Workout of the Week: The Big Stupid Ride

This week's Workout of the Week is a different one—it's big, it's stupid. The adventurers among you will love it.

Workout of the Week: The Big Stupid Ride
Photo: Chris Case

No matter when your target event is, it’s never too early to throw in an occasional BSR endurance ride. What’s that? You’ve never heard of a BSR? Dr. Seiler, Dr. Ronnestad, nor Dr. Cheung hasn’t mentioned it in any of their Fast Talk podcast appearances?

Or maybe they have, but they just didn’t use the same terminology. BSR stands for…Big. Stupid. Ride. You know, the kind of ride that takes most of the day, takes all the determination you have (and then some), and leaves you feeling exhausted—and ready to eat an entire extra-large pizza—but ultimately very satisfied. The type of ride that makes your non-cycling friends roll their eyes and whisper, “You’re crazy.”

Before you dismiss it, know that the logic and benefits of this type of ride are not as stupid as you may think. Not only is a BSR a great way to finish off a fatigue block—to really empty the tank and deplete your energy stores—it will also expose any psychological weaknesses you may have. These sorts of mental shortcomings are what will crack you in the midst of a long gravel race or bikepacking event. Only BSRs can reveal what psychological tools you need to hone to overcome such limitations.

To touch on the science of BSRs, we can look at the science of base training. We build our oxygen-consuming slow-twitch muscle fibers during the base phase. To do so, those fibers must be isolated for long periods of time. Thus, we need long slow rides to isolate the right fibers. The research is clear on this point: Chronic, low-level muscle stimulation improves the muscles’ ability to burn fat for fuel. Enter the big stupid ride.

Creating an effective BSR takes some practice, like any workout. First, you need to choose a route distance (or elevation gain) that makes you slightly uncomfortable. Then add 50% to its length or gain. Add some dirt or gravel roads, especially if your target event does the same. Try to recruit friends to join you, even if they can only do a portion of the ride. This will motivate you to keep pushing—misery loves company, and all that.

Don’t focus on power or heart rate; just ride at a steady pace that you would expect to feel challenging only after five or six hours. Don’t worry, you’ll get to analyze your data later and look for all that cardiovascular drift.

When you’re out there, embrace the unexpected. In fact, push yourself to seek it out. Throw in adventurous changes to the route. Tap into your resiliency to learn how to better cope with the suffering or longing to quit. If and when you start to grumble, that’s when you know you’re getting in a good workout. Soak in the satisfaction of exhaustion.

Once you’re done, reward yourself. Eat a pizza—and a cookie—hopefully with friends that decided to stay with you. You earned it.

The Big Stupid Ride

  • Choose a route that makes you uncomfortable. Add 50%.
  • Recruit friends to join you, motivate you, hold you accountable
  • Ride at a steady pace, roughly 60-75% of max HR
  • Test your psychological skills: add adventurous audibles
  • Don’t stop until you are good and grumpy/dirty/exhausted
  • Eat a pizza. And a cookie. Get that recovery going!