1.0 – Training – When Riding Isn’t Enough / Friel Training Approach

Our Training

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Training complex, and addresses a vast amount of material.  And, to be honest, the material is dry.  I will try to present our experience in a logical manner.  I intend to provide no more than a summary of our approach and experience.  If you wish to know more, please contact a knowledgeable trainer, or consult the wealth of material on the net.  The reader may, either scroll through this page, or jump to a specific topic.  The topics are organized, as show, below.  I regret the clumsy and sterile numbering scheme.

1 When Riding A Bike Just Isn’t Enough
1.1 Friel Training Approach
1.1.1 It All Starts With Heart Rates and Heart Zones
 (1) What is a Heart Zone?
 (2) What is a Lactic Heart Rate Threshold (LHRT)?
 (3) What is LHRT Good For?
 (4) How to Apply Heart Zones
1.1.2 What Exercise Routines Do We Use
 (1) What About Bike Riding?
 (2) What About Weights?
1.1.3 How Do We Stretch?
1.1.4 How Do We Warm Up?
1.2 The Recipe
1.2.1 Base Approach
1.2.2 Customizing Our Training For Touring
1.2.3 2012 Training
1.2.4 2013 Training
(1) Replacement For Peak Training
1.3 Places We Like to Train At
1.3.1 Guadalupe River Trail
1.3.2 Los Gatos Creek Trail
1.3.3 Coyote Creek Trail
1.3.4 Lexington Reservoir
1.3.5 Other Places We Have Trained At
1.4 Places We Like to Mountain Bike

Training rides have been an integral part of our adventures.  In describing our 2012 adventures, I wrote extensively about our overnight training rides from San Francisco to Monterey..  In describing our 2013 adventures, I devoted specific attention to our 2013 training rides

Forward:  Should A Cyclist Even Train For A Tour?

 We made the big decision to switch over to Cycle Touring.  We were faced with finding new bikes, and an assortment of camping gear suitable for cycling.  We reconsidered our training.  Should we should train, specially, for touring?  Blogs are replete with stories of people loading up their bikes and riding out of their driveways.  Happily, they soon rode themselves into shape.  There aren’t many stories about riding out on day one, and dragging themselves back, a couple of days later, exhausted, vowing never to look at a bike again.

Last year, 2012, we turned from Mountain Biking to Cycle Touring.  We adapted our training routines, and hit the road.  In 2013, we plan to resume touring.  Several of our goals are tour specific, including the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) from San Jose to San Luis Obispo.  We hope to do that ride in seven stages, with rest days sprinkled in.  Some of the stages are quite daunting.


Based on our ages, fitness, and being self supported, we have divided the San Jose – San Luis Obispo tour into seven days.  Day five is the most difficult.  We designed our training program to give us the best chance of being able to do that leg of the ride.

1 – When Riding A Bike Just Isn’t Enough

DisclaimerI am neither a Doctor, nor a Trainer.  My thoughts on training are only meant to offer an example of what an ordinary, aging, not terribly talented amateur has done.  When we first set out, Joe Friel’s Cycling Past 50, and Joyce L. Vedrall’s  Weight Training Made Easy were enormously helpful to us.  Other than buying their books , we have no connection with either of them.  Over time, we tailored and augmented their suggestions with our own lessons.

Several years ago, we did something Baby Boomers do.  We turned fifty.  At any rate, I turned fifty.  My wife and I took stock of our health and physical fitness.  Would it be the couch?  Or, would we try to become more physically active?  We chose to try to become more fit, and more healthy.  Like some, we decided to move from Boomer to the Zoomer.

What would we turn to?  Biking beckoned.  We got our bikes and rode, and it became for the sheer joy of riding, liberated, and reconnected with the giddiness of childhood.  We chugged up and down Coyote Creek, and pushed our bikes up hills all over the Bay Area.  It didn’t take long for us to notice that many, usually younger, effortlessly rode up those same hills.  After a Sunday bout, I would be wiped out for days,   My legs felt like lead just walking up a few flights of stairs.


Marian and Pat on San Francisco Bay, just south of the San Mateo Bridge, in 2005.  We returned to biking, happy to go places and see things we might not have otherwise seen.  We envied those lean riders effortlessly gliding past us.  Eventually, we decided to join them.

How could we get better?  Knowing the answer, and admitting it, was not easy.  I rode only on weekends.  I sat in an office the rest of the week, doing nothing else.  I was exercise binging, a recipe for a cardiac event.

Almost by accident, I rode on a Tuesday evening, on the northern part of the Guadalupe Highway Trail.  It wasn’t much of a trail, separated from a freeway by a chain link fence.  The cars, screamed by.  The trail went past housing developments and schools, strewn with broken glass.  I needed a shower when I got back.  I realized how good I felt.

