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Noob stuck at 12 mph

Old 05-05-18, 06:25 PM
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atl_biker
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Noob stuck at 12 mph

Hello everyone. This is my first post. I have been lurking for a while.

I have been biking on and off since I was a little kid. My first intense period of biking was when I was in Canada 10 years back and I spent an entire year without owning a car or using public transport. I literally went everywhere on my bike and even did most of the local trails. Even though I had a $100 Walmart bike and I had next to no knowledge about bikes and biking in general, I had fun. I never had a bike computer (didn't even know what it was) and never knew my speed. It was mostly flat terrain (Ottawa, capital of Canada, in case you are wondering) and whatever small hills there were didn't bother me that much.

I got married and had 4 kids and stopped biking other than a couple of times here and there every year. In the last couple of months, I bought my first ever proper road bike (a used 2005 Trek 1000C from Craigslist) and started learning more about biking in detail. I got a bike computer and paid attention to my speed. I live in hilly Atlanta and I can barely manage an average speed of 12mph over both short and long distances.

On flat roads, I can go up to 18-19 mph and maintain it for 10-15 minutes. But hills totally kill me. I go down to 5 or 6 mph. And the most I have tackled so far are 8-10% gradients anyway.

I am not too bad in regards to endurance. I can do 50 miles easily. I did my first century on the Silver Comet Trail the other day and averaged 11mph. I struggled but I made some mistakes (didn't eat anything until mile 60) and didn't plan my trip properly. So I am not too worried about my endurance.

I have been biking for 2 months now and I see some improvement but too little to my satisfaction. Today I went up some hills in from of my house and I managed to maintain my speed above 7 mph over those relatively tough gradients (11% at some places) whereas before I was barely doing 4 or 5 mph.

I do have a medical condition -- my hemoglobin levels are low causing anemia. It may be Thalassemia but it's not officially diagnosed yet. But still, I read about people hitting 15 mph on mountain bikes (on roads, not off-road) when they are still rookies (i.e. not after a year of biking and training heavily) and I wonder why I am so slow.

Any degree of hard effort climbing or going fast results in me breathing through my mouth and gasping for air. Is this normal?

By the way, I am fully aware that average speed is not an important metric. Power is more important. But I still need to be able to do at least 15-17 mph to join decent club rides here in Atlanta. Also, I can go farther with a higher average speed and that matters to me a lot since I like to go long distances.

Other info: Age 33, male, 128 lbs, 5' 4 inches. Asian descent.

Any advice and/or thoughts are appreciated.
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Old 05-05-18, 06:34 PM
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The club ride I presume is referring to 15-17 mph on the flats, not climbing. A 10% grade is a hard hill. Hemoglobin delivers oxygen to your body and helps it to remove carbon dioxide. This could well be the cause of your complaints, including "gasping" for air. But having said that, from what you describe, those are respectable numbers for a recreational cyclist. Most recreational cyclists aren't riding under oxygen deprivation. It might be worth getting your blood oxygen content checked while you are going full out on a trainer under controlled conditions, to find out to what extent this is a contributing issue.
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Old 05-05-18, 06:44 PM
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Hey Atl Biker, Like WG said, those aren't bad numbers. I spent the last few years riding in elevations above 4500' and now that I'm at sea level my numbers have increased dramatically. But a 10% grade is nothing to snicker at. I spend a lot of time on my MTB and I'm 63 years, 150# but usually carry a 40# back pack because it's all about staying in shape for me and I like to geocache (both hiding and finding). It gives me an excuse to explore new areas.And yes, I huff and puff a lot on climbs, but that's what it's all about. I average 16MPH in average terrain now. In the higher elevations, I averaged closer to 13 MPH and was quite pleased with myself.
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Old 05-05-18, 07:43 PM
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You said you've been back on the bike for just two months? In that amount of time you're doing fine. I'm not qualified to comment on your medical issues and its effects, but I suggest you include some type of hi intensity intervals at least once a week in your riding. Find a hill to train on. I have one near me that is 4-6%, about 1.2 miles long. I'll do 3 intervals on the way up, come back down, then do a steady state climb back up maintaining low 70s cadence in a gear that makes me work. I use a heart rate monitor so I can learn how long I can sustain an effort at a given rate.
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Old 05-05-18, 09:37 PM
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Originally Posted by atl_biker View Post
do have a medical condition -- my hemoglobin levels are low causing anemia. It may be Thalassemia but it's not officially diagnosed yet. But still, I read about people hitting 15 mph on mountain bikes (on roads, not off-road) when they are still rookies (i.e. not after a year of biking and training heavily) and I wonder why I am so slow.
Anemia can be a huge problem. Consult your doctor for guidance with regards to strenuous cardio activity.

