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Measure Your Performance in a DC Cycling Studio

Measure Your Performance in a DC Cycling Studio

by: Dru Ryan
Sunday, August 20, 2017 - 9:57am

Photo courtesy of Dru Ryan.

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Cycling Indoors This Winter? 4 Tips for Staying Mentally Focused
Measure Your Performance in a DC Cycling Studio
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5 Washington DC Area Bike Trails for the Indoor Cyclist Who Wants To Ride Outside
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Pages

Washington DC has no shortage of cycling studios. As an instructor, I’m always concerned with providing my riders with a legitimate workout. The measurable aspect of the workout is a major concern to me. I don’t necessarily want you to feel what it’s like to ride 100 miles every time we ride, but a solid 12-15 mile ride should feel different than 7 miles. Since many indoor riders don’t ride outside, understanding the technology on your bike can inform your workout.

The use (or non-use) of technology on the bikes usually lies with the instructor. Cycling has ways to measure performance. Speed (MPH), cadence (revolutions per Minute – RPM) and distance (miles or kilometers) are the most popular ones.  Some studios use heart rate and/or power (watts) to provide advanced statistics.  

The technology available in DC indoor cycling studios vary.  Most track performance via the bike monitor (speed, cadence, watts) on the bike – some even show heart rate if you’re wearing a compatible device.  A few even employ sensor-based systems to connect bikes to a leaderboard; creating a race-like feel among riders.  Below is a breakdown of DC indoor cycling studios that track output.  Find out which one is best for you!

Race-Based Studios: CycleBarFlyWheel, Wired Cycling, The Pursuit by Equinox

Who doesn't like a leaderboard? You walk into a studio, look around, and decide to show off a little. These studios quantify the output of the bike (think cadence and resistance as the main variables) and based on your measurements (age, weight, gender) provide a real-time leaderboard which really get the competitive juices going.

Studios generally limit how long the leaderboard is visible and have the ability to create timed sprints or climbs. Cadence and power (sometimes speed) are shown on the screen. The leaderboards separate men and women, though I've seen plenty of times where women lead the pack. 

Wired Cycling’s Leaderboard:

 

Pros:

  • You find out how fit you really are (not just the number of times you attended class)

  • Sprints and climbs are spiced up by putting a timer on the board and creating a race within the race. Once complete, the totals are returned to the screen.

Cons

  • In an effort to generate high numbers, form may suffer. When form suffers, muscle and cardio growth decreases. This means you are sweating, but not really improving. Not good.

  • The numbers zombie who only focuses on the leaderboard takes the fun out of riding. Gym class heroes are lame!

Heart Rate Based Studios -- Mint DC, SweatBox DC

Take away the leaderboard and add heart rate. These studios provide a heart rate monitor to track your performance across specific heart rate zones. The harder you work, the more points you collect. A good instructor knows to work all heart zones, life isn't all about sprints, ya know?

Tying heart rate to RPM is something outdoor cyclists find helpful. The ability to hold a high cadence (90+) while maintaining a low(er) heart rate is a worthwhile goal. It won't get you points per se, but realize cycling is about putting stress on your body and having it react elegantly. High cadence with a low heart rate is quite elegant.

Both studios will email your results post-session.

Post session results from Mint DC

Pros:

  • A healthy heart is everyone’s best friend. A recent study published in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology states a cyclist who regularly rode at high intensity will live 3.9 – 5.3 years longer than those who rode at an easy pace for the same amount of time. Who don’t want to live longer?

  • Learning to generate power at lower heart rate zones will make you a better rider. Cadence and sweat don’t equal power/intensity.

Cons

  • Heart rate can vary based on external factors -such as dehydration, dehydration, temperature (why do you think some studios keep the room hot??) and medication use to name a few.

  • The misnomer of always going hard. No one goes hard ALL THE TIME. Be sure to effectively use lower zones too.

Data Driven Studios -- Reformation FitnessOff Road, Equinox,  Wired Cycling, CycleBar, VIDASculpt DC, Dailey Method, Flywheel*, Cycled

Riders control two things on the bike, one is cadence, the other is resistance. Many studios have bikes that quantify resistance. As opposed to ‘a quarter or half turn’ of the resistance knob, the bike monitor will show a number to tell you how hard you are working. Cadence, or the number of times you turn the pedals per minute is a staple of all spin bikes with monitors.

Watts, or power, is the Holy Grail of cycling. Outdoor cyclists tend to favor power as it's the truest indicator of how much effort is expended on the bike. Understanding power can be difficult as one's weight plays a role in its interpretation. Power is driven by resistance and cadence, but is heavily impacted by weight. A 175 pound man pushing 150 watts on the bike isn't as strong as a 125 pound woman pushing the same effort. A seasoned instructor will purposefully cue men and women when using watts.

The following photo was taken from Instagram of Pink7grl. She is an instructor and bike racer. I reposted it and she and I had a great chat on the use of numbers in class. These numbers are phenomenal!

Pros:

  • Most accurate measure of effort. If you want to improve, track power.

  • More realistic profiles which mimic an outdoor ride (checkout the SufferFest by OffRoad)

Cons

  • Riders may compromise form on the bike for higher numbers. Bad form, like swaying left and right or jumping up and down on the bike reduces the roleyour muscles play during the workout.

  • Tends to be instructor driven. If the instructor doesn't understand power, they tend to ignore it.

* FlyWheel uses a concept called Torq. It's not quite power, but essentially the same concept.

One major difference between riding indoors and outdoors is the fact that you can’t coast indoors. Once you stop pedaling, everything stops. Famed, NYC based, spin instructor Christine D’Ercole, won cycling Gold at the 2010 Master's National Championships in 2010 primarily training indoors. Many outdoor cyclists use something called rate of perceived exertion (RPE) to judge effort. They know what hurt should feel like. The last 15 years has introduced new technology to aid in the qualitative measure of RPE. But if you’ve never climbed a hill for an hour to know how it feels, it’s difficult to truly test your body indoors.

Whichever studio strikes your fancy, with summer right around the corner, you owe it to your body to work out and work out hard. Need a little encouragement? Check out this article comparing a typical cyclist to a Tour de France pro rider. Personally, I struggle just to get the typical cyclist numbers . . . it’s always a struggle, a beautiful struggle.

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 www.drucycles.com.