Ride Classifications Explained

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Anonymous's picture

Since I wrote this out for one of the threads, but figured everyone should see it, I'm repeating what the Club's classification system originally meant:

There are actually 3 ride speed numbers to remember -- Irv Weisman's rule of thumb (he's the one that invented all this) is:

Cruising speed - you look down at your spedometer while riding on FLAT GROUND - this is the number you see on rides (e.g. B15)

is 3 mph more than:

Average Speed - you look down at your computer's average speed on ROLLING TERRAIN, assuming that your computer stops for breaks and lunch - so that B15 actually averages 12mph. (The Club used to focus more on this number prior to the early 1990s, when the cruising term came about, because it is a more accurate summation of a whole ride and rider capability since almost no rides we do are wholly on flat ground)

is 3 mph more than

Whole Day speed - This is number of hours from the time you left your home till you got back divided into the number of miles you covered (i.e. this would be the same as if your bike computer didn't stop counting lunch and breaks into the time total). If you don't stop much the differential is less. This number is useful for ride leaders planning rides mainly. So that B15 ride that lasts 6 hours covers 54 miles for a whole day average of 9mph.

These numbers are further modified by ride hilliness, major headwind/tailwind, and, arguably, excessive heat/cold.

Because many riders and ride leaders are confused about this, we have grade inflation in the club, where people list a B15 ride and then proceed to AVERAGE 15 (which is 3 mph more than what it should be causing all kinds of misunderstanding). I hope we can now all be on the same page.

Anonymous's picture
Linda Wintner (not verified)
Fabulous job Maggie

I agree that there seems to be a lot of confusion and misunderstanding. People can also check the monthly club bulletin, which explains the classification system and has a self-test to help riders determine what level they are. Also, for ride leaders, see the Ride Leader Guidelines online.


Anonymous's picture
Michael Steiner (not verified)
Self-test's cruising speed ...

Incidentally, the self-test's description is a bit misleading, though:
It talks about cruising speed but really computes average speeds. Central Park is not that hilly but not flat either. And then there are all the red lights we are all stopping at ... :-)

Anonymous's picture
Mike (not verified)

I noticed this too. If you do the math (24.4 miles divided by the specified cut-off time in hours), the self-test actually computes your ride level as anywhere from 0.7 to 2.4 miles per hour above the average speed (using the upper time cut-off). The exact amount fluctuates by level. Generally, but not consistently, more miles per hour are added to your average speed the slower you are. In any case, it seems the classification table reflects neither the average speed exactly nor the average speed + 3. Any idea where these numbers came from?

Anonymous's picture
David C. (not verified)
Rules of Thumb

For what it's worth, I've noticed that the -3 mph rule does not work well for faster rides. You may be on an A-23 where people typically cruise at 23-24 mph, but it takes long enough to get up to speed and there are enough hills, stops and starts (even with long stretches without lights), that the average is often 17-19 mph at the end of a long ride (at pace). I'd say that the rule gets to -4 to -6 (average speed versus cruising speed) for faster rides with significant hill climbing.

The Central Park self-assessment is completely off for such rides too. I think it would be good to have a workable one, but the one on the webpage tells people that they are not ready for rides that they probably could do.

Qualification: I've heard the various explanations of the existing self-assessment -- that 4 CP laps are far shorter than most rides, that CP laps are flatter than most rides, etc. In any case, the times on the page are faster than necessary for most riders who would like to do faster rides (at least in terms of fitness level; the self-assessment does not and can't measure bike skills).

Anonymous's picture
Maggie Clarke (not verified)
Central park classification accuracy

"The 3 mph difference was derived from years of Irv collecting data on NYCC rider performance (you should see the spreadsheets, all done by hand - I think I still have them...).

