Base Miles

What Are Base Miles?

Base miles for cycling are often referred to in cycling training programs but what exactly are they?  Put simply they are a large amount of miles ridden at the start of your training year at a very low intensity. Building base mileage simply describes the action of cycling lots of slow steady rides for a few weeks (or months) before you start introducing more intense workouts into your training.


Why Cycle Base Miles?

The main purpose of riding base miles is to build a solid aerobic condition from which to launch more specific training (tailored to your specific goals) later on in the season, or closer to your main goal or race. Base miles will help develop a standard level of fitness from which you can fine tune certain aspects of your riding. Building base mileage will form the foundations for your endurance fitness later in the season.

Base miles aim to gently increase cycling specific muscle/tendon/ligament strength, build capillaries, get your butt used to saddle time and improve your cardio vascular conditioning.

Cycling injuries are often strange beasts. They can take time to develop and show themselves. Unlike sports such as soccer, cyclists rarely pull up with a pulled muscle or snapped ligament. More usually cycling injuries result from over use with the aches and pains appearing slowly over a couple of weeks such that you often can’t blame a particular ride for the injury in question.

Base miles help reduce injury

One of the main benefits of base miles is their ability to help you avoid injury. Cycling workouts of high tempo rides or intervals place a large strain on your body not just aerobically but also from a musculo skeletor perspective. A solid foundation of base miles will ensure your cycling specific muscles are already built up and strong enough to take more intense training exercises.

How to cycle base miles?

Again everyone seems to have a different answer here but the generally accepted theory states that base miles should be ridden at between 65%-70% of you Maximum Heart Rate (MHR). If you do not have access to a heart rate monitor then this is a speed at which you should be easily able to maintain a conversation without being short of breath.

When you sign up to ride a century or other endurance event, riding at 65% of your maximum heart rate can seem to be ridiculously slow. You will almost certainly feel that riding this slowly cannot be making you fitter. You will have to battle hard to keep trundling along when you are overtaken by mountain bikers or someone popping down to the shops on their city bike.

You’ll feel a fool kitted out in lycra on your lightweight road bike going slower than the ten year olds on the pavement riding down to the park to play soccer. Stick with it, you’ll be glad later on in the season.

How Many Base Miles to Ride?

There is no easy answer to this question. You’ll find different answers from coaches, professional riders and internet forums all over the world. Typically you should aim to ride at least 500 miles at this pace at the start of your season before looking to introduce more intense workouts to your training regime. Many riders up this figure to 1,000 or 1,500 miles. Much will depend on the amount of available time you have to dedicate to your riding and the time until your target century ride or race.

Assuming the event/s you are training for is in the summer time you’ll probably end up having to try and get your base miles ridden in the depths of winter. This isn’t always a great joy as it means forcing yourself to ride in inclement weather when you’d rather stay in bed. You should be aiming to complete your base miles at least a good 3 months before your target event or century.

While there isn’t a massive need to structure your training at this stage you should attempt to make one of your weekly rides a long one. I typically favor either a Saturday or Sunday morning for my long rides as that is when I find i can spare a few hours.

Base Mile Riding Tips

  • Invest in some decent winter cycling clothing to avoid catching a cold in the cold wet weather
  • Don’t ignore the stationary trainer at the gym if the weather is so bad you can’t make it out onto the road.
  • If you don’t have access to a gym consider investing in a turbo trainer or a set of rollers to allow you to train indoors
  • Find a riding buddy or join your local cycling club. Riding with someone else will give you much more incentive to make it out on the road on a wet winters morning.
  • Don’t forget to drink plenty on winter rides. It can be easy to neglect your hydration on a cold slow ride.
  • Keep a training log either in notebook or spreadsheet form. Being able to fill in the miles at the end of a ride will give you satisfaction and motivate you to keep riding.
  • Try to complement your base miles with some light gym work focusing on your core strength (trunk, abs, lower back) and upper body.

While base miles have for many years been the standard way of preparing for a season there are a few out there that doubt their effectiveness. Sure if you are only going to be targeting 10 or 25 mile time trials throughout the season then you’ll probably not get too much benefit. However I am convinced that for centuries, sportives and other endurance cycling events a good base of low intensity miles is a great way to prepare for more intense training closer to your chosen event or season targets.

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