A Celebration of Theme Rides: ICA Contest Winners!

We received some incredibly creative and fun theme rides over the past few months and have been posting them throughout this year, especially those associated with a seasonal event.

Theme rides are all the rage these days. They are fun, they keep riders engaged, and they will inspire instructors to expand their song repertoire. Some riders will even ask for them.

But from what I’ve observed in some of the online indoor cycling groups, many theme rides turn into a hodgepodge of songs with a similar theme thrown together without much forethought and no overarching objective for the ride. It’s as if the idea that profiles be based on an objective is thrown out the window for the sake of pure “fun” when it’s based on a theme. Not that I don’t think classes shouldn’t be fun; it’s just that I think that should not be the primary objective. Being “fun” should be an outcome based on creative and inspirational coaching along with motivating, interesting, and sometimes even silly songs.

A theme ride can be a journey ride based on a story, an overarching theme such as riding through space, or a famous person such as Maya Angelou. Bill Pierce is our biggest contributor on ICA for creative journey rides that use the songs to describe the obstacles encountered along the way. He also laces his rides with humor, both in the song choice and in the coaching.

However, theme rides don’t have to be journeys or stories. Sometimes you may just occasionally reference the theme of the songs and maybe offer some trivia on the theme. Sometimes you just let the music be in the background and simply use songs on that theme, such as tracks with the word “go,” as I did with this popular theme ride called Let’s Go! With these profiles, it can be fun to let riders guess your theme.

We’ve done theme rides with a purpose here at ICA for a long time, but I wanted to give instructors an opportunity to put their creative hats on and submit a theme ride. We started a contest and left it open for several months to get a wide variety of submissions.

My goal with a contest like this is to help instructors with their profiles so that the end result is one that is based first on an objective but that has a musical theme and possibly even a story line (the latter was completely optional). We had an editorial process where we went back and forth with suggestions on profile structure, intensity,  and/or cadence, making sure the profile was easy to understand for our readers, and we polished up formatting and grammar. I have an exceptional editorial team that I am so proud of—hats off to Shari Miranda, ICA’s longtime editor, and Karen Varecka Cruz, our content manager.

We got a little of everything with this contest and received some really creative profiles. Most have been posted over the past few months (especially if they were based on a seasonal theme) but we have one more to post this summer shortly before the event.

Deciding on a winner was extremely hard since they are all excellent. But it was a contest and I did say I’d pick a winner, so here we go! The rules were that profiles could be on any theme and we suggested instructors could use one of ICA’s many Theme Ride Thursday playlists as a source.

Our grand prize of a full year’s membership goes to Elan McAfee for some serious creativity with her periodic table–inspired ride. Second place goes to Susan Lafond (six months free) for her inspirational Aspire to Inspire profile that works well any time of the year you want to inspire your riders—it’s an especially good choice for an event. Third place (three months free) to Susy Stelmaszek for her Derby Days ride, using horse-racing “breezes” (short high-intensity training method used on horses) to create her interval profile. The remaining three profiles are in no particular order—they are all great and the authors of those profiles will receive a free month.

  • Periodic Intensity, by Elan McAfee. This profile exercises the body AND the mind! Riders will take a tour of the periodic table and get an opportunity to answer some trivia questions along the way. Through high-intensity efforts of varying duration between 20 seconds and 3 minutes, riders will increase awareness and improve form during the more difficult efforts. Riders will also develop an understanding of recovery’s role in HIIT, allowing them to better hit their target power. All songs are based on elements of the periodic table. As a result of Elan’s creativity, we searched for even more songs to fit this theme and created a playlist for you.
  • Aspire to Inspire, by Susan Lafond. This inspirational profile can be used as an extended ride for a special event, a fundraiser, a New Year’s ride, or any time you want to inspire your riders to overcome challenges. It is written as a 90-minute ride but can be shortened to 60 minutes.

It is an interval profile composed of four work sets, each with alternating flats and climbs. The sets are similar in format and can be coached with power zones, heart rate zones, or corresponding RPE cues for those zones.

