Profile: Surges and Accelerations

This high-intensity profile is very engaging and will keep your riders focused and challenged. It was a massive success with my class. 

The ride begins with a cadence ladder, gradually moving from 80 to 100 rpm in a smooth and continuous manner and then going back down. You repeat the ladders, accelerating more quickly through this range of cadences each time. By doing this drill first, you lay the technical groundwork for the much quicker accelerations and intensity surges to come. 

What is the difference between an “acceleration” and a “surge” as it relates to what we do on our indoor bikes? I’ve seen this question a lot in the online forums so I want to explain how I define these terms.

An acceleration means to speed up. In the context of riding a stationary bicycle indoors—and specifically in this profile—it implies increasing your leg speed, or cadence, against a constant resistance. Even though the bike doesn’t go anywhere indoors, we can assume that the bicycle speed would increase as we sped up our legs if we are imagining ourselves as being outdoors, as long as we weren’t simultaneously reducing our gear.

The dictionary defines a surge as a “strong wavelike forward movement, rush, or sweep.” Many things can “surge.” A wave on the ocean can surge gently on the shore or more violently in a storm. A stream will surge faster as the riverbed narrows then slow back down as it widens. The water in a dam will surge through the open gates; if the reservoir is full, they may open the gates even more, causing the water to surge even faster. Your thoughts can surge in your head. A surge of electricity will cause a momentary increase in wattage (hey, there’s a good analogy when you have power meters!), causing a light to get brighter. 

You can surge your speed on a bike, in a car, or on a run, so a surge is a kind of acceleration (or maybe it’s better to think of an acceleration as a kind of surge). In our context, I think of it as an immediate increase in intensity that can be caused either by increasing leg speed or resistance, or maybe even both. It means working a little bit harder than you just were. You can do it seated or standing. While a surge is fairly sudden, like the water examples above, it is not always a massive amount; it can be an increase of 5%, 25%, 50%, or whatever you decide. An attack is a BIG surge of intensity that is usually done out of the saddle. A sprint is an even BIGGER surge—an explosive surge more like 100% or more. A good way to think about it is that all sprints and attacks are (big) surges but not all surges are sprints or attacks.  

A surge doesn’t last a long time; like a wave, it ebbs and flows. In most of our examples in this profile, your intensity will surge for the length of a chorus and then return to a baseline level. Short surges in cadence like this are quite common in mountain biking; you often find yourself increasing cadence while staying seated as you strive to get up a short, steep rise. On a mountain bike you are less likely to stand because, depending on the surface of the trail, your tires might slip out if you leave the saddle. These surges of intensity are one reason why mountain biking is much more of an anaerobic sport than road riding.

This profile has multiple ways in which the intensity is increased, always using the beat of the song. At times, you will start on the beat, and then surge ahead of it. Or, you may start behind the beat and surge the legs up to the tempo, grabbing the beat with your pedals. Some tracks have you do a little of both. Some are seated accelerations at higher cadences, others are surges while climbing, sometimes even spinning the legs faster after you sit back down. That is something you might do on a mountain bike and believe me, it can sting the legs!

Some things to consider before teaching this profile 

This profile has a LOT going on—way more than my typical ICA profile. Each song has another type of surge, another way to increase the intensity. I have taught it numerous times (including twice by myself), and each time I got better at delivering it; my last time teaching it at the studio was amazing and I had so many compliments on the ride! I want you to get a similar amazing reception in your class but I recommend you practice it on your own, possibly even a couple of times, before trying it on your riders. 

I hope that this exercise—and this entire profile for that matter—will help teach you how to use energy breaks in songs to surge intensity by increasing the leg speed or briefly adding resistance. However, I’m not suggesting that every profile should have this level of complication with surges on every song. That will make your teaching life way too complicated and train riders to expect changes with every song. 

I have recorded a video of me teaching this profile virtually. ICA members can find it at Even if you don’t have a bike to ride along, just watching me coach this class will be extremely helpful as you prepare to teach it. And if you do have a bike, get ready for a great workout with me!

Below are the Quick Profile, the Express Profile (Excel), and the Spotify playlist.

1 Comment

  1. Love this profile and will get better at instructing it. Tried it for the first time last week and it went fairly well. Riders were very engaged. Definitely found it challenging to keep on top of the cueing – especially as the head set cut out during class. Anyway, I think it was a success and will include again in the near future. Thanks for this challenging ride!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *