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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
“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.”
Here we go! British Summertime is ending – the clocks go back at the weekend, but with the right kit there is no need to stop riding through the autumn and winter.
Get yourself the right clothing and kit and there is lots of riding to enjoy on the shorter days like getting in the long winter miles, safe commuting, exhilarating night rides or even the thrills of cyclocross racing.
The UK reverts to Greenwich Mean Time at 2am on Sunday, October 30. That means all clocks are turned back to 1am at that time.
It might be the start of the winter season, but the good news is you’ll get a whole extra hour in bed on Sunday morning.
Light up, layer up, embrace autumn and get out and ride!
The most important aspect of riding once the clocks have changed is to make sure you are visible to other road users. It’s time to invest in new lights – front and rear – with enough power to make you seen and ensure that you have brighter coloured clothing with at least some form of reflectivity and visibility.
There are a number of bike accessories that can also help with your visibility. Some mudguards have a reflective stripe, as do some commuting tyres, or adhesive reflective strips can be stuck to your bike. Lots of clothing, helmets or luggage items will have reflective patches which it’s worth looking out for when making your purchase.
STAY WARM & DRY
As the temperatures tumble it’s also obviously very important to stay warm on your rides. If you have the right clothing, that’s doing its job properly, then you are much more likely to get out in the autumn and winter weather and feel safe in the knowledge that you’re going to be warm and comfortable whatever the elements throw at you.
It’s time to think about whether your clothing selection is good enough to get you through the winter. Have you got warm base layers, enough mid-layers and is your jacket outer shell really up to the job?
Make sure that you have good quality options for all the three key layers – as you may know, layering your clothing is the trusted way to maximise your comfort and allow for adjustments. A good base layer (against your skin) manages moisture; the middle insulating layer protects you from the cold; and the outer shell layer shields you from rain and wind. As well as thermal baselayers, Roubaix clothing tops and jackets, don’t forget to think about tights, hats, gloves and socks for your extremities.
Good lights and visible clothing will both help you stay safe this winter. Make sure that you also have the other accessories that won’t leave you stranded in the cold or wet.
It’s time to stock up on inner tubes and more durable winter tyres. If you’re riding in an area you are not that familiar with then a GPS unit is handy to carry and when the weather gets really cold consider carrying a tyre sealant canister to make punctures much quicker to resolve.
Whatever you do though, don’t let the weather stop you enjoying that ride!
Taking on a multi-day event and how to get the nutrition you need to succeed.
There are many multi-day cycling events throughout the year and a growing number of sportives run with this format such as the Haute Route or London to Paris. Track cycling has it’s thrilling Six-Day races which are contested by pairs of riders and made up of several individual events spread out across a set number of days typically during the autumn months. The London Six Day is set to take place at the city’s iconic Olympic velodrome at the end of October.
To understand this in a little more detail, we spoke with expert nutritionist Annie Simpson of OTE Sports to find out what each rider needs in order to succeed.
Simpson is quick to point out that breakfast is all about replenishing any depleted energy stores and refuelling for the day ahead. Protein is important for muscle recovery, while carbohydrates play a pivotal role in replacing any calories that got burnt during the previous day’s racing.
Simpson’s staple multi-day breakfast includes:
A large bowl of porridge made with milk, topped with a banana, a sprinkle of seed and nut mix and a drizzle of honey.
A two-egg omelette is also advised in order to hit optimal protein intake.
“Lunch can effectively be the pre-race meal if consumed between 2pm and 3pm” explains Simpson. “The idea is to have a meal that’s packed with carbs – a move which should ensure riders have enough energy to compete in the evening race.”
She also adds that it’s important to avoid foods that are high in fibre and fat, as both can take a long time digest – an issue that could lead to discomfort during and after the race.
“A good meal idea would be Chicken Arrabbiata served with white pasta” says Simpson – emphasising the need for clean carbs over stodgy options such as carbonara or other cream-based sauces.
