Improving Fitness To Cycle To Work

Improving Fitness To Cycle To Work - Elle leaning on her bike and looking to the right

There hasn’t been a better time to be a bike owner than right now… it’s currently one of the best, if not the best option for getting to work with as little human contact as possible. Cycle commuting was how I rekindled my love for two wheels some years ago now so it will always hold a special place in my heart…

I’ve loved seeing all the content being created around commuting to work by bike – including this post which I contributed a tip to on what to pack in your saddle bag.

But, I dunno if I’m alone… I live in Essex, or Greater London if we count the fact I’m just about within the M25 boundary. So commuting to Central London would be a 15 mile each way trip, which I’m just not fit enough for right now!

It got me thinking about how one would get fit enough to commute to work by bike so I reached out to a few cycling coaches to ask for their best tips I could share with you. I spoke to Alison, Veloqi Founder and Cycling Coach and Holly, a Performance Cycling Coach.

British Cycling It's Time To Choose Cycling Text Image

Whilst I caught up with Holly over social media and emails, I got the chance to chat with Alison on Zoom. During our chat, Alison basically broke what we need to know down into three distinct areas of focus: DISTANCE, TIME & INTENSITY and FREQUENCY.

Here’s a recording of some of our chat, which I’ve also included in the text below:

Planning Your Route To Work

First and foremost, you need to know the distance that you will be cycling to get to work and make that your goal. So my goal is a 30 mile ride, broken into 15 miles there and 15 miles back.

You’ll figure out the distance by scoping out possible routes. Get on Strava, Komoot or ask a cycling buddy or local community cycling facebook group for recommendations.

Alison then suggests that once you have a potential route, you need to think about whether the route is hilly, if there will be lots of stop starts with traffic lights and/or if cycle lanes are available. All of these factors will play into how easy and how long your ride will take.

Building Up Your Distance

Holly shared that as with any other type of training, it’s wise to build up fitness gradually so if your route and job allows, consider if you can increase saddle time progressively.

Alison suggests allowing between 8 and 12 weeks to see a significant improvement in your cycling and fitness. For those of us currently working from home or furloughed, but will be returning to the workplace later in the year, Holly reminds us that we have a great opportunity to get fit ready for commuting and time to steadily increase mileage. 

Elle walking away from camerawomen while pushing her bike with right hand

Try initially to just enjoy riding your bike, Holly says, with no pressure on speed or distance. 15-30 minutes at a pace you can still chat easily is ideal if you are new rider or just getting the bike out of the shed after 20 years of gathering cobwebs! You can use these exercises to warm up dynamically before each ride.

Start with alternate days so your legs have time to recover between rides. The first few rides may feel tough, but you will quickly get stronger and you will see rapid improvements with 3-4 rides per week.

And there are plenty more options to start building up to your full ride to work. You could start by scoping out your route on the weekend when roads are quieter and you have less time pressure.

You could then cycle sections of your full route – is there a train station you can ride to or a train station you can get off at?

Some suggestions from Holly include cycling to work and back once or twice a week to start with and slowly build up to the full 5 days allowing your legs to rest and recover between rides.

Or you could ride to the office on Monday, leave the bike there and travel home via (socially distanced) public transport or a lift, return the same way Tuesday and then cycle home. Could a family member give you and your bike a lift in the car part way for the first few weeks to shorten the distance initially?

How Long Will It Take You To Cycle To Work?

The time it takes you to ride to work is gonna play a major factor in how often you do it, right? This is be determined by your route (traffic etc) as well as your fitness. Ideally, we would want to match the time it takes to use public transport, or even reduce the time so to do this, you’ll need to work on speed.

One way to work on speed during your commutes is to use the last few miles of your ride home to push a little harder. Indoor training or spin classes during the week are also good ways to supplement your riding and work on your fitness.

When I thought about cycling to work, I never really considered that you could get to work and not be particularly sweaty, but speaking to Alison made me realise it was possible.

Alison reminded me of the importance of getting to know your gears. If you spend your whole ride grinding the big gears, you’re gonna get to work with heavy legs whereas as using lighter gears and a higher cadence (faster legs), there will be less stress placed on your muscles and less sweat.

Getting Strong Off The Bike

Throughout lockdown, Alison has been running a section of classes specifically for cyclists. She tells me that doing off the bike training will improve both your comfort and your performance on the bike.

“Having a strong core is proven to improve your cycling” says Alison, and I couldn’t agree more. Here are some core exercises I shared on the blog previously for cyclists.

Strength training will improve your power on the bike, which will result in you going faster.

Then there are all the other benefits of training such as maintaining or improving bone density, look after your joints and your mental health.

As things begin to return to “normal”, I’m working hard to build some consistency in both my cycling, my running and my general fitness. Whilst I’m under no pressure to be in London, I think it’s the perfect opportunity to check out how riding into town will feel!

D’you have any plans to start commuting to work by bike?! Or any thoughts / concerns?!



Photos by Anna Rach Photography

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