34

Foreword:

I know there is a bicycle SE where this question may belong, but it is more about the training factor for other outdoor hobbies than about cycling itself. Cycling could theoretically be replaced with another endurance sport even if that is unlikely.

My Background:

I have suffered from a knee injury (with surgery) over the last 1½ years and I also will be having more surgery (ankle) in about a month. Next year, when I'm done recovering, and my body is working as intended without any limitations, I want to get back into sports climbing and hiking/mountaineering. As endurance training for those hobbies, I thought it would be great to cycle to work every day (has lot of other benefits too). I live 18km away form my workplace which means about an hour of cycling twice a day.

Actual Question:

I don't know any book/website/youtube-channel that suggests training for more than 3-4 consecutive days, as your muscles need time to recover. Having this in mind, is it really a good idea to cycle to work every day for >45 mins (one way) from a training perspective? What also strengthens my thoughts is that when I want to do some kind of outdoor or sports activity on the evening or at the weekend my body needs to "do work" for multiple hours at least 6 days per week.

  • 14
    The part of your question about the benefits or problems of repeated exercise by biking to work is really interesting and I am looking forward to the answer. The part about your personal situation with your injuries (I wish you a good recovery with that!) may be addressed very generally, but you need to take that up with your doctor/physical therapist/..., only those with professional expertise and with direct contact to you can judge that. – imsodin Dec 11 '17 at 8:38
  • 5
    We aren't going to migrate this over, but I'm delighted we have had one of the folks from Fitness.SE who is a competitive cyclist come and post an answer here – Rory Alsop Dec 12 '17 at 15:30
  • 4
    Do take care (and perhaps take medical advice) - cycling repeats specific movements more than even flat walking. You'll want to balance this with some rough walking if possible. – Toby Speight Dec 12 '17 at 16:19
  • 7
    Another thing to consider is your mental health. Even a bad day biking makes me much happier than if I drove that day. Being on a bike makes me happy and that can be hard to quantify. – Stedy Dec 12 '17 at 16:47
  • 5
    According to the some Dutch research, every hour spent riding a bike adds about an hour to your life expectancy. So the time you spend commuting you can literally get back. elbo.in/cqK – stib Dec 13 '17 at 2:03

11 Answers 11

56

There's a technicality here that's about the difference between "training" and "being active". It's important not to confuse the two but where the threshold lies is a matter for an individual.

For the first few weeks, cycle commuting will be training. Subsequent to that, assuming you're not the type to cycle at full sprint everywhere, it's simply a part of an active lifestyle. It goes along with walking to the shops instead of driving, and using the stairs instead of the elevator.

  • 21
    But once you've settled into a routine, you can often build some sprints into your commute, and continue training for some time longer. – Chris H Dec 11 '17 at 13:53
  • 1
    Another option is to bike away from the direction of work, and make up for lost time as a training strategy or roundabout routes to work. – Frank FYC Dec 13 '17 at 1:06
19

Subject to advice from your physio and doctor, training on a (well-fitted) bike can be excellent, as your joints aren't under too much load or twisting.

Cycling that sort of distance will make a huge difference to your cardiovascular fitness and weight (which may have suffered due to enforced rest). It's not really strength training for the climbing, and the muscles used are diffferent to hiking, but it will provide a good baseline.

When I started on a slightly shorter (but hilly) commute, I didn't go for 5 days a week at first. I built up to it over a few weeks. But riding that distance every day is perfectly sensible.

12

It should be good for your heart (and maybe body-weight) at least.

When I started commuting that distance (18 km. each way) I bought a better bike (i.e. $700 new instead of $200 new, with extra-good tires, better gears, and bestest brakes).

More to the point, I interspersed that riding with rest days (when I took public transport instead). Cycling every other day (e.g. Monday, Wednesday, Friday), or two days followed by a rest (e.g. Monday and Tuesday but not Wednesday) might be a good beginning.

Especially if your feet are clipped to the pedals (e.g. using SPD shoes) it's possible to get some wear if your fit is wrong: with a 90 RPM cadence, a 1 hour ride each way implies 10,000 cycles per day -- so a lot of repetition. One of my knees started to hurt after the first few weeks, because I had the bike lock positioned in the wrong place on the bike which maladjusted that knee's positioning.

