Have you ever looked at a recent photo or video of yourself and cringed? This happened to me last month. To celebrate the Tour de France, Spencer dragged me on a ride he called “Tour de Freds” — a 108-mile epic through the mountains with nearly 12,000 feet of climbing. You can watch the video to see how it went, but I’ll summarize: I completely fell apart.
Worst of all, I couldn’t help but notice the pudgy belly poking out from under my jersey. This video was the clearest evidence I’d ever seen that I had let myself go. Some mean-spirited commenters even mocked how “fat” I was. Don’t worry, I’ve got thick skin. But it got me thinking.
To give you some context and am 5’8” and, at the time of filming “Tour de Freds,” I weighed 195 lbs. That gives me a BMI of 29.6, the upper edge of overweight. When I was still training and racing regularly I weighed a more athletic 165 lbs. But then I got married, bought a fixer-upper home, and had a kid (I know, excuses). I rode my bike less but still ate like I was putting in 100 miles a week. The pounds piled on and the "dad bod" emerged.
Now I have nothing against dad bods, but cycling is my passion, and more than anything, I want to be fit enough to enjoy 108-mile adventures. I want to squeeze into my race-fit cycling kits and keep up with my fast co-workers. Tour de Freds was my wake-up call. It was time to do something. So I embarked on Ride30, a 30-day riding and weight loss challenge.
- What is Ride30
- What do the experts say?
- Before starting Ride30
- My Ride30 journal
- The results
- Final thoughts
Spencer and I during Tour de Freds. We are the same height, but I weigh 40 lbs more than him. You can see from our body language how much of a difference that makes on the climbs.
When I griped about my weight gain, my wife suggested I try the “Whole30” diet. It’s a 30-day health challenge that emphasizes eating whole foods and eliminating sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes, soy, and dairy. That sounded impossible to me, so I decided to try my own version of a 30-day health challenge.
I called my challenge “Ride30.” Of course, it involves riding a bike. I’m an overweight cyclist whose biggest problem is not riding enough. So if I just ride a lot, I’ll lose weight and become a better cyclist, right?
The goal of Ride30 was to ride my bike every day, for 30 days. Simple enough. But I decided to add an extra stipulation to make it a bit harder. I had to average at least one hour per day of riding. I can’t just play around on my backyard pump track and count it as a ride. These had to be “real” rides. Of course, I expected to struggle and come up short from time to time, so I use the word “average” to give me leeway to make up for short rides with longer rides.
I’d never done anything like this, and I didn’t know if I'd make it to the end. I tracked my time on the bike, my mileage, and journaled about the ups and downs so you can follow along and see how it worked out. Maybe you’ll be inspired to try a riding challenge of your own!
I am not a doctor, physiologist, coach, or nutritionist. I am definitely not an expert on weight loss. I’m just some guy who likes riding bikes. So, I reached out to Fast Talk Labs to find some real experts who could speak to the benefits and, more importantly, the potential issues with my Ride30 challenge.
Coach Trevor Connor is an expert in exercise physiology and nutrition. He's the Co-founder of Fast Talk Labs and co-host of the Fast Talk Podcast.
Fast Talk Labs is home to the Fast Talk cycling podcast, and I’ve gone to them for help before. They’ve given me expert climbing tips and they helped Spencer and me when we did our “Four-week PR Challenge” over the summer. If I have questions about fitness, training, performance, or nutrition, they’re my go-to resource. I asked them a few questions about Ride30 and here’s what they thought:
Is a challenge like Ride30 healthy?
Ryan Kohler, Head Coach of Fast Talk Labs: Sure, regular exercise is healthy. I think limiting this to 30 days is one positive aspect of a challenge like this. I had a few family members who did something like this with running. They aimed to run every day, a minimum of 1 mile, for one year. I happily called that an “unhealthy” lifestyle choice from the start. Obviously, we’re dealing with two separate activities here — weight-bearing exercise (running) and non-weight-bearing exercise (cycling) — so I think the overuse injury risk profile is drastically different. However, when we ride a bike … we are still completing a highly repetitive move many times over with what I would consider no recovery if this is 30 consecutive days. There are much less healthy alternatives you could select for 30 days, but I do think this challenge has its risks.
