Spin Your Wheels: The Benefits of Outdoor vs. Indoor Cycling

By | May 10th, 2013

Growing up on a vineyard, my childhood was spent going on afternoon biking adventures with my sisters. Moving to Los Angeles, my bike came with me, and I fell in love with biking the scenic beach trails through Santa Monica and Venice before making a stop at the 3rd Street farmer’s market – one of my favorite Saturday morning rituals. Naturally, when I stepped into my first cycling class I was immediately hooked by the high-energy, shirt-drenching workout that it offered, and it left me comparing the pros and cons of indoor and outdoor cycling.

Although cycling in either setting is a great workout, here are a few things to consider:

The workout: Most indoor bikes have a “flywheel” mechanism – a 30 to 40 pound wheel that provides resistance as you pedal. As a result, your calves have to work harder. In contrast, when you’re outdoors, you’re pedaling against wind resistance and the friction of road, requiring more work from your hip flexors and quadriceps. Also, it’s easy to “fake” your way through an indoor cycling workout by hardly turning the resistance knob (you know who you are); similarly, depending on your location, balancing and navigating through outdoor traffic can be distracting or make it difficult to break into a sprint.

Motivation: For those of us feeling lazy, the peer pressure of classmates and an instructor shouting orders over energizing music may be the motivation we need to get more out of our workout. At the same time, an indoor class may seem boring to an avid cyclist without new scenes rushing past them. Outdoor trails certainly keep things interesting and it’s easy to make each ride completely different from the last.

Convenience: Indoor cycling isn’t limited by unpleasant weather, and it’s always possible regardless of season. Still, depending on where your studio is located, sitting in traffic to drive to a class that’s only an hour long may not be worth your while.

Difficulty: If you live in a relatively flat area, you may not be able to challenge yourself the way indoor cycling does with variations of speed and resistance, and outdoor rides may also be inhibited by road and traffic conditions. However, a well-mapped outdoor trail can provide an excellent series of challenging hills and sprints that are more rewarding than indoor rides.

Safety: Riding at night, dusk, and dawn can be dangerous on the road, while indoor cycling in a well-lit room isn’t affected by the time of day.  For the average person, indoor cycling might be the better route for a more efficient calorie-blasting workout, but for the dedicated cyclist, outdoor cycling may be more challenging and enjoyable.

Whether you decide to take an indoor cycling class or take to the streets on an outdoor trail, either workout is an excellent way to shed pounds, decrease blood pressure and improve overall strength and endurance.  Cycling targets virtually every muscle in your legs and zaps calories in a short amount of time. Not to mention those feel-good endorphins that you get from cycling will result in improved sleep, increased relaxation, and reduced stress.

Author Bio

Justina Coelho

WHO: UCLA Bruin. Runner. Writer. Foodie. Indie Music Lover.

MY FITNESS PERSONALITY: Run For Fun, Trail Blazer, 26.2-er, Class Junkie, Nutrition Nut, Work Hard/Play Hard.

MY BURNTHIS INSPIRATION: Hiking 8 miles through Cinque Terre, Italy, then jumping off a 30-foot cliff into the Mediterranean!

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