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Commuting as workout

Old 02-01-23, 07:04 PM
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Commuting as workout

hi, I have been getting back into cycling in general and specifically commuting / car light cycling.
I have noticed that I am pretty slow and trying to add mileage to my rides and have considered using cycling workouts from the competitive area in order to help improve my abilities. I was wondering if others here might have some experience with that and maybe some words of encouragement.

thanks in advance
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Old 02-01-23, 07:39 PM
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[YMMV]Me and mine (blind) ride a tandem together to her worksite starting zero dark thirty, 4.5mi on a rolling urban course with one significant hill. I ride back light, and may add additional miles depending on the day. I don't think the commute is the time or place to worry about anything other than the details of making good time safely. We do a 3x/wk full body workout with significant weights and add cardio (elliptical, rower, swim) and abdominal work depending on the day. This is so the commute can proceed as it will. We get fit doing anything except cycling so that our cycling can be as efficient as possible. The commute certainly doesn't take away from our fitness level, but I am unsure how much it adds, given the reality of (lack of) ambient light, traffic lights, stop signs, loading, unloading, detours, weather ... ... [/YMMV]
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Old 02-01-23, 07:45 PM
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How far is your commute? For the last two years I've been commuting 5 miles each way a few times a week and I'm starting to show improved strength. I'm normally a long distance runner and occasional fitness and longish distance rider (45-60) miles, but I am a spinner and pretty much always sat to climb, in part because I would bonk if I climbed while standing. Now, I pretty much ride my commute as fast as I can (14-16mph avg in traffic depending on route and time of day), but I feel much more comfortable getting out of the saddle to climb and my 16-20mi weekend route is showing improved times overall. Anyway, just one person's anecdote and certainly not a scientific one, but I'd say if you ride hard, at least some of the time on your commute, it will increase your fitness.
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Old 02-01-23, 07:59 PM
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Commuting is like any other cycling other than the length being fixed and often being shorter than a weekend ride. So, it will certainly get you very fit if you apply all the standard bike fitness tricks.

I personally fartlek it on my commute .. a long hill is an FTP interval, a short hill is a HIIT, etc. Since my commute is only 6 miles it is ideally suited for more intense intervals, and it has 500 feet of hills for good fartlek-ing. I do my longer zone 2 rides on the weekends. I usually don’t wear my heart monitor on my commute but when I do it is 10bps over my weekend rides on average.
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Old 02-01-23, 08:04 PM
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i ride for my commute 2-3 x per week. I figure if I have to commute I might as well get some exercise out of it. When I start to feel like my fitness is leveling off I'll start adding miles to the morning ride. In the winter I use studded tires, and with the snow/ice it's hard enough that I don't add miles. I don't worry about how fast because I'm not competing against anyone but my own fitness goals.
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Old 02-01-23, 08:11 PM
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My commute was 27 miles one way. I was typically leaving a car at work, cycling home and back in the AM. This was partly on designated bike lanes in Brooklyn, then bike paths, then many local streets. As it was rush hour, I made a conscious effort to not hammer or otherwise make it a training ride. You really, really need to pay attention and racing to make a traffic light is a surefire way to get hit. If you need more mileage, figure out some variations on the way home when you've got the time and extend to whatever you feel comfortable with.
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Old 02-01-23, 09:58 PM
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I actually started bike commuting when I was training for a triathlon and had the realization that made more sense for me to have my bike with me than to take the bus home, then get changed and go out for a ride. Started bike racing a few years ago, and have incorporated commuting into training pretty consistently since. I’m a Cat 3 on the road and I know a lot of racers who commute, at least pre-pandemic and WFH. There are only so many hours in the week, and you have to get saddle time where you can.

So, a couple things. First, remember that there’s no rule that says you have to take the most direct route between home and work, so add miles or find a route that’s on better roads, however you define that. Second, it helps if you have a place to change at work, even better to have a shower if you’re planning to do the hard riding on the way to work.

As for the kinds of workout rides, I’ve done them all from sprint to vo2max to sweetspot to recovery rides. I typically follow a plan that I have put together, sometimes with coaching help. I ride my race bike and bring stuff in a backpack, so really high effort stuff like sprint work out of the saddle isn’t great with a backpack swinging around, but generally the longer the intervals, the better. . 2x20’ sweetspot intervals are fine, if you can find a detour that avoids a lot of intersections.

