Guest Article: Anti-Reverence? The Spin Bike.

Tool of the Anti-Merckx? Photo from head2totalhealth.com

Our balaclava wearing friend, @Oracle, submitted this winter reflection on the V. The article is a little ripe, but for many, spring is still a long way off and the gym or a balaclava are the only solutions to some tough questions. 

Yours in Cycling, Gianni

This past winter, I went round a bit in the comments about whether variances to certain Rules could be allowed on the basis of climate and geography.  Balaclava’s, their utility, and their inability to ever be considered casually deliberate, were at the forefront of the discussion.  While grinding out some miles in some (for me, unseasonably warm) 0ºC temperatures last December and January, cheerfully sporting my admittedly ugly balaclava, that discussion came back to mind, and I began to ruminate on what other items could be lumped in together with the balaclava in that category of things that are Anti-V, yet whose use paradoxically enables our continued pursuit of the V in the face of adverse conditions.  The topic has stayed with me off and on for a while, and today while I was strapping on my Sidi’s, it struck me that perhaps the most divisive piece of such equipment was sitting right in front of me.

The spin bike.

Generally, I have always loathed this contraption, and much of what it represents, even before I became initiated in the ways of the Velominati:  rooms full of pseudo-cyclists performing loosely-described cycling-like activities.  Many of them in yoga pants, gym shorts, tennis shoes or some other shamefully non-compliant garb.  Or, worse yet, cadres of willful Rule #42 violators.  None of them (including several of the ladies) Rule #33 compliant.  The “ride” quality does not even come close to real cycling, and obviously, being stuck in a climate-controlled room spinning in place cannot approach the sensations of the open road (although, I suppose, in that it shares a certain similarity to riding the trainer for hours on end).  It occurs to me that nothing can be more antithetical to the V or the letter and spirit of the Rules.  I can’t imagine that Merckx has ever ridden a spin bike, unless it was part of some scientific experiment in an attempt to quantify the essence of the V.

And yet…

Over much of the winter, I willingly climbed on a spin bike two or three times a week, and have been known to attend an actual spin class once in a while with the VMH on Saturday mornings.  How can I do this, given all I’ve said above?  Am I sick?  Do I betray all it means to be a Velominatus every time I click into that battered set of Keo’s that someone mounted onto one of the spin bikes at the gym?

I tell myself that I have no choice; that circumstances have driven me to this””my office is far from home and doesn’t have a shower, so commuting and lunchtime rides simply are not possible (I sweat buckets even on cold days, and I have to wear a suit and otherwise be presentable for work).  Lately, kids and work have been so taxing and, coupled with the dark, cold Midwestern winter mornings, that has pretty much meant “early to bed, late to rise,” for this nascent Velominatus.  As much as I’ve tried, early morning or late night trainer sessions just haven’t been in the cards.

Consequently, I joined a gym near the office in order to break up the day and get in some cardio over the lunch hour.  I didn’t do it with the intent of using the spin bikes; rather, I was all set to put in some treadmill miles, weight training, etc.  One day, while trotting along and thinking about how much my knees hurt, I said, “what the hell.  Tomorrow I’ll try one of those spin bikes.”  The next day, I suited up, slapped on the Dark Knights, and started spinning.  At first, it was horrible.  All of the things I described above came to mind and I was sure that I’d never do it again.  However, after a while, a funny thing happened.  I got over the differences in geometry from my road bike; I got over the annoyingly short crank arm length and annoyingly wide bottom bracket; and I got over the weird feel of the flywheel and the squishy, outrageously non-Rule 61-compliant saddle.  Instead, I cranked up the tunes and started focusing on form.  Without traffic or weather to contend with, my mind was freed for deep, unbroken meditation on the rhythmic movements of my legs and the way my whole body was working together to achieve the magnificent stroke.  The spin room is surrounded by mirrors, so I was able to watch my motions and correct irregularities.  My imagination wandered, and instead of being in the spin room, I saw myself ascending the twists and turns of L’Alpe d’Huez.  In short, I was channeling Rule #6 and finding the V-Locus.

