“How do you like your new bike?“
“I love this bike. I love this bike so much I want to take it upstairs and show it a good time.”
I wrote a post a few weeks ago about how, on Labour Day, I spontaneously bought myself a spinning bike, suddenly realizing how much I was going to want easy access to hard movement as the days get colder here in Toronto.
I have never been so grateful for a purchase in my life. The first time I started towelling dripping sweat off myself in my own living room, watching it pool on my wooden floor, I realized that the kind of intensity I get from working out hard, inside, on a piece of good equipment, is a unique, important experience in my portfolio of movement.
The bike is a Bowflex C6, which is about the same footprint as a peloton (i.e, unobtrusive), but about half the price (I paid $1399 Canadian, plus tax and a $125 fee + tip for a guy to assemble it for me). The major difference from a peloton is it doesn’t come with any kind of monitor — you connect to an ipad, phone, computer screen or TV with something like appletv. The bluetooth is seamless, and you can connect it to any streaming service that uses bluetooth (or do a virtual class without connecting; there’s plenty of data on the console). And it has an “ERG” mode, which means that with a virtual program like Zwift that enables it, the program will adjust the intensity of the bike automatically.
I love spinning, and I love my local spinning studio. I’ve been very grateful for the outdoor alley spinning Torq has offered through the summer, and I’m glad they’re able to offer a subscription to virtual spinning. I’ll buy the sub and do classes. And — as much as I love Torq — there is something about the relationship I’m carving out between this bike and a self-guided training program in Zwift that is satisfying a deeply personal need to work hard, in my own rhythm, at my own pace, in my own time. It’s something I forgot I needed.
It’s hard to explain why riding a bike inside, alone, in a virtual world, feels so meaningful. Right now, my life is over-scheduled, all mediated through screens and complex needs of a constellation of people. Weeks with literally 17 zoom meetings, several of them 3+ hours, where I’m facilitating all of the groups. It’s draining in a whole new way. And prep and follow up for all of them.
When I’m not in the zoom, you would think I would want to be outside, be with real life (distanced) people. And I do, and I’m walking, running, riding my bike for errands, hoping to spin outside at least one more time before the snow flies. But there is something elemental about working so hard, so focused, so simply, that is giving me access to a deep flow state that I sorely missed in my life. It reminds me of how I used to feel doing long, solo runs during marathon training: wiped out, on the edge, tested in the best ways, restored.
Sam has written a ton about her love for racing and team riding in Zwift. I’m using Zwift too, but every time Sam posts a photo of her workouts, I laugh. She’s embedded in a pack. I’m alone. Just like my favourite way to ride in real life.
In fact, I’m so alone in my zwifting that on any ride more than half an hour, I’m often wearing the segment jersey, because I’m the fastest woman on the course. Often I’m the *only* woman on the course. But I’ll take the jersey anyway, because I’m working hard.
Fundamentally, Zwift is a simulation, a game and a social platform. I haven’t fully figured it out yet — it’s a massive, popular app, and there are a lot of gear-heady people, and a lot of teams, and many events. But I did figure out right away that the main way I’m going to use it is on my own. I’m so overscheduled that having one more mental timing in my day, one more planned event, is too many. I can’t add “time trials at 4 pm” to my day without something giving. Sam and Sarah have encouraged me to join some of their team events, and other friends have said “lets ride together!” I love that this is possible — and right now, this meditative time, hopping on the bike when the time presents itself for me, safe from traffic, safe from wind, with no timing, pushing myself to the threshold — doing it on my own is deeply restorative.
When I first signed up for Zwift and was figuring out the bike, I realized I needed some sort of vaguely structured program, but one that was completely flexible to my schedule. I came across an 8 week gran fondo training program, and impulsively signed up. (A gran fondo in real life is an organized “big” bike ride, usually a longish distance, but not a race). Right now, I’m in week three of an eight week gran fondo training program and… it’s intense. It’s three 50 – 60 minute rides per week plus a long ride — 56 km and almost two hours last weekend. With spikes for intense threshold intervals.
One of the slightly weird things about the virtual world of Zwift is that even when you’re riding “alone,” you’re in a world with a bunch of other people, from all over the world. Zwift manages the number of worlds available at any given time to create a sense of community — for the most part, anyone riding at that time is riding in one of three worlds. So I’ll be riding along by myself, and suddenly ride through (or be passed by) a peloton of riders. I like the way the avatars apparate (is that a word?) through and past each other, and I also like the Zwift habit of giving and receiving thumbs ups to fellow riders (called “ride on”). I also rode a guy from… somewhere … part of the way through that ride, and my “drafting” him pushed me above my intended threshold for that segment. (I got a little badge for the drafting, and we all know how much I like little badges).
It seems bonkers to enjoy riding for two hours inside my house through a simulated landscape. (I think I was “in” Innsbruck that day). But there’s something incredibly freeing about working this hard with no other inputs — just my body moving, simple intervals — steady, hard, harder, recovery — the sweat dripping onto the floor, and the playlist my niece made for me called “Feel like you can do anything.” I love spinning classes — but the simplicity of this elemental kind of workout is soothing to my world-jangled self like nothing else.
When I finished, I was spent, in the best possible way. I didn’t have to navigate through traffic, or a flat, or getting my bike home, or juggling equipment. The two hours were really two hours, not half an hour getting ready, half an hour driving to the start, 20 minutes stopped at lights, etc. etc. My feet and body didn’t hurt the way they would if I’d run even half that time. Bananas and walnuts were right within reach. My dinner was ready to go on the stove. And I felt “in” my body in a way I rarely achieve.
So yeah, I like the bike. And I know I’m going to be even more grateful for it as the dark and cold descends.
Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives, zooms and spins in Toronto.