Are you thinking of bike commuting and wondering how long the journey will take?
To find the answer, it helps to know what the average commuter bike speed is.
Maybe you’re already bike commuting and want to know how your speed stacks up against other commuters?
These are the topics we’ll explore in this article.
What Is The Average Commuter Bike Speed?
There are many variables in a bike commute that might make it faster or slower. Can all these variables be distilled into a single figure? Sort of. A ballpark figure, anyway.
Reliable Sources For Bike Commuter Speed
We can pluck a figure from Strava a few years back which said the average U.S. bike commute speed was 13.6 mph (or 21.9 km/h – source: Velo News.)
Strava probably holds more cyclists’ data than any other authority or business worldwide. However, the figures are skewed towards people who take the trouble to record their rides. A global average would probably be a tad slower.
If you bike commute in a city, some cities are faster than others for bike commuting. This is largely to do with infrastructure, though it may also be influenced by cycling culture and higher average fitness. NYC is close to our first average at 13.5 mph.
What about sources other than Strava?
In 2012, the city of Copenhagen noted that cyclists averaged speeds of between 9.63 mph and 12.8 mph (15.5 and 20.72 km/h) through the city. Faster speeds were possible in areas with the “Green Wave” traffic light program.
(Commuters who ride into a town or city from suburbs may record a higher average speed since the first portion of their journey is likely to be less congested.)
We can also look at a Swedish study of cyclists’ speed on combined pedestrian and cycle paths. The study found average speeds were between 7.8 and 16.47 mph (12.5 and 26.5 km/h), with the higher of these speeds found on commuter routes.
With the above figures in mind, it’s reasonable to say that an average commuter bike speed is likely to be between 10 and 15 mph (16 and 24 km/h). A trained cyclist might ride at 17-20 mph (27-32 km/h) or more if there aren’t many obstacles or steep hills.
A mistake some people make is to buy a bike computer and deduce their average speed from their fastest moments on a ride. They’ll look down, see they’re doing over 20 mph a few times, and optimistically declare this as their standard.
Unfortunately, average speed is always a warts-and-all figure that includes all the slowing down and stopping. This is not entirely unfair, because these moments allow you to catch your breath and recover. Riding fast constantly is harder.
Commuting Time vs. Speed Examples
Let’s say you bike-commute a distance of 8 miles, which appears to be close to the U.S. average (or was). How long is it going to take you at any given speed?
Check out the table below:
Factors like wind direction and speed don’t matter in the table, because this is the speed you’ve hypothetically achieved regardless.
Note the diminishing returns in time saved as your speed increases.
Milestones like a metric 30 km/h or imperial 20 mph aren’t easily reached without some considerable dedication. At least, that’s the case for most people.
Of course, shorter distances make faster speeds more sustainable if safety permits them on a commute. Averaging 20 mph over two miles is vastly easier than doing it for two hours.
What Affects Bike Speed On A Commute?
Many factors affect your speed on a bike commute. Some of them you can influence and others you can’t.
Type of Bike
The type of bike you ride makes a big difference in how fast you can go on your commute. If your commute is solely on smooth tarmac, a road bike will be faster than any other bike.
One reason a road bike is fastest is that it places the rider in a more aerodynamic position. Many cyclists regard aerodynamics as “too serious” a topic for their bike riding, but it affects them nonetheless.
The commuter who wears tight-fitting cycling attire on a road bike will be faster still for the same reason: it creates less drag. If you wear loose clothing or sit upright on a bike, you’re slowing yourself down.
Read more: Guide to bike commuter clothing
Other bikes that are fairly fast on a road include a gravel bike or a hybrid bike, but both place the rider in a more upright, less aerodynamic position than a road bike.
Compared to a road bike, you’ll be slightly slower on a gravel bike and up to 5 mph slower on a hybrid bike. A hybrid is worse partly because the flat handlebar opens up your torso to the wind. It’s also broader and heavier.
Road bikes are designed to maximize your pedaling power. They’re efficient. Cruiser bikes sit at the opposite end of the scale, but they still work for unhurried commutes.
If your commute takes you off-road and onto some rough trails, an MTB will be the fastest bike. A 29er hardtail is a good choice if your commute covers mixed terrain.
The weight of a bike has less effect on speed than most people think unless you’re hauling a two-wheeled tank over big climbs. A lightweight bike does accelerate faster, and that boosts average speed a little on stop-start commutes.
