43. Biking to Nowhere

43. Biking to Nowhere

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Shaping the New You

Biking to Nowhere

With the heaps of overly specialized gear—
gloves, shoes, and biking jerseys—most cyclists realize that
every day on the road is Halloween.
 ~Joe Kurmaskie

I recently bought a pair of biking shoes. Not a big deal, you might say. Except I don’t own a bike. Instead, twice a week, I engage in an indoor activity called group cycling.

Group cycling, or spinning, is a relatively new exercise regimen built around a specially designed, heavy-duty stationary bicycle. A dozen or more of these bikes are arranged facing a bike-mounted instructor who leads the class participants on an hour-long journey to nowhere.

I figured to be the last person participating in this trendy aerobic exercise. As a fifty-three-year-old, overweight male, I was not looking to be a cutting edge trendsetter. In fact, for many years, my exercise routine centered around such traditional activities as racquetball, squash and exercise classes.

But thanks to all that high-impact exercise, my hips eventually began to wear out. Due to incipient osteoarthritis, I reluctantly gave up racquet sports and switched to something called step aerobics.

It wasn’t an easy switch. After all, these were classes populated almost exclusively by women. And they were hard. Learning to master a dozen different tricky moves on an elevated step wasn’t the best way to feed my aging masculine ego.

But I persevered and I’m glad I did. Step aerobics is a low-impact exercise routine that provides a great workout. And after a while, I had mastered most of the fancy moves and was “stepping” three times a week.

As with most things, however, I eventually became a bit bored with step classes. Although it still provided a good workout, it was hard to work up enthusiasm for three classes a week. Plus, my aging hips were starting to feel the wear and tear of even this low-impact exercise.

So two years ago I tried my hand at spinning. Without a clue, and lacking proper equipment, I managed to survive my first class although just barely. My lungs were burning, my legs were aching and my butt was sore.

Despite the pain of that first class, I recognized that this might be a good exercise routine to supplement my step classes. For one thing, it didn’t stress my hips. And for another, it gave me a great aerobic workout.

So I signed up for one class a week. I solved the burning lungs problem by moderating my pace. The aching legs disappeared once I learned to do extra stretching after the class. And the sore butt was eased with a $20 gel seat.

Before I knew it, I was taking two spinning classes a week and I had cut back my step participation to only once a week. But that was only the beginning.

One of the keys to efficient spinning is to maintain one’s heart rate in the preferred aerobic zone. And the preferred method of maintaining a specific heart rate is to use a heart rate monitor. After a year of spinning classes, I was finally convinced to cough up eighty bucks for one of these wristwatch and chest band devices.

At that point I was beginning to feel a bit self-conscious. For someone who doesn’t even own a bike, I had now invested $100 in biking equipment.

But that wasn’t the end. After another year of stationary travel, different instructors convinced me to spend $120 on bike shoes and clips to achieve more efficient pedaling in my journey without destination.

Despite looking somewhat foolish with all my cycling gear, the instructors’ advice proved to be correct. I was now spinning more efficiently and getting a better workout.

As I continue on my indoor cycling travels, I’ve also realized some non-aerobic benefits. Once you learn how to spin correctly and monitor your heart rate properly, you can sometimes experience an almost meditative state.

When I occasionally achieve what some instructors call the mind-body connection, I close my eyes and find myself drifting away from the everyday worries of life. And on those days when everything seems to click, I can get lost in this other world for minutes at a time.

Once you get the hang of spinning, it provides a double return for your efforts. Not only do you get a great aerobic workout, you also get a stress-relieving break from the outside world and a refreshed psyche ready to tackle life’s trials with renewed energy.

More recently, I’ve even been adding the occasional third weekly spinning class to my regimen. It’s an hour and a half endurance ride designed to build my aerobic capacity without pushing me over the cardiac edge.

The problem is that the more I get into group cycling, the more I seem to spend and the sillier I look. Despite a lifelong aversion to Spandex, I’m now realizing that my next purchase will likely be a pair of biking shorts to provide additional comfort to my sometimes aching backside. And then there are the special breathable biking socks and the biking gloves and the fancy water bottle.

No matter how hard I resist, I suspect I’m destined to become a Spandex-clad, bike-shoe-wearing indoor cyclist with all the bells and whistles. And given the benefits I get from spinning my wheels, I guess the embarrassment is ultimately worth it.

Who knows? If I find that I can’t take the mortification anymore, I may even have to buy a bike.

~David Martin

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