By TODD GALATI, M.A.
It has been more than 20 years since Johnny G introduced Spinning® and transformed the stationary bike from a solo piece of cardio equipment into a new group-fitness phenomenon called indoor cycling. The Spinning bike’s design, with the heavy flywheel, chain drive and friction resistance, offered a pedaling experience that mimicked that of an actual road bike. “It was a brilliant design that created the ability to get on top of the gear and keep it rolling,” says Colin Irving, creator of the RealRyder® bike and co-founder of RealRyder® International. Douglas Brooks adds, “Since Johnny G introduced the Spinning bike, there has really been nothing new about the riding experience, until now.”
It is this “riding experience” that inspired Brooks, an international leader in fitness education, to get involved with RealRyder International as director of programming and education. “I never got on board as a master trainer with any other indoor-cycling program,” says Brooks, who is unequivocal in his belief that RealRyder has succeeded in bringing the “ride” of an outdoor bike indoors. “Finally,” he says, “someone got it right.”
The RealRyder Bike
For more information about the RealRyder ABF8 and instructor training classes, or to locate a class in your area, visit www.RealRyder.com.
At first glance, the RealRyder ABF8 has similar features to other indoor cycling bikes, such as adjustable handlebar and seat positions, a resistance knob, water-bottle holders, and pedals with both cleats and toe straps. The drive train is similar to the original Johnny G Spinning bike, with a chain drive and fixed gear, friction resistance and a weighted flywheel. “We followed this pedaling design because it works,” explains Irving.
Still, the RealRyder bike has some unique features that distinguish it from other indoor cycles. For example, it features a sleek bike frame with geometry similar to that of a road bike, creating a cockpit for the rider that feels like a real bike. The large silver flywheel, positioned where the rear wheel is located on an actual bike, weighs a reported 66 pounds, giving it a smoother ride quality than the lighter flywheels common to other indoor cycles. But the RealRyder’s greatest distinction is that it enables riders to tilt, lean and rock the bike.
The RealRyder ABF8 has two pivot points, one behind the seat post and one below the front of the frame, which run along a single descending axis, and a functional headset that allows the rider to actually turn the handlebars. These features combine to allow the RealRyder ABF8 to rock back and forth, lean and turn like a real bike, and the actual bike geometry adds to the real cycling feel. “People consistently comment on how they love the freedom and joy of the ride they get on a RealRyder,” says Brooks.
But beyond the joy factor, it is the quality of the ride that Brooks and other cyclists are referring to when they say that Colin Irving “got it right” when he developed the concept of the RealRyder bike more than 15 years ago. “As a competitive cyclist, I spent many hours training on rollers in the hallway (for balance) and thought how nice it would be to just turn,” explains Irving, describing how he came up with the concept for the RealRyder bike. This led to sketches on training logs, cardboard, paper or whatever was available. “I wanted to create a riding experience, not just pedaling,” he says.
The benefits of the RealRyder’s pivot points and functional steer tube go beyond allowing the bike to turn, lean and feel like a real bike. They also allow the bike to rock back and forth. This is a critical biomechanical feature that has been missing from stationary bikes. After all, the human pelvis was designed to rotate during bipedal locomotion, allowing alternating movements between the lower and upper body. Put your hands on your iliac crests while you walk. You will feel each crest tilt posteriorly as the ipsilateral (same side) leg moves forward prior to contacting the ground (heel strike), and then you will feel each crest tilt anteriorly as the ipsilateral leg moves backward propelling the body forward. While one iliac crest tilts anteriorly, the other tilts posteriorly, alternating repetitively as you walk. You can feel similar pelvic motion, although through a smaller range of motion, when riding a bike.
The RealRyder rocks similar to a regular bike, allowing for a fairly natural pelvic rotation and transfer of momentum through the torso. This transfer is subtle when riding seated, becoming accentuated as the rider stands up. When pedaling out of the saddle, the RealRyder rocks back and forth much like a regular bike, allowing the torso to remain fairly vertical. Other stationary bikes do not allow for this rocking motion, requiring the body to rock side-to-side instead to create a similar fluid pedaling motion from the legs.
