Ahhhhh, junk miles – the recreational bike racer’s worst enemy.
Wasted time, ineffective training, forced social interactions, and the dreaded possibility of having to wait on the side of the road for someone in the group to fix a flat. For those unfamiliar with the term, junk miles consist of a ride that is too hard to be considered recovery, and yet not hard enough to stimulate increased fitness (I got this definition from Coach Levi).
The definition of junk miles seems to mirror pretty much every single club ride I’ve ever been on.
I’m assuming that most of my readers aren’t professional bike racers (this means people who get paid a salary to race their bikes) This post is about the value of junk miles for club-level racers or recreational riders competing in sportives.
My view is that junk miles are some of the most valuable miles you can put in on your bike.
When it comes to threshold training rides in the pissing rain I’m as serious as they get, so why would I say something so insane? Allow me to explain myself…
Junk miles are fun. I’m convinced that most recreational and club-level racers came to cycling because it seemed like a fun thing to do. (If you came to cycling because you were looking forward to the pain of racing around a monotonous loop on a deserted rural road in the pissing rain, then this article is not for you.) So, assuming that you enjoy cycling, then junk miles are a great way to get enjoyment out of cycling.
They also round out your time on the bike. This is similar to a commonly used anecdote about regrets at the end of our lives. It goes something like this:
It is unlikely that we will be on our death beds wishing we had spent more time in the office or incessantly tidying our living rooms. More likely, we will value the time that we spent with our families and friends or working on hobbies that we are passionate about. We might even have some regret about not doing more of some of these things.
Think of junk miles as the ‘family/friends/hobbies’ bucket and high-intensity interval training in the rain as the ‘late nights in the office/incessant tidying’ bucket. Both buckets are important for recreational racers, but most of us could benefit from a bit / a lot more fun and a bit / a lot less work.
The other reason that junk miles are so valuable is that they often involve other people. Coffee shop or Donut rides (which are made up of 100% junk miles) allow you to interact socially with your fellow riders.
This happens both on and off the bike.
If you are doing threshold or VO2 Max intervals in a group training session, it is extremely difficult to have a conversation with the person next to you. If you’re doing these intervals correctly, you should be breathing extremely hard and possibly throwing up in your mouth a little. This makes for an awkward dialogue.
junk mile rides, on the other hand, make it much easier to interact with other riders on the bike because you are going at a reasonable pace and possibly breathing through your nose, at least partially. This is a great opportunity to find out a little more about the people who you ride with or even learn a thing or two about something aside from your heart rate, speed and average wattage.
I’ve only met a few local racers who could use Neil Browne’s ‘A Pro’s Guide to Hooking Up‘, but most of us could benefit from a little more social interaction with our fellow riders.
The other great feature of a junk mile-laden ride is that it usually involves a stop at a coffee shop or donut shop (ideally both). This provides yet another opportunity for rich social interaction (possibly about something aside from that Strava segment that you just totally crushed). But to what end?
Beyond the simple joys of human interaction, this is probably the most effective networking opportunity that I have ever discovered. In the past 10 years, I have made exactly zero professional connections during a race or training ride and more than 100 professional connections on so-called junk mile rides.
Let’s face it, zero percent us are going to ride in the Tour and most of us are unlikely to even hit the podium at a local race. But most of us are going to continue to rely on our professional / social networks for a the rest of our lives. Consider this: every single professional relationship that you have right now started with small talk. Why not do this on the bike or at the coffee shop?
So you can see that there is a contrast between the lack of importance of our amateur racing careers compared to the continued importance of things like fun, social interactions, and professional networking.
So maybe those solo, anaerobic threshold training rides in the pouring rain are the real junk miles here?
With racing season in the Lower Mainland just seven weeks away, make a solid effort to put in a few more junk miles this year!