Why would any cyclist want to cycle indoors in a darkened room full of sweaty strangers? Spinning classes are a weird concept if you're not a gym-junkie. But with large swathes of the country currently under water and unrideable, Ride Velo thought it might be an opportune moment to examine this apparently addictive phenomenon.
What attracts hundreds of women, and rather fewer men, to exercise on a static bike in a gym? There are lots of reasons and sadly I think that fear is quite high up the list. Lots of women lack confidence when it comes to cycling and safety has to be the no.1 reason that we prefer to exercise indoors where there are no SUVs likely to come hurtling past us on that busy uphill stretch we dread.
Personally, I don't like to go out on long country rides alone and worry about getting a puncture or worse miles from a repair shop! Luckily, it's never happened but I am very prone to getting lost and my GPS never seems to work when I need it. As a result, when I ride alone I do circuits of a local hill climb, or cyclists' favourite Richmond Park, where I know I can't really get into trouble!
Jools Walker, aka the blogger Velocity Girl and presenter on The Cycle Show, has been riding around town on her Pashley for years but was recently given a customised road bike by Aprire. She wrote in a guest blog for Vulpine in October of her insecurities about this new way of riding and I think many of us have shared her sentiments at one time or another:
Equally, joining a cycling club can be off-putting. My local club, Dulwich Paragon, lists a fairly high minimum requirement for new members which includes: A desire to ride in a close group and to improve your riding skills and fitness (we are a sporting club). Be capable of riding 30 miles with several steep hills and only brief stops. Be capable of fixing a puncture. And you have to pass an initiation ride. Phew!
Which takes me back to the gym...I've tried out a few spinning classes and I have to admit I've gone from loathing them to loving them. Lots of women I know go spinning because of the feted weight loss you get from attending the sessions regularly. I'm not sure this is strictly true - according to the calorie counter on my bike I only burn up about 350 cals in 55 minutes which is a lot less than I do on a road ride according to Strava. To be honest I get a better workout on a Watt Bike doing interval training - but that is seriously boring!
There are loads of different types of classes - I've been to groups where you're up and down out of the saddle like a yo-yo, doing semi push-ups on the handle bars while trying to maintain 120 rpm - impossible! There are seriously hi-tec groups too with virtual reality screens and the opportunity to race your sufferfest cycling heros. I'm looking forward to trying out the new ebove bike when it arrives on our shores from Scandinavia next spring. This bike will immerse you in a virtual world - cycling in settings as diverse as the city of Venice to downhill in a forest, while moving up and down and side to side like an actual bike.
But to me, the secret isn't rocket science - I think the answer to enjoying your spinning sessions is just to find an instructor that you like. Getting into the zone is really the magic key to getting the most out of it. My instructor isn't a cyclist, she prefers running, but what's great about her is that she makes me feel like I'm riding in a grand tour (or at least a hotly-contested sportive). "Just 200m left to climb," she shouts, "see those two riders on the horizon, you're going to take them! Go For It!" I'm quite competitive and it gets my adrenaline pumping. "Close your eyes, let your legs do the work, you're drawing alongside now just one last push..."
Yes - it's the excitement she can generate and the music that she plays. My friend Carole says I'm old school, but climbing in gear 17 out of the saddle at 110rpm to Sash's 'Encore Une Fois' sends goose-bumps down my spine. She'd rather listen to Daft Punk - that's what I mean about finding the right instructor for you.
But addictive? To be honest I'd still rather be out on my Merckx EFX on a warm afternoon feeling the sun on my face, or even those frosty mornings that drive you to pedal harder and push yourself further. The satisfaction of completing a spin class is never going to beat the feeling of accomplishment, not to mention the views, once you've climbed that hill or mountain - but it has rightfully earned its place in the cycling training world.