So yeah, it’s totally doable and a really efficient use of time. Even if you don’t go in for a structured training program, you’ll get fitter just by riding longer and more consistently through the week. Good luck!
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Old 02-01-23, 11:20 PM
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Eddy Merckx's advice was "ride lots." Riding to work helps accomplish that.
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Old 02-01-23, 11:28 PM
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When my commute was 12 miles rt it was much more of a workout than it is now at 7.4. Just not enough time to get much done
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Old 02-02-23, 04:56 AM
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Originally Posted by e0richt
hi, I have been getting back into cycling in general and specifically commuting / car light cycling.
I have noticed that I am pretty slow and trying to add mileage to my rides and have considered using cycling workouts from the competitive area in order to help improve my abilities. I was wondering if others here might have some experience with that and maybe some words of encouragement.

thanks in advance
This is a wise idea!

I wonder why so many people fail to see how stupid and insane it is to use a car allegedly to save time on their commutes only to spend those saved minutes at the gym afterwards, polluting and wasting money in the meantime ?

My commutes are 90km (60miles) long and they have taught me a couple of things :
Breathing is the most important thing to keep in mind : conscious, regular and deep breathing will keep your muscles and brain oxygenated and prevent your mind from wandering in unknown and dangerous territories.
Don't overexert yourself by trying to be faster : that will wear you out for the rest of the commute, it will be painful and boring and you won't enjoy your next commute : rather start your commutes intentionally slowly and give yourself and your body time to warm up and feel competitive.
Think about your commutes as a long term training plan.
Alternating intervals of high intensity with twice as long recovery ones in the middle of your commute can improve your shape, if you have hills on your commute use them in that purpose.

Cheers and keep us updated !
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Old 02-02-23, 11:46 AM
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I'm thinking about re-starting my 10-12 mile (each way) commute. It has worked well as training in the past, so I'm looking forward to it. (Mostly.)

A few notes:

If you're riding every day, don't treat every ride as a race. You'll get tired, and pushing hard all the time is not productive.

On the other hand, try a hard ride and/or sprint intervals 1-3 times a week. Those will help you get faster and increase your stamina.

Take the long way home every week or so in the summer. New scenery = more interesting, and that interest can keep you going.

Note new or different things on your commute. Redbuds or dogwoods blooming, bluebirds fledging, the oily garlic smell of a new restaurant. You won't notice those in a car.
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Old 02-02-23, 11:54 AM
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Originally Posted by Darth Lefty
When my commute was 12 miles rt it was much more of a workout than it is now at 7.4. Just not enough time to get much done
There is no law requiring you to take the most direct route.
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Old 02-02-23, 11:56 AM
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Originally Posted by Darth Lefty
When my commute was 12 miles rt it was much more of a workout than it is now at 7.4. Just not enough time to get much done
Do you find that the shorter commute helps you to do it more often, or not really?
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Old 02-02-23, 12:54 PM
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right on man!
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Old 02-02-23, 01:09 PM
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I used to commute a couple times a week during the time in my life when I was also racing. My morning commute was about 12 miles, and I would do that at an easy tempo to keep sweat minimal. I carried my work clothes with me in a backpack. For the ride home, I would change back into bike clothes, and leave the work clothes in the backpack at my desk to take home the next (non-bike) day. My home commute was typically 30+ miles with some sort of focused training intent. Occasionally, I would have my commute route intersect with a fast group ride, and hop in with them as they came by.
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Old 02-02-23, 02:55 PM
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Originally Posted by ThermionicScott
Do you find that the shorter commute helps you to do it more often, or not really?
It's more about whether I need the truck that day for kid transportation and my bum ticker feels ok
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Old 02-02-23, 03:37 PM
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I used to commute nearly every day, a little over 5 miles each way. When I started, my time was over 24 minutes (urban cycling, not a lot of elevation gain).

First week ride: 2/28/2017 Avg. Spd: 12.1 Time: 25:59:00 Distance: 5.2
Third to last ride, before changing locations: 12/21/2018 Avg. Spd: 16.2 Time: 22:04:00 Distance: 5.2
So, over a year and a half or so, my average speed increased by 4 mph. The drawback is that a 20-minute ride is really just getting warmed up.

I now have a 45-minute commute with five times the elevation gain, so I can work on my climbing, if nothing else. Commuting certainly helps fitness - it's the only way I'll be able to squeeze in a hundred miles a month to get ready for the July 4th climb up Mt. Baldy here in SoCal.

