When I talk about indoor cycling to some of my bike friends, I sometimes hear “I only ride outside” followed by a snarky comment or a wilting look that generally insinuates that I must be nuts for riding inside.

While I, too, love  riding outside, I find that my indoor training gives me consistency, strength,  and a solid base for my outdoor adventures.  Here is my comparison of indoor vs. outdoor cycling.

And my personal opinion?  Both are better!

INDOOR CYCLING BENEFITS

Nate-Michael-back-row-cycle

1. Convenience

It is easy to hop on a spinning bike (or your own bike and a trainer) and go!  No worries about rain, temperature, wind, potholes, cars, or dogs.  Bam!  You get a great workout done in 60 – 90 minutes.

2. You Can Control It

You are in control of  how hard your ride inside.  You control your intensity by choosing how much tension to put on the knob or which selecting an easier or harder gear.  If you want to back it off, you can.  If you want to increase it you can.

3. Heart Rate Training

Your heart is the most important muscle in your body – yet most people overlook the importance of doing specific training for your heart.  It is more important than those 6-pack abs!

Indoors you are in control of the interval and intensity so you can be very specific about your level of effort because you don’t have to worry about the terrain, cars, or stopping that can interrupt your interval or change your intensity.

Focusing on heart rate training will help your heart to become stronger and more resilient.  You can see improvements in resting heart rate, heart rate recovery, and heart rate threshold (aerobic/anaerobic capacity).  All three are important for heart health.  (check out  how to measure your 1 min heart rate recovery here).

And no, just going hard all of the time is not usually the best thing for your heart.  Good indoor cycling programs (like Cycle Moles!) will focus on a variety of efforts with a plan.

4. Calorie Burn: Easier or Harder than Outdoors?

We love that cycling burns a lot of calories!   A typical 150 lb. person will burn about 500 calories in a 60 minute class (info from Spark people.  www.Sparkpeople.com).

Is it easier or harder than out doors?  That all depends on how you ride your bike outside.  Most recreational cyclists  find it harder to reach the level of intensity or heart rate outside that you can consistently achieve while inside.

Indoors, there is no coasting and so you are constantly working throughout your ride.  Some have said that 60 minutes indoor is equivalent to 90 minutes outdoor.  And this may be true for most recreational cyclists because your intensity level is higher when you are working indoor.  You can certainly measure this with your heart rate monitor and compare the calories burned for 60 minutes indoor vs. 60 minutes outdoor.

5. Focused Workout – Specific Training

In many spinning classes you’ll find a random assortment of workouts that will give you overall benefit, keep your heart rate at around 75-95 percent of your max rate (Study by American Council on Exercise) and high calorie burn.

In the Cycle Moles series, the workouts have a plan and every workout gives you a certain benefit.  You may be focused on building your foundation skills, aerobic base, speed work, hill climbing, improving your metabolism, and so on.  This kind of focus is hard to do outside.

6. Hamstrings get Extra Attention

Most “spinning” bikes have a “fly wheel” which is a 30 to 40 pound “fixed gear” wheel that provides the resistance as you pedal.  There is no “coasting” on a spin bike and the weighted wheel keeps the pedals moving.

This is both good and bad.

  • Good because your hamstrings (back of your legs) must work harder to slow down the pedals if you are slowing your speed.  This is different from riding outdoors where you are pedaling against the friction of the road plus wind resistance which requires more work from your quadriceps and hip flexors.
  • Bad because you can let the wheel do some of the work for you.  When you get the wheel spinning, it is easy to keep it moving.
7.  Social Fun in a Group

It’s a little hard to be social outdoors because you normally have to ride single file to be safe plus wind and road noise make it hard to hear each other .  With indoor cycling you have the camaraderie of your group (you are all in this together!), instructions by your coach (so you don’t even have to think about what comes next), with support and enthusiasm from everyone.

OUTDOOR CYCLING BENEFITS

Bicycle Racing in France

Bicycle Racing in France

1.  It’s Outdoor  (good and bad)

It is hard to beat riding in great weather on country roads or on forest trails.

I love riding my bike outside more than just about anything else.  I live in a place where within 10 minutes I can be on quiet country roads or some of the world’s best cross country trails.  I love putting my bags on my bike and heading out for travel – in 1990 I spent 10 months traveling around the world on my bike.   I think there is no better way to see your hometown and the world than on a bike.

That said, there are always things to deal with like traffic, rude drivers, streetlights, dogs, weather, darkness, temperature, food and water, getting lost (which can be a good thing),  flats and other mechanical issues.

2.  You Can’t Control It

Unlike your ride inside, you can’t control everything about your outdoor ride.  Of course you can pick your route, but there are plenty of variables along the way.  When you get to a hill, you climb the hill.  When you are on the flats with a headwind, you power through it.  If it starts raining, you deal with it.  You just have to be ready for everything and this makes life exciting.

3. Hills are different

Riding a hill outdoor is different than indoor no matter how much you prepare for it inside.  For one thing, the bike moves under you instead you moving over the bike.  This is nice because, if you are standing, you can use the handlebars to help you generate more power and keep your body relatively still while your bike rocks side to side.

Also, the angle that you are on your bike changes based on the grade of the hill.  The steeper the hill the more forward your position will be.

And the hill ends when the hill ends, not when you want to ease up (that you can sneakily do in spin class).

4.   Thrill of the Unknown:  Risks & Beauty

Every ride can bring something new around the corner.  This is what I love about bicycling outside!  You have to stay aware and keep your senses active.  This is also why I never recommend listening to music while you ride – instead, take in the great outdoors and use your ears to help you stay aware of risks like cars, dogs, people, or trains, and enjoy beauty like bird song, kids laughing, and secret waterfalls.

And always, always, wear your helmet.  I have a couple of friends who would not be with us today if it weren’t for the protection provided by their helmets.