I took up riding during the week, when I could find time.  We bought an early generation heart rate monitor.  There was nothing systematic or scientific.  We looked through books and magazines.  In the days before the internet, information was harder to dig out.

1.1  Friel Training Approach

Finally, a birthday present changed everything.  Marian got me the Friel book, Cycling Past 50.  The target audience was older bikers, even ones just rediscovering biking.  He had a long list of credits to his name, including The Biker’s Bible.  As we moved deeper into the cycling fitness sub-culture, we discovered he was a well-known coach, who had documented and advanced cycle training.  Would another book have worked as well?  Perhaps.  At our level of (un)fitness, any training program would have helped us.

Joe Friel’s book breaks training down into four major areas:  Bike Shape, Aerobic Shape, Climbing Shape, and Sprinting Shape.  In a 23 week sequence, Friel addresses each area, inserting specific training activities in the weekly routine to build up capability in these areas.  The rider performs repetitive exercises.  Each repetition becomes longer, and the overall effort more strenuous.


Training focuses on four areas.  The cyclist performs exercises to strengthen him in each of the areas.  The rides become longer and more strenuous.  More advanced routines are added.

Training starts, emphasizes, and finishes with endurance.  Without endurance, nothing else matters.  Weights are the very first thing we started out with, building up our leg and core strength.  We learned to cycle comfortably with a cadence in the 80 – 90 range, easing the stress on our knees.  Single leg training, especially early in the sequence, also strengthened our legs.  Distance rides, under increasingly stressful situations accustom us to riding and build up our endurance.  We used handling skills to relearn such simple things as bike cornering, looking over our shoulder, and riding in tight circle, while maintaining control of the bike.

Aerobic Shape is another obvious need for the cyclist.  Aerobic training in Zones 3 and 4 improve the rider’s endurance, just below the Lactic Hearth Threshold Rate (LHRT).   Training in Zone 5 helps the rider to raise their LHRT, improving fitness.

Climbing is at once, the most dreaded situation facing a new cyclist.  We measured our progress by our ability to climb.  Climbing requires physical strength to turn the crank, the aerobic endurance to keep the heart in the lowest zone possible.  Along with climbing, comes the techniques for safe and efficient descents, to avoid overheated rims or inability to make a curves.

Sprinting is fun, if the rider has trained efficiently and effectively.  Knowing how to sprint can also be vital to avoid a dangerous situation.  Sudden speed maybe the only way to avoid a wandering are, or get through an intersection when a light changes, unexpectedly.

1.1.1  It All Starts With Heart Rates and Heart Zones

The first new idea we encountered was heart zones.  Joe Friel bases his entire approach on heart rates, and zone.  His basic message is that your body lies to you.  Measure it, don’t listen to it.  With a more modern heart rate monitor (then a Polar S150 or a Garmin Edge 705) I could get a good idea of how hard my heart was working.  We could have graduated to the newest buzz, power meters, but they seemed like overkill.  I will never be a profession rider, and don’t really need to find that last 2% my body can give.


Discovering heart rates was a breakthrough for us.  Using heart rates, we systematically improved our conditioning.  We trained to become strong riders, going where we pleased, when we wanted.  It was liberating to know we could do it.  What Is A Heart Zone?

Heart rates form the core of our training.  Calculating heart zones can be done with a rider’s maximum heart rate.  The zones are a percentage of that maximum.  Threshold Rides and Aerobic Capacity rides are done in a specific zone, for a specific period of time.  Other activities are independent of heart zones, such as weight training, or pedaling skills.

Every person has a maximum heart rate.  Listen to a baby’s heart.  It seems to beat as fast as a hummingbird’s.  As we age, our maximum heart rate declines.  A simple, and not very exact formula is:  Maximum Heart Rate = 220 – Age.  Or, the rider can test themselves.  A Doctor or Trainer can administer a Cardiac Stress Test.  Or, a rider may simply go find out.  Always consult a Doctor first!  Make sure you are healthy enough to do this.  There is no need to court a Cardiac event.

Maximum heart rate is a somewhat illusive number, and can vary by several heart beats per session.  It is no fun trying to find it.  An easier, more repeatable number to find is Lactic Heart Rate Threshold (LHRT).  Zones are then calculated as a percentage of LHRT.


Heart Zone calculations use LHRT.  Within each heart zone, the body draws on two sources of energy, stored body fasts, or glycogen, usually stored in the liver.  The more strenuous the exercise, the higher the heart rate.  As the  heart rate increases the body uses more glycogen and less fat.  Even with the most lean athlete, there is far more energy stored in the body as fat than as glycogen.  What is LHRT?