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Old 02-02-23, 05:01 PM
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I commute 12 miles one way on NYC streets with lots of traffic. I ride 4-6 times a week and totals to over 100 miles a week pretty consistently. Commuting is most of my mileage and I enjoy it. There's flats, hills, downhill (on bridges), nature through Central Park and I get to see different neighborhoods in the city. Its faster than riding a subway and such a great way to workout. Using Strava makes it more fun if you commute-- you can keep track of your performance and know how you've done in various sections. The key is consistency. Keep at it!
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Old 02-02-23, 07:50 PM
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Originally Posted by caloso
There is no law requiring you to take the most direct route.
I used to think that when I first started commuting on the bike. My 12-mile ride in the morning might turn into a 25-mile jaunt. After about 6 months of this it got tiresome. I just wanted to get there and be done. Plus, riding in the darkness of the early morning hours was not appealing to me from a safety point of view. Now, almost 10 years later I take the most direct route and save the long rides for the weekend.
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Old 02-03-23, 09:45 AM
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For 14 years, I had driven to work that was only 4km away. Then when I discovered a safe route to get to work, I bicycled for three years until I retired.

Initially my cycling took longer than my driving as is usually expected. Then when I had appendicitis, took time off and was instructed by the doctor not to ride for 30 days, I realized that in the course of three years, traffic had gotten worse. My previous 15 min drive was now almost 30 minutes making my cycle commute time at 20minutes faster.

Of course comuting is not a race. But I do feel smug when I ride past all those cars congested in traffic and especially when I coast through a collision site.
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Old 02-04-23, 09:32 PM
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Like Eric F, in the past my trick for doing this was to plan in advance to do long rides home after work. I'd bring an extra lunch and change of clothes in my panniers on my usual commuting bike one day, then the next day ride in on my road bike (at commuting pace to avoid getting hot and sweaty) then take an extended sporty ride home after the day at work. But if you have the luxury of a shower available where you work, then I'd consider leaving clothes and grooming essentials there and getting a good workout in on the way to work - or if you work someplace extra awesome, take long lunches and ride then!
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Old 02-08-23, 02:12 PM
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My commute was pancake-flat 8 miles, trail-to-highway shoulder-to-trail. I pushed; not super hard, but enough I was definitely working, 3 to 5 days per week, sometimes round trip. My speed increased over time, but the real tell was when I rode a 5-mile loop with some "challenging" hills (i.e. ride a bit, pause to breathe, ride a bit, etc.) and not only did I not have to stop, but I had a gear leftover! On a different road is a short very extremely steep hill, and again no stopping, with a gear in reserve. I was quite shocked.

So yes, your commute can be a workout. Have fun!
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Old 02-08-23, 08:28 PM
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The great thing about bike commuting is that because you do it everyday, or multiple times a week, you don't have to go hard each time, or the entire ride. I rarely do a hard ride commuting, but there are some days when during the latter part of the ride I'm feeling pretty good and I push it, and by the time I get home I am dripping in sweat, even when it's -10* and February. It's amazing what doing so little, but doing it everyday, can do for your fitness. Most days, though, I am happy puttering along at zone 1.
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Old 02-08-23, 08:54 PM
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Originally Posted by Darth Lefty
When my commute was 12 miles rt it was much more of a workout than it is now at 7.4. Just not enough time to get much done
12 miles is IMO the best commute distance, Over my working years, I've had commutes from 2 miles to 17. 17 and a storm headwind is too hard! 12? I've had 4 jobs with that distance. I can build to riding every day, it's doable in just about all weathers. Not too draining. Doesn't take too much time.

One way to pack a bigger bang into your fixed commute miles is to ride it on a fix gear. (If you commute year 'round, this has the added advantage of making the downhills a lot warmer!) A fix gear is roughly 25-33% harder than the same distance on gears. Does considerably more for the rest of your body if the commute has any hills and you don't have time to lift weights.
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Old 02-09-23, 06:11 AM
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Originally Posted by 79pmooney
12 miles is IMO the best commute distance, Over my working years, I've had commutes from 2 miles to 17. 17 and a storm headwind is too hard! 12? I've had 4 jobs with that distance. I can build to riding every day, it's doable in just about all weathers. Not too draining. Doesn't take too much time.
Agreed 100% That's my commute distance for the last 9 years. I started with a day or two per week, and then decided it was doable everyday, and as you said, in just about any weather, even winter.
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