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Bike When You Like

On a recent Tuesday at the BreakAway Cycle & Strength Studio in Longmont, a nearly full class of riders worked strategically to push their legs at the right speed and resistance to exert the exact number of watts of power needed at that moment to reach their peak performance.

In a different indoor class at the Hill’s new cycling hot spot, Beat Cycle, sweat-drenched men and women filled a nearly pitch-black studio, following the beat of high-energy pop music as they pumped their legs (and often their entire bodies) up and down for the duration of the 45-minute class. (Photo above: Carlos Cruz-Abrams leads a class at Beat Cycle on the Hill. At studios of this type, riders are guided by a software system that tracks their individual bikes and projects the data onto a screen in front of the whole class.)

At Inspired Training Center in Denver, class members had brought in their own bikes—which were then set up on stationary CompuTrainers—to receive the guidance and advice of USA Cycling–certified coaches.

At Inspired Training Center in Denver, class members can bring in their own bikes and set them up on stationary CompuTrainers.
At Inspired Training Center in Denver, class members can bring in their own bikes and set them up on stationary CompuTrainers.

From local recreation centers to performance-based high-tech studios and makeshift studios that pop up in unfinished basements, the range of indoor-cycling options in and around Boulder County is as diverse as Colorado’s outdoor riding terrain. Clients and instructors swear by the methods and techniques of their own studio. But determining which class style provides the best workout, or the best tool to train for rides outside, can be a challenge. And pricing ranges widely, from $5-$7 for rec center drop-in classes to $25 or more for more-specialized courses.

At Beat Cycle, which opened in September 2014, husband-and-wife studio owners Carlos and Hilary Cruz-Abrams have used their 15 years of experience as cycling instructors to create a one-of-a-kind indoor cycling method aimed at providing a full-body workout. Riders spend most of the 45-minute class out of the saddle (standing up), matching their cycling rotations to the beat of the music. While indoor cycling doesn’t always entail upper-body movement, Beat Cycle instructors incorporate upper-body and abdominal movements throughout class, along with a few minutes of weight training.

For Alison Zemanek and Sue Lloyd, owners respectively of the performance-cycling studios BreakAway Cycle & Strength Studio and Inspired Training Center, data and individual rider stats are the key to improving performance and providing an optimal workout. Both studios use performance software to assess each rider’s ability, ensuring that all participants get a quality workout regardless of their strength or experience. The data are then used to track performance over time.

“Everybody gets a uniform experience, at their ability and their level,” says BreakAway instructor Zack Hoh, 47.

Indoors and Out

While the style of indoor cycling varies from studio to studio, one constant is the way Boulder County’s cycling community, fitness gurus and newbies rely on these high-intensity workouts to maintain their fitness when the weather keeps them indoors.

“If you’re racing and you’re a serious cyclist, you’re on a home trainer at least once a week,” says 30-year-old Muffy King, who is training to complete her third Ironman in November. King supplements her solo home training with indoor group-training courses put on through her cycling coaches, often in someone’s basement. She says indoor cycling can provide a better, higher-intensity workout than riding outside because “you are going the whole time. You’re getting a solid hour of pedaling and movement.”

Lloyd, a USA Cycling–certified coach who has raced competitively in Boulder since 1980, agrees. “It’s a very effective way to get in a good workout,” she says, noting that there is no coasting in indoor cycling, or distractions like stoplights. “What might take three hours outside will take an hour in the studio.”

All city of Boulder recreation centers have stationary bikes, but only the East Boulder Community Center, shown above, offers Spin classes.
All city of Boulder recreation centers have stationary bikes, but only the East Boulder Community Center, shown above, offers Spin classes.

Even with specialized workouts and high-tech data tracking, indoor cycling does have limitations, instructors say. By riding outside, cyclists learn everything from basic skills like effectively maneuvering a bike around turns to more technical tools, like drafting off fellow cyclists to conserve energy.

“Those kinds of esthetic skills are lost in a studio,” Lloyd says. Instructors and riders acknowledge that riding indoors cannot replicate the outdoor experience, and they don’t intend it to. Instead, for many of them, indoor cycling is often the first step to riding outside for the first time.

Brandon Elvey, 34, started riding three times a week at BreakAway Cycle this past January with hardly any cycling experience. He has since lost 65 pounds and is regularly riding 40 to 60 miles at a time.

“I never thought I’d be one of those people in Spandex,” Elvey says. “And, well, here I am.”

Beat Cycle instructor Edward Bullock tells a similar story. An avid runner, he first tried indoor cycling to stay in shape while recovering from a stress fracture brought on by long-distance running. He kept with the sport long after the fracture healed, and says it not only improved his running but also inspired him to buy his first road bike. Today, Bullock is preparing for his first Ironman, and expects to cycle 400 to 500 miles a week at the peak of his training.

Hoh and other instructors credit the community support of indoor classes with giving clients the confidence to embark on their first long rides outside.

“I’ve seen people sign up for the Leadville 100 and Triple Bypass [mountain bike races] based on one-hour Spin classes,” Hoh says. “That sense of camaraderie has inspired people to set some pretty high goals, then actually go out and achieve them.”


Getting Started 

Boulder Magazine asked Robert Pane, M.D., a Boulder internist and amateur cyclist, two basic questions:

What are the best health benefits of indoor cycling?

It is a good form of aerobic exercise for improving cardiovascular fitness. Many people who could not otherwise get the benefits of walking, running or hiking, for example because of arthritic conditions in the legs or spine, or because of balance problems, are usually able to use a stationary bike for exercise.

Are indoor cycling classes appropriate for everyone?

No matter what your age, if you have not been physically active, you should consult your physician before embarking on any exercise program. If you have not been accustomed to biking, you should start at a very low wheel tension and only increase your exertion gradually. Most importantly, because riding a Spin cycle is very different from riding a bicycle, you should get an introduction to Spinning by a knowledgeable trainer before attending a class.


By Adeline Bash

Freelancer Addie Bash, a Boulder native, studied journalism at the University of Oregon before returning to Colorado. She works in marketing for a local natural-food brand.