After you've got used to it (let's say, after the first 10 or 20 weeks) then you can do it 5 days a week (and on weekends too if you like) -- that's how long it took me to get used to it, I'm aged in my 50s ... and I did go hours on weekend days too, for fun. 36 km isn't really long-distance on a bike; I think 50 km (called "a metric half-century") is maybe the minimum distance that a cyclist would begin to consider a long distance.

On the plus side you'll probably end up fitter than most other people in town ... maybe including people who only ride on the weekends.

On the minus side you might be surprised at how poorly that translates to other exercises. I think it will help you run. It may (I think it does) help you walk or jog up-hill. I was surprised though, earlier this year, how much it hurt me to walk down-hill (i.e. walk down a mountain-side for an hour or two): that hurt me at the time and for days afterwards, as if my legs were bruised ... something different about the action, the way the muscle is used, the range of motion or something like that.

  • It's also possible to build up the distance. If you have a car, drive halfway (or more, or less) to work, then cycle from there. If you use public transport, cycle halfway (or less, or more) then catch that. Increase the cycling portion until it's 100% of the journey. This assumes you have somewhere you're willing to leave the car or bike parked all day. – Toby Speight Dec 12 '17 at 16:22
  • I suppose any healthy young adult, even novice, can cycle 18 km with a good bike, assuming they can handle the city streets. The OP says they expect to do it in >45 mins (one way) so I think they're kind of "up to speed" already. You can't "sprint" for 45 minutes but IMO cycling is about finding a pace (i.e. a power output) that you can maintain. For maybe the first 15 minutes or so of a ride I'm still warming up, after which it's easier. – ChrisW Dec 12 '17 at 16:35
  • 1
    Agreed - my bike route is much more strenuous than many urban commuters (about 1½ times the distance of the question, but nearer to twice the time), so perhaps a difference perspective. One problem I find is that when I'm out hillwalking/kayaking/etc, I get a dip in energy at about the time my body expects me to be finishing my bike ride - so that's something else to be aware of. – Toby Speight Dec 12 '17 at 16:51
  • @TobySpeight That's a really interesting effect and a good heads-up! – Paul Paulsen Feb 8 at 8:48
12

It isn't so much about the training as it is about the recovery. Professional cyclists are on the bike for 700-1000 kilometers a week, often with two different training sessions in a day, and multiple days in a row. Same for any endurance athlete, such as triathletes, marathoners, ultra runners, etc.

The bad news is, that if they aren't training, they are resting/recovering with a team of professionals, which you most likely don't have. The good news is, you won't be sustaining the training load that they are either which means that you can easily achieve the commuting goal. So lets look at this from the ground up (if you will pardon the pun).

As was pointed out, the training portion was a bit glossed over. As I understand it, you want the bike commute to supplement training for sport climbing and hiking/mountaineering. I think that cycling would provide an ideal supplement training, as it will increase cardio, is low impact, and more importantly will strengthen the muscles of the leg which in turn will help stabilize the knee.

For the morning commute, not much variation is needed other than the straight ride, as you don't want to arrive at work wiped out for an hour. If you have a desk job, you will have ample recovery during the day for any evening activity. If you have a more active job, make the morning commute as easy as possible. Find a comfortable gear so that you are neither "spinning" rapidly or pushing mightily. It should just feel comfortable.

For the evening commute, on days that you are not intending on walking/hiking at home, you can add in items like getting back up to speed as soon as possible after stops, going out of your way a bit to add in hills, items like that. That will give you some speed work as well as muscle development. If you are intending on walking/hiking/climbing that evening, then treat it as you do the morning commute. Light on the actual work, use it as a warm up. Concentrate on making the "full circle" on the pedals, so that while one leg is pushing down, the other is pulling up. This takes some practice to get used to.

For a sample schedule, I would lay it out something like this:

  • Monday - Bike commute if weekend was easy (or you rested on Sunday), otherwise rest or bike 1 way only
  • Tuesday - Bike commute easy/easy, easy hike
  • Wednesday - Bike commute easy/hard, or no commute + moderate hike
  • Thursday - No commute, easy hike or rest
  • Friday - Commute easy/hard, no hike
  • Saturday - Hike as you want
  • Sunday - Same as Saturday or rest

That kind of a schedule should serve you well initially, and there is no real reason that you could not work up to commuting every day and hiking most days as well. That is where the self monitoring comes in, if you know you have a hard hike coming up, rest on the commute portion, or if you are knackered, take a day off from commute/hiking.

