Racking Up the Mileage Without Going Anywhere

While I occasionally break out my regular bike during the winter on nice days, much of my winter cycling is done indoors. I’ve tried a few different variations on stationary bicycling, and with everything in my life, I have Strong Opinions on all of them. However, I also acknowledge that my Strong Opinions may not match yours at all. I’m totally fine with that, but here’s my take on the options…

Bicycle Trainers
While training for the Climate Ride, I put in more than 50 hours on my stationary trainer, or enough to watch seasons 1-4 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The trainer’s main advantage is that you can use your own bicycle, so you don’t need to fuss around with the seat and it feels similar to the way it would on the road. In addition, trainers are far cheaper than good stationary bikes, so you can use it at home. While the gym would have never allowed me to have stayed on the bike for hours at a time, I watched Buffy episodes back-to-back at home. On the flip side, using your own bicycle can be a problem with the magnetic trainers. On this type of trainer, you prop your front wheel on a plastic base and position your back wheel against a roller. To get any amount of resistance, you have to move the roller closer to your back wheel, causing little bits of wheel to rub off over time. Even though I kept the resistance as low as possible, the damage to my back tire was noticeable enough that I had to replace it by the spring. These types of trainers are also very loud. For the braver among us, there are also rolling trainers, where you balance your bike on a set of rollers. I’m a too nervous to try one, but I’ve heard they are quite good once you learn to keep your balance.

Spin classes
I am not an exercise class type of person. With the exception of yoga, I’ve never fully enjoyed a group exercise class I’ve participated in. (Skill classes, like for rockclimbing, are a different matter.) I tend to associate them with a couple of jerky coaches I had in school, even if the actual instructor is a lovely person. So I’m inherently not inclined to be a fan of spin classes. My mom loves them though, so they work really well for some people. She particularly likes the combination of music and different types of routines. In addition, I’m not fond of the spin bikes themselves. Unlike my bike, they have drop handlebars, which feel very unnatural to me. I also find the lack of numbers on the tension disorienting – they offer no way to judge how hard you’re working compared to a baseline.

Stationary bicycles at gyms
There are a lot of terrible stationary bicycles. Many stationary bicycles say that you’re going much faster than you possibly would in real life and feature “difficulty” levels that are completely unrelated to anything on the road. A number of them have awful seats that force you to work the wrong muscles. I actually used one once that was so tilted that I spent the entire time pushing myself back up onto the seat. Most of them are made for people in gyms who want to work out, not bicyclists in the off-season.

However, there is one form of stationary bike that I love – the Expresso bicycles. When I was kid, I visited Epcot’s now defunct Wonders of Life area and saw bicycles with screens allowing you to pedal through specific landscapes. (The official Disney name for them was Wonder Cycles, according to Wikipedia.) The first time I saw an Expresso bike at my local YMCA, I was transported back to that trip. These bikes feature a screen where you can watch TV, or much more interestingly, pedal through different tours. The scenery and terrain changes as you go along, ranging from a college campus to South American ruins, with the resistance to match. While they aren’t identical to road bikes, they’re similar enough that I don’t mind. What I particularly like is that for me, they mimic the feeling of seeing a hill, adjusting my speed and power to climb it, and then descending.

While there’s no substitute for biking outdoors, these options at least help get us close.

Do you ever bike inside? If so, what do you use?

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4 Responses to Racking Up the Mileage Without Going Anywhere

  1. J.A.B. says:

    We had a set of rollers for a while. I never did learn to ride without having one arm on the rollaway bed –and, more often than not, under our large fluffy cat– but it did help my balance and bike-handling.

    But everyone I knew agreed: riding rollers is terminally boring. If you don’t pay close attention to what you are doing, you will fall off — and there isn’t anything going on to hold your attention.

    I did try putting a book in my map case once, which worked well until I had to turn a page. If e-readers had been available at the time, it wouldn’t have helped — I couldn’t spare a hand.

    • Shannon says:

      That’s good to know, because I’d want to read a book or at least watch TV if I was on them. I’m very focused on the road, but when I’m on a stationary bike, I have the attention span on a gnat and that would be terrible for me.

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