Is a challenge like Ride30 effective training for cycling?
RK: It depends on your expected outcome. For a beginner cyclist, this is not something I would recommend. For an experienced cyclist, I would probably not recommend this either as it lacks recovery, both mental and physical. I would have a hard time seeing the expected outcome be anything less than fatigue. Ultimately, I have concerns about long-term progress vs. short-term gains.
What strategies do riders need to employ to ride for 30 consecutive days? Should every day be easy? Should I throw in a few hard days?
RK: I would think about this as a period where the rider would experience a heavy overload depending on the volume or amount of training he/she accumulates per day/week. To just complete something like this, I would do primarily easy days, and do some hard days only when I feel good. I would actually focus any structure for something like this around the recovery, not the intervals or hard days. Those harder sessions should just be for fun.
I really should pair this riding challenge with diet… right?
RK: Yes. Overall, there will be a consistent jump in energy output, so having an idea of what you need to replace as a baseline intake to achieve at least one hour a day on the bike would be a good way to start. There is the risk of operating in a deficit during this time, which would impact your ability to perform each day. So understanding your needs can help to minimize deficits along the way and keep energy availability at an appropriate level.
Well, I’m going to try my best to complete this challenge. Any final words for me or about Ride30?
RK: I deal with this kind of stuff weekly working with people on their nutrition progress. There are so many diets and challenges out there that, in my experience, I’ve found them to be mostly stressful endeavors that rarely allowed people to maintain the habits they were forced into during the time period. They ultimately end up coming to me to figure out that happy medium so they can integrate the positive outcomes from the challenge and eliminate the negative outcomes that are inevitable due to the restrictive nature of the methodology for any given diet/challenge.
Trevor Connor, Co-founder of Fast Talk Labs: The only thing I have to add is that I think the body is incredibly adaptable and it’s amazing what it can get through. I went to a lecture given by a man who ran 100 miles per day for over 30 days to cross the United States. He got through it. Really the important question is one you already raised — what are you trying to accomplish? If it’s just to ride 30 days in a row, sure, you can do that. If it’s to improve your fitness, then I think Ryan covered it perfectly. You run a risk of plateauing — never really going hard or resting. Just always riding “in between.”
So Ryan and Trevor from Fast Talk Labs think I can accomplish my 30-day riding goal, but worry that I will dig myself into a fatigue hole. With exercise, it’s all too easy to assume that you need to constantly go hard to see results. But this leads to burnout and plateauing. In our talk, Ryan and Trevor both emphasized that I will have to focus on riding most days at an easy pace. If I don’t, I’ll enter the last couple of weeks a broken man and potentially fail my challenge. You will see in my Ride30 journal and on my Strava account that most days were actually pretty chill Zone 2 or Zone 3 rides in the 15-20 mile range.
Keep in mind that I’ve been cycling for over a decade and have some decent riding volume in my legs. You may have a different experience level or are starting from a different level of fitness. For some of you, this will mean you can do a lot more work than me. But if you’re new to cycling, you’ll likely have to set goals more suited to your fitness and experience.
If you’re a beginner, maybe set a goal to ride for 15 or 30 minutes a day. Or instead of every day, ride every other day. The most important thing with any exercise routine is that you stick to it and remain consistent. Of course, listen to your body. If you’re in pain, take time to recover. Fitness is a lifelong journey, and no 30-day challenge is worth injury.
For me, the challenge of riding 30 days non-stop is incredibly motivating. Even if it doesn’t benefit my performance on the bike like Ryan and Trevor warned, I think it will benefit my mindset. I’ve been too lazy, and haven’t put in enough miles this year. I hope this challenge will help jump-start a healthy riding habit. Then, if I return to racing in the future (get outta here, 2020!), I will have a good foundation for training and performance.
I usually get a double order of pancakes and bacon. Not today!
