Is Indoor Cycling NOT Intended for Cyclists?

This post is prompted by some great points made by Chuck Cali in his comment on the article titled, “How To HIIT on Outdoor Riders.” Click that link and scroll down to read his comment. It’s too long to post in full here, but the overarching question he is asking is: “Why are we trying to bring outdoor riders to indoor cycling classes?”

It’s a valid question. Both Tom Scotto and Jennifer Sage have written their replies below.

Tom Scotto’s reply:

It can be frustrating to focus on pulling in those outdoor brethren, and to what end? It is also true that most of those who attend indoor classes are not outdoor riders. The focus on bringing in the outdoors can be different depending on the facility and location. Some smaller studios have a greater need for this population for their sustainability; larger, big box clubs always welcome the additional memberships. I’ve taught in studios all over the country and found the differences to be vast.

In the Boston area where I teach, there is a larger population of outdoor riders. Just to clarify, when I say outdoor rider, I’m not solely talking about the elite competitive cyclist. Outdoor riders in my vernacular refer to weekend recreational riders, charity riders, and those that compete on various levels from beginner to advanced. Since Boston has a larger volume of outdoor cyclists, my classes vary from 20% to 40% outdoor folk who are mostly recreational and charity riders.

I also apologize if I led people to believe that classes of 60 minutes or less were not adequate to train for riding outdoors or not desirable for “real” cyclists. To be more specific, “endurance” training for those participating in multi-hour events should consist of sessions 90 minutes or longer. These long rides are only one type of training focus. All other cycling training needs can be accomplished indoors. From those I’ve talked to, outdoor riders appreciate both 45- to 60-minute classes if they have a purpose and use methods that promote cycling fitness. During the bad weather months, outdoor cyclists are looking for a place to train. Bad weather, a change of pace, and a fun environment will drive us indoors during the rest of the year.

It is my conviction that the class length is NOT the reason outdoor riders are deterred from indoor cycling classes. To quote a rider I talked to on my last outdoor group ride, “You teach indoor cycling? Those classes are a joke! The instructors don’t know a thing about cycling and we did some of the stupidest stuff ever. It was a total waste of time.” Other riders overheard our conversation and chimed in with their own horror stories. These comments were not easy to swallow while wearing my ICA kit.

In the end, we have to ask this question: Why are individuals who want to improve their fitness on a bike not attracted to cycling classes? It sounds silly when we think about it in this context. Saying we are not interested in people who ride bikes coming to our cycling classes is also an odd statement. An indoor cycling industry that does not attract people who cycle should raise more than a few eyebrows.

If we teach classes that promote effective fitness on a bike, coupled with great music and motivational instructors, everyone will want to join in, including outdoor riders.

Jennifer Sage’s reply:

You all know I’m 100% in favor of reaching out to outdoor cyclists. I believe that if we teach our classes as if we are aiming to improve performance like a cyclist might do, then we will also better meet the goals of the non-cyclists, because in the process you are far more likely to improve general fitness and burn more calories for the weight-loss crowd than if you resort to non-cycling gimmicks on a bike. As Tom says, you are likely to attract more cyclists because you “get it” and the word will get out.

I want to respond to Chuck’s comment questioning why we would teach Tour de France stages since most indoor students have little to no idea about the Tour, they don’t watch it, and we won’t likely attract the serious cyclists anyway. So why bother?

Even in my region with a large population of outdoor riders, many of my students knew very little about the Tour. A few watched the highlights in the afternoon; only one got up early to watch part of it live. The first year I taught at this particular club (2006), I introduced them to Tour de France stages and they were blown away. For the first time ever at that club, those classes in July had more than a small handful of students. My class told me they had never experienced such fun, dramatic, and emotional “Spinning” classes as those TDF stages, nor had they worked so hard. They did not know an indoor class could be this exciting! Most only knew about the yellow jersey, so they were fascinated to learn the more intricate details about the strategy of bike racing, and everyone loved the interesting and fun trivia I gave them during our Tour.

I believe some of my profiles based on Tour de France stages are some of the MOST fun in my entire repertoire. Who cares if they are not cyclists, or if they knew nothing about the Tour—isn’t that the goal of any indoor cycling profile? If you can offer incredibly fun, exciting rides with great music, why would you not do that? Big bonus that the rides are based on a bike race and that they “keep it real”!

