What is the ideal length for a bike ride?
Through four years, almost five, of avid cycling, I’ve come to appreciate several different distances varying in length depending the season (as in Spring, Summer and Fall) and days of the week. First though, before I get into this, I ride every day. No days off, unless it rains. I just went three months on two day’s rest, ending on the last day of September. If I had my way, someone would decide out of the blue to give me $50,000,000 so I could retire early and just have fun riding my bike. Unfortunately the tooth fairy only exists in Rise of the Guardians.
For the Road
I am and unapologetic roadie so I’m starting with that. Due to work, I’m limited for time throughout the week so I’ve settled in on two sixteen mile routes that take anywhere between 47 and 59 minutes depending on how slow I need to go on a particular day. For instance, the day after my club ride I’m definitely going to push the hour mark while the day after that, I’ll push for closer to 50 minutes.
On Tuesday evenings though, we’ve got our club ride which is 30 miles with another seven or eight thrown on for a warm up… The 30 miles takes us between 1h:18 and 1h:22 and has become my favorite “give it everything I’ve got” distance. An hour-twenty is a great time limit for hitting it hard – not too long and definitely not too short. We average about 22 mph over the entire ride but when you factor in traffic and stop signs, we actually have to ride between 24 and 28 mph to hit the mark.
So, for me, that covers the normal weekdays and “fit a workout in after work” time, but then I’ve got the weekends and special occasions… Ah, the glorious weekends. My favorite distance for a weekend ride is between 60 and 75 miles, or three to four hours (plus fifteen minutes for a stop or two). I still keep a warm place in my heart for the centuries, the hundred miler’s, but I actually prefer the 100k (62.5 miles) rides most. 60 miles is fantastic because it really kicks in the calorie burn but it’s short enough that you’re not smoked for the rest of the day while the 100 miler’s always hurt just a little bit by the time I’m done. My friend Matt puts it best: With 60-75 miles you really felt like you did something but it doesn’t suck up half of the day.
Playing in the Dirt
Dirt road rides, while often messy, are a great way to cut down on messing with traffic. They’re peaceful, enjoyable and because you’d have to have your head examined to ride my road bike on a dirt road, you’re going to be opting for a mountain bike. These rides are generally quite a bit shorter even if the duration is the same – simply put, mountain bikes are slower. I like between 25 and 35 miles on the mountain bike.
REALLY Playing in the Dirt
If dirt road rides are slow, trails are really slow. They’re also a lot of fun. I figure I’m doing pretty good if I can keep a 13 mph average pace on a single track trail I’m doing pretty good… Of course, the pros are averaging 20 mph but attempting speed like that would likely result in an unfortunate and painful crash.
In the end, like many other cyclists, I find its more about the time on the bike than the distance covered. Typically, for a longer ride I’m going for three or four hours. On the weekdays, when we’re all pressed for time, my cycling is more about getting out for long enough to put a smile on my face. For that I need a minimum of 45 minutes. Any less and I’m bummed on the home-stretch that it’s over. On the other hand, I can’t tell you how many hours I spent on the bike this year. In four years I’ve never once looked at duration but I know exactly how many miles I’ve ridden this year:
7,533 – and counting…
As a rule, I don’t like the idea of laying down rules for others. Of course, if we have goals concerning weight loss, say we want to lose 30 pounds in a season and we’re going to attain that by heading out for a 30 minute ride on our leisure bike every night it’s quite clear that the effort isn’t in line with the goal without major dietary changes. If your effort and goals don’t work together, you end up with disappointment and anxiety – I never miss an opportunity to help with perspective.
The simplest way I know to put it is like this: I started out at 15 minutes, going as fast as I could. Then I added more time and distance and I kept adding until I couldn’t keep wait on and I got to a point where I needed to ride more than I needed a bunch of junk food. For me, that was 150 miles a week (50 minutes a day during the week and 3 each on Saturday and Sunday with a day or two off).
The best distance for a bike ride is whatever you have time for. Just know, nobody ever lost 40 pounds in a season by phoning it in. Big miles burns big weight.
Ride hard my friends.