Benefits of Outdoor Cycling

Turbo sessions are good, but is your love of hi-tech, high-intensity indoor cycling slashing your time in the great outdoors and limiting your skills? Learn the main benefits of outdoor cycling.

Trainer Road, Wattbike, Zwift, Sufferfest, the list goes on; there are numerous ways of spicing up what was once a boring and tedious turbo session. For those who’re time-poor or the weather is inclement, cycling indoors is usually the best option. Indoor training sessions can be carefully structured, mentally as well as physically stimulating, and tough enough to put your eyes out on stalks. But regardless of these advantages, we’re seeing a worrying new trend: cyclists spending more time on their trainers than outdoors on their bikes. The “pain cave” is the latest cycling accessory, an entire room devoted to indoor training. Kitted out with the most recent audio and visual equipment, it has a fan, turbo and a mat to absorb the litres of sweat its owner goes there to produce. It’s as if the world of Zwift or Sufferlandria is now more interesting than life outside on two wheels. If you live in a busy city centre, cycling inside feels safer, the environment more controllable. You can train more effectively if you aren’t slowing or stopping in traffic. However, if you do all your cycling indoors, you’re missing out — not just on the skills of riding on the road, but the camaraderie and the advantages of being in an outdoor space. Here are top five reasons why you should keep biking in the real world.

indoor cycling
If you live in a busy city center, cycling inside feels safer and the environment more controllable.

BIKE HANDLING EXPERIENCES

Pirelli Tyres once used the statement “Power is nothing without control,” and the same line can be used for cycling. It’s great that your hours on the turbo have increased your power at threshold by 20w, but when it comes to an event you are slow while descending and cornering, you won’t do justice to the hard training you’ve done.

Cycling fast outside feels really good, and the fitter you are, the faster you can summit hills; the faster you approach corners and the more skillful and confident you can be in the bunch. If your goals involve taking part in cycling events or races, then acquiring outdoor riding skills should be a priority.

PROPER FUELING

Eating the right foods and drinking the right liquid during long events is the key to finishing successfully. Even if you are really fit, without proper fueling you will lose time and the ride will feel tougher. If you are mainly doing hour-long indoor turbo sessions, you won’t need to eat, to take gels or even drink an energy drink. Long outdoor endurance cycling sessions offer you a chance to experiment with your nutrition strategy, find out which foods suit you and go well with your stomach. It also gives you an opportunity to practice the simple, yet practical skills of undoing wrappers, getting your bottle in and out of its cage, and replacing litter in your back pocket. This may sound incredibly basic but we’ve recently seen examples of cyclists who’ve under-fueled or become dehydrated only because they haven’t had the skill or confidence to eat and drink while cycling.

cycling on a road
Cycling outdoors gives you a chance to practice the simple, yet practical skills of undoing wrappers, getting your bottle in and out of its cage, and replacing litter in your back pocket.

 

EXERCISING OUTDOORS IMPROVES MOOD

There’s no disputing the endorphin rush you can get from a super-demanding turbo session. To have absolutely hammered yourself to the point where your knees are shaking and hands are trembling feels good. However, some of the mental benefits from training outside you just can’t get when exercising indoors. Being in a green space such as a park, forest or rural area reduces stress levels. In a study published in the journal of Environmental Science and Technology, in 2011, researchers studied 523 participants who completed the same exercise inside and outside, reporting how they felt right after the exercise. The researchers concluded that when compared with cycling indoors, exercising in natural environments was associated with greater feelings of revitalization and positive engagement, decreases in tension, anger, confusion, and depression, and increased energy.

BOOSTING IMMUNE SYSTEM

You may think that locking yourself away in your “pain cave” means you will be less likely to get ill. Training suppresses the immune system, so it’s at its weakest immediately after a tough session, and if you avoid contact with other germ-carrying humans, this may help keep you cold-free. Surprisingly, though, cycling outside may help to improve your immune system because exposure to plants and trees has been proven to have a strengthening effect. In a study published in the Internal Journal of Immunopathology and Pharmacology in 2007, individuals who took two-hour walks in a forest had a 50% increase in the levels of their natural killer cells — which circulate through the body killing bacteria, fungus, viruses, and other invaders.

cycling through a city
Cycling outside may help to improve your immune system because exposure to plants and trees has been proven to have a strengthening effect.

TAKE A BRAKE FROM SCREENS

Many of us spend far too much time in front of screens: the TV at home, the computer at work, watching drama box sets on the couch, and phones as we far to often scroll through Twitter and Instagram. If your luxury “pain cave” is furnished with a large computer or TV screen to help better appreciate the graphics of Zwift or the race footage of Sufferlandria, you should consider a screen break. Staring for too much time at a screen won’t turn your eyes square, what may your mum told you, but the constant exposure to the blue light can damage our eyes and our health. Blue light is harmful because it’s the highest-energy wave-length of visible light. It’S able to penetrate all the way to the back of the eye, through the eyes’ natural filters and may result in eye diseases like macular degeneration. When watching screens, protecting the eyes with glasses or lenses that prevent the blue light from penetrating the eyes is one way. Spending less time staring at a screen and getting outdoors is another. If due to time pressures you often end up training late at night, bear in mind that studies reveal that exposure to blue light a few hours before bedtime suppresses the substance melatonin and delays deep, REM sleep.

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Written by Stephan Blake

Stephan Blake is a cycling enthusiast and rides hundreds of miles every season. On rainy and cold days, he does weight training and high-intensity training to support his cycling performance.

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