During the pre-race period, Simpson adds that the intake of liquid is just as important as food. “A real emphasis needs to be put on hydration” she explains. “Velodrome conditions can often be very warm, especially with a full crowd in the stands.
“It may not sound like much, but a 2% drop in body weight due to dehydration can negatively affect someone’s sporting performance, so it is in the rider’s best interest to stay as hydrated as possible before and during the event.”
Ideally, each rider should consume 60g of carbohydrates per hour. This should ensure that they have the energy to compete throughout each event, as opposed to running out of energy or operating at sub-optimal performance levels.
“Between events there may not be time to stomach a significant snack, or the rider may not feel like eating much after fully exerting themselves each race” says Simpson. “This is where sports nutrition products like energy drinks and energy gels play a vital role.”
Being made of simple carbohydrates, they’re much easier for a rider’s body to break down. They are also quick and convenient to consume, making them the ultimate source of energy.”
Simpson also recommends protein bars and OTE’s recovery shake – as both provide lighter options for riders looking to take on board as much protein and carbohydrate as possible without feeling uncomfortable between races.
After the race, there’s a chance that it might be too late for riders to consumer a proper meal without compromising their evening routine. Because of this, Simpson recommends the following options:
Bowl of cereal with Greek yoghurt.
Tuna and couscous salad.
“Finally”, Simpson adds, “a top tip would be to have a high protein snack before bed. The idea behind this is to help aid recovery overnight. A pure protein shake such as OTE Super Protein, or a protein bar, are great at doing this.”
Have your say
We’ve heard from Annie Simpson, and now we want to hear from you! Do you have any top tips you think we should know about? If so, enter your recommendation in the comment section below.
Like you, we were glued to our screens until the early hours during the Rio Olympics, watching record-breaking TeamGB and their ravenous appetite for gold medals. In the Velodrome particularly there were some truly inspirational performances, not least from Laura Trott and Jason Kenny. Like you, it made us want to get straight on a bike.
Our bike sales since Rio have increased by 61% compared to the same period in 2015, and sportive bikes have been immensely popular – sales are up 85% on last year.
If you are new to the party – welcome, we hope you get as much out of cycling as we have over the years. If you’re not, what are you waiting for?
Since we’re not just about selling bikes, but also helping you get the most out of cycling, this is our complete guide to sportives. From what you need to enter, to how you need to train and what events you should consider, we’ve got it all here.
What are Sportives?
Sportives are mass-participation cycling events, and although there is always a competitive element, riders are looking at their own times rather than racing specific individuals on the road.
To understand the difference between a cycling race and a sportive, think of a running comparison. In a fun run, there are simply too many competitors for it to be classed as a race, so rather than competing against one another, they’re competing with themselves, trying to achieve their best possible time over the distance.
Why do them?
For those looking to make the step up from long bike rides and work commutes to proper, physically demanding cycling events, sportives are a great place to start. There are usually three distance options to choose from, and the friendly faces you meet along the way make every inch of torturous inclines well worth it.
Sportives take place on pre-planned routes up and down the country, with varying challenges on offer depending on the length of the course and the difficulty of the route. So it should be easy to find one that suits your level, and you don’t have to worry about planning your route or getting lost during the event.
What do you need?
Sportive-specific bikes might not look especially different from regular racing bikes, but there are subtle differences to benefit the rider. Weight is still kept low – any weight you carry you have to carry up all those hills – but it’s not as strict as on racing bikes, as a few concessions can be made to suit an endurance race.
The overall shape of the sportive bike frame typically has a more relaxed geometry, making it more comfortable when spending long periods of time in the saddle. The relaxed geometry makes a longer wheelbase for stability, while bringing the handlebars closer and higher so the rider is less extended.
Exactly what geometry is best for you depends on your height and what you find to be a comfortable position – you can find out more detail about bike geometry in our blog, and check out our range of sportive bikes here.
