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I'm 50 and have been cycling for years, but only 25 mile rides and indoor training. I've been training for 8 weeks, adding 5 miles a week to my big ride, but at 60 miles it is taking me 4:20 and I can't seem to improve my average!

I am on a touring bike but really seem to struggle with energy. I only eat once half way but drink regularly. At my rate 100 miles is going to take me about 7 hours. I don't think I can ride for that long.

Would a racing bike make that much difference? I am cycling about 110 miles a week currently.

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Although I might expect a higher average speed from a trained athlete with proper on road support, I wouldn't from an amateur who is self supported, and riding less than ideal equipment. It's difficult to say exactly what benefit you might gain from a road racing bike, since we don't know what bike you are currently on, but this question looks to the reasons why one bike is better on the road over another, and this answer explains the gearing differences between road, mountain, and hybrid bikes. –  zenbike May 16 '12 at 15:41
    
What's the gearing -- the teeth range on the cassette (rear), and the chainrings up front? I wasn't able to average more than 20 KM/h when my largest chainring was mid 40s. My commuter has 50/34 chainrings, and I can average 28 KM/h according to Garmin. Any group rides might help too. –  OMG Ponies May 17 '12 at 1:37
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Stopping for food only once every 2 hours seems a little low. Have you tried eating more often? –  amcnabb May 17 '12 at 2:16
    
These seem like pretty decent speeds and times to me. I did my first century last year at age 48. My average speed and total time were pretty much the same as yours. And although I was a bit sore as I built up distance, I did get used to it. All in all, I think you are doing fine. Just keep training, and maybe eat a bit more often. –  Wayne Johnston May 20 '12 at 3:24
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6 Answers 6

I think the times you're posting for the distances you're riding, especially on a touring bike are pretty reasonable. Professional athletes, or racers, will ride quicker, but for an amateur aiming for a century your times are fine. On a longer ride, you need more time for rest stops and food and nature breaks.

A road bike will make you a little quicker, especially when you're riding into a headwind. It will also make the time spent more comfortable because you have more options to vary your position.

Make sure you keep up your fluids, electrolytes and carbs. Sports drinks, energy gels, sports bars and glucose lollies can really help when you hit the wall, or 'bonk'. On long rides, you need to keep eating regularly, even if you don't feel hungry (sometimes even when you're sick of eating sugary foods). It's amazing the pick up you can get from eating some good fuel.

Keep riding, keep training and the distance and time on the bike will be more achievable and comfortable.

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This is the simple truth. Although I might expect a higher average speed from a trained athlete with proper on road support, I wouldn't from an amateur who is self supported, and riding less than ideal equipment. –  zenbike May 16 '12 at 15:37
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14 MPH is a fairly good pace for that ride -- I wish I could do that well anymore.

Take along some snacks -- sports bars, fruit bars, plain old candy, nuts -- whatever you'll find appealing. Have a break about once an hour with a snack and extra water. And keep practicing -- the body builds up endurance fairly slowly.

Seven hours in the saddle isn't that long, once you get your butt conditioned.

How much difference a "racing bike" would make depends on your "touring bike". If your current bike has drop bars then the main difference is weight (which has very little effect on speed) and tire width/tread. Keeping tires inflated to the max sidewall pressure will minimize tire drag.

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I ride centuries with my 57 year old father several times a year and he holds up pretty darn well. Make sure you are eating something even small ever 25 miles or so. I found that when my weight was up a bit more than now, I had to eat more often. Also, to keep your energy store up, try pedalling at a higher tempo but in a lower gear.

A race bike will be faster, but will come with a more agressive rider position which could mean a sore lower back. Unless your current bike is a tank, you could give upgrading components a shot. You might find that you can get a lot without spending a lot. Stiffer, more aero wheels can give you a great boost.

Good luck and great riding!

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Here's some perspective from a guy near your age. I'm near your age (55) and I do a few century or century+ rides most years. Usually my first century of the year is in mid May. I do ride a road bike; however, one of my riding buddies rides a touring bike and it's not limiting since we're not racing. (Ok, a bit on the hills.)

Here's a rough sketch of what my buddies and I do.

