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I am a 44-year-old guy, 250 lbs (yes, overweight). I have not been on a bike in over 15 years. I just picked up a 12 Trek Marlin (Gary Fisher Collection) this weekend, and after riding for about 2 miles, I was done...

How can I build up my muscles and endurance so I can ride longer?

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3  
Keep on riding. You'll improve every time you go. Enjoy the process. –  amcnabb May 7 '12 at 17:21
    
As I heard from a fellow: "first month is hardest". Like they said, keep on riding, dont' demand too much on you, you'll be surprised with your progress. –  heltonbiker May 7 '12 at 20:03
    
Just ride. Find some rides (and a general riding style) you like. Start easy, and have a "purpose" (like a trip to the ice-cream store. ;)) Don't worry about a "formula" unless and until you decide to become Spandex-clad bike nerd. But do get/keep the bike "tuned up", and have someone (a helpful bike shop or just a friend who's into cycling) help you adjust the bike to fit you. –  Daniel R Hicks May 7 '12 at 20:16
3  
(If it seems like work you're not doing it right.) –  Daniel R Hicks May 7 '12 at 20:17
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Ride often. Rest. Repeat often. –  Neil Fein May 7 '12 at 20:31

7 Answers 7

up vote 21 down vote accepted
  1. Keep on riding. Ideally every couple days. If you can't ride, do some other form of cardio exercise, such as going for a walk. I'll bet a couple days after that ride you'll find the same distance a little easier and might even be able to go a little further.
  2. Get a day of rest. If you've pushed yourself really hard and you're "done", take a day off before getting back on the bike. (or at least before doing anything hard on the bike)
  3. You may need to tweak the bike fit. Make sure you can inhale fully. Forward/aft position of the seat as well as vertical position of the seat can make a difference in power. Ball of your foot should be on the spindle of the pedal, when the pedal is straight forward your knee should be over the pedal, and at the bottom of your pedal stroke your leg should be near full extension (but still knee a bit bent). You shouldn't need to stretch your leg or rock your hips to reach the pedal at the bottom of the pedal stroke.
  4. Build your leg strength, especially quads. Squats or leg presses.
  5. Pay attention to your pedaling technique. Don't mash the pedals hard in a high gear. Move them faster in a lower gear, move your leg smoothly through the entire pedal motion and try to pull your foot up a little as it comes up, but without removing your foot from the pedal.
  6. Interval training. This is the most important thing for building your endurance. Once you're warmed up, ride as hard as you can for 30-60 seconds, then ride easy for several minutes. As you build up endurance, increase from doing that once to doing that several times during a ride. If you can't do 30 seconds, do what you can.

Above all else: have fun riding. Don't torture yourself. Enjoy yourself. If you have fun you'll keep it up and keeping up the riding will make more of a difference than any small details.

So that's the "thorough" version. But Neil Fein's version covers it pretty well:

Ride often. Rest. Repeat often.

Have fun!

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Keep riding, as often as you can. If your legs get sore, rest until they are mostly better. Little by little you'll be able to go faster and further. Just keep your rides appropriate for your level. Don't over do it. Try to push yourself harder every now and then. Do hills when you have the energy. You'll work up to bigger ones. You might have to walk up a hill a few times before you can conquer it.

The first few rides you do are just going to be getting accustomed to the bike, and figuring out how to balance properly. Read up on how to adjust your seat. Try and tweak it before each ride until you get a height that works for you. You don't want to feel like you're kneeing yourself in the chest when you pedal. Learn how the derailer works. Try experimenting with it on flat ground to go faster or easier. After you get to the point where you can ride a few more miles, make yourself go up hills, that will force you to learn how to use the derailer better.

Just keep riding and soon you'll find that you'll get better. There are no secrets just fitness, persistence, and experience.

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I'm a similar age but a bit lighter. I started to ride to lose weight and get fitter, when I first started, 3to 4 miles was a struggle, now about 8 months later I can regularly cycle 30 miles in a few hours and can get up some pretty big hills with ease. I found using a gps tracking device a really good way of monitoring my performance. I'm also 20lbs lighter now. I ride a mixture of road and dirt tracks. Keep going it will soon get a lot easier.

