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How to Build Endurance Cycling: The Long Bike Ride Workout

Taren Gesell

A major key to success in any triathlon, cycling race, or duathlon is building enough bike endurance through regular training to make the distance you have to ride in the race totally easy. The long bike ride is the most important workout in a training plan if you're looking for how to build endurance cycling.

Long bike rides build the stamina and durability needed to complete the distance of any race. With as little as two long bike rides each week, one endurance building ride and one interval bike ride, you can make significant progress towards your goal.

In addition to your bike workouts, you can also support your plan with strength training and a workout nutrition plan that enhances the effectiveness of every workout.

In this article, we'll dive deeper into the importance of long bike rides and how they can help you to achieve your goals as a beginner triathlete or cyclist. We'll also discuss strategies for maximizing the benefits of your long bike rides to make the hours you put into your training even more effective.

In this article, you will learn:

  • How to build endurance cycling
  • How to ride longer without getting tired
  • How long it takes to build endurance cycling
  • How long do you need to ride to build bike endurance
  • What are the quickest ways to build bike endurance
  • The best things to eat during long bike rides
  • Biggest mistakes to avoid when building endurance in cycling

5 Key Steps to Building Endurance Cycling

Building endurance for tri, cycling races, or duathlons requires a structured approach and a commitment to regular training. Here are the five key steps to being able to go longer on the bike:

  1. Step 1: Assess Your Current Bike Ability. The first step to increase your endurance is to assess your current bike ability. This means determining your starting point and how fast you need to ride in your training. This will help you set realistic goals and create a training program tailored to your abilities.
  2. Step 2: Gradually Increase Distance Each Week. Your plan should include one endurance building workout and one interval bike workout. The endurance building workout should gradually increase the amount of time you ride each week, with the goal of reaching the target ride lengths we outline at the end of this article.
  3. Step 3: Eat and Drink the Right Things During the Long Ride. Eating and drinking the right things during your bike workouts is critical to building bike stamina quickly. It's not enough to simply "eat well" or "fuel for your workouts." You need a periodized workout nutrition plan for every workout you do.
  4. Step 4: Strength Train. To perform at your best, your body needs to be strong enough to ride for a long period without tiring or being in pain. Regular strength workouts can reduce any pains you have on the bike and reduce the amount of energy you need to ride.
  5. Step 5: Bike Fit. Your bike needs to be set up to fit your body, so you're comfortable and don't feel any discomfort while riding. A proper bike fit can help to improve your performance, reduce fatigue, and prevent injury.

Below, we will explore each step in more detail.

STEP 1: Assess Current Bike Riding Endurance

To start building your cycling endurance, it's important to assess your current bike ability and determine your training zones. This will give you a baseline to work from and help you track your progress over time.

Current Bike Endurance

To begin, you need to know how long you can ride your bike. It's not about the distance but the amount of time you can spend on in the saddle until you're totally exhausted.

Ask yourself: how long could I ride if I really pushed myself but didn't want to risk getting sick or injured?

Consider your answer to this question as your starting point for how long you should bike in your weekly long bike ride.

Calculate Training Zones

Next, you can determine your heart rate training zones using your maximum and resting heart rates. You can use our heart rate calculator to do this here:

HR Training Zones

For those who have a power meter, you can calculate your bike power training zones using your FTP and this calculator for bike training zones.

Using a power meter is optional for beginners. If you don't have a power meter, you can use rate of perceived exertion (also called RPE) to guide your training intensity during cycling intervals.

You can read all about the detailed ins and outs of heart rate training zones in this article here and all about cycling power zones here.

STEP 2: Best Workouts to Build Your Cycling Endurance

Now that you have a starting point to guide your training, it's time to plan the workouts that will help you build stamina.

Workout #1: The Long Bike Ride

The long bike ride is the most crucial part of building endurance, it will build your "aerobic engine". This workout aims to gradually increase the time you spend in the saddle each week by 8-10%. During this ride, you should work to stay in Zone 1 or Zone 2 by heart rate.

