Take Your Class on a Journey

Once we get back to our normal routines, we’ll relish being with our classes again. We’re all eagerly awaiting the opportunity to renew relationships with our riders, break a sweat with our favorite people, pedal to new tunes, and return to our familiar roles. 

But after a while, it may start to feel too familiar, perhaps repetitive. After all, the bikes don’t move; they’re confined to the same four walls they’ve been stuck in forever. There are only so many positions and drills that can be done safely without it feeling like you’re repeating yourself. After a period of time, it may begin to feel stale and mundane. Before you reach that stage, escape from those four walls and take your riders out of the cycle room. Bring your members to places that they’ve never been to before or locales that are familiar yet feel different. Provide a completely fresh outlook on their normal routine. Reinvigorate them by taking them on a memorable journey, or what I call a “journey ride.”

Journey rides are fun, unique, and, most of all, unforgettable. Has anyone ever asked you, “Remember that class when we did intervals to a Pitbull song?” No, because that describes almost every class ever given by most instructors. On the other hand, they will remember the time they almost got hit by a speeding locomotive (ICA Quick Profile “Intervals from Obstacles”), rode the Ironman Wisconsin course, dodged asteroids in outer space (ICA Quick Profile “Journey To Space”), or saw the sun rise over the dormant volcano on Maui. These are some of my many journey rides that my regular participants have enjoyed and repeatedly request. The ability to create and lead journey rides puts another tool in the instructor’s tool belt; this article is intended to help you to add this skill to your arsenal.

The first step in the process of creating a journey ride is the same as it should be for any other ride: start with the purpose. Examples of your purpose can include development of an energy system, improving a skill, working on a technique, or simulating an outdoor ride. 

The next step in the process is optional for most rides but critical for a journey ride. Select a concept, vehicle, or storyline that suits the purpose and drives the profile. If the intention of the ride is to improve muscular endurance or strength used for climbing, then the concept would include scaling mountains, conquering hills, or anything that promotes longer efforts with resistance and cadences below about 85 rpm. Specific examples can be a mountain stage from the Tour de France, scaling the tallest summit on each continent, or climbing to the top of Haleakala to see the sun rise. If the purpose is to develop anaerobic capacity, the vehicle can involve activities requiring short, high-intensity efforts like velodrome track sprints, drag racing, maneuvering through outer space, or even shopping on Black Friday. The concept elevates the ride above a normal workout by turning it into an adventure.

After the purpose and concept are chosen, the next three steps are all interwoven: crafting the narrative of the story, generating the profile, and selecting the playlist. The story is an opportunity for instructors to be creative, stretching their storytelling skills while challenging their imagination.

The narrative is an integral part of the journey. It provides the details behind the storyline, or plot, and explains the “why” of the profile. The story should begin with the location and mission or goal of the ride. For example, start at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro in an attempt to ascend it in three days. Or ride the Ironman Wisconsin bike course, beginning in downtown Madison, and attempt to make it up every hill without having to get off the bike to push. To vary the profile, add elements along the way that make it harder or easier, faster or slower, more or less intense. Riders will have to speed up and increase intensity if a boat is leaving its port and they need to embark before it departs. Their effort will approach breathlessness to summit a peak before gravity allows the riders to fly down the other side. The reasons for varying intensity can be real, like getting to an intersection before the light turns yellow, or imaginary, like achieving enough velocity to escape a planet’s gravity. Trying to get away from something bad, weather, villains, or natural disasters are entertaining reasons for riders to increase their effort. 

The profile will go hand in hand with the narration. A long, slow effort just below threshold is typical for a climb, so your profile can call for 8 minutes at 60–70 rpm in high Zone 3 or low Zone 4 (moderate to hard) during this segment. If the story calls for a 30-second burst to escape something scary, the profile should be approximately 30 seconds in Zone 6 (“very hard”) at a higher cadence, indicative of trying to get out of there quickly. Using another example, it may take 3 minutes to reach an important imaginary landmark, pushing very hard on a flat terrain. In this instance, the profile can be 3 minutes in Zone 5 at 90 rpm. Remember to use basic principles of exercise physiology throughout the profile, making sure that there is sufficient recovery time for the duration and effort called for during the work interval. In other words, multiple 60-second sprints without recovery aren’t possible, so don’t include them.   

Think of the music in the journey ride as the road. It should help to set the scene as well as complement the profile. If the journey takes place in a foreign country, at least some of the music should reflect it. A track that sounds Nepalese will make riders feel like they’re in the Himalayas if you’re riding to the top of Everest. If the journey is set in a place that doesn’t have indigenous or ethnic music associated with it, use tracks that fit the concept. There are plenty of songs about outer space for a journey through space, or even shopping-related songs for a Black Friday journey ride. ICA has dozens of themed bucket playlists that are ideal for journey rides, including outer space, Black Friday, spy and secret agent songs, and, of course, seasonal holiday playlists.

Every song in your playlist doesn’t have to directly relate to the journey. The ride risks being too monotonous or predictable if it does. Pepper your journey with other songs that match the energy of your scenario. Use your judgment to ensure you maintain the integrity of the storyline without losing your audience. 

The playlist should relate to the profile. That 8-minute high Zone 3 climb can be composed of one or two songs totaling 8 minutes with moderately high energy. If the climb is up Kilimanjaro, for variety and to keep riders’ attention, one song could be African and the other could be mainstream pop, rock, or EDM. During a series of rides through Israel that I did for the Jewish Community Center, I interspersed modern and traditional Israeli songs with other music. An entire playlist of all Hebrew music would have been too much, even for the JCC.

