View Full Version : "Power" Commuting Tips

01-28-2008, 09:54 AM
Hey forum - Calling for tips and advice on training/commuting.

I've been reading a few books on performance cycling - they're full of great information on nutrition, fitness, etc. All the usual stuff - like choosing a proper ride/fit/clothing/etc.

Also many different workout programs and suggestions.

But what isn't really covered is the commuting/training combo. Many programs recommend days off, varied schedules and intensities for different days in order to maximize growth as a cyclist.

My goal is to make an 8 mile urban commute (5 days a week) take approximately 30 minutes! That means I have to average about 16 mph with stoplight/traffic times considered. AND I have to do it twice a day (gotta go home).

Is this unrealistic? I'm averaging about 10-11 mph right now, but I want to improve power/speed and get the benefit of commuting each day without "overdoing it" as many of the experts are quick to caution.

Any advice, observations and personal experience are welcome. Thanks!

01-28-2008, 10:59 AM
I commute 13 miles each way but I don't really consider it training.

I'm on the side of the roadway in a bike lane and I need to be aware of moving vehicles, parked vehicles, pedestrians, traffic lights, animals, and road debris. I've had numerous close calls with all of those listed. I believe that the reason I haven't actually hit or been hit by any of the above is because I take it easy. I don't treat my commute like a race or a training ride.

Even if your commute was on the Springwater corridor, though you wouldn't have to worry about vehicles, you would still have to watch for walkers, joggers, rollerbladers, other cyclist, and animals.

Just a thought

01-28-2008, 11:06 AM
I think you can ride hard without increasing risk too much. Not in all locations all the time of course. Downtown is especially difficult. But depending on the route it may be fine.

16 mph average should be achievable for most people, depending on bike, route, age, sex, etc. Don't worry about overtraining on just one hour a day. When you are sore and tired back off - otherwise don't worry about it. It's overrated unless you are ramping up quickly and/or riding hundreds of miles per week. Strains and sprains - pay attention to. Overall tiredness - back off a little but it will make you stronger in the long run.

You will get more training benefit by mixing up the intensity. For example, one day where you go as fast as you can with a consistent effort the entire 8 miles, followed by a day where you sprint for one minute and pedal easy for one minute, on and off all the way home. Of course traffic will interfere at times, but you will still get some benefit. Be careful where you sprint, as that is definitely more risky than just an overall hard pace for the entire ride.

01-28-2008, 11:56 AM
Search around for the best routes on days off. Give yourself plenty of time. If it takes you half hour, leave an hour before clock in. Not only does it give you a margin for flat repairs etc, but also, some days you just don't have the steam. In the Summer I was taking a class at South East center on 82nd and Division. Living in St Johns it was almost exactly 15 miles door to door and took one hour almost to the minute. That's with stopping at stop signs and waiting at red lights. I always gave myself no less than 1.5 hrs. It also gives you a chance to cool down and dry out a bit.

You might want to consider a cadence counter. I've found it useful for overall efficiency. My cadence was 85rpm's with brief periods at about 95, but soon went to regular cadence of 95 and being able to hold a steady 105 when needed. Just being able to see what I was pedaling allowed me to more easily improve it.

Plus the usual, warming up, plenty of fluids, etc...

01-28-2008, 12:27 PM
Some of those training guidlines can make your head spin; just use some common sense. The most important factor is riding consistently. Find opportunities on your commute to push yourself a little harder - resist the urge to shift down on small hills. Definitely alternate what you do; you can create intervals of a sort by sprinting when you can then taking it easy to recover. Find some hills on your route and see if over time you can make it up in a higher gear. Gradually you'll become more fit and stronger.

