Life on a bike-7: Speed

Soon after learning to ride a bike, speed probably becomes the next objective.  We’re all speed junkies, especially in our youth.  We may have already experienced speed in a car, train or plane but on a bike the experience is more visceral and somehow seems more real.  As a child the extra velocity achieved just rolling down a modest incline is thrilling and will soon lead to more daring exploits in order to achieve greater speed.

Speed can be achieved under the power of the cyclist’s strength alone or by taking advantage of favourable terrain to achieve even greater speeds.  In the former case speed might be measured over a distance, on the road in time trials or on the track, where very high speeds can only be sustained for a short period of time.  Road racing probably provides the most dramatic spectacle as riders literally plunge from the top of mountains, often on narrow, bendy and sometimes slippery roads, at speeds in excess of 65mph.  On the flat the peloton can still travel at 30mph but, with over 160 riders in close formation as in the Tour de France, there is the strong possibility of multiple crashes as riders balance the benefit gained from drafting, with the threat posed other riders just inches away.

Ultimate cycling speed will normally be achieved on a smooth surface but off-road speed provides another type of thrill.  With bumps, roots, rocks and mud along the way, at speed coming off is almost guaranteed, at which point colliding with the aforementioned obstacles inevitably results in injury. However, the appeal therein is pitting bike skills against the natural terrain and obstacles whilst travelling fast.

For the serious speed junkie and racers, speed is taken as an occupational hazard but it is not to be underestimated. Where there is speed, there is risk and danger that can sometimes lead to serious accidents, even death.

For the less adventurous, who doesn’t enjoy speeding along an open road on a warm summer’s day?  It provides an intoxicating feeling that brings cycling to life and makes life all the better for it.


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