One thing Ryan mentioned is that, despite my reluctance, I will need to keep an eye on my diet. I don’t plan on starving myself. I’ll need to eat regularly to stave off fatigue and fuel consecutive rides. I’ll try my best to eat what my wife eats (i.e. healthy foods and a lot of vegetables… sigh) since eating junk will negatively impact my performance, weight loss, and recovery. To keep things simple, I made a few easy diet rules for myself:
- Lay off the pizza, cookies, and ice cream. These are my three biggest weaknesses. The best way to keep empty calories like this out of my diet is to leave them off the grocery list. If they're not in the house, I won’t be tempted.
- Hydrate well. I’m really bad at hydrating and need to lean on technology for help. I set some recurring reminders on my phone to drink water and/or tea throughout the day. Going into rides well hydrated makes a huge difference.
- Drink less beer. So it turns out alcohol is like… poison? This one will be hard. But I know I will be better off the less I drink. I’m not kicking it completely, but one drink is far more reasonable than three or four.
Other than that, I just need a good bike. I’m going to be using a brand new 2020 Cannondale SuperSix Evo Carbon Disc Ultegra for this challenge. Having a shiny new bike definitely motivates me to get out and ride.
If you’re looking for a bike, we have a huge selection of Certified Pre-Owned bikes that suit different budgets and needs. When embarking on a challenge like Ride30, the most important thing is that you have a bike that’s fun, comfortable, and reliable.
I did my Ride30 challenge from September 15th to October 14th. This was a great time of year to try this. It wasn’t too hot, mostly dry, and I got to watch the leaves change. I’ve been working from home since the pandemic started, so it’s great to be able to go out and get a change of scenery. I did most of my rides around lunchtime.
The one issue was the ongoing forest fires in the West. Fortunately, the air quality never got really bad during my challenge. If it did, I had an indoor trainer ready. All my rides were in the Longmont/Boulder area where we have lots of great paved and gravel roads. If you live somewhere less suited to cycling, you may need to get creative.
I weighed myself at the start, the halfway point, and the end of the challenge. Weight was taken in the morning after waking up and doing my morning business.
I’ve linked each day to its respective Strava file so you can see exactly what I rode and how hard I was working. We used Strava for our “Four-week PR Challenge” and it’s a great tool for tracking your rides and staying motivated and accountable. For Ride30, I told my friends about my challenge and they were able to go on my Strava account to both encourage me and make sure I wasn’t cheating.
If you’re not interested in my day-to-day musings, go ahead and skip to the results.
Here’s the recap of my how my Ride30 challenge went:
Day 1 - 12.05mi / 43m
A nice mellow ride to start. I plan on easing into these first few rides so they are going to be pretty relaxed and short. There’s a bit of smoke in the air still, and I don’t want to breathe in too much.
Day 2 - 11.69mi / 45m
I took the SuperSix on a local gravel route just to see how it’d perform. It was a bit rough on the hands, but the bike handled it admirably. Swapping from the stock 25mm tires to bigger 28mm or even 30mm tires would make a huge difference with comfort. I may need to do that later as my body wears down.
Day 3 - 15.72mi / 58m
Day 4 - 20.69mi / 1h 16m
My first ride of the challenge over one hour in duration. I’m feeling good. Unfortunately, I already broke diet rule number one. My wife had a tough day at work and brought a few pints of ice cream home. I ate an entire pint of Ben & Jerry’s in one sitting. A bit of a setback.
Day 5 - 9.22mi / 2h 2m
Charlie crushing a climb with me. There's a bit of firesmoke in the air.
I took a quick break from the road bike to go mountain biking with my co-worker Charlie. The route was only nine miles but it had 1,900 feet of climbing. I somehow cleaned a steep and loose climb I usually have to walk. I feel freaking awesome. Hopefully a sign of things to come.
Day 6 - 18.51mi / 1h 7m
Day 7 - 26.31mi / 1h 25m
Day 8 - 21.53mi / 1h 14m
I woke up with my legs quite sore. It was a bit hard to get on the bike. I felt stiff at the start, but after 10 minutes of spinning, the blood rushing to my legs flushed some of the soreness away. I’m definitely starting to feel fatigued but I still had a good, spirited ride. I’m starting to feel like a “real” cyclist again.