  • Training - Originally, I did what you describe and gradually built up mileage over the training period. Basically, it was a few short rides during the week, with progressively longer rides on the weekends. That is until I read an article (*10 Weeks to Your Strongest Century) in Bicycling magazine in 2005 by Chris Carmichael. Essentially, the plan is 10 weeks of interval training. After following that plan, 100 miles was achieved much easier than ever before. (Look for The Time Crunched Cyclist or consider Joe Friel. Both of these guys have great plans to get you in shape for that 100 mile ride.) Anyway, interval training means intensity...and the distance becomes much less consequential.

  • Nutrition - Once you're riding a bike for several hours, you need to think about consuming calories. So, for me, at my weight, I'm after ~400 calories per hour. These are primarily carb/starch calories so that the muscles get energy as needed. What you actually need depends upon your weight and fitness. This could be energy bars, stopping/eating at rest stops, high-tech energy concoctions, etc...anyway, you do need to fuel your cycling engine throughout the ride.

  • Teamwork - You didn't mention as to whether you plan on doing 100 miles solo or not. Riding that far, and that long, is much better with a friend or two. Thing is, you can take turns drafting one another. When you draft behind another rider, you take a huge load off of your energy output, thus giving you rest. Not only drafting, it's simply encouraging and more fun to ride with friends.

  • Getting a road bike vs keeping the touring bike? - It depends on your goals. Do you plan on touring where you will be filling up panniers and riding days at a time? If so, keep the touring bike. If you plan on fitness/enjoyment riding plus the occasional century, get a road bike. On the other hand, it's theoretically possible that you need another bike.

  • Key Issue -

I am on a touring bike but really seem to struggle with energy.

Most likely it's not the bike. A struggle with energy is often, if not usually, a nutrition issue. And also a fitness issue. No, it's not usually the bike gearing; usually it's the cyclist in this situation. Change up your training and nutrition first.

By the way, I am not affiliated with Chris Charmichael or Joe Friel in any way. However, I have found their advice useful.

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You don't say what your weight is, so I'll assume you're at a normal weight. Even an extra 15-20 pounds can really slow you down. If you doubt that, strap a 20 pound weight to the back of your bike!

I'm 53 years old, and this is the first year in a long time that I've done any serious riding. My goal is to do 1K miles this year (currently at ~560) and I ride about 3 times per week. I'll do 25 miles on Monday and Thursday nights (with a group) and a longer ride on Saturday. My Monday and Thursday rides average 17-18 mph. I'm getting in better shape than I've been in, in a long time. So, the point of me saying this is that even at age 50, you can still improve your fitness a great deal. On my Monday and Thursday rides, there are a couple 65+ year old riders that I cannot keep up with! I actually find this very encouraging.

I'm also working up to doing a century this September. I have little doubt I'll be able to do it, and if I can do it averaging 15 mph (not factoring in the wind), I would be very satisfied. Before I do the century, I plan on doing a couple 75 mile rides this summer.

BTW, I bought a new bike this year. For the past 20 years, I've had a touring bike. Got a new Cannondale Synapse. It's probably 3-5 pounds lighter and I can notice the difference.

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If you're always close enough to call help when you have serious mechanical trouble, then a racing bike will make you lighter and faster, but the speed advantages that racers realize often come from wrapping themselves around uncomfortably small frames on tires that require more focus on descents with components that have a lower mean time to failure for their price.

There's nothing wrong with taking a day to do an English century as long as you enjoy it. In my late 20's, my extended tour rate for alpine topography was about 80 miles (128 km) a day on a half-loaded (no tent) touring bike with occasional days in the 100-120 mile (160-200 km) range.

I would've gone faster on an unloaded racing bike, but I wouldn't have been able to choose my own course for fear of being stranded without spare parts in foreign lands. And every kilo in weight I add to the bike is a kilo less I way at the end of the summer, and a touring bike is useful during the off season.

If you can afford it, try a fast bike so you can talk trash with your buddies on short aggressive rides, but for comfortable riding and peace of mind, a little extra weight for durable components, a comfortable saddle, a fitting frame, and spares is worth it.

PS: I may be overboard. For my commute, I carry panniers, a laptop, tools and raingear that weigh in at 49.6 lbs (22.5 kg) so my frame material and tire width aren't what slows me down.

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