The Central Park numbers also worked for Irv, even if the speeds, when calculated as you have, are a little higher. He wanted those who would come on the C SIG be capable of doing a NJ (Bergen/Rockland) ride ending with the Palisades killer. He didn't want to have a situation where a rider couldn't make it back. So he designed the Central Park times a little faster and insisted that 4 laps be done because it's less likely that you are going to push yourself all out for 4x vs. 3x, and therefore get a more accurate reading of your own performance. Back in the day, there were no red lights in Central park, though I can remember on numerous occasions we were competing for space with runners and races. As for the Central park times, themselves, clearly there was some attempt at simplicity, having classifications separated on the hour, and 15 minute increments rather than at odd minute increments. He knew there was a tendency for people to treat the classification as a time trial despite his exhortations not to. Also, the ride (24 miles) was shorter than a real ride, so he knew that on a real ride you would go a little slower.

The original scheme worked well from the time I joined until the time the Club opted to throw out the A+, A, A-, B+, B, B-, C+, C and the average speeds that went along with each of these, and go with the newly developed ""cruising speed"". There was really nothing wrong with using average speed. He knew that but decided not to argue the point. The problem came because the significant differences between cruising and average that we are talking about in this thread are unknown by most who lead and go on rides."

Anonymous's picture
David C (not verified)
Still doesn't work as well on the higher end

Sounds like Irv did a lot of work. That's great.

I still think that the self-assessment and the -3 mph rule (for calculating what the average speed for a ride will be based on the ride-pace designation; e.g. 13 mph avs for a B16) are both more accurate for slower, flatter rides (with which you are more familiar, Maggie?) than faster, hilly ones.

Anonymous's picture
Mordecai Silver (not verified)
Ride classifications

I believe that the present classification should be scrapped and replaced with a simpler one: A+, A, A-, B+, B, etc. Is there really a significant difference between B15 & B16 or A20 & A21?

Cruising speed on flat ground is affected by wind. If a B15 group is riding into a headwind, a strong rider up front may feel comfortable riding at 15 mph, and can justify this pace by the ride listing, while the rest of the group may have a hard time keeping up.

Anonymous's picture
Claudette (not verified)

Being new to this, I am trying to find out where I fit in. The self-test in the Park was a helpful guideline and gave me an idea of where to start, but going on the rides is the only real way to know. Also, an A20 with a lot of elevation gain or a longer distance is VERY different from a shorter A20 or for a mostly flat ride.

IMHO, more importantly, the Park test lets folks know that they are expected to be able to ride for about 24 miles continuously in order to enjoy the longer club rides.

Leaving the numbers *in* the classification is a good way to let people know, in general, where they should start. The +/- system might be even more confusing...


Anonymous's picture
April (not verified)

"A lot of clubs use average speed instead of cruising speed. So when going to a very hilly ride, the rider should know enough to drop down a group.

The one problematic issue with rides originates from the boathouse is the first 10 mile of most of our rides are in the city. So the average speed may turn out a lot lower than the true speed outside the city.

For very long rides (80+), the effect is minimal. But on a sub-50 mile ride, the actual speed, once outside the city, has to be significantly faster than the ""average"" for the entire ride to average out to be the advertised ""average"" speed."

Anonymous's picture
Tom Laskey (not verified)

There is no ride classification that is perfect. There are always variables involved that can lead to confusion. However, I truly believe our current system makes the most sense.

Using average speed as a basis is pointless since no one knows their average speed until the ride is over. And why add to the vagaries by using +, ++ or other symbols that can easily be misinterpreted? To me, there is nothing easier or more specific than looking down at your computer and going by your cruising speed on the flats. It's the easiest indicator and the easiest to control. If you go through a hilly section the ride leader will have to keep their eye on the group and possibly stop to regroup but that would be the case with any system. There is always going to be gaps in the speed and abilities of riders in a group, the bigger the ride, the larger the variance. No classification system will change that.

As far as the self-test, that should only be used as a rough guide. Also, the average speed plus 3mph = cruising speed should not be taken too literally. I remember discussing this with Irv Weisman himself and he was very emphatic that there is no real impirical (his word) proof of the 3 mph rule, it is a rough indicator based largely on anecdotal experience. New riders should do the self-test to get a sense of where they are. If the test errs on the conservative side that's probably a good thing. Better for new riders to underestimate their abilities than overestimate. Once they go on an actual ride they'll see where they stack up in the NYCC world.

