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.
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.
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.
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.