But guess what? After that, word got around, and I started to have even more cyclists show up during the winter who normally stayed away from indoor cycling classes.

If you build it, they will come! 😉



  1. I’ve been an indoor cycling instructor way longer than I’ve been an outdoor cyclist. I came to indoor cycling after an injury meant I had to stop teaching other types of group exercise classes. It was-surprisingly-a natural fit.

    I tried outdoor cycling because I loved indoor cycling so much. Whoa. WHOLE. DIFFERENT. BALL GAME.

    But even though there are vast physical and psychological differences between the two, I’ve found a wonderful improvement feedback loop training in both locales. For example, training on outdoor hills has increased the resistance I can tolerate riding hills in the studio. Riding steady state/cadence indoors has brought me greater awareness of my cadence outdoors and allows me to train my legs at a higher RPM than I can currently manage outside.

    And here in New England, there’s at least 4 months a year when being inside on a bike is the logical choice for all but a few hearty, amazing riders.

    I don’t think we should worry about whether or not there are outdoor cyclists in our classes. Riding indoors and outdoors works for me, but they are very different activities. Create the fun, support your riders, choose excellent music and the students who should be there will come. And the they’ll come back.

  2. Whether one states the benefit as training, working out, exercising, or getting fit, is purely a matter of diction. Quite simply, to teach any fitness class without some training value or benefit is pointless regardless of the modality. If we are teaching fun classes with proper instruction…on a bike, training value should be inherent. The differences among classes should only be our personal style and choice of music and not the soundness of training. Training value should never be considered an option.

    1. I live in Florida, with outdoor bike weather all year long. Ride an average of 150-175 miles x week. Still, somehow I try to squeeze into an indoor cycling class every once in a while. Unfortunately the health clubs and studios here cater to the masses, with instructors having very little or no real bike experience. I respect them as human beings, but I cannot take a class with one of these people teaching it. Commercial gyms only care about filling up saddles, regarlesss if the instructor is or not certified.

  3. Christine,

    Always good to hear your take on stuff. When it comes to the numbers game we can slew them many different ways. Maybe the truth is, this topic only interests me.

    Actually, you and I agree completely. The specialized topic specific classes are exactly what outdoor cyclists ought to be looking for. The average indoor cycle class – you know, the class everyone but us refers to as ‘Spin®’classes – are just unlikely to appeal to outdoor riders who come in with an expectation of getting some training value.

    As for your students shelling out the $$$ for your classes… that is a testimony to your hard work to become an educated instructor offering training/cycling specific instruction and a business model that works where you live. Still, it makes my point that to get instruction like yours, one does not go to the local big box for the free classes included with your membership.

  4. I see things differently, Chuck. Even if everyone who voted used two votes (and I, for one, didn’t even though I teach 12 classes/week) that’s 14 responders. That’s actually a high number if you compare it to the usual number of comments on posts here at ICA. I realize that that only indicates interest in the topic but that’s a start.

    BTW, I am puzzled by your reference to $10-15 per class. My students routinely pay that much, and even more for specialized topic-specific series. That makes me wonder about another topic. To what extent is the immediate out of pocket cost for a class a driver for content?

  5. Of the 28 votes, 20 indicated 25% or fewer outdoor riders. That means of the total number of instructors responding, 71% of them see fewer than 25% of outdoor riders in their classes. Or said one more way; 75% of indoor cycling riders are NOT cyclists.

    That number does not surprise me but sadly, the surprising number is that there were only 28 votes at all. Since we all received two votes it is likely that fewer than 28 instructors actually took the time chime in at all. That is a message in and of itself.

    So I will circle back to my original question/message, Why would we tailor our classes to get outdoor riders to flock to our classes?

    Renee’s riders appreciate her respect of their intelligence, not their outdoor riding. Cori likes the balance that could be offered if we don’t talk out both sides of our mouths, Eeveriff has people with biking ability and at least one traditional out door rider per class.

    Pete was most interesting. He is an outdoor rider that lives in Alaska. For him – and I would guess there are a few more like him in Anchorage – a dedicated cycling specific indoor cycle class – would be appreciated for obvious environmental reasons.

