As long as there are indoor and outdoor bikes there will be people debating the merits of both forms of cycling. Outdoor cyclists will rightly point to certain aspects of their chosen activity and why they are superior to indoor cycling characteristics. Indoor riders will do the same. The question is this: is one better than the other?
When all things are considered, both indoor and outdoor cycling have their pros and cons. It is pretty much a wash. But there is one factor about indoor cycling that might make it the better option for you. We will call it the ‘X’ factor. What is it? Motivation.
Indoor Bike Mechanics
The good folks at Salt Lake City’s Mcycle Studios explain that the mechanics of an indoor bike are a bit different. When you are riding outdoors, you are naturally working against friction and the wind. You face lesser and greater resistance based on the grade of the road and the direction and speed of the wind. Bike uphill against the wind and you must constantly work hard to keep the bike in motion.
Indoor bikes are designed to simulate resistance. More often than not, the resistance is achieved with the use of a flywheel. Thus, a standard indoor bike can take an awful lot of work to get going. But once you get it up to cruising speed, you can keep it moving with very little effort.
This inherent weakness is overcome in a studio environment through two means. First is employing stationary bikes capable of varying resistance. Variations can simulate different road grades and wind conditions. Thus, instructors can reduce time spent cruising.
The other thing instructors do to motivate is engage with their students verbally. They encourage them to keep going. They issue instructions to change resistance. If you are in a studio where all the bikes are networked, the instructor might control all the bikes him/herself. All the while, riders are being challenged to keep going; to not stop working.
It has been suggested by Health magazine that a typical indoor cycling class can consistently keep your heart working at 75-95% of your maximum heart rate. They also say it is possible to do the same thing outdoors. But here’s the problem with outdoor cycling: it is too easy to simply cruise.
You can only achieve the same amount of cardiovascular exercise outdoors by riding your bike along routes that force you to work hard. Without hills and wind resistance, it can be difficult to motivate yourself to continue riding as hard as you can for a sustained period. Human nature is to relax and cruise instead.
A leisurely ride around town is still good for you. Every form of exercise is. And if that is all you are looking for, that’s fine. It’s probably not worth investing in a cycling class just to take casual rides. However, indoor cycling can be more motivating for people who want a good cardiovascular workout.
Outdoors, you’re left to motivate yourself. That can be hard to do. The instructor provides much of the motivation of an indoor cycling class. And because you’re taking the class with dozens of others, you’re also motivated by your classmates. No one wants to be the only straggler in the bunch. That thought alone is motivation enough to keep working.
None of this is to say that cycling classes are superior to outdoor rides. It is only to suggest that how you are motivated to get exercise could be the key factor in determining which form of cycling is better for you.