When most cyclists talking about going “single-speed” on the bike, they’re referring to “fixies,” the type of bicycle with just one gear. No shifting. No hassles. You ride as fast as you pedal.
I’ve seen people riding fixies or single-speed bikes in events where I struggle to handle the climbs or the distance. Such was the case at the Horribly Hilly 100, a group riding event centered around the hilly terrain of Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin area. It is as horribly hilly as it sounds. Yet I saw a fixie rider pedal into a rest stop just the same. He looked rather smug. Or maybe that was just a mask of pain on his face.
There’s a bike purist attitude at work with some single-speed riders. It’s a badge of honor to ride around sans gearing. Apparently they view it as a more ‘honest’ form of cycling. You ride with your muscles rather than a sneaky little derailleur.
I’m not a fixie rider, but it does seem like I am sort of a single-speed kind of guy. Recently I rode a series of three separate 24-26 mile rides. These all took me about 1:20 to complete at an average pace between 18.0-18.3 mph. That’s not horrible, but neither is it fast. I’m not slower than I was ten years ago, but I’m also no faster. Hmmm. What does this mean?
Last year I did ride 56 miles with Sue on my tri-bike, and we broke three hours at an average pace just over 19.5. That’s an ideal goal when training for the Half Ironman distance. If you can swim a mile in 35-40:00 and close with a two-hour marathon, that three-hour bike assures a sub-6:00 finish.
In my estimation, that’s a respectable time for a sixty-year plus guy. The swim has been the toughest part of improving in the triathlon. But in many respects, my plateau on the bike is a problem of sorts. Perhaps it’s the fact that I don’t own a true “tri-bike” but have a jury-rigged Felt 4C with aerobars. I’ve been experimenting with fit. With some progress.
In Olympic distance events I have on several occasions averaged 19.5 for the 26-mile distance. So I’m not completely stuck. Yet it is still frustrating to go out on training rides and wrestle around with the same 18 mph pace. Maybe I’m dumb. Maybe just happy.
Truth be told, I’m not riding enough miles these days to improve. I don’t have a real right to bitch until I plug in a bunch more miles and still show no progress. I also found a photo of myself from ten years ago when I weighed 163 lbs. and realized that I’m carrying around twenty more pounds of something on my body. Some muscle, but mostly fat.
That said, on many days, I’m still hitting Strava segments that I set ten years ago.
The other parts of this self-perception, “single-speed kind of guy” equation is the invisible factor of wind conditions that does not show up on Strava data. Today’s ride was the 23.91 effort shown above. There was a northeast wind that helped me a bit on the way west (left) and south from Kaneville. But then it was a crosswind grind and even a full-on headwind during the return trip.
It amuses me that these two rides too similar routes and were just 0.48 difference in length and just one second difference. I recall that the wind was coming from a different direction on the June 2 ride, primarily from the northwest. So the early part of the ride was a struggle and we closed fast the last ten miles.
Such are the vagaries of cycling. In some respects, the average pace we ride doesn’t mean that much in the end. It’s a bad practice to just flail away week after week riding the same damned speed getting the same damned results.
So I’ll be breaking up the training in the coming weeks, and adding some miles to the overall load. Even a “single-speed guy” like me can see the writing on the Strava wall. It’s time to mix it up a bit out there.