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When it comes to winter time, it is always a tough time for cyclists.

In order to keep a decent tone and shape, what is better?

  • a spinning class, 3 x 1 hour / week (that's what my local gym offers, a group of spinning bikes in front of a monitor, where a virtual trainer guides your through a virtual ride on some Tour de France mountain or the like)
  • cycling to work, 10 x 45-60 minutes / week without pushing to the limit
  • I suspect you have a particlar set of conditions and experiences in mind regarding the first sentence. How about you explain? Otherwise the question is contradictory and non sensical. – andy256 Jan 30 '17 at 13:16
  • "Better" for what? The answer is going to be radically different depending on what your fitness goals are and what the winter conditions are where you live. For me, "winter" means that it gets dark before I leave work, it's chilly and it rains a lot; for other people, it means the temperature drops below 10C; for other people, it means the temperature drops below 10F and there's a meter of snow on the ground. – David Richerby Jan 30 '17 at 14:10
  • This cannot be answered in its current form without describing 'better' and 'decent tone and shape'. Are you 'time poor'. If so, which one saves you time (include getting to and from spin class etc). Are you money poor, work out what a spin class costs vs you bike maintenance. Rolling in spare time and cash, consider 3 days commuting will probably maintain 90% of the fitness level of 3 spin classes. – mattnz Jan 30 '17 at 21:18
  • I find spinning in place to be boring. Same as being on rollers or a trainer. Setting a target destination and going there, means that you have to come back too. – Criggie Jan 30 '17 at 23:07
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I'd say riding outside is always better than a spin class or turbo-time. I ride a hilly commute to work throughout the winter 10x 30mins each way, but do intervals too - and ride fixed gear for extra effort. Commuting through winter gets a bad rap (depending on where you live). Sometimes, here in the UK, the weather can be pretty crap, but you do get some absolutely wonderful mornings. Better a bad journey on the bike than a good one in the car.

I'm much happier out in the real world than on Zwift or in a class - although there's certainly benefit to those. If you think that's the most realistic option for then do that. I have no car, so I have no choice. With that being said, it does keep me in good shape for the season.

TL;DR: Commute. Makes you fitter, stronger and more road-aware ready for the season.

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  • "I'd say riding outside is always better than a spin class" Always? Even when the temperature's -20C and there's a meter of snow on the ground? – David Richerby Jan 30 '17 at 14:12
  • Being in the South West of the UK I've never had to ride in snow or -20C I'm afraid, maybe if that was a regular occurrence I might change my mind! Of course, I was speaking from personal experience of cycle-commuting down here :) – Drew Jan 30 '17 at 14:24
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I would say that based on the two riding schedules, even ignoring the winter aspect, and simply from your perspective of keeping toned, the trainer is going to beat commuting in most circumstances.

Firstly, an hour on the trainer is quite an intense workout. You don't stop pedaling for that entire hour. With commuting there's usually a lot of obstacles and distractions that cause you to stop pedaling such as traffic lights, traffic, and road conditions. On a trainer, it's much more feasible to maintain a hard effort as you don't have things getting in your way. You can also maintain much harder efforts because you don't have to worry about falling off the bike and watching where you are going. Getting that last 30 seconds of a hard effort can sometimes only be achieved by putting your head down, closing your eyes, and pushing through the pain/exhaustion.

I commute as much as possible, as long as there is no snow. However, even adding extra miles into my morning commute, I find it hard to get a really good workout in. Even a 40 minute ride only yields maybe 20 minutes of quality riding at a good heart rate and effort. I definitely enjoy riding on the road more, but if your goal is "decent tone and shape", then you will see much more results sitting on a trainer for 3 hours a week than by commuting, especially if you aren't pushing the limit during the commute.

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