For other considerations:

What kind of bike?

Considering your history, the first thing that you want to consider is what kind of bike to get. I personally would recommend either a hardtail mountain bike, or a commuter/cross type bike. A typical racing type bike isn't the best for commuting, and the others would allow you to commute and use it for general recreation. The cycling adage is, you can have light, cheap and reliable. Pick two. I would recommend avoiding the big box stores (Walmart, Target, Dicks sporting, etc) as they will have the lower end. While that is not a bad thing, I don't like the component groups that they come with. YMMV, find one you like. If you can test ride a few even better. If worse comes to worse and you hate cycling, the resale is much better as well. As pointed out in the comments, you can get puncture resistant tires and tubes, and add in a protective slime, the trade off is in the weight of the bike.

Fit is CRITICAL

Even if you buy a big box bike, I would first find a bike shop that offers a fitting service. Usually this is free if you purchase a bike, or may cost a few $$ if you just want the numbers. But, especially with your knee and ankle surgeries, you want the correct saddle height and crank length (The crank is the piece that holds the pedals and the chain). If you don't fit those correctly, you will cause more pain/potential trouble in your legs and potentially hips/lower back. If you have oddly splayed feet (I have feet that point out), you can even get custom clipless pedals with specified spindle lengths (How far out from the crank the pedal is). This lets you pedal with a more natural motion and foot position. Also, find a saddle/seat that you are comfortable on. More people give up cycling because they have an ass hatchet for a seat than anything.

Jeez, man, I'm not even on the bike yet!

Ok, now you have a bike. And a helmet. Never get on a bike without a helmet. If you are new to cycling, then I wouldn't recommend just jumping in and cycling both ways every day. Ease into it, get used to the bike, handling in traffic, all of that before fully committing to the commute.

The good news on that front, is that 18km an hour is right around 12 mph, and that is a relatively leisurely pace. Even a recreational cyclist should be able to sustain that without too much training stress. Some ways that you could also ease into it, is see if bus lines go the same way. Where I live in the US, most buses have bike racks on the front so that you could cycle to work, then take the bus home or partway. Or, if you can leave your car at work, drive to work with your car, cycle home, then cycle back the next day. As another poster suggested, once you get used to it, you can sprint for stop signs, add in small training items without causing too much stress.

If you're tired, simply skip a day. You're doing this for health, not training for a race. The basic back and forth every day should not put enough stress on you that you need tons of recovery, so eating well and getting a good nights sleep should be all you need, especially as you get more used to the exercise. Cycling is also very minimal impact, so you don't have the same recovery requirements as you would for running or other heavier impact items.

Wait, you mean there is more?

Some other items/things to consider as you start on this journey.

  • Work accommodations - Is there a place to lock up your bike? A place to change clothes? Possibly shower?
  • Clothing - Pack your work clothes, cycle in other stuff. You will get dirty, get chain grease on your leg, get rain/snowed on, etc. Just take a pack with your stuff. If it's going to rain, stuff it in a waterproof container (I used a trash bag, honestly).
  • Other items - In addition to the helmet, I have a small pack that fits under my seat. I carry tire irons, extra tubes, some CO2 cartridges for inflation, a little bit of $$ just in case, and a laminated paper with medical/contact information.
  • Cycling gear - Helmet, bike shorts (See below), cycling gloves.
  • Be prepared - You will crash. There are 2 types of cyclists, those that have crashed and those that lie about it. Either through no fault of your own, or you miss a patch of gravel/ice and slide down. Learn to fall safely.
  • Consider upper body weight routines - Cycling is all cardio and lower body. For general lifestyle, I would add upper body exercises to balance. You can find a lot of body weight type exercises that can be done at home without equipment or with minimal investment. (You can check the Fitness stack for some ideas).

