Jim Rutberg and I just finished writing a book called Ride Inside. I’m sure that from the title you can guess what it’s about. But just in case, I’ll tell you – it’s about indoor training for cycling. I’m sure it must seem like we wrote this due to the Coronavirus pandemic since so many of us were confined to indoor training for weeks on end (and it seems that this is likely to happen again in some places). Actually, that wasn’t how the book came about. About two years ago, long before the pandemic, I realized that there were no recent books on indoor training even though it was becoming so popular with the introduction of “smart” trainers; online apps such as Bkool, FulGaz, RGT, Rouvy, The Sufferfest, Trainer Road, and Zwift; and the growing interest in e-racing. So I decided to write a book about it. Jim came onboard with the project because he has so much experience with indoor training and e-racing, has years of experience in cycling, and is an accomplished author. The following is a brief excerpt from Chapter 1 to give you an idea of what it is all about. I hope you like it.
Ride Inside is now available in an e-book format and will be on bookshelves in paperback in early October. But the paperback format can be ordered online now and will delivered to you promptly. You can order either by going here.
Why Ride Inside?
If it seems like the world is moving faster and there are more demands on your time than ever before, welcome to being an adult in the 21st century. Time is a limiting factor for almost every amateur cyclist or triathlete I work with. Unless you are making a living as a professional athlete, you have to make time for your career. And these days most pro athletes have side gigs, especially in endurance sports.
In addition to work and sport, there are relationships you need to stay engaged with. Your spouse or partner, your kids, and your friends are important for your long-term health and happiness, and they are also integral parts of your athletic support system. Just as training stress needs to be balanced with adequate rest, the time and dedication you commit to training needs to be balanced with attention to the relationships that help make that training time available. Let’s take a look at some common time-management reasons for riding inside.
Room for Priorities
With all the competing priorities in our lives, time is a precious resource. Training indoors can be advantageous because it is so time efficient. You don’t have to spend time doing the mental gymnastics of figuring out which layers you need to wear for the weather. You don’t have to hunt for your one missing arm warmer (there’s always one . . . ). There’s no reason to think about choosing a ride route that will fit with the goals of your workout. Depending on your indoor setup, the equipment can be left ready to go day after day. All you need to do is step into a chamois, slip on your cycling shoes, and clip in.
A Focus on Workout Execution
Competitive cyclists and triathletes race outdoors (although e-sports are creating opportunities to compete indoors), and the workouts required to build fitness require focus. When training outdoors, can you give everything you have for a high-intensity interval, or do you have to hold something back and reserve some focus for watching out for cars, kids, dogs, curves, and stop signs? Indoors, you are guaranteed to have the control to execute long intervals uninterrupted. You can stay in an aerodynamic position for long period of time, which is key for adapting to the position so you can be both aero and powerful. And you can ride yourself cross-eyed and heaving, if you want to, without losing your balance and drifting into traffic or off the road. Generally speaking, the more focus your workout requires, the better it is to do indoors. You can build the engine indoors, and then go outdoors and develop the skills to use it.
Proximity to Terrain
Perhaps the biggest time saver is the fact you don’t have to ride to a location where you can start your workout. For many urban and suburban athletes, it can take 30 minutes or more of riding roads and paths dotted with stop signs, traffic lights, congested traffic, hostile drivers, and road infrastructure that was not designed with bicycles in mind.
If you have an interval set that lasts 40 minutes, but it takes 30 minutes each way to get to a road, bike path, or trail safe enough to execute it, your ride has to be a minimum of 100 minutes. Add in the time to get dressed and get the gear ready, plus the time at the end to reverse the process, and you have to budget at least 2 hours to accomplish a 40-minute interval set. Of course, that’s not all time wasted, as there is certainly a benefit to those 60 minutes of riding to and from the location for your interval set. But when you only have 60–90 minutes available that day, you need an alternative. When you ride indoors, you are on course immediately, ready for the first interval after just a quick warm-up.
