I'm in the final stretch. My legs are pedaling hard and fast. I wipe the sweat, um, perspiration, from my face as I look up and brace to see the rankings. Will I pull ahead? The screen lights up with our names and … Amy Bright flashes into the lead! In that moment, the image of me as a slowpoke third-grader -- the straggler in PE who was last to finish laps, last to be picked for a team -- blew into a thousand little pieces.
I'm in a Flywheel indoor cycling class, where each bike has a screen showing the cyclist's RPMs (revolutions per minute) and "torq," taken from torque, meaning "turning power." The instructor gives a range of numbers the cyclists should be in so they can adjust their efforts. Upbeat music is a big motivator. You can do a 45-, 60-, or 90-minute class, and each includes upper body work with weighted bars stored on either side of the bike.
I did the 60-minute session, which allowed for a nice chunk of cycling time before we went to the weights. You can choose not to have your name on the screen during class, but it was that sense of competition that made me work so hard that I had to lie down … for the rest of the afternoon.
Indoor cycling is my thing. The music, the endorphins, the camaraderie of a class, and motivation of specific goals set by the instructor all give the sense of accomplishment yet a sense of calmness. In a typical gym cycling class, a screen between the handle bars posts your pedaling speed (RPMs), resistance and how hard you're working (watts), and miles. The instructor guides you to adjust the settings so you get an interval workout that simulates an outdoor ride, with sprints, uphills, and downhills. You get a similarly challenging workout at SoulCycle indoor cycling, also with upper body moves using hand weights but no monitoring of your stats.
The focus is on riding to the beat of the music in unison with the class. Sitting in a candlelit studio on bike No. 62 (in the back row), I hear our instructor, Emma, say, "You can modify the ride in whatever way you want — sit down, stand up, go slower, go faster. I'm not going to yell." Oh good, because I don't respond to yelling. The minute we start pedaling, sweat starts to flow—off everyone. Emma encourages us to ride to the rhythm, and we get our upper bodies involved, moving our arms side to side, back and forth.
I'm tapping into my zen, and that's when I feel it. As the rider in front of me swings her arms back, drops of sweat fling onto my face. Not near my eyes, not near my eyes! My inner therapist tries to calm my inner germaphobe: Ignore it; the move is almost over. Despite the flying sweat, the instructor's energy was catching, and at various points, we were dancing on the bikes. Fun, but note to self: Sit under a fan in the front row next time.
Get the indoor cycling class experience on any stationary bike with these apps:
CycleCast: Select a class length (25, 45, or 60 minutes), and download to your phone ($9.99 a month; cyclecast.com). Track your stats with MyFitnessPal.
Global Cycle Coach: Choose music and an instructor style you like, and download these classes (starting at 99 cents; globalfitnessapps.com).
BitGym: Download and stream to the TV for scenery. Works with treadmills and ellipticals, too ($7.99 a month; bitgym.com).