Day 9 - 20.01mi / 1h 9m
Day 10 - 19.65mi / 1h 6m
Ok, my legs are super-sore now. If I weren’t doing this 30-day challenge I would definitely stop riding for a couple of days. I was in a hard gear leaving a stoplight and had to stand up and pedal. It felt like my quads were going to explode. Then later in the evening, I had to carry my kid up the stairs. That hurt.
Day 11 - 23.53mi / 1h 18m
Today was the hardest day yet. I didn’t have any juice and decided to ride much, much easier than the past few days. Maybe I wasn’t going easy enough this whole time? I thought I was. I feel like crap. I got a double-flat about two miles from home. I only had one tube on me. So stupid. I tried to walk home but made it about two blocks before I called my wife for rescue. Finishing the ride in a car was kind of a relief.
Day 12 - 19.04mi / 1h 43m
I decided to take another break from the road bike. I went downhill mountain biking with the TPC team. It’s still cycling! It was a mistake though. Downhill requires a lot of upper body strength and a lot of sprinting. Look at my heart rate data and you’ll see how hard I was working to keep up with people. I almost ruined the entire challenge with the terrible crash. I slid off the trail into a tree. It was a direct hit to my chest and it knocked the wind right out of me. I was really tired going into this day. Did I lose focus and crash because of fatigue? Luckily, except for a big bruise on my chest, I’m fine. I can soldier on.
Day 13 - 12.94mi / 1h 0m
Wow, I woke up crazy sore all through my core and shoulders. My riding position on the SuperSix is a bit low and racy. It felt hard to stay in it. This is the first ride of Ride30 where I had to force myself out the door just to do it. Thankfully, my wife pestered me all day, reminding me how upset I’d be if I failed my challenge. She gets me. I finally went out after dark with my lights and just pedaled around aimlessly for an hour. I count 17 more days. I feel wasted.
Day 14 - 20.49mi / 1h 12m
Still very sore in the legs. The wind was crazy today. I had a tailwind on the way out, which felt amazing. But that turned into a headwind on the way home which was brutal. I got home, ate a plate of leftover tacos, did some work, then laid facedown on the couch for 30 minutes. The fatigue is mounting.
Day 15 - 24.12mi / 1h 22m
I definitely don’t feel good. I’m extremely tired. Everything just feels kind of muted. I ate dinner with my wife, then more dinner in the form of a couple of sandwiches. My body is screaming for more food. I almost broke diet rule 1 again by ordering a pizza and cinnamon rolls but fortunately I passed out at 8 p.m. right after I put my kid to bed.
Day 16 - 25.08mi / 1h 29m
This is the first time in over a year that I’ve seen a number on the scale below 190lbs. I can’t tell you how incredibly motivating this feels. It eased some of the fatigue and pain. I’m guessing this will be the largest drop I’ll see over the 30 days as I lose water weight first, but who knows. I want to keep going now. I will keep going.
Day 17 - 20.88mi / 1h 16m
I passed out before 8 p.m. again. This time after eating several (i.e. too many) servings of quesadillas. I hope this doesn’t cancel out the gains I’ve made.
Day 18 - 12.87mi / 59m
Another flat tire. This time I was less than a mile from home. Very annoying. I’m riding a lot so flats are bound to happen. I’m going to have to change these tires soon.
Day 19 - 26.28mi / 1h 28m
I’m coming back to life. I’m still tired, still fatigued, but I’m coping. I’m actually able to slog through some hard efforts. I’m sleeping more than ever. From more naps to a new earlier bedtime, those few extra hours of sleep per day have definitely helped.
Day 20 - 37.50mi / 2h 32m
My co-worker Seth is a good climber. He made me suffer.
Got in a longer group ride with some people from TPC. I felt surprisingly good. We did Rist canyon, a decent climb in Fort Collins, and I hung on until the very end. I didn’t get dropped until the last few steep switchbacks. I’m so happy with how I rode. I feel a little like my old self, able to go hard and suffer. It was a beautiful ride too. A clear day with amazing mountain views. Our Social Media Manager, Reese (who also dropped me), snapped an action photo of me. My belly definitely looks a bit flatter.
Day 21 - 18.72mi / 1h 12m
Another flat tire! I’m getting really tired of this. I wasn’t going to switch to tubeless tires until the stock tires were totally worn but, at this point, I’m so annoyed I don’t care.