Anonymous's picture
Maggie Clarke (not verified)
Yes you can know your avg speed before the end of the ride

"I don't lead rides from Central Park partly because I don't want to throw in 30 extra crappy miles (going from Inwood to CP, then back north to where I would ordinarily start, then do the ride, then back down to CP, then back home to Inwood), so my rides have tended to avoid the stop and go of commuting, as Irv used to call it.

Since my rides are more out in good biking territory, I have noticed that you don't have to go too far to get a fairly good idea (w/in 1 mph accuracy) of your average speed pretty quickly into the ride. As a leader it's the main indicator that I use repeatedly during my rides to know if I'm doing the advertised pace. Just looking down when I ""think"" I'm on a level doesn't give me a holistic picture of the entire ride. You really want to know that the level of effort for the whole ride is within bounds, not a snapshot in time now and then. Also, a fallacy of this idea of flat terrain is that it is extremely hard to know if you are on a zero percent grade vs 1, 2 or 3. One of Irv's best graphs shows that when you are going 16mph on flat ground, you expend the same effort at 1% grade but go 13mph, and speed falls further as you increase grade at the same level of effort. The largest fall off in speed occurs closest to the zero percent grade. He had many club riders get on wind trainers and do extended rides where he also had heart monitors on them to measure effort. So if you are leading a ride looking down thinking you are on zero grade, but you are actually +2% or -2% grade and the spedometer reads the advertised pace, your assumptions about how well you are actually keeping to advertised pace are way off. Again, this sort of snapshot is prone to major errors. Alternatively, after an hour or more of riding, your average speed plus 3 for rolling terrain, average stop lights, etc. will give you a better estimate of the effort of the entire ride up to that point.

Try it out on rides. Check the average speed often for the first hour (more if you add the ""commuting""). It's interesting to see how soon the avg speed levels off to the real value."

Anonymous's picture
Maggie Clarke (not verified)
Difference between B15 and B16

Again, quoting Irv, who was an engineer who really was an expert in this, having studied club members' performance in great detail, there is a significant difference with 1 mph. The old classification was based on it as is the new. If the fastest you are comfortable with for a whole day's ride is X, then you might possibly, on a good day, be able to do X+1, but maybe not. You definitely can't do a long ride at X+2. You could do a shorter training ride at faster speeds. The key is knowing that first number. If a person typically rides at X-1 or X-2 (i.e. below their potential), then of course they can up their pace more than a person riding on the edge of their capability.

Anonymous's picture
Peter Brevett (not verified)

When you are on your bike, there is not a big difference with 1 mph, unless you are talking about a fast A ride. Using the flat cruising speed is a much better gauge of whether or not a person can do a ride than the average speed. People know what kind of pace they can keep up with on flats. Average speed is a hassle to follow. How many people really will remember to look at their computer at the end of the day and then remember what that average speed was? Plus it can vary greatly from ride to ride. Why make something more complicated that it has to be?

Anonymous's picture
Maggie Clarke (not verified)

As I explained on a different post, it doesn't take all that long during a ride for your average speed as seen at any one moment to approach the actual average speed for the day. Try it out once. Average speed takes no more effort to follow than current speed (after all these computers show both don't they?)

I'd also explained that it's nearly impossible to tell if you're on flat ground vs. say -2% or +2% and this makes a huge difference in the effort expended to maintain a specific pace, this is an error-prone method.

Not everyone climbs hills as easily as others. Large people can do really well on the flats as can smaller people, but put these riders who are equal on the flats in hilly country, and see who gets up the hills faster. Stated another way, tie a 30 pound weight to your bike and see if it makes any difference in your speed flats vs. hills.