    The question for indoor cycle instructors in Anchorage – or anywhere really – is, would Pete and his outdoor riding cohorts be willing to pay the fee necessary to make such a class worth teaching by an instructor who has spent the time and money to acquire the skill set needed to provide such a class. A saddle in such a class would likely cost $10 to $15 dollars per class depending on studio capabilities.

    I guess the good news – for those of you who need those outdoor riders in your class – there will always be some.

    Thanks to Tom and Jennifer for taking the poll. It was telling.

  6. My classes are mostly people with some biking ability (not the traditionaly cyclists). I do have at least one of those a week, though. My goal is to focus on a one element for the bulk of the ride but I do mix in other training thought. As an example, my last profile was mostly flat (flat, fast flat, standing flat and agressive flat) and I added about 8 minutes of sprinting, 4 minutes of quiet upper bodies and a small climb. My students all said they enjoyed it…and were covered in sweat. 🙂

  7. Classes with time filler maneuvers are not for cyclists. Whether training to race, training for charity rides or just to lose weight; the maneuvers utilized in class should have a purpose. When the class can’t determine your purpose for including a segment, you’ve already lost them (outdoor cyclist or not).

    I am an outdoor cyclist. I race bicycles with the local club. However, here in Anchorage, Alaska, most of the year is not suitable for road bikes so I spend the winter indoor. The thought of riding alone on a trainer doesn’t get me motivated. I like the indoor cycling classes for the motivation.

    I wish the instructors understood the training requirements and need to vary training (here they mostly do “interval” classes {translation: a little bit of everything – short climbs, sprinting, and a lot of standing – jumbled together without purpose}. I asked once what Energy Zone we would be using and got a blank stare.

    I’m still waiting to attend a class led by a “real” cyclist, maybe next one?

  8. Jennifer/Tom,

    This is great stuff. I want to thank you both for, a) not getting defensive or at least, not too defensive, and b) getting the feedback from our membership.

    At this writing there are too few votes to draw any conclusions.

    To all reading this, I have nothing but the highest regard for Tom Scotto. He is the real deal and I learn from him constantly. Next I do not consider myself an expert of Tom or Jennifer’s level. I rarely comment but when I do I usually am thanking the writer for their great work. If I have a strong belief or a question I will comment so, but it is never to shoot down the writer, only to explore other possibilities. I believe lively debate is informative carried out as we do on this forum.

    I think it safe to say anyone in a cycling studio is interested in their fitness even if they’re not enthusiastic about it.

    That said, I have a questions. In what facility, anywhere, is the measure of a great instructor determined by how many outdoor cyclists are in class? In what facility, anywhere, is the salary of the instructor incentivized by how many outdoor cyclists are in class?

    It would be interesting to hear from ICA instructors on that point as well.


    First, I did not ever suggest, imply or make the statement that indoor cycling is NOT intend for cyclists. I only asked the question why are still trying to get them to flock in? It is, in my opinion, a distraction to thorough, competent instructors already doing a good job with real training, real cycling and getting real results.

    Look, if one is walking the ICA walk, then one is already providing the best any cyclist (indoor or outdoor) taking your class could ask for. And thanks to Jennifer, Tom, and the many contributors to ICA we keep getting great new stuff.

    Let the word get out that your class is great and fill those saddles. Does it really matter how many outdoor cyclists flocked to your great class? Is that what makes yours or any class great? Should you worry about those numbers? What do you think.

    Next, I am an advocate, an evangelist of Keep IT Real. I cringe every time I walk into the studio and see the rack of small little two pound weights other instructors are using. I move the rack out. It finds its way back in. 😉

    There is not a class I teach that I don’t ask if there any outdoor riders among us. I teach at three different facilities (I only got two votes BTW) and the response is always the same. Few out of many. When I ask, as I always do, how many are wearing heart rate monitors, guess who answers. The same few. But that is a different post.

    I say all this because Jennifer, I never questioned why we would do TDF stages in class. Heck, I buy the ICA TDF package too. I teach them as well. Only thing I do differently is ask how many of my riders actually have heard of the TDF or are following it.

