How To Find The Motivation To Ride A Bike

You’ve got 20 minutes somewhere in your day.

Why waste time on the couch?

Two mountain bikers on a hill.

Hopefully, this goes without saying, but if you’re not into riding 4-6 days a week, then don’t.

But, if you want to challenge yourself physically and mentally by putting a bit more effort into riding, this is for you.

Every spring, many riders sit down and think about the upcoming season. Often, they realize it’s time to get back into shape. For me, this always happens after the first big ride of spring over a plate of fries.

I’ll trade riding aspirations with friends and realize the lofty goals we’ve all created for ourselves will take commitment. The resolve? It’s time to start riding.

a female biker mountain biking through the woods in South Dakota.

Coen van den Broek

My Favorite Excuses

For some people, this doesn’t seem to be an issue. They WISH there were 8 days in a week so they'd have an extra day to ride their bike, rain or shine, wherever and whenever.

Great! You do you.

For the rest of us, it can take some mental gymnastics to get into the habit of riding consistently enough to train effectively.

Here are a few of my favorite excuses:

  • “It’s too windy.”
  • “I’m too tired.”
  • “The trail isn’t dry.”
  • “I have laundry to do.

Or my absolute favorite: “It looks like it *might* rain.”

Determine Your Goals and Riding Frequency

Riding frequency varies drastically depending on your goals and your riding habits.

A rider preparing for an event, for example, will need to ride their bike between 3-6 days a week.

How often they ride each week depends on a few factors:

  • Their base level of fitness
  • Overall hours they have available to put in on their bike
  • The intensity of each workout
  • Date of event

Less fit riders will benefit from 4-7 hours a week, while more experienced riders might ride 7-12 hours per week. The fitter you are, the longer the duration and/or intensity of your riding will need to be for you to feel exertion.

There can be dramatic variation in gains vs hours/week depending on intensity.

Personally, I average about 8 hours a week during the earlier months (like May), with 2 high-intensity rides and at least one 3+ hour ride per week. Usually, that turns into riding 5 days a week.

However, when it rains for 8 days straight or my work or personal life is chaotic, I just don’t have the willpower to put in that kind of time.

More often then not, for myself and other cyclists, that translates into a significant decrease in the quality and quantity of time on the bike.

A mountain biker in spearfish canyon on a road bike.

What Happens When You Take a Break From Riding?

So what happens when you spend a week out of the saddle?

  • Riders with a low base fitness can lose gains they’ve made very, very quickly.
  • Riders with a lot of saddle time under their belt will lose gains less quickly.

In general, when you take a break from cycling, the adaptations you’ve made are scaled back. This occurs at different rates depending on a number of factors, including the kind of adaptation and your base level of fitness.

In terms of fitness, the first thing to go is your cardiovascular maximums and endurance. You'll lose your VO2 max and endurance pretty quickly as your body decreases all the extra red blood cells you’ve worked so hard to increase.

Taking a break from cycling can be a very good thing--at the end of the season.

two mountain bikers on road bikes in south dakota

No Excuses: A Killer Workout in 20 Minutes

As an amateur (but rad) cyclist,

You will see results by decreasing duration and increasing intensity. It is possible to get a great workout in 20 minutes that still results in performance gains.

During a typical high-intensity ride, the “work” portion is only a mere 10-15 minutes. Pair that with a 5-10 minute warm up and a 5-minute’re looking at a killer workout that takes only 20-35 minutes.

Not only is interval training effective, but it minimizes the excuses.

I’m willing to bet everyone has at least 20 minutes to spare. And, the fact it’s only 20 minutes means you won’t find yourself tolerating ‘poor’ weather for much longer than it takes you to eat lunch.

The Science Behind High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

HIIT riding is no secret.

High-Intensity Interval Training is backed by research that suggests that interval training produces slight improvements in VO2max that is greater than traditional training methods. Many studies show that this increase happens even with limited training sessions per week.

  • Intense training = Increases in Cardiorespiratory Fitness

A meta-analysis found that longer intervals, combined with high-intensity continuous training, can greatly increase VO2max in almost all young adults.

The conventional wisdom is that intervals of 3–5 minutes are especially effective in evoking increases in exercise capacity. Consistent with this idea, the nine studies that generated the biggest increases in VO2max (∼0.85/min) generally used intervals of 3–5 minutes and high-intensity continuous training.

Along these lines, many of the studies showing the largest increases in VO2max appeared to follow a pattern similar to the so-called “Hickson protocol” [7]. This protocol includes 10 weeks of training 6 days/week with interval and continuous training on alternate days.

Interval training consists of six 5 minute sessions on a cycle ergometer (fixed bicycle) at a work rate approaching the subjects' VO2max.

These work periods are separated by 2 minutes of active rest. As the subjects' power output increases during training, the exercise intensity is increased as needed. On the non-interval days, continuous training consists of running as fast as possible for 30 min/day during the 1st week, 35 min/day during the second week, and 40 min/day or longer thereafter.

Bacon, A. P., Carter, R. E., Ogle, E. A., & Joyner, M. J. (2013). VO2max Trainability and High-Intensity Interval Training in Humans: A Meta-Analysis. PLoS ONE, 8(9).

long straight road in south dakota

Laura Heisinger

How Not to Screw Up Interval Training

Interval training is easy, but there are a few ways to screw it up.

  • Too little warm up.

    Nothing causes weird aches and pains like cranking up your wattage without warming up. I like to warm up on my way to a consistently long, steep hill, and set an interval timer to 3 minutes work, 2 minutes rest for 12 minutes.
  • Easy, less challenging, intervals.

    HIIT gains are related to high power outputs. The minimal effort yields minimal results.
  • Performing HIIT too often.

    Having the ability to do HIIT more than 3 days a week may indicate you’re not pushing enough during your training sessions.

Adding more intervals to a HIIT workout doesn’t necessarily increase its effectiveness. With high-intensity intervals workouts, the time-at-intensity might be 10-20 minutes total.

On days when you just don’t want to get off the couch, try going for a short ride. Everyone almost always has 20 minutes to spare, and those 20 minutes will give back to you tenfold in fitness gains. It will also get you used to spending more days a week in the saddle, too, and who doesn’t want that?