Like Eating Candy With the Wrapper Still On

Like Eating Candy With the Wrapper Still On

I’ve only ever taken one spin class. I was working downtown, and everyone at work had memberships to the über-cool gym down the street. I tried step aerobics once (hey, it was the ‘90s). I lasted about 10 minutes; stumped by the intricate choreography, I sheepishly returned my stack of steps and slunk out.

As an avid bike commuter, I figured spin class would be an easy way to redeem myself, despite my firmly-held belief that any outdoor activity’s indoor version was a terribly inferior substitute—something akin to eating a candy bar with the wrapper still on. Why do something that, at worst, scarcely resembles the sweet taste of chocolate caramel nougat, and at best, only serves to remind you of what you’re missing out on?

To save face, for one thing. So at my coworkers’ urging (or was it taunting?), I signed up to spin.

I was in decent biking shape going into this. Summiting Seattle’s hills without getting up out of the saddle was (and still is) a point of pride.  But that was little help to me here. I have since come to appreciate that stationary bikes are more exercise equipment than viewed as actual bicycles, but in the moment, drowning in sweat and exhaustion after that 10-minute mark…You want me to stand up AGAIN? What the hell for? Thankfully I made it through the entire session, but my face was beet-red from the effort for hours afterward. (I know it’s a cliche, but with my fair skin, it’s true – my face actually does turn beet red.)

I haven’t been back since, preferring to sit on a real bike and ride up real hills, while looking down my nose at indoor cyclists—until recently.

My next closest experience is with Sufferfest. Again, talked into trying something new by my coworkers, I first tried it a couple of years ago. Having graduated from bike commuter to bike tour leader, I was in pretty darn good shape.

I started off at a moderate FTP (functional threshold power), and I’m pedaling, twiddling my thumbs, asking “is this thing on?” So we crank up the intensity, up, up, up until I’m tied with a couple of the guys that I work with (to one’s delight, and the other’s disgust). I have to admit—that felt good.

Over time, I came to appreciate both the camaraderie and the challenge of Sufferfest with my co-workers. I ride that trainer much harder than I do when I’m just out for a ride on my own. It’s the closest approximation of riding with cyclists who are stronger than I am—and way more comfortable than getting dropped by stronger cyclists. So I grudgingly admit it’s a good workout and a useful tool.

Fast forward to today, where thanks to a wrist injury brought on by years of poor posture while keyboarding (probably started during the step-aerobics era), I can’t ride my real bike. Oh, and having spent most of the last couple years doing way more keyboarding than bike riding, my fitness level is showing it. My once-impressive FTP has dropped about 50 points. Ouch.

Rather than sit back and be done in by a bum wrist, I’m spending a lot of time on the trainer these days (and in a wrist brace). I suit up, see if anyone else wants to spin, pick a workout and press play. Give the music a chance before deciding whether my own is better. Watch the accompanying video and take note that more and more women cyclists appear in the newer programs. Wonder aloud where the pretty places are that pop up on the screen. Realize I’ve forgotten to turn on the fan, hop off and turn the switch—a nice perk to riding indoors. (Not only can I get warm enough in February to overheat, but I can even control the ambient temperature.) Settle in to the ride, maybe chat with friends spinning alongside me. Or dig into a book, looking up to check that I’m still with the program every few clicks.

Is it as glorious as leaning into turns and feeling the wind on my face on my real bike? No, it’s not. I know I don’t stand a chance of stumbling upon the epiphanies that I might encounter on my real bike while traveling through time and space under my own power … but, I still get a good sweat going. I still get to work my legs. I get all the great benefits that exercise brings: I sleep better, slowly but surely inch that FTP back up, feel stronger as a whole person (not just my legs), and I can still fit into my skinny jeans.

If I’m lucky, if I’ve picked the right program to meet today’s threshold formula of energy, willpower and strength, I just might find the magical space that quiets my incessant inner dialogue and see where it takes my mind and spirit today.  

And unlike actually eating a candy bar with the wrapper still on, there’s no upset stomach at the end. So I just sit back—that is, I sit up—and enjoy the ride.


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  1. TomInAlbany

    I hate the trainer so much, I recycled mine after only using it like 6-8 times over 15 years.