LHRT occurs when the body begins to generate Lactic Acid.  As a muscle works, the body processes glucose for energy.  One of the by-products is lactate.  At low stress levels, the muscle reabsorbs the lactate.  If the muscle works hard enough, it cannot reabsorb all the Lactate.   LHRT is the point where Lactate begins to seep into the blood stream, and is converted to Lactic Acid.  One result is that feeling of muscle burn.  LHRT serves, in part, as a warning to the cyclist, that the body is consuming large amounts of glycogen.  Sustained activity above LHRT becomes progressively more difficult, and, ultimately, impossible to support.

LHRT is not a variable number, and is not fixed.  LHRT is based on aerobic conditioning.  Aerobic training conditions the body to endure prolonged periods near the LHRT.  Anaerobic training raises the LHRT.

Marian and I find our LHRT by measuring our average heart rate under certain training conditions.  We use a course which permits us to ride, continuously, without braking, with as few significant dips or hills as possible.  We warm, thoroughly.  Then, we ride as hard as we can for eight minutes.  At first, our heart rates will soar well up into Zone 5.  Within a few minutes, fatigue will set in, and our heart rate will begin to drop.  It will actually settle near the LHRT.  This ride is exhaustive, and not fun.

The key parameter is average heart rate.  We remove all guesswork by letting our Heart Rate Monitors capture all data during the run.  We retrieve the average heart rate for the eight minute run.  We then use the formula:  LHRT = (Average Heart Rate) / 1.06.  The divisor removes the spike at the beginning of the ride.  As a sanity check, the calculated number should approximate heart rates observed at the mid-point and later.  What is LHRT good for?

LHRT helps define what heart rates to train at.  This is especially important for Threshold Rides, and Aerobic Conditioning (AC) rides.  Threshold rides are typically done in Zone 4.  The rider performs AC rides in Zone 5.  These zones cause the body to draw, very heavily, on stored glycogen.  Once all glycogen in the liver has been exhausted, the rider bonks.  Recovery may take several days.  The rider should always take care to replenish glycogen stores.

Threshold rides train the rider to function near the anaerobic point.  Fat is still being used for energy, but the body is starting to draw from limited glycogen stores in the body.  At these energy consumption rates, all glycogen stores will be exhausted within an hour or so.

AC rides train the rider to raise the LHRT.  At anaerobic rates, the body draws almost all energy from the body glycogen stores.  At these energy consumption rates, glycogen will with exhausted in as little as fifteen minutes.

“Getting in shape”, no matter how laborious or dull, can raise the LHRT.  A higher LHRT expands Zones 2, 3, and 4.  Expanding the zones enables the rider to ride harder, longer, and faster, provided they avoid Zone 5.  With careful refueling, the rider can extend their rides, and do this for days at a time.  How to Apply Heart Zones

Training with heart zones is straight forward.  Work in the zones suggested by Friel, for the suggested durations.  Depending on the intensity, rider fitness improves.  If weight loss is the motive, Zone 2 is the best zone, consuming 4 Kcal / minute, or one pound every 14.6 hours.  It was a sad day when I realized I couldn’t exercise the fat away, that I would have to change my diet to do that.

Riding for fun, with heart zones, is an exercise in  common sense.  If a rider spends the bulk of their time in Zones 1 and 2, rehydrating constantly (several ounces ever 15 minutes), this will enable them go for long periods.  Zone 3 is deceiving, because it seems only slightly harder than Zone 2, but begins to eat into the glycogen stores.  We usually include replenishment as part of our 15 minute water breaks.  From our experience, we know that we can absorb 120 – 240 calories per hour, and base our refueling rates on that assumption.

The rider will never be deceived by Zones 4 and 5.  In these zones, the rider works hard, and the heart and respiratory rates are high.  On tour, these zones will occur, whether on a hill, or at speed.  The rider should have no fear of riding in the higher zones.  Provided the rider has trained to ride in these zones, the rider will know how their bodies are impacted by a given duration and heart zone.

1.1.2  What Exercise Routines Do We Use?

Our training combines riding and weight lifting.  Every ride has a purpose, with each day being different.  Weight training complements the rides.  What About Riding Our Bikes?

The trainer must decide what bike to train with.  Prior to 2012, we preferred our Mountain Bikes over our street bikes.  They were reliable, rugged, and stood up to punishing rides.  When we turned to training, we began to train exclusively with our Surly’s.

Each week includes four or five training rides.  Each ride has a purpose.  In the early steps, the focus is on improving rider strength, while the later stages focus on aerobic conditioning.

Rides and weight training are not divorced, but are part of an integrated whole.  The table below shows the relationship between the steps in the Friel training program, and weights.  The reader may wish to refer back to this table, later.


Rides and weights are interleaved together to form an integrated program.  Weight training is performed on two of the six days each week in the Base steps, and once a week during the Build and Tour steps.  What About Weights?

