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Home » Cycling » Cycling: Riding Hard or Hardly Riding? Pick Your Poison.

Cycling: Riding Hard or Hardly Riding? Pick Your Poison.


April 2016

On one hand, riding hard is a lot of work.  To get the most of it you need specialized clothing, special saddles, even special bikes to an extent.  Hardly riding is easy.  The bike doesn’t matter so much, clothing doesn’t matter.  Unless it’s hot and sunny out, you’re not even going to break a sweat.

On the other hand, hardly riding to lose weight and get fit will take forever and a day.  Riding hard, especially over decent distances, one can literally see the weight melt off with a fair diet over a single cycling season (April to November).

On one hand, hardly riding one can take in some decent scenery, provided one is willing enough to venture out more than a dozen miles from their house.

On the other, you’ll be hard-pressed to see anything but the road ahead if you’re riding hard.  In fact, I’ve been riding the exact same route at least once a week (in-season) for four years and I just saw a river that runs next to the road (it’s actually a hundred yards off the road, but it’s a pretty big freaking river, maybe 100 feet across) for the first time the other day.

The Best of Both Worlds…

There exists a middle ground though, for those of us who embrace speed…  Riding hard all of the time, you will eventually injure yourself.  At a minimum, bad things will happen.  Most science and coaching says that there should be easy efforts interspersed with hard efforts throughout the week.  These easier days can be used to take advantage of sightseeing (thus, how I finally noticed that river after all of those years).

Moreover, there is also a line of thought regarding training that says building a base in the early season should be done at slower speeds to build up the vascular infrastructure in the legs that will later support exceptional efforts.  I don’t much subscribe to this myself but it’s quite common to hear “you shouldn’t even shift out of the little ring in the first month or two of training”.  The little ring, for those not in the know, refers to the smaller of the two front chain rings on the crank (if you have a triple, you’d choose the middle ring as that one would typically be the “little ring” on a racing setup).  Max speed in the little ring on my Venge is 23 mph (52/36 chainrings).  A racing crank (52/39) is 25 mph.  A compact crank would be a shade above 21.5 mph (50/34).  My normal cruising speed on a hard ride is 22-25 mph.  I never use the little ring unless I’m climbing a fairly steep hill.  In other words, if one prescribes to the coaching that says “never out of the little ring for the base miles”, you’ll be cruising around at slower than normal speeds, a perfect time to sightsee.

Do what make you happy…

I’m a big advocate of cycling as fast as one can while keeping it fun.  For some, racing is fun.  For others, like me, cycling fast is great but I’m too old to want to turn training into work.  Still others, guessing the majority of cyclists, would rather play it safe and easy.  While I enjoy speed, to an extent, I am a “whatever floats your boat” kind of guy.  If you’re apprehensive about speed because you’ll have to give up those easy days, don’t worry about it any longer.  The truth is, even the fast guys get a chance to sightsee now and again.


  1. This is a PSA: I’m back on the bike. Right now I went from hardly riding to riding hard in a week. My quads hate me. 🙂

  2. The unlikely runner says:

    I try to ride hard sometimes but end up hardly riding. Everybody seems to go past me. Need to cycle more this summer.

  3. As the old guys say … “Little ring till Spring.”

    Screw that!! 😉

    • bgddyjim says:

      I know, dude. I don’t know where that even came from!

      • I think it’s when they used to run a 39/23 bottom gear so you still got decent speed out of it. These days with 34T chainrings and 28T or bigger on the rear it’s not quite the same.

      • bgddyjim says:

        That’s an excellent point… Still, though, my top speeds still stand. I checked each against a 90 cadence with a 34, 36 and 39 tooth chain ring on an 11 tooth cog.

        That said, the bottom end speed is much lower nowadays. I’ve got a buddy that runs an 11-23 cassette – ELEVEN speed. It’s amazing how tiny that cassette looks next to my 11-28. I can’t imagine a 34.

  4. Tony says:

    I wonder if some day all you cog jockeys ever forget your gears and ratios and just enjoy the sheer pleasure of gliding over smooth pavement fast enough to keep the bike from tipping. I had a fall last week at no more than 12 mph that threw me over the handlebars onto my hands and knees. Today, nine days later, I just had my first ride. I kept it to 10 miles because my wrist hurt and I was afraid I would either slow recovery, or re-injure it. But, I did get to experience the joy of riding for a short time. I really missed it.

    • bgddyjim says:

      Part of the fun of being a cog jockey is knowing all of that stuff. When I’m older, much older, I will inevitably slow down but that’ll be 30 years away. 😆

      • Tony says:

        I have no problems with knowing stuff. God knows I am still learning. I wonder if your enjoyment isn’t more social than physical. Truly, I don’t know the answer.

      • bgddyjim says:

        The answer is, it’s both, in the right balance to suit me.

      • Tony says:

        I think the only generalization I can make about bike riders is that no two of us are the same. I retired 16 years ago and volunteered at a bicycle group in Chicago. I expected to meet all kinds of folks like me who were bike lovers, etc. I met lots of folks all of whom loved biking, but no two were close to alike in their enjoyment of it. Some loved commuting. Others wouldn’t consider it. I think we were a group with only one thing in common – we rode bikes. It is a very individual thing.

      • bgddyjim says:

        Out of the 25 to 40 people I ride with, and we are all fast, there’s only one guy who is like me in the whole group. My buddy, Mike.

        I know exactly what you mean.

      • Tony says:

        Isn’t it crazy??? BTW, at the end of May I will be riding with 20,000 others in the annual Bike the Drive. They close Lake Shore Drive for about 7 hours and let us ride it for 15 miles. The only group ride I do.

      • bgddyjim says:

        Now THAT’S cool! Have a great time!

  5. MJ Ray says:

    As you might expect, I disagree. What you call “hardly riding” is more than most people do and can be enough to get fitter: 20% cholesterol reduction for me (I really don’t need to lose weight!); whereas riding hard every time would open me up to all sorts of potential health problems, starting with AF and probably ending in the Intensive Care Unit. Ride as you like – the most important thing is to ride and enjoy it.

    • bgddyjim says:

      As you knew would be the case, I am not shocked. It occurred to me that you may be presuming something nefarious about the words that are coming out of my keyboard though. For instance, I clearly wrote in my post, if one were to ride hard all of the time, you will end up injured. As well, I wrote that the speed we I was looking at was “my approximation of fast, not yours”… Meaning you should not confuse my speed with what you can do – or in other words, what I can do is more than most people can do.

      The entire gist of my post, which your comment misses, is that the length of time it takes to get fit and lose weight increases as effort decreases.

      In other words, you agree with me – you just disagree with what you think I think. It’s that “think I think” part that’s a problem.

      • MJ Ray says:

        You wrote “hardly riding to lose weight and get fit will take forever and a day” which is wrong. It may not be as fast as knocking yourself out, but it need not take long, depending on what one’s particular fitness problem is (and being overweight is notoriously difficult to correct).

      • bgddyjim says:

        We’ll have to agree to disagree on this point. Most people end up quitting because they end up with poor results for a lack of effort. Good effort brings good results. It’s not rocket science, my friend.

      • MJ Ray says:

        Good effort, not extreme effort. It depends how you’re measuring the results and to put it bluntly, you seem to be a fairly extreme kind of guy 😉

        Oh and rocket science is pretty simple: burn fuel and shovel the results out of the back – don’t burn it too fast or you’ll burn out and crash. Sort of like cycling…

      • bgddyjim says:

        Fair enough.

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