So i did it. Let the mini trumpets toot.
I successfully achieved my objective of riding every single day for 35 days, from 28th December (last year!) until 31st January 2016.
(Why 35 days? Cos I wanted 16.67% more challenge over last time).
Rather than focus on the stats (which are… epic!), I thought I’d outline some advice that might be helpful if you’re looking to get into into the swing of cycling on a regular basis, as well as some of the benefits I encountered.
Whether you’re new to the sport, or coming back after a winter layoff, setting yourself a challenge can be the perfect way to build a cycling habit and kickstart an improvement in your fitness.
My aim in writing this blog is to help and inspire you to ‘do more cycling’. After all, this website is all about you, dear reader (said the narcissist who publishes photos of himself in Lycra…).
So why should you undertake your own ride-every-day challenge? Because there are benefits (with friends). Begin!
The Benefits of Cycling Every Day
In no particular order…
You Might Drink Less
Depending how much you drank in the first place of course.
I can’t quite explain why, but I seemed to partake in less mid-week (alcholol) drinking for the duration of the challenge.
My general pattern was to come in from work at 7.15pm, get straight into cycling gear, do my session on the turbo, have a quick shower and then eat tea (or dinner, for you posh folk).
I was more interested in drinking water than wine. It was more about rehydration than relaxation.
Maybe there’s some science to this. The garage ride was sufficient to cause the release of stress-reducing endorphins. I didn’t feel quite the same need to hit my other proven (grape-based) relaxant.
Didn’t stop me enjoying a glass or two of the good stuff on weekend nights though…
But Might Not Be As Positive For Your Eating… (So Be Careful)
More bike ride = less post-bike wine. I’m afraid the same can’t be said for food consumption.
It turns out that a ride on the turbo does not replace your desire for food.
In fact, I reckon this is an area you (or me) needs to be careful about when doing a challenge like this. (Indoor) cycling at a low intensity for 25–35 minutes does not burn a lot of calories.
You (and again I mean me) can’t use it as an excuse to consume a pile of food as your post-ride/end-of-day meal.
So even you feel that nice post-ride glow in your legs, try not to ‘treat’ yourself to that extra helping of pasta.
You Get Fitter
The trick when doing a challenge like this is to be rigorous when it comes to preparing the ‘before’ and ‘after’ evidence.
What I should have done is undertake a full fitness test on day 1 of the challenge and then repeated it on day 35+1. Needless to say, I had absolutely no interest in puking on day 1 of my challenge.
(And I’ve spared you from photos of me posing naked in front of the mirror on Boxing Day.)
In any event, the object of this exercise was not to build fitness per se. It was to get into the habit of squeezing into a tight outfit and getting my leg over (the saddle). But a happy side effect was that I seem to have got fitter (but maybe not as quick as Kwik Fit fitter…).
I present as evidence two rides: one on the penultimate day of my challenge and the other this past weekend (so 7 days after the challenge ended). On both rides I felt significantly fitter than I had at the end of December.
Arbitrarily picking out a few data points is, by nature, subjective. But let’s ignore this and state, with flimsy evidence, that my post-challenge time on this short climbing segment versus the times I was recording in May and July last year (as well as 10 January this year) was significantly lower.
I rest my case. Cycling every day has made me fitter.
(Important note: remember that I didn’t cane it on the bike/trainer every time until I upchucked; many (most?) rides were at a very low intensity. Trying to ride hard every day for over a month is likely to lead to overtraining and injury. Which will not make you fitter.)
You Feel Motivated For Bigger And Better Things
I do. And I reckon you will too.
Having seen the progress I’ve made in just 35 days of relatively non-arduous cycling, I’m already starting to think ahead to longer rides in the spring and summer.
We have a
training camp family holiday in Majorca booked for August. Before then I’d like to tackle a few Peak District-based sportives.
A little bit of fitness and a little bit of confidence goes a long way towards pushing you towards challenging yourself that bit earlier in the year.
You (Wo)Man Up To The Weather Conditions
There is nothing like spending five dark evenings cooped up in a damp garage to make you salivate at the prospect of cycling in the driving wind and snow.
