How to Ride the Correct Speed

03.13.2016 | 3:49 pm

A Take This Survey Note from Fatty: Late this week or early next week, I’ll be launching a crowdfunding project, to help me make ends meet while I work on the book I’ve been wanting to complete for several years: Fight Like Susan. (Check last Friday’s post for details.) 

Between now and then, do me a favor and (if you haven’t already): click here and take this survey to help me understand which of my incentive ideas are good, and which I should forget about. I’ll let you know the results soon. 

How to Ride the Correct Speed

From time to time, I get email from my readers. I treasure each and every one of these letters, and take care to read each message, consider it carefully, then to answer fully and thoughtfully. In the order received.

Unfortunately, I receive email at a rate that exceeds my ability to respond, which means I am desperately behind in my email responses; I am currently answering email I received in May of 2005 (i.e., the month after I started this blog).

As you may expect, some people are quite perplexed to be receiving responses to questions they no longer even remember asking.

This, however, does not mean the questions are not worth answering. It just means that, frequently, my responses are returned because — more often than not — the person I’m writing to no longer has their AOL or Compuserve email address. 

Which means I need to reply to the question in this public forum, in the hope that my response will reach its intended audience.

Such is the case in the letter I am replying to today.

Dear Mr. Cyclist,

I like riding with other cyclists, but I worry that I’m holding my faster friends up. How can I let them know that it’s OK with me for them to ride on ahead, that I don’t mind if they drop me and then rendezvous later?


Rick Sunderlage 
(not my real name)

Dear Rick,

Your heart is in the right place, but you have weak mind. If you were capable of thinking clearly, you would realize that you are not asking the right question. In which case instead of wondering how to properly communicate that you are OK with other people going faster than you are, you would be asking this much more important question:

What is the correct speed to ride my bicycle?

This is the question I choose to answer, with the intention of ignoring the question you actually asked.

You’re welcome.

The Wrong Speeds

When it comes down to it, there are really only three speeds a cyclist can ride: too slow, too fast, and just right. As you may have just realized, the correct speed to ride your bicycle is at the just right speed. 

But how can you tell if you’re riding at just the right speed? Well, that’s not as difficult to figure out as you might think.

All you have to do is go on a ride with me.

If, as we ride together, I start half-wheeling you, that’s a pretty good indicator that you are riding too slowly.

If I push the pace up by a mile per hour each time I start my pull, that means you are probably going too slow.

If I say, “Hey, how come you’re going so slow?” you are almost certainly going too slow. 

The remedy for this problem is for you to go faster. 

But be careful when you do this. Because if you start half-wheeling me, you are obviously going too fast. And that’s not cool. Not cool at all. 

Or suppose, as we ride together, you start slowly pulling away, and I jump to catch your wheel, but then find I can’t quite do it and you build a gap I just can’t bridge, and you drop me.

When that happens, you’re going too fast, and that’s a character flaw you may want to address, because it means you’re being selfish and not taking my needs into account. As if this ride is all about you, when in fact I think we can both agree it is actually about me

Try to remember that in the future. You think you can do that? Thanks.

The Correct Speed

Allow me, then, to make a recommendation. Instead of riding faster than I do, or slower than I do, ride at precisely the same speed I’m riding at the moment. By doing this, you’ll avoid the twin problems of making me wait for you, and of making me go faster than I want to (or am capable of, I suppose).

For example, I have noticed many times that practically everyone goes too fast on technical mountain bike descents. I am so disappointed in these people; they should have the courtesy and common sense to go the correct speed (mine).

Then these same people will go an entirely other wrong kind of speed during climbs, forcing me to drop them. It’s not that I’m trying to put the hurt on them or anything; I’m just going the correct speed for the climb. 

Please bear in mind that this, the correct speed, is subject to change without notice, and may in fact change multiple times during a given ride. For example, if I’m feeling good that day, the right speed for the ride can be surprisingly rapid.

If, on the other hand, it turns out a little later in that ride that maybe I’m not feeling as great as I originally thought, the correct speed may drop precipitously.

How is it possible that no matter the speed I am going, it is the right speed for the occasion? I’m as mystified by this as you no doubt are.

And yet, it’s manifestly true. No matter what speed I ride, it always feels like I’m going the right speed, and that any other speed would be either recklessly aggressive, or dilly-dallying.

All you need to do, then, is just imagine we’re riding together, and just go the speed I would go if I were really there with you. 

Just don’t half-wheel the imaginary me you’re riding with. Even my imaginary self thinks that is not cool. 


  1. Comment by BostonCarlos | 03.14.2016 | 9:01 am

    Do I need to call you if I’m not riding with you to find out how fast you’re going? If so, we may want to establish either a live tracking website, or perhaps a hotline for people to dial into. We’ll call it Dial-a-fatty… wait… that’s probably taken, and probably not by someone with similar motives. On second thought … let’s just do the tracking website.

  2. Comment by Ospina | 03.14.2016 | 9:16 am

    I find it much easier to just swap garmins before the race, I mean, group ride, starts. Then when you look at your computer on the ride, you can clearly see that there is something wrong with your brakes since you are clearly going faster and with more power than it shows. Only issue is when you get dropped, computer stops working.

  3. Comment by Bill H-D | 03.14.2016 | 9:29 am

    I believe Tarzan wrote the following sentence:

    “Your heart is in the right place, but you have weak mind.”

    Given the otherwise sage advice offered here, I recommend a revision to Yodaspeak thusly:

    “In the right place, your heart is. But a weak mind, you have.”

  4. Comment by BostonCarlos | 03.14.2016 | 9:49 am

    PS: Happy Pi(e) day!

  5. Comment by lophat | 03.14.2016 | 10:13 am

    I do this by leading rides, where everybody is automatically riding the correct speed. Except on hills, where I let them ride the wrong speed. And long flat sections

  6. Comment by UpTheGrade, SR, CA | 03.14.2016 | 12:09 pm

    It must be a wonderful feeling to always ride at the right speed. The Pros could learn a lot from this blog post and thus avoid all those silly crashes etc.

    For my benefit, being a right-speed-challenged cyclist, perhaps you could post the correct speed for the day on your blog, sort of like a weather forecast, so all other cyclists would know the average Speed Of The Day and stop causing their fellow cyclists so much bother.

  7. Comment by bikemike | 03.14.2016 | 1:23 pm

    Who is that Rick Sunderlage clown?

  8. Comment by Arizona Guy | 03.14.2016 | 4:08 pm

    I mostly ride on my own, which ensures I am always at precisely the right speed.

    Group rides are often spirited contests to determine the right speed, which almost always ends up being ‘ as fast as the skinny young bastard can pedal’.

  9. Comment by UpTheGrade, SR, CA | 03.14.2016 | 10:06 pm

    Is there any truth to the rumor (which I just started) that Rick Sunderlage (not his real name) is the mystery buyer of Femke’s no-longer-needed motorized CX bike, just so he can finally achieve the Correct Speed?
    Perhaps he’s been struggling in the speed correctness department while riding with His Fattyness.

  10. Comment by LidsB2 | 03.15.2016 | 10:34 pm

    All of those things that you just said…are my favorite things too!


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