01-29-2008, 08:57 AM
I commute 8mi each way every day 5 days a week but I don't consider it "training". Commuting traffic can be perilous and unpredictable as we all know. When I'm training I find that speed and stamina take precedent over right hooks and other stupid driver tricks I am constantly vigilant for to/from work. On my daily ride, I want to get to work and back home safely. There's also the issue of expectations from mother nature. Take today, for instance. Nice spring day with a little tail wind and I get home in 30" using my good bike. This morning I rode by trusty (heavy) steed into a driving rain and head wind and it took an hour.
I guess I'm saying that the daily commute is background "fitness". If I didn't do it I would be 25# heavier, have less energy during the day and have high blood pressure. When the weather gets nice I take a longer, scenic route home that is ~25 miles and involves a long, safe stretch of the Spring Water where I can open it up. I don't ride weekends in the winter. I do on nice days in the spring, summer and fall.
But I'm old enough and have enough traffic accident scars that I don't really "train" anymore. Its a lifestyle. Weather permitting I ride far and fast. Today, just get me home.

01-29-2008, 12:56 PM
Rest assured forum mates - your's truly will never sacrifice safety for speed.

I have a few stretches on my route that are ideal for aggressive riding as well as a few stretches where it's better to ride ready, aware and sensibly.

This is great advice, please keep it coming!

01-30-2008, 12:43 PM
When I did a lot of distance cycling, I also commuted 13-15 miles each way every day. I could do this quickly if there was no traffic, but not if there was. I didn't consider it training, but would sometimes leave from work and go on a longer training ride, then circle around and head home.

A computer with cadence is a good idea. It's good to develop good habits with that.

02-05-2008, 10:20 AM
No disrespect to any poster intended... but something occurred to me during a ride as I mulled some of the advice in this thread:

What really is "too fast"? I appreciate concern folks had for the potential of reckless riding trying to meet a performance goal in an urban setting.

BUT - what is too fast? What is reckless?

Consider - I ride SE Lincoln. Currently I can get speeds well over 25 mph downhill. (Yes I am speeding if I hit 30 mph). Now what if I could maintain on the flats, even uphill for more than a minute or so?

That's how fast the cars go, right? So if I'm going the speed limit - 25 mph there's a good chance I'll be out ahead of cars, passed less and can even take the lane in most situations (unless they want to speed through the neighborhood and over the bumps).

Too me - that seems safer than constant head checking to be sure I'm not squashed at the roundabouts.

It's all stop and go and legal - Race to light. Stop. Go. Race up to speed. Repeat. Perfect interval training!

Heck if the bike lane is full and I'm not impeding - shoot, take the lane, go 30-35 mph and feel like a King! Albeit a vulnerable, cautious one with eyes waaaaay forward and behind.

02-05-2008, 10:24 AM
Why attempt it?

Personal goals, sure -but there's more.

Having testimonial on a commute that takes as much or less time via bicycle as it would in a motor vehicle - and certainly compared to mass transit:


02-06-2008, 06:33 AM
I ride the Springwater at times of the day and night where there is no one else around (e.g., 6am, 9.30pm). When it's clear, I sprint. Sometimes I even keep my time. My record from the Spokane St. gate in Sellwood to the Ross Island Destruction Co. gate just south of downtown is 9 minutes and 36 seconds. When there are people around, I just slow down and use the bell. No big deal.

Also, when I'm feeling like I need more of a workout, I go from downtown to Sellwood via the westside, on (Sideshow Bob) Terwilliger. That gets me a good climb in and you can generally ride as hard as you want up those hills in the bike lane or through the cemetary.

I'm thinking about working in even longer routes in my commute, so anyone with any thoughts on good detours to work in between downtown and Sellwood would be appreciated.

And what about the weekday noon rides downtown - are those still going on?

02-08-2008, 11:44 AM
Not sure about the Noon rides, though.

02-21-2008, 11:22 AM
Just do what I do--put some squishy, flat-resistant tires on and keep them on the low end of the air pressure recommendations to add rolling resistance, load down your bike with stuff using bulky panniers (always use two) to increase wind drag--do anything you can (safely) do to slow yourself down while still working just as hard. Get in some extra work without excessive speed. I actually did all of these things inadvertently when I started riding to work in the winter and got tired of flat tires (flat tired?) and backpacks. My usual 40-minute commute time jumped up by about 5-10 minutes right away, but I've managed to bring it back down to pre-drag levels. My 8-mile commute through Beaverton takes me 35 - 40 minutes now (yes, including stopping at all signs and signals:) ); I'd love to try it on a different bike and see how my time changes.

