I am not a real rider. I do not own a bicycle (or a car, for that matter); my primary mode of transportation is my own two feet. Years ago, I took up spinning which, as my cycling friends are quick to point out, is not the same as tackling 50 kilometres of hilly terrain. But I appreciated spinning as a workout - the drills, the music, the profuse sweating - and attended three times weekly until deciding I wanted a break a couple of years ago.
Since then, I've had no desire to get back on a stationary bike - until reading about the RealRyder ABF8, a new chain-driven version that tilts up to 18 degrees left or right to simulate turns. Not only does this help engage the upper body and core, it better simulates an outdoor experience. Would this prove to be the missing link in my ambivalence toward two wheels?
There's the old saw that says you never forget how to ride a bike. Well, it's true of spin bikes too. Locked into the pedals and back in the saddle for the first time in years at Cykl, the first studio in downtown Toronto to offer RealRyder classes, I instantly remember the push and pull required of both hamstring and quad muscles. I seem to be weaker in terms of adding in resistance, but I learn that these are heavier bikes and that new brake pads equal a tougher ride. Phew.
The biggest surprise comes when the instructor cues us up for the first of many turns. The action is not nearly as straightforward as moving the arms left or right. The entire upper body needs to work; one hand pushes and the other pulls while the obliques stabilize. Ten seconds feels more like 10 minutes; 30 seconds is enough to guarantee a sweat.
But since I am not used to engaging my upper body, the turns come at the expense of the momentum generated by my legs. Even after multiple classes, I have trouble maintaining my speed while holding my body above the seat. With spin bikes, I can hover and engage my glutes; with Real Ryder, I wobble and am unable to find my centre of gravity.
During one class, the instructor reassures us: "Don't be afraid, let the bike move, it's alive." I suspect, however, that there is a difference between letting it sway gently back and forth and rocking like a teeter-totter.
One thing is certain: You can't cheat.
"The bike tells on you," says Kim Donnelly, Cykl's head coach and general manager. "You have to master being out of saddle before taking yourself into a turn. I usually find it takes about four classes and then [people]have that aha moment when [they]can take a turn more easily."
George Chaker, a long-time spin instructor who has tried RealRyder, approves the improved core element but with a caveat: "If you don't fire your core, it becomes too wishy-washy, the bike wobbles and in a group setting, you don't have instructor who can jump off and correct [you]" This can increase the risk of injury, he explains. "If you're firing your core on a spinning bike, you won't do damage because handlebars aren't all out of place."
And where some people enjoy spinning because they can establish a rhythm and zone out, Mr. Chaker discourages that with RealRyders. "On a spin bike you can go to no man's land and be safe; with these, you have to stay focused."
Lance Armstrong titled his bestselling autobiography It's Not About the Bike. I'd say the same about the RealRyder. There's no doubt it's an efficient and excellent workout. But after all that time pedalling and turning and sweating, I'm still searching for the spark that will get me cycling again. RealRyders come with a learning curve - literally - and that part is surmountable. But as far as a loving curve goes, well, I'm still climbing.
What is it?
A stationary bike designed to mimic outdoor cycling by tilting right and left, to a maximum of 18 degrees.
How hard is it?
You won't sweat if you don't push yourself, and when you don't push yourself, boredom feels much worse than muscle pain. Expect a few moments of breathlessness.
What does it work?
It is a well-rounded cardio and conditioning sweat session that works legs and glutes, biceps.
triceps and core.
What are classes like?
Enjoyment is subjective, depending on whether you share the same music and pacing style as the instructor. There are few buzz kills worse than an eight-minute-long trance track when you're hoping for Lady Gaga.
Who's taking it?
At Cykl, a month-old studio with an industrial cool vibe founded by Michael Williams and Jordi Anderson, riders are a mix of Lance Armstrongs-in-training who take classes as a bad-weather alternative and
local young-professional types.
Sign me up