When my time was up, I jolted out of my reverie with something akin to shock.  I think that… I kinda just enjoyed riding a spin bike!  I felt a little bit filthy, true, and yet somehow, I had a similar sensation to when I come home from an honest, physically demanding effort on the road.  How could this be?

Don’t get me wrong.  Given the choice, I will choose the road over spin any day and twice on Sundays.  There is still no comparison between actual riding and the pseudo-cycling spinning activity.  However, winter cycling in Wisconsin for someone whose only time to ride is early in the morning is difficult:  snow, ice and bone-chilling temperatures make night-riding difficult and dangerous.  After winter sets in, I’m unable to resume my regular early-morning rides until March at the earliest.  It could be that I’ve found a new tool to keep the fire burning a little bit higher during the dark months of high winter here in the Midwest.

However, when I get home at night and go down into my basement to grab something out of the freezer, I have to walk through my little bike maintenance area.  I can practically hear my bike whispering as I walk by:  “I smell the stink of that unholy creation on you.  Why are you not riding me?  You do not deserve the Velominati name badge I bear!”  In the face of that recrimination, all my rationalizations turn to dust.  And yet I cannot help but think that the effort it takes to find the V while sitting atop such a contraption, ironically, can only bring me closer to la Vie Velominatus.

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107 Replies to “Guest Article: Anti-Reverence? The Spin Bike.”

  1. @Ron
    All fine points @Ron.

    We all play out the cards that are dealt to us.

    In my case, having two small children, working 8hrs a day plus an hour for lunch and living a 1.5hour commute home each way, pretty much restricted my ability to ride mid week at all. Sure I’d ride on the weekends, but that would be constrained to short windows of time due to various family factors.

    At that time in my life, the only way to get any time in the saddle was by doing spin classes during lunch time at work.
    Others may judge all they like.

    For what it’s worth, in my case, I was able to take a difficult situation, and make some positives about it because I approached it with an open mind. If I’d continued to not do spin classes because I believed they weren’t cool, I would be missing out on any sort of riding, and would be a hell of a lot less fit than I am now.

  2. @Jeff in PetroMetro
    Thanks for sharing your personal porn stash. Your VMH must be very relieved you don’t look at videos of other women. But please, for our sakes, and possibly your sperm count, use the internet for what everyone else uses it for: buying a nice pair of shoes.

    Or a good couple of hours of rampant self abuse. Up to you really.

  3. Great write up @the oracle. Sydney doesn’t that that cold to not be able to get outside during winter but I do spend a lot of time on a trainer during the week due to time constraints, family, work and something called sleep.
    The main point is that you’re able to maintain time on a “bike” keeping fit, perfecting your magnificent stroke and position. Excellent stuff.

    And seeing as though JiPM posted some stuff, this is worth it for the horn solo.

  4. @Jeff in PetroMetro
    You’ve been to some dark places indeed. Could you at least mark them NSFW, if my colleagues saw that sort of thing I’d never live it down. “Oh, is that the sort of cycling you do? Mens doubles, mixed or do you do it solo?

  5. @grumbledook

    While that is amazing, it also removes one of the big benefits of plain ol’ rollers; the necessity of developing a smooth stroke while minimizing unnecessary body movements.

    …but it’s impressive, none the less.

  6. I@SimonH
    I used to be that guy, but with age, I have a little less to prove…. pretty dangerous if something goes wrong in those temps. On the other hand, after seeing that new age spinning guru, I would be afraid to even ride by his gym…… or temple…… whatever he calls it for fear of kidnapping and brain washing. I wonder if they all have matching sneakers.

  7. @scaler911
    Awesome pic, @scaler911 (and I suppose, @Josh,too). And, he’s westing it with th W.C. stripes, no less! I’m beginning to really like Cav.

  8. @Calmante

    @grumbledook

    While that is amazing, it also removes one of the big benefits of plain ol’ rollers; the necessity of developing a smooth stroke while minimizing unnecessary body movements.

    …but it’s impressive, none the less.

    You’re right in terms of the smooth stroke. However, even when I managed to ride on plain rollers freehand, I found it impossible to ride out of saddle. And I used to train on a spinning bike throughout the winter. But since I switched to cyclocross a couple of years ago, I don’t see the point anymore.

