If you are still going to a gym and take pride in much you bench or squat, it’s time to climb out of that box and smell a different kind of protein shake. We have come far, so far that even running as a fitness activity is not hipster enough. Today, the world belongs to those who talk in FTP and cadence, who discuss aerodynamics as often as NASA, and aren’t ashamed to be labelled MAMILs.

That’s ‘Middle Aged Men in Lycra’, in case you weren’t in the know. It’s quite unsightly. I know this because I have to stare at one such specimen every second morning, when I stand in front of a mirror before I get on my carbon horse and pedal away into the distance, all while staying put in one place. Welcome to Cycling 2.0 — the way the pros have trained since some time, but now, since the pandemic and the subsequent (and consecutive) lockdowns, the way that everyone trains.

But let’s not jump into the deep end; there is still a market for people who wish to do it the old- school way i.e. get on a cycle, wear a helmet for protection, and just pedal around leisurely, taking in sights while working away at fitness. A clear majority of these people happen to be reformed runners or ex-gym-heads; basically people who have possibly been advised to ease the pressure on their knees.

Cycling is a good middle-of-the-path approach, apt cardio sans the physical strain on the joints. But the pandemic has meant that we are getting out less and less. And just like that, static bikes are back. But this is not the bike of yesteryears. Even at its most basic level, the spin cycle type setups will present you with a bike with much customisation (adjustable height from pedal and distance from the handlebar, inclination of riding position, etc.). Another big difference is that you can’t ‘coast’ — a term for when you stop pedalling on a bike and catch your breath, while the wheel decelerates gently beneath (most commonly done when going downhill on a normal cycle outdoors). In these new static bikes, however, the pedals don’t stop moving just because you stopped pedalling. So, even as they slow down under inertia, they keep spinning continuously, and consequently, so do your legs. (It’s like one of those hipster fixies, cycles which often don’t have calliper/disc brakes but can be stopped by retro-spinning the pedals.) These new bikes can also connect to apps where you can simulate cycling through a city or even compete live with someone online in a race around town. All you will need is a bike, a stable net connection, and a device to run the app, and you are good to go. Brands like Flexnest, OneFitPlus, and Cultbike are some brands offering it, and the Flexnest is a lovely experience, overall.

A level up from this is when things get more technical because, with the cycles above, you manually decide how much resistance you want from the flywheel. The next set of machines are called trainers. The simplest kind are rollers where the whole idea is to balance yourself and keep the wheels moving — cheapest of the lot and great for improving balance and core strength without even needing an electrical socket. But if you aren’t a dedicated track racer, it can be boring as hell, not to mention getting on and off them is fairly tricky (read: dangerous). The next type of trainer is called a friction type, where your rear wheel is in contact with a resistance wheel that adjusts the amount of pressure you need to apply to keep the pedals turning. A good one is from Wahoo but even Decathlon makes some decent ones at a budget. These can connect to various apps and the news ones are also ‘smart’, i.e. the amount of resistance they provide can be altered through an app. But they are fairly noisy, not as accurate with metrics and also tend to heat up due to all the tyre friction (so yes, tyre wear and tear is another issue to be addressed here.) But the good thing about them is that almost any regular cycle can be latched on to them which makes them very versatile. On the whole, they are good for a basic workout but as most cyclists eventually become stat-junkies, the love for these trainers fades fast.

Which should then logically lead us to conclude that everyone should just get a cycle trainer from this next category of trainers aka direct drive (smart) trainers. Wahoo, Tacx, Elite, Saris, and Magene are some brands making these babies that remove the need for a rear wheel as your chain attaches directly to the gears on the trainer body, which provides resistance using electromagnets. Then, they go a step further, and connect with fancy apps (which cost upwards of Rs 1,200/month for a subscription) where not only can you cycle through scenic countrysides and cities (all recreated eerily true to reality), but also get a true feel for the environment, emulating the inclines and declines as closely possible. So you, the rider, have to churn out more power going uphill than downhill. Lights to suggest the level of exertion, fancy mats to place the entire setup on, sweat protectors and special tables to place your tablet or phone, the bells and whistles on these devices don’t stop. One can spend almost as much as a cycle getting this kit ready at home. No wonder many men proudly call it their “Pain Cave.”

Well, in my grotto of gains, I have a similar setup — there’s my cycle (a road bike, a Specialized Roubaix) with the rear wheel removed, attached to a Wahoo Kickr Core direct-drive trainer. There’s no mat underneath but there is a rest for my fore-wheel to bring the front of the cycle up to level. I have a basic floor fan, and it’s usually blasting full speed when I am riding barely a few feet from my face. I use a stand to place my Samsung A7 lite tablet (it has Bluetooth but also ANT+, which is a technology specific to fitness equipment, very useful to have and I was surprised to find it on this device). The stand also has space for my phone, the Realme HD Stick TV remote, and my headphones. My towel rests on my handle bar to catch the sweat (and believe me, there is a lot, right from ten minutes in).

I dress up in a semi-kit; that is, I use my cycling-specific shorts (De Marchi, Assos, Castelli) because they have special in-built padding to cushion my rear and also prevent chafing. I have gloves on too (Giro, Castelli), but I give the helmet and jersey a miss. I do have an HR strap (Garmin) to convey my heart rate to the device.

With all this, I log on to either Zwift or Rouvy, two apps that I am subscribed to. There are many others (Fulgaz, Sufferfest, TrainerRoad) and every cyclist will have their preference. I choose a route or training plan and for the next hour (or two, or more) I am unavailable to the world around me.

I train using what is called ERG mode, which sets out training plans for me based on my Functional threshold Power or FTP. The FTP is determined by a test I take from time to time on my bike and trainer setup while using one of these apps. Think of it as a numerical measure of my fitness levels at any given point. This number (expressed in watts) helps the app decide how hard or easy my workouts should be.


The other option is to buy one of those new smart bikes that come kitted out to work with these apps. Peloton is one with lots of online programmes, and a really cool=looking one is the new Wahoo Kickr bike. Others like Wattbike and Tax Neo bikes are also in a similar league. But all these cost a bomb (and that’s without even accounting for the app subscription) and you can never take them on the road so, frankly, most of us still prefer to have a cycle and smart trainer setup that costs about the same but is much more versatile.

For the moment, whether you buy a basic spin cycle or splurge on a fancy direct drive setup, cycling is the new fitness mantra. You can lose weight, have a stronger core, and even a sense of touring and socialising, all while staying in.

HOW TO GET STARTED WITH CYCLING:

  1. Buy conservatively. You don’t need pro-level shorts and shoes to start
  2. Getting a second-hand bike for the trainer can be a great idea. There are some great deals on bikes that can be found from your local bike shop or on online marketplaces like BOTS and Cyclop
  3. Getting a second-hand trainer is also fine. Get the local bike shop to inspect it and service it; these things are good for thousands of kilometres
  4. Another option is to rent it. Sites like buttersport.com facilitate that
  5. Try out the free trial on the training apps to see which one clicks before you subscribe. Ask your friends what they are using, so you can ride virtually together