This article originally appeared in the Capital Bicycle Club Newsletter March 2013
Spin bikes are fixed gear stationary bicycles with a heavy flywheel that you most likely will find in a gym for group fitness classes. And, like anything else that causes some degree of voluntary suffering, some people love them and just as many people hate them. This time of year, many outdoor cyclists have shifted over to an indoor season of cycling to avoid the miseries of PNW weather. There are some benefits and pitfalls to doing so, and the rest of this article is devoted to some of these topics.
Riding in the rain can be fun, and I don’t discourage it, but there are times when the convenience of being able to hop on and off a bike for a good workout within an hour is handy and you won’t even have to clean grit out of your teeth! Most of the time there’s plenty of good spirit, music, and camaraderie to help shake off some of the dreariness of winter. It also can keep you off the roads at night or in icy conditions which can keep you from injuring yourself. In other words, your ride can go on despite conditions that otherwise would shut down you down.
There are many companies making these bikes for home or gym use, but most often you will be limited to whatever is available to you at your gym. They can range from low tech basic models up to bikes that easily cost several thousand dollars and include watt/speed measurements and other data. A basic set-up should at a bare minimum be able to adjust so that you can duplicate your road fit position as best as possible. This means you need to be able to adjust saddle height, saddle fore and aft, handlebar height, and handlebar fore and aft. You are usually stuck with whatever crank length and pedal combinations are on the bike. Some gyms may let you change the pedals or saddle, but it’s unlikely.
Fitness Progression or HammerFest?
If you are attending group fitness classes, you will do well to assess the nature of the instruction to see how that matches your personal goals. Most group fitness classes are set up for full-on, high intensity. In my experience, this format downplays the year-round/progressive nature of cycling as a lifestyle. The higher intensity, depending on how well you recover, can be very stressful to your body and set you back somewhat if you do end up getting injured or overreach your ability to recover before the next workout. At a minimum, I would recommend using a heart rate monitor so you can monitor your training efforts. Most cyclists will end up pushing too hard on these machines and without the basic feedback of a heart rate monitor, it’s easy to go overboard. Again, this matters more if you are using the spin bike sessions to progressively build your fitness. If not, just aim to have fun, listen to the music, and let it rip!
…and what would my articles be without an ounce of prevention? Poor technique seems to be at the root of what I consider to be the major pattern of injuries that come from spin bikes. First, is the amount of resistance these machines can produce. It’s too easy to overload the resistance and place major stress on the knees. Secondly, low cadence work on spin bikes can produce high/steady pressure on the knee joints. Many of the climbing simulations I’ve seen in classes invite injury (low cadence/high resistance.) Learn how to maintain your cadence and let that be your guide, along with heart rate, just as you would on the road with the benefit of gears.
I hope these tips give you some guidance when you consider using a spin bike in your training program! See you on the road… or in class!