Which Are You?

Couch Potato  |  Weekend Warrior  |  Olympian  

Depending on fitness level, you should approach your ride with certain goals and expectations. You should perform at a comfortable level of intensity, which can be measured by heart rate (if a monitor is worn) or Rate of Perceived Exertion. Heart rate is measured based on percentage of maximum, which can vary depending on a number of factors, particularly age. Maximum heart rate can be estimated by using the formula (220 – age). So, for a 35-year old, maximum heart rate would be (220 – 35) = 185 beats per minute.  For this individual 80% of maximum heart rate would be .8 x 185 = 148.

The “Borg” Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) is a scale ranging from 1-20 of how you perceive your level of exertion. A rating of 6-9 is relatively light and used for recovery. A rating of 10-12 is light to moderate and is at the beginning of your aerobic threshold. This is where breathing becomes heavier to the point where talking becomes difficult. A rating of 13-14 is somewhat hard, and 15-16 is hard and comes close to your anaerobic (lactate) threshold. This is the point at which lactic acid begins to build in the muscles and fatigue becomes a limiting factor. A RPE of 17 is very hard and beyond your aerobic threshold. RPE of 18-20 is extremely difficult and should not last for more than 30 seconds.

Below are approaches recommended for three categories of riders: Couch Potatoes, Weekend Warriors and Olympians.

Couch Potatoes

For individuals who do not follow any kind of regimented fitness program and are starting from zero, it is recommended to approach each class with the goal of finishing the program and having fun along the way. These riders should not attempt to approach lactate threshold and should maintain a steady heart rate of 60-75% of maximum, or RPE from 10-12. During speed interval portions of the workout, these riders should practice increasing cadence while maintaining a low level of resistance. Focus should be on smooth, fluid pedal stroke and not bouncing in the saddle. During hill portions of the workout these riders should practice adding slight resistance, but keeping it low enough so that they can maintain a modest cadence and not mash the pedals. If the rider is having difficulty maintaining the prescribed cadence, resistance should be eased off. These beginner riders might not turn the resistance knob at all in the first class, but will be astonished with their progress if they stick with it.

Couch potatoes can expect to (1) improve cycling form/economy, (2) achieve higher aerobic threshold (3) increase aerobic endurance and (4) strengthen lower body muscles. During each low-intensity ride Couch Potatoes can expect to burn 300-600 calories (depending on a number of factors including size/weight and level of exertion), which will lead to weight loss.

Weekend Warriors

Weekend Warriors workout 2-4 times per week, are able to run 4-5 miles without exhaustion and have a moderate aerobic base. These individuals should maintain a heart rate of 70-80% of maximum during most of the ride, but may attempt to push to up to 85% during high intensity intervals. This would equate to an RPE of 12-14, occasionally up to 15-16. Warriors should not push beyond lactate threshold for more than 30 seconds at a time. The focus should be on maintaining proper form at the prescribed cadence and adding resistance to the extent that they do not exceed the target heart rate or RPE.

Weekend Warriors can expect to (1) achieve higher aerobic threshold (2) increase aerobic endurance, (3) strengthen lower body muscles (4) increase their lactate threshold and (5) burn 500-800 calories per ride.


Olympians workout 4 or more times per week and have a strong aerobic base, and able to run more than 6 miles without too much difficulty. Olympians should strive to maintain a continuous exertion slightly below lactate threshold for most of the ride, with the exception of warm-up, cooldown and the occasional periods of recovery. During sprinting intervals and some intense hill climbing intervals, these athletes should strive to push beyond their lactate threshold in order to improve strength and overall fitness. By engaging with maximum effort during intensive intervals, Olympians will be able to boost their lactate threshold.  Olympians should complete most of the ride at 75-85% of maximum heart rate, occasionally pushing to 90% or higher during intense intervals. This equates to a RPE of 14-16 for most of the ride, elevating to 17-20 during periods of intense intervals.

Recognizing that Olympians might not wish to put forth an all-out interval effort during each visit, these riders might choose to approach some classes with less intensity. This might be due to an injury, the necessity for a recovery ride or due to the particular athlete’s periodization plan. In this case an Olympian may follow the recommended approach for a Couch Potato or Weekend Warrior, and can still derive substantial physiological benefits while pacing with mere mortals.

Olympians can expect to (1) increase their lactate threshold (2) increase aerobic capacity and (3) burn 700-1,200 calories per ride. While already considerably fit, SW rides may give Olympians the extra energy burst it takes to go from middle of the peloton to leader of the pack.


Almost every athlete tends to push herself a little bit harder when the element of competition is introduced.   Steel Wheels will display a Competition Board during classes that will allow you to see how you are performing versus your peers, if you so choose. The Competition Board will display RPM, Watts and Kilojoules (aggregate power output) for each rider. The rider with the greatest Watts is expending the maximum effort at that moment, while the rider with the greatest Kilojoules has expended the greatest amount of energy over the period of the class.

Not everyone is looking for a race and not every ride should be a competition. That is why participation in the Competition Board will be at your option, which you can determine at the time you reserve a bike. To avoid fixation on numbers, the Competition Board will only be visible during certain portions of the ride such as during intense intervals. Most of the time performance of other riders will be hidden so you can focus on their own ride and not your neighbors’.

At Steel Wheels intensity is truly up to the individual rider. Only you can turn the resistance knob, only you can push yourself. Whatever fitness level, riders can derive an individual benefit that is guaranteed just by showing up. If you want to coast, coast away. If you want to compete, ride to win. Steel Wheels welcomes all riders from racers to novices.