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OPINION

The idea that short rides are pointless is a silly cycling myth

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So many cyclists out there still think any ride less than two hours in duration is pointless – that's far from the truth

There are numerous jaded myths and theories in road cycling, most of them dating back to the era of woolly shorts and Mars Bars for breakfast... and while there is an element of truth and logic to some of them, one I can confidently say is complete cobblers is the idea that every ride has to be a multiple hours long to ‘count’.

Yep, for some strange reason there are still some cyclists out there who believe that you need to be out for more than two hours for a ride to be worthwhile, and yet that is simply not the case. All rides count, and depending on just how you go about them, they will have differing effects on your fitness and general wellbeing.

This is not a technical or scientific training deep-dive I’m about to launch into; it’s more about highlighting the huge benefits to be found in taking short rides, anywhere from 20 to 75 minutes.

> Only have an hour lunch break to get your ride in? Here’s how to maximise it

Of course most of us probably like to get out there and do epic long rides, arriving home feeling like we’ve earned our chips for the weekend, and of course there is absolutely nothing wrong in that; however, circumstances, and particularly the increasingly busy lives we now all lead, does not always afford us that longer ride time or even the energy to get motivated to get out there, especially not during gloomy weekdays.

Despite being introduced into a cycling scene that was based around the merits of rides that were always 2.5 hours-plus, I’ve always based much of my own riding around the shorter rides, and then adding in longer jaunts when time and circumstances permit. This has been by a mix of choice and circumstance, and I’ve found it’s even totally possible to remain competitive by doing this.

Over the years many cycling friends of mine have simply dismissed the hassles of kitting up just for a short ride (which I do get when it’s wet), and in some cases they’ve simply blanked out those in-between days, preferring to wait until the clocks go back and the weather warms up. I can’t help but feel they’re missing out on so many benefits by doing this, perhaps hitting the indoor trainer for the whole winter.

The first thing to consider is that if you wish to, you can achieve one heck of a lot of physical training benefit in a short ride, and without the lingering lasting fatigue of longer rides. Over the years I’ve found that (for me) intense 50 minute to 75 minute rides are particularly beneficial, both physically and mentally.

These short duration rides are fairly easy for most of us to fit somewhere into our daily schedules, and without that time greatly impacting on other commitments too much. You can put a whole lot of intensity into a one-hour ride if you wish, especially if you have access to hills where you can do tempo or interval work easier. This doesn’t necessarily need to be precise and scientific in approach, it can simply be a case of riding as you feel at that particular moment, and then varying it to keep things fresh.

> road.cc's favourite routes on komoot: Jack's 'slightly longer than an hour' South Staffs lunch loop

2022 road.cc x stolen goat kit mens bodyline jersey

One of the more noticeable and important benefits of the short ride is the impact that it has on your mental health. This is something that we didn’t talk about years ago, but which has always been most apparent to me. 

Not only does it give you that break from other commitments, a short ride is more than enough to get that endorphin boost, get your metabolism mobilised and your glands sweating. This dramatically helps your general state of mind and body. Rain or shine, almost without fail a short intense ride will make you happier.

Even on days when you really don’t feel like it, getting out for a short ride will help you to keep turning over, both physically and mentally. In my experience, doing this outdoors (if you're lucky enough to live somewhere with fairly peaceful roads or trails nearby) is so much kinder on the mind for most of us than bashing a home trainer, not to mention the benefits of fresh air.

> Cycling and mental health: How to get help & 15 signs someone needs help

Even 20-30 minutes at a slow or steady pace is worth doing when you’re recovering from illness or injury too. It all helps to keep you moving in a natural way as a cyclist, and it’s an approach that even top pro riders have taken towards recovery over the years.

One great quote from the distant past that does very much still hold water is from the great Eddy Merckx himself, who famously said; “Ride as much or as little, or as long or as short as you feel. But ride.”

Be it before lunch or during your lunch break, a fast commute or an intense evening blast, don’t dismiss the benefits the short ride can have, no matter what level of rider you are. Short rides can be epic if you make them, and adding a little epic into your day works wonders every time.

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15 comments

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Ride On | 1 year ago
3 likes

Due the busy life and family commitments I find that most of my rides are commutes currently only 8km which I can do on a good day with favourable traffic lights in 13min, I find that even when I push it my heart does not get out of zone 2 (normally takes at least 10km). So not conventional training but I certainly feel the benefit mentally and physically.

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Onomatotato | 1 year ago
2 likes

Due to time constraints and trying to fit 2x bike 2x run 2x swim 2x gym sessions in a week between jobs my Tuesday ride is a 30 ish minutes rip up a couple of hills and a bomb home. Sunday is the ride ride. I can say for a fact that 30 minutes used to be 40 and my average went from 15-6 mph to 19+.
The psychological benefit alone is massive and it definitely benefits my fitness

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Owd Big 'Ead | 1 year ago
6 likes

The myth is that far too many people think cycling is only done by those clad in lycra, riding the latest carbon fibre missile, a myth perpetuated by many of the websites in the back pocket of the marketeers with something to sell.

