The Fat Cyclist Explains: How to Do a Recovery Ride

01.17.2012 | 1:49 pm

I am probably the most knowledgable person about training for bicycle fitness on my street, and quite possibly in the town of Alpine, UT (population 10,181).

Or at least the Northwest quadrant of Alpine.

Regardless, I know an awful lot about the correct way to train to be an incredibly fit cyclist. Which, when contraposed with the 15-30 pounds I constantly lose, then gain, then lose, then gain (I’m currently at what I hope is the top of a “gain” cycle, for what it’s worth) I do not find even a little bit ironic.


Because of my astonishing breadth and depth of bike-training expertise, I frequently get email from people hoping they can get training advice, without having to pay for it. Like I’m some kind of Chris-Carmichael-on-the-cheap or something.

For example, I recently received the following:

Dear Fatty,

I am trying to become the fastest guy in my cycling group. For some reason, however, I just can’t seem to do it. I ride and I ride and I ride, but I just can’t seem to beat the fastest guys in the big climbs or in the designated signpost sprints in the weekly group rides.

I eat well, so I know that’s not the problem. I have a very expensive bike which I keep clean and well-lubricated, so that can’t be it. And I ride up to fourteen hours per day, each and every day, always at maximum effort, so I think I’m doing OK there, too.

I just don’t know what I’m doing wrong! Please help me.

Best Regards,


Oh Duane. You’re missing the key ingredient in cycling training. All those 14-hour days in the saddle aren’t going to do you any good at all if you never take the time to rest up. The most important thing a cyclist can do to become stronger and faster is to do recovery rides.

But you’re not alone in your confusion. As it turns out, very few cyclists know when they should do a recovery ride, nor how they should do a recovery ride.

Luckily for all of you, I have studied the science and art (yes, art!) of recovery rides extensively, and am happy to — at no cost to you. Although would be nice if you bought a copy of my book (available now in paper and Kindle versions at a discounted price! Buy three today!!!).

202-ShimanoUltegraDi2-240x240.gifWhen To Do A Recovery Ride

Many top experts are very strong proponents of recovery rides, including Joe Friel, probably, because he seems to be in favor of pretty much everything.

The real question is when should you do a recovery ride?

While some recognized experts say you should do a recovery ride the day following a periodized interval session — whatever that is — the fact is the determining factor of when you should do a recovery ride is very simple indeed.

Scenario 1: Suppose you’re out riding. You’ve planned to do a big climb, followed by another big climb, followed by a long flat into a headwind, followed by a big climb.

The problem is, you’re not having fun. And the near future doesn’t look promising, fun-wise, either.

The solution? declare a recovery ride, perhaps to a nearby store where one can purchase a recovery beverage and perhaps a recovery burrito.

Scenario 2: You’re out riding, feeling good. Feeling strong. Feeling like you’ve got good power and that perhaps you are the strongest cyclist in the Northwest quadrant of Alpine, UT.

And then you get passed.

This, my friend, is because — although perhaps you did not realize it until just this moment — you are on a recovery ride. And it’s probably a really good idea to let the guy who just passed you know this fact, so they don’t have the misperception that they passed you because they’re faster than you.

I recommend, saying loudly (due to the doppler effect and wind and stuff), “Don’t you just hate recovery rides?”

Scenario 3: You go out to the garage, and your bike has a flat. You fix it, only to find that you didn’t do a very good job, because the new tube also goes flat. You go back inside.

Congratulations. You just did a recovery ride.

Except the “ride” part, of course.

How To Do A Recovery Ride

As important as when you do a recovery ride is how. Simply follow these steps:

  1. Start out the ride nice and easy, with the intention of never getting your heart rate above 120. If your resting heart rate is above 120, you may need to modify this number.
  2. As you ride, your legs will feel better and you’ll start enjoying yourself, and you’ll want to go faster. Resist this urge. You’re not riding your bike for fun, darn it! Bikes are for training and racing and crushing the opposition.
  3. At some point, you’ll see another cyclist up ahead. You’ll be tempted to step up your pace and catch this other cyclist, especially since your legs are feeling good and fresh. Resist this urge!
  4. Ah, screw it. Go ahead and chase that other cyclist down.

