Getting your head around indoor riding

I started this post in September. Transition month. Excitement/terror of back to school for the kids, pit in the stomach for grown-ups who’d yet recovered from the annual depression of leaving summer behind and resuming studies. Fading daylight juxtaposed against summer heat, body and mind churning a confused spiral of misplaced hope and looming dread. Now October, it’s getting harder and harder to fit in a decent ride after work. Soon, the struggle to fit everything in – the school routine, the extra-curricular activities, the day job, the family time, the riding, the racing – will drain motivation from our bodies, beckoning surrender, slow down, give in, winter.

That’s fine. Some of us might need the pause. Some of us might not. If you fall into the second camp, and you want to keep going, perhaps racing track or cyclocross, there are ways to strive on, little strategies that can help maintain the momentum you’ve build up over the summer. Or, perhaps it’s time to introduce a new impetus, a new normal.

Ride inside.

I know, there are 648 things about riding inside that make it suck compared to riding outside. At least, that’s what people tend to think. But is this a matter of fact, or opinion? It depends.

Fact: Riding outside is fun

Fact: Riding outside is more dangerous than riding inside

Fact: Riding outside requires a shirt and shorts, minimum, on top of helmet, shoes, socks, tools, etc.

Fact: Riding outside at night requires lights

Fact: It is unsafe to watch screens while riding outside

Fact: Riding inside can be fun

Fact: Riding inside can be meditative

Fact: Riding inside only requires shorts, shoes, socks, water bottle

Fact: Riding inside allows you to respond to your kids’ questions about ninja powers and hair accessory combinations

Opinion: There is a time and a place for riding outside and inside. Both have their positives and negatives, and sometimes it’s hard to choose between the two. Riding inside virtually always is a more efficient way to spend time than riding outside

Darkness at 6:30 pm in early October doesn’t have to stop you from pedaling. If your idea of cycling is constrained to riding outside in a certain way, that’s ok. But if you have cycling goals that require you to keep riding when it gets difficult to do so outside, you might need to get your head around this whole riding inside thing. It will probably take time, perhaps years. That’s fine. Patience is a virtue.

It’s a process. The first step in getting into riding inside is wanting to. It’s one thing to think you should, but not really want to. That won’t work more than a few times in a winter. You need to convince yourself that riding inside will be great, if not good, and thus, want to. How?

It depends on you. If you are targeting objectives for 2016, either in the form of race performances or challenging rides, riding inside in the winter – assuming you’ve not been doing it already for some time – will help you achieve your goals. If you’ve never ridden inside before, pretty much any amount you add into your weekly routine will translate into improvement in the spring, assuming the riding isn’t replacing another physical activity that is equally beneficial, or more.

If we’re going to talk about the fall season specifically, and let’s say you are racing some cyclocross, you might be pretty stressed out about getting enough riding in each week to make the racing fun, or at least kinda fun. Incorporating inside riding will help.

So let’s say you want to ride inside. Great, how does one turn that desire into a habit? Depending on your personality and circumstances, you might be able to pull off 1-3 indoor rides each week, or, perhaps you can go for more right off the bat; inside every day you are not outside, perhaps. Perspective is key here. If we’re trying to establish a new habit, we have to build on our successes, and not let our failures drag us down. This means that if you’ve pulled off three days inside in a week (your target), celebrate it. Just as importantly, track it. By putting your rides onto a calendar or tracking application like Strava, you can easily visualize what you are doing. The plus side here is that the visual feedback is encouraging and motivating. The tracking (training calendar) is actually the Strava feature I like the most. Especially in the winter, I look at what I am pulling off each week, and aim for a target number of hours for the month (at least 40). That target helps me maintain my daily riding routine, and also underpins my morning rides as a way to bump up the hours a little, help manage my weight, get to bed on time, and generally, start the day well.

If you are not meeting your expectations in terms of riding inside, ask yourself why. Is it simply a matter of time? Perhaps you can squeeze in 30 minutes before work, 30 at night. Don’t skip a ride because you can’t do an hour. 30 minutes is better than none! Stay positive if you slip on your frequency and keep moving forward. If you have already done more than previous years, acknowledge that you’ve made progress, and continue to build on it.

For those hoping to use indoor riding for weight management, try setting a caloric expenditure goal for each ride. Below is an example. On this night, I wanted to burn 700 or more calories, which would take about an hour if I rode over 200 watts average. For me this output is comfortable, just above ‘easy.’ It’s the sort of pace I can do every night all winter if I want, and I’ll wipe out about 700 calories if I do. Couple that with proper caloric intake, and one can lose weight steadily if desired. Moderate rides can easily burn 800+ calories in an hour; sweet deal! Or, if you want to do 1.5 hours, you can do about 1000 calories at about 150 watts.

If your issue is boredom while riding inside, see what you can do to make it more interesting. There are numerous approaches here, ranging from riding in a meditative state (lights off, no external stimulus), listening to music, watching shows/races/movies, using training software, and staring at a wall. Each has their merit.

I’ll discuss some of the apps folks are using for indoor training in another post. For now, I’ll sugest two media options you can try for making your indoor riding more compelling. I realized a few years ago that if I had time to watch a show, that meant I had time to ride the trainer. So I combined the two. Netflix has proven to be a fantastic resource for hours of indoor riding. I’ve plowed through many series, including The Walking Dead, on the bike. I’ve also discovered many movies I’d never have given the time of day to. The thing is, you’re on the trainer, so if you try a show or movie that isn’t great it’s no big deal. I find I tend toward more action than dialogue driven content while riding, but not always. Interstellar, for example, is hardly an action movie, but I absolutely loved watching it while riding. Top pick!

If you fancy checking out races while riding, nothing beats YouTube for easy access to cyclocross races, perfect for hour-long rides. As a bonus, when you feel like it you can try to mimic the pace of a particular rider, standing when they do, cruising then they do, etc. It’s fun. The spring classics are another favourite of mine, particularly Paris-Roubaix and Flanders. Some of these one can watch over and over.

A cheap and effective tech for using a modern TV or monitor instead of a laptop for steaming content is Google’s Chromecast. At $40 retail, it allows you to send content from Netflix and YouTube directly to your TV from a smart phone or tablet. At the same time, you can use the device to run other apps, such as the Kurt Kinetic inRide app I use to track the metrics coming out of my trainer. This is a relatively simple set-up, easy to use once the initial install is done.

In future posts, I’ll get into some of the trainer tech available, including a review of my Kurt Kinetic Rock-n-Roll. I’ll also start sharing a list of outstanding races, shows and movies for easy reference when trying to find something good to watch.