The playlist embodies music that encourages one to stay strong, to rise up against adversity, and to aspire to be a motivating force, either for oneself or as an inspiration for others. The music honors those who have faced one of life’s major challenges and the struggle they endured, whether they won or lost that battle. Encourage riders to listen closely to the lyrics and take the message to heart to be a positive and empowering influence.

  • Derby Days, by Susy Stelmaszek. Trainers and thoroughbred racehorses prepare for their shot at the famous Triple Crown. Racehorses don’t just show up to the track and win, though; they must train for it like any other athlete, which is exactly what you do in this profile—train like racehorses!

There is no better way to do this than with interval training. You will perform a variety of short intervals across different terrains. First, working on interval training, or “breezes,” which is racing terminology for short efforts intended to build strength and speed. These breezes are short and intense; each are 45 seconds or less, which would equate to approximately four furlongs if you were running on four legs. For the last 10 minutes of the ride, you work on your race pace, finishing hard and strong with an above-threshold effort.

We’ve also created several playlists for you on horses, winning, and going fast.

  • Powerful Women, by Lisa Piquette. This profile channels the power of inspiring women and asks riders to hold a steady-state effort in Zone 3, known as the “tempo” zone. The challenge will be both physical and mental as you hold an effort straight through for about 40 minutes without recovery. Staying strong, focused, and in control, you will build both aerobic power and endurance.

    For additional inspirational songs, check out our International Women’s Day playlist to create your own powerful women theme ride.
  • A Tribute to Mom, by Susan Lafond. This fun yet powerful Mother’s Day theme ride is a special profile that honors all the mothers and mother figures in our lives. The objective of building muscular endurance and strength will be achieved by scaling two challenging mountains that are straddled by fast flats. The carefully chosen playlist is made up of songs with “mother” in the title and/or lyrics.

    This metaphorical profile exemplifies two critical times in a mother’s life: bringing a child into her life—whether through marriage, adoption, or live birth—and raising that child. The climbs are steep at times, with varied terrain and rollers, symbolic of the struggle mothers endure and the adversity they face. The flat roads are reminiscent of the passage of time—reaching developmental and life milestones and how quickly the child grows up. The single recovery, which is strategically placed between the two hills, is a peaceful moment of pure joy. The cool-down and stretch contribute to a final period of poignant reflection where riders look back on the ride to assess their strengths, weaknesses, and areas of growth. Ask riders to focus on the lyrics of these songs that deliver the message of love to, and appreciation for, the women who made us who we are today.

And if you’re looking for additional Mother’s Day themed songs, then check out our Mother’s Day Playlist.

  • Ride to Sturgis, by Amanda Kirlin. This is a creative theme ride based on bands that have played at the Buffalo Chip Campground and concert venue in Sturgis, South Dakota, at the annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. The overall objective is interval training and this will be accomplished through intervals at various perceived effort levels to simulate riding through the rolling Black HIlls of South Dakota on our way to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

    NOTE: We will post this profile this summer a few weeks before the Sturgis event in early August.

Next year when we do another theme ride contest, I hope even more of you will submit your profiles. I can tell you, every time I work with a new contributor, they are appreciative of the creation and editorial process and emerge with an improved or renewed sense of profile creation. Start thinking of your theme ride submission for fall  2019!


  1. Woo hoo! I’m thrilled about the membership, but I also enjoyed others’ rides. The Powerful Women one was awesome, for instance.

    I have a mathematics-themed profile focused on descending intervals I was thinking about sending ICA’s way if you want to review it.

    Thanks again!

  2. I am so excited that one of my profiles earned 2nd place and another profile placed! Congratulations to the other winners for their amazing contributions from which we all get to benefit.

    I wholeheartedly recommend that everyone take the opportunity to submit a profile in the next theme ride contest. You get 1 on 1 personal coaching and feedback on your profile from Karen, Shari and Jennifer. To be honest, that is an opportunity you would willingly sign up for and even pay top dollar for. You have the chance to reflect on your style, hone your practice, and showcase your creativity and talent. And I can’t lie…seeing your profile in print, uploaded to the ICA website, complete with a copyright next to your name…well it is pretty exhilarating!

    Get ready for Fall 2019. Game on!

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