What is a good cycling pace?

Want to know how fast your average bike speed compares in triathlon? Nik Cook takes a look at the data and has a handy tip for the number-crunchers…

Side-on view of French triathlete Sam Laidlow on his bike racing at the 2022 Ironman World Championship
Back in the day, the benchmark for a decent club cyclist was always being able to ride ‘evens’ – averaging 20mph (32kph) on the club-run and breaking the hour for a 25-mile (40km) TT.
At a pro level, though, for example, Sam Laidlow’s record-breaking Kona ride in 2022 averaged 27.6mph (44.4kph). And the winner of 2023’s fastest-ever Paris-Roubaix, Mathieu van den Poel, averaged 29.1mph (46.8kph) for the 256.6km.

Is there a good cycling pace?

So, what cycling pace should you be aiming for? I’d argue, you shouldn’t.
Although many riders, especially novices, do mark their progress with an increase in average speed over the rides, I’d argue that, for cycling, speed/pace is a pretty meaningless metric for tracking progress.
In fact, one of the first things I often get riders I coach to do is to get rid of any speed metrics from their in-ride head unit’s display.
The reason for my ‘no good cycling pace’ stance is that unlike running – to an extent – and definitely swimming, there are just way too many variables that impact on cycling pace.
I say running to an extent because, although gradient, and in extremis wind speed/direction, do have an impact on running pace, even the pace of a ride in an indoor velodrome can be significantly impacted by external variables in a way that running simply isn’t.
A great example of this is that when Sir Bradley Wiggins set his hour record mark of 54.526km at Lee Valley VeloPark in 2015, it’s been calculated the the high air pressure on the day probably cost him at least 500m.
Take a ride outdoors and, even on the same loop as you rode yesterday, as well as air pressure, you’ve got temperature, wind speed/direction, tyre pressure, different kit, your mate putting in a longer and stronger pull, etc etc.
This is before you even factor in other road users slowing you down or, with an overtaking car/lorry, sometimes giving you a bit of a speed boost. There’s just no way you can compare average speed of different rides.

How should I pace my rides?

So, how should you be ‘pacing’ your rides and comparing your performance from one to the next?
It’s all about power, as that metric is absolute and largely unaffected by the variables discussed.
For example, if you rode your local club 10-mile TT and one week, on a pre-thunder storm, low-air pressure evening, rode a 19:50 with an average power of 300W.
And then the next, on a bright sunny, high-pressure evening, rode 20:13 with 305W, the second was arguably a ‘better’ ride and certainly showed improvement. If you’d been using speed/pace as your metric, you wouldn’t see this.

What’s a good wattage to ride at? 

Well, you’ve also got to factor in weight and obviously duration of ride but, in terms of a benchmark, the w/kg at functional threshold power (FTP) categories used on Zwift are a pretty decent guide:
  • Category A: 4.0 w/kg FTP or higher
  • Category B: 3.2 w/kg to 4.0 w/kg FTP
  • Category C: 2.5 w/kg to 3.2 w/kg FTP
  • Category D: Under 2.5 w/kg FTP
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Before you get too excited if you’re a Cat A, though, do bear in mind that a top pro cyclist will be punching around 6 w/kg at FTP!
Top image credit: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images for Ironman