Similar to the phenomenon of always needing just as much money as we make to support our lifestyles, even after a raise, our free time equation tends to follow the same formula. So, like finding creative ways to decrease spending and hide some cash in a savings account, putting miles in the bank requires us to maximize our time, cashing in minutes usually spent on frivolous tasks to instead fulfill our need to ride.
Getting your miles in around a busy schedule is hard, no doubt about it. There will always be an excuse not to ride—some of them very convincing. Finding time to ride in your hectic week takes dedication, but you can do it. Here are some of the strategies I have found to get me in the saddle, making the most of what little free time I have.
Scheduling rides is crucial. If you have a free spot in your day, it will most likely be filled by whichever crisis or appointment comes up. If you block off three mornings and two lunches a week for riding, then those are off the table for anything that might pop up and attempt to keep you off your bike. Morning, lunchtime, and nights are often the only places to find hours to claim as your own, so do it.
Morning—This usually means before the rest of your family wakes, because once the house is moving, your time is no longer your own.
Get up early and get moving quickly if quality ride time is your goal. Have your lights charged the night before. Also, and this is a must, get your kit set out the night before and put it on as soon as you get up. Have the espresso maker on a timer so it’s warmed ready to go as soon as you stumble into the kitchen, and have your bike by the door, tires inflated and chain lubed. If you eat a pre-ride meal, prep it the night before; have your cereal next to the bowl and spoon.
Know the ride and how much time it takes including driving, this way you can maximize sleep time and still be home to make omelets for the family—you’ll feel like the hero you are.
Do not hit snooze-every minute counts for morning rides.
Night—Night rides can be a bit trickier. In the morning, as long as you get up early enough, the time is yours. Evenings, however, are typically time for family and friends. If your spouse is OK with running the household while you get some quick miles in, consider yourself lucky. Don’t abuse their generosity, and take care to be as efficient as possible so you can get home and handle your share of the duties. Don’t impose on your spouse like this more than once a week, because even if they say it’s OK, it’s not.
Most likely, your night riding miles will be checked off after either dinner or bedtime. Even though you don’t have to get up early, late rides have their drawbacks; falling asleep might be hard after riding, so try to schedule night rides before the mornings you can sleep in a bit. Also, don’t eat a heavy dinner before a ride—you’ll feel sluggish and won’t get the maximum benefits of either your meal or the ride. Keep it light and don’t skip the recovery drink when you get home. Speaking of getting home, if you can allow yourself some time to cool down and relax after the ride—prep your bike for the next ride; take a shower; clean up the kitchen from dinner because your partner was putting the kids to bed—you’ll fall asleep easier and recover better.
Whatever your evening ride window is, have as much prep done beforehand as possible. Have your kit ready to go. Make sure your tires and suspension are at the correct air pressure before it’s time to ride. If you need them, charge up your lights that day. As with the rest of your life, time is precious, don’t waste it when you could be pedaling.
Lunch—For most of us, the lunch ride is the easiest way to wedge some extra miles into our week. If you can allot an hour and a half, that’s plenty of time for a real ride and a shower. Even the typical hour-long lunch can facilitate a good ride and a quick clean-up wipe-down.
Even more so than the morning session, the lunch ride is a game of seconds. Have a plan and be ready to execute. To cut down on the brain power required for prep, keep a gear bag with shoes, a helmet, gloves, sunglasses, etc. that stays at work, so all you have to bring each day are your riding clothes. Bring food that you can eat all day as you work, or that requires minimal prep time. If you can’t shower, be sure to give yourself a thorough wipe-down with either baby wipes or a washcloth, and don’t forget deodorant!
Indoor training—This is not really cycling, but sometimes there is simply no other option. Trainer workouts are a viable way to maintain fitness and require much less time than going on a real ride. If morning or evening rides just aren’t in the cards for you because of time constraints, consider riding the trainer instead. For a more realistic and challenging workout, use rollers.
Ride Less, But Keep Riding—Shorter rides at higher intensity will keep you fit for longer rides. Competitive runners on a time budget commonly use this trick, but it won’t adequately prepare you for really long distance events. Still, if you only have 45 minutes to get some miles in every day, make them intense minutes. Be sure to throw some recovery days in there too, and spend some time stretching afterwards or you won’t be able to keep this routine up for long.
Run—OK, this is not cycling at all, and borders on blasphemy, but consider the benefits of running compared to cycling. First, it’s more efficient; a half hour run every day will do much more for your fitness than a half hour bike ride. Second, it’s good for your bones; it’s not uncommon for competitive cyclists in their late-twenties to have bone density levels befitting 80 year old grandmothers, according to a 2006 University of Oklahoma study. Running, if done correctly, safely gives your body the impact workout it needs to maintain healthy bone density. Also, running will boost your cardiovascular fitness, so when you do get back on the bike, your engine will be running strong and smoothly.