. And it was great riding with you.