Technology Trends in Indoor Cycling

What's making the group ride experience better than ever?

By Krista Popowych, BHK
Feb 18, 2016

Fitness technology is not new. Nor will it be slowing down anytime soon. The marketplace is ripe for innovation and application, with an audience that ranges from the general user to the rehabilitation patient.

Enter indoor cycling, which continues to be a popular group fitness option. Boutique cycling studios are popping up everywhere, and fitness centers no longer wheel the bikes out of storage closets into multiuse studios (and back again). Today, fitness facility members

expect

a separate studio dedicated to indoor cycling. Improvements in technology over the past 5 years have made the experience even better—some might say that technology has

transformed

indoor cycling. More often than not, cycling instructors are teaching to packed classes in “blinged”-out studios that use technologically advanced bikes and display systems.

So how does an instructor navigate this new indoor cycling arena successfully? As always, knowledge is power, experience is the best teacher, and success lies in your ability to connect effectively to students

and

to technology.

An Overview

Even if you don’t like or appreciate technology, you need to embrace it or risk being left in the dust. Fortunately, a basic level of knowledge can go a long way. Technological advances in the indoor cycling arena mainly center on bike improvements, data projection systems, app development and tracking systems.

  • Onboard computers exhibit instantaneous feedback and metrics.
  • Data projector systems gather individual rider data, group performance data or a virtual ride simulation and display it directly on a screen.
  • Apps deliver training options and data results, and smartphones and web platforms provide tracking collection and storage.

Read on to find out more about the types of technology you might encounter in class.

Many classes center on competition as a theme. Performance IQ™ was born out of its co-developers’ desire to compete against others during class. Bikes that use this system connect wirelessly, and data on power, heart rate, cadence and rankings are displayed on a screen for riders to view. In addition, personal threshold power, or PTP—Performance IQ’s version of

functional threshold power

—provides a baseline power test. Participants calculate their training zones from in-class test results. Armed with this information, they can see if they’re working in the right zone, which corresponds to color-coded displays.

Simulation is a popular trend, and it may open the floodgates to a new generation of indoor cyclists. Spivi® Studio offers an animated simulation of outdoor riding; class members can see their personal avatars on the screen, cycling alongside other riders and competing with them. Shay Amir, CEO of Spivi, says the system “empowers indoor cycling classes by using interactive 3-D scenery and live road manipulation.” Amir adds that the data, which is collected wirelessly from the bikes, “helps participants visualize training goals, shows real-time performance metrics and provides in-depth data analysis after each class.”

Companies like Myride®+ have created a console that can be linked to end users’ external screens (such as projectors or televisions) and sound systems; the console gives the option of virtual coaching or real-life coaching. The visuals include a standard 30-minute simulated ride, or real ride scenery that instructors can customize for their own classes. The Keiser® Intelligent Projection System, or IPS, shows individual data or team data for power, cadence, energy expenditure and more. You can toggle between the various data screens, which provide various teaching options. In addition, the team competition mode creates random teams separated by an aggregate of average power outputs. This is a good strategy when you want to mix up the teams while maintaining an even playing field.

Most projection systems support an array of indoor cycles. Tech developers understand the value of tapping into diverse markets. Jackie Mendes, director of RealRyder® International, based in Santa Monica, California, reports, “The RealRyder bike supports the use of any onboard technology, data programs or apps that someone wants to add to the ride.” Note that while each data projection system markets a unique offering, many companies collect the same information but display it differently. Data collection tends to include metrics such as heart rate, caloric expenditure and power output, as well as distance traveled, cadence and testing options. Additional features include team modes, personalized ID log-in, bike syncing, privacy setting preferences, downloadable results, outcome summaries and, with certain systems, bike reservation options.

Engineering a bike and developing an app are two different things. Among the available apps, instructors have a wide range of choices. The options include apps that assist in the instruction process and apps that provide ride profiles, data results and tracking. For example, Schwinn® Indoor Cycling Class Tamer™ helps instructors organize their classes—from playlists to what to say and do. Class Builder™ by Cycling Fusion™ allows instructors to generate graphic ride profiles using everything from rating of perceived exertion to advanced training with heart rate, cadence, power and cues.

If facilities can’t, or aren’t willing to, invest in data screen projection systems, apps help fill that void. “Apps can enhance the indoor cycling experience and make a positive impact in class,” observes Paco Gonzalez, director of education for Keiser and an international fitness presenter.

The Pros and Cons of Fit Tech

Like any tool, technology comes with “good” elements and “bad” elements.


Pros.

Data display systems are a great way to motivate cycling participants. The information can engage riders and keep them focused. Having riders race against each other creates friendly competition and encourages class members to push outside of their comfort zones. It also provides instantaneous feedback, and it keeps riders intrigued and goal-driven during and after classes.


Cons.

Instructors must learn how to use the systems and must buy in. “It’s critical that instructors are knowledgeable and passionate about the use of selected technology,” Mendes declares. “Instructors need to ‘own it’—starting with an understanding of what the data means, how to coach with it and how to address common questions that participants will ask.” Gonzalez agrees. He says: “Education and knowledge will play a very important role in how instructors use technology.”

And sometimes it takes more than one try to get it right. If your studio is operating with a new program, do a few dry runs beforehand and be prepared for systems to shut down or not operate correctly. In other words, always have a “plan B” in place. “Technology is not foolproof,” Mendes muses. If you’re going to incorporate a tool into your indoor cycling programs, she urges, “you must have a dedicated person (and budget) ready to manage the daily/weekly issues that will inevitably arise.”

Keep in mind that not all participants love having their personal data displayed in front of a room full of strangers; nor do all class members love competition. 
Be sensitive to those who don’t want to compete, and make sure there are “opt-out” systems in place.

Also be mindful of riders who cannot keep up with the group. Singling out Jane Doe on bike #12 for reaching only the green zone when she should be in the orange zone is condescending and insensitive. Data should be used to provide encouragement, not reprimands.

Staying Connected

Using data-display technology presents interesting engagement opportunities and challenges. Creating a symbiotic instructing experience takes practice. For example, if participants are looking solely at the data screen or their smartphones and are not paying attention to you, you’ll need to find a different teaching approach. Following are some tips and some questions to ask yourself.

  • First, review the drills. Are the directions clear, and are the outcome goals specific?
  • Does the drill complement the technology?
  • Is the delivery engaging? Take command with your voice, playlist and presence.
  • Get off the bike; cue from different locations in the studio.
  • Let riders “ride their ride.” Turn off the data projection for a song or drill, limit your cues and allow participants to delve into the ride experience. Taking away visual stimulation encourages participants to use other sensory systems.

Are You Replaceable?

Given all these technological advancements, many people question whether instructors will be needed in the future. Are avatars and virtual instructors simpler, less expensive alternatives to real-life coaches? Perhaps. However, creating an experience and connecting with others at a deeper level are basic human needs. “Technology is here to stay,” advises Mendes. “But it’s not the Holy Grail when it comes to being a star instructor. Balance is key.”

Technology may display results and collect information, but it can’t replace an

actual ride

experience. No technology in the world can substitute for the physical responses associated with working out, riding to great music and connecting with an instructor or other cyclists. Both the technology and the instructor play an important role in indoor cycling. Tech advances will continue to come fast and furious. Staying ahead of the curve or at least on par with it will keep your classes fresh, engaging and on point.

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Krista Popowych, BHK

Partner and program director at The Fitness Group in Vancouver, Canada, Krista Popowych is an Adidas-sponsored athlete, international presenter and active instructor and trainer. A regular journal contributor, Krista is a member of the IDEA group fitness committee and other fitness industry boards.

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