    Cori talks about balance and mixed messages. She says though we speak out of both sides of our mouth we are not sending mixed messages. I agree. Our job on the lead bike is not to promote one over the other only to try and provide that which each of our riders came into the studio for, that day.

    I don’t see why it matters how outdoor riders are in mine or anyones class. I DO understand, completely, why it matters that we teach as if the room were full of them. And that’s the way I see it.

  9. I was an outdoor cyclist before I became a “spinner”, so I am always trying to replicate my own outdoor rides/training/bike events for my classes. I am constantly explaining how our class ride simulates what I’ve ridden; what the weather feels like, the condition of the roads, the surrounding area, new things I learn while riding, etc. During the TDF I watched every stage and took notes. I either used ICA stage profiles or created my own and my classes really seemed to like them all. For one class I made a cobblestone board to show them what the “paves” are and let them feel the stones and imagine how it would feel riding over that surface (in the rain). During another class I handed out breakfast bars as I explained the “feed zone” of the stages and gave info on the cyclists caloric intake. I would tell them about the Vosges, the Pyrenees, the alps and try to describe the scenery and the roads with the spectators cheering them on. Many students told me they enjoyed all the information I provided and liked the rides. I picked up many tag lines/cues from the TDF announcers and used them in every class. For me, bringing my own personal rides into the classroom helps me to keep my instructing “real” for my “spinners”.

  10. While teaching in Cambodia – triathletes and cyclists came to my classes for many reasons. Here are 10, off the top of my head. 1) I left my bike at home (another country) 2. The roads are so crappy my tires are shredded in 150k…flat every 15 k. 3. The traffic is so chaotic and hostile that I can’t risk the insanity. 4. The climate in South East Asia could be duplicated in a “Bickrim Spinning” type class in a hot sauna….so I come in for the air conditioning and break from the sun. 5. The pollution is akin to wrapping my lips around an exhaust pipe of an old soot-spewing truck. 6. Dogs and pedestrians are in a neck and neck competition to leap out in front of me. 7. Random political protests during a time of unrest means I might be able to ride 80k away from my home…but they might not let me back in the city. 8. Fully engaged family with work and school M – F, so I can’t go off and spend the day away from them…I can sneak in lunch time classes though. 9. Not a hill in sight in Cambodia – flat flat flat terrain….I need hill training for my next event. 10. Comradarie with other community members.

    None of these examples even have to do with the physiological benefit of training.

    It is a luxury to fulfill all of your training needs on a bike – We all want to get outside, but the containment of the studio provides hidden benefits that outdoor junkies miss out on – Look at one common complaint: ‘It’s boring.’ I will argue, however, that boredom not a fault or a weakness of indoor cycling – it is a blessing. Of course it is interesting to note that the lavenders are blooming at the lake’s edge, that the next 2 miles are suddenly gravel while they reconstruct the road and that there is a tailwind today – but these things are sort of random…and YES! interesting…spice of life stuff.

    But a total focus on cadence or specified HR parameters or whatever is the gift of the studio – a controlled environment and boredom is simply a stage you have to pass through to get to the good stuff…the grappling with sustained intensity, or, if your training plan calls for it….long LOW intensity….wow…that’s a tough one. (nod to instructors who only like to beat the living crap out of their clients because it is “entertaining” for all).

    Balance….out one side of your mouth you’re suggesting to outdoor cyclists that they get into the studio and out the other side of your mouth you’re encouraging your participants to get on a bike. – Is it a mixed message? No way….it is eking out all the benefits from two awesome activities.

    Love the topic!

  11. I recently finished the TDF stages generously offered to us as ICA I I I I I I taught TDF STAGES & followed up with a survey of thoughts & comments and received OVERWHELMING!!! positive comments about how much fun they had, how hard they worked and how much they learned, pretty much the same feelings as jennifer stated above. The outdoor and TDF focus motivated so many riders to begin watching the race, following a few riders & observing form and power output. They came to class sharing what they saw and learned. I also added the TDF trivia questions at the end of each class for riders to answer next class. They so appreciate that I don’t “dumb down” my classes just because some don’t ride outdoors. My riders know I respect them whether they ride indoors or out.

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