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How to get training benefits out of the most casual rides

Don't write off the coffee ride as junk miles

Going from indoor, structured training to casual outdoor rides in the spring can be a bit of a tough shift for some cyclists. While you definitely want to have a fun chat-and-ride with pals (COVID restrictions allowing), a voice in the back of your head might be telling you that this ride isn’t productive. Perhaps you’ve even heard whispers of the words “junk miles.”

The first thing you should do is ignore that voice—if you’re having a good time on a ride, you’re doing cycling properly. Ultimately, if the reason you cycle is for enjoyable days on the bike, you should let yourself have those moments without guilt. That being said, if you still struggle with intrusive thoughts and crave a bit of “type two” fun during your allocated “type one” fun moments, there are a few ways you can scratch that itch. For many, “fun” is a longterm goal that lines up with racing and training objectives, but it is possible to strike a balance between all “types” of fun—without forcing the group to ramp up the pace to match your training plan.

Be flexible with your schedule

If you’ve arranged a casual ride for a certain day, make a plan to schedule a harder ride a day or two before. You’ll get the “zoomies” out of your system and the casual ride will feel like a bonus (and a little bit harder than it would on fresh legs).

Cadence drills

Shift into the little ring and work on spinning at a higher cadence. You’ll likely find it surprisingly difficult to keep up in a very low gear, and you’ll tire yourself out more quickly than you’d think.

Town line sprints

If the road segment is safe, it’s always fun to challenge your fellow coffee ride cyclists to a little town line sprint. The sprint starts when someone goes for it and ends at the sign signifying the next town/borough/area. A few all-out sprints peppered throughout an easy ride will increase your training stress score by a surprising amount.

Spend time on the front

If you’re craving sore legs, make the ride harder for yourself by staying at the front of the group and taking long pulls.

Seated or standing climb

If you tend to take a local climb in the saddle, try riding it on out of saddle for as long as possible. If you always climb standing, try doing the climb seated. The experiment will force you to use different muscles than you’re used to and could even lead to a surprising time up the hill.