Putting the pedal down

Putting the pedal down

One of Suzanne Rinehart’s favorite bike courses is the “Pretzel.” The route is nearly 45 miles and includes an elevation gain of almost 4,400 feet up a mountain.

“I enjoy punishing my legs on the way up the mountain and then seeing the surroundings change from summer-like conditions to snow and winter by the time I reach the top!” Rinehart said. “The Pretzel route is great training for hilly races for those who live in the Illinois flatlands.”

The Pretzel route is set in the South Pacific. But Rinehart doesn’t have to leave the basement of her Mahomet home to ride the hilly workout. She hooks her triathlon bike up to a smart trainer and rides along with a training program called Zwift that mimics an outdoor workout. Her trainer connects wirelessly to Zwift, transmits the power Rinehart is generating to the program and varies the resistance to match the road conditions on her virtual ride.

Blog Photo“I can ride a virtual course and it’s like it’s real. If I go up a hill, the trainer automatically knows the program and puts more tension on, so I have to pretend I’m climbing the hill,” she said.

Cyclists can join digital group rides, or ride with friends who also use Zwift, watching the progress of the other riders onscreen. Rinehart been using the program for about a year.

“It’s almost like taking an outdoor ride and bringing it indoors. It’s how I do all my indoor workouts,” she said. “It’s very addictive. It’s kind of like a video game. I ride sometimes for two or three hours. It gets really old if you’re just staring down at the carpet.”

Using a bicycle trainer and a program like Zwift is one way for cyclists to maintain their fitness during the winter months when cold weather and icy roads make riding outdoors unappealing or dangerous. Rinehart won’t do a long ride outdoors if it’s below 30 degrees.

As of last week, she had ridden a little more than 6,000 miles for the year. Rinehart -- who has done four Ironman triathlons, including the Ironman World Championship at Kona, Hawaii, in October -- works with a coach who gives her specific workouts to get her ready for her races.

She likes using Zwift with her smart trainer because it allows her to get the exact workout she needs. But cyclists don’t need something as advanced as Rinehart’s setup to work out indoors during the winter. They can use a basic style of trainer that provides resistance against the bike’s back wheel that is mounted onto the trainer. Rinehart used a basic type of trainer before she got her smart trainer.

“If you just want to get on and pedal and ride, they work great. It’s definitely a good solution,” she said.

Some bike shops offer group trainer rides. Neutral Cycle in Champaign is considering offering group trainer rides starting in the new year.

“The disadvantage is you have to drag your trainer (to a bike shop). The advantage is you’re doing a very focused workout, and you have other people sitting there holding you more accountable. You’re going to get a good workout,” Rinehart said.

Another option for cyclists is spin classes, which are offered at most gyms. Rinehart regularly trained for shorter-distance triathlons by doing spin classes, until she started doing longer events and more specific workouts.

“Spin classes are great,” she said.

An advantage to such classes is the motivation gained from working out with a roomful of other cyclists -- and the peer pressure to continue pedaling when you get tired.


Jodi Heckel, a writer for the University of Illinois News Bureau, is a runner, swimmer and triathlete. You can email her at jheckel@news-gazette.com, or follow her at twitter.com/jodiheckel. Her blog is at www.news-gazette.com/blogs/starting-line/.

 Photo: Suzanne Rinehart uses her indoor cycling trainer with the Zwift training program, which simulates on outdoor ride, at her home in Mahomet. Photo provided by Suzanne Rinehart. 

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