    But I have to correct my previous post. Since track cycling is by far the best kind of indoor cycling one can do! Well, of course only if you’re lucky and live near a roofed velodrome.

  9. @The Oracle
    Err, that should be “wearing.”

    Obviously, if there were a practical way to bring the bike to work for a lunch ride and get cleaned up in time for work in the afternoon, I would do so. Especially this time of year, when it is still -5 outside at 4:30 am, but can be goegeously sunny and ten above during the day. In the early spring, you just cant do darkness rides, because the.melted snow from the day re-freezes into black ice at night, and that’s just dangerous. It’s really not the cold that keeps me indoors. I was born and bred in WI. Its the dangerous ice on dark country roads and the thought of my kids visiting me in the hospital while I’m in traction for a month that gets me.

  10. @Dan_R

    Great article. Horrible torture device.

    Rollers and a trainer. X-country skis. Hockey skates. Snowshoes. These are the tools of a Northern Velominati during hibernation months.

    Wait, no. Hibernate instead and ride yourself into shape old school. I will always love Fignon’s description of the Badger’s shape during spring training camp. The off-season means off. And lots of red wine.

    Yup! I know live in the south, a place where people simply don’t understand winter. They think we enjoy freezing our arses off. No, but four seasons is better than hot as hell or warm. And, you need sports to get you through that long winter. Nothing better to keep cycling fun than to mix in some hockey or skiing in the winter.

    As for that photo of Cavendish, what’s going on with many of the PRO gilets this season. They seem to be nearly the same material as jerseys. Gilets typically are a bit different, more like sheer nylon to keep the wind off. Are these like soft shell jackets? Not as crinkly but with wind blocking abilities?

  11. @Ron

    @Dan_R

    Great article. Horrible torture device.

    Rollers and a trainer. X-country skis. Hockey skates. Snowshoes. These are the tools of a Northern Velominati during hibernation months.

    Wait, no. Hibernate instead and ride yourself into shape old school. I will always love Fignon’s description of the Badger’s shape during spring training camp. The off-season means off. And lots of red wine.

    Yup! I know live in the south, a place where people simply don’t understand winter. They think we enjoy freezing our arses off. No, but four seasons is better than hot as hell or warm. And, you need sports to get you through that long winter. Nothing better to keep cycling fun than to mix in some hockey or skiing in the winter.

    As for that photo of Cavendish, what’s going on with many of the PRO gilets this season. They seem to be nearly the same material as jerseys. Gilets typically are a bit different, more like sheer nylon to keep the wind off. Are these like soft shell jackets? Not as crinkly but with wind blocking abilities?

    A lot of clothing manufacturers are using wind/water proof stuff in their winter gear now. Like soft-shell jackets for skiing/ climbing.
    Castelli (who our team gets it’s kit from) has a LS jersey made with DWR. I got one and it’s the single nicest piece of kit I’ve ever owned for the type of weather we have in the PNW.

    http://www.realcyclist.com/castelli-aero-rain-lite-jersey-long-sleeve-mens

  12. Spinning (and every other stationary activity) will never give me the rush that cycling does, but I’ll never argue with the effectiveness of it: After all, my mother developed Quads of Steel doing her MA reading while grinding on a stationary spin-bike. Six years ago, she took her riding outside where it belongs, and has been dishing out the V ever since.

    Unlike my mother, however, I didn’t move to a desert town, and the urban sprawl means at least an hour of start-stop riding until you reach can fire up the afterburners. If I have an evening shift, I can do my long ride. If I’m working the morning/lunch, I can only hope for a lift by car, or confine myself to intervals on the 3km loop in the nearby park. Even in the summer, spinning is sometimes the best option.

    I’m a firm believer in doing whatever I can; if that means spinning or trainer-time, so be it. If that means commuting, even better. My commuter’s fixed gear helped me stop and slow down long after my brakes became mushy sponges in the rain, and the only days I didn’t take my bike (10km each way) were the days when I recovered from ITBS. Being a dry country, our draining isn’t effective – I’ve had days when the puddles were so deep my shoes touched them with every stroke. Commuting changed my “regular” cycling too – as a result of these everyday experiences, I’ve become more streamlined with my equipment.