(Please sir, don’t send me back to the garage.)
Every outside ride becomes a treat, every icy puff of wind a pleasure.
Let’s hope this positive mindset continues now that the challenge is over…
You Get Into The Groove
This was one of the key objectives of the challenge.
Everyone loves (for the most part) being outside on the bike. But somehow many of us find distractions, or obstacles, that make getting out on said bike that bit more difficult – sometimes to the point where the idea of a ride just withers and dies.
I wanted to build my cycling habit muscle, such that the squeezing into lycra, the donning of the winter gear and the gloves, gets done on autopilot. There is no choice. Only do.
Part of that is getting to know where everything is, and what actions to take, to get out there as quickly and efficiently as possible (whether ‘there’ is the glorious outdoors or the inglorious garage).
And 35 days of hopping onto a bike certainly did something to my groove.
How To Complete Your Own Ride-Every-Day Challenge
So I’ve persuaded you to ride every day (I have). Now, I’m going to help you achieve your mighty object. For the most part it’s pretty straightforward. Get a bike. Ride it. Repeat tomorrow.
But here’s a few insights gleaned from my own challenge, which you may find useful. Or not…
Make Your Measure Of Success As Achievable As Possible
This. Is. Key.
The purpose of a ride-every-day challenge is not to rack up loads of time and/or distance on the bike. That’s a happy by-product.
No, the aim is to develop the habit of getting on the bike and spinning the pedals (with at least some resistance if you’re on an indoor trainer) each and every day.
I set my minimum amount of cycling time at 15 minutes. Riding for 15 minutes or more represented success. I deliberately set this so low that any argument that I couldn’t find 15 minutes to cycle would be so ridiculous that the judge would throw it out of court.
In the event, and as I expected, I never rode just 15 minutes. Mainly it was in the 25–35 minute range (for weekday indoor trainer rides – outdoor rides at the weekend were longer).
Even on the two evenings where I was late back from work and the daily (turbo) ride took place after 9pm, I was desperate to hit my 15 minute target (and from memory I think I rode 20–25 mins in each case).
Commit To Others
In my case. You are ‘others’.
I committed to readers of this blog that I would do this. I used my Strava account to prove that I was doing it (and to get motivating ‘kudes’ (as the kool kats say) along the way).
If you don’t have a bunch of website perusers to scrutinise your every cycling move, you could commit to a friend or your partner. Ideally this should be someone who wouldn’t let it lie.
Someone that’ll make your life hell for not following through on your commitment.
If you want to take it to an extreme, you can put some cash in jeopardy, either by way of a bet with the aforementioned friend or by committing to donate to some far-right, anti-tolerance political organisation if you don’t complete the challenge (yes, there’s a website for that).
Get Your Other Half On Board
(I am not talking about a tandem).
My challenge definitely impacted on my (heavily pregnant) wife. She delayed eating each work night until I’d done my business in the garage. Ahem.
She took over my share of the cooking when ideally her feet would have been up on the sofa. She put up with my disappearing each weekend morning, whilst she was left to referee the interactions of our ex-utero kids.
It was lucky therefore that I got her approval (or at least her begrudged acceptance) for taking on the challenge. I was able to persuade her that the life longevity and health benefits (for me) outweighed the negative impact on her life.
Try To Make Your Indoor Cycling Environment Nice
Unless you’re blessed with long summer evenings when attempting this challenge, you’ll have to accept that a large part of it will take place on an indoor (or turbo) trainer.
So you’ll want to make the place where you have your indoor trainer set up as inviting as possible. The aim is to break down as many barriers as possible that might stop you from getting on that bike. And a manky training environment might just be the factor that tips you into not making the session.
Whilst I might have yapped on about having to ride in my damp garage, I did do what I could to make it more comfortable. I got our electrician to install a couple of new lights (not purely for the challenge). I cleared an area around the turbo so I didn’t have to squeeze past stuff to get to it. I got a small air heater down from the loft, in case the temperature fell too far (which in fact it didn’t).
