Is Slow Cycling Good for You? What’s A good Speed?!


Hopping on a bike and pedaling around at an easy pace can be a lot of fun and in all cases translates into better fitness, but how it is practiced also matters while also taking reconsideration supplementing slow rides with fast sprints could significantly improve the benefits of the workout.

Read on to learn more about this important training method.

Is It Better to Cycle Fast or Slow?

To improve as an athlete, it’s important to practice both speed workouts and slower endurance rides. A common beginner mistake is to constantly be pushing the limits, trying to reach new speeds on each ride as a way to show progress – but this can quickly lead to burnout or injury. A lot of progress can be made at slower speeds. In fact, many athletes will aim to have 80 or 90 percent of their rides at slower speeds. This is often referred to as polarized training.

Polarized training is a very useful way of building up a strong endurance base while also working on higher wattage outputs (Source).

But how exactly does this period of slow cycling make a difference in overall fitness? There are a few main benefits and considerations.

Benefits of Slow Cycling Listed

Small effort, big reward

Training can be difficult to fit into an already busy life, but endurance can improve in as little as three to five hours of training a week. Making most of these hours slower paced gives you the opportunity to really crank up the effort when you have the chance. (Source)

Fat burning

The body will use carbohydrates for energy when working at high intensity, but it’s very difficult to use fat stores at that level. Instead, fat can be used as fuel during lower intensity rides, and doing more of them can help train your body to access these reserves.

Going all out

It’s much easier to truly go all-out when 80% of your rides are at a more moderate level. You won’t find yourself as gassed and you can really find the limits of your abilities when you only do intense workouts periodically.

In general, the exact speed matters less than the rate of perceived effort. This can be measured in a variety of ways, but a lot of people will use their heart rate as a guide. For moderate efforts, think about staying in “zone 2.” This is 55-75% of your FTP (functional threshold power) (Source).

You can do tests to figure out what your FTP is, or you can use your heart rate as a guide (staying around 60-70% of your max heart rate).

Is Leisurely Cycling Good for You?

Yes, leisurely cycling is a great activity. Whether you’re training for a specific race or event, or simply want to cruise around town, keeping things easy on the bike can be very rewarding. Many of us remember that incredible feeling of freedom the first time we got on a bike – that’s the feeling you’re aiming for when doing a leisurely ride.

Not everyone who rides a bike wants to race, but even competitive athletes can benefit from incorporating leisurely rides into their training plan.

While most of your training should be specific – and often from a plan – it certainly doesn’t hurt to hop on the bike and just pedal the legs for a bit. This can be a form of active recovery and a mental break from tracking endless analytics.

In other words, it can be a great way to remember the joys of just biking.

How Long Should I Bike for A Good Workout?

The length of a workout will depend greatly on the workout itself and the rider’s overall goals. In general, a high intensity effort will be around 20-50 minutes and a lower intensity workout can be anywhere from 30 minutes to 4+ hours.

It can be tempting to try and ride for as many hours as possible, but more time doesn’t necessarily mean better time. Train smarter, not harder.

Before we get into how long to bike, it’s important to figure out what your goals are. Here are three examples of different categories you might find yourself in (Source):

General Health3-5 hours a week
Improving Performance6-10 hours a week
Winning Competitions10+ hours a week
Hours to Cycles based on individual objective
  • For overall health and cardiovascular fitness, the general recommendation is 150-300 minutes a week of moderate-intensity exercise or 75-150 minutes per week of high-intensity exercise. Cycling can be a mix of both, so 3-5 hours would be sufficient (or even less if you’re incorporating other forms of exercise. This can include short 20-30 minute sessions or longer sessions of an hour.
  • If you’re trying to improve your cycling performance, you’ll need to increase your time on the bike. This is true regardless of the distance you’ll be racing or riding. You’ll want to start incorporating a more structured training plan so you’re getting in a balanced mix of moderate and high intensity efforts throughout the week. If you’re training for a long distance race, it’s important to get adequate time in the saddle, so some of these efforts will be long rides (think over 2 hours).
  • Finally, if you’re really gunning to win some races, you’ll need to hover around the 10 hour a week mark. This is where a training plan becomes crucial, and it may even be worth it to hire a coach. However, most riders won’t need to go significantly above 10 hours a week to benefit from their training (and sometimes more hours can end up backfiring) (Source).

Is 15 Mph a Good Cycling Speed?

Yes, 15mph would be considered a good cycling speed. This is considered a pace that an average rider should be able to hold for an hour long ride. Beginners will generally bike around 12-13 miles per hour and professionals will go as fast as 25 miles per hour. (Source)

However, bike type and terrain can make a big difference in overall pace. A full suspension mountain bike won’t go nearly as fast as a fully aero time trial bike on a flat, paved road (but good luck taking their aero bike on singletrack).

A lot of beginners ride bikes where they’re in a more upright, seated position, which is not very aerodynamic. The bikes themselves also may not have the gearing to go much faster than 15 miles per hour. So before you judge your pace as good or bad, be sure you’re comparing similar styles of riding.

Is 20 Mph on A Bike Fast?

A speed of 20mph is generally considered fast on a road bike. A lot of experienced riders will do group rides at the pace, which can make the overall effort easier as they’re able to draft off each other and take turns leading into the wind. Most amateur cyclists would consider 20mph towards the top of their speed range, especially if they have to hold it for long distances.

However, keep in mind that many cyclists never get faster than even 13mph and all of this is greatly dependent on external factors like bike setup, solo versus group riding, and terrain.

What Is an Average Cycling Speed for A Beginner?

A good average speed to aim for as a beginner is 10-12 miles per hour. Many riders are able to do this with very minimal training. If this pace is challenging, you can focus on building your overall endurance base with a lot of zone 2 sessions and periodic high intensity work.

Also, simply riding your bike more will often lead to getting faster because your muscles adapt and you get more comfortable riding at higher speeds. (Source)

If you get to a point where you feel like your bike is holding you back, you can start to look at more performance-based road bikes.

On a side note, we recommend that you also check out our post “Does Cycling Build Legs Muscles & Make Them Bigger? What You Should Know!

Things to Keep in Mind

When it comes to cycling speed, it is important not to get too caught up in how fast other cyclists can go. It’s better to focus on your own improvement over time. By sticking to a general split of 80% easy and 20% hard efforts, you’ll likely see increases in your speed as time goes on.

Aprill Emig

Based out of Duluth, MN Aprill loves to write about the outdoors, education, and all forms of adventure. You can find her mountain biking, running, or playing roller derby.

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