The difference in speed of 1 mph isn't important unless you are riding close to your capability. If you are riding slower than you can, sure, you can add another mph without a problem. If you choose rides close to your capability, then it does make a difference.

The reason for the discussion is that people are confusing average and cruising, and misunderstandings on rides.

Anonymous's picture
Tom Laskey (not verified)

"Maggie, you say you don't lead rides from Central Park, but most club rides do start in the park so your experience is not relevant to what most club riders experience. Also, your average speed can change drastically during a ride depending on the route. One of my favorite routes is Pearl River. The first half of the ride is very hilly, the return is mostly flat. Should my speed going home when the terrain is mostly flat be based on the average of the hillier part of the ride? That doesn't make sense to me. And in any case, you say you can get an accurate average speed in one hour. So how do you determine your speed for that first hour?

As far as noticing grades, your post is a bit contradictory. You say most people don't notice a + or - 2% grade but then you say that Irv's experiments showed that riders exert themselves more on those grades. I usually notice it when I'm exerting more energy and my heart rate increases. Usually that makes me slow down. And in any case, how would that differ if you go by average speed + 3 or cruising speed? Either way, your tempo on the grades is going to vary regardless of the way you measure your pace. If you're suggesting adjusting your pace on the flats to compensate for the grades, that doesn't make too much sense to me either.

Most riders know the speed they can ride on ""relatively"" flat terrain. For the most part, that doesn't vary much. What does vary are traffic, hills and wind. Since I don't think there is any consistent way to account for these factors, I think they should be left out of the equation for calculating baseline pace. Once on the ride, an experienced and resourceful rider leader should be able to compensate for the variables on the fly. IMHO, it's doubtful any amount of science or math will be of much help."

Anonymous's picture
Richard Rosenthal (not verified)
"""You talkin' to me?"" Robt. DeNiro in ""Taxi Driver."""

"""Not everyone climbs hills as easily as others. ... Stated another way, tie a 30 pound weight to your bike and see if it makes any difference in your speed flats vs. hills.""
-M. Clarke

Umm, ah, you're not, uhh, like, talking about anyone in, ahh, particular, are you, Maggie?

Also, can I factor in my dotage? Please."

Anonymous's picture
John Doe (not verified)

The length of the climb makes a difference as well. Add 30LBS to a strong rider over a short hill and it won't have as much of a negative effect compared to a long climb. John Doe

Anonymous's picture
Jack (not verified)

"You said ""Tack 30 lbs on your bike and see if it makes a difference"" ? You bet. It makes a difference everywhere.
Everytime you accelerate from 0-whatever your expending more of your hard earned calories. Once you get up to speed aero is a factor I agree. But extended mileage on pure flat surface with lots of stop and go .. 30 lbs will make u pay!"

Anonymous's picture
Derek Chu (not verified)
other club's ride ratings

"I think it's pretty funny that even long-time, active club members can't come to a consensus and agreement! For perspective, here is how three bike clubs within 150 miles of NYC rate their Club Rides:

DELAWARE VALLEY BC(Western suburbs of Philly)

B- 14 to 15 30 + For more experienced riders with rest stops at the discretion of the ride leader. No obligation to wait for stragglers if cue sheets or maps are provided.
B+ 16 to 18 30+ For strong riders with rest stops at the discretion of the ride leader. No obligation to wait for stragglers if cue sheets or maps are provided.
A 19+ 30+ For very strong riders with rest stops on rides longer then 40 Miles at the discretion of the ride leader. No obligation to wait for stragglers if cue sheets or maps are provided.

SOUND CYCLISTS- Fairfield County, CT
Ride rating graphics are too cool and high-tech to paste here.

Class A
Difficult, 45 to 100+ miles
18 to 20 mph average on flat terrain
16 to 18 mph average on rolling/hilly terrain
15 to 16 mph average on very hilly terrain
Class B
Advanced, 25 to 90 miles
15 to 18 mph average on flat terrain
13 to 16 mph average on rolling/hilly terrain
12 to 14 mph average on very hilly terrain"

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