Is An Indoor Cycling Trainer The Worst Possible Use Of Your Time?

Cyclists are weird.

Weird and masochistic.

Perhaps the only athletes in the world who are more into self-torture than cyclists are runners (I mean, come on, those folks came up with a thing called an ultra-marathon where you run for 24 hours. I’m pretty sure I’d stop running way before then even if I was being chased by a herd of walkers.).

But here’s the thing – every actual runner I know would rather poke his/her eyes out with a fork than run on a treadmill, while right now, in early December, my newsfeed is currently full of posts from my cycling buddies posting about their hours in the saddle on an indoor cycling trainer. What the actual f&#*?

I love cycling. I love getting on my bike and riding… Outside. In the world. I used to own a trainer. I set it up in the garage, along with a little stand for my laptop and I’d watch movies or TV shows on Netflix while I pedaled pointlessly to nowhere, sweat dripping off my body, alone and confused.

There’s probably a good reason why someone would ride to nowhere for hours in their basement or garage. I couldn’t find it. The usual justification given is that the cyclist wants to stay fit in the off-season. Ok, sure, but you know, there’s, like thousands of other ways to exercise and stay fit, and probably at least a dozen of those won’t crush your soul like pedaling to nowhere on a trainer in your garage will.

I know the cycling websites and magazines are all full of tips about how to maximize your indoor cycling trainer use in the off-season, but, um, well, see, you might also note these same magazines and websites have a vested interest in keeping you (a) narrowly focused on believing you must never be more than five feet away from your bike(s) and (b) are collecting ad revenue from the manufacturers of cycling trainers (and bullshit devices designed to make you think this is a good way to exercise).

Here are 5 reasons NOT to use an indoor cycling trainer:

  1. It is nothing like actual cycling. – Riding outside involves a constantly changing and challenging environment. Wind, climbs, descents, dogs, cars, pedestrians, squirrels, bugs – when you ride in the world you are in the world. Not only is your body challenged by changing conditions that can shift on a moment’s notice, but your mind is stimulated.
  2. It’s stupid. It’s one thing to tell your spouse, your kids or your friends you’re going to be unavailable to them for a few hours because you’re going to go riding. That’s understandable. Sounds like fun. But if you tell me you cannot spend time with me because you’re going to sit on your bike in the garage and pretend to ride for a couple of hours, well, gee, thanks for letting me know you’d rather stick a fork in your eye than hang with me, pal.
  3. It’s bad exercise. Sitting in one position, pedaling away, with no change in terrain to alter your posture means you’re basically engaged in repetitive strain. The physical stimulus your providing is too constant and too concentrated on a few muscle groups. Contrary to what you think you’re doing, you won’t be fitter to ride when the snow/rain/sleet/cold is gone in the spring.
  4. It’s inefficient exercise. Want to be fit to ride this spring? Do some squats, burpees, push-ups, pull-ups, lunges, etc. Spend 30 to 60 minutes on resistance training three to four days a week, do some cardio (if you must, put yourself on that thrice-cursed trainer) once a week and some yoga or other mobility work once a week and I guarantee you you’ll be fitter to ride come springtime than any dork who spent hours pretending to ride in his garage every day.
  5. It’s bad for your soul. Look, I know it’s cold outside, but the express ticket to depression and a miserable winter is finding ways to spend more time indoors. Unless the weather is so bad it puts you in mortal danger, bundle up and get the heck out of the house. You know why you feel great when you’re out on a ride in the middle of May? Because you’re out on a ride in the middle of May, dumb ass. Human beings were not made to lurk in the shadows and dwell in front of glowing square screens. We actually, honestly, no shit, need sunlight and fresh air – even in winter (or especially in winter).

Here’s a bonus reason – they’re terrible for your bike. Wear and tear on your tires and wheels is accelerated by riding on an indoor cycling trainer (yet another reason the bike mags have a vested interest in getting you to use one – the other advertisers who want to sell you a set of tires and wheels to use with your trainer love them).

I could come up with more reasons, but mostly they’d all be variations on, “Dude, that’s just self-abuse.” Winter is the perfect time to cross-train, and, well, I’m sorry, but riding to nowhere is just awful. Don’t.

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