GUIDE: Gym versus outdoor cycling – which is better?

Which is a better workout, an exercise bike in the gym, or an outdoor ride on a proper bike? For us at Ribble, there’s no contest – getting out in the elements on your favourite route beats quite literally going nowhere on a trainer bike every time!

Sure, the weather or darker winter months may force you to cycle indoors, or you could use an indoor trainer for specific interval training, but our preference is nearly always to get outdoors.

Is there any science behind the idea that outdoor cycling is better for you? We’ve taken a look:

Outdoor cycling uses a wider range of muscles

One factor people tend to forget is that when you’re riding a bike on the road, you’re not just using your legs to pump the pedals – you’re also using your whole body to keep the bike balanced, particularly when you’re going fast.

Core muscles like the stomach, back and abdominal muscle groups get a greater workout when you’re keeping a bike balanced, and if you stand, lean or duck while you’re negotiating hills, your shoulders and upper body are taking the strain too.

While you might get some degree of the same workout on a fixed-down exercise bike, you don’t have the same impetus to do so – i.e., keeping yourself upright! So you’re less likely to use as many muscles as you do on the road at the gym.

Riding outdoors pushes you harder

Some argue that you’ll train harder in a gym setting, inspired by the other people around you, than if you were out on the road on your tod – however, at least one study suggests the opposite’s true.

The University of Nebraska at Omaha asked 12 keen cyclists to ride 40km on two separate days: one indoors on a training bike, the other outdoors on flat roads. Although they were asked to put the same amount of effort into both, researchers found they exerted up to 30% more power and worked up higher heart rates on the outdoor ride.

It’s unclear why this is – maybe riding outdoors, with the scenery rolling by, cycling harder doesn’t feel like as much work as it does in the gym, where you’re more focused on your energy levels. Either way, it’s another point in favour of the great outdoors.

You’ll feel the benefit in cold weather

Most gyms maintain the same air-conditioned temperature all year round, but Mother Nature isn’t quite so forgiving. But do you actually burn more calories in cold weather training?

There’s no clear consensus on this. We know the basal metabolic rate (the calories you burn while doing nothing) increases slightly in the cold, but this is hardly likely to make a noticeable difference. It’s also thought that people have more “beige fat” (which burns more easily) in the winter months than in summer.

However, researcher and endurance athlete Michael Joyner MD says cold conditions help your body regulate its temperature better, enabling you to exercise longer and harder than you would otherwise. So while the cold might not do the work for you, it can help you push yourself further.

Finally, it seems intuitive that exercising in the freezing cold outdoors helps develop greater resilience and mental toughness than pedalling away in a climate-controlled gym… but we might be biased.

Best bikes for your improved workout

So hopefully we’ve made our case for why you should ditch the gym membership and get out on the open road for your daily workout or commute to work. With that in mind, here are some of Ribble’s recommended bikes for fitness training and getting out there out on the road:

Evo Pro


Ribble Evo Pro carbon road bike

The Ribble Evo Pro (pictured above) is our popular entry-level carbon sportive road bike. This model has often been a first step into the world of cycling or maybe a cyclist’s first experience of the lightweight responsiveness of a carbon bike so we have acknowledged that by increasing the head tube for a more upright and comfortable position. The Evo Pro is the perfect weekend bike but could also be used for fast commuting and riding sportives and challenge rides.

Ribble CGR

Ribble CGR bike

The Ribble CGR is a light yet robust 7005 aluminium bike with disc brakes and clearance to take 35mm tyres. The key to to the CGR (above) is it’s versatility as a road commuter and all-round bike capable of everything from winter riding to summer trips along the towpath. This cleverly designed frame could easily become the key do-it-all bike that you are looking for.

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Ribble 7005 Winter Audax bike

This is a design classic we’re rightly proud of. The Ribble 7005 Winter Audax (above) is the bike that thousands of UK club racers turn to for their training sessions. With a 7005 aluminium frame and carbon bladed fork, together with mudguard and rear pannier mounts, it’s also a popular choice with commuters and tourers.

 

GUIDE: The Crossing – A Multi-day Fuelling Plan

When taking on multistage events, your nutrition and fuelling plan becomes even more important. For a one day event you may be able to just ‘wing it’ but when riding back to back, a bad day on the nutrition front can seriously catch up with you the next day. When taking on such a challenging event, preparation is key.

Studying the event information is always a must before getting to start line. The Crossing, for instance, is three days of off-road fun. The days are long and lumpy and to be able to keep going, paying attention to your nutrition before, during and after is going to be very important if you want to see the finish line in Scarborough and get that well-earned ice cream

To get the best understanding of the diet needed to succeed, Ribble Cycles spoke to Annie Simpson, an expert nutritionist from OTE Sports, to find out what is needed to take on this feat.

Before the event

Your start each day can take place from 7am. Nutritionist Annie Simpson would strongly advise not skipping breakfast despite the early start. Having a meal three hours before you start exercising is the ideal, but in this case it just won’t be practical. Annie advises having breakfast at 6am at the latest as this will allow it time to settle before you set off. Something like a big bowl of porridge is ideal as it is high in slow release carbohydrates to fuel the first part of your day.

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Fuelling during the event

Each day on The Crossing you will have one pit stop during the day to top up those energy supplies.

Simpson explains that there will be a whole host of snacks and drinks on offer, but having extra food with you is going to be important too. “Did you know that when cycling our body tends to use our carbohydrate supplies, especially when the going is tough. The only problem with this is out supplies are limited, so if we want to be able to keep to a good pace and not ‘hit the wall’ we need to make sure we keep replenishing these carbohydrates stores.”

“How you do this is up to you. Whether it is a banana, an OTE Anytime Flapjack Bar or an OTE Energy Drink, it doesn’t matter. Just as long as you are giving your body the energy it needs” she adds.

Annie confirms that you need to take on board 60g of carbohydrates per hour of moderate to intense riding. Here are Annie’s ideas of what 60g of carbohydrates could look like:

“Work out how long you expect to be riding for and make sure you are carrying the means to get through this or at least have some money to stop and refuel with. Remember you will have your Pit Stop to help and there are also unmanned water stations along the way to top-up your bottle.”

Annie stresses the importance of not neglecting hydration. “Did you know: As little as a 2% loss in body weight through sweating has been shown to reduce performance, so don’t compromise your training by forgetting to drink.

“Approximately 500ml per hour should be sufficient or try and stay just ahead of the feeling of thirst. Using products such as OTE energy drink makes for a much more palatable, lighter on the stomach and enjoyable drink, whilst providing carbohydrates and electrolytes too. Dehydration can not only lead to loss of performance but concentration too, and for 3 days of off road riding, concentration is going to be important for riding safe.”

After the event

Simpson stresses that when riding back to back days, nutrition for recovery or re-fuelling is very important.

“As soon as you finish riding each day, don’t switch off, think recovery! Within 30 minutes of finishing exercising the best way to kick start recovery is to consume a recovery drink. This supplies protein to help with muscle soreness, carbohydrates to replenish the fuel stores you have used and fluid to help you get back on top of hydration. Then resume your usual meal pattern as soon as possible. Each meal needs to be high in carbohydrate (aim for around 50% of your plate) and have a portion of protein if you really want to maximise your recovery.”

Annie continues: “Try having a high protein snack before you go to bed, something like an OTE Protein Bar would be great. This can help with reducing muscle soreness overnight and getting you ready for the next day.

“Then it is just a case of repeating this for three days, until you reach the finish line. Start your preparation and planning now to make sure you get the most out of yourself during The Crossing.”

Good luck in your next challenge!