Another easy thing to do if your local terrain supports it is to find an alternate route that involves more climbing and ride it on days you have extra time.

02-25-2008, 03:34 PM
I like that technique - load up for the commute - and you will feel "spry" on the weekend on your "real" ride.

So far the power commute workout is working nicely for this rider. I'm now managing to make the trip in under 30 minutes at least 3-4 times a week and that is with stopping at all signs, signals, crosswalks, etc. AND slowing up on Hawthorne. I do notice:

If you're serious about making good time AND obeying all traffic laws you must be prepared for a lot of sprint starts. Get up off the seat.
The route is crucial. Neighborhood corridor works best, but you must be conscious of the posted speed limit.
The body get's tired - it's tough to maintain that pace 5 straight days. I alternate power rides with spinning rides.
My Commuter Bike (a converted MTB) cannot physically (or safely) exceed 35 mph. There's no more gear!
Far fewer incidences at traffic calming devices and more opportunity to legitimately take the lane.
Actually have to hold back to obey the speed limit. It's a nice feeling.
Roadside radar trailers will give you a reading - you don't have to be in a motor vehicle - nice opportunity to check if you have your bike computer set properly.
You have to really watch out for the driver who absolutely MUST pass you even if they MUST exceed the posted speed limit.

02-27-2008, 08:11 AM
My ride is 6 miles each way, and I always make it under 20 minutes.
I try to cruise around 20-22 Avg. end up being 16,17 or so. I also dont have to carry much to work. I carry a few clothing items, in my backpack. I have my work shoes at work, so I travel light. My trip home is a slight up hill most of the way. And where I work, my wifes favorite water beverage is realy cheap in the vending machine.(We sell it) So I carry about 8 waters home each night, 20oz bottels, not sure what my pack weighs. Atleast 20lbs I'm sure.

I work a wierd shift 5pm till 1:30-3am So my ride home is uninterrupted, nobody out at 2 or 3am. So traffic and lights dont slow me down, just my backpack.....:D

Also what beelnite Said:

"Having testimonial on a commute that takes as much or less time via bicycle as it would in a motor vehicle - and certainly compared to mass transit:


04-30-2008, 10:35 AM
Remember this Fredly Thread started by yours truly?

Well it's time for an update:

I've discovered that it really doesn't matter on my particular route (Gateway to Downtown via Tabor-Lincoln-Harrison; approx. 8 miles) how fast I go - or how fast I sprint start at stops. The time is roughly the same because of the various stop-lights and crossings requiring slower speeds and or stops.

I can froth and pound the pedals or I can take an easy spin and the difference is marginal. We're talking average speeds of 22-24mph vs. average speeds of 12-14mph - (stops not counted against average) the difference in time is consistently around 3-4 minutes.

On my easy spin days I get passed more often, but I'm usually "on the wheel" in a few blocks of the stud rider because of the traffic controls.

I think this might be the same on other routes. Anyone else have experience with this? Have you been amazed at "time shaved" on your route because of an intense physical effort? Or does it really depend on if you "hit the lights" just right - and traffic volume?

I think I'll put together a spreadsheet this summer...

Fredly yours - Beelnite.

04-30-2008, 12:54 PM
thats why i ride arterials downhill and the bike blvds up. i make a lot better time on the higher volume streets cause the lights are more often green. i only do this when i'm riding near the speed of traffic and not at a snails pace.
but yes, pounding the pedals is pointless unless its westbound off the hawthorne to hit all the lights up to PSU:).

