Tips for Indoor Riders Transitioning to Riding Outside

Dru Ryan
by Dru Ryan
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Tips for Indoor Riders Transitioning to Riding Outside

Fueled by large cities with new bike-friendly infrastructure programs, outdoor cycling is growing in America.  According to the nonprofit People for Bikes, the largest growth is among adults 40–79. The pending transition of indoor riders to outdoor cyclists represents the next big wave for cycling in America.

A query of 14,000 certified instructors in a Facebook group generated the following advice for indoor cyclists looking to ride outdoors. Each of these instructors are outdoor cyclists who speak from experience.

ON ENDURANCE

“Find an instructor who has a deliberate plan in their ride profile. Don’t just sprint because it’s the chorus of a song.”

— Leticia Long, Wired Cycling, Washington, D.C.

Cycling training plans are essential for high-mileage performance. No one completes a 50-mile bike ride by sprinting every 5 minutes. Find an instructor who varies drills and the length of songs to introduce your body to new challenges. Don’t shy away from those longer pushes as this is what really translates to a successful outdoor ride.

ON POWER AND POSITIONING

“Learn to generate power in the saddle. When you ride outside, you tend to stay in the saddle.  Simply coming out of the saddle doesn’t mean you will go faster.”

— Mickey Forrest, LA Fitness, San Diego, California

“When you’re climbing, giving up is not an option. Indoors, you can always turn down the resistance. Learn how to pedal with power but without losing your breath.”

— Izabela Ruprik, Fitness First, London, England

A recent study in the Journal of Biomechanics revealed when pedalling out of the saddle, it takes about 4.3% more power to climb versus in the saddle. In most cases, standing increases your heart rate without any additional power transferred to the bike. While you may look good, you’re not pedaling as effectively as you can in the saddle. When riding outside, being in the saddle is key to being able to sustain power. The next time you’re tempted to take the resistance down or come out of the saddle in spin class, resist the urge for at least 30 seconds to strengthen your endurance for those outdoor rides.

ON GROUP RIDING

“Understand the collaborative nature of cycling. The ability to ride at different paces and ‘share the pain’ when it’s your turn to lead the paceline, will make you a better rider. No one can win a race alone.”

— Nina Malette, YMCA and Fitness First, Ann Arbor, Michigan

The social aspect of group riding will likely appeal to the spin student. Outdoors, however, it’s really a team effort. The domestique (the helper in a peloton) is a key part of every cycling team. They often ride in front of the team and create a draft for those behind. Riding in a draft may reduce a cyclist’s effort by up to 27%. Keep this and your endurance level in mind if you’re tempted to go hard — in other words, pace yourself.

ON INTENSITY

Avoid the gray zone. It’s easy to fall into the ‘not working at all’ and the ‘not working too hard zone.’ You stay in the middle. Heart rate and power management are essential to push when needed and recover gracefully.”  

— Nial Kelly, Pedal Studio, London, England

If you’re doing intervals and don’t need a break, you’re not working hard enough to cause an adaptation. Make sure you feel the extremes when necessary. Indoor cycling targets very specific muscles. Outdoors, the movement of the bikes, undulating roads and turning activate muscles indoor cycling does not. Next time you’re in class, think about how the ride might feel different riding into the wind or on gravel and add resistance to match that difficulty level.

ON FORM

“Pay attention to your form. Indoor bikes allow for a lot of rocking back and forth and using momentum to generate watts. Minimize gravity to assist in your generating watts.”

— Arlene Viera, Abilities Centre, Whitby, Ontario, Canada

The stationary nature of an indoor bike allows for a generous amount of sway while pedalling.  This extra force artificially increases watts and speed, depriving your muscles of the workload. Build muscle and strength indoors by subtracting the sway from your indoor cycling because outside you will fall over — and that’s not what you want to do.

James Lamb, ICG master instructor and coach at Watts on the Go in Sydney, Australia, advises finding someone to take you on a ride to learn the local roads. Lamb, a competitive mountain bike racer is in the minority of indoor cycling instructors who ride outdoors. Such coaches are great first bike yogis, assisting your transition to the road.  

As you start to ride outdoors, you don’t have to trade in your indoor classes, but you will be able to add another bike (or two) to your collection.

About the Author

Dru Ryan
Dru Ryan
Dru teaches indoor cycling at Equinox in Washington, D.C. His History of Hip-Hop classes at George Mason University and brief deejay career in the Bronx are two big reasons why his playlists are unique. Ryan‘s cycling claim to fame is having the former road world champion, Peter Sagan, comment on an Instagram photo. Follow Dru (drucyles) on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.

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