As the Flywheel Spins

Darkness is starting to cramp the day’s daylight now, a fact made that much more evident by the falling back of the clock. This usually means more cyclists have to turn their attention to cycling indoors. So, the trials and tribulations of the spin bike can begin. As a cycling coach, I hear the gamut of excuses about indoor cycling, mostly negative incantations of how boring, uncomfortable and grueling being indoors on a bike can be. In this article, I will discuss several different options for indoor cycling and reasons to embrace the stationary world of biking.

Stationary cycling can be a descriptor of the following: spin bikes, trainers, rollers, ergometers and exercise bicycles. All of them have the same basic principal, which is to allow for the same body movement found on a bicycle, while staying in one place. Each one of them has their place in the fitness routine of a cyclist; some are better suited than others in getting the job done.

Before tackling long hours indoors, several things need to be taken into consideration. Take care to hydrate well, keep the temperature of the room lower and ventilate with a fan to protect against overheating the body. Do your best to set the machine up to fit you correctly. Even if this means taking measurements from your bicycle and replicating them, this can ensure longer term joint health. Understand how to safely operate the equipment. And finally, if participating in a class, recognize your limits by knowing when to back off of the intensity or duration.

Spinning bikes are usually the sort that have a single flywheel either in front or back, flat pedals, a saddle and handle bars. The better ones have the ability to finely tune the seat and handle bar positions to fit the rider. These bikes don’t have gears, but do have a way to add or remove resistance on the flywheel that the pedals propel. Simple, but this doesn’t translate well to the real world. Since most of these types of bikes have a weighted flywheel, the bike will actually do some of the work for you. One way to find this out is to try and coast – do the pedals tend to keep going for a while? This is not good for drills that incorporate pedaling skills since the bike has momentum.

A trainer or rollers are designed to interact with your bicycle. Right from the start you’re ahead of the game since you’re on your own steed. You have gears to shift through and ways to increase resistance that are more real world. Rollers add a component of balance since the bike tires just sit on three drums, kind of like a treadmill for your ride. One of the biggest factors to consider when selecting a trainer or rollers is the type of resistance provided by the unit such as fluid, magnetic, wind, etc. Each has its own benefits and drawbacks. Spend some time researching which one will meet your specific needs before purchase.

To combat boredom while indoors, several methods can be employed. Going to a spin class can give the social and coached interactions that pass time. Riding in the basement can be improved upon by a TV to watch cycling workout shows, movies or to follow a course on some of the more advanced trainers. Music can also be a big motivator and can help pass the time.

One of the biggest points to get across about being indoors is the level of work that can be done for a given period of time. Go for a ride outside for an hour and it’s a good bet that 15 minutes of that ride was spent coasting, soft pedaling or stopped. So, indoors you can do the same amount of work in less time, 45 minutes and you’re done since there are no stop lights or coasting. Indoor riding can be very controlled as well, which helps to be consistent with the workout instructions and goals.

My preference would be for clients to own a trainer. I think this gives them the best options for completing a workout on the bike when the ground is covered with snow and ice. But, going to a spin class can still be beneficial to adding to one’s fitness. Whatever kind of stationary machine you choose, adherence to the workout is most important. The idea here is that gains in performance come from adding stresses to the body, and this can be done in many facets. Embrace being stationary, after all, the fitness gains are real and once you’re back outside on the bike it will all be worth it.

Written by: Adam Fivehouse

Adam Fivehouse, USA Cycling LII Certified Coach, provides testing and coaching through Optimize Endurance Services. Contact him at 720-270-6876 or email Adam with training, coaching or testing questions. Or feel free to join us on one of our OES Training Rides. Ride details can be found on our Training Calendar.