Practice

You didn't just get in your car and start driving everywhere. You practiced. Same with the bike. Get on a friendly commuter trail and just get used to the bike. If you do get clipless pedals, sit on the bike next to a post or fence for balance, and just practice unclipping and clipping in. Even with that, expect to come to a stop sign and fall over because you can't get your foot out. I do that about 2x a year, honestly. Take the bike into a grassy area or field and fall over. Don't reach out to brace with your hands, you'll break your wrists. Just kind of lean over and roll onto your hips.

Get some comfortable cycling shorts. Remember the point about the saddle? Same goes for clothing. Don't skimp on the contact points. It doesn't have to be the lycra bib looking things (Although they are uber comfortable), but something that will make it more enjoyable to spend some time cycling. Good gloves, with hand padding. Also if you will be cycling in various weather conditions, get weather appropriate clothing. Remember if it is cold and raining, it will be cold, raining and windy on a bike (You create your own headwind). There is nothing more miserable than being cold, tired and hungry with another 20 miles left to go on the ride.

argumentum ad verecundiam (or who is this guy?)

I've been a touring and competitive cyclist for a long time (over 30 years off and on). I've been on two-three week cross country rides covering 100-150k per day, as well as racing both road and mountain. I've cycled in a lot of different conditions on a lot of different bikes. Oh yeah, I also have a degree in exercise kinesiology. :)

  • Would the DV care to explain their reasoning? I can certainly expand/clarify. – JohnP Dec 12 '17 at 15:28
  • 3
    18 kph or 12 mph may be "relatively leisurely pace" on a cycle path or open road; but I find it PDQ (i.e. it's the fastest I can go) as the average for a commute in the city, where I'm stopping frequently (for stop signs and traffic lights). Also instead of a tire repair kit I use puncture-resistant touring tires (e.g. Schwalbe's Marathon Plus tires). – ChrisW Dec 12 '17 at 16:47
  • (That was just a comment, I'm not saying I'm the downvoter). – ChrisW Dec 12 '17 at 16:49
  • 1
    If I were to guess at why it's not a "good" answer (i.e. if you're looking for criticism) it would be because it's mostly about equipment. The relevant bits (which answer the question) are "Ease into it ... If you're tired, simply skip a day ... practice (especially, falling over)". The question asked you to focus on training and recovery, and maybe whether cycling will help with climbing and hiking. – ChrisW Dec 12 '17 at 17:06
  • 1
    Totally awesome answer, respect from another JohnP. – John Powell Dec 13 '17 at 16:29
8

I bike about 15 km each way commuting to work (70% road-like, 30% forest - 70% flat, 30% hills, but feels flat for the most part). I arrive bathing in sweat.

After two years, I once had a puncture on my way, about 2 km from my destination. I did not have time to fix the tire so I hid the bike and told myself that I am now a superhero so I can easily run these two remaining kilometers.

After 400 meters my lungs were on fire and I felt as if I were in a triathlon.

This is to say that biking will not help you to improve everything (including endurance) but it is a fantastic way to help your body anyway. I feel much better after my ride and while I do not have any measurements, I can say that my body likes this effort.

It did not help me to loose weight (I did that after changing my lifestyle, it is much more efficient), did not help in running, did not develop any muscles in a visible way but it is much better this way anyway.

This is outside of your question, but biking this way really helps me to switch from "work" to "home" mode.

5

Yes it's very good workout to go by bike every day. It's anyway better then going almost the same time by public transport. I'm not an expert but you need more time to recover when you increase a load. If you go every day the same route then you have constant load. First few weeks it will be difficult of course and you will be more tired then usual. Just don't give up.

Going by bike trains not just muscles but also cardiovascular system, lungs, it has positive effect on metabolism.

Another good thing is that you don't need to spend additional time going to gym. For me as person who has a family it's very important.

I go to work by bike ~55 min one way. It's around 2 hours a day. At the beginning it was fun to go by bike but after some time it's boring. So I try to listen a music for example.

