There’s nothing better than jumping on a bike in a pitch black room with music blaring and peddling until you sweat from your shins, according to Fliss Thistlethwaite. But could an at-home bike replace weekly spin sessions?
Sometimes I sit and daydream about how I lived before coronavirus (BC). My life revolved around a mixture of working in an actual office Monday to Friday - throwing around work banter and enjoying kettle-chats with my colleagues - hitting the gym, and seeing friends and family with any spare time I had left. That’s all changed, obviously. I’m working from home trying to chat to the cat at the kettle (and banter over Slack just isn’t the same), and my workouts have changed exponentially.
My favourite activity (other than my sessions with my PT) BC was a spin class. I loved nothing more than pacing to a studio after work, or even on a Saturday morning, and finding my bike waiting for me in a near-pitch black environment. The music would be blaring so loudly I had no space for the thoughts in my head and all I could concentrate on during the class was making sure my legs were spinning in time with the 30 other people sweating profusely alongside me.
I’ve long extolled the virtues of these classes, despite their often-hefty price tag. But when the virus started to sweep through London, I made a decision for my health not to attend. The bikes are often positioned just 30cm apart from each other – front, back and either side, and it just didn’t feel right to take part in something so physical and sweat-inducing when transmission of the virus was thought to be through droplets and on contaminated surfaces. So that was that. I started doing PT sessions from home and running around my local park. But I really missed spinning. I missed the feeling I had when I jumped on a bike with the tunes blaring and my heart racing. I missed the camaraderie of everyone in that room making their body move to a beat, speeding it up and down as we cycled along a (virtual) course. Could investing in a bike for at-home workouts give me the same endorphin high?
One evening on a whim I looked into buying a Peloton bike, with the allure of the £1750 deal being that it had a 30 day return policy. But further investigation led me to discover I’d need to pay an additional £39/month for unlimited classes, and the idea drifted from my mind. A week later, the team at WattBike dropped me an email offering to lend me a WattBike Atom (£1899) for six weeks as a trial, and I felt like this was my chance to clip in my trainers, sync up my iPad and get back on the bike.
Like a lot of 30-something Londoners, I live in a (very) small one bed house. My husband and I now both work from home too, him at a desk in the bedroom and me at a make-shift desk downstairs. When the bike was delivered, I started to panic. In the context of my house it looked huge. I’d forgotten that I wouldn’t have a dedicated studio to flit to ‘after work’, aka when I walked away from my desk in the evening. But I managed to clear a space behind the sofa for the bike to live when I wasn’t using it, and so the trial began.
I downloaded the WattBike Hub app, and the first time I dragged the bike out from behind the sofa it instantly connected to the app. There was a library of workouts to choose from; I went for an endurance ride to test myself after months out of the game. I posted my feet into the toe cage, lowered the gears and threw on my headphones at top volume.
As the app walked me through the workout, it felt good to pick up speed and feel the power beneath my feet. I think the adrenaline of being on the bike after such a long time out, and the music blasting so loudly, pushed me on. But as I came to the end of my ride, I didn’t feel the same high I used to get at the studios.
Swapping my standard Very Berry post-spin shake for an ice cold water, I dragged the bike back behind the sofa and sat on my doorstep to cool down. It was great having the bike and not having to travel on public transport to get to a studio, but I think that’s exactly what I was missing. The hubbub of people waiting outside a studio before the class, the high fives I used to cringe at when the class had finished, and the smug feeling as I walked away from the studio knowing I’d just pushed my body to its cardio limit. I pushed the negative thoughts to the back of my mind and promised myself I’d try to go on a ride twice weekly for the six weeks to give it a fair trial.
I grew to enjoy the rides more and more. The bike is very impressive; it is heavy enough to feel sturdy under foot but equally light when you’re in a low gear so you can really pick up the pace. I prefer standing and really feeling the power through my glutes to seated rides, where I feel I often over stretch my back. When I got into the swing of the session I could close my eyes and pretend I was in a class back in summer 2019, with my friend Aaron by my side, both of us whooping and hollering through the class, and sweating from places I didn’t even know you could sweat (hello, shins.)
The app that accompanies the bike is also impressive, storing data from your training sessions and analysing your performance each time you ride. I’d never had that much data about my fitness level or ride ability because I don’t wear a fitness tracker, so (as a woman who thrives off data) it was really interesting to see the stats. But as the weeks went by I began to realise working, living and exercising all in the same 2m square room wasn’t going to give me the same high that bustling into a studio does. I thrive off the energy of others. I missed the buzz of the class, and even though I would always do spin classes without my glasses on, seeing the fuzzy outline of people all around me helped me get into a zone I never got to while I was on my own in my living room.
When the six weeks was up I waved goodbye to the bike with conflicting emotions. It was really nice to feel a slice of normality again, to feel the weight of the bike beneath my feet. But spinning in my living room wasn’t normal or natural for me and it didn’t give me the buzz I so desperately still crave. Would I recommend buying a bike to my friends and family who missed spin classes? The first question I’d ask would be: what do you enjoy the most about the sessions? If it’s the ride, then it’s a worthwhile investment. If it’s the lifestyle, I’ve realised nothing can replace that.
Images: Stylist own
Felicity Thistlethwaite is the executive editor digital at Stylist.