Spinning away in winter

Right, time to own up – last night I went to a spinning class. Or, for the sake of accuracy, a different brand with a similar ethos: RPM – in their words, an “indoor cycling workout where you ride to the rhythm of powerful music.”

Throw up the proposition to a sample of cyclists and you’re bound to strike a mixed response. Some swear by it as a tool for beating the turbo, many dismiss it as health club mumbo jumbo. So, in the name of research – or now not so secret training – I put it to the test.

The 20-plus bikes sat in a tight, air-conditioned studio, with a palm-sized computer affixed, offering a range of stats – time, calories (always taken with a pinch of salt), cadence, distance and resistance, altered with a small lever below the screen.

RPM is an hour-long session to choreographed music, nine tracks in all which are geared to different training techniques – hill climbing, time trials, intervals and recovery – with Darren, the instructor, former roadie and current triathlete, leading the bunch.

Like turbo training, RPM requires motivation on the rider’s part. Not just getting to the gym, but putting into the session what you want to get out of it. A deceptive pool of sweat quickly forms at the base of the bike. But imagine 20 turbos side-by-side in your garage and even a gentle spin would leave most sweating buckets. In truth, that’s a drawback of such classes, that it fools some into how hard they’re working. Instead, I strapped on a heart rate monitor and got going.

The bikes are setup to accommodate gym users without the flexibility of cyclists conditioned to using drop handlebars, with the spin bikes’ ‘bars only adjustable on an angled plane, meaning they’re likely to be a little above the saddle. No big deal for a short stint in the saddle.

And how did the session fare? Heart-pound, leg-numbing stuff – just like the turbo. But unlike the turbo – often a lonely experience spent watching a blank wall – and like group riding on the road, a session at the gym packs an extra motivational punch from riding in a pack – a static peloton, combined with the instructor’s calls for more resistance and visualisation of riding in, for example, the velodrome while on intervals.

A turbo session allows you to customise your training, without the faff of heading to the gym, and focus on one area of your riding, be it intervals, hill climbing or pedal technique, a gym class, while, of course, costly, leaves you gasping for more.

Gasping how badly? After covering 26km in a 55-minute workout with plenty of climbing, my heart rate monitor fed back with an average of 178bpm and maximum of 191bpm. On the money for a high-octane training bout.

Will I go back? Sure. On a cold, wet winter’s night, what’s not to like?

Does it beat getting out on the road? Not close. Does it beat the turbo? Both have their merits, with turbo training undoubtedly geared more towards competitive cyclists and cheaper in the long run – but there’s no harm in dropping by RPM once-a-week to spice up your training.

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