15mph up what type of gradients and for how long?

Climbing is a simple matter of power to weight. I don't know how you're built, but I'd guess you could probably stand to lose about 5-10 lbs... gradually. Then you need to increase power through training. App-based indoor training with a power meter is where it's at right now. You can see huge gains in less than 6 months.
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Old 05-05-18, 09:44 PM
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Originally Posted by atl_biker View Post
Any degree of hard effort climbing or going fast results in me breathing through my mouth and gasping for air. Is this normal?
Sounds like you're just going out too hard. Learn to pace yourself up the climbs. Anaerobic efforts will cause you to gasp for air.
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Old 05-05-18, 10:10 PM
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The team at Global Cycling Network -- GCN -- have a ton of useful tips on youtube (use or discard as appropriate for your riding level and style) and they're pretty funny, too. Search for "climbing" or whatever and there will be much available to you. Beyond that, all I can suggest is ride. And then ride some more. Time will do its thing, and you'll see improvements.
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Old 05-06-18, 01:29 PM
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Thank you all for your replies.

Originally Posted by wgscott View Post
It might be worth getting your blood oxygen content checked while you are going full out on a trainer under controlled conditions, to find out to what extent this is a contributing issue.
Do you happen to know whether I can check my blood oxygen content using a pulse oximeter? Can't post a link to it on Amazon since I don't have 10 posts yet.

Your comment led me to google for checking blood oxygen content and I came across the above. I never knew this could be done.

@Fahrenheit531, I have been watching those videos and also those ones on increasing average speed. They are good. Thanks.

@colombo357, I read that pros usually have a weight of 2.0 lbs per vertical inch of height. If I go by that, I am at the right weight -- 64 inches x 2 = 128. If I bike regularly, I will likely lose the little belly that I have but I will also perhaps gain back weight in terms of heavier leg muscles. Am I correct? And that may not be a bad thing? What are your thoughts?

I don't have a cadence sensor yet but I compare my rpm visually with those of my friends and other people on trails and it seems like I am doing way fewer than everyone else. My guess would be 50 rpm whereas I read that the ideal range is between 70 and 100. If I increase my cadence by switching to a lower gear, I lose speed and feel very tired very quickly. Whereas on a flat road, if I pedal slowly on a (relatively) higher gear, I can comfortably maintain a speed of 16-18 mph. Did anyone else experience something similar?
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Old 05-06-18, 08:25 PM
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Setting aside the medical issue (which may have something to do with this), if you can't maintain 70 rpm you probably need to improve your cardio fitness. My coach trains us for 90 rpms on flat steady state riding and low 70s rpm for hill climbing. I find this to work well for me, and I can maintain 100 rpm for a while if necessary, though I will eventually start gasping for air. Also if you are pushing big gears at 50 rpm you may eventually hurt your knees.