I greeted weight training with far less enthusiasm than I had embraced riding.  The rider will be spend up to one-third of their training week working with weights.  We made extensive modifications to the Friel sequence.


Over time, we tailored weight training to include more upper body and core strengthening.  We retained the original steps and set-ups, and changed most of the rest.  We continue to experiment with other routines, and make tweaks.

When we adopted touring, we discovered a need for additional upper body strength.  Surly’s, with racks and fenders, easily weigh over forty pounds.  Panniers can add another sixty pounds.   Forty pounds can hang from the front rack.  We need extra strength to simply load the bikes, swing over the bar, start, pedal, steer, brake, and stop.  Slow speed handling also requires special attention.

The weight sequence includes four basic exercises.  Hip Extension / Step Up, Seated Lat Pull to Chest, Seated Row, and Set Up.  Over time, we modified the weight routines, finding other routines to augment the weights.


The baseline Friel program recommends four weight-bearing exercises.  We experimented with a Vedrall program for two off-seasons.  Satisfied with the results, we replaced the Friel upper body and core exercises with more extensive Vedrall exercises.

The most valuable Friel exercise was the step.  After experimentation, we build a step which is the same height as my Mountain Bike crank in the 6 o’clock – 12 o’clock position.  I have done countless steps, using free weights, working each leg to near exhaustion.  Marian, trying to avoid injury to her hip, uses a Stair Stepper or steps up to the deck.

The Vedrall exercises were attractive because they emphasize lighter weights with more repetitions.  I adopted the upper body routines to replace two Friel exercises.  Marian performs the entire Vedrall sequence, including upper and lower body routines.

We have many options for Set-ups.  Normally, we just hook our legs under the weight bench.  Occasionally, we use an Ab Lounger.  Marian often does the Vedrall crunches as well.

1.1.3  Stretching

Stretching was a completely new concept for me, as my stiff body can attest.  And, at the end of a long, hard ride, spending yet more time before I can rest is not a happy prospect.  Still, I seem to have fewer injuries when I stretch.  We actively stretch, with a set designed for biking.

1.1.4  Warm Ups

For the longest time, I was ignorant of the difference between warming up, and stretching.  I thought they were the same.  I caught on, after reading some articles at www.active.com.  I experimented with some warm-up routines, and we have settled on the following for our own use.


Warming up prior to strenuous riding is important to reducing the likelihood of injury.  Our warm ups consist of a series of less stressful, shorter interval exercises to prepare our bodies and minds for the strenuous exercise activity.

1.2  The Recipe

When we got our first mountain bikes, , I had no idea how to train. After riding my first bike, into the ground, I decided I wanted to become a better, stronger rider, and have more fun. When we turned to touring, we wanted to be fit enough to master the challenges of the open road.

The single, most helpful thing in Friel’s book was a recipe for training.  The recipe consists of seven steps.  Each step consists of several weeks.  Unique exercises are assigned to each day of the week.  The exercise sequences are either weight training, or bike rides.  Friel designed the exercise sequences, in part, to keep the body from adapting to repeated stresses of the same kind.

1.2.1  Base Approach

The table below summarizes our customized recipe.  The first columns show the weeks and steps.  The second column lays out the training program, based on the Friel sequence.  The third column describes the purpose of each session.

Our training program, evolved to a stable sequence. We seldom performed the ideal sequence, given health, weather, and other circumstances. Still, knowing what the purpose was for each activity, we were able to adjust to maximize our opportunities.

There are seven steps, Base 1 – 3, Build 1 – 3, and Peak.  The Base steps are four weeks long, each.  The Build steps are three weeks long, each.  The Peak step is two weeks.  Within each week are six specific activities, and a rest day.  Each week has one or two days of weight training, and four or five days of bike training.  Each day is unique.

At last, we had a step-by-step recipe for touring.  I got on my Mountain Bike in 2003, and have tried to follow his recipe ever since.  Base Steps concentrate on improving basic strength and endurance.  Build Steps focus on the high-end of the aerobic zone, near the Lactic Heart Rate Threshold (LHRT).  The Peak Step shift the focus to high intensity, shorter duration rides.

Over several years, we modified the program to fit our needs.  First, the exact weekly activities did not work for us.  Hills were too far from my job, so we moved hills to the weekend, and Tempo and Threshold rides into the early part of the week.  Second, long Sunday rides clashed with church, so we moved them to Saturdays, combining them with hill and trail rides.  Finally, we changed much of the weight routine, substituting the Joyce Vedrall program for the Friel Program.

From 2005, we settled into a routine which changed slowly, if at all.  As needed, we made adjustments for time constraints, weather, and injury recovery.  Since we are not training for competitive events, the changes have been largely transparent to us.