Oh, and when you catch that other cyclist, be sure to let him or her know that you’re on a recovery ride.

Happy Recovering,


The Fat Cyclist


  1. Comment by aussie kev | 01.17.2012 | 2:11 pm

    recovery beverage – goes hand in hand with recovery rides – awesome concept – theres “recovery music” “recovery food” – “recovery chocolate”

    the list goes on !!!!

    Allez TDU

  2. Comment by Trailer Park Cyclist | 01.17.2012 | 2:15 pm

    I just came in from 24 miles and I am on my fourth recovery beverage. I stopped at 18 miles and had a recovery beverage just in case.

    I love training.

  3. Comment by off-roadie | 01.17.2012 | 2:34 pm

    I’m still at work and could seriously use a recovery beverage…

  4. Comment by FliesOnly | 01.17.2012 | 2:46 pm

    I guess I was on a recovery ride while reading this, and didn’t even know.

  5. Comment by roan | 01.17.2012 | 2:51 pm

    Nice advise. #4 as always been my goal, except when I was passed at the start of a climb by a long legged young female. Her speed was such that my chances were about the same as a date with same, 30 yrs younger.
    I do have a problem with my ‘doppler effect’. ON the B-G & Sammam. I always call out with a loud voice, “PASSING ON YOUR LEFT” while about 20yds behind the other person/s. My doppler effect is that they ALWAYS looked over their right shoulder and move left into my path. HELP ! Also what do you think of mid-ride naps ? One of my favorite recovery tactics.

  6. Comment by roan | 01.17.2012 | 2:57 pm

    Dang, I forgot to ask…since you give advice “on kind of Chris-Carmichael-on-the-cheap” how much do I owe you…I’m thinking I’ll save you some Peeps from Easter…cheep, cheep, cheep.

  7. Comment by Cali_Lady | 01.17.2012 | 3:10 pm

    Fatty – because of your astonishing breadth and depth of bike-training expertise, I try to follow your advice as much as I can. And I’m particularly impressed that you get your weight down each year in time for riding season, so you must know what you are talking about. I’m always overweight though, so I tend to get passed a lot. That means that I find myself in Scenario 2 quite often, declaring a LOT of “recovery” rides! As a faithfull Fatty, I have the recommended “recovery burrito(s)” and “recovery beverage(s)”. But…it’s weird. My weight goes up even more, and for some reason I’m even slower getting my fat self up the hills the next time I ride! What’s up with that?!
    Hmmm…I guess you get what you pay for with free advice!

  8. Comment by Rob W | 01.17.2012 | 3:58 pm

    Good stuff! Ok, you gotta tell us where you get your burritos from!

    Mountain West. Best burritos around. – FC

  9. Comment by KanyonKris | 01.17.2012 | 3:59 pm

    I question your expertise on this subject. As evidence I submit footnote 1 of “A Passing Score” from your book:

    “I’m speaking about recovery rides in a purely hypothetical sense. I don’t believe I have ever successfully gotten on my bike and then ridden in recovery mode. I tend, instead, to recover by not riding. Oh, and also by eating nachos.”

    But you aren’t the first person to claim to be knowledgeable on a topic with no actual experience, as I suspect of all training suggestions in cycling magazines.

    (Also, you owe me $20 for pimping your book.)

  10. Comment by Ben Levy | 01.17.2012 | 4:28 pm

    Whenever I’m off my bike I’m just bummed out waiting for the next ride. But now I can mentally tell myself I’m on a recovery ride. Thanks for the training tip.

  11. Comment by davidh-marin, ca | 01.17.2012 | 4:48 pm

    HEY FATTIES!!! It’s Levis Gran Fondo Registration Day.

    Check the link below, the video makes even last year’s cold, damp, ride look marvelous!

    Davis is the tune-up, Santa Rosa is the main event for a Fatty Throwdown!!!

    See you all there.

  12. Comment by davidh-marin, ca | 01.17.2012 | 4:53 pm


    Aren’t there only about 6 houses on your street? Including yours?

    5. But who’s counting? – FC

  13. Comment by Doug (Way upstate NY) | 01.17.2012 | 6:46 pm

    So is all of winter one long recovery ride then?