Day 22 - 14.48mi / 57m
I changed to 28mm tubeless tires. They’re so comfortable. I should have done this from the start. My butt and hands are very happy now.
Day 23 - 15.96mi / 1h 2m
I had to carry my kid and his car seat up some stairs after my ride… it was very, very hard. I’m laughably weak right now.
Day 24 - 15.78mi / 1h 6m
Day 25 - 25.98mi / 1h 33m
The wife came into my office this afternoon, looked at me, and completely unprompted, she said, “You look skinnier!” I’ve been pestering her on and off the last couple of weeks, asking if I looked any different. Every time she’d get annoyed and say she couldn’t tell. Now I finally have some affirmation.
Day 26 - 64.39mi / 4h 34m
That's Steve back there. I wasn't out front for long. He caught up easily.
This was a big ride. The second biggest I’ve done all year actually! (My biggest was Tour de Freds.) I rode with my friend Steve and tackled three short but steep climbs in Boulder. Holy crap my legs were absolutely cooked. I’m definitely deep in the fatigue hole. I saw some turkeys and nearly lost it. I don’t know why they made me so excited. Maybe I was delirious from all the suffering. But here’s something interesting. I rode with Steve a couple of months ago and he dropped me up every climb. This time I stuck with him. I thought back to what Trevor said about how amazingly adaptable the body is. I’m fatigued and sore, but my body seems to have elevated itself to a new level. It’s not fast, but it’s just enough to hang on.
Day 27 - 9.08mi / 1h 4m
I woke up to 20mph winds, rain, and sleet. This was definitely not a good day for road riding. Instead of breaking out the indoor trainer, I decided to take the mountain bike back out so I could complete the whole Ride30 challenge with outdoor rides. It was a pretty absurd ride. I almost got blown off my bike a few times. Some very concerned people passed in their truck and asked if I needed a ride. I got home soaked, shivering, and numb. It sucked at the time but looking back it was lots of fun!
Day 28 - 18.98mi / 1h 8m
Day 29 - 24.09mi / 1h 18m
For the penultimate day, I decided to retrace a route I particularly enjoyed during my Ride30 challenge. It goes down into the grass plains just outside Longmont. I actually got kind of sad. The leaves had taken on their full fall colors and the mountains in the distance looked crisp and beautiful. I rode past a small local reservoir and the sun glinting off the water made me nostalgic for something I couldn’t name. It’s not like I’ll never get the chance to ride this route again. But for some reason, I was feeling really sentimental about my challenge ending. Maybe it’s the extreme fatigue that’s turned into this mushy ball of feelings.
Day 30 - 17.67mi / 1h 29m
This was the final day. I had decided a few days prior that I wanted to finish Ride30 with a bang, so I hit the most legendary climb in the Boulder area: Flagstaff. This climb is 4.5 miles long with an average grade of 8.2%. Several sections in the last half fo the climb kick up to 20% or steeper. It’s truly fearsome.
I felt pretty good when I started up the climb, but pretty soon, I felt a concerning twitch in my left calf. Spencer joked that cramping has become my thing. It’s like my body somehow knows it’s nearing the end of what I’ve tasked it to do, so it just decides to give up the ghost. I cramped during Tour de Freds and in another recent challenge where I rode an e-bike for 8000ft of descending. I tried to spin smoothly to keep the cramp at bay for as long as possible. Besides the oncoming cramp though, I was surprised by how easy the first half of the climb felt. Becoming lighter has definitely been good for my climbing performance.
When I reached the second half of Flagstaff, where it gets really steep, I imploded. The calf cramp came on hard and it became difficult to pedal. But I didn’t stop. I stood up, grit my teeth, and fought through it. I was moving so slowly up the climb that I barely stayed upright. After what felt like an eternity of pain, I reached the top and collapsed against my photographer Chris’s car. I was finally done.
Total mileage: 623.24mi
Average mileage per day: 20.77mi
Total ride time: 41h 27m
Average ride time per day: 1h 23m
Starting weight: 195.2lbs
Ending weight: 183.6lbs
I lost 11.6 lbs! To me, this is an amazing result after only one month. I hope to continue this downward trend. I’d be very happy just to drop another 10 lbs. To achieve that, it’ll take longer than a month and require more adjustments to my diet along with continued riding.
