Cycling is one of those sports that largely passes me by – until July, that is, when the Tour de France pedals into view for three weeks and some of the bravest, strongest and most gifted athletes alive take on this ultimate test of endurance. That level of fitness inspires me to sit up and watch.
Riders participating in the 3,600km race will burn through an average of 5,900 calories per day, and a total of 123,900 over the course of the Tour. The energy generated by the pedalling of one yellow-jersey wearer alone at any given moment can be, according to Wired magazine, as high as 1,000 watts. That’s enough to power seven iMacs – and really something compared with my current workout, which would barely generate enough wattage to power a talking Barbie on voice-rest.
While your ordinary cyclist may slip into a Lance Armstrong fantasy while atop one of the ubiquitous stationary bikes found in gyms across the country, these exercise bikes really don’t deliver the sort of workout the Tour de France riders endure (witness that calorie expenditure cited above). Stationary bikes may have evolved from their 18th-century inception to offer gradients and flashing calorie counters, but they still, essentially, only work the lower body; and if I’ve got just an hour in my day to feel the burn, I need something that’s going to push me further than just up an (imaginary) hill.
Enter the RealRyder, the un-stationary stationary bike that is changing the spokes of indoor cycling. Designed to mimic the actual experience of a road bike, the RealRyder steers, turns, wobbles and bends, allowing you to get as close to the hills of France as you can during your London lunch break.
There’s only one place in the UK where you’ll find this clever new kit, and I wasn’t wasting any time in checking it out. It was time to get my spin – and speed – on.
It’s the first sunny Saturday in recent memory in London, and I have a one-on-one session booked at the Lomax gym in Victoria for an authentic Tour de France experience. Situated in Buckingham Gate near where Google, YouTube and a host of other dot-com monoliths converge, the Lomax gym is a compact space offering a one-stop health and fitness shop for stressed techie execs and the odd MP.
Lomax is purposefully bucking the high-street gym experience to offer luxe personal training and nutrition on a pay-as-you-go basis. The main gym space here houses the most up-to-date equipment available in personal-training “pod” areas, as well as a treatment room and a bar area serving juices, healthy snacks and the requisite coconut water. I’m going to be put through my paces at its impressive flagship Chelsea studio in the weeks to come (stay tuned for this on www.howtospendit.com), but today I have a session with James, a very cute instructor. To keep my motivation high, I have brought my blonde friend (BF) – who has the energy of a seven-year-old without stabilisers – along for the ride. As well as needing the workout, I am also secretly training for a 30-mile charity bike ride through Norfolk in a few weeks time with four of my favourite people – and we’re a competitive bunch.
The BF and I, in a moment of Saturday-morning enthusiasm bordering on madness, have decided to run to the Lomax gym and back; and so we arrive already warmed up and ready to go.
The RealRyder workout room houses 12 bikes for group classes, although a one-on-one is recommended for a first session to get a handle (no pun intended) on the technique. James explains the concept: “The RealRyder is essentially a five-in-one workout. By mimicking the experience of riding an actual bike, it not only works legs and cardio, but also the upper body and the core, and it improves balance. If you are already an active cyclist, you will get the technique quickly; but some need help becoming used to the feeling of movement. Let’s start with some warm-ups to see how you do.”
Lomax have had the UK exclusive on the RealRyders since March, so the kit is gleaming new. The bikes are more like an actual track racing bike than anything else I have seen mounted in a spin class. Professional cyclists apparently use them for training, which would suggest they’re as close to the real thing as you can get. The padded handlebars are flat and outstretched; the seat is high, and the frame is black chrome. Apart from a small wheel beneath the bars to adjust speed, there is no other gadgetry – and certainly no blinking numbers or screens to distract my eye. Mounting the bike causes it to sway a few degrees to the side, and it takes me a moment to get used to the feeling of free movement without thinking I’m going to topple over. Our feet clipped in, our water bottles stashed in the cup hold and with James leading from the front, we get started.
As we warm up our legs with a gentle cycle, James calls the programme: “There are four key techniques and each is designed to work different parts of your body, while all strengthen your core. They’re called ‘Synchronising’, ‘Stablising’, the ‘Hover’ and ‘Turning’.”
Pumping up the iPod with a soundtrack that would certainly keep me and the BF on the dance floor for longer than is age-appropriate, we get started with the 45-minute workout.
Hover, turn, synchronise – sweat! Will RealRyder deliver the truly killer workout it promises? Check back on Tuesday August 7 to find out.