Just go ride your bike outside.
These days it seems like indoor bike training gets all the attention. We have new smart trainers and data gathering tools to geek out for weeks. Don’t get me wrong – I’m a big fan of indoor training for lots of reasons. It’s consistent, the data is great and it’s highly unlikely that I will fall off my bike indoors. I personally train indoors on a smart trainer twice a week (because I live in Miami where running over cyclists is the norm not the exception). I’m a believer. BUT BUT BUT once a week I ride outdoors and I ride outdoors in almost any and all conditions. I do that on purpose – I really do think that riding your bike outside is a great tool for training.
There is an exception – if you live in a place where you have winter – indoor training is the only option you may have. I don’t have winter – I live in Miami. We have slightly less hot weather during winter. This article is not about training outside in the winter – unless you are training for a winter race. I read a story about a guy training for Ironman on a submarine – he gets a pass on outdoor training.
Sometimes there just is no substitute for riding your bike outside – on the road, or trail.
For those of you who are thinking: I read that Andy Potts rides indoors all the time and he does great. This is true. There are a few pro triathletes who do this. But are you Andy Potts? Andy Potts is also one of the top 5 athletes on a course and his scenario is just simply different than yours and mine. Andy Potts is a professional athlete he was an NCAA all american swimmer … were you? Maybe. It’s possible I swim with a few of those. He’s in the top 10 people in any race he does so he doesn’t deal with much bike traffic. He doesn’t have to train for that because he doesn’t deal with that on race day. So before you use that as a reason to not go outside please ask yourself is that true for you as well?
Here are 5 reasons I, Amy think riding your bike outside is important.
You should listen because I say so. Get it? Amy Says So?
- Bike fit and balance. If you use rollers for indoor training then what I’m about to say might not be true. I have never been on rollers – they look scary. When you ride your bike and it’s bolted firmly intoyour bike trainer – you aren’t actually balancing on your bike. You are sitting on it. It can be very different muscles used and different sore spots. Plus it’s about 1000 times easier to do things like grab a water bottle on the trainer since you aren’t actually balancing on the bike. I literally drink coffee out of a coffee mug during my early morning trainer workouts. I could probably eat oatmeal too. It’s just not at all the same as being outside. Getting to your bike bottles is an actual skill that you should practice while riding before you try it in a group ride or a race.
- Bike handling skills and awareness. Riding a bike outdoors requires that you pay attention to what’s happening around you. What’s on the road, where is the traffic, where are the other riders all of those things. All of these skills benefit from practice actually riding outdoors.Do you turn your bike on the trainer? Nope me either. But even the straightest bike course requires some turns and this is something that you practice outdoors.
- Wind, Sun, Rain, Shade, Clouds, Fog … weather. Unless your trainer is outdoors on a moving object (not impossible but unlikely) you won’t be dealing with wind and sun on the trainer. These are outdoor elements that have big impacts on riding in events. Learning to practice riding into the wind and how the extra effort afffects your performance is a big skill. Sun is also a big thing when being outdoors. Does your sunscreen run into your eyes. Does it make your arms slip on your aero pads. Does your favorite 2-peice tri suit leave a patch of exposed skin on your back when you’re in aero? Figuring out what clothing to wear in different weather conditions is actually a pretty good reason to ride outdoors. These are all outdoor issues that you probably don’t want to discover on race day. Many people I know avoid riding in the rain. I actually had a coach who took me out and taught me how to ride safely in the rain. You can ride safely in almost all conditions and you never know what race day will bring. So it’s a good idea to practice in the rain. Also, a forecast of rain isn’t the same thing as it actually raining. Think about this – if you live in parts of Europe it rains so much that if you were to avoid training in the rain you’d never ride. So the next time you think about not riding because of weather – ask yourself is this the best training decision I can make?
