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From the Studio to the Road

The Spinning® program is an excellent means to achieve and maintain general fitness and it appeals to all fitness levels and athletes, like runners, skiers, paddlers and cyclists. Though we most commonly associate Spinning with riding a bike, people say that Spinning class is a great “alternative to the real thing.” But wait, Spinning training is the real thing! We are, after all, riding a bike. Sometimes we lead our classes on imaginary outdoor rides and use coaching words like “feel the rubber on the road,” and “it’s time to shift gears,” or “hold your line.” And we do, as in the 8-Week Grand Tour program, train tempo, rolling hills, steep climbs, all-terrain, Sprints and time trials. So why not take your members outdoors? I don’t mean that you should wheel your Spinner® out into the fresh air, though that might not be a bad idea.  What I do suggest is that you offer the opportunity to ride as a group outside so your members can see and feel for themselves how the Spinning program and outdoor cycling are one in the same.

Three years ago I bought a cyclo-cross and ventured out onto the road alone. I was afraid of falling, traffic, potholes, wind and rain. During my first season I dealt with each fear and learned many small lessons: click in and out of my pedals, learn to drink from my water bottle, relax into a climb, ride steady in traffic, and even when to shift. Last year I overcame my fear of skinny tires and switched to a road bike. What I found was that much of what I learned in my Spinning® teaching, both studying and training, made so much more sense when I applied it to riding on the road.

I wanted to share my experience with others, not as an expert, but as one of them. I volunteered my time and created a group that has more than met expectations. Though we have been hampered by weather and though participation has varied, the program is meeting its initial goals.  We are on the road, we have joined the cycling community in our area, we have connected with each other and splintered off into companionable rides with friends, we’ve entered a local century ride, and we’ve acquired new cycling skills and we gained confidence.

I suggest that you take the following steps to build a program at your facility to take your riders outdoors, as an adjunct to your Spinning class schedule:

1. Post notices and make announcements at the conclusion of classes to discover your potential participants and their profile.
2. Create an e-mail sign-up list for anyone interested and encourage inquiries from non-Spinning participants. 
3. Connect with your local bike shop. I did and found, to my delight, that the assistant manager would ride with us, help us train, and act as our liaison with the shop. Bingo!
4. Choose a name. We became Cycling 101 and Beyond, fondly referred to as CY101.
5. Choose a time to ride when the weather is best. We began early because there was an unusually nice stretch of spring weather, but, as mentioned above, were rained out all too often. Make sure you start your program during a time when there is less of a chance for rain.
6. Send weekly e-mails and communicate with your group regularly. Each week I send at least one e-mail with destination notes and other information and often a follow-up post ride. I address individual concerns and group issues. 
7. Work with your riders during the rides so they improve a skill each week. Each week my leadership partner works with individuals on bike issues and technique questions. He rides with different individuals and helps them with skills. Each week we identify a skill to practice, share a copy of the local laws as they relate to cyclists, give notice of cycling events, suggest ways to refuel, to climb or to taper and then have fun!

It’s surprising how many levels we can accommodate. Our theory is that if we begin at the same place and end at the same place, we have ridden together. If some riders go faster and farther before the turn-around, that’s OK. As with Spinning class, we encourage each individual to ride his or her own ride and choose individual intensity on a given day.

Opportunities to take your members outdoors are limited only by your creativity and the skills, goals and passion of your cycling community. Riding together outdoors has given my classes a shot of adrenaline and a new-found awareness of the purpose and relevance of training indoors. New friendships have developed, some not previously involved with Spinning® classes are now interested, fitness and skill levels have increased, and there is new enthusiasm for each ride. 

Each week I receive e-mails from individuals excited to share their ride achievements. Each week we meet the goals of this endeavor. Each week we find more and more to hold and share in common. Each week the smiles broaden and last longer. That is payment enough for me.   

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