SMARTER CYCLING by Ellen Donker
Updated: Apr 14
It’s getting me through March
I hate to be negative, but March is my least favorite month. Except for the fact that I got married in March, I’ve learned to go into the season with low expectations. True, it does mark the beginning of spring, but that’s the precise reason why I dislike it so much. It brings a false sense of hope that better weather is here. I haven’t looked at it from a scientific standpoint but it seems to me that March has the worst weather of any month, with its nor’easters, wind-driven rains and cloudy skies.
What I struggle with during the winter is getting good exercise – the kind that really gets your heart pumping. When the temperature rises above 40 degrees, I take my bike out, but lately those days are few and far between. My friend, Beth, who lives in Syracuse, an excessively snowy and cold locale, put an idea in my head that has helped her: she got a smart bike trainer.
I had heard of stationary bikes from the most basic to the upscale likes of Peloton. And, of course, you can get a “dumb” trainer onto which you plop an ordinary bike. But a smart trainer was new to me. Beth, a triathlete who has finished many Ironman competitions, told me that you can connect one to an app that allows you to cycle with other like-minded people in virtual worlds while tracking everything from your heart rate to your speed to your power output. It even increases the resistance when you pedal uphill. She claimed it was the best Christmas gift her husband had ever given her. Since Beth isn’t given to hype, I counted this as a strong recommendation and asked my husband for a trainer this past Christmas.
Although the videos I had watched promised the trainer to be a snap to pair with my bike – what could be easier than taking off the back wheel and situating the chain on the trainer’s cassette (the thingy with the speeds) – it didn’t turn out that way. On Christmas Day with the help of my daughter Madeline – the only one in the family who likes to help me put things together – I determined that my old bike wasn’t compatible with the trainer. It had the wrong kind of cassette. Of course, this took hours to figure out as I first had to become literate on the parts of a bike. What a downer. I couldn’t even play with my new present.
During the next few weeks, I sought out help from three bike specialists and all of them agreed that I needed a new or newish used bike. So not only had I gotten a pricey smart trainer but now I had to invest in a new bike just so I could ride indoors. It didn’t seem right or easy. Remember: there’s a bike shortage these days.
Still believing there must be another way, I tried one last bike shop and finally got a different solution: They could put a new cassette on the trainer and calibrate it to my bike. Total cost? $52, and problem solved.
It’s now been a few weeks since I started using my trainer and I feel great that I can get some serious exercise indoors. I had to find the right place for it and decided that my very cold family room was perfect. Pedaling a bike indoors is a sweaty endeavor, so the colder the better! That’s why a fan is recommended.
I also needed a screen to use the biking app – in this case, Zwift – so I could see my avatar pedaling alongside other bikers through the likes of Innsbruck, Richmond, New York City or Zwift’s virtual city of Watopia. There are lots of bike races to join, rewards for milestones and a companion app so you can message other bikers or give them a thumbs up. Yes, texting while cycling. At least I’m not steering or facing any road hazards but I did need to buy a phone holder for my bike to keep it in easy reach.
So March just got a tad more bearable. Come April I might even invest in a new bike. The truth is, I had started getting used to the idea of some new wheels. I think it might be the perfect way to welcome a new season of outdoor riding.