It was still a damp, rodent-friendly pain cave. (Mini lesson: at some point you just have to suck it up).
Arrange Distractions (Whilst On The Turbo)
The main resistance to a ride outside takes place before you get on the bike. Once out on the road, most people agree that time seems to fly.
Not so on the indoor trainer.
On some evening sessions, it was a constant battle trying to persuade myself not simply to get off the turbo.
The enemy (mainly) is boredom. The solution is distraction.
I can’t currently get my wifi signal to extend to the garage, and our rural, copper-conveyed t’internet is patchy at the best of times. So I download podcasts (overnight, byte by painful byte) and listen to them whilst I spin.
If you have a bit more tech access, the distr-options increase – tv programmes, films, your collection of Bolivian nose flute symphonies.
On a slightly more cyclo-focused tip, I’ve heard good things about Zwift, an ‘app’ that allows you to ride with thousands of other humans through a virtual cycling landscape. My brother-in-law uses it and loves it (I think), and it was recently reviewed on the (normally review-less) Inner Ring blog (so it must be good…).
Don’t Leave Your Bike Muddy
You shouldn’t anyway. That is the way of the dark side (and you’ll have to replace components more frequently). But it’s even more important if you want to ride every day.
Say I’ve been out for a ride on Sunday and it has rained. Mud and road grime has caked around by bottom bracket. The chain is caked in gunk.
I now have a whole week of late night turbo rides when all I’ll be able to hear is the grind of grit wearing down and damaging my bike. The mental turmoil of the turbo trainer is so much greater when the bike isn’t running smoothly.
And there is no way, after noticing this on the Monday night, that you’re (I’m) going to wash the bike then or any day before Saturday.
So wash your bike immediately following your Sunday ride, when your post-exercise endorphins are still flowing (and before your legs have seized up).
Leave Your Turbo/Indoor Trainer Ready To Ride
We’re back on the subject on minimising the barriers to riding.
Whilst it’s not super onerous to shift my bike from the road to the trainer, it does take a couple of minutes to swap the normal skewer to the one that goes with the turbo. Then I have to hold the bike in the right position as I tighten the arms that hold it in place on the trainer.
It’s all faff that I have to battle through before I’ve even started that day’s ride. And the key to maximising your chances of successfully getting on the bike on any given day is to minimise the faff factor.
Quod erat demonstrandum.
Take Your Bike Off The Turbo After Friday Night’s Ride
This is an optional extra. It also assumes you don’t have more than one bike.
It is a slightly different take on the point above. Here we try to use the ‘resistance’ in our favour.
You might not be lucky enough to own a damp, mouse-infested garage for your mid-week evening sessions, compelling you out onto the road when Saturday comes.
If your indoor trainer is set up in a nice warm pain cave, with a 60-inch widescreen TV handily positioned to screen season 6 of Game of Thrones whilst you ride, you might not be hugely motivated to do your weekend rides outside when winter really is coming.
So make it (marginally) easier to ride outside than in. Detach your bike from the indoor trainer. Swap the rear wheel skewer back to the normal (non-trainer) one (i.e. the one that came with your bike, or with the wheel). Move your turbo up into the loft.
Hopefully this simple tactic, along with prepping a complete and suitable winter cycling outfit in advance (again, Friday night is ideal), will help you choose to ride north of the wall with the other wildings (you know nothing Mont Snow) rather than staying safe and warm (and sweaty) within the walls of the Red Keep.
And I think I’ve pushed the Game of Thrones analogy far enough.
I think you’ve heard (read) enough.
I got a huge amount of value out of completing my recent ride-every-day challenge. My fitness levels are up. I’m eager to undertake some longer outside, hillier rides and we’re only halfway through February.
Clearly something like this isn’t for everyone. But if you can find the time to ride a little and often, I think you’ll be surprised (in a good way) about the impact it’ll have on your cycling fitness.
Hopefully you’ll find some of my experiences and observations useful in formulating and completing your own cycling challenge.
Let me know in the comments below whether you’ve done a cycling challenge like this before, or whether you feel compelled to do one now. Or write something else (bike related). I’m not picky 😉