1.2.2  Customizing Our Training For Touring

What does training for a tour mean?  Is it any different from any other training?  Is it even necessary?

We found that the physical, mental, and logistics preparations for touring were far different than an MTB day trip. Logistics, equipment and supplies were far more complex.

We confronted these questions in the months following my retirement, in early 2012.  I am 62.  My wife isn’t.  What had worked for Mountain Biking might need changes for us to go on tour.

We delved into the net, and quickly confronted what I call a religious debate.  While having nothing to do with religion, it had all the earmarks.  Positions were well staked out.  Emotion had long since replaced any reasoned discussion.  The two extremes could be summarized as “ride into shape” vs “training with weights, intervals, and cadence.”  There was no authoritative voice, laying out step 1 to step N.

Several things became clear.  On tour, especially self-supported tours, a cyclist carries far more weight than a mountain bike.  Second, touring consists of multiple back-to-back days of riding, often, with much of the day in the saddle.  Third, the rider encounters a great deal of climbing each day.  Two sites were particularly helpful:

1.2.3  Training for 2012 Tour

In January 2012, we, unhappily, discovered that everything was wrong.  We had the wrong bikes.  We had no racks.  We had no panniers.  We had no clear path to a June launch.

We knew we would be spending a lot of time in the saddle.  We would carry very heavy loads.  With all that weight, we would need to learn to climb all over again.  We shifted to touring bikes at different points.  On Craig’s list, we located a bike for Marian fairly early.  My bike took longer to find.  Not only that, we need to reconfigure them for touring.

On a self-supported, tour, the rider carries all the non-consumables they will need. Not shown are  water and food. The total weight, for us, exceeded 60 pounds per rider.

The following table summarizing our changes.  In the left most columns are the weeks and the training steps.  The next column, Evolved Training Sequence, lays out our basic Mountain Biking training schedule.  The middle column shows what we did in 2012, and the last column shows what we are doing in 2013.  Changes from step to step are noted.

We made the 2012 changes, driven by the need to meet a June launch date, with the hope that we would be ready for touring. Our 2013 changes were less drastic, preserving much of the original training sequence, saving the big touring changes for the end of the program.

We made a modest change to Base 2.  We installed long hill rides a month early.  Marian had her Surly.  I was still riding my mountain bike.  We did not add any weights because we did not have suitable racks.

We made major changes, starting with Base 3.  We installed back-to-back long rides, starting the day after Cruise Intervals (or Thresholds).  The first long ride was on relatively level ground, the second was on hills.  We moved weights to the day after.  So, instead of four heavier days in a row, we now had five.  To compensate, we allowed ourselves two off days in a row.

For the rest of the training program, we continued to ride about 30 miles on the long days.  We added more weight each week.  Eventually, we were riding with 60 pounds of sand in our panniers.

Starting with Build 1, we made one last change.  We moved Aerobic Capacity Rides (ACs) to follow immediately after Cruise Intervals.  Then, we would do the long, weighted rides.  By the end of each week, our legs and bodies would be exhausted.  We also laid in two over-night rides to shake down our techniques and “find out” what it was all about.

With the complete rewrite of the training regimen, I was never sure we were doing “good enough”.  Later, I would confirm that 30 mile back-to-back weighted rides was good training for a tour.  Our training weights more than matched what we actually carried on tour.  Once we began touring, we were able to swing right into the thick of it.  We did, however, wear down over time.

1.2.4  Training for 2013 Tour

Unlike 2012, we had no specific early summer start date.  With our daughter graduating in mid-June, and our nephew from the UK coming to visit at the end of July, we didn’t feel free to commit to an extended tour before August.  Also, one of our 2013 goals was to ride the Great Alleghany Passage / Chesapeake & Ohio Tow Path in October.  As a result, we were free to experiment with tour preparations.

The 2013 result was quite different from 2012, as shown in the right hand column of the table above.  We elected not to do Base 1, as we were in good biking shape, having never really left our bikes at the end of 2012.  We decided to delay back-to-back rides and loaded rides until later in the program.  We also installed Hill rides as a discrete activity in the middle of the week, as suggested by the Friel sequence.

Starting with Base 2, we rode much as the original Mountain Biking based sequence was laid out.  Knowing we would address climbing at a later point,  we did not install long hill rides, instead, opting for long, more level rides.

With Base 3, we progressed in difficulty and intensity.  We graduated to Cruise Interval Rides, rapidly increasing the durations, and arriving at Threshold quality rides.  In addition, we performed hills, as a discrete activity, in the middle of the week.  The long ride, on the weekend, was not specially geared to climbing.