04-30-2008, 04:30 PM
Out here on the West Side it is very hit-'n'-miss. No lights are on timers, they are all sensor-driven, so there is no amount of speed regulation that will enhance one's probability of hitting greens. So, whether I pedal my guts out or poke along, it mostly depends on the traffic that trips the lights. The one exception where going faster can save me some time is when I have to make left turns from fast, busy streets (Hall->Millikan and Murray->Cornell): if I really punch it out and merge out of the bike lane across traffic, I can make a vehicular left turn more easily, whereas if I don't, I am stuck going around the block, wandering through parking lots, or waiting for two pedestrian signals, all of which add minutes. Of course I also have to consider that if I push it all week commuting, my knees will be too sore to enjoy any weekend rides. Age=Bummer :)

Chris Leonardo
05-07-2008, 04:18 PM
I tried to really push myself for a lot of my commute for a while and found myself enjoying it much less than just going at a steady pace, I had much respect for those riders that have the stamina to push it for a long period of time though!

The lack of enjoyment was a deal breaker for me and decided it was better to gain back the fun for a little bit longer ride. Though realistically I only lost 5 minutes or so in a 35 minute commute...

05-16-2008, 08:58 AM
You know, Chris - I hear that!

About a month ago I had a "breakthrough" of sorts. After almost a year of pretty much daily riding suddenly I found myself able to maintain a pretty good clip with what felt to my old body as minimal effort.

What used to be 12 mph is now 16 mph. The old "wall" - where a high degree of effort to maintain speed is required - was 14-15mph when I first started out. Now it's about 18-20mph (though it feels like that's around the speed where I reach critical wind resistance - any thoughts on this out there?)

Anyway what prompted this leap was doing what Chris describes. I eased off, geared down and just "spun" about as often as I "frothed and thrashed."

It's an unexpected and pretty empowering feeling when your brain catches up to your body and realizes, "Dang, I could pretty much do this all day!"

05-16-2008, 11:50 AM
I've heard that wind resistance rises as the cube of your speed: 0.5*m*v^2 to move the air out of the way (where m is the mass of the air you encounter per unit time), and perhaps another v because you're moving through it? I'm not clear on the mathematical model.

In any event, you may not begin to appreciate why cyclists are so into wind resistance: 'bents with their fairings, aggressive drop handlebars, dorky looking time trial helmets, and the like.

On long downhill stretches I've demonstrated that I can squeeze out another 2 to 5 mph by going aero in my body position: feet at 9 and 3 o'clock, knees tucked, elbows tucked, hands on the drops.

For those of us mortals, I'd say work gradually on making a tucked riding position more comfortable by doing and doing a lot of stretching and core strengthening. Second, you're not wearing anything that rubs or flaps, are you?

-jason "still need to lose about a bicycle's worth of weight off of the rider" p.

05-19-2008, 07:42 AM
Count me amont those who think that commuting in heavy traffic is not the place to work on sprinting. In heavy traffic I operate with the presumption that every object on (and off) the road is trying to kill me. The only thing I work on while commuting is staying alive. I get there when I get there, and make allowance for hinderance on the way. This morning, for instance, I'm pretty sure that if I was devoted to maxing out my pace I wouldn't have noticed that the guy pulling a speed boat about 3 semi-trucks ahead of me was just beginning a cell phone conversation. Based on past experience I knew that the swerving of the trailer into the bike lane would commence directly. The place to work on speed is on a track or secluded road.

05-19-2008, 01:13 PM
Here. Here. You'll get no arguments from this corner. "Power Commuting" is simply a Fred-like attempt to acheive 20 mph when possible and as conditions allow.

The 'rules' should also dictate you cannot disobey traffic laws, you've got to obey them consistently and in the same fashion each time you take your commute route or tracking improvements is meaningless. Obeying should also imply "reasonable and prudent" behaviour.

But if you have 1.2 miles of neighborhood boulevard route, uphill with no stop signs or sytemic obstructions... I say go ahead and "sprint" - though I think my Fredly version of "sprint" is a lot different than a true sport cyclist's in training!

On the crowded Hawthorne Bridge - uh, yeah... please slow down!

But you'll never sell me on the idea that one can go "too fast" on a bicycle if you're not exceeding the posted speed limit. Maybe when I'm older and my reaction time diminishes, but then I'll be wiser and probably slower anyway by default.