Again you're only a couple months into this. Work on upping your cadence and just ride. Throw in a few intervals, something like 110 rpm for 30-40 seconds, with breaks in between as needed. as you improve shorten the breaks down to 45 seconds or so.
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Old 05-07-18, 11:22 AM
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I had been riding for some time when I moved to N Atlanta for a while. My averages went from the neighborhood of 14-16 down to 10-12. It is freaking HILLY up there and have to give kudos to those with the strength to ride it fast. I honestly got dropped from two different "no drop" rides up there simply due to getting out of sight of the sweep. I ended up riding out and back on the Comet all the time. Not only was it significantly (too) easier, but the traffic up there is...well challenging to keep it nice.
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Old 05-08-18, 12:45 PM
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@jimincalif, thanks. I am planning to get a cadence sensor soon. That should help.
@Juan Foote, yes, that is what I would like to avoid, getting dropped. I will work on improving avg. speed and hold on to club rides for now.
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Old 05-10-18, 07:03 PM
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Give it time and like others have said pace yourself. Use strava to help you push yourself hard at certain segments each ride
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Old 06-23-18, 05:02 PM
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Originally Posted by atl_biker View Post
Hello everyone. This is my first post. I have been lurking for a while.

I have been biking on and off since I was a little kid. My first intense period of biking was when I was in Canada 10 years back and I spent an entire year without owning a car or using public transport. I literally went everywhere on my bike and even did most of the local trails. Even though I had a $100 Walmart bike and I had next to no knowledge about bikes and biking in general, I had fun. I never had a bike computer (didn't even know what it was) and never knew my speed. It was mostly flat terrain (Ottawa, capital of Canada, in case you are wondering) and whatever small hills there were didn't bother me that much.

I got married and had 4 kids and stopped biking other than a couple of times here and there every year. In the last couple of months, I bought my first ever proper road bike (a used 2005 Trek 1000C from Craigslist) and started learning more about biking in detail. I got a bike computer and paid attention to my speed. I live in hilly Atlanta and I can barely manage an average speed of 12mph over both short and long distances.

On flat roads, I can go up to 18-19 mph and maintain it for 10-15 minutes. But hills totally kill me. I go down to 5 or 6 mph. And the most I have tackled so far are 8-10% gradients anyway.

I am not too bad in regards to endurance. I can do 50 miles easily. I did my first century on the Silver Comet Trail the other day and averaged 11mph. I struggled but I made some mistakes (didn't eat anything until mile 60) and didn't plan my trip properly. So I am not too worried about my endurance.

I have been biking for 2 months now and I see some improvement but too little to my satisfaction. Today I went up some hills in from of my house and I managed to maintain my speed above 7 mph over those relatively tough gradients (11% at some places) whereas before I was barely doing 4 or 5 mph.

I do have a medical condition -- my hemoglobin levels are low causing anemia. It may be Thalassemia but it's not officially diagnosed yet. But still, I read about people hitting 15 mph on mountain bikes (on roads, not off-road) when they are still rookies (i.e. not after a year of biking and training heavily) and I wonder why I am so slow.

Any degree of hard effort climbing or going fast results in me breathing through my mouth and gasping for air. Is this normal?

By the way, I am fully aware that average speed is not an important metric. Power is more important. But I still need to be able to do at least 15-17 mph to join decent club rides here in Atlanta. Also, I can go farther with a higher average speed and that matters to me a lot since I like to go long distances.

Other info: Age 33, male, 128 lbs, 5' 4 inches. Asian descent.

Any advice and/or thoughts are appreciated.
how's it going, any improvement?
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Old 06-23-18, 05:08 PM
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Did you get the cape out of the derailleur? That's rubber burning to a fat guy on a 50+ lb. antique with loaded saddlebags!
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Old 06-23-18, 05:32 PM
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If you slow down there is an explosion?
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Old 06-29-18, 02:20 PM
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The first time I rode on the roads of somewhat to rather hilly north Raleigh, I thought, or maybe that should be, I hoped I would die. 10.5 or 11 mile of down and up, rinse repeat, were a LOT harder than my previous riding on the bikepaths. I kept riding. Nothing spectacular, but I've done alright for myself.

