How slow is slow?

The Slow Bicycle Movement folks are all linking to this Wall Street Journal article about slow cycling by Jennifer Levitz.

Average cycling speeds are hard to figure since bikes differ widely. But Ms. Peterson’s group in Alabama says its riders mosey along at the low end of a range of 8 to 10 miles an hour. Over in Huntsville, Ala., the Spring City Cycling Club’s “steady-pace fat-burning ride” touts an average pace of 15-17 mph. For comparison: British cyclist Bradley Wiggins won 2012 Olympic gold by covering the 27-mile men’s time trial course at an average speed of 32.4 miles per hour.

Does Levitz include that 15-17 MPH pace in her “slow” category? It is, after all, half of Wiggins’ winning speed.

But pro cyclists operate at a completely different level than even the talented speed demons on your typical club rides. I average about 14 MPH on my six mile evening commute along the Guadalupe River Trail. That’s not blistering compared to many other riders, but I arrive in downtown San Jose drenched in sweat and it’s a good enough effort to put me in the top 10% of riders who log their trips to Strava. Road cycling clubs put that 15 to 17 MPH pace in their moderate to fast-moderate category for rides and riders.

In my mind, 12 MPH is about tops for a “slow” ride, and even that’s a brisk pace for most people.

Slow races are even slower than that — walking pace and below, and I presume they still disallow trackstands. As Copenhagenized pointed out a few years ago, slow bike races are nothing new. See, for example, this description of a slow bicycle race from the September 29, 1877 edition of Punch Magazine.


Slow Bicycle Race 1877

If you want to see competitive slow racing, go visit a sprint match at a velodrome, where racers will trackstand and ride at walking pace. Racers are limited to 3 minutes of standing per race.



3 Comments

  • Jack Kellythorne
    August 20, 2013 - 12:48 am | Permalink

    Hi Richard, I have been averaging about 45 minutes for a 10.5 mile ride on my folding bicycle. That is a very fast pace, about 13 MPH, for me and I have to sweat and off-gas on the bus home. 10 MPH is much more like it for a slow ride.

  • Ched
    August 21, 2013 - 11:32 am | Permalink

    As a member of the SCCC in Huntsville, even that 15-17MPH ride is a flatish roadie ride. Not may people bicycle commute here, so cycling is almost completely a fitness/sport thing. My riding ranges from 10-12mph jaunts to dinner to 20+mph roadie outings a few times a week.
    That article is an odd means of reporting on people who want to ride just for the pleasure of it. Even more odd to include Alabama in anything cycling related.

  • August 21, 2013 - 2:19 pm | Permalink

    What is considered “slow” depends on many factors. I also average about 14 MPH on my 15-mile commute along the Hudson River Greenway in NYC. However, this route includes some steep hills with tight turns (slow on the way up, brake on the way down), some stairs, some red lights, occasional pinch points with other cyclists and joggers where I must slow considerably, etc. While I average the entire route in 14 MPH end-to-end, I average closer to 17 MPH while moving along unimpeded on flat terrain.

    A ride that seeks to average 15-17 MPH while moving (as opposed to overall speed including stops at traffic lights) would definitely be a middling pace for someone on a ride for fitness (as opposed to sightseeing), and could probably be seen as slow for roadies used to going quite fast.

    Also, another data point: The minimum average speed for some charity ride centuries is 12 MPH. This includes pit stops to use the bathroom, eat, drink, etc. The minimum average speed for the sub-100 mile routes is 10 MPH. Granted, centuries are not for everyone, but it is not a race, and it is open to anyone. So I’m not sure I’d call 12 MPH a “brisk” pace.

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