- Nutrition. I use liquid nutrition on the bike. So getting to my water bottles is key in long trainer rides. Depending on the length of the ride I can carry up to 4 bottles on my bike. Personally, I am much better at reaching behind me with one hand than the other. This is reality so it is something I plan for in long rides and I practice with my weak hand to get better. You can probably guess what I’m going to say here but actually eating and drinking is a different set of skills outside rather than inside on the trainer. Grabbing your convenient little bar from the table by the trainer, unwrapping it and leisurely eating it is a lot different than digging the bar out of your jersey pocket with one hand, ripping it open with one hand and your teeth and eating it without dropping it all while riding with one hand. Chewing and swallowing a Skratch bite while working at threshold … hard to do. Getting at your Base Salt while pedaling … not the easiest thing to do. It is best to practice these things outdoors to make sure your plan works. Also it’s good to practice bottle hand offs for longer races before race day because they are a little tricky. Another skill that deserves much more practice that most people give it is picking up a bottle on the go which happens in long races at water stops. In Ironman races the most dangerous spot on the course can be the many water stops where people are slowing and doing crazy things and dropping water bottles all over. Practice Practice Practice. Last but not least environmental conditions affect how well you digest food. So while your nutrition might work great in your airconditioned pain cave you might get sick as a dog eating that same stuff outside on a hot windy day.
- Spotting unpredictable riders. I love to race Ironman races. They tend to be huge. A few thousand friends all racing the same course. In most Ironman races as much as 50% of the field can be first timers. Some of them are really neophytes on the bike course and they do crazy things. The only way I know to prepare for staying safe on a busy bike course is to ride with others as part of your training. Become very used to being hyper aware of what is happening around you. There is no movie or Game of Thrones episode happening on the bike course – I promise. But there very well might be a tired rider weaving from one side of the course to the other potentially getting in your way. There may be somebody passing on your right – they shouldn’t do that but it happens all the time. The safest rider on the bike course is similar to the safest driver in a car. They behave predictably and they have terrific situational awareness looking out for what they need to prepare for.
Your race is almost definitely not inside. Riding inside on a spin bike or a watt bike or even your bike on the trainer is not the same at all as riding outside. With every single training session we do to achieve the best goal we need to ask ourselves is this the best thing I can do to prepare myself for my race. In my experience as an athlete and as a coach I find that the actual motivation that pushes people to skip outdoor rides and go on the trainer is fear.
Facing our fears of riding outdoors
Fear of traffic is a valid concern. To be totally upfront this is something we have to all deal with on our own. There are cars even on closed race courses. Fear of falling due to wet roads. Fear of being alone far away from the house. Fear is one of the strongest motivators of all. Advertisers use it to motivate consumers daily. Watch a set of ads and you’ll notice that they almost all focus on either fear or greed. Going after an Ironman finish line means staring your fear right in the face and saying to yourself I’m going for it anyway. There is a difference between being afraid of something unknown and being in danger. If a situation is dangerous you should not train outside. For me this includes lightening and rush hour morning traffic but we all have to make our own decisions there. However, if you are afraid that you don’t have the skills to be safe in a situation … well there’s only one way to improve that and it’s through practice in that situation.
Bonus Item: Equipment malfunctions. On every ride there’s a good chance something on your bike will do something you don’t expect. It’s a machine. You are a human. A gear might skip because you push too hard a sensor might not be working, you could drop a chain or get a flat, you could have a dead battery on any number of gadgets. These are all things that when you ride regularly outside in the elements you can learn to take in stride but if you ride indoors all the time, who knows if you’ll get the experience you need to be ready for this on raceday. These little things can add huge stress on raceday.
Training indoors is great
I started this by saying that I do believe in indoor training. I have used a Computrainer or a Wahoo Kickr to prepare for every single one of my races. I currently use a version one Kickr and TrainerRoad which I consider to be the best deal in triathlon training. You can read my review of trainerroad somewhere on this very blog They are tools I am very thankful to have. I have also personally done insanely long rides on the trainer 5 or 6 hours when life through me a curveball that I couldn’t get around. So I’m not anti trainer. In fact, I think interval training is best done indoors. My final point in defense of riding outdoors actually is that my indoor training gurus the guys at Trainer Road – they make their living selling trainer software. They ride outside a lot. If you listen to their podcast it’s all about using indoor trainer workouts to get better at riding outdoors.
Thank you for reading. I hope that this article has been helpful. I hope it’s not too bash you in the face – get outside you dummy – direct. If you think I missed something or I’m wrong please tell me. I have thick skin – I really do.
You can find me other places online I’m on instagram – i have a facebook page i and I do send out the occasional email to my list when I have news about what I’m up to. I’d love it if you signed up. So much so that I put the form right here for you.