So, you've been going to spin class for weeks or months, maybe even years, and you feel like you're ready to take on the real deal: an outdoor road bike ride. Congratulations! But before you get too excited, there are a few things you should know about the transition from spin class to the great outdoors.
For starters, let's talk about the saddles. You might think that a saddle is a saddle, but oh no, my friend. For people starting out with a road bike, the saddle can feel like sitting on a brick covered in sandpaper, while the saddle on a spin bike is like sitting on a cloud made of cotton candy. Trust me, you'll feel it in the morning but stick with it. It won't take too long for you to adjust and get used to it.
And then there are the gears. On a spin bike, all you have to do is turn a knob to make it
harder or easier whilst a crazy person screams at you like an SAS drill sergeant who should think about down-sizing their caffeine intake. But for complete beginners on a road bike,
gears can be a bit like trying to solve a Rubik's cube whilst blindfolded. The hills outside are not just imaginary like those created by your spin instructor, and you'll need to rely on your strength, stamina and gearing to push through them. You've got to master the gears and combine them with an ability to read the terrain ahead of you for it's road surface and gradient. Knowing when to shift and what gear to shift into can make all the difference between pedalling like a hamster in a wheel, or feeling as though you're dragging a tank whilst your burning thighs are screaming at you to stop. And let's be honest, no one wants to look like a hamster with little legs that are on fire, do they?
But it's not just about the saddles and gears. When you're out on the open road, there's no one to tell you when to stop and take a break. You've got to manage your hydration and nutrition on your own. If you don't, you run the risk of bonking, which isn't as fun as it sounds. Bonking is when you hit the figurative wall, except the wall hits back and makes you feel worse than you've ever felt before. So, make sure you take enough hydration and snacks, and use them regularly to ensure you keep topping up your fuel tank.
And speaking of being on your own, when you're on a road bike, you need to bring the right equipment and tools with you in case you get a flat tyre or a mechanical mishap. You can't just call up the spin class instructor and ask them to come fix your bike. Nope, you've got to be self-sufficient, or you'll end up stranded on the side of the road, looking like a lycra-clad lost sheep.
Another big differences is that when you're on a road bike, you can't just stop pedalling and step off the bike when you're in the middle of nowhere and think you're done. There's no option to jump in the car and head back if you're several miles away from home. So, it's essential to plan your route and distance carefully to make sure you don't end up stranded miles from your starting point. And, speaking from experience, Uber drivers aren't best pleased when they approach you and realise they need to somehow fit an extra from a 1980's Frankie Goes To Hollywood music video, and a bike into their Toyota Prius. If I remember correctly I think it even cost me a star in my passenger rating 🤦♂️
Next up is the weather. Another factor you need to consider when cycling outdoors. Unlike spin class, you'll be exposed to the elements, which can make for an unpredictable ride. Sun, wind and rain all make it essential to dress appropriately, check the weather forecast, and be prepared for sudden changes in temperature, wind strength and direction, and precipitation.
Also, cycling outdoors provides a sensory experience that can be both exciting and distracting. You might spot a landscape or animal, or perhaps a group of enthusiastic cyclists passing by. While the scenery can be breathtaking, it's important to stay alert and focused on the road ahead of you.
I appreciate I may not be selling this road cycling malarkey very well but I hope I'm not putting you off. Yes, transitioning from a spin bike to a road bike can be a bumpy ride, but only at first. Road riding is also a lot of fun and has provided me with amazing experiences and memories I'll remember fondly for the rest of my life. Just make sure you're prepared for the differences in saddles, gears, terrains, weather, hydration and nutrition, and equipment. And remember, even if you do end up looking like a lost sheep, at least you're not a hamster on a wheel with legs on fire.
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