Great/Poor Spinning Bikes have a real impact on the fitness quality I achieve
See the footnote re dated accuracy and updating1
I first drafted this in July 2022 and then it got left in a darkened room while a lot of life happened. Well now I’m bouncing back, so here you go…
It’s a long story but for the last few years I’ve been a member of two gyms and that’s made for some interesting comparisons re the spinning bikes they each have and the impact on my training. Long story short it turns out that I work about 15% harder given a better bike with proper real time reporting of cadence and power. I should add that I’m not a super fit person with much Lycra and special cycling shoes etc. I’m very much an ordinary Joe, now retired and is belatedly determined to be fitter than I have been in my life generally.
The gym with the very basic bikes is Datchet and Eton Leisure Health Club (DEL) (https://www.deleisure.com/) at the Thames Valley Athletics Centre (TVAC). The bikes are Schwinn AC Sport models in white but without electronic consols, so they show neither speed or power. They were ‘new’ about 4 years ago and are clearly very well made if with no smarts whatsoever - at least in the basic form DEL bought.
The bikes at Windsor Leisure Centre (WLC) (https://www.leisurefocus.org.uk/our-centres/windsor-leisure-centre/) are Life Fitness IC7’s, from ICG (https://www.teamicg.com/en/bikes/ic7), were new about a year ago and bought because the sister gym at Maidenhead has been using them very successfully since it opened in 2020. They have terrific colour displays (using power generated by the rider) that show cadence and rider power (and much more), talks to your phone for easy recording and setup and also allow Coach By Color (https://www.teamicg.com/en/bikes/ic7/coachbycolor). In this each rider inputs their FTP (Functional Threshold Power) number - it’s basically a number that says how fit you are - and you are told to achieve certain colours/work efforts through the class. The colours go from White (least work) though Blue, Green and Yellow to Red, Red being the highest effort and not sustained for long generally. Because everybody has their own FTP (calculated by the bike or, more accurately, input yourself following a test), when the class is told to go to Red you can all achieve it because you are each doing your own personal maximum. To add motivation the bikes shine out the colour you are currently achieving to everybody else and seeing a sea of Red in class really encourages you to do more, especially if you are not on Red yourself! This video gives you something of the flavour of these bikes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gljgqggincU If you do a Google you find that one-off these bikes are around £2500 a piece. Not cheap but streaks ahead of the DEL bikes, which I’m pretty sure would have been significantly cheaper - £1000?
I always record my heart rate when doing exercise, using a Polar strap (https://www.polar.com/uk-en/products/accessories/polar-verity-sense/) that talks to my phone, and the Polar app turns that into calories burned and so a clear indication of effort put in.
It occurred to me I could do some back to back comparisons of the bikes/classes to see how much extra work I did on a decent spin bike compared to a basic one - I certainly felt (and feel) more drained at the end of a class with the better bike. Of course instructors are all different and so I tried to record across a number of different trainers. This was all done in the Spring of 2022.
I looked at 7 classes at each gym, with the classes given by 4 different instructors in each location - 8 instructors in total. And it turns out that on average I worked about 15% harder on the better bikes. I don’t claim rigorous scientific accuracy for my 15% extra effort (the classes compared weren’t all done at the same time of the day for example and ultimately they are different instructors at each location etc), but it does bare out anecdotally how I feel about the two types of bike.
Time marched on and within weeks I actually found using the basic DEL bikes an increasing turnoff, because of the lack of feedback and the lack of options it gave instructors, to the point where I no longer spin there. I’ve also found that I have been slowly increasing my FTP on the Windsor bikes and so putting more effort into each spin. Coach By Color is a wonderful system, if it comes with a learning curve for instructors and attendees.
If you are looking at doing spinning as part of your fitness regime then do size up the bikes when you are looking at a new gym and don’t assume they are all broadly the same. I would certainly recommend the Windsor Leisure bikes (and their gym facilities more generally). At DEL the spinning classes are popular but it’s a great shame that the bikes are not really very good. Of course that doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t have a terrific workout, but then again that’s where I thought I was until I discovered the joy and impact of using way better equipment.
So I don’t get suckered in to updating/amending this post in future I just want to say that this is the accurate position when I posted this piece and I won’t be tracking changes here. Things do change over time, so as the months and years go by this post may be less useful and certainly less accurate about what bikes are where. If I have anything substantive to say around this, and my personal experiences at gyms generally, I will add them in other posts, tagged #gym↩︎