Here's a sample build-up schedule to follow:

  • Week 1: 90-minute ride
  • Week 2: 100-minute ride
  • Week 3: 110-minute ride
  • Week 4: 65-minute ride (approximately 60% of the previous longest ride)
  • Week 5: 120-minute ride

Take a look at this sample training month for half-IRONMAN 70.3 training in our app. You can see that we follow this gradual build up in the weekly long ride duration.

This is a glimpse at a three-week overview of a training plan in the MOTTIV training app, where you can see cycling time gradually increasing.

By following this gradual build and using all the following steps, you'll easily be able to build a huge amount of bike endurance in just a matter of months.

It's important to note that you should take a rest week every third or fourth week and drop down to 60% of your previous longest ride (you'll notice the drop in time in week four of the sample build-up schedule from above). This is known as the concept of progressive overload and is a great way to build up your endurance gradually.

Most people want to ride farther and faster all the time, but there are three important reasons why this long bike ride should be done at a low intensity:

  1. Reason #1: Riding at a low intensity helps build mitochondria, the energy producers of your body. By having more mitochondria, you'll have more energy and be able to ride for longer.
  2. Reason #2: This type of riding also trains your body to be metabolically efficient, allowing it to burn fat as fuel while exercising. Efficient fat-burning increases the amount of energy you have available to ride for a long time.
  3. Reason #3: When you keep the intensity low, you won't build up lactic acid in your body, which reduces the stress response from the workout. This means you'll be able to perform high-intensity interval training rides more intensely.

Check out this example of a long bike ride in our Gran Fondo cycling plan. You can see that the intensity is kept low, but this is a very effective bike ride.

Workout #2: Interval Bike Ride

In addition to the long bike ride, having one high-intensity HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) bike workout per week is critical for building endurance. While the low-intensity endurance-building ride will increase the number of mitochondria in your body, high-intensity workouts teach those new mitochondria how to function optimally.

Aim to do one weekly 30-75 minute fast bike ride with intervals of 15 seconds to 8 minutes and rest intervals in between. These intervals should be done using either power or rate of perceived exertion (RPE).

If you have a power meter, aim to perform these intervals in Zones 4 and 5. If you are using RPE, the intervals should be as hard as you can ride with the following guidelines:

  1. You should not slow down by the end of any interval.
  2. You should not slow down in the final few intervals.
  3. You should end the workout feeling like you could have done one or two more intervals.

By following these guidelines, you will be doing a challenging workout without overdoing it and giving your body more stress than it can handle. Your interval bike workouts should feel "tough but fair," which will ensure your body can easily adapt to the workout and not be too tired to exercise the next day.

Here are two examples of interval bike workouts from our triathlon and cycling training plans. These will give you an idea of what a high-intensity bike workout looks like and how you can incorporate it into your training routine.

If you want to read more about the interval bike workout, click here.

STEP 3: Nail Your Workout Nutrition Plan

Doing the right workouts will improve your cycling endurance but eating and drinking the right foods and drinks at the right time will supercharge your stamina and allow you to ride longer without getting tired or bonking.

To get the most out of a workout, it's important to understand how your workout nutrition can either enhance or hinder its effectiveness. Blood glucose is a key factor to consider, as it can affect the type of fuel your body uses during a workout; you'll want to keep your blood glucose low during long rides and high during interval bike workouts.

Endurance Building Workout Nutrition

Keeping your blood glucose levels low will ensure you're still able to burn fat as fuel, training your body to burn both fat and carbs as a source of energy. This will give you a nearly limitless supply of energy, which will help to keep you from a dreaded bonk on race day.

To keep your blood glucose low, you want to eat a protein and fat based meal with some low glycemic carbs before the workout. During a long bike ride, it's best to drink a light electrolyte drink with less than 20 grams of carbs per serving and consume low glycemic foods like berries, unripe bananas, protein bars, or nut butters.

Being able to burn fat as fuel has been identified as just as important as a high VO2 Max for success in triathlons. It's critical that you don't fuel with refined sports nutrition products during every single workout because they blunt your ability to use your fat stores as fuel.

Interval Cycling Workout Nutrition

In a HIIT bike workout, you want to put out a high level of effort, so having high blood glucose levels for quick energy is ideal.