    I have set goals; I will do what it takes to meet them.

    @Ron

    As for that photo of Cavendish, what’s going on with many of the PRO gilets this season. They seem to be nearly the same material as jerseys. Gilets typically are a bit different, more like sheer nylon to keep the wind off. Are these like soft shell jackets? Not as crinkly but with wind blocking abilities?

    Who does clothing for Sky? I didn’t know PRO had clothing other than gloves and shoe-covers. Speaking of which, the Mission summer glove and Ultimate winter glove are fantastic pieces of kit – the top of the Mission glove is just mesh! Perfect for the hot & humid summer here.

  13. @grumbledook

    THIS is the only kind of indoor cycling acceptable:

    Those rollers are SWEET! I have tried them and they are as close to riding on the rode as you can get on a trainer. Only downside… $800+.

  14. Great thoughts Oracle!

    Hi, my name is Souleur, and I too have a chip on my shoulder as a Velominati and loathe spinning in winter. I too live in the midwest, south of you in Misery here, and it gets cold here too (just briefer).

    Most of the cyclists here hang up their steeds after their september ride and don’t pull it down until may, and ‘go to spin class’s’ and that is why I have the experience I do….and IT IS the epitomy of ANTI-V
    -75 degrees…constant
    -no headwinds, no crosswinds
    -towels for your comfort to wipe your face and forehead
    -TV to watch, bookholders for reading

    So, I do admit, its EASY!

    OK, there, I said it…hell yes, EASY
    7/24, swipe a card, roll em out

    How do you HTFU after this? I ask??
    Where is the bragging RIGHTS for freezing your nads off, you know, when they suck up in your abdomen, your core temp is 95*, you drink something hot in necessity, your thought is ‘I am stupid’….BUT…you had the DISCIPLINE to do it. Damn right, you did it. Nobody else did, but you did it.
    How do you HTFU after this? Turn the thermostat down? Toss the towel in and refuse to use it? A tepid shower afterward? Read Shakespeare for pentance??

    Ok, so maybe my rant is over now, but that is how my mind works. I tend to see it all or none & that is where my alliance has always been in mind, spinning is Anti-V

    UNLESS..your PRO and your warming up for a PRO-logue, or time trial, then they are absolutely cool, which is a conundrum in the cosmos of cycle-ology in my mind (yet to be reconciled)

    I have done the rear wheel trainer and the smell of burning tyres is hideous and in fact, I felt like my bike hated me for doing this
    I have done rollers, and they are fantastic, and I plan on buying a set for next winter as they do yield ‘souplesse’ in the stroke which is fanfuckintastik-there must be an exception here somewhere in my mind for us Cognoscenti

    spin classes…are just not in my future here

  15. Only need to protest that the (photo) front-side water bottle cage mounted on these clone ‘spin’ bikes — dumb. (DIVA inflection) “Excuse me, is there a setup here that will give me a proper position or is compliant with Rule #45, and also your water bottle cage is dumb.”

  16. @Souleur
    Yes Souleur! We say “none” to the spin bike. Practically flirting with some homely gal (that looks like every other homely gal in the room), hoping that will get you excited — forget it. All the while trying to “go for it” behind the back of your sexy, devoted race bike. Despicable !!

  17. @Souleur

    Great thoughts Oracle!

    Hi, my name is Souleur, and I too have a chip on my shoulder as a Velominati and loathe spinning in winter. I too live in the midwest, south of you in Misery here, and it gets cold here too (just briefer).

    Most of the cyclists here hang up their steeds after their september ride and don’t pull it down until may, and ‘go to spin class’s’ and that is why I have the experience I do….and IT IS the epitomy of ANTI-V
    -75 degrees…constant
    -no headwinds, no crosswinds
    -towels for your comfort to wipe your face and forehead
    -TV to watch, bookholders for reading

    So, I do admit, its EASY!

