Do I need to worry about base miles if I’ve been riding the trainer through the winter?


Old school cycling wisdom says that base miles matter. If you’ve been off the bike over the winter, come spring you should spin for hundreds and hundreds of kilometers. The idea is that you ride lots and lots in a nice easy gear putting in “base miles” before big gears, sprinting, climbing and the like. Of course, there’s those youngsters who question this. See Is base training a myth?

How many base kms? It depends what your goals are really. Some road cycling websites recommend 500 miles but surely that’s for the very serious distance racer.

I have bunch of old school cycling buddies who offer very strict advice on such matters as never ever riding without knee warmers when it’s less than 20 degrees. They dutifully log base miles.

Mostly these are older men in their sixties and seventies. Mostly I listen. After all, they’ve been at this much longer than me.

I might not get enough base kms but I try not to push too hard when I first get back on the bike. I do ride easy for the first few weeks

However, this year I’ve been riding my bike on the trainer and taking spin classes. I’m wondering what difference that will make? What does official wisdom say? Can I forgo the base miles thing?

I’m in Arizona for a week riding. Not training, no formal goals. I’ll let you know how it feels.



5 thoughts on “Do I need to worry about base miles if I’ve been riding the trainer through the winter?

  1. I LOVE reading your stuff. I love to ride, am a former urban cyclist, commuting in and out of Harvard Square. I miss it. I just turned 50 and in horrible shape, my prized Jamis collecting dust. I hope I can find the gumption to get back in the saddle come spring when the mounds of snow are gone. Keep writing and riding!!

  2. I can’t do traditional base miles, just spinning away for hundreds of endless miles at low intensity. Gets a bit boring. I’m sure it’s important to put in some distance to keep your endurance though. I guess it depends on your goals.

  3. The main idea of “base miles,” as you note, is coming back in a controlled way from a winter hiatus. Plus, moderate work has so many physiologic benefits in general. An excuse to bail on, like, housework, because you “have to do your base miles” is probably welcome to some, too. The key traditionally has been to make sure you don’t jack up your recovery burden with too-much/too-soon (high-intensity) work. So even if you spent the winter doing demanding spinning sessions, “base miles” could be a way to get back into the endurance mindset (and recondition your sit bones!).

    I think part of what can get lost in this discussion is what kind of in-season mileage is considered normal or desirable. If a rider lives where it’s legit hard to deal with winter weather on a bike (ie, hiatus likely) + “the perfect day” is a double century, then, yeah, of course, base miles (and plenty of em) are going to be part of the “spring cleaning” that ramps them up to that kind of output. Some might also add leg work in the weight room (or do it throughout the winter, for that matter) to make sure power is fully in place to leverage the returning aerobic capacity.

    Estimates like 500 miles sound too impersonal for gauging this (also low — I’ve heard approaching 1000). For example, I’m not even a long-distance cyclist by actual long-distance cyclist standards, and that would be 4 weeks of good-weather riding for me, whereas the “base miles” period is often thought of as 2 or 3 months. If you want to think about what it means for YOU, you could look at your watts:heart-rate ratios, heart-rate records alone, or even just RPE on benchmark routes. (I have a few “standard” routes — eg, “the flat one,” “the hilly one,” etc — that I time myself on to get snapshots of how I’m riding.)

    If, like me, you kinda don’t care about performance-oriented training, well, just have a good time on your bike! And if you feel tired afterward, get some extra rest. (I’m a loner, so I have the luxury of this kind of seat-of-the-pants non-planning.)

    Disclosure: I am not a trainer or competitive cyclist (or competitive anything, really), but I am a year-round multisport endurance athlete just for the fun of it, and I started doing long rides >35 years ago.

Comments are closed.