The summer air is deceptively cool this morning, briskly teasing my legs which move steadily – almost rhythmically – in time with the other cyclists. We’ve long passed the Bastides – pale-pink, fortified towns of a long forgotten Medieval time built into the rocky terrain in the South of France. We’re heaving our bodies up the stony mountainous paths of the Pyrenees. My eyes cascade down the layers of lush forest and into the blue-green waters of the lake below. The air rushes away from my lungs and for a moment, the pain leaves my body. The solitude of these mountains is everything I need to take my mind away from the saturated, curated lifestyle that is New York City. In fact, for a sudden fleeting moment, as I stare into the screen in front of me, I completely forget that I’m still here.
I’ve never biked the Tour de France. And none of my travels or time spent living in Europe have ever graced me with the experience of being (or biking) in the Pyrenees. But over the past ten days, I definitely got a taste – or rather, the full experiential workout experience – of what biking the Tour de France could feel like. Or at least, one leg of it.
Two leading fitness organizations – Flywheel Sports (a national indoor cycling brand) and nuun Hydration (a clean, plant-based sports drink company) – came together to create the two-week challenge that invited riders to experience the thrill of the Tour de France by cycling the equivalent of more than a full stage of it. Cyclists who registered for the Tour DE FLY filled the stadium-style space for six classes, each receiving a nuun branded water bottle and nuun tablets to support them through their ride. While some classes offered the more standard, upbeat, music based approach, the specialized Tour DE FLY classes included video of the stages of the tour on screen.
As someone not familiar to (and honestly kind of averse) to indoor cycling – I have to say the experience was fantastic (even if the first class was really, really hard. REALLY hard, guys). Over the two-week period, the benefits to my overall fitness were pretty striking in terms of cardio gains, strength training, and yeah, body toning too. Plus, the structure of Flywheel’s classes, along with the community, kept me motivated, focused and competing for every minute of the way. Below you’ll find the reasons for this unexpected conversion – and some added incentive as to why you should get on a bike, and never coast.
As a former college runner, I’ve always scoffed at the culture of indoor cycling. From an outsider’s perspective, cycling classes seemed to neatly fit into the fitness business of boujee lifestyle Instagrammers — a kind of be-seen-to-get-seen atmosphere — where you could humble-brag about how hard a class was, and gossip with your friends about a frienemy while at Lululemon.
But I have to say, everyone I met was impressively focused and ready to work – which made the class very motivational and the atmosphere inspiring to be part of (without feeling like I was getting indoctrinated into some weird elitist fitness cult). Though there were opportunities to opt-in to class competition (see Facilities section) even if you didn’t participate, classes were filled with very self-driven and disciplined participants.
The instructors were a tremendous part of creating that atmosphere. Taking classes at different NYC locations with different class leaders verified how professional these guys (and gals) were– meaning that classes were well planned, the instructors were actually in shape, and it was easy to stay engaged with the class the entire time. Despite the pain.
Urban gyms can be a hit or miss. I’ve entered some locker rooms to change and vowed never to go back. One time I watched an elliptical unhinge while someone was training on it. But guys, the facilities at the Flywheel New York locations are legit. They have this thing called stadium style seating, so, even if you get a bike way in the back, you can still see the instructor down in the front. Sounds like a simple concept but you would be surprised at how many facilities don’t implement this floor layout.
Also, the bikes are SUPER new at the NYC Flywheel locations, so the ride is extremely smooth and unclunky (that’s a word, right?).
More so, everything is digitalized, so you have all your personalized data in front of you during the ride. This lets you know exactly how fast you are going, what resistance you are on, and your overall torque. If you want to compete with other people in the class (you totally should – it makes the experience a lot more fun), you can opt into the competition. Flywheel has a scoreboard that live tracks everyone’s data to showcase how well people are performing. For the data geek in all of us, you can even check your personal report on your online portal after class, and compare your marks to previous classes to see your improvement along the way.
Flywheel also has lots of spacious and clean private showers and plenty of counter space to get ready after your workout, along with free fruit, water, and towels on hand.
So yes, that first class was brutal. In fact, it felt like that reoccurring dream where I was trying to run away from an oversized stuffed animal taking over my apartment, but my legs won’t move. Anyone else had that dream? But seriously, during that first class, I think my body was kind of in shock. That bike was literally moving muscles in directions at speeds I’ve never thought possible for me. But I was surprised to see how much easier it was going forward after that class.
I learned that indoor cycling is primarily based on interval training. Interval training (i.e. speed work), brings up the intensity of your workout for a set period, elevating your heart rate levels, increasing your VO2 max, and pushing your lactic acid threshold. It is believed to be one of the best ways to get into shape. All the classes at Flywheel incorporate interval training into your workout, so you are literally getting some top-notch cardio workouts each time you go into class.
Over my ten days, I saw pretty dramatic improvements in my heart-rate recovery time between interval sets – meaning I could go harder, better, faster, stronger. Kanye and Daft Punk would be proud. I also noticed a direct benefit in my running performance.
Even though cycling is intense and involves high turn-over, the impact on both the body and joints is minimal. In fact, the resistance of the bike helps develop muscles around joints, which can prevent over-use injuries that tend to pop up (out of NOWHERE) in our 20s and 30s…like runner’s knee, tendonitis, shin splints, etc.
For those with long-term problems like arthritis or lingering injuries from surgeries, indoor cycling is an amazing way to get that same, legit level of cardio intensity and resistance training without doing any of that heavy damage to your joints.
Social Media art design: @Vivian Shih, Social media images: @photos_bymichelle