In my opinion, if you’re a 9-5er or 12-8er and want to race at a top level, commuting to work via bicycle is the best way to train. Now, this doesn’t apply to all. If you’re dedicated enough to go to bed at 9:00 at night and wake up at 4:00 every morn and train (hello, Goldman and Cannell!), then more power to ya! But for 98% of the population, this isn’t going to work.
If you have a full-time job, more often than not you’re up for maybe 2 hours prior to the start of work. This includes time to eat, shower, commute, no true time for work. You then work a full day. And THEN you commute home in your automobile or with chaotic mass transit, come home, and pull on your cycling garb and prepare to train, tired and grumbling. Even though you’re fatigued and stressed from a long day of work, this method of training can work, too. IF you’re single with no girlfriend or family to support! (yes, this was me for awhile during my cycling life!)
If you have a family, a home, if you have responsibilities that us mere non-pro mortals have, then training post-work may not always be a viable option. This is where commuting to work on your bike comes into play!
Some of the top riders I know commute to work. Roger Aspholm, when he worked as an automobile mechanic, used to ride to and from work, 19 miles each way (also known to take long lunch-time rides on top of this!). Team Campmor’s Ed Ceccolini, North Jersey’s top professional mountain biker, rides to work, 20 miles each way! Mike Gisler, two-time winner of the NJ State TT Cup and the epic Battenkill-Roubaix, also commutes. These are three of the fastest dudes in different disciplines of this great sport who commute daily on their bicycles.
I started commuting years ago, when I worked in a video store during college. As an aspiring professional tennis player, I first started commuting to improve my fitness. And my energy level skyrocketed, I became faster on the court with more gas, and the bike became a daily mainstay. Then when I switched jobs to the Ridgewood Racquet Club, and the commute became much longer, but I said, “What the hell, it’s not gonna kill me.” And so I rode and continued to get stronger on the bike.
I rode recreationally, training pretty hard just by feel, for almost two years before I started racing. But when I did start racing, I competed very well. And looking back on it, I think commuting to work helped develop my engine in a better way than if I just rode once each day.
For one, studies have proven that you get two shots of growth hormone when you ride your bike twice a day. It’s no secret that Europeans growing up are on their bikes all the time, going to school, transporting themselves everywhere via the bicycle. And for the most part, they can ride harder and longer than us stateside riders. Aside from getting stronger, over time commuting can help you better recover from rides, help you recover from the heavier training stress, help you adapt to and take on heavier workloads. Your body becomes acclimated to being on that bicycle. When you do those easy recovery rides on the way home, you really DO feel better afterwards. OR, as Roger says, he’s better prepared to hammer home AFTER hammering to work. A guy like Roger is getting twice the amount of TSS and specific training than his rivals are, and the dude has twice the palmares to back that up.
Whether you work day or night, you can still get most of your workouts completed if you commute. I used to work in a bike shop and worked 1-9. Depending on my energy demands for the next day, I’d have a specific dinner the night before. Then I’d wake up, have a small breakfast, and out the door I went, usually on the bike from 10-12:30. If you fill your muscles with glycogen the night before, it’s not necessary to have a huge breakfast. Just make sure you stay fueled all ride long.
Looking back on it, those were great times and I had my best training ever. I was working 40+ hours per week and still riding my ass off. My commute was 19 miles one way. Usually, I would hang my backpack on my mailbox and go off and do my training route. Then, I’d come to the house, sling my backpack on, and head to work, cruising at Tempo.
In my backpack, I only had a shirt, socks, and boxers, plus my recovery meal, everything else I kept at work. After the work day, after dealing with customers and hassles and all that enjoyable stuff that comes along with retail, I’d hop on my bike for a nice 60+m noodlefest home, enjoying the night and the ride, the iPod purring in my ears. Those rides were the perfect way to end my day. On my long days, it was common to get 85+ miles and I felt great.
If you don’t commute and need to get that type of mileage for Pro/1/2 road races, you’re going to find a hard time finding that type of time for the bike!
If you work earlier, you can pack all your stuff the night before, then hop on the bike and get to work. This is how the mighty Mike Gisler operates: he’s out of the house on an empty stomach in ten minutes! Takes it easy to work, stretching the legs. At work, he’ll eat a specific lunch depending on the workout he has for that day. When he gets out at 4:00, he has 2-3h to train and is perfectly fueled. For 99% of the cyclists out there, 2-3h plus an easy commute is MORE than enough and completely feasible.
Personally, I liked to train before work. This is the beauty of commuting. Instead of stressing, instead of thinking about the workout all day, you wake up and BAM get it over with!!! For the rest of the day, you have that priceless feeling of satisfaction. I mean, you walk around work all day knowing you’ve already accomplished your cycling goal. Work is bad enough. On top of that, you don’t want to worry about when or how you’re going to ride when you get home! And then you get an immediate easy ride home to help get blood flow to your throbbing legs, helping aid in that critical recovery process.
Roger, Fast Eddy, Gisler, and myself are all very slim riders. When you commute, your metabolism speeds up. With a higher metabolism, you have more energy, you burn more calories while in a sedentary state, your body digests food more quickly. Who doesn’t want to have more energy and carry around less weight? Who wants to eat more without packing on extra pounds? Who wants to have more energy to tackle those intense workouts? I know there are a bunch of you out there obsessed with your power-to-weight ratio. Typically, one-half of the commute will be an easier ride, and then the other half will be the meat-and-potatoes.
For the non-racer who loves cycling, COMMUTE! Commutes under ten miles can be done without sweating in three seasons. You can save over $200 month in gas and live an exponentially more healthy lifestyle. Equip your road bikes with 700/25 Kevlar-belted tires to avoid any mishaps. If your commute is under ten miles, then you can even use a mountain bike with slick, narrow tires. This can easily be accomplished and an excellent way to improve your quality of life.
Rob Woudenberg, another commuter who was one of the area’s top Expert mountain bikers, used to commute 18 miles each way to work. His commute took him 48 minutes on average if he rode. If he drove, it was 35 minutes. That’s only 13 minutes difference one way, less than a full half-hour for the total ride.
And although I don’t have it front of me, I once read a study which concluded that people who commute or walk to work had the highest job satisfaction. A happy rider is a BETTER rider.
See you on the road.