I routinely hear people justify buying a lesser bike because they "aren't looking to win any races". Which makes sense. If you can't stand on top of the podium drenched in champagne holding an over-sized check, the extra money spent for more precise shifting or suspension that doesn't allow air to mix with the oil isn't a sound investment. However, the work and sacrifice to get to the level of receiving any monetary compensation for riding your bike is too much for most of us mere mortals. So what would be the benefit of getting fast for the recreational rider?
The biggest benefit of being able to ride faster is that you get to experience more in your limited amount of time. When you cover more ground, you see more, and therefore your adventure is more full. A ride usually reserved for Saturday when you have an open schedule can become the ride you do before work. Without argument, your day goes a lot better when you start it off looking down the Wasatch Front from the saddle of Ben Lomond peak.
Also, it's easier to sneak out for an hour when you know you can get a good ride in than to go for an hour and not even make it to the top of the local awesome trail. There is something defeating about having to turn around before you're ready.
Another benefit is that you won't need a week to recover from your Saturday frolic. You could even fit a couple significant rides into your week and still get your epic ride on Saturday. This can be attributed to better overall health and it will translate into eating and sleeping habits. So that brings us to how we can get faster. Here are the quickest and easiest steps to instantly get faster. Otherwise you have to do cross-training, which is all of the stuff that we started biking to avoid.
1. Eat Better
-This step seems hard, and it is very difficult to change your entire diet. However, food is fuel. The better the fuel, the better the engine runs. It's as simple as that. Consistently eating well is harder than just eating something good right before you head out, so start out eating well to fuel your rides. Who knows? You may even want to eat better. I'll let you figure out what fuel to consume, but whole foods are always a good thing. Carbs combined with protein and fluids with electrolytes probably will help also. Appropriate fuel varies depending on the ride.
-This step is the most difficult for those of us with kids. but getting proper rest is crucial in order to have the energy to complete your ride. Then after you're done riding, you need to sleep again to recover so that next time you ride you'll be faster.
3. Upgrade Bike
-A lighter bike is going to make it easier to go uphill, but that's not the whole package. A bike designed for an intended use is going to accomplish the desired task better than a bike designed for something else. If you trailride a cyclocross bike, it will be light so it should climb well. But it's traction and geometry will slow you down. It may still be fun, maybe the kind of fun that near death experiences provide,but it won't be fast on a loose or technical trail. The Same goes for an 8-inch travel, dual-crown downhill bike on a smooth and flowy trail like Bonneville Shoreline. It will just be wrong for the trail and therefore, not fast. However, if you go with a mid-travel full-suspension bike it will be perfect for 95% of the trails out there and really good for the last 5%. The same applies to road bikes. A bike with endurance geometry will excel on the long rides, but not do as well as a climbing bike on North Ogden Divide. Just like mountain bikes, there are good road bikes that do it all. If you cater to the 95% of your riding, you will get faster with a better bike.
4. Upgrade Wheels
-This is easier than upgrading your entire bike and in some cases it's a better option than upgrading your entire bike. Better wheels will handle, accelerate, and even brake better than heavier or flimsier options. Lighter wheels should make you faster, but weight is only one aspect of what makes a good wheel. If you are on a limited budget, just upgrade your tires. Tires are the easiest way to make an immediate change in how your bike rides. Make sure you find the wheels and tires that are going work best for what you want them to do.
5. Upgrade Components
-This is the least noticeable way to get faster, but still makes a difference. If you can crunch through gears while the hammer is down, you'll be faster. Upgrading to carbon handlebars and seat post will only make a little difference in the short run, but for the days you can go on longer rides those "small" upgrades will help you feel fresher for longer and that will help you be faster. If you have a mountain bike and upgrade your suspension, you'll have more control which equates to more confidence and thus more speed. As Sir Isaac Newton taught us, more speed is directly related to being faster. And a dropper post on any bike will make you faster. ANY bike. Just ask me to prove it when I can build the Wikipedia page filled with my biased assumptions.
Now you can justify all the awesome stuff(including food and sleep) that will make you faster, because being faster lets you fit more riding in. And everyone can benefit from more riding.