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I just began biking around 4 months ago, and due to lack of experience I bought a Diadora Orbita Mountain Bike. I've staring commuting to work recently (about 14 km daily) but I'm not exactly happy with my speed (around 17 kmph with no traffic) that is after inflating my tire and cleaning the chains on regular basis... Would changing the tires into thinner ones make my any bike faster? Are there any other modifications that I can apply to my bike to make it go faster? Or would be easier to just buy a road bike instead?

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    A cheap second hand road bike would be one option. The bike industry or cynics call what you have a BSO, or bicycle shaped object. It is a bike, but it's built to be cheap rather than to work very well (here's a post describing the problems). So a better quality, second hand bike is usually a better purchase. – Móż Aug 25 '16 at 4:26
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    17km/h it is not that bad ... Im sorry to disagree with most comments but you are doing just fine. It how fast normal people go. you are biking for just 4 mounts people need years of hard training to get int competition levels. If you can try a road bike that would be great but I predict this: 1 you will not improve your time by much 2 you will notice how harder it is because of higher gears 3 you will loose comfort and feel every bump in the road and if it is in poor state o boy you will have a hard time. – kifli Aug 25 '16 at 8:54
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    17 kph is about 10.5 mph -- reasonable in traffic, but a bit slow on a smooth road with nothing you have to dodge. (15 mph/24 kph would be closer to reasonable, and many would be able to do 20.) To improve, first make sure your seat height is correct -- having it too low is a common newbie error. Next you'd want to inflate your tires to their sidewall max, which is probably 65 psi (4.5 bar) or so. If that's not sufficient, or the knobs are too rough, change out the tires for relatively smooth ones, inflated to at least 65 psi, preferably higher. Beyond that it can be an issue of bike fit. – Daniel R Hicks Aug 25 '16 at 12:24
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    @DanielRHicks Please don't post answers as comments. – David Richerby Aug 25 '16 at 14:46
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    Don't worry about speed too much as a reflection of your cycling fitness. Average speed has a lot do with environmental factors (wind speed, wind direction, how much coffee you had, etc.). My commute is mostly through a valley with a pretty consistent south traveling wind. I can easily average 19mph going south but usually max out at 14mph going north into the headwind. – Ivan Lesko Aug 25 '16 at 17:13

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I started commuting the same way about 8 months ago on a 29'er mountain bike, 2 things made the trip faster and more enjoyable.

Firstly tyres, I changed from knobblies to slicks and it made a BIG difference both in feel and actual speed.

Secondly I got a lot stronger from biking every day.

I eventually got a lighter cheap touring bike which is faster, and better in many ways, but I still prefer the mountain bike for fun.

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    Not completely agree. I changed my mtb's 26x1.95 chocolate tires to 26x1.25 touring tires. And the result is there's no much improvement on the speed. When pumping high pressure, the chocolate tires can also run fast. Don't expect the tires can change a mtb expreience to be like a road bike. Don't expect that. It is always not true and thin tire for mtb is ugly, too. – Cray Kao Apr 2 '18 at 4:45
  • Riding much is more able to improve rideing speed. – Cray Kao Apr 2 '18 at 4:46
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I've been a cycle commuter for 12 years. Here are the things that had the biggest impact on my speed:

  • Smooth high pressure tires (80+ psi for road) Greatly decreases rolling resistance
  • Clipless Pedals & Shoes - When you're clipped in you put energy into pedaling all the way around rather than just on the downstrokes
  • Remove any suspension - suspension loses energy on bouncing up and down instead of rolling forward
  • Time in the saddle - cardiovascular health, muscle strength and lost pounds translate into a swifter ride
  • Condition-specific bike - road bikes are lighter, geared better and handle better on roads, no question.
  • 2
    I’d add three things: Clothing (lots of beginners ride with too warm, baggy coats or jackets), Seating position (beginners often have the saddle too low and handlebar too high), Choosing the right gear (beginners often use way too strong ("high") gears). 25km/h in the flat should really be no problem. – Michael Aug 26 '16 at 7:28
  • definitely +1 for the clips - I saw a marked improvement in my speed switching to clips, and then another (smaller) gain swapping out rough tyres for road tires. – Zhaph - Ben Duguid Aug 26 '16 at 12:06
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    When you're clipped in with clipless pedals. :) – Kaz Aug 26 '16 at 22:48
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Not necessarily thinner tyres, but ones with less tread will make a difference. If you are commuting by road only, then putting on some 'slick' tyres will cut a lot of the wind resistance, and rid you of that whirring noise as the tread nobbles whiz through the air. I've had my rigid mountain bike up to 76 Km/h on slicks (but that was down hill).
About the only other thing to try is locking the front suspension forks so all your pedaling energy goes into forward motion, not bobbing the forks up and down. If you can afford to change to a road specific bike, it will be faster, and having a clean bike for commuting is way easier than cleaning a dirty mountain bike at the end of the weekend and changing the tyres back to slicks.

