TCI Friday

This thing works best when you participate, by reading the drivel I’ve crafted for you below, and then expressing your views in the comments.

As with so many of our TCI Friday chit chats, the ultimate answer to today’s questions don’t matter much. We’re talking amongst ourselves here. Socializing. This is idle talk not UN debate. I felt like I needed to say that up front, because I’m getting ready to split a hair that might not need splitting. It bears saying that, however you decide to ride bikes is just fine with me.

Our topic today is indoor cycling, and I’m thinking about this because TCI reader John in Michigan wrote me an interesting email about the various ways we ride bikes as a discussion prompt for The Paceline. It is entirely likely we’ll still get to that one day soon, but in the meantime, I have been thinking about what it means to ride a bike indoors.

Riding inside might take the form of a Spin class or a Zwift session or just a lights-down-low, banished-to-the-basement, self-punishment-fest on a trainer. One of them is directly social, in a room with other human people. One of them is virtually social, in a digital space with avatars. And, one is asocial if not anti-social, constituted of a battle of wills with oneself in pursuit of pure fitness or emotional catharsis. Each of these ways of turning the pedals has something to recommend it incidentally.

My perhaps artificially controversial opinion is this though: If you’re not moving, you’re not riding a bike. And how is that? How can I be turning pedals, raising my functional lactate threshold, sitting on an actual bicycle (or close approximation thereof) and not be riding a bike?

Well, and this is what passed for deep thought on Fridays, if you’re playing a racing game on the Xbox or other console, driving a car at top speed around a digital track, are you driving? Or are you playing a driving simulator? Right. So indoor cycling, for me, isn’t riding a bike. It’s using a cycling simulator.

Now, before some percentage of you work yourselves into a swivet, I recognize that what I’ve just done is a bit of semantic sophistry. I’ve defined bike riding as necessarily incorporating movement, and I’ve decided, perhaps arbitrarily that the movement needs to be actual rather than virtual. These points are all debatable, but I think they matter in small and subtle ways, because they have actual influence on the outcome of your efforts.

I’m going to argue that the movement aspect of outdoor cycling produces all sorts of physical, mental and even emotional results that are not achievable while pedaling stationarily. There are elements of proprioception, balance, connectedness to nature, sights, sounds, geographical disassociation, hormonal stimulation, contextual cleansing, etc., that are unique to the experience of moving through space.

I have been told, even by people who love me, that I’m full of it though.

This TCI Friday we’re asking: Is indoor cycling, cycling? And does it matter? Do you have the same sorts of transformative effects from your stationary efforts as you do your motional ones? Is it maybe just the case, as usual, that I’m doing it wrong?

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  1. alanm9 says

    Oh baby, here we go. There is no such thing as indoor cycling. Cycling is outdoors, on the road or trail, doing all the things that Robot mentions PLUS showing the motoring world that bikes aren’t just summer recreational toys but legitimate, and in many ways superior, transportation.

  2. rides in be says

    Fascinating timing for this one as I rode on Zwift this morning and my wife and daughter both spent time on the spin bike.

    Because of that recent experience for me I would say I didn’t ride a bike this am; I did ride in or on Zwift but the lack of motion or distance covered , of going somewhere in time and space leads me to conclude that I didn’t ride a bike.

    For me a ride is about soaking in the glory of the wider world while moving and using balance and effort and skill to go somewhere. I could imagine some of those same fundamentals being covered riding on an indoor track. I could also imagine those same key characteristics being enjoyed on a trike outside. I can’t imagine the same kind of joy ever moving me on the trainer in watopia

  3. Dan Murphy says

    Inside? Not me. Not cycling.
    In the 90’s. I bought one of those mag trainers and used it exactly once. I’m not very disciplined and hate hate hate exercise where you’re not enjoying what you’re doing. I joined a gym once and had pretty much the same experience as I did with the mag trainer. I just can’t do it. I’d rather go outside for 30-45 minutes and just do something – anything.