    I like spin classes for two reasons:
    1. It’s social. Even the music adds a welcome component when, if I know the song, it can precipitate a certain enthusiasm for the effort and, sometimes, stoke me to put out great efforts in a longer jam sequence.
    2. Someone’s cajoling me into putting more effort into it that I may not be willing to give myself

    You’re right in that they don’t view it as a bike so much as exercise equipment. It’s OK though. In the winter here in Albany, NY, I do spin classes a couple of times a week just to keep some fitness. I’m hoping I’ve only got a week or two left right now. And I plan to restart doing it next winter as well.

    As for the candy wrapper, it is annoying to no end when I get a little piece of wrapper in my mouth. It really does detract from the joy.

    1. Jennifer Schofield

      I just might give spin classes another try, Tom. We are lucky to have several cycling gyms in Seattle, and after posting this I’ve gotten a few invitations (dares?) from friends. I’m counting your comment among the reasons to go. I’ll be sure and report back!

  2. Andrew

    you’re doing S’fest vids while reading a book?!?!!? you’re in much better shape than i am. i’m utterly blown out by each and every one of them, whether I do them by RPE or watts.

  3. Denis

    Sufferfest has been kicking our ***’s over the winter. A shout out to Craig and Cycle U in Seattle where our team suffers hard once a week pretending we’re getting ready for better weather and daylight. It’s just a bout time to test our theory now that it’s ‘dry’ and ‘warm’. And yes, if you’re reading during a trip through Sufferlandia, well that’s just not fair.

  4. Andrew

    There are a couple of them that I have done several times, and I still don’t have the slightest idea what happens in the video… (agony, agony, something about a coke machine, agony)

  5. Neil

    Zwift is the best thing to ever happen to indoor riding. Give it a try! Traineroad paired with a smart trainer is also a great experience.

  6. Geoffrey Knobl

    Having a woman that can keep up with or beat me on a bike IS joy (as long as they aren’t smug). And it’s less unusual now than it used to be so while I don’t enjoy spin classes as much as a ride, I enjoy them more than I used to. I just hope they don’t mind a now middle-aged guy sweating like a summer pig trying not to look too foolish bouncing up and down. I don’t like the sprints at max cadence and I hate the up and down of it as that’s just not how I ride. And 45 minutes is too short to build endurance, I think.

    I have not tried sufferfest. I have tried and now subscribe to Zwift. I find their mix of workouts fun and a really good approximation of an actual ride compared to watching Legion or Elementary while on the trainer. I hope it’s upping my FTP. My local gym offers spin classes but has not responded when I asked about Zwift or Sufferfest. And the office? Over here in SW VA we’re about as health conscious at our work place as a typical wino. And by that I mean as hard as it is to get us together during non-work hours I can get a beer of the month club going but not anything exercise related. And facilities to change or shower? These do not exist in our buildings because, why? So, this type of thing is out of the question. Communiques to administration go ignored.

    So, you live in both a paradise (a real, liberal one) and are in better shape that anything we can find out here in the backwoods, which are replete with swastikas to no one’s amusement. Be happy and joyous in your fitness, societal wisdom and safety.

  7. Jennifer Schofield

    So here’s the deal with the book reading while suffering…to be fair, it depends on the workout. Intervals, no books, no way. Longer, more varied workouts, well yeah, sometimes I read a book for part of the workout. (Currently reading short stories by David Sedaris.) There’s a 2 hour workout, I forget the name – but come on, not reading a book, watching a movie, or doing something else during those 2 hours – well, that’s just going to cut that workout short – and that’s missing the point, because my goal is to successfully finish each workout.

    I’m also somewhat incapacitated with this wrist injury (very nearly healed, thankfully) where for several weeks, I wasn’t able to grip the handlebars. Being in an upright position on the trainer, as a bookworm who finds it increasingly difficult to find time to read, well that just leads to reading while suffering. Hm, that does sound a bit like the start of a surgeon general’s warning, doesn’t it?

  8. Jennifer Schofield

    About reading while suffering (sounds like the start of a surgeon general’s warning, doesn’t it?)… To be fair, I don’t do this every workout. Intervals? No. But on the long, more varied workouts, yeah, I’ll pick up a book.

    There’s one workout, I forget the name, but it’s about 2 hours long. Too long to get through without some sort of distraction – or worse, I’m going to quit partway through. And my goal with every workout is to finish successfully, to not get kicked off mentally or physically.

    The wrist injury is the real instigator here. Only in the past couple days has my wrist felt healthy enough for me to reach forward and grip the handlebars for any extended period of time. Get a bookworm on a trainer and take the handlebars out of her hands? She’s going to pick up a book pretty darn quick.

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