    OK, there, I said it…hell yes, EASY
    7/24, swipe a card, roll em out

    How do you HTFU after this? I ask??
    Where is the bragging RIGHTS for freezing your nads off, you know, when they suck up in your abdomen, your core temp is 95*, you drink something hot in necessity, your thought is ‘I am stupid’….BUT…you had the DISCIPLINE to do it. Damn right, you did it. Nobody else did, but you did it.
    How do you HTFU after this? Turn the thermostat down? Toss the towel in and refuse to use it? A tepid shower afterward? Read Shakespeare for pentance??

    Ok, so maybe my rant is over now, but that is how my mind works. I tend to see it all or none & that is where my alliance has always been in mind, spinning is Anti-V

    UNLESS..your PRO and your warming up for a PRO-logue, or time trial, then they are absolutely cool, which is a conundrum in the cosmos of cycle-ology in my mind (yet to be reconciled)

    I have done the rear wheel trainer and the smell of burning tyres is hideous and in fact, I felt like my bike hated me for doing this
    I have done rollers, and they are fantastic, and I plan on buying a set for next winter as they do yield ‘souplesse’ in the stroke which is fanfuckintastik-there must be an exception here somewhere in my mind for us Cognoscenti

    spin classes…are just not in my future here

    +1. You hit the nail on the head!

  18. Nicely written article @Oracle

    But surely, and maybe I’m wrong, but does a bicycle not, by definition, have to have two wheels?

    In which case, spinning has nothing whatsoever to do with cycling, and one should not regard it as a variation of being on the bike? Nor, if indulging in said activity, should one beat oneself up about it, or feel guilty about cheating on your road bike

    It is a great form of exercise, especially for the core, if done properly, (which is to say, the pressups on the handlebar variants and leaning from side to side palava that only a good spin instructor puts you through)

    Beyond that, it should be regarded as no different to circuits/treadmill/rowing machine/cross trainer – a good way to keep your core strong and stay well (badly taught, at 150rpm it’s a frigging stupid form of exercise)

    On the matter of a cold weather alternative to the road bike – that is what a mountain bike off road is for – wear a wetsuit if you must

    Just saying….

  19. While I agree with a lot of the sentiment that has been posted, my only experience with spin classes have been the very epitome of V. You may scoff, but my bike on a stationary trainer in a class with no music being lead by an ex-pro rider (leahgoldstien.com) have been nothing short of revolutionary for my winter conditioning and training. With months of sub-zero temps, snow, and ice two years of this type of winter training have turned me into the cyclist I am. These are no 45 min spins in easy gears, they are full-blown 1 to 3 hour festivals of pain and suffering that any Velominati would appreciate.

  20. Abnormally above freezing the last few days, so managed 3 good rides this weekend! While the lows are all going to be below 0, the highs are looking good for some consistant March riding! Until we get our late April blizzard…

  21. I guess just one of my reservations regarding spinning is that I’d rather spend my money on bike parts than on a gym membership.

    *But, of course, I do know what it is like living in a place with snow & ice for five months a year.

  22. @Dr C
    If I had any MTB trail (much less a decent one) within a 45 minute drive of my house, I may never have taken up road cycling at all.

    @Lister
    There is a distinction to be made between spin classes on spin “bikes,” and suffer-fests on a trainer.

  23. @The Oracle

    @Dr C
    If I had any MTB trail (much less a decent one) within a 45 minute drive of my house, I may never have taken up road cycling at all.

    @Lister
    There is a distinction to be made between spin classes on spin “bikes,” and suffer-fests on a trainer.

    Any CX opportunities? I do rides on my Salsa LaCruz that have paved, gravel, and single track. It’s great because I can ride from my house and not waste time driving to ride. Took this photo yesterday in Pisgah National Forest.

  24. @Anjin-san
    That’s the way to do it – in fact, the exercising on the way to the exercise and continuing the same exercise on the way home from that exercise, is one of the greatest attributes for cycling (running is just stupid, so it can’t be counted) as an exercise form

    @The Oracle

    @Dr CIf I had any MTB trail (much less a decent one) within a 45 minute drive of my house, I may never have taken up road cycling at all.