  14. Comment by Clydesteve | 01.17.2012 | 9:28 pm

    “…Because of my astonishing breadth and depth..”

    Ha Ha – is this a sophisticated way of saying you have gotten fat again this winter?



  15. Comment by Evo | 01.17.2012 | 10:35 pm

    Have you been reading my top secret training journal ?

    One of the bright spots to riding this time of year is the only folks on the roads are racers building base (and going slow) and Randonneurs (who are nearly always slow). Icy roads also discourage testosterone motivated attacks.


  16. Comment by Brad | 01.18.2012 | 1:28 am

    Scenario #4

    You’re trying to get back in shape after a long snowy winter, and would like some company on the ride. You know that all your buddies have spent the winter on their trainers while you spent it, um, exploring other “interests.” For your very first ride of year, you send an email to your buddies inviting them to join you on a recovery ride. Make sure to drop the phrase “recovery pace” a few times and make a few ambiguous statements that could be construed to mean you just had a tough ride; “after yesterday a recovery ride sounds like what the doctor ordered.” Forget to mention that yesterday wasn’t a bike ride but rather the first time you weighed yourself on a scale in 3 months.

    Make sure to turn off your heart monitor so that your buddies don’t get jealous of your super low recovery heart rate of 175 beats per minute. If a rider tries to increase the pace or break away, gently remind them that this is a recovery ride and not a race. Then pat yourself on the back for looking out for your buddy’s best interests.

  17. Comment by Jacob | 01.18.2012 | 7:14 am

    My recovery rides are just the days I don’t ride. Actually, is there any reason to do a recovery ride instead of just a recovery day?

    Although, this doesn’t apply to when I’m in triathlon training mode. Then my recovery ride is just a run or swim. That makes me sound badass, but I’m not.

  18. Comment by Chris | 01.18.2012 | 7:51 am

    I’m not to happy about this post. I’m now blaming you next time I’m ‘training’ and find there’s been a run on recovery burrito’s at the gas station…. Guess I’ll have to see if they have recovery roller dogs.

  19. Comment by Onomastic | 01.18.2012 | 7:51 am

    Hmmm. Apparently all of my rides are recovery rides. Is there a training flaw in that?

  20. Comment by Jon B | 01.18.2012 | 11:39 am

    Fatty, your “How to” posts are amazing!

  21. Comment by 3d brian | 01.18.2012 | 12:35 pm

    Thank you for sharing your vast Alpine expertise on the how and when of recovery rides. I believe I am already 10% faster just from reading your post.

    Since you plugged your book, I’m going to take the opportunity to comment on it now that I’ve finished it.

    Overall I absolutely loved the book. The intros were great. Occasionally the footnotes made me laugh even harder than the blog posts.

    My one criticism is the Tour De Lance section. For some reason a bunch of articles about how lame a bicycle event was 5 years ago is even lamer than said bike event. Who knew?

  22. Comment by Karen Etchells | 01.18.2012 | 12:55 pm

    While for many cyclists, being competitive is in their nature and suffering is part of the “fun”, I think it’s a healthy thing to slow down now and then to appreciate the surroundings, chat with fellow riders, and just enjoy the motion of being part of a group as a whole.

  23. Comment by Clancy | 01.18.2012 | 1:57 pm

    I have actually STARTED rides with the full intent of making them a ‘recovery ride’ (Ditto spin class). I have started with these intentions seriously more times than I can count. The problem is, I have never – EVER finished a recovery ride that started out as a recovery ride. I always find some reason to hammer like there is no tomorrow totally blowing any point of the ride being a ‘recovery’ ride.

    On the flip side – I have had a number of recovery rides that came about for all the reasons above … and then some. :)

  24. Comment by the swede | 01.19.2012 | 10:09 am

    im recovering with strawberry waffles

  25. Comment by Steve Wilson | 01.20.2012 | 3:58 am

    Ah yes the good old recovery ride. Gotta love em.

  26. Comment by Shawn | 01.22.2012 | 7:50 pm

    There should be a Team Fatty recovery ride jersey.

  27. Comment by Maga D | 01.25.2012 | 9:14 pm

    Love recovery rides, usually do em after the harder rides. You know after seeing somebody infront I’m tempted though, lol.


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