We entered the Build steps.  Build 1 had the planned Aerobic Conditioning (AC) substitution for weights.  In Build 2, we changed the daily assignments.  We freed up a day by merging the new AC Hill Ride with our normal Hill ride.  We increased the overall stress of the session.  In the freed up space, we added a fully loaded riding session, on relatively flat ground.  With full loads, we learned, anew, bike handling and riding with weights.  Build 3 was much the same as Build 2.  Replacement Peak Training

We completely rewrote the Peak Step, with Tour Specific training in mind.  It consisted of two steps, Tour 1, and Tour 2.  We made each step three weeks long, with two heavy and one rest week.  We were forced to postpone our planned week 25 ride on Calaveras Road.  Planned burns closed the road.  We created a new week 25 ride, Eureka Canyon, and may extend Tour 2 to four weeks, instead of three.

We designed the loaded climbs to increase the amount of climbing each week. We intended that the final climb to be comparable to the Day 5 leg of the tour to San Luis Obispo.

1.3  Places We Train At

 Northern California has a marvelous climate.  Unlike more hostile climes, the Bay Area rider need not display intrepid fortitude to train, almost year round.  The rainy season, from about November to April, is neither overly drenching, or particularly cold.  Oregon and Washington State have far wetter winters than San Jose.  And temperatures seldom drop below freezing, even during the night, in the dead of winter.  We often begin training the first or second week after the New Year, sometimes donning rain gear for our four rides of the week.

The climate in San Jose allows the rider to bike year around. We usually curtail our training after Thanksgiving, more for Christmas preparations and travel than weather. We resume our training a week or two after New Year. Sometimes we don our rain gear, but we often dodge the rain when we ride.

Our San Jose climate allows the rider to bike year around. We often curtail our training after Thanksgiving, due more to Christmas preparations and travel than weather. We resume our training after New Year. Sometimes we have to don our rain gear, but we can often dodge the rain when we ride.

We have a number of trails we normally use for training, that are near our home.  Two of them are within easy biking distance (less than 20 minutes away), and the other two could be reached by bike, but it is easier to drive to them.  The trails are:

  • Guadalupe River Trail
  • Los Gatos Creek Trail
  • Coyote Creek Trail
  • Lexington Reservoir

We often use one of these four courses for routine training rides – Aerobic Conditioning, Hills Aerobic Conditioning, Hills – mid week, Single Legs, Spins, Tempo, and Thresholds. For long rides, we may use other courses.

We use one of these courses for our routine rides – Aerobic Conditioning, Hills Aerobic Conditioning, Hills, Single Legs, Spins, Tempo, and Thresholds. For long rides, we use these and other paths.

1.3.1  Guadalupe River Trail

The Guadalupe River Trails is the trail we use for day-to-day training.  The Virginia Street Trail Head, at the south end, is less than 10 minutes biking from our home.  The trail runs about 10 miles, north, to Gold Street.  From the north end, a rider can easily connect to trails along the south end of San Francisco Bay.

The Guadalupe Trail has been a work in progress for years.  The current configuration has a Trail Head at each end.  The south end starts at Virginia Street and winds through down-town San Jose.  Once past the air port, it continues north to Gold Street.

This trail is entirely within San Jose.  The many crossings of the Guadalupe, especially on the south end, may confuse the uninitiated.  Signage is not always clear.  Through down-town the trail switches, several times, from the west bank to the east bank, and back.  In all cases, the switching requires that the rider ascend to street level, and ride a sidewalk to the other bank.  The route changes are not always well-marked.

The trail has several distinct flavors.  At the south end, the trail runs through down-town San Jose, switching sides of the River several times, forcing the rider up to street level.  There are two streets to cross, of which one is very dangerous, even with a WALK sign.  The trail transitions to grassy fields before rising to street level to run along the east side of the San Jose Airport.  After ducking under US-101, the trail tops the barren levies, past light industrial sites to the south end of San Francisco Bay.

The southern section, through down-town is older, and more narrow than the northern part of the trail.  Training at speed is difficult, with a river crossover at Park Avenue.  In addition there are two street crossings, the lightly traveled Saint John, and the dangerous Julian where Marian and I have avoided red-light-running drivers by inches.  The trail is incomplete at the Union Pacific tracks, requiring riding for several yards on broken pavement and gravel.

The northern part of the trail, starting at Coleman, is well suited to training.  Aside from occasional groups of school children learning biology and ecology at the river’s edge, serious runners and cyclists use the trail during daylight hours.  The newer trail is clean, free of cracks, and smooth.

For training purposes, we often use the streets to the Virginia Street Trailhead and the southern part to warm up.  The southern street crossings, and occasional congestion make it difficult to build up speed.  Beyond Coleman, we use the trail for almost everything, including Threshold Rides and AC Intervals.

