Indoor training: how to survive spinning

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It’s winter, it’s dark and it’s cold. The last thing you might want to do is take your bike for a ride in the rain, no matter how hardcore you think you are. Well, Punctureking struggles with winter and barely keeps in shape, well short of hibernating for a few month might be the better description. However, this year is the winter to stay fit (my goal…), so I have been looking for options to train before work.

Sufferfest: sounds like some dodgy fetish production, but is actually a really good series of high quality training movies to download and watch while on your indoor trainer at home. I used the “revolver” interval training format few weeks. The problem with indoor trainers is the fact that you are on your own, possibly in your garage, wedged between the tool bench and the wheelie bin, which in my case is the stand for my iPad showing the training movie. Hardly an environment that motivates you to train hard and long.

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I signed up for a cheap gym membership and have taken part in their spinning classes. The big risk here is that the level of enjoyment of your training depends strongly on your trainer – in my first session, the trainer played Jon Bon Jovi and the Bee Gees, which made me long back to my garage. The music has improved since.

Taking your own cycling shoes makes a big difference too – gym spinning bikes usually have SPD pedals on the one side and straps on the other. Being properly clipped in makes spinning at 120rpm much safer. I thought I was fairly cycling fit – and couldn’t walk two days after my first session.

You will sweat a lot, as there is no wind cooling you down – and there aren’t a lot of relaxing breaks in between (i.e. downhill free wheeling…). My favourite part is interval training: 1 minute a 10/10, 1 minute at 3/10 effort level. Repeat 10 or 15 times and you are going to struggle to walk home.

Does indoor cycling ever compete with the real thing? Probably not, simply because are stuck in one place, you don’t smell the fresh morning air and there is no wind in your hair. However, from the training point of  view indoor spinning classes are great, time saving and a great addition to your training.

What bike to use – the Wattbike is probably the most sophisticated indoor bicycle available. It copies a almost realistic cycling feeling and uses air and magnets for resistance. Its computer monitors all key data such as power output, cadence, heart rate or the effectiveness of your pedaling. A number of cycling teams use the Wattbike for measuring and comparing athletes’ output. The software can analyse your workout on your computer, and it comes with a race mode, where you can actually compete with other users. Best thing is the fact that you can set it up properly to simulate the exact same position your enjoy on your “real” bike. Wattbike is being introduced to South Africa at the moment – and I can’t wait for my local gym to get a few of these. We’ll run a proper review once we got our hands on one of these.

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Riding at night – tips to keep safe.

night training - how to keep safe On one of my recent early morning rides in the dark I realized again that a lot of my safety depends on my skills (or the lack thereof) of anticipating the mistakes others might make. As beautiful as it is riding in the dark, cutting through the icy air and having a frozen face while you see the sun slowly rising, it is dangerous at that time of the day: While I am only yawning for the first 15 minutes of an early morning ride, I have to assume that many drivers are the same: they have just gotten up, way too early, are driving their car half asleep, are possibly trying to handle that cup of coffee they managed to make before leaving the house, and are reminiscing about last night’s braai. Or worse, the driver who has been partying all night and is on his way home: a solo cyclist’s flashing red rear light instantly beams him back into the club he has just left.

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While I try to be aware of them all the time, I have learnt that a few situations are almost predictable – so I am extremely careful when:

Approaching a traffic light with a slip lane turning left, while I want to go straight. Without doubt and no matter where you position yourself approaching the traffic light, drivers tend to over take you and then cut in just in front of you in order to turn, often underestimating your speed. Try and make eye contact but don’t swerve while looking over your shoulders. Indicate where you are going. Assume that cars are going to cut in in front of you, so maybe reduce speed earlier than you normally would when approaching traffic lights.

Long steep and curvy ascents: If you know Vissershoek in Cape Town, you will know what I am talking about: you are a very slow obstacle on the left of the road, easily overtaken, if there is no oncoming traffic. However, if cars are coming your way, drivers behind you tend to forget that you also require space while they squeeze closer and closer to you, trying to avoid the oncoming car speeding down the hill. Try and stick to the left, ride in a straight line despite your slow speed.

Traffic circles: Despite indicating where you want to go (by hand signal) and despite flashing light, I have realized that at traffic circles many drivers are either unaware of the right of way rules or simply don’t see you. Seeing how many drivers cut in front of cars, it is no surprise that the same happens while you are on your bike. On my last ride I had a car cutting right in front of me and the driver, even though merely 2 metres away hasn’t seen me. Try and be as defensive as possible, there is no point in trying to claim your right of way.

Private driveways: more dangerous than intersections, because cars tend to reverse halfway into the road before they can see you. Intersections you can anticipate, driveways are just dangerously hidden. Try and watch out for open gates or garages and car lights shining into the road. Don’t swerve without checking traffic behind you.

Let me know if you have further tips! Safe cycling.

The cold & wet season – how to stay fit?

The rainy season has started. In Cape Town, we are blessed with blue skies and warm summers. The winters however are long and dreadfully rainy months with little light and temperatures just below comfortable. For me that is at least. Cycling in the dark rainy mornings before works is not an option, if you want to stick to the (rather pathetic, I admit) rule of no cycling on wet roads.
So what does one do? I have a feeling my bike might only see me during weekends for the next fee months, if they happen to be sunny.
I know a triathlete whose winter training consists of a 5km run to his gym, a spinning session followed by a long swim and a run back home. Unfortunately I don’t like swimming and am not a runner, so I drove to gym for a spinning class (do you actually wear your cycling gear at gym?) today. It doesn’t beat fresh air and wind in your hair, but compared to my indoor trainer in my garage, squashed between the wheelie bin and my washing machine, it was a decent option and I didn’t have to stare at my workbench, which does get sort of boring.
I decided to stay cycling fit this winter, even if I don’t touch my bicycle much – and might even give running a try for some variety. How do you stay in shape during your winter?

Winter training?