  • 6
    +1 but I can't think of a safe and legal way to listen to music while cycling on public roads or trails – Qsigma Dec 11 '17 at 12:34
  • 7
    @Qsigma From OP's post history it seems that they're in Germany, where (as in most of the world) there's no law against wearing earphones while cycling. As to safety, that's dependent on multiple factors, most obviously the music volume. It's entirely possible to listen to music through earphones at a volume which still lets you hear ambient sound. – Pont Dec 11 '17 at 13:30
  • 3
    On city streets with more or less traffic, I listen for the noise of tires rolling, behind me ... they're not very loud, they're pretty quiet. – ChrisW Dec 11 '17 at 16:12
  • 4
    Bone induction earphones should be ok in most country. I still recommend against it, and strongly suggest against regular earphones. Your life is on the line here. – Antzi Dec 12 '17 at 7:31
  • 1
    perhaps you could attach a waterproof speaker to your handlebars – Qsigma Dec 28 '17 at 6:49
2

I think your body will tell you if you are over doing it.... Increased resting heart rate, fatigue, etc. The older I get, the more I'm finding that I need to vary my work outs. Doing something new will leave me amazingly stiff the next day.

2

Yes. I use an exercise bike on the highest resistance at least 3 times a week. It's great for cardio and builds thigh muscles. As @Stedy mentioned, it's also great for mental health (anti-depression/anti-anxiety). I seem to be able to hike trails and mountains faster than my younger friends. You only need time to recover if you are doing strength training which pushes muscles past their limits and causes micro-tears.

The biggest problem you will have if going to work is staying fresh in the office! I would recommend getting a lift with the bike to work and riding home, or bring rubbing alcohol (or salicylic acid astringent) and cotton squares to work and soak the cotton squares in alcohol and wiping down your moist areas in the restroom. Bacteria cause odors and alcohol kills bacteria.

1

I think it's great for cardio-health, but it's not a great whole body exercise. Since you're a climber already, you know what I mean. I bike frequently, and row as well, but climbing will still kick my ass.

I'd also add that it depends on the route you're taking. Several co-workers have been injured biking in my area, as many drivers are self-centered idiots, and there are many roads without a great division between the bikes and cars. I would hate for you to do something healthy to recover from an injury, only to get hurt again by some driver that though Twitter was more important than watching the road.

  • As a student, I used to cycle an hour each way to the rocks for a couple of hours bouldering/soloing. Now that's a workout! – Toby Speight Dec 12 '17 at 16:57
1

There are a number of examples of efforts of long term daily training efforts, both in cycling and in running:

  • In 2017, Amanda Coker set the record for distance ridden on a bicycle in a year (86,573.2 miles), well over 200 miles per day.
  • In 2016, Pete Kostelnick ran 3,067 miles across the United States in 42 days, 6 hours and 30 minutes.
  • In 2017, Sandy Villines ran 3126.52 miles across the United States in 54 days, 16 hours and 24 minutes.

Every year, several people run across the United States. A typical pace for a run across the US is somewhere around 40 miles per day, necessitating 7 or 8 hours of running each day.

Looking around the internet, it looks like 100+ miles per week on a bike is not unusual. This seems right because 100 miles per week is well known as a goal (from Lydiard) for runners.

http://www.runeveryday.com/lists/USRSA-Active-List.html lists streak runners who have run at least one mile per day for some period of time. The top 60 active streaks are all greater than 30 years.

Regarding any worries anyone might have about elderly bicyclists challenging themselves, Robert Marchand set an over 100 age group record in 2012 by biking 24.250 kilometers in an hour. On the advice of French physiologist Veronique Billat, he started training harder and improved this record to 26.927 kilometers in 2014.

You may take some time to work up to 45 minutes biking, twice a day but this is well within human capabilities. My guess is that after doing this for some time, you will start going on longer rides on the weekends.

1

I've commuted by bike all my life. I'm now 62.

The last 5 years (before switching to working at home) I was cycling a minimum of 22km each way - every day. A total of over 2 hours a day.

Never been ill, never catch colds, can run for an hour with no noticeable effort, look two thirds my age, and call the kind of fast dances of my youth that many a contemporary mid-20 year-old finds exhausting.

If I look to the rest of my age group, many have health problems. These are people who have driven, bussed or railed their way to work all their lives. It all adds up.

I have used the bike through all those years because, thanks to a climate summit in Edinburgh in the 70s, I was made alert to the dangers of what they described as a coming 'high tour of all weather systems'.

I am the only person I know who did this. My friends opted for scorn, excuses or denial.

Before this armageddon closes in on us, I plan to retire to all the traveling I never did. With my bike.

"Use it or lose it".

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.