Convenience for Workday Training
As much as I love lunch rides, they can be a logistical headache. In comparison, going out for a run in the middle of a workday is pretty easy: You need a bag with your running shoes and a change of clothes, and a towel for your shower. To go on a lunch ride, you have to get the bike to the office, along with helmet and shoes and associated gear, and you have to have a secure place to keep the bike. If you’re lucky, you work in an organization that supports bike commuting and has secure, indoor bike storage and shower facilities (whether you ride in or bring the bike on your car). Unfortunately, many workplaces are not so bike friendly.
An increasing number of workplaces have indoor workout facilities on-site or a cycling studio nearby. By eliminating the hassle and time to schlep a bike and bulky gear to and from the office (assuming you’re not commuting by bike already), indoor cycling makes a lunch ride as gear intensive as a midday run.
Ready 24 Hours a Day
Riding inside liberates cyclists from being confined to the hours between sunrise and sunset. The freedom to get on the trainer at any time of day or night is the only thing that makes endurance training possible for some people. Oftentimes, the early morning is the only part of the day that an athlete can really control. Once the day gets started, other priorities may take precedence, like taking kids to school, getting to work on time, and shuffling around to meetings, pickups, and appointments. And that’s when the day goes as planned, which is . . . never. More likely, there’s a project that needs to be finished, a deadline that must be met, a kid with a fever who needs to be taken out of school, or even an opportunity to catch up with an old friend you haven’t seen for a long time.
The early morning, before dawn and before everyone else gets up and gets in the way, is your time. This has been the secret to success for thousands of high-performance cyclists, runners, and triathletes who also happen to be executives and working parents.
Maybe mornings aren’t your thing, or they just don’t fit into your schedule. The indoor trainer will be there in the evenings too. There are even training strategies that may make evening workouts particularly beneficial by taking advantage of certain aspects of nutrition. For instance, training with low-carbohydrate availability is a strategy some athletes use to improve fat oxidation. But to do it, you have to deplete muscle glycogen stores. One way to accomplish that is to do a hard ride with high-carbohydrate availability in the evening, consume adequate total calories but little carbohydrate before bed, and then complete an endurance or moderate intensity ride in the morning. You’ll start the morning workout without replenishing muscle glycogen stores, which means training with low carbohydrate availability.
One of the hardest times to be an athlete is when your children are too young to be left alone. Depending on the kid(s), that can be well into the teenage years. In many two-parent households, one parent can sneak out for a ride while the other is at home. But as life gets busier, both parents have things to do, and the tag-team strategy breaks down. For single-parent households, the challenge can be exponentially greater. In both scenarios, hiring babysitters is an option, albeit an expensive one. Pulling small children in a trailer is an option too but comes with a whole raft of additional considerations.
Indoor cycling can be a training savior for parents. With babies and toddlers in the house, naptime can be an opportunity to jump on the trainer (if you’re not taking a nap yourself or doing any of the other thousand things on your list). Early mornings can be a good option when you have school-age kids in the house. Regardless of where you squeeze in the time, riding inside while your kids are home has the secondary benefit of modeling healthy exercise habits and showing your children that exercise can be a lifelong activity. You could even make the argument riding inside works better for this purpose because children actually observe you performing the activity, rather than just seeing you leave for extended periods of time and come back sweaty.
In the Dark Ages of Indoor Cycling, we were confined to basements, garages, and laundry rooms, with no way to connect to our friends and training partners who were doing the same thing in their basements, garages, and laundry rooms. Training with a partner or in a group increases accountability, which reduces the likelihood that you’ll skip a ride. Many athletes also find they can push themselves harder or complete more total work if they are with someone else. Group rides, indoor cycling classes, and rides with a couple of friends are also large components of an athlete’s social group. Now, with smart trainers and stationary bikes connected to interactive training platforms, you can reap the social and performance benefits of group training without leaving the basement.
Fresh air and sunlight on your face are two of life’s greatest joys, but sometimes the air isn’t so fresh and the sunlight is too harsh. It is sad to have to say this, but in some environmental conditions, riding inside is better for your health.
