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6 Ways to Take Cycling to the Next Level

Apr 28 2021
5 min read
close-up view of woman from the chest up smiling with a bike helmet on

It’s as easy as riding a bike.

Traveling on two wheels comes pretty naturally for most of us—it’s something we’ve been doing since we were kids. And now, bicycling has become one of the most popular forms of exercise, from indoor cycling to racking up miles out on the road. But, we wouldn’t call working out on a bike easy—and it shouldn’t be, if you want to up your calorie burn, build muscle and get your heart pumping. And just like with any form of exercise, you may find that you reach a plateau if you take the same ride over and over again. If that’s the case, setting new goals and being open to different cycling avenues can help you get the most out of each pedal.

Add Intervals

Just like with other activities (running, walking, swimming), performing intervals is one of the most effective ways to improve your fitness, specifically your speed and endurance. One study found that two weeks of interval training cut cyclists’ times by 10 percent in an 18-mile race, while another found that it boosted metabolism by a third. Try adding 30-second sprints (give-it-your-all pedaling) with four minutes of recovery after each. Or tackle a big hill followed by even terrain to recover, repeating that pattern several times.

Join a Cycling Club

Sometimes the camaraderie that comes with being part of a fitness group is exactly what encourages you to show up and get moving. Whether it’s a group that meets for weekend rides or a club that trains for specific distances together, cycling with others is a great way to discover new terrain and motivate you to go a little further—all with a built-in support system. Joining forces with more experienced riders can also be a great way to learn the ropes, from fixing your first flat to braving your first race. You can search for local clubs, races and group rides at

Take a Weekly Spinning Class

Another wayto feel the energy of a group ride is to sign up for an indoor cycling session at your gym or local fitness studio—a fun change if you normally ride solo, indoors or out. Instructors aim to take you on a journey, encouraging you to pedal harder, rise from your seat and increase your incline—all along to lively, heart-pumping music. Watching the woman on the bike in front of you increase her pace may prompt you to step it up, and having others along for the ride can help you power through to cool-down: Research shows that exercising in sync can actually increase your pain threshold, helping you push harder without the effort feeling any tougher.

Invest in a Bike Trainer

We’re not talking about a personal trainer here, though working with a fitness pro can also enhance your endurance and help you take your ride to the next level. In cycling speak, a trainer is a tool that allows you to essentially turn your outdoor bicycle into a stationary bike so you can ride it indoors. Set it up in your living room and you can even catch a TV show while you ride on a rainy day. A trainer can also help you maintain or improve your cycling fitness over the winter so you’ll be ready to ride come spring.

Bike Your Vacation

Companies like Backroads and Adventure Cycling offer guided bike trips around the world, from California’s Napa and Sonoma Valleys to Europe and Asia—active vacations that match your fitness level and budget. Or, grab a map and a guidebook and choose your own cycling adventure (your hotel’s concierge may have some tips too)—riding through the countryside or along the coast at your own pace is a great way to take in the sights and brave unknown terrain.

Sign Up For An Endurance Ride

These organized long-hauls, like “centuries” (100-milers), can be both a test of moxie and an adventure shared with fellow cyclists. Committing to one helps you set a specific training program for yourself, which not only motivates you to get on your bike but also challenge yourself as you go (the same way a runner trains for a marathon). To prepare, build your strength and mileage with a combination of slow long-distance rides, speed training (think: sprint intervals) and hill climbs. Try different equipment (clothing, accessories, water bottles, shoes, helmets—and bikes, if you’re looking for a new one) to see what suits you and your riding style best. Testing out snacks—and how they fit into your ride—is smart too; you may find you prefer taking small bites of an energy bar rather than eating an energy gel pack, for example.