Wheels And Tires
Few parts on a bike make an appreciable difference to your speed, but wheels and tires always have this potential. Wheels with lateral stiffness help to transfer your power efficiently to the road and don’t flex much under hard riding.
A wheel upgrade is often a way to make a new bike quicker. If you can’t afford that, start with the tires!
Tires might be even more important. Many commuters pick tires with tons of puncture resistance for their commute, but these tires are slow. Road tires like the Continental GP 5000 (tubed or tubeless) are very fast and still acceptably flat-resistant.
Video: Continental Grand Prix 5000 Long-Term Review
Faster tires are always suppler tires. You can look at the TPI count (threads per inch) as a sign of how fast and comfortable a tire may be. The above-mentioned Continental has 110 TPI per layer, for instance, whereas an average tire is 60 TPI.
Should you choose fast road tires for a commute? Only if you like riding quickly and aren’t unduly afraid of an occasional puncture. Even the feel of a fast tire can have a positive psychological effect versus the draggy feel of a thick, slow tire.
Your Fitness Level
More than anything, your fitness level affects how fast you can ride a bike. It takes a lot of aerobic fitness to ride a bike quickly for any sustained period. If your commutes are short, you’ll struggle to acquire this fitness without also riding in your spare time.
Alternatively, it is possible to use a bike commute to perform high-intensity intervals. The idea with these is to incrementally condition your body to work harder. If your time is limited, this is an effective way to enhance fitness and speed.
Regardless, regular bike commutes help you to maintain a decent level of fitness and reduce the likelihood of serious illnesses (e.g., diabetes, heart disease).
Lack of fitness will certainly make you slow on your first few commutes. Riding a bike at moderate intensity burns more calories than almost any other activity, save for running. You are likely to see some early improvements in speed before fitness levels off.
It’s hugely important to sleep well if you want to ride quickly on your commute and have enough energy for your working day.
Recovery is as important in cycling as the effort you make on the bike. Lack of sleep adversely affects performance.
As long as your bike commute isn’t longer than about 90 minutes, you could hop on a bike in the morning without breakfast and have enough energy for the ride. But you won’t ride your quickest this way, nor should you try to.
The glycogen stored in your muscles overnight is enough to fuel a ride. But this type of fasted riding should be slow and steady.
Riding a bike without breakfast is said to burn more fat and help you lose weight, though this is a contentious topic. Liver glycogen levels do deplete overnight, which can cause hypoglycemia (aka “bonking”) if you subsequently exercise too hard without eating.
A hilly commute slows any cyclist down and puts a large dent in average speed. The heavier you are as a rider, the more this is the case. Unfortunately, this is not speed you can recover on descents.
This is one reason why sprinters and “puncheurs” never win the Tour de France. Their extra weight means they’re slower over mountains than lighter riders. Wout Van Aert challenges this logic, but most riders do not.
On the other hand, a powerful rider can often blast over short hills, so these brief climbs in series are less damaging to speed than one long hill for heavier riders.
Does a lighter bike make you faster over hills? For sure. But many cyclists make themselves substantially faster uphill by losing weight themselves (up to a point – you shouldn’t be malnourished).
Routes & Obstructions
Your choice of route, if you have a choice, affects your average speed. If you can avoid intersections, pedestrian crossings, European roundabouts, or heavy traffic in general, you’ll go faster. No surprise there!
Taking this idea to extremes, you might avoid making left turns across busy roads where possible in the U.S and mainland Europe. Keep yourself moving by picking quieter turns or favoring right turns over left (travel clockwise).
Wind can flatter your average speed on one leg of a commute and decimate it on the other. For the fastest there-and-back average speeds, you need calm days.
A tailwind never gives back what you lose to a block headwind. The effects of wind are asymmetrical, as is the case with hills.
The way you measure your average speed and the settings you use on a bike computer can alter the result.
Using a speed sensor to measure distance and speed or setting your device to record GPS location every second reduces the potential for error.
You can set a bike computer to only record above a certain speed. This is undoubtedly cheating, but it’s kind of justified if you want a snapshot of unhindered riding.
Using a bike commute to increase fitness is a common aim, and with fitness comes the potential for greater speed and distance. But how will you capitalize on this?
We hope this article inspires you to ride faster or farther and enjoy the road you’re on.
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