Cycle class might make you a weaker cyclist
Gasp! How could that be! How dare you insult the spin class! It is so hard!! Ok, let me explain; cycle class is designed to make you a healthier you, not necessarily to make you faster on your road/tri bike. This comes up because of an interaction I had with a fellow cyclist after the first Lifetime Cycle Team (Westminster) outdoor ride of the season this past Sunday. This cyclist and I had both gone to the weekend Cycle/Triathlon camp in Scottsdale but on the rainy day when I went out on the road, he opted to ride a stationary bike. His comment was “I ended up getting a better workout indoors anyway” and I thought to myself “No you didn’t!”. I didn’t challenge him because people tend to think that they made the better decision based on the fact that they made it and being told otherwise often doesn’t end well.
On a side note, I did very much better than this cyclist on Sunday – I can’t attribute this solely or even partly on the one day of training in March but it speaks to a larger misconception. Indoor cycling < outdoor cycling. Period. The equivalent indoor workout to a good and solid outdoor effort is like…2 sessions. Maybe that is overstating it but it is similar to outdoor running and treadmill running, one is better for training and that is outdoor running. You will find few runners who disagree with this. Treadmills, however, do not have a cottage industry of products trying to convince people (OK, maybe they do but I don’t see it as pronounced as in cycling) that they are equivalent to the real foot sole on pavement/dirt/gravel running.
This isn’t to say that I don’t use stationary biking equipment, I certainly do. I have an indoor trainer (with apparently only two resistance modes, very light and unbelievably hard) and I ride indoor power metered spin bikes. I never take a class though and I try to limit indoor riding to 1.5 hours unless weather (snow, not rain) prevents it. And honestly, it is a lot easier on time to do an indoor BRICK. I also never do classes. If I am riding in the studio and a class begins/ends around me, good for them. I have a workout to do and I will stick to that.
This is also not to say that spin class does not have a fitness purpose. It does, its purpose is to get you in shape with a low risk of stress injuries. That is a great purpose to have and I applaud it. Look at your average spin class, how often do you get out of the saddle for 3 minute interval? How often are you out of your saddle on your bike for 3 minute stretches? If you go 15MPH on the spin bike do you get the requisite 15MPH wind in your face? On spin bikes, the amount of effort to accelerate from 15-16 mph is relatively easy. On a bicycle it is a different ball game, you have to add many more watts of power (or hunch down) to overcome wind resistance, assuming the terrain has stayed constant. A spin bike would have to exponentially increase resistance as your MPH increased in order to simulate actual conditions. I think there are indoor trainers that do this (fluid trainers do this to a certain extent) very well, but they are thousands of dollars and used by the pros – not at your local Lifetime Fitness.
To my opening statement, does cycle class make you a weaker cyclist? For two reasons, I think it does. First, it gives people a false sense of cycling proficiency. 21 mph on a spin bike doesn’t translate at all to real cycling. Second, there is no spin bike equivalent to maintaining balance, unclipping, stopping at red lights, eating with one hand and steering with another, dealing with cars, dealing with flats, changing gears, etc. We should be finding excuses to ride outside instead of finding excuses to ride inside. Rain? Believe it or not there are products to help you deal with that. Dark? They make headlights for bikes. Flats? Spare tubes are cheap.
OK, I am off my soapbox now