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.