Aside from your possible health issues, and perhaps that should be, even including your health issues, there is only one metric that matters:

Are you having fun?
If the answer is yes, nothing else matters.

[Except the family, that is. They always come first, second, and there is no third.]
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Old 06-29-18, 02:29 PM
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After 2 months of being "serious" about cycling, you've done a century ride and 50-60% faster up the hard hills, I wouldn't say that the improvement has been slow.
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Old 06-30-18, 04:50 AM
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You're a good size and weight for climbing . Keep at it. Ditto, the GCN video tutorials, especially interval training. It'll hurt but you'll improve quickly.

I'm 60, borderline anemic, with thyroid problems and a constricted trachea, with asthma. But interval training got me past that plateau in conditioning. It hurt. But it worked.

I'm still not fast on hills but I've improved from dead last on every Strava segment to middle of the pack. And I've snagged lower top ten on a couple of climbs, just below some local pros and seriously strong amateurs. I just had a good day and a tailwind.
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Old 07-01-18, 06:45 PM
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Thanks a lot for the more recent replies. I am out of town and will reply in more detail soon.
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Old 07-08-18, 05:17 PM
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????

You're not "stuck" at anything with only two months experience. You are perhaps "currently" doing 12 mph, but that will change.

Now. Back to basics. The purpose of gearing on a bike is the same as gearing on a motor vehicle ... every engine has its ideal engine rpm, and the gears are used to keep it turning over at that ideal rpm regardless of circumstance. It has been determined from over 100 years of cycling experiments and experience that the human engine's ideal rpm is 80 to 100 pedal revolutions per minute. That means up the mountain at 80 - 100 rpm's, and down the mountain at 80 - 100 rpm's. Obviously, your speed will vary greatly, but you will be running at maximum efficiency on both sides of the climb.

In order to achieve that, you have to do two things. First, grasp the concept of spinning. Try this: tighten up your biceps, forearms, and fists and make a motion like you were pounding on a table at about 50 rpms. No, I mean really tighten them up, even get your shoulders into it, just like you do when you're pedaling in a high gear at low rpm's. Work it! And your muscles will be aching in 3 minutes or so. Plus, bicycles aren't pedaled with your shoulders! But just watch anybody pushing a big gear at low r's on their bike. They're not only wearing themselves out, but they can't stay on the white line to save their lives! Which, in a lot of cases, it may well be that serious. Like, you know, in Atlanta traffic. Alternatively, when you spin a low gear, your upper body remains perfectly still. Only your legs are moving. No wasted movement, no wasted energy, and the ability to steer the bike perfectly straight.

Next, just take your forearms, relaxed, and move them loosely in that same pattern at about 100 rpms. You can do that all day. And that concept is what they mean by "spinning" in cycling. You spin a low gear instead of pushing a high gear. But in order to do that, you have to grasp the basic "duh!" concept of bicycle engineering, i.e., pedals move in a circle, not up and down. And in order to spin at 100 rpms, your feet have to follow the pedals throughout their complete revolution. That is to say, push down, pull back, lift up, and push forward with equal pressure. Aahh! Now you're using 4 sets of muscles in your legs instead of just one. Much more efficient! But, (there's always a "but", isn't there?), you can't do that (completely) without the second thing I mentioned.

You have to get clipped! OK, you don't have to get clipped. You can get strapped instead! Either way, you have to do something to hold your feet onto the pedals or you can't fully follow the pedals throughout their full revolution with equal force. The old school way was toe clips and straps that you had to reach down and tighten or loosen at every stop & start , and the current way is what they are calling "clipless pedals" where all you have to do is twist your foot a little sideways to release. Either one works, but the differences and what to watch out for is a whole `nother discussion.

But once you grasp the concept of spinning and your foot becomes part of the pedal, you'll start to see yourself improve. Hope some of this helps.

P.S. Cyclometers with cadence sensors are great. But strapping a watch with a second hand on the handlebars and counting your right leg every time in hits bottom does the same thing.
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