It’s been a long, cold winter, and you’ve spent it tapping it back and racking up your torque points in spin class.
You’re in great shape, but as the weather gets nicer, you can’t help but feel like you’re pedaling to nowhere.
If the last time you were on a bike that could get you from point A to point B was back in high school, we have tips for you to transition your skills from those 45 minutes in the dark to the open road.
The Benefits of Cycling Outside
Feel like you could practically go pro after a winter full of SoulCycle? Taking a 45- to 60-minute indoor cycling class several times a week gives you the quick legs you need to keep a high cadence, says Jeanne Meyer, a founding partner at T2 Multisport NYC, an indoor cycling studio that teaches on real bikes.
But it’s “the equivalent of a treadmill for a runner,” says Allie Burdick, an indoor cycling instructor and competitive triathlete. “You can add resistance and intensity indoors, but there’s nothing like a real hill or climb to test your endurance and power.”
If you’ve been pedaling indoors, you can count on being able to ride for a comparable amount of time outside. Yet, if you’re tackling hilly terrain, you may want to attempt a shorter first excursion out, says Meyer. Don’t worry, though, you’ll still be getting in a good sweat. A recent study also shows that at the same rate of perceived effort, athletes were able to exercise at a higher intensity outdoors than inside, creating a more efficient workout.
Plus, while indoor cycling classes may rely on light weights to give your muscles an extra challenge, an outdoor bike gives you a serious core workout as you support yourself. “Think about it: every kind of ab workout has some sort of bicycle move,” Meyer says. “This is exactly what you’re doing on the bike — engaging your hip flexor, bringing it up to your midline and engaging your transverse abdominis.” You’ll also be working your quads more, as you power yourself up and down hills.
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4 Skills to Brush Up on Before Hitting the Road
1. Check your posture.
Some of what you learn in spin class doesn’t translate when you head outside: You’re not tapping it back or swaying side to side. In fact, your upper body shouldn’t be moving much at all, so it’s important to keep good posture, says Meyer. If you do get out of the saddle, it will be to tackle a short hill or give your body a break from holding the same position throughout your ride.
Your posture should be similar to what you’ve learned in yoga class: Your shoulder blades are back and down, and you’re putting loose pressure on the handlebars of your bike so that you can absorb shock. Check in with your body every few minutes to make sure you’re maintaining that position. If you feel tense, sore or fatigued, verify that your shoulders are relaxed and your chest is open.
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2. Learn how to shift gears.
Wish you had someone to hold your hand the first time you hit the road? Meyer’s T2 studio helps riders transition with classes on a CompuTrainer, an indoor cycling trainer you can mount your bicycle on to mimic being outside. You’ll learn how to shift gears, when to use the small and big rings (easier and harder gears), and how to anticipate when you need to change gears going up or down a hill.
If you’re coming up on a big hill, says Meyer, you’ll want to use your left shifter to go from the big ring (harder gear) to the small ring (easier gear). As you climb, continue to make small adjustments with your right shifter. Once you’ve crested and are heading downhill, shift back to the big ring to avoid going downhill too quickly. Don’t stop pedaling — continuing to move your legs will spin out any lactic acid that might have built up on the climb, says Meyer.
Indoors, you’re used to piling on the resistance to make your ride more difficult. In the great outdoors, there’s no need to “mash a heavy gear all the time,” says Meyer. “You want to get the aerobic benefits of moving quickly by keeping a high cadence with a lower gear.”
3. Remember to pack for the ride.
In spin class, you don’t need much by way of gear. Some decent sweat-wicking clothes and spin shoes, and you’re good to go. Once you get outside, it’s a different story. Ever wonder why cyclists have those big pockets in the back of their jerseys? They exist to stash the goodies you might need on your ride!
If you’re cycling in the morning, make sure that you bring or wear sufficient layers to take on or off as needed. If you’re riding for an hour or more, you’ll also want to consider bringing a Gu or another type of nourishment.
Unlike spin studios that have staff to help you should your bike feel “off,” you’re on your own with any potential repairs. At a minimum, you should have an extra inner tube, patch kit, tire lever and CO2 cartridge, says Meyer. Most cycling shops offer clinics to teach these skills to newbies.
4. Know the rules of the road.
Riding outside, particularly in urban areas, can be stressful and require laser-focused attention. Here are a few safety guidelines to keep in mind. Affix blinking lights to your ride so you can be spotted, use hand signals to let other riders know where you’re going, and if you need to stop abruptly, drop your right arm and make a fist to indicate what you’re doing.
Ready to ride? Grab your helmet and hit the pavement!