You don't have to spend lots of money on new kit to ride faster. Instead here are our tips to make your bike faster for free
1. Keep it clean
There’s no doubt that a clean bike is a fast bike. Not only do you get the psychological advantage of looking down and seeing your pride and joy glinting in the sunlight between your legs, but keeping the mud and grime away from your drivetrain and cables, especially during the winter months, will make your bike more efficient and save you money on replacement parts in the long run.
Now, cleaning your bike can be a right pain, and I have to say that I don’t always practice what I preach. The easiest way to keep your bike clean is to get into a routine. Take five minutes after each ride just to give everything a quick wipe down, and then schedule in a more thorough clean after the big weekend ride. And never let your bike get too dirty, as the dirtier it gets, the more hassle it’s going to be to clean.
2. Lube the chain
Now you’ve scrubbed away at that drivetrain and got it so shiny that it looks like new, you’re going to want to make sure it’s running smoothly too. A well-lubed chain will make your drivetrain more efficient, meaning that none of your effort is wasted through mechanical inefficiency, and will also decrease the amount of grime that the chain picks up on wet rides.
However, making sure the chain is properly lubed doesn’t mean slapping on as much lube as you possibly can to the point where the chain is more white than silver. Slowly add the lube to the inside of the chain while rotating the cranks, and when you’re done be sure to wipe off any excess.
3. Lower the front end
Here at Cycling Weekly we’re convinced that improving aerodynamics is the easiest way to ride faster. In fact, we’ve done experiments that show that aero is faster whatever the terrain. However, if you don’t want to splash out on a flash new aero bike, then you can still make gains by lowering the front end and riding in a lower, more aerodynamic position.
Assuming you’ve got spacers between your stem and the headset, this is easy enough to do. Simply remove the fork, take out a spacer or two, and then replace the stem, putting the spacers back on above.
However, be careful when you’re doing this, as your body might not be able to cope with a sudden, radical change in position. So lower the front end in increments, and work on your flexibility to keep injuries at bay.
4. Make sure your saddle height is right
It sounds simple really, but it’s amazing the number of cyclists, often with years of experience behind them, who ride with their saddle either too high or too low.
Having a saddle that is not set to the right height can not only cause injuries and discomfort, but will also make you slower, decreasing the efficiency of your pedal stroke and not allowing you to put full power through the pedals.
As a rule of thumb, the distance between your bottom bracket and the top of the saddle should be your inseam measurement minus 10cm; so if your inseam is 80cm then your saddle height will be 70cm.
But make sure to make allowances for your pedal system, so if you’re using Speedplay pedals with very little stack then you’ll need your saddle slightly lower.
5. Adjust pedal tension
Clipless pedals are possibly the least celebrated invention in cycling. Indeed, it’s possible to argue that the increase in average speeds in the Tour de France in the late 1980s and early 1990s was down to the improved efficiency that clipless pedals offered (although other, less legitimate, performance enhancements may have had an impact too).
The bad news is that if you don’t properly adjust your pedal tension, then you may as well be using toe clips.
Different pedals systems will have different ways to adjust the spring tension, so you’ll need to do your own research here, but make sure you adjust it to give a small amount of float to avoid injuries, while still holding your cleats firmly when riding out of the saddle.
6. Check your tyre pressure
Of all the tips on this list, making sure your tyres are at the right pressure is not only the easiest, but might also give your the greatest benefits too.
Having tyres that are too soft will mean an increase in rolling resistance, meaning you have to work harder to keep up your average speed, and also leaving you at an increased risk of pinch flats.
But before you go whacking your tyres up to 120psi, it’s not necessarily the case that the higher the pressure the faster you’ll ride.
Running a lower tyre pressure of around 90psi might not be as fast on smooth roads, but will mean increased grip, allowing you to go round corners quicker, and improved comfort, decreasing fatigue in your legs over long miles.
7. Make sure your gears are properly adjusted
Poorly adjusted gears can ruin any bike ride. In fact, I have to admit to turning for home after only a mile or two on a couple of occasions when my gears have been skipping all over the place.
Making sure your gears are working properly will increase the efficiency of your drivetrain, and leave you more confident to put the power down, particularly on steep gradients, knowing that you’re not suddenly going to be thrown into another sprocket.
Now, unfortunately adjusting your front and rear derailleurs is a more complicated procedure than I’ve got space to cover here, so you’ll have to head over to our page on the subject for a full step-by-step guide.
However the good news is that you won’t need any special tools and even if it’s a little fiddly, it’s within the capabilities of even the most inept home mechanic.
8. Make sure your brakes are properly adjusted
Making sure you can stop properly might not seem like the most obvious way to make you ride faster, but if you can brake later going into corners, and carry more speed out of the other side, then you’ll quickly see your average speed increasing, particularly if your ride is taking in some snaking descents or small, technical lanes.
Especially over the winter your brake pads are going to wear pretty quickly, so as they do so make sure you tighten the brakes to keep them the same distance from rims, meaning consistent braking performance.
It’s also worth checking the brake cable for stretch or signs of wear, although if you’re keeping your bike clean then hopefully this shouldn’t be too much of an issue.