Full-body Integrated Movement
You will immediately notice this rocking motion the first time you put a foot on the pedal of a RealRyder bike. Irving says that, on more than one occasion, he has had someone pull him aside and say, “Dude, your bike is broken.” After decades of stationary bikes, we don’t expect our bikes to be “unstationary.” This quality has been reserved for bikes ridden outdoors, where balance, agility and integrated movement are required to navigate around corners, traffic and other obstacles. The RealRyder ABF8 enables riders to experience these same challenges during an indoor workout without having to worry about traffic. You can visualize yourself climbing a hill as you rock the bike side to side, then sit down and pedal as you wind your way down a twisty descent, making turn after sweeping turn. This increases the level of synchronized body movement of indoor cycling that was once the exclusive domain of riding outdoors.
Riding a RealRyder bike requires balance, coordination and core engagement. When you are riding seated and move into a turn, you have to look where you want to turn, push on the handle bar with the hand opposite the turning direction (e.g., push with the left hand to turn right), and engage the core to rotate the torso as you lean into the turn. The bigger the turn, the more you have to push with your triceps, shoulders and core to turn. The longer you hold the turn, the greater the challenge.
Pedaling out of the saddle (standing) on a RealRyder requires full-body integrated movement to balance and control the movement of the bike. “It feels like a real bike, especially when out of the saddle,” says Sue Chandler, ACE-certified Personal Trainer. “You can feel the core engage as you work to maintain balance.” It should be noted that this will initially be a real challenge for most people. Over time, however, the RealRyder can help riders to improve balance and integrated movement. “This bike turns peoples’ programs around…it is very results oriented,” explains Brooks.
A Different Type of Indoor Cycling Class
The RealRyder adds great elements of fun to the indoor ride, while allowing for a wide range of programming options that include turns, riding around obstacles and passing other riders. Fitness professionals who go through RealRyder’s instructor-training program are taught to focus the ride for each class on the bike and the ride profile. The goal is to create the ride profile first by setting the purpose and intent for the experience. Social interaction, in the forms of teams and competition, is incorporated into each class. Riding skills are taught through controlling the rock of the bike, maintaining good form on the bike during riding and turns, chasing simulated riders, and by looking over your left shoulder before pulling out to sprint around another rider. While these drills add to the class experience, they also are relevant to cycling, making participants better cyclists even if they don’t currently ride outdoors.
Currently, the RealRyder ABF8 does not have a computer, heart-rate monitor or power meter, which typically are standard or optional features on most popular indoor-cycling bikes. Irving says that a computer is in development that will offer heart rate and many of the digital functions found on other indoor cycling bikes, and a power meter will soon follow.
RealRyder has trained more 300 instructors since launching a full-day instructor-training course, worth 0.8 ACE CECs, in January 2011. In addition to teaching instructors to focus on the bike and the ride, RealRyder’s training program includes a field test that instructors can use with participants to help them identify their lactate threshold heart rate (LTHR). When participants don’t know their LTHR, instructors can help them to monitor intensity through ratings of perceived exertion (RPE).
RealRyder International has evolved indoor cycling with the release of the ABF8 bike. The ability to turn, lean, and rock the bike puts it in a category all by itself, one that is not matched by riding a road bike indoor on rollers. It couples the joy and freedom of riding a real bike with the full-body integrated movement and balance challenges previously reserved for riding outdoors. In fact, the ride feels so real, you might find yourself reaching for your helmet.
Todd Galati, M.A., is the director of the ACE Academy and a former competitive cyclist and indoor cycling instructor. He holds a bachelor’s degree in athletic training, a master’s degree in kinesiology and all four ACE certifications. Galati’s experience includes directing youth fitness programs at the UC San Diego School of Medicine, teaching classes in biomechanics and applied kinesiology at Cal State San Marcos, conducting human performance studies as a research physiologist with the U.S. Navy, personal training, and coaching endurance athletes to state and national championships.