As any avid cycler might attest, keeping a consistent and rigid cycling schedule during the winter months is much easier said than done. Of course, with the right kind of gear and a proper approach to layering, a simple downpour or snow storm won’t completely derail a cycling session in December — but it’s certainly not ideal. Enter the world of indoor spin classes, and their ability to keep cyclists in tip-top shape, no matter the elements.
Currently, there exist two indoor options — Flywheel and CompuTrainer — which not only offer a setting void of snow, rain, and whipping wind, but also promise to keep cycling intensity high despite its environmental restrictions. After all, nothing beats actually cycling outside. To get a true sense of which class offers the best chance at retaining cycling shape, we took to the task of attending each and assessing its viability as a cardio substitute during the winter.
Though it’s high on fun, Flywheel seems like a missed opportunity
A national spin boutique chain which specializes in targeting millennials, Flywheel offers an intense and pulsating hour of cardio and calorie blasting while giving riders access to real-time feedback and data. Typically a class focuses on a rider’s torque and revolutions per minute (RPMs), though one of the Chicago locations we visited also incorporated upper body weight training exercises using a bar in conjunction with spinning.
Disappointingly, the Flywheel class fails to use its data and technology appropriately.
Right away, it became apparent a Flywheel bike looks and feels different than a typical spin cycle. The bikes themselves don’t come equipped with a traditional resistance knob but instead a dial that digitally increases the torque level displayed on the bike’s data screen. Despite the display showing a rider’s speed and power, the trainers failed to explain either metric or its importance to the rider in the session we attended. Ultimately, the metric doesn’t do much to fulfill Flywheel’s goals of implementing real-time performance.
During class, an instructor guided riders through a workout by shouting various torque levels and RPM numbers at different points, creating an interval workout. The class gave riders the discretion to adjust the torque depending on their fitness, but it is required participants hit the desired RPM level. Riders often resorted to bouncing and bobbing to hit that mark, rather than focusing on their individual torque. They end up spending their time over-spinning.
Elsewhere in the room hung two large screen monitors which only went live for several seconds three times during the class. They displayed the classes divided by gender, usernames, seating locale, and order of highest power.
Assuming the bikes have the technology available, why not briefly explain all the ways riders might measure their workout? If people realized their watt output was too low because they didn’t have enough torque, they’d have the ability to adjust rather than over-pedal.
The Flywheel class failed to use this data and technology appropriately. Knowing exactly what these specific metrics mean and how it impacts the rider increases the quality of a workout, and allows riders to measure progress over time. For experienced cyclists, this may not be a big deal, but it’s a disservice to those new to the sport and looking to find ways to improve.
With so many different instructors teaching these classes, it’s entirely possible the data might not seem as relevant to the instructor as, say, the class’ workout music. Because of this, Flywheel comes across as being more about finding a specific teacher — who provides individual riders with the correct atmosphere and relevant information — rather than a data-driven, personalized cycling program designed to empower and transform participants.
CompuTrainer brings professional cycle training to your living room
For the serious cyclist or triathlete, longer workouts or cycling-specific training helps maintain the fitness already gained from riding outdoors. To achieve this type of workout, there’s no better option than taking a bicycle and plopping it onto a CompuTrainer. The program allows riders to create their own custom routines, or make their way to a facility to join in on an offered CompuTrainer-specific class.
There’s no better option to achieving cycling shape than taking a bike and plopping it onto a CompuTrainer.
Our session consisted of a VO2 ride — a high-intensity cardio ride which includes timed intervals at up to 300 percent of our Functional Threshold Power (FTP). To put it plainly, this wasn’t a fun ride. However, it did prove to be highly effective at training us to increase our overall cycling strength. By focusing on speed and cadence — the program tracked and monitored both — we had the ability to keep wattage at its correct level. To help get a better understanding of which cardio zones we cycled in, we threw on a Garmin 225 heart rate monitor to track our heart rate zones alongside our FTP.
Using CompuTrainer allowed us to accurately measure calories, heart rate, and power-to-weight ratio (watts per kilogram), while also showing how much we were able to improve our fitness and technique. Furthermore, the workouts allow riders to adjust effort level to help accommodate for recovery rides or all out sprints.
When initially starting a CompuTrainer session, riders simply enter their weight and FTP, then connect a bike to the computer to calibrate. Most CompuTrainer facilities allow riders to save profiles, meaning they won’t need to calibrate their bike every time. Riders don’t shift gears, as the computer applies resistance automatically, though it does allow for flexibility regarding FTP in the event it becomes too difficult to maintain. The software even allowed for the selection of a pre-designed route, meaning anyone has the ability to ride sections of the Tour de France, or even the Ironman Kona cycling route.
There’s a large variety of riding options on a CompuTrainer, assuming someone has the available space to set it up. The big screen listing a user’s information does tend to get competitive, but it’s an excellent way of trying to improve training and technique.
Human vs. machine — what’s best?
Though Flywheel and CompuTrainer offer very different ways of training indoors, they both incorporate good uses of technology and staying fit throughout the winter months. An instructor’s knowledge for both classes remains paramount to not only motivating their class but also in utilizing superior innovations in fitness data.
There’s no doubt data has the ability to aid a cyclist in achieving their specific goals, but the onus is on the instructors to adequately explain its importance, and how to best utilize it. As we found in the Flywheel classes, that aspect of indoor cycling needs improvement.
Paying attention to one’s form goes a long way in assuring a cyclist gets the most out of a workout. Poor form leads to bad habits — and that’s exactly where the proper evaluation of data helps immensely.
CompuTrainer is the best option for any outdoor cyclist or triathlete looking for intense winter workouts capable of maintaining strict outdoor fitness. It offers highly tailored programs allowing users to completely specify a range of versatile workouts. Whether it’s a recovery run, a course route through digital France, or an aerobic, heart-pounding session, nothing beats the well of available options native to the CompuTrainer.