This trail is reasonably safe, but somewhat worrisome.  There are homeless encampments near the trail.  When there are special events near the trail, the San Jose authorities will make the homeless people move.  But, they are always back within a few days.  The homeless stay, mostly, to themselves.  The homeless tend to concentration on the east bank under the I-280 interchange not far from the Discovery Museum, under the Guadalupe Freeway in the downtown section near the Shark Tank, and across from the Heritage Rose Garden down to the San Jose airport.  We seldom ride the trail earlier than ten o’clock to avoid people sleeping under the street overpasses.  We never ride this trail at night.

1.3.2  Los Gatos Creek Trail

The Los Gatos Creek Trail was our primary training trail for many years.  We still use it on occasion.  The Meridian Avenue Trail Head is about 15 minutes biking from our home.  The trail runs about 10 miles, south, to Lexington Dam.  From the south end, a rider can easily connect to roads leading over the Santa Cruz Mountains to Santa Cruz.

The Los Gatos Creek Trail configuration has been stable for a number of years. The trail begins at Meridian Avenue in San Jose, runs south, crossing under Highway 17, and continues into Los Gatos. The paved trail ends near Main Street. On the other side is a dirt trail which continues, parallel to Highway 17, until Lexington Dam.

This trail starts in San Jose, at the north end, runs through Campbell, and ends south of Los Gatos, on the south end.  Riding the trail is straightforward.  There are three bridge transitions, well-marked, and designed for trail users.  They are near Blackford Elementary School, San Tomas Expressway, and at the end of the paved trail, at Main Street in Los Gatos.  The paved trail is a gentle incline from Meridian up to Main Street.  From Main Street, to the top of Lexington Dam, the trail is dirt, and becomes very steep

Los Gatos Creek Trail is a first generation trail.  It is one of the most heavily used in the region.  The northern end, from Meridian to Campbell Avenue, has an urban feel, running past housing developments, shopping malls, and freeways.  There are fewer trees, and less shade.  The trail is wide, and less used than other parts.

The trail changes character after Campbell Avenue.  The path is older, much narrower, and, more in need of repair.  Highway 17 is closer, and the noise is more intrusive.  However, a string of parks provides shade, making for a cooler ride.  This part of the trail is every heavily used.  The pedestrians, stroller traffic, and small children on their first bicycles seem oblivious to trail etiquette.

Near Main Street, in Los Gatos, the pavement ends.  From there, to the top of Lexington Dam stretches a rocky gravel path.  The slope changes, until, finally, near the Dam, a wicked little hill of almost impossible grade challenges the rider.  My heart rate is, routinely, max’ed out.  I fear that hill.  Traffic is relatively light on this section.  Southbound riders move up the slope at their best speed.  Northbound riders, usually Mountain Bikers, can come down quite swiftly.

While we used this trail extensively for routine training in the earlier years, we seldom use it now.  Instead, we use the Guadalupe Trail.  Reaching the Los Gatos trail requires crossing two major streets, has a high volume of traffic, and the trail is narrow in many places.  We occasionally use the trail as a change of pace.  More often, we use it as a bike highway to other places, such as Lexington Reservoir, or some of the businesses near the trail.

1.3.3  Coyote Creek Trail

The Coyote Creek Trail has been an important training trail, to us, for many years.  We used the Trail for distance and high-speed riding.  We use it irregularly now.  Cycling to the Tully Avenue Trail Head is a 30 minute ride through an unpleasant urban setting.  The Morning Star Trail Head, at the south end, is in Morgan Hill, not far from Anderson Dam.  When we use the trail, we often drive to the Silver Creek Trail Head.

The Coyote Creek Trail was recently modified at the north end of the trail. The trails stretches, south, from Tully Road in San Jose, near US-101 and Monterey Road, until ending in Morgan Hill, near Anderson Dam.

The north end of the trail starts at the Tully Avenue Trail Head, in San Jose.  The south end of the trail is a Morning Star Trail Head, in Morgan Hill, near Anderson Dam.  This trail is a first generation trail, less well-known and used than most trails, and occasionally quite remote and secluded.  Cracks and tree routes have heavily damaged the paved trail surface  in many places.

The trail changes character as the rider moves south.  The north end is residential, with trees sheltering the rider from the sun, and providing a shield from the ever-present wind.  After riding through Hellyer Park and down past Metcalf Park, the trail transitions to a rural setting, starting at Metcalf Road.  The trail leads the rider through a pastoral setting, through old fruit tree groves, pastures and fields.  The trees thin out, US-101 is more intrusive at times, and a headwind makes the north bound rider gear down couple of cogs.