A sportive bike also uses the same tyres of that of a road bike, meaning if you have more than one bike in your garden shed, you can swap and change the tyres depending on the events you’ve got coming up.
First of all, you’ll need a helmet. If you only get one piece of kit, it needs to be this – organised sportives simply won’t let you participate without one.
Specialist cycling shoes are also a must-have, although it’s fine if you’d rather make a steady transition from riding in cages to being fully strapped if you’re just starting out.
One thing that’s worth bearing in mind however is that even the slightest movement of your foot on a bike pedal can impact the way in which the power is transferred from your leg, through the pedals and into the wheels.
Do this once and you compromise your speed at that time, but do this over a whole race and you are making things a lot, lot harder than they need to be. Cycling shoes anchor to the pedals of a sportive bike in a way designed to transfer your leg power to the pedals in the ideal fashion. Trust us: once you try them you will see how much easier it is to accelerate.
As for clothing, specialist cycling attire with modern, man-made materials is the way to go. You can feasibly complete a sportive in a cotton T-shirt and shorts, but cotton retains your sweat, which will leave you feeling clammy, cold and weighed down.
Cycling jerseys should be on all riders’ shopping lists, not only because they come with specially designed pockets for storing food and essential accessories, but because the synthetic materials are designed with comfort and endurance in mind.
Padded shorts are a must-have too, although for those that don’t quite have the funds to invest straight away, a tub of Chamois Cream will certainly help to cure any aches and pains.
While you may see Tour de France riders in just Lycra shorts and a zip-necked Lycra riding shirt, in Britain you’ll need a few more clothing options. Being exposed to wind or rain will leave you feeling cold, which can have a debilitating effect on muscle performance.
In changeable conditions, a combination of a short-sleeved cycling shirt and arm warmers or gloves, along with cycling shorts and leg warmers, will give you options. In colder weather, full-length cycling shirts and trousers may be a better bet.
Modern cycling jackets come with windproof fronts and breathable backs. This is important as windbreakers keep air out but therefore also lock sweat in. Trapped sweat cools you down and can leave you feeling cold. If rain is expected, a thin but waterproof rain cape will keep you mostly dry. The great thing about these is that they can easily be folded up, which makes them extremely easy to transport.
Whatever you decide is the best approach on the given day of your sportive, remember that layering allows you to take off clothes when you get too warm during the ride, but you can’t magic up clothes you don’t have if you get too cold.
You’ll want to carry plenty of liquid on a sportive, so make sure your bike has a couple of bottle cages added to the frame.
Aside from refreshments (more on in-sportive food and nutrition shortly), you’ll want to carry only the bare essentials with you. A small seat-post bag could carry a puncture repair kit, but repairing a puncture is time-consuming and fiddly, and not something you really want to do by the side of the road during a race, possibly in the rain.
Instead, use a seat-post or top-tube bag to carry two spare inner tubes and some tyre levers. If you get more than two punctures you may just have to accept that it has not been your day and put it down to experience! Make sure you practice using your tyre levers at home, so you know exactly what you’re doing should you get a puncture during your ride. Oh, and don’t forget the pump!
A sportive is more than just a long bike ride and although tackling one doesn’t demand the same level of fitness as a cross country or race event, there are a few things to consider before signing up. Even if you’re used to exercise, you still need to get your body used to using the particular muscles associated with cycling, and spending long periods in a cycling position.
Food and nutrition
Our bodies can burn both fats and carbohydrates to generate the energy needed to exercise, but carbohydrates are a far better fuel. Carbohydrates are the petrol in your engine.
As it’s unlikely that you’ll be going on long training rides every day – particularly as you’re just starting to build up your riding capability – you need to make sure that your intake of carbohydrate matches your training. Too much carbohydrate in our diets – i.e. carbohydrate fuel that doesn’t get burned – can disrupt our blood sugar levels, leading to energy fluctuations and mood swings, and cause us to gain excess body weight.
