Learn the advantages and disadvantages of indoor and outdoor cycling to see the benefits and dangers of both. Find out which one is best for you based on your needs and situation. Let the outdoor vs indoor bikes battle begin!
Cycling has traditionally been an indoor sport. Sure there are some indoor track cycling sports as well, but by and large cycling both amateur and professional happens on the open road or the great outdoors. But conditions are not always perfect for cycling, and there have always been dangers associated with the sport. Indoor cycling has grown up to address these challenges, and recent technological advances have made it a much more attractive option.
But which is better? Does one give you a better workout than the other? Is it worth ditching indoor cycling for outdoor cycling or the other way around? There’s a lot of factors at play in the outdoor vs indoor bikes debate, so let’s go over the advantages and disadvantages of both indoor and outdoor cycling and find out which one is best for you.
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- 1 The Advantages of Outdoor Cycling
- 2 Outdoor Cycling: The Disadvantages
- 3 Advantages of Indoor Cycling
- 4 Disadvantages of Indoor Bikes
- 5 Outdoor vs Indoor bikes: The Verdict
- 6 Safety First
The Advantages of Outdoor Cycling
If you have the time, ask a cyclist about the advantages of outdoor cycling and get comfortable, they’ll talk your ear off for hours. But if you want the long and short of it, read on. Outdoor cycling has exploded in popularity in both rural and urban areas as an environmentally friendly commuting method or a challenging way to enjoy nature’s beauty. There are advantages in many different areas.
As any kid learning how to ride a bike will tell you, “this is hard!” And that’s because riding a bike is all about balance. Shifting weight from one side of the bike to the other, leaning into turns and getting in and out of the saddle all require precise balance to avoid injury or accident.
A bicycle in motion consists of many forces all working with or against each other to propel the machine forward, and keeping it all from falling apart is your body. As your body accomplishes this, it is trained into a precise machine itself. Keeping a bike upright gives you balance training that you can scarcely get anywhere else.
Variations in terrain and other road conditions create unexpected shifts in balance requirement and also strengthen your core abilities. Head and tailwinds keep you on your toes and sharp, so you are ready to react to a shift in your body weight. You just can’t get these benefits from a stationary indoor bike.
One of the biggest reasons that cyclists get out there and ride is…to get out there! Flying through nature under your own power or slipping through side streets and traffic stimulates the mind as you are bombarded with input. This is one of the considerations in choosing between outdoor vs indoor bikes. Varied stimulation and experience, as everyone knows, is key to keeping a mind sharp.
Reacting to hazards and changing conditions also trains you to think better on your feet; while on a bike, if nowhere else. Varying what you see and experience will also keep you from boredom, which can tank your desire to cycle in the first place. An indoor cycle parks you in front of a wall or screen; unchanging and boring.
Perhaps not as great of an advantage as the previous two, but still worth noting. Cycling outside at nearly any speed causes the air to fly by your body and strip away excess body heat. This keeps your temperature regulated and allows you to workout harder for longer. Your power output will maintain better levels as your heart rate won’t spike.
Outdoor Cycling: The Disadvantages
As great as it is, outdoor cycling isn’t perfect. It may seem like there is a clear winner in the outdoor vs indoor bikes fight, but here are some reasons why you may not want to hit the road every day.
Perhaps the most obvious but also serious drawback is the lack of control we have over the conditions we cycle in. Even the most die-hard cyclist must admit that there are some days where you just can’t safely ride your bike outside.
Rain is, of course, a common factor along with other precipitation like snow and hail. Tough cyclists can lower through the rain, but flooded roads and trails are just plain unsafe. High winds can also cause safety concerns, especially in dangerous areas with crosswinds like bridges.
Light is another major factor. Without daylight, your risk of injury skyrockets regardless of terrain or safety gear worn. Sure you can mitigate the risks, but never completely.
And finally, as a cyclist, you are largely confined to the terrain around your home for daily workouts. If you live in a flat area, your workouts will never really challenge you enough to get to the next level. And, if your area is nothing but hills and valleys you may give on cycling entirely due to the difficulty spike.
Good bikes are expensive, and well they should be. Complex machinery with modern materials are great for performance and safety, but not too friendly to your bank account.
Stationary bikes are no bargain either, but they require far less maintenance. Also, most gyms already have a slew of stationary bikes that you can use free with your membership. Not too many have outdoor bikes you can use.
Advantages of Indoor Cycling
So besides being a cheaper option, in the long run, indoor cycling does have other tangible benefits on your workout.
It may not seem like it at first glance, but stationary bikes can offer much more demanding workouts than outdoor bikes. Indoor bikes have variable resistance settings that allow you to push your body to exactly the limit you want.
Cycling outdoors, you can only get as good a workout as the terrain and conditions allow. On a stationary bike, however, you can control your heart rate much better.
We touched on this with outdoor disadvantages, but there are other indoor advantages her. Because indoor cycling requires a much lower range of motion, you can do it even if you are injured, with permission from your physician of course. Indoor bikes can even be used with clavicle injuries, an injury common to cyclists.
Ease of Use
Riding a bike that doesn’t move or fall over is of course much easier than one that does. As such, you can open a book, watch TV or even game while riding a stationary bike. It’s a great way to alleviate the boredom of indoor biking and is even preferable to some who can’t or don’t want to bike around their homes. It’s great if your area is boring.
Disadvantages of Indoor Bikes
Stationary bikes, of course, are not without their drawbacks. Indeed outdoor cycling enthusiasts would love to opine on this topic to you as well. We went over a couple of the advantages to outdoor cycling section, but here’s some more.
Less Complete Workout
The flywheel on a stationary bike causes the pedals to stay in motion once they are put in motion. On an outdoor bike, however, you are working against the friction of the road so your quadriceps and hip flexors get more of a workout as they are constantly working on the pedals. When pedaling a stationary bike, you can allow the momentum to keep the pedals moving very quickly even without a lot of work.
Fewer Calories Burned
While an indoor bike can create a more intense workout, you are going to have to work for it. Since not as many muscles are being worked, you have to go harder longer to burn as many calories as a less intense outdoor ride. They may have more potential for calorie burning, but it’s tough to get to that level.
Outdoor vs Indoor bikes: The Verdict
Your answer to the outdoor vs indoor bikes question depends largely on your goals and situation. There is no one size fits all answer.
If your goal is to burn calories and slim down by getting a decent workout in every day, indoor cycling is a better bet. No need to concern your self with gear or terrain or weather conditions; you can just hop on and crack a book to get going.
Also, you can sacrifice the technical benefits because you aren’t competing anytime soon. Maybe you do want to get into outdoor cycling, but you live in a flat and unchallenging area. An indoor bike will still do you better in this situation.
Check out our reviews of indoor exercise bikes to get you started.
If your goal is to become a better cycler, there is no substitute for outdoor training. Not even close. The muscles and balance you will develop on your outdoor bike will feed into your cycling skills, and you can’t get those anywhere else. Also, if boredom is the enemy when you are working out, getting a change of scenery may be the best way to get you out off the couch.
In a perfect world, we wouldn’t have to choose, but alas, we aren’t always so fortunate. When deciding between outdoor vs indoor bikes, make sure safety and your ability factor heavily in your process. If you must choose, choose the one that will hold your focus and keep you coming back.
We’re done comparing outdoor vs indoor bikes, it would also be helpful to learn more about proper diet and pre-workout exercises before you hop on the cycle!
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