Thursday night, just like on two dozen other occasions since the middle of January, I spent an hour on the trainer. I’ve ridden about 400 miles this winter in my living room, and on each occasion I’ve wondered how riding the trainer compares to riding on the road. Should those miles count toward my total?
In one way, it’s easier. Riding the trainer never feels like riding up Botsford Hill does, where I’m in my easiest gear and maybe able to turn the cranks at 40 rpm – Just enough to keep from falling over like Benny Hill. In my hardest gear on the trainer, I can sustain 65 rpm. On the other hand, the trainer does deliver more resistance than just riding on the flat, and I push on the trainer. Including a few minutes of lower speed warm up and cool down, I average over 19 mph. That’s a lot faster than I average on most road rides. And unlike when riding on the road, it’s all cranking all the time. There is no coasting on a trainer.
Some rides, trainer or road, seem to have a bigger impact than others. On Thursday night, like on those other occasions, I got into the group ride depicted on my TV and obeyed the narrator when he said things like, “95% effort for the next three and half minutes.” Somehow this ride was different, though. I buried myself in it, sweating like a pig, pushing my average over 20 mph, burning my quads and calves and ignoring my cramping abs. Waking up on Friday morning, I felt lighter, tighter, more fit than since the fall. Of course, it wasn’t just that one session that made the difference, if there really was a difference, but it felt as if I’d passed some sort of tipping point. I’ve heard it said you don’t get your legs back until you pass 500 miles for the season, and that ride took me to 519.
Saturday, yesterday that is, was my first road ride of the year, a 26 mile jaunt to Kent and back with four friends. I felt great, like any fitness I’d lost over the winter could be explained entirely by the 10 lbs I gained. At one point, I jumped off the front for a couple of miles on South Kent Road, hammering up the false flat at just under 20 mph, about the same pace I’d held in theory on the trainer Thursday. Maybe it’s just the road is more fun, but I’m sure the trainer was harder than that push. So, in that context, I think it’s fair to count the trainer miles toward my annual total.