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    Nitpick: the main benefit of smooth tyres over nobbled tyres is that they have much lower rolling resistance, not wind resistance. – Will Vousden Aug 25 '16 at 8:39
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    @WillVousden: Exactly. And the whirring sound is also from the treads hitting the road, not from the air. I proposed an edit. – sleske Aug 25 '16 at 12:08
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    Editing is not supposed to change the meaning of an answer, even the original is wrong. – ojs Aug 25 '16 at 19:45
  • Yes, definitely worth mentioning the energy lost to suspension - hopefully lock-outs are available – panhandel Aug 25 '16 at 21:11
  • Lightweight tyres are also good option to consider, too. Some MTB cholocate tyre has less than 400g and some are more than 1kg. The lighter tyre, the higher speed when ride uphill. – Cray Kao Apr 2 '18 at 4:49
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Firstly, don't be too disappointed with that as an average speed. It takes a surprising amount of time to build up cycling fitness and pedalling technique, with many cyclists saying that during their second year after starting regular cycling they were still seeing big improvements.

The most significant improvement in speed you'll see if you keep cycling regularly will be down to your improving cycling fitness.

The next two biggest factors limiting your speed are likely to be aerodynamics and tire rolling resistance.

The aerodynamics of the bike are difficult to change and usually small compared to the aerodynamics of the rider. So consider tighter-fitting clothing instead of a baggy jacket. This is especially important when going downhill or into a headwind.

Switching to slick tires will make a definite and noticeable improvement. If part of your journey is off-road you may want to consider semi-slick tires.

I think that all other upgrading of parts, cleaning the chain, etc, will make a very small difference in comparison to the suggestions above, so I'd recommend trying those things first.

  • Start lifting weights and build your leg strength. – Deleted User Aug 25 '16 at 17:42
  • I agree that cleaning the chain won't make a huge difference to speed, but I'd recommend doing it anyway. It reduces wear and makes gear shifting smoother: a bike that's nicer to ride is nicer to ride, even if it's not any faster. – David Richerby Aug 26 '16 at 13:11
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Some good suggestions here, including tires and either toeclips/straps or clipless pedals.

One question that hasn't been touched on : are you in the right gear? If you are either pedalling fast against no resistance, or pushing hard but turning the pedals slowly, you are in the wrong gear, and learning the right gear for you (or the right gear for each uphill or downhill section) will help your average speed.

Perhaps experiment with a slightly higher gear than you normally use one day, and a lower gear the next, and see how your time - and comfort - compares.

If you always find yourself in the top (or bottom) gear, or one gear is too low but the next is too high, then (with a bike shop's help) you can improve the gearing on your bike for a fraction of its cost, by replacing the block or one of the chainrings.

Another : Are the saddle and handlebars at the right height? If your knee is still bent at the bottom of your pedal stroke, try raising the saddle half an inch at a time - when you get to the right position, 1/4 inch either way makes a big difference. Saddle fore/aft position and handlebar position also make a difference, but less spectacularly so.

4

If you're up for a weekend project, you could add a geared electric motor to your bike. A 500w motor and battery will run you about $750 and a 1000w setup will cost around $1250. Mountain bikes are the most common bikes to put electric motors on because of their comfort and suspension.

I put a 1000w motor on my road bike and it averaged 25mph with minimal pedaling effort.

  • Can you please edit your answer to show what currency you're using? Its also worth mentioning the speed / power restrictions in various locations. In my country, anything over 300W is an electric motorbike and needs to be registered. – Criggie Aug 25 '16 at 23:36
  • As the Answerer is from Seattle, I think it's safe to assume USD. A motor isn't what I would do, but it's a new and valid answer, so gets my vote. – James Bradbury Aug 26 '16 at 9:03
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Tires will make a difference and are probably worth a try, along with light weight tubes. The bike will still be heavy, with heavy wheels and low quality components including bearings. Don't expect too much from a bike of that specification level.

Upgrading the bike to a better MTB or road bike (depending on if you need a MTB) would make a much bigger difference. You can probably sell the bike you have and buy a used one more suited to your needs for less than upgrades will cost and would IMHO be a better way to approach this.