But first, I need to take some much needed rest. My plan is to stay off the bike for at least three days to recover. It should come as no surprise that my legs are extremely sore. They were in some state of soreness for most of the challenge.
I’ve tried some fad diets in the past like intermittent fasting and the ketogenic diet. In my experience, you feel like absolute crap around a week in, but if you manage to stick with it, you will adapt. If you look at my Ride30 journal, I started feeling off around day 8. By day 10, my muscles were intensely sore and I really began to question if I would make it to the end. The crash on day 12 just made everything exponentially worse. I almost quit after that. My daily life was suffering due to my constant fatigue and soreness. But I kept at it. By the time I reached day 19 and 20 it was like I was changed. Fatigue felt normal. It actually felt kind of good. Weird, right?
I feel like my body went through the five stages of grief during the Ride30 challenge. At first, it didn’t understand what I was doing (denial). Then it got really sore and painful (anger). It tried to compensate with binge eating and sleeping (bargaining). Then it just gave up as I pedaled on (depression). Somehow, it kept going, got up some tough climbs, and made it to the end of the challenge (acceptance). It was quite a journey.
The day after my Ride30 challenge ended was very strange. Lunchtime rolled around and I got really restless. After 30 days of consistent riding, my body longed to go outside and ride. Of course, I resisted the urge and rested, but it was a really encouraging sign. The biggest thing I wanted from this challenge was to build a healthy riding habit. The fact that I instinctively wanted to ride rather than sit on the couch bodes well for the future.
What about cycling performance? Ryan and Trevor from Fast Talk Labs predicted I’d succumb to fatigue. Well, they were right. I definitely didn’t set any new Strava PRs during this period. I did not become a faster cyclist. But that’s not all bad. I have no races to target, so building outright speed isn’t a big concern right now.
Two things that did improve though were my tolerance for suffering and my self-confidence. The Ride30 challenge made me more willing to put myself in the hurt locker and continue even when I didn’t feel like it. After several weeks of this, I cultivated an immense belief in myself. I credit the decent climbing performances I had on day 20 and 26 to a newfound ability to endure and my growing confidence. These are valuable assets to have as a cyclist.
The first thing you’re probably wondering is, would I do Ride30 again? After a few days off since the final day, I’d say, heck yes! But I’ll probably wait a few months or even a year before trying it again. It’s just too exhausting. Despite all the fatigue, it was an incredibly fun and memorable experience. I’m proud that I made it to the end.
If I had a goal race or some similar target, I’d probably rely on a structured training plan of high-intensity days paired with proper rest and recovery. But if the goal is just to get out and ride regularly, taking on a challenge like this can be effective.
In the end, I’m much happier with what I see in the mirror. I can even see the faint outline of a six-pack poking out from beneath my shrinking paunch. I’m motivated to continue riding and losing weight. Hopefully, this new riding habit continues for a long time. I’m upgrading my trainer dungeon (look for more on that later!) so I can keep riding throughout the snowy months.
Should you try Ride30 too? Well, that’s tough for me to say. We’re all unique people with unique bodies, so your results will vary. As Ryan and Trevor mentioned, it’s probably not a good idea if you’re a beginner. You’d likely want to do a lighter version, like Ride15, or Ride5, or Ride-every-other-day.
A view that stuck with me.
No matter how much you end up riding, it always has benefits, and some might surprise you. I really got to know the world around me when I rode a bike through it day after day. To keep things fresh each week I hunted for new roads to explore on Strava. I’ve seen more of my town in the last month than I have in the four years I’ve lived here.
I found little back roads that were beautiful and empty. I discovered hidden ponds, stumbled upon a secret nesting ground where turkeys like to hang out, and had a small single-engine plane buzz over me on a dusty country road. I’ve gained a huge appreciation for the trees, and mountains, and the town I live in. I’m extremely grateful to have experienced all of this, and it was all thanks to riding my bike. Whatever you do, if you’re getting outside and riding, you’re doing it right.