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  • Writer's pictureKurt Braeckel

4 Reasons Why You Should Try "Blind" Riding

Have you ever gone out for a ride where you felt better than normal? Or maybe you've had a day where you're supposed to go out and do a 3-hour ride at 150W or 200W, and it just feels harder than normal? Do you just push through?

What most of us do is when we feel good, we go HULK SMASH!!, and ride harder than intended, or go chase a Strava KOM, chase that rider who DARED to pass us, or something similar. And when we don't feel 100%, we grit our teeth, and stare at our stem while putting out XXX watts because that's what The Plan said to do!

Is there a better way to nail your endurance rides every time out? Or are we always tied to power or heart rate, strong days or off days be damned?

Have you ever tried riding just by your rate of perceived exertion (RPE)? Have you ever done an entirely blind ride where you don't look at anything except elapsed time and maybe distance?

Why would you want to ride solely by RPE? What is this, 1960? "Blind" riding:

  1. Allows you to put a little bit more power down on the days where you feel really good; conversely, you naturally go a little bit easier on the days where you don't. Makes sense, right?

  2. Helps you develop your feel for riding at various intensities, a critical skill in mass-start racing where you can't stare at your bike computer, and in fact rarely ever look at it.

  3. Helps you get a better sense of yourself on the bike, taking in the various sensations that you feel - how you're breathing, how your legs feel, the accumulation and clearance of metabolic byproducts, and fatigue.

  4. It's just plain fun to look around and enjoy being out on the bike!

How do you do it?

The best way to practice "blind riding" is on your endurance rides, but you don't have to limit yourself to that. In fact, riding threshold workouts blind may be the most race-specific thing you can do in this regard.

First, take care of your computer. Two options here:

  • You can either create a custom screen that only displays things like elapsed time and time of day.

  • You can just take your head unit off and put it in your pocket.

Bike computer showing times only
An example "blind ride" computer screen, showing moving time, total activity time (including stops), and time of day.

In either case, you still record heart rate and power and all your ride metrics, you just don't look at them.

Next, you ride...

For endurance-paced riding - your most important long rides - you can use a couple of different markers, but I think the easiest for most people is breathing rate and the "talk test".

You can try riding below the first ventilatory threshold, or VT1. This is the point below which your breathing is above your normal breathing when you are walking or moving around, but below the point where you're keenly aware of it. You aren't able to breathe entirely through your nose, but you don't have to focus on your breathing at all. You're just going along and breathing... you can sing a line of your favorite song... you can carry on a conversation and get out complete sentences without gasping.

The last sentence describes the "talk test". If you're riding with someone, you should be able to talk to them almost as though you were walking with them.

Once you're past this point, you start to notice your breathing rate elevated, and your ability to get a sentence out is reduced to just four or five words before you feel just a little short of breath.

Try this on your next long ride, and let me know what you think and how you do! Did you nail the long ride? Was your intensity factor and average power pretty close to normal?

Or were you much too high or too low? If so, maybe you need a bit more practice feeling your endurance pacing. Below are two rides of mine on similar routes with similar purposes. Can you tell which one was blind?

Table showing cycling power distribution for a 3 hour ride.
Strava power zone breakdown for a steady endurance ride WITH data.

Table showing cycling power data for 3 hour ride.
Strava power zone breakdown for a steady "BLIND" endurance ride.

If you guessed the second one, you're correct. Riding blind, I tend to go a little bit harder into tempo more often, but I also soft pedaled a little bit more than when I'm watching my data as I ride. But overall, the blind ride is still a really solid endurance ride.

Once you start to dial in your endurance pace by feel, you can think about how you might ride at threshold the same way. We can address that later, as it's a more advanced ability, but one that is critical to develop to be a successful racer as a triathlete or road racer, in particular.

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