A sensible serving of carbohydrates for a regular meal is about the size of a clenched fist, but before big rides, you can up this to about 50% of your total plate. This is called ‘carb-loading’. While our bodies cannot store huge amount of carbohydrates, you can top up your stores to give yourself the maximum amount of fuel for your big ride.
Good sources of carbohydrate include rice, pasta and bread, but the wholegrain versions of each are better for you and provide a better, steadier carbohydrate release.
While carbs provide the fuel, protein helps you not only build muscle, but repair muscle that gets damaged when you do strenuous exercise. So balance your carbohydrate intake with lean protein-rich foods such as chicken, turkey and fish. You may want to supplement your protein intake with protein shakes or bars.
Everyone is different, and by paying attention to what you eat, keeping everything in appropriate moderation and assessing the impact your food has on your energy levels during training rides, you’ll be able to work out what the best food intake plan is for you.
As you approach the sportive, you can take on a very specific nutrition regime that extends into the race itself. We linked up with Annie Simpson, a nutrition expert from OTE Sports, to provide a detailed pre-, post- and during-race nutrition plan for a 100-mile sportive. You can find that detailed guide here.
Unsurprisingly, the best exercises for inexperienced cyclists focus on the legs – squats and deadlifts, building in intensity, will add necessary strength to your legs so that those first long rides are possible. These exercises can also provide you with ways to keep your training going during those short evening slots when you’re not able to get out on your bike. British Cycling has a useful video guide on the right squats and dead lifts available here.
Once you’re able to tackle longer rides, the best way to prepare for a sportive is simply to ride your bike regularly. Start with shorter, more sedate routes, and slowly build up to more challenging hills – steeper and longer, then add in more hill frequency. Ultimately, you should study the route of your planned sportive – the event website will have this – and try to start tackling similar hills on your training routes. National Cycle Networks will help you find a list of cycling routes in your area.
For those running short on time, why not try extending your commute or investing in a turbo trainer (below) to help you get the most out of your new found love for cycling?
Join a Riding club
A sportive isn’t a personal thing and being part of a riding club can really help you prepare in the best possible way. Riding with others can enable riders to get all sorts of tips and advice, while any long training rides become more of a social event than a mundane workout.
There are over 1,500 UK-based cycling clubs registered with British Cycling, or you can use a site such as RideSocial.co.uk to look for other cyclists in your area.
Or why not start your own club? If you commute daily to work by bike, and are looking to make the step up to a sportive, are there any colleagues who are up for the same challenge? Having peers who are of a similar experience level striving towards the same goal can really spur you on, help maintain interest and training intensity, and make it more fun and rewarding too.
Events for you to ride
The Isle of Wight is a fantastic place to ride a bike, with beautiful scenery and rolling hills galore. The annual Randonnee on the island offers both 55km and 100km routes, making it a suitable event for beginners and more experienced riders alike.
For something a little different, the Lincoln Grand Prix Sportive may seem like easy going over the famously-flat Lincolnshire countryside, but there is an almighty challenge presented by the city of Lincoln itself – a climb up winding, narrow cobbled streets approaching inclines of 20% is definitely an unusual way to end an endurance event. All riders are catered for with routes of between 33 and 102 miles available.
For the more experienced rider, each year the organisers of the Tour de Yorkshire give amateurs the chance to tackle the same final stretch of course as the pros do on the last day of the race. The course changes each year but will undoubtedly be a challenging one.
At the far end of the scale, perhaps the ultimate sportive test found on these shores is the mid-Wales ‘Monster’. Nearly 200km with a seemingly never-ending number of huge climbs over ten hours, up to a third of the 100-rider field have been known to fail to finish. Not for the faint-hearted.
Whatever level you’re at, or want to get to, the huge number of sportives and led rides around the country means you’re sure to find something to aim for.
British Cycling can help you find your ideal sportive with their event finder, then the rest is up to you. Best of luck!