Can Bike Commuting Be a Part of a Cycling Training Plan?

The Time-Crunched Cyclist reveals the fastest way to get fit for bike rides and races of all kinds. With elite cycling coach Chris Carmichael’s innovative, time-saving approach, busy cyclists will develop fitness, speed, and power in just 6 hours a week.

Here’s an often-asked question that’s answered in The Time-Crunched Cyclist. The book includes two training plans that incorporate bike commuting as workouts.

Q: Should I bike commute to work for training or focus on the workouts in my training plan?

A: For bike racers, there is an argument against commuting that goes something like this: The limited time you spend on your bike should be focused entirely on intensities that will enhance your fitness and performance. Therefore, com­muting is a bad option because the intensity level is generally too low and the duration is often too short to lead to any productive training stimulus. As a result, you’re better off driving your car to work because you’re not wasting energy that you could use the next time you get on the bike for actual training.

When it comes to high-volume trainers, I absolutely agree with the above argument. To take it to an extreme, consider the case of the bike messenger/racer. Electronic documents and other factors have largely gutted the bike messenger industry, but they can still serve as an example. Back in the 1980s and ’90s, I knew a lot of up-and-coming bike racers who thought that working as a bike messenger would be the best of both worlds: They’d get to train while earning money! Invariably, after one month they were worthless as bike rac­ers. They were on their bikes all day doing short runs as messengers, and then they’d go training. Some reversed it and trained in the morning and then spent the rest of the day being a messenger. Either way, they ended up exhausted, burned out, and miserable.

A more common example is the Masters or Cat. III racer who trains at least 12 hours a week. For these athletes I don’t recommend a commute that’s more than 10 minutes. If they live a relatively flat 2 miles from work, then go ahead. But a 30- to 45-minute commute each way, on top of a 12-hours-per-week training load, is frequently too much. The additional workload from the commute takes away from much-needed recovery more than the extra miles enhance training.

On the other hand, time-crunched athletes who have relatively short (under 5 miles) commutes should really consider commuting at least 3 times per week. The additional workload will not be high enough to knock your training out of balance, but the extra time on the bike—and, more important, the increased frequency on the bike—will help you have high-quality work­outs when it is time to train.

Assuming you have a safe route to ride to your office and back and a secure place to store your bike at work, you can make commuting work for you. And as roads become more congested, the financial and stress-relieving benefits of bicycle commuting will become even greater.

The Time-Crunched Cyclist reveals the fastest way to get fit for road racing, century rides, gravel grinders, cyclocross, Gran Fondos, and mountain bike events. With elite cycling coach Chris Carmichael’s innovative, time-saving approach, busy cyclists will develop fitness, speed, and power in just 6 hours a week.