Sign Up for the Active Life DC Newsletter ...

(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.
(If you're a human, don't change the following field)
Your first name.

5 Tips to Take Your Indoor Riding Outdoors

5 Tips to Take Your Indoor Riding Outdoors

by: Dru Ryan
Wednesday, January 31, 2018 - 10:50am

'Rock Creek Park' by Ken Mayer. License.

About Community Posts

In order to promote community participation, open debate, and facilitate the sharing of fitness-related news, Active Life DC allows members of the local fitness community to contribute posts. We do not vet these posts, and the opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of Active Life DC. More information can be found in our Terms of Service. For information on how you can submit a post, visit this page.

6 Winter Conditioning Tips for Cyclists
Best Indoor Cycling Instructors for Those Who Ride Outside
Spin Class to Riding Outdoors: 6 Physical Tips to Improve on the Bike
Cycling Indoors This Winter? 4 Tips for Staying Mentally Focused
Measure Your Performance in a DC Cycling Studio
Best Activity Trackers for Indoor Cycling
15 Tips for Washington DC Bike Commuters
Understanding Your Performance in Spin Class
5 Washington DC Area Bike Trails for the Indoor Cyclist Who Wants To Ride Outside
How Watching the Tour de France Can Make you a Better Cyclist


Indoor cycling mimics the intensity of riding outdoors--for the most part. Yes, there’s a bike. There’s a computer to show progress, and there’s a rider. The temperature of the room, the weight of the rider, and the accuracy of the bike monitor are all variables in measuring perceived effort. A recent study found outdoor riders perform at a higher intensity than those pedaling indoors under similar settings. The sense of accomplishment may be the same, but the measurable effort is not.

A 2013 NYT article cites that for both running and cycling, if the time is available, outdoors is better for the body. As you creep up on your 10th, 100th, or 200th indoor ride, why not put the fun between your legs and ride a real bike? Before worrying about the perils of riding in the streets of dc, here are a few things you can do indoors to prepare. Don’t expect similar results outdoors, that’s where the challenge begins.

  1. Limit your Standing Efforts: Cyclists spend less than 10% of their rides out of the saddle. For most, standing efforts provide a brief stint of power. Professional cyclist Alberto Contador is known for his standing attacks. His training regimen focuses on long standing efforts with little recovery. For the rest of us, breath control and a manageable cadence are key. Maintain a light grip on the handlebars (core not your body keeps you up), relax your upper body and keep your energy below your waist. A smooth standing cadence is often referred to as dancing on the pedals. Cyclists don’t do it often, but every now and then, get out of the saddle, own the top and bottom of your pedal stroke and DANCE.

  2. Focus on Posture : Outdoors, your bike sways while your body remains somewhat neutral. Indoors, the inverse is true. Avoid the pendulum effect, where your weight body weights dramatically shifts left to right on the bottom of each pedal stroke. Swaying back and forth artificially elevates your heart rate -- and provides a heightened calorie burn. Using body weight for power versus muscle/cadence works indoors due to the stationary nature of the bike. Outdoors, such sway will lead to a crash. (notice the Astana riders to the right. Their bikes sway, their body remains perpendicular to the ground). Lastly, switch hand positions often. Finding multiple ways to rest your hands helps on longer rides.

  3. Learn to Pedal through the Ball of your Foot: M0st indoor bikes emulate resistance via a FlyWheel -- a 40-50 pound cylindrical weight. Due to the flywheels' position, applying resistance first recruits calf muscle. Combined with high cadence, another calf inhibitor, overuse injuries often occur. A willingness to add resistance which engages your quads, hip flexors and hamstrings will is more realistic experience. Outdoors, road friction and gravity (aka hills) . Your quads and hip flexors are essential to endure challenging conditions. Impacting the pedal throughout the pedal stroke, is vital. (see image below )
    Mountain bikers often have efficient pedal technique.They must maintain equal pressure throughout their pedal stroke so not to lose traction on loose terrain. This translates directly to road riding. In 2012, former mountain bike champions Cadel Evans went on to win the Tour de France. Peter Sagan, two time world road champion, started his career as an elite mountain bike racer.

The final 9k of a climb in the Santos Tour Down Under (or any climb to be honest) is the best time to study a rider’s cadence. Regardless of their position on the bike, they all generate a massive amount of energy as they turn the pedals.

4. Less sprints and more intervals: Sprints are the most exciting part of cycling. Yet they occur quite infrequently. In a 5 hour bike race, there may be three to five sprints. MAX. In a 45 minute indoor cycling class, it’s not uncommon to see twice that number. The culprit is not the sprint, but the extended recovery which often accompanies it. intervals call for an increase in effort followed by a period of rest. Repeated multiple times. Teaching your body how to work during an oxygen deprived state prepares it for future efforts. Over time, your cardiovascular capacity improves, allowing for longer and stronger efforts. During the winter, cyclists often turn to indoor intervals to maintain a level of fitness.

5. Find your ideal cadence - Cycling is a marriage between cadence and resistance governed by your ability to breathe. Muscle fatigues as oxygen becomes less available. The harmony of cadence, resistance and heart rate (beats per minute) is essential for outdoor riding. Racers and Endurance cyclists generally pedal between 80 and 100 revolutions per minute. A decreased muscular load on the legs is offset by more repetitions (revolutions) per minute. Muscular riders may compensate for a lower cadence with heavier resistance (lower gear).  In 2012, Bradley Wiggins, the most accomplished British cyclist ever, lowered his cadence in favor of resistance and enjoyed his most successful road campaign ever. After winning the Tour de France and approaching the Olympics, Wiggins comments, “We’ve dropped the cadence and I am trying to power my way along a bit more, get more distance per pedal stroke. It’s been working well this year and it has helped my strength generally.”

Finding your sweet spot will take time.

Now, once you get outside, you’ll have to deal with nutrition, bike handling, and flat tires. Several DC bike shops (Bike Rack DC, City Bikes, BikeSpace, REI) offer maintenance and bike riding classes. The Washington Area Bicyclist Association also offers an abundance of services -- their Women and Bicycles Initiative is worth the click -- to help you start your journey.

Questions/comments? Drop them below, I’ll respond.

About the Author

Dru Ryan is a daily bike commuter, indoor cycling coach (EquinoxCrunch, Mint DC) and road cyclist who averages 200 miles a week. Follow Dru on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook or visit his website