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How can a cyclist, new to commuting by bike and not all that experienced in riding, estimate how long a commute will take?

I have been riding for 4 days to and from work. 156km over over 4 days. I'd like to know what I should be averaging time wise. I am 203 lbs / 92kg, and somewhat fit. The ride is 13 miles/ 21km there and back with an elevation of 81 meters and I'm using a good standard bike.

Are there any general guidelines to use to get an estimate? What factors will affect this? (Fitness, traffic, etc.) How can I identify ways to get faster? (Routing, accounting for other delays, etc.)

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This is a really tough question because it depends on so many variables... –  WTHarper Mar 8 '13 at 22:27
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It would take me roughly an hour, on typical roads around here. There are people who could do it in half that time, though. And a difference in roads could easily be another 2x factor, one way or the other. –  Daniel R Hicks Mar 8 '13 at 22:44
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Yeah, a lot will depend on traffic, intersections, the kind of bike you ride, and a lot of other factors. When I did 25 km commute it took me a little over an hour. –  Kibbee Mar 9 '13 at 1:01
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This question is talking about longer distances, but the answer pretty much covers your question - people don't usually go that much faster on a half hour ride. –  Jefromi Mar 9 '13 at 4:32
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Measure your ride in smiles instead of miles. If you get to work on time, you rode fast enough. If you didn't then you should leave earlier tomorrow. If you don't intend to race, then how fast you ride to work is less relevant than whether you enjoy riding to work and benefit physically and mentally from it. –  Yes I use MUMPS Mar 12 '13 at 21:53

6 Answers 6

Unfortunately, there is no single answer to this question. In my experience, every route is unique, and will have variables that increase or decrease the transit time for a particular commute.

Traffic, seasonal weather, time of day for the commute, rider's fitness, and your bicycle's condition will all play a role in determining the time for a given route.

If you are regular cyclist, and have an idea what your average speed is on a fitness ride, using that as a basis to gauge how long a route will take is a good start.

When I ride a route for the first time, I gauge the time by average speed, and then if there is a deadline for me to be at the destination (i.e. I have to be there and ready for work at 9 a.m.) I take my fitness time, and double it. That ensures that I have enough time to arrive, even with problems I don't foresee. Then I add 15-20 minutes, to allow myself time to clean up and be presentable for work.

The next step is to ride the route. If you are especially cautious, then informing your coworkers/employer that you are trying a new route to work and might be late, if you have unforeseen issues, is not a bad idea. Doing a test ride when you don't have a critical deadline, meeting, or even doing it the first time on your day off, is even better.

You will get used to traffic patterns, weather issues, and normal delays. Even once you are certain of the normal time a route will take, it is a good idea to allow a bit of leeway for a flat tire, or an unforeseen circumstance.

I know that the answer you want is something along the line of x kilometers or miles will take y minutes, but that is not possible to gauge for you. What we can offer, is ways to learn the time for your route, without causing damage to your life or your job.

I hope that is helpful.

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Excelent points! I would add that there are way too many factors influencing the time to commute: fitness level, mood, weather (head winds can be brutal), traffic. All of these and many more can add or take time away from the time it takes to get from point a to point b. –  Zeus A. Mar 9 '13 at 19:07

One could possibly look up the route on Strava. They break things up into segments so it might take some work to figure out your whole route. Also remember that most people on Strava are trying for best times and not commuting. However it still might offer a good starting point.

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This is almost the only reasonable answer because while Strava does naturally attract people wanting to race over the segments, those segments allow you to track your relative ability too. The OP is obviously a competitive type wanting to mark himself against the crowd, so I'd whole heartedly recommend Strava for this. –  Unsliced Mar 11 '13 at 12:33

Something that has not been mentioned here is the two ends. One can easily spend 45 minutes on each end of a 60 minute ride, gathering stuff together before the ride and cleaning up after.

If you're going to commute regularly it's important to have this stuff "fine-tuned". You want to have all your gear ready to go (prepared the night before, if possible) and not have to search around to find everything in the morning (or, worse, ride off without some critical item, like the pants you were going to change into). And you want to work out a "clean up" routine on arriving at your destination that is effective and efficient. Eg, if you can't shower, have washcloth and towel and plastic bags to put them into, and always carried in the same pockets of your bags.

Effort spent here can trim more time off the length of your ride than effort spent training for the ride.

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I started commuting again this week. Forgot my change of clothes the first day. Good thing we don't have much of a dress code. –  Kibbee Mar 16 '13 at 14:40

All I can say is how long it takes me. I ride the same distance as you - 11 km each way. It takes me about 30 minutes each way after a month or so of riding. When I start riding in the spring it will take about 40 minutes. I have less of an elevation change though.

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My average speed on commute rides is usually between 14 and 18mph.

My average speed on training/exercise rides is usually between 18 and 20mph.

This is on the same bike (modern 105-level road bike). The difference in speed is due to a couple things;

  1. The number of traffic lights and stop signs on the route.
  2. My intensity/effort.

If you don't us Strava, give it a shot. Create segments on your route, and the app will let you know when you have 'accomplishments' in those segments, like "personal record on segment ABC", or "3rd best time on segment XYZ".

I'm not a competitive rider, but Strava makes it a little more fun, I find myself working harder when I enter a tracked segment. I'm constantly getting accomplishment notifications because I get faster/stronger the more I ride.

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My experience:

Hybrid bicycle with accessories (fenders, lighting system etc.), so not too light.

A ride of 6km takes me 20-22 min (=16-18 km/h). That is with few traffic lights, but a height difference of about 60m (uphill). I am reasonably fit, but do not train, apart from my bicycle commute.

In general, to estimate how long a trip will take, I'd take my personal speed under "ideal" conditions (fit and rested, good road, no traffic lights or other obstacles, no height difference, good weather) - that speed will vary on how you ride, but you should be able to estimate it from past rides.

Then apply correction factors for less than ideal conditions. Again, you'll have to estimate e.g. times at traffic lights. That should give you a good rule of thumb.

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