Particulate pollution (chemicals released from many human activities) is a problem for any creature with lungs, and the amount of air you’re pulling into your lungs per hour has an impact on the amount of pollution you’re ingesting. Compared to a sedentary population that spends less than an hour a day outdoors breathing unfiltered air, endurance athletes spend hundreds more hours each year outdoors breathing at least 10 times the volume of air. Perhaps worse than the duration and volume, you breathe far deeper during exercise, exposing more lung tissue to pollutants.
As a matter of perspective, the positive cardiovascular health benefits of aerobic exercise far outweigh any potential risk of lung disease from rapid breathing during exercise. However, when air quality is particularly bad and levels of particulate pollution are high, athletes need to recognize that strenuous exercise exposes them to exponentially more pollution. Athletes with lung disease or asthma will be even more affected as air quality deteriorates. The lesson here is to take smog alerts and air thick with forest fire smoke seriously, and ride inside when air quality is poor. For athletes living in densely populated urban areas, this can represent a significant number of days per year.
Some sun exposure is important for athletes—and everyone, in fact—because sunlight helps our bodies manufacture vitamin D, and it’s much easier to make the vitamin D you need than it is to consume it through food. On the other hand, a lifetime of long days outside under the blazing sun can lead to skin damage and increase the risk of developing skin cancer. Many of us who have been endurance athletes for many decades started training well before the long-term risks of sun exposure were well-known, and we have already accumulated quite a lot of damage. Some athletes with sensitive skin, athletes who already have skin conditions related to sun exposure, and athletes taking medications (including some antibiotics, antihistamines, and even NSAID pain killers) that can cause sun sensitivity for some people, may benefit from spending more time riding indoors.
More than any of the factors above, safety is the biggest reason a growing number of cyclists prefer to ride inside. The number of automobile-crash fatalities has been declining for 40 years, but the number of pedestrian and cyclist deaths from traffic collisions has been increasing in recent years. According to a 2019 report from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), 857 cyclists were killed in 2018, the most since 1990. From 2017 to 2018, there was a 6.3 percent increase in the number of cyclists killed, despite a decrease of 2.4 percent in the total number of traffic deaths in the US during the same period.
Depending on where you live, these trends bring either good or bad news. Urban cycling, on the one hand, is getting more dangerous. From 2009 to 2018, there has been a 48 percent increase in cyclist fatalities in urban areas. But rural areas have seen a decrease of 8.9 percent. This trend holds true for pedestrians and all vehicle types, although urban pedestrians and cyclists were most affected. As cities have grown, getting around in them has become more dangerous.
Distracted driving is epidemic, with drivers looking down at their phones and navigating dashboard touch screens, but it’s not the only reason cyclists are dying outdoors. As cars and trucks get bigger, particularly in terms of the height of the hood, collisions with “non-occupants” get more deadly. Instead of potentially rolling up onto the hood, you’re more likely to be run over. The combination of an increased number of urban cyclists and an increase in truck and delivery vehicle traffic is proving deadly in big cities. In New York City, 29 cyclists were killed in traffic collisions in 2019 (more than double the number in 2018), and 25 were killed by drivers of large trucks, buses, SUVs, or vans.
Overall, I remain hopeful about the safety of outdoor cycling. I understand why cyclists are afraid, especially because media and social media make us more aware of collisions and fatalities around the country and the world. Statistics don’t mean a whole lot when it’s someone you know who gets hit, and the statistics don’t include all the close calls, penalty passes, and hostile drivers that cyclists encounter on a regular basis. Nonetheless, I believe e-bikes and other micromobility technologies (electric scooters, etc.), along with increased congestion and reduced parking, will encourage more people to ride bicycles and get out of cars, and that there will be more pressure on communities to create and upgrade infrastructure to make “non-occupants” safer. For performance cyclists who ride out into more rural areas, I’m hopeful that automotive technology eventually overcomes our human flaws of inattention and distractibility.