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What a great story! –  heltonbiker May 7 '12 at 20:04
    
wow please tell me how you did it –  SJS May 8 '12 at 13:04
    
@SJS He did it by just doing what others have said: ride, rest, repeat. I could tell a similar story. What I really like is finding myself easily climbing a hill and remembering that not long ago I thought that hill was a challenge. –  Carey Gregory Apr 4 '13 at 15:11

You may want to consider this forum for some encouragement and support. There are many inspiring stories that people there have shared.

If you ride faithfully-- three or four times per week-- you will find that your ability will increase rapidly for a time. In my own case, when I first started to ride, I found just going a few miles was quite a workout. But within about four months, I went from riding around 5 miles at once to riding 20-25 miles at once, at a reasonable speed. In order to do that, I was riding about 3-4 times per week, and gradually increasing the distance and difficulty. Once I was able to ride 20-25 miles at once, I joined a cycling group at my church, and that was very, very good.

Riding with a group helps keep me accountable. When I miss a ride, people ask me why I was absent. It helps me not to be lazy. So I would also encourage you, once you have achieved a little bit of stamina, to look for a group you can ride with. You want the riders in the group to be reasonably close to your ability, or it will not be good.

Final thought: regarding your bicycle, it is probably a good choice. The riding position will be more comfortable for someone who is overweight (I know from experience). Generally I would say offroad riding is harder than on-road or bike trail/MUP riding, so you may want to consider where you ride. I only attempted offroad riding after I was a seasoned road/MUP rider. Of course, everyone is different, so YMMV. However I think you should consider replacing your knobby tires with road tires if you not riding dirt. Knobbies can add a lot of rolling resistance.

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Someone mentioned a GPS system, my buddy and I go for street rides, the longest one so far 43 kilometers. He uses an app for his iPhone called "Runkeeper". It tracks your speed and distance, it even shows you areas that you might have ridden faster and you can post your map online if you like. The one thing to keep in mind if you are using a GPS app on a smartphone, you might need an additional external battery pack as the GPS uses a lot of battery power.

The one for the iPhone is called a "juicy pack" I believe, and the iPhone can switch automatically between the two batteries when the external one runs out of power. This "juicy pack" fits on the outside of the phone like an external case and is designed for the phone, it works great. I just thought I might share that, hopefully it might help out.

Definitely keep up with the riding, I used to be a trial rider and nothing else. When I first started riding longer distances on the road, it was brutal, but as I kept going the previous rides that seemed so long, started to feel shorter and easier every time. In addition to that I am really enjoying the fun of getting out and just riding and the GPS helps you keep track of your progress.

Cheers, and good riding

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All the answers provide very good points. But few things, I would to tell:

  1. Analysis:

    Before trying to improve anything, First find out what you are capable of. Find out your strength, your weaknesses. For example:

    • You can ride 5 miles with ease, at 10 mins? Great, this is your capability.
    • You cannot maintain a steady cadence in uphill, this is your weakness.

    To Improve you needed to know yourself.

  2. Planning:

    Next important topic is planning. You need to find out what you need to do? How do you want to improve? Do you want to increase your timing? your speed? your stamina? your endurance? What is it that you want to improve and on what order, make a schedule best fit for you.

  3. Target:

    After you have a plan and you know your target, start working on it. Create drills, make workout sets on how you want to perform. For example: "Speed", lets say you want to improve speed. Then create a check point, set the count down timer for 5 minutes, then start cycling. After you hit 5 minutes.. stop mark the spot, go back again. And do it again from the same checkpoint and keep on doing until you go further than the last point.

You will eventually build up all the power and necessities of a ride.

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I am 53 years old, 6'2" and about 220lbs. What has really helped me become a better rider is riding with a local group. A group will typically push you harder than you will push yourself. I ride with a group three days per week. Our Monday and Thursday night rides are 25 miles and typically average 18+ mph. Saturday rides are longer (40-60 miles) and a tad slower. Not only has riding with a group made me more fit, it's improved my bike handling skills. Granted, you can't just go from 2 miles to 25 or more, but you can work up to it. And, many local cycling groups have "starter" rides to build up your miles and confidence.

Eating is also critical. If you're serious about getting fit, you must give up a normal junk food diet. Especially junk food / empty calories at night. I try not to have any carbs after 7pm. I try to focus on protein only (I've just started doing this). It makes a big difference (at least for me).

Finally, others have said it, and it's true. Ride as much as you can, and rest often.

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