There’s a saying you’ll hear quite a lot in cycling circles. It never gets easier, you just get faster.
There’s a lot of truth to this. The fitter you get, the more you will be capable of riding further and faster without ending up a sweaty heap. When I look back to when I started commuting by bike, my 7Km commute seemed like quite an ordeal. However, it wasn’t long before the weight started to fall off and the aches in my thighs began to subside.
One issue you will have, especially if you are commuting, is that you will often find yourself following the same route; you’ll have days where you just can’t face it; the weather will be terrible or you find yourself making excuses to use the car.
Fortunately there are a few things you can do to aid your progress and to keep yourself motivated.
1. Join Strava
Believe it or not, the main reason for joining Strava is not to race, but to find like-minded individuals in your area; to join the monthly distance challenges and to give yourself a frame of reference for when you look back in six months time to see how far you have progressed.
Best of all, we now have a club on Strava. If you sign up, head over to Cardiff By Bike’s Strava club and make yourself at home.
It’s also a great way to keep track of your mileage over the course of a year. If your bike mileage comes anywhere close to the odometer on your car, you’re onto a winner.
2. Get a heart-rate monitor
A heart rate monitor that works with your phone or your cycle computer is an excellent way to keep track of improvements to your cardiovascular system. Strava Premium users can see their “suffer score” after a ride. It stands to reason that your first few rides over your usual route to work will give you a higher suffer score than you’ll get a few months down the line.
A heart rate strap is a very inexpensive training aid, with most of them coming in at or under £40.
There are four “zones” between your resting heart rate and your maximum heart rate. Where these zones “are” depends on your age, usually. My max heart rate is set at 185bpm, with zone 2 starting at 112bpm.
Zones 1 & 2 (pootling and slightly upbeat pootling) are best for burning fat and, riding in a fasted state will train your body to use stored body fat to fuel your ride. Zones 3 & 4 will primarily use carbs –specifically the glycogen stored in your muscles. Between zones 2 & 3 is where you’ll likely spend the majority of your time –slightly faster than is comfortable, especially if you have to be at work for a certain time, or you are racing the sunset home.
There’s a finite amount of this glycogen available and it must be replaced ahead of time or you’ll find yourself “bonking” –becoming shaky & light-headed. Heading into zone 4 does happen, especially if you find yourself in busy traffic and need to navigate a junction or a sudden hill. Just be wary that you’ll probably run out of energy after too much time at zone 4.
3. Vary your route
Sticking to the same route day in, day out is boring. Even if you live in an area of outstanding natural beauty, seeing the same thing every day will get old pretty quickly.
Try the road less travelled every once in a while. Even the Taff Trail provides some scope for variation.
4. Don’t bite off more than you can chew
If you have a long commute –and by that I mean over 7Km, you may be tempted to try to do too much too soon. If you’ve not had that much exercise over the past few years you’ll want to build up slowly. Try riding to and from work once per week –a Friday perhaps. After a few weeks, add another day, giving yourself time to rest –Monday or Tuesday maybe. Build up from there until you feel that you are up to riding through the week.
5. Find a diet that works for you
Perhaps most important of all, sort out your eating habits. You can’t ride without fuelling yourself properly. Whilst you can (and should) ride in a fasted state in the morning, you’re going to need to follow that up with a good breakfast, preferably one that contains a reasonable amount of protein. If you have a canteen at work, scrambled eggs on brown toast would be ideal. Eggs are brilliant and they’re cheap.
Also, try to cut out the sugary stuff until you are actually riding. Sugar is ok as a quick source of fuel, but otherwise it just spikes your blood glucose levels and is quickly turned into fat. If you use Strava or a Garmin with a heart-rate monitor, you’ll get a fairly accurate reading of how many calories you burned on your journey. If you are trying to lose weight, you can still eat more whilst maintaining a calorific deficit, but be sensible & watch the sugar intake.
My current commute is roughly 30 minutes by bike, which uses around 300 calories each way. This is on top of the 2000 calories the average adult needs to consume to stay healthy & to keep the brain, muscles and organs in full working order. Maintaining a calorific deficit is good if you are trying to lose weight, but it needs to be done with care –losing a lot of weight over a very short period is rarely a good idea.