Written by Patrick Stelte
Pace vs. Average Speed - Often, group rides are advertised as average speed or pace. At first glance, you would think that the two are the same. This is false. Average speed is the end result of a ride. “We averaged 17.2 mph for 40 miles”. During those 40 miles, the group could not ride 17.2 mph continuously.
With stops for traffic lights, cross-roads, wind speed, socializing and general group effort, it is impossible to have a continuous speed. To achieve the final result, the group will ride a pace that is higher than the final result. Pace, is the speed the group tries to maintain throughout the ride. Before the ride or early in the ride, the group will decide what pace to maintain. If 18 mph is the pace, then the lead riders will ride at 18 mph. This is called tempo riding: maintain a constant pace. The pace may change during the ride as the group feels stronger or not up to the tempo. Over the course of the ride and with regular reductions and accelerations in speed with the aforementioned obstacles, an 18 mph pace may average 16.5 mph by the end of the ride.
A good example of this mathematical equation is the faster group ride on Wednesday nights at Saturn Church. The group will often average 22 mph over 26 miles. However, the pace of the ride is often 26 to 30 mph for over half the ride. Once again, socializing, wind speed and effort are the difference makers. Once the group turns with any kind of tail-wind, the speed and effort go up exponentially. There is another kind of riding that distorts the average speed from pace: Interval riding. This is when pre-determined effort is paced over time. Example: Five minutes of riding at 18 mph followed by 5 minutes of riding at 24 mph carried over 30 minutes. Then, another set of intervals that vary from the first set. All in all, the final average speed is not an indication of how much effort was made during the ride.
Be careful when understanding a ride’s advertised speed. Although riding in a group will give you an extra couple of miles per hour, the effort may be more than you wish.
It happens in group riding and you must be prepared to help. Understanding the signs of a struggling cyclist is foremost. Are they falling off the back of the group frequently? Are they sweating a lot , have little in their water bottle, head cocked to one side or stop peddling often? A cyclist doesn’t want to admit their struggling, so you have to look for the clues. There are several ways to help. First, drop the pace if the group agrees. A few minutes at a slower speed may do the trick. Second, shield the rider from the wind direction. Adding wind block can cut effort by 20% to 30%. Next, offer your water if the cyclist looks low in the bottle(s) or encourage the rider to drink. Cyclists in pain, don’t often realize that fluids are most important. If you have an extra gel-shot or two, offer. Gels are a great, short-term pick-me-up. They act within 5 to 10 minutes and last approximately 20 minutes. Another great thing about gels, they are easy to swallow while riding. Chewing and swallowing while riding is a task learned.
If all else fails, it is time to take a break. Although a group may have a pre-determined break, if someone is under stress and needs a break - take a break. 10 minutes can do wonders for the energy level. In extreme circumstances, a rider may need to ride at a much slower pace or call family for help. Someone needs to usher the cyclist back to the parking lot no matter how much the rider says they are okay. Remember, people under stress don’t always think clearly.