    Surely everywhere has a mountain bikeable bit of terrain near their house, unless you live in downtown big citysville, which is always a bad idea (though usually a train will get you outta there pretty pronto?

  25. Where I live we have a studio that has the most amazing indoor training setup. The bikes are all Cyclops models with integrated heart rate monitors and power taps. The classes are all geared to the outdoor rider. Huge LCD screen at the front that plays complete races during the class. At the end of each session, you download your ride data on to a personal USB that tracks your cadence, HR, wattage, etc. through the ride and against your other rides. Some days you ride courses on the computrainer as well. And — unlike any other indoor cycling — the owner keeps the place as cold as a freezer, so it’s a bit more palatable.
    Obviously outside beats inside any day, but over the cold Toronto winter this place is unbeatable for keeping your legs going in the off season.

  26. @Dr C
    I actually live in an area north of Milwaukee where there’s a lot of natural areas, but every bit of forest that has anything close to a trail through it near me is clearly posted “no Mountain Bikes.” I try to be a good neighbor, so I don’t ride on those trails even though I’d likely not get caught. Having built MTB trails in the past, I’m pretty sensitive to erosion issues caused by riding a bike on trails that weren’t designed for bikes. Plus, a LOT of the forest around here is in private conservancies, and those guys have been known to go as far as hiding cameras to catch unauthorized users of their land.

    Believe me, I’m always on the lookout for some singletrack, but I just haven’t found any (many I’m just looking in the wrong places).

    @Anjin-san

    A CX bike is at least a few years away in budget terms.

  27. @The Oracle
    How far are you from kettle moraine? Gosh, almost 20! years ago, cut my teeth on real mountain biking up there, weekend day trips from chicago with some pretty inspired friends. But certainly not an after work quick jaunt!

  28. @gaswepass

    @The Oracle
    How far are you from kettle moraine? Gosh, almost 20! years ago, cut my teeth on real mountain biking up there, weekend day trips from chicago with some pretty inspired friends. But certainly not an after work quick jaunt!

    I’m a solid 50 minutes from the North Kettle Greebush trailhead, and 1.5 hrs from the Southern Unit (where the best trails are). There’s a few trails that are a little closer, but still way too far away to ride my 25 lb, dual suspension rig there, especially since they’re not all that great, anyway.

    When you have a house, a job, a wife and three small kids, they all might as well be an eternity away. Usually, my best bet for MTB is the Alpha trail on the south side of Milwaukee when we visit my mother-in-law down there. Last summer, that only happened four or five times.

  29. @The Oracle

    @gaswepass

    @The Oracle
    How far are you from kettle moraine? Gosh, almost 20! years ago, cut my teeth on real mountain biking up there, weekend day trips from chicago with some pretty inspired friends. But certainly not an after work quick jaunt!

    I’m a solid 50 minutes from the North Kettle Greebush trailhead, and 1.5 hrs from the Southern Unit (where the best trails are). There’s a few trails that are a little closer, but still way too far away to ride my 25 lb, dual suspension rig there, especially since they’re not all that great, anyway.

    When you have a house, a job, a wife and three small kids, they all might as well be an eternity away. Usually, my best bet for MTB is the Alpha trail on the south side of Milwaukee when we visit my mother-in-law down there. Last summer, that only happened four or five times.

    Only have 2 instead of 3 kids, but skiing has suffered a similar fate- can ride 2-3 hrs from the house on road, kick my own ass and be done. driving 90min one way w/ any regularity is a non-starter. But yeah, south kettle moraine on a full rigid stumpjumper was where I learned. Tempting to shoot down there when I visit madison at the end of the month… Probably will just ride road around madison tho…

  30. Nice article. I too have resorted to the spin bike at the local YMCA during the cold, dark winter months some of us find ourselves faced with in the Midwest. While I value the ability spinning affords to stay fit and find that I’m willing to push myself harder when there is an audience as opposed to being alone on the trainer in my basement, I don’t know that I would do the whole spinning thing if it weren’t free (my health insurance covers the gym membership) and so close and convenient (the gym is less than a block from my house). I think in that case I’d prefer buy a good trainer and get together with some local riding buddies for group trainer sessions.

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