Using the music as the road may influence or even dictate the timing of the profile. Using my Quick Profile “Intervals From Obstacles” as an example, every time the horse neighs in The Avalanches’ song “Frontier Psychiatrist,” I encourage riders to employ a short burst of power in an attempt to outrace the horse. The tempo and energy increase during the “Zorba The Greek” remix I use as the ship starts to leave port from Athens in my Quick Profile “The Chase Across Europe and the Middle East”; we follow that energy increase with increased cadence and intensity.

Unlike a typical ride where the profile comes first, followed by the playlist, creating a journey ride is more of an iterative process. Instructors may select the song to fit the concept first, then the profile that maps to it, followed by the story to wrap around it. In fact, it may even be one or two songs that inspire you to create a journey ride around those tracks in the first place. 

Other times, the story will determine the sequence of the profile and playlist. For example, a journey ride across America could start at the West Coast beaches before heading east. My Ride Across America starts with “Take California” by Propellerheads for the introduction, then transitions to Tupac’s “California Love” for a flat road paralleling the beach before turning inland and scaling the Sierra Nevadas set to the Royal Gigolos’ remix of “California Dreamin’.” After crossing into Arizona, riders “Take It Easy” before standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona. We then go through Colorado for some long climbs at threshold. The ride then logically travels into Nebraska for moderate-intensity efforts on a flat terrain along the Plains. The songs could be by bands from those states (DeVotchka, The Fray, The Lumineers, or The Samples for Colorado; Bright Eyes or The Faint for Nebraska), be about the state (“Rocky Mountain High” or “Rocky Mountain Way” for Colorado; Springsteen’s “Nebraska”), or just invoke images of the scenery along the way (“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” for Colorado; “Plain to See Plainsmen” for Nebraska).

The story should have a logical flow—beginning, middle, and end—just like the profile should have a warm-up, body, and cool-down. Make sure that the middle/body maintains the integrity of the narrative and uses proper principles of exercise science, as explained previously. There is always a little art mixed in with the science used to properly sequence the story, structure, and music in a journey ride. It may take several attempts to get it to feel right.

The order of the narrative, profile, and playlist may change as it’s created. My journey ride up to the top of Mount Haleakala was inspired by another instructor’s version. The original started with a climb up Haleakala before a descent, followed by a ride along Ka’anapali Beach. I decided to change it, reversing the order to start with moderate-intensity efforts along the ocean, culminating with a higher-intensity climb to get to the top of the volcano in time for the sunrise. This provided ample time for an extended warm-up, a reason and sense of urgency to increase effort, as well as a dramatic climax. 

As you can see, there is no wrong or right—there are only the limits of creativity! 

It helps to take notes throughout the creative process. They will document the profile and keep track of the narrative. When it’s time to deliver your ride, the notes can be used as reference to tell the story and drive the profile. 

Creating a journey ride will take more time than a typical profile. But once it’s been generated, the fun part begins when you take your class on that journey. Promote it well in advance, letting your riders know that this ride is going to be something special, something outside of the typical class. When teaching your ride, build it up during the introductory warm-up; don’t be afraid to be dramatic, corny, and humorous. The role of the instructor in a journey ride morphs from a coach to a storyteller and travel guide. Use imagery to paint the picture. If your studio has a projector, augment the ride with images and videos that complement the profile or drive your plot. Plan to spend a lot of time off the bike because the instructor’s primary purpose is to facilitate the journey, not to get in a workout. Stay focused on the idea that the journey ride is to take the participants out of the cycling studio and transport them to another location, whether real or imaginary. Embellish your story, play with it, and have a blast while doing it.   

Members can take advantage of the many resources that the Indoor Cycling Association offers and improve our skill set, including creating and presenting journey rides. Stuck for ideas to start? Review the many journey rides posted on the ICA’s website, listed below. Even though some are specific to holidays, such as Halloween theme rides (a holiday that lends itself very well to a story-based journey ride), you can still get ideas and learn a lot about creating a journey by examining how they are put together and how the music works with the narrative.  

Next, start thinking about where you want to take your riders and what purpose it will serve. It doesn’t have to be a holiday, but that might be a good place to start, providing you with an excuse for a uniquely themed journey ride. Then begin to create your own special journey for your class.

As you explore ways to expand your repertoire of profiles, why not take your class on a memorable journey that will excite them—one that they’ll always remember? After you do, no longer will they ask, “Are we doing dirty 30s to that P!nk song again?” Instead, they’ll ask, “What fun place are you taking us to today?”  


Below are some of the journey rides you can find on ICA by a variety of contributors. 

Bill Pierce’s journey rides:

A Journey Through Space
Black Friday Intervals in the Shopping Mall
Escape from Egypt
Intervals From Obstacles
Pub Crawl
The Chase Across Europe and the Middle East
This Vampire Marriage Must Be Stopped! 

Other Journey Rides on ICA:

Halloween Murder Mystery, by Leslie Mueller
Halloween: Ride for Your Lives, by Mia Bink
Hounds of Halloween, by Christine Nielsen
Hounds of Halloween, The Sequel, by Christine Nielsen
The End of the World Is Coming (Again)!, by Lisa Piquette
Maya’s Courage: A Tribute to Maya Angelou, by Billy Coburn
North: A Journey Up Everest, by Billy Coburn


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