The trail is straightforward, and relatively flat.  The rider stays on the west bank, until very late in the ride.  There are impediments to riding.  The San Jose authorities have neglected path maintenance.  Parts of the trail are seriously damaged.  The trail through Hellyer Park, to Shady Oaks Park, is heavily damaged, with major upheavals due to tree roots.  From Silicon Valley Boulevard to Metcalf Park, the path is very damaged, and crumbling away into little gullies and ravine.  The rider should exercise caution when biking through Hellyer Park, negotiating groups of unschooled pedestrians.  The street crossings are few.  Metcalf Road is the most busy, but is easy enough to cross.  Coyote Ranch Road, a road near the Coyote Creek Golf Course, a road near the Santa Clara County Model Airplane  facility are little used.

We use the Silver Creek Trail Head as the starting point for most of our training.  Riding south, we use this trail for distance riding, Threshold Rides, and AC Intervals.  We also use this trail as a bike highway to reach Morgan Hill.

The southern end of the trail is relatively secluded.  The trail becomes remote from housing and businesses.  There has been, from time to time, a large homeless encampment under Capital Expressway.  We have seen Bobcats on the southern stretches.  Others have reported seeing a Mountain Lion, but not this year.

1.3.4  Lexington Reservoir

The roads around Lexington Reservoir are our primary training ground for hill climbing.  Alma Bridge Road, on the east shore of Lexington Reservoir is perfect for most of our shorter distance training.  The cyclist can ride to the north end, at the dam.  However, such a start requires going up the Los Gatos Trail, a ride of over an hour, plus a climb up to the dam face.  The South end is at Old Santa Cruz Road.  From there, a rider can easily climb to the top of the Santa Cruz Mountains and drop down to Santa Cruz.  We almost always drive to Lexington, usually parking at Alma Bridge, near the south end..

Lexington Reservoir is encircled by a series of roads. On the east side, Alma Bridge Road winds around from the dam, eventually climbing up to Old Santa Cruz Highway. This little traveled side road provides a safe haven for hill work.

Alma Bridge Road is a series of rolling hills.  The climbs are seldom more than about 50 feet, with varying grades.  Once away from Alma Bridge, until the quarry near the Dam, there is very little traffic.  The wide, smooth road, on the eastern shore, is often shady and cooler than San Jose.  Never far from the Reservoir, this road offers a tranquil setting to work on climbing techniques.

We often start our training rides at Alma Bridge, near the south end of the road.  Going north, the road is perfect for climbing and descending a series of hills of varying grade.  Going north, the road climbs, steeply, to Old Santa Cruz Highway and the 10 percent (or more) grade is perfect for AC Hill work.

1.3.5  Other Places We Have Trained In The Past

Before I retired, I trained, after work, at places near work, in Sunnyvale, California.  They were the paved bike paths at Shoreline, Stevens Creek, and San Tomas Aquino Trails, and the unpaved levies starting at Baylands Park and wrapping around to Shoreline.

When I still worked, I would drive to work with my bike swinging precariously from my bike rack. After work, while commuters stewed in stop-and-go traffic, I would train on flat, well-maintained trails. After my ride, I would speed home, chasing the tail end of the commute herd.

I always had the option of riding from the parking lot, at work.  Still, I usually drove to my starting point.  While that felt like cheating, I did not want to be constrained by time.  Prior to 7 PM, all three gates are open.  After 7 PM, only the Mathilda Gate is open.  When I finished late, I would be forced to ride the bike lanes of Mathilda to the Main Gate.  It was far more pleasant to end my ride where I had begun.  Early in the season, when rain turned dirt to mud, I usually rode Shore Line or Stevens Creek.  On occasion, I would ride San Tomas Aquino, which, unfortunately, has become a very difficult ride because of the stadium construction.  When the levies dried out, I would spend many hours on Bay Shore.

These almost completely flat trails are perfect for Spins, Single Legs, Threshold, and Aerobic Conditioning Rides.  While working, I was fortunate to have them so near, and I used them two or three times a week.  Having since retired, I have ridden portions of them less than ten times.  They are too far away to ride to, and then train.

1.4  Places We Like To Mountain Bike

Long before we turned to cycle touring, we rode our mountain bikes.  Marian and I are both on our third mountain bikes, having worn down the earlier versions.  The San Francisco Bay area is a wonderful place for mountain biking.  Listed in the table below are places we have discovered, and enjoyed.  In the future I will either link existing write-ups to this section, or create new writeups.

Marian and I have been riding our Mountain Bikes on trails in and near San Jose for many years. These are some of the wonderful trails available to interested riders.


1 Comment

Filed under Cycle Training, Travel

One response to “1.0 – Training – When Riding Isn’t Enough / Friel Training Approach

  1. Pingback: Training: Paragraphs 1.1.5 – 1.1.6 | pchtraveler

Let us know what you thought, we'd love to know. Thanks - Pat and Marian

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