Consume a carb-based meal with 30-50 grams of carbs before the workout, and drink a sports drink with carbs and electrolytes during the workout.

By customizing your workout nutrition to the needs of the workout, you can achieve the same results in half the weekly training hours. This is so important that we have included guided nutrition recommendations for every single workout in our training app, to help every athlete achieve their goals.

STEP 4: Strength Training for Cyclists

Strength training has been scientifically proven to greatly enhance the performance of endurance athletes, including triathletes, cyclists, runners, and swimmers.

Incorporating a well-designed strength program into your cycling training regimen can alleviate pain, improve comfort during long rides, and increase cycling efficiency by reducing the amount of energy required to maintain a certain speed.

The workout plans in our app strongly emphasize the importance of weight training and include more than 24 hours of guided strength workouts specifically tailored to the needs of endurance athletes. These workouts focus on developing stability in the core and strengthening areas prone to weakness in endurance athletes. Here are some of our favorite exercises from the workouts:

Reverse lunge with a kettlebell pass-through from the guided workouts in the MOTTIV training app. This exercise combines leg strength and mobility with core strength.

A weighted windmill, as demonstrated in the guided workout videos in the MOTTIV app, works on core and leg strength, and body flexibility/mobility.

A plank-pull-through using kettlebells is a tremendous exercise for body stability and core strength.

To further understand the importance of strength for endurance athletes, we have created an in-depth article that provides a comprehensive overview.

STEP 5: Get a Bike Fit

If you have followed the previous steps and still find it difficult to go on long bike rides without feeling uncomfortable on the bike, there is a possibility that your bike needs to be set up properly for you. This is where getting a bike fit comes in.

Getting your bike fit from a professional is highly recommended, but if you're looking for a more affordable option, consider using an online service like My Velo Fit. They offer bike fittings through their app at a cost that's about 90% less than in-person fittings.

If you prefer to do it yourself, there are three key points you need to focus on to get your bike set up properly for you:

  1. Seat Height: The seat height should be set so that when you fully extend your leg and unclip your bike shoe, your heel just brushes the top of the pedal without reaching.
  2. Seat Forward and Backward Position: The forward and backward position of the seat needs to be tested out in small 2-3mm increments each way until it feels comfortable.
  3. Handlebar Position: The handlebars should be positioned so that you don't have to reach or be cramped by them. They should be high enough so that your back is almost flat with a slight rounding. Your hands should naturally fall on the handlebars.

BONUS: How Long Do you Need to Ride to Build Cycling Endurance

To achieve your desired level of bike endurance and be ready for different races, following all the steps mentioned above is essential. After successfully implementing these steps, you might wonder, "How long should I be riding for?"

To help you set your training goals, here are some guidelines on the ideal riding duration you'll want to build up to being able to do based on different races:

  • Sprint Triathlons: Aim to ride for 75-90 minutes.
  • Olympic Triathlon and Short Course Duathletes: The ideal riding duration for these races is 2 hours.
  • Half-IRONMAN 70.3, Long Course Duathlons, and Road Cyclists: The ideal riding duration for these races is 3 to 4 hours.
  • IRONMAN, Gran Fondo Cyclists, and Ultra Endurance Bike Racers: The ideal riding duration for these races is 6 hours.

Wrap-Up on How to Train Your Body For Long Training Rides

You should now have a comprehensive guide to help you improve your bike endurance and prepare for your next race. We discussed the importance of proper nutrition, stretching, strength/weight training, and bike fitting.

By following these steps, you'll be able to increase your comfort on the bike and ride longer distances. We encourage you to pursue your goals, and we want you to keep pushing yourself to become the best athlete you can be.

If you're looking for a more structured approach, check out our app, where you can find a personalized training plan incorporating all the lessons we write about. It's the only app in the world specifically designed for ordinary people who want to accomplish something extraordinary in endurance sports.

You're ready to chase your goals!

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Taren Gesell
Taren Gesell

"Triathlon Taren" Gesell is founder of MOTTIV and one of the world's top experts on helping adults become endurance athletes later in life. Best known for his YouTube channel and podcast, Taren is the author of the Triathlon Foundations series of books and has been published featured in endurance publications around the world.

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