Tuesday, October 19, 2010

New stationary bike experience

As I mentioned yesterday, in about a week I will participate with a team at work in a triathlon competition. It won't be a typical triathlon (I describe it in an earlier post), but it will include cycling (kind of), swimming, and running. I am my team's cyclist. It is my job to ride 5 miles in as short a time as I can. Given that this is a workplace competition, the person running the race didn't want to go to the trouble of organizing a real bike race, so he has designed a competition using stationary bikes in the workplace fitness center. I use the treadmills there, but I've never used those particular stationary bikes. So today was the day to try one out.

I adjusted the seat to "25" (whatever that means), as I am a tall guy. I hopped on and started pedalling. A timer kept track of how long I'd ride (I set it for 20 min), and I used another control to increase the resistance. The girl next to me was zooming away at some crazy pedal cadence; she must have had programmed very little resistance. I don't get the point of what she was doing. She was clearly at the upper limit of leg speed and she was breathing very heavy. Whatever works, I guess. There isn't anything wrong with high pedal cadence, but it just seems extreme. One can attain the same degree of cardiovascular work by increasing the resistance and pedalling slower. Heavy breathing is necessary to improve cardiovascular fitness, so this 20-something female was not doing anything wrong in terms of a workout strategy. However, she has no way to increase her fitness level without increasing the resistance. It is possible that her intent was simply to burn calories and not increase her level of fitness, but one does not have to pedal fast to burn a lot of calories if the resistance is high.

I would have loved to have these stationary bikes give a mph estimate of speed. That way I could have looked over to see whether all her crazy pedalling was actually producing the same speed I was generating. On a road bike, the higher gear will increase resistance and lower pedal cadence, but I still go quite fast. With this stationary bike, the output doesn't show speed. Instead, it shows calories burned, distance, and time elapsed. In my first 10:04 minutes I covered 5.0 miles. I then lowered my pace, and at the end of 20:00 minutes I had gone about 9 miles. Doing the calculation in my head, I was doing 1 mile every 2 minutes, which corresponds to a speed of 30 mph. This seems high to me, as I don't normally go that fast on a road bike unless I'm rocketing down a hill. On flat terrain I usually maintain a speed of 18 mph. Take away wind resistance and give me a lighter bicycle frame and thinner tires and maybe my top cruising speed will increase to 25 mph, but I doubt the distance calculations of the stationary bike are realistic. Maybe that's why they don't give mph on the display panel.

In any case, I feel well prepared for the bicycling portion of the triathlon. I will practice another couple times, and then make my team proud.

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