    My rides in this phase of my life have to be aesthetically pleasing. I look at the routes I used to ride 30 years ago and I just wouldn’t do them now because I don’t like the roads. There are better roads to ride on and I’m constantly tweaking routes. A trainer is not an aesthetically pleasing ride.

    I have to compliment the people who have the fortitude and discipline to ride indoors. If you have goals, you can accomplish a lot with a trainer – so I’ve heard.

    An alternative question would be: Do you include indoor trainer miles in your total miles? Again, no.

  4. jlaudolff says

    The zwifters make me sad but datyum they are fast as hell when the sun comes out and the roads are finally dry about May 15 or so.

  5. Hautacam says

    You had me at swivet.

    I have to point out that European 6-day races happen entirely indoors and that is most definitely cycling.

    Clipped into a trainer of some sort? That is a cycling simulation. I say that as a mag-trainer user for 30+ years.

    Rollers… now rollers are a tough call.

    1. alanm9 says

      Track cycling is not inherently indoors. The vast majority of the world’s velodromes are open air.

      In my OP I was of course referring to the fake sense of cycling pushed by those who are complicit in giving away our rights to the road.

  6. Jeff vdD says

    Stationary spinning (SS) isn’t cycling, but it’s cycling adjacent. My SS consists of (1) structured TrainerRoad workouts on Tue and Thu Jan-Apr so that I hit the gravel strongish is Nee England shifts out of winter and (2) outdoor warmups before CX races Sep-Dec. When traveling, I may resort to hotel gym machines on occasion.

    Nothing wrong with SS, and I’m sometimes jealous of my Zwifting teammates, but hopping on my fat bike and cycling quickly dislodges me from any temporary minor funks.

  7. Barry Johnson says

    I fought it tooth an d nail, believe me. This is from someone who would built frankenbikes for the winter with studded tires…..

    However, we all get older and some of us fall apart. Strokes, blood thinners and vertigo have made me a majority indoor rider. I’ll ride out and relish it when I do and if I could year round I’d get in 7000 miles a year but with health and weather at 5000 ft., I’m happy to have a Wahoo and Zwift. Saddle time is saddle time.

  8. Pat Navin says

    I have tried indoor riding, be it on a trainer in the basement or at various versions of spin class. Just can’t do it. I need to be outside, even in the cold. The good thing about trainers is that you know every serious road rider has one stashed away in a closet, a basement or a garage. There is no need to buy a new one — unless you want to spend an ungodly sum on the latest and greatest digital, connected riding system.

    I used to love riding to and from work on the 2 degree F days. I met one of my best cycling friends on just such a ride when a guy passed me on a morning where the temperature was hovering near zero F. We were the only two idiots out riding.

    I caught up to him and asked through my facemask(s), “What the fuck do you think you’re doing, passing me on a zero degree day?” He responded in his Irish accent, “Ah sure, I needed to get out for a ride. I just moved here.” “And you’re Irish,” I exclaimed! The Dubliner and I went on to become fast friends because of that chance encounter.

  9. Hautacam says

    @ Alanm9 — i was not challenging your first post when i mentioned the 6-days, above; I was responding to Robot’s initial question whether indoor cycling is ever, well, cycling. I am quite aware that most velodromes are en plein air — i live near one of them.

  10. mattdwyerva says

    Obviously none of you bastards had knee surgery recently…. Sigh

  11. TominAlbany says

    Riding a bike happens when you’re making it move – indoors or out.
    If you’re just spinning, that’s spinning.
    It’s all good.

    I will say, one positive for spinning, I can put my head down and disappear deep into the pain cave and never worry about a car hitting me or a rock hiding under the leaves or some such. Some of my hardest efforts have been inside.

    Or at least they felt harder. It’s kinda hard to tell when you’re drippng sweat and get no cooling effect without a fan blasting on you constantly. Even then…

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