The truth is that sports cycling and all the training required to see an ever decreasing return in speed/distance cycled is only one small facet of of the cycling community.

Any journey on a bike should be lauded in itself, regardless of the distance travelled. The alternative is most likely to entail the burning of fossil fuels whether using a car or public transport, even electic vehicles rely upon the national grid that is far from green.

Cycling in all it's forms is a fantastic way to travel, but pumping out these training plans and anecdotal stories of what is really needed to be a cyclist does more harm than good. The reality to all these myths is that you need a bike, a pair of legs, some might need hands instead and then you are set.

Everything else is just marketing bullshit preaching to different sectors to sell what seems to be increasingly overpriced tat.

Riding a bike should be a simple joy. We should be careful that we don't make it look too complicated if we want to encourage new cyclists to take to two wheels.

Imagine if all the money wasted on advertising the must buy, latest gadget was actually spent on building Dutch style infrastructure, therefore reducing the number of vehicles on the roads.

Surely that is what we should be aiming for, rather than buying the latest trinket that will save us a watt or two, or make us quicker by a few seconds.

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Onomatotato replied to Owd Big 'Ead | 1 year ago
0 likes

Cyclists are victims of marketing as much as people buying essential oils and raw foods for their dogs. You could drop thousands on MaRgInAl GaiNz with carbon and ceramic twattery and still get home feeling disheartened, caught up believing you need better stuff to improve. People get so caught up in metrics they forget how to go out and enjoy hooning around like an idiot sometimes

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topsound54 | 1 year ago
8 likes

Any ride is a good ride no matter how long or far. I quite like rides between 1 and 2 hours with the occaisional longer one

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CeeBee | 1 year ago
2 likes

I thought that to improve fitness you need to do more than you have done before, so long rides need to be up there with your longest or at least in a series of long rides. Hard rides need to be harder faster. If you can go faster and further then you haven't been trying. I have heard coaches say that average riders do too much in the middle zones. So if you are limited for time go hard and fast. Don't forget recovery either and they can be short rides too.

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peted76 replied to CeeBee | 1 year ago
0 likes
CeeBee wrote:

I thought that to improve fitness you need to do more than you have done before, so long rides need to be up there with your longest or at least in a series of long rides. Hard rides need to be harder faster. If you can go faster and further then you haven't been trying. I have heard coaches say that average riders do too much in the middle zones. So if you are limited for time go hard and fast. Don't forget recovery either and they can be short rides too.

That sounds like the obvious outcomes of training not the method of how to train. 

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Tom_r_k | 1 year ago
10 likes

As a man with 3 kids to get time to do longer than an hour is great. A 2 hour ride is almost a dream...

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matt_cycles replied to Tom_r_k | 1 year ago
2 likes

Another with 3 kids... rides at this time of year are perfect with early sunrise/late sunset. Up out and back before they get out of bed, or the same the other end of the day once they are in bed.

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andyp replied to matt_cycles | 1 year ago
5 likes

yup, up and out by 6, back in time for brekkie with the nippers. It's the way forward.

 

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andystow | 1 year ago
6 likes

My average ride is about 8.5 miles, and about 40 minutes. Of course this is highly skewed by most of my rides being my daily work commute, nine miles each way. I don't do anything like structured training, but I am very slowly getting fitter.

I mostly commute in zones 2/3, occasionally [edit] attacking a hill, which is a 1-minute effort as the hills around me are not very big. If my legs are feeling the effects of recent rides, I'll sometimes try to stay in zone 1 for recovery, which adds maybe 5-10 minutes to my commute.

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Brauchsel replied to andystow | 1 year ago
7 likes
andystow wrote:

I mostly commute in zones 2/3, occasionally tackling a hill

Me too, Camberwell to Crystal Palace </Londoncentric>

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ejocs | 1 year ago
1 like

Agree with much in the article but think it would have been better framed as a positive exhortation to embrace the benefits of shorter rides rather than as a negative response to a manufactured controversy. Besides, it fails to consider one of the main (and quite justifiable) reasons I suspect people prefer longer rides--cycling is pretty great, and once you start you just want to keep going.

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peted76 | 1 year ago
12 likes

There' a lot of nonsense out there. 

Agree with the sentiment of this article, that there are 'other benefits' to any ride alongside training purposes.

However as I understand it (and I'm happy to be shown the error of my ways) for training purposes, you're mostly cutting up different ways to do either a High intensity interval training (HIIT), a Strength Workout or an Aerobic Activity..... and each of those do have 'efficient' ways to train which probably are the basis of a lot of the myths which fly about. I see a lot of people doing inefficient training for trainings sake.

On the flip side to that, and more in the keeping of the article, I ride my bike how I like to ride my bike and that's the important thing for me. For me riding a bike keeps my head on straight and my body ticking over.

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Dnnnnnn | 1 year ago
1 like

Err, who said short rides are pointless?

 

(rhetorical question, btw)

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