Every pure cyclist needs one of those days…
You’re stressed out, being pulled in six different directions. You’re busy. There are worse problems to have and you’re keeping it positive, but still…
You pull into the driveway and you realize you’re dog tired. Your legs are still smoked from one of your best efforts since you started buckling your cycling shoes (or twisting the bolo) but today is supposed to be a hard effort.
You slowly suit up, considering a nap instead. Shoes ratcheted snug. Tires pumped, water bottle filled and caged. Helmet, glasses, gloves. You’re out the door before the committee in your mind can convince you to sit down on the couch. Maybe just ride easy today.
Odd… You realize the temperature is absolutely perfect.
You clip into your pedals. They seem hard to turn over. You take a quick glance and realize you’re in your 22 mph gear so maybe you were meant to push it today…
Before you know it you’re shooting down the road and you realize you can’t tell where the wind is coming from. Strange, that.
You can feel you’re body push against the air, sure enough, but you can’t get a direction on the wind – it’s definitely not in your face. Then you see some cottonwood fluff and it’s blowing your way. Fair enough.
Your legs are making perfect revolutions, knees up and down making your legs the pistons. You realize that maybe bicycles were the inspiration for the combustion engine. You see the same American Flag that always tells you which way the wind is blowing hanging limp on the flag pole. A light puff barely moves it…
You’re cruising down the road, down in the drops and it hits you that the motorists are being really awesome today. Plenty of room, man, it’s nice.
You can’t figure out where the energy came from but you’re just hammering…and the cottonwood is still blowing your way.
Down around your favorite corner, you hit it faster than ever, pushing on that outside pedal as hard as you can, leaning into the corner low and fast…and the bike complies as if you were in a roller coaster car. You head through town and the cottonwood, defying weather and physics, is still blowing your way.
You hum down the road, smiling because out of nowhere, you’re on and you know it…
Only five miles to go, you’re on the home stretch and you feel that gentle push of the breeze at your back – there it is, you say to no one…
No need to change gears now, you can’t believe how fast you’re going and how easy it feels… “My God, I love riding a bike”, you think…
A mile from the house and you’re done. You’re out of gas and you smile knowing you left everything, all of that crap, on the road…heck, what was it you were fretting before you got on the bike anyway? You look down at your cassette and see your chain…
You weren’t in the 22 mph gear. You’re in the 23-1/2 mile an hour gear.
You just rode that whole circuit one gear harder than you normally do for a hard workout. And then it hits you: the cottonwood was always blowing your way because you were pushing it. You were the wind.
Every cyclist needs a day when the cottonwood always blows your way.
The question, “How rigorous is a 10 mph (16 km/h) bike ride?” popped up on my stats page the other day so I thought I’d take a minute to answer it honestly but put in proper context, because in this case, context is everything.
10 mph is rigorous on many dedicated mountain biking trails, depending on the difficulty. I’m in fantastic shape and I can think of two trails right off the top of my head, that if I can average 10 mph on I’m covered in sweat, head to the tips of my toes. On the other hand, 10 mph on a dedicated race bike on the road is hardly enough to raise the pulse.
I think too often the question is not “is x mph good”, the question is how fast do I have to go to call it a workout – and this is a very difficult question to answer… Honestly. Actually, it’s probably harder to hear the honest answer, so let’s tap-dance around this one more time.
First we have to look at what a person is riding. Leisure bike, beach cruiser or mountain bike? Those are the slowest bikes. Then you’ve got the hybrids followed by the road and time trial bikes.
Next is weight. If you’re overweight by 100 pounds or more, I’m sure 10 mph, even on paved roads, could be considered rigorous. The trick is it shouldn’t be rigorous for long. Once you shed some of that weight by eating less and cycling more, your speed will increase. The idea is to get a good sweat on and to always remember: Stagnation is just as good as moving backwards. I started out, humorously enough, at the exact same weight I am today (only with MUCH smaller legs and more gut), pushing 15 mph on a mountain bike that was way too small for me. For a week or two that was about the best I could do, but then something miraculous happened: That four miles wasn’t the same workout it had been just two weeks earlier. I was becoming fitter. I added on a couple of miles to my route and started throwing in a ten-mile ride on Saturday. A few weeks later and I was up to eight to ten miles a day and a 21 miler on Saturday. A month after that and I was up to ten a day and a 30 miler on the weekend. Then I bought a road bike and my distances a pace jumped again. 13 miles a day and a 40 miler on the weekend. I bumped my mileage again: 16 on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, 35 on Tuesday, 70-120 miles over the weekend (Saturday and Sunday)… You get the picture.
SO, ask me the same question and substitute 15 mph instead: How rigorous is a 15 mph bike ride? Three years ago it was exceptionally rigorous. Today I can ride 16.5 mph without my pulse rising above 80 beats per minute (that’s slightly above the average resting heart rate by the way). I’ll hardly break a sweat unless we’re talking about temps over, say 83 degrees. The question relies on how many miles someone has on that saddle or how fit one is.
With that out of the way, here’s what we’re really trying to get at, and let’s take speed out of it for a second – here’s the context: Does a bike ride meet my standard for “rigorous”?
The whole discussion is designed to fail from the beginning – asking anyone “how rigorous” a ride might be is to ask a person to make a judgment. When that answer doesn’t meet another’s standards, that person accuses the other of being judgmental, humorously enough. And around we go.
So, would I consider a 10 mph bike ride rigorous, for me? Never. Nor would I consider taking the dog for a walk rigorous.
The answer that everyone wants to hear is this: Whatever the best you can do is, that’s rigorous. This way someone who goes for a three-mile walk and takes an hour and a half to do it can feel just as happy as someone who runs that 5k in 22 minutes. Well I can tell you very easily which one is rigorous and which one isn’t. In fact, as a nod to the absurdity of the discussion, rigorous isn’t even the right word (leave it to Government Standards to pick a word that would lead to confusion and argument). Vigorous is the right word.
Rigorous: “adhering strictly or inflexibly to a belief” or “extremely thorough, exhaustive, or accurate”
Vigorous: Strong, Forceful, Strenuous.
Now, is walking the dog “strong, forceful or strenuous? How about a nice little 10 mile an hour ride around the block? Probably not, if you’re honest. Now, are one of those be the best someone can do at a given time? Absolutely. For example – and let me use something closer to home, I write quite a bit about my Tuesday night ride. I ride with several guys who are a lot faster than I am. I can go out for a 35 mile bike ride and average 20 mph, completing the ride in an hour and 45 minutes. To me, that’s rigorous. To one of the guys on Tuesday night, that’s hardly enough to get excited about. I am honest though, so I can say that a 20 mph workout is vigorous (and rigorous) even though, for a small percentage of the population, that equates to little more than a walk in the park.
Vigorous is not a nice bike ride in the park. Vigorous is a workout and I’m not about to try to pontificate from on high about what anyone should consider a workout. I know what a workout is for me and you know what a workout is for you. The question is really whether a person has the capacity to be honest with themselves about what is vigorous or not. That is the question. Once we’ve determined what is vigorous, if we’re not there we set that as the goal and work toward it.
Next up, and just for fun, let’s discuss why your definition of vigorous is wrong. That should be a hoot.