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    In my experience the speed difference between bikes (provided both are technically ok) is not more than a few percent (because wind resistance is what keeps us from going faster). When one rides for hours and with inclines, a better, lighter bike will be less tiring and thus overall faster, but otherwise ... @megzee: Do not expect miracles from a different bike. – Peter - Reinstate Monica Aug 25 '16 at 10:23
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    @PeterA.Schneider I think this is very dependent on the cyclist and the bikes being compared. This page on Schwalbe's site (look in the "What is rolling resistance?" section) claims that rolling resistance dominates air resistance until about 20km/h (the asker is doing 17). And riding a heavy bike up any sort of hill requires more effort just to lift the weight. – David Richerby Aug 25 '16 at 14:55
  • @DavidRicherby Hmmm... from the diagram there I take it that at 20 km/h (the scale has no units, but other diagrams do) the air resistance at 20 km/h is 1.5-2 times a big as the rolling resistance. Another chart gives for a non-aerodynamic cyclist, which the OP probably is, a factor of about 2.In any case wind resistance is by far the dominating factor at 20 km/h. The rolling resistance increases at most by 10% between 17 and 20 km/h; the wind resistance, growing exponentially, increases by about 60%. – Peter - Reinstate Monica Aug 26 '16 at 17:37
  • Rolling resistance on a BSO is significantly higher than mid or expensive bikes. – mattnz Aug 26 '16 at 19:38
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    @mattnz BSO is mean ;-). What is significantly higher? 20 or 25%? Look at this nice page which suggests 4N rolling resistance. Let's assume the OP's bike has 5N instead. That corresponds to about a 1 km/h difference in wind drag around 20 km/h, or about 5%. Do not expect to go 25 or even 22 km/h instead of 17 because you change your bike. (Of course a better bike is nice, and more fun to ride. No doubt. More fun may give you another 5% ;-) ) – Peter - Reinstate Monica Aug 26 '16 at 21:01
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If you want to go cheap, change to non-knobby tires. Believe me (and my many miles of painful experience), it would make a big difference.

Barring that, a hybrid, or better, full-on road bike make a bigger difference. Be sure to consider your average miles per ride, which equals time in the saddle, your tolerance for speed vs. comfort, and yeah, budget.

My Odyssey began with a cheapo Schwinn road bike from Target before I graduated to "real" bike brands with aluminum, steel, carbon and finally, titanium frames. Point is, if you don't want to blow all that money like I did on bikes, try to educate yourself on what the best ONE (or two) bike(s) would be based on your needs.

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I, like others in this thread was in a similar position. What i ended up doing was to buy slick tires and changed to a road cassette for tighter gearing. I considered buying a road bike but because I cycle in London you're pretty much always starting and stopping, so frame weight doesn't really matter all that much, and it makes cleats a nuisance more than anything. Also road bikes have really rubbish brakes compared to my hydraulic discs.

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    A heavy bike takes more effort to accelerate so it's more of a penalty in stop-start traffic, not less. And there are plenty of road bikes with hydraulic disc brakes. – David Richerby Aug 27 '16 at 17:53
  • @DavidRicherby Yes but you'll be starting in a group of cyclists, most of whom aren't going to be Tour de France calibre. As for road discs, they're not on the same level as MTB ones. – James Aug 27 '16 at 20:53
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You can start by looking at your gear ratio and change your sprocket size. Hit a local bike shop and they should be able to find a fit for your crank. Usually they are universal to fit on any bike.

  • Could you explain how this will help, given that almost all cyclists are limited by power not gear ratio. What makes you think this question is from someone in the tiny minority or elite athletes who can put out enough power to run out of gears? – Móż Aug 26 '16 at 20:55
  • Well apparently I was not considering he was either a tiny minority or an elite athlete. It is such a suggestion to help answer his question in a mechanical sense. Since he did mention "modifying". – user28943 Aug 26 '16 at 23:23
  • What gear ratio changes would you suggest making, and why? Please use Edit to expand your answer. Answers this short are likely to end up deleted. – Criggie Aug 27 '16 at 8:14
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    @Móż Well, mountain bikes are usually rather low-geared. I was definitely limited by gear ratio when I rode BSOs and, trust me, I'm not an elite athlete. – David Richerby Aug 27 '16 at 17:55
  • Welcome to Bicycles SE. We're looking for answers with more detail. Please consider expanding your answer to explain why such a modification might help, and what changes could be made. A short, one-line answer like this is likely to get downvoted, flagged for moderator intervention, and possibly deleted. – jimchristie Aug 31 '16 at 16:41

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