Finding the perfect place to do your workout can become a real challenge. For a new or time-crunched athlete, finding the perfect road or trail can not only be difficult, but can bring on anxiety, frustration, and take away from the main point in the workout: the physical exertion.
It’s something that no one really talks about. Coaches post workouts for athletes and expect them to figure it out. It makes sense as to why. No one knows where to ride in every state, region, and city across the country so how can I tell you where to ride? I can’t, but I can give you some great tips that I apply to every place I go.
The most important thing when finding a place to ride is safety. Not only is safety paramount, but if you’re dodging cars or finding yourself in a generally dangerous scenario you won’t be able to execute your workout with total focus anyways. Here are some criteria that I use in order to decide if the area is ‘safe.’
Wide Shoulder: This is probably one of the most important factors to me personally. I always try to assume that the cars don’t see me, so it’s reassuring to know that I can be far enough off of road that I feel secure even when cars are passing by.
Low Speed Limit: A low speed limit adds an element of security as well because drivers are able to see more at a lower speed. Also, any cyclist who has felt the wind from a speeding semi-truck knows how intense that can be.
Low Traffic Area: Low traffic areas are idea for cyclists, but shouldn’t be taken for granted. It only takes one car to cause a problem so even in lower traffic areas, please stay alert.
Minimal Spot Signs: I try to ride in locations with limited stop signs and stop lights. Not only are those types of intersections sometimes hazardous, but it interrupts your workout. If you commit to riding somewhere with a stop sign, please stop. Nothing is ever worth it.
Once you find some safe locations to ride, it’s time to match them to your workout. It doesn’t have to be fancy to be affective.
Repeating Areas: Yup! There are no extra points for style. If you have a three-minute interval, all you need is a single three-minute segment. Turn around, recover, and do it again. This is a great way to stay focused and have the most ideal interval location. With this strategy you don’t have to worry about where the next interval will fall or having the most perfect loop.
Uphill Power: Most people will find that it’s easiest to produce the highest power outputs on slight uphills. When looking for the perfect interval location you’ll want to avoid downhills, and prioritize areas that have a slight incline.
Sport Specificity: Every now and then a workout isn’t just about power, and it’s about producing power in a race like scenario. Races go up and down hill, around corners, and sometimes through technical terrain. Work with your coach, but don’t be afraid to add in some obstacles to your workouts every now and then.
Finding New Places
It takes some time to find the perfect place to ride and if you’ve just moved or are visiting a new area you might discover that you need to do some research.
Ride it Out: Riding can be the most fun way to find new routes. Sometimes during my aerobic or endurance days I’ll spend time just exploring. You can’t be afraid to find a dead end and turn around. I’ll even scout out new interval locations for future days on the bike.
Strava Heat Maps: A lot of people will use Strava Heat Maps to find the best locations to ride. These maps will show how many people are riding in a given location. Chances are that if a lot of people ride something it’s probably pretty decent.
Trailforks: For all of you mountain bikers out there, Trailforks is a great way to navigate new terrain. The app gives you a description of the trail, an elevation profile, and your little dot even follows along so you always know where you are.
Drive it: When all else fails and you’re in a new area, jump in the car and drive a possible route before riding it. This is a quick way to know what you’re in for and if the route is both safe and efficient for your workout.
Enjoy the ride! Any day on the bike is a good day. Control the controllables, and let everything else go. Anyone who has ridden for any significant period of time will probably have some story about a crazy route they accidently did sometime.