The Wages of Spin

November 2020

As part of my long term treatment post-immunotherapy, I go to the doctor frequently. This comes with data collection, namely vitals. Blood pressure, temperature, and...weight. 254lbs. That's 18 stone in British money, or 115kg in enlightenment units.I have never been that heavy. How did I get there?


Putting on weight is like getting into debt. Very slow at first, and then frighteningly quick. I felt this was a fulcrum point. If this continued I would very soon tip into morbid obesity. Since the pandemic started I'd been working from home since Spring. Almost one year ago! As Winter came along I'd developed the habit of sitting around working all day, then sitting around drinking beer and watching telly. I'm 6'3", so I can carry the weight without too much external change, but I'd noticed the tightening belt and the touching thighs. I had become...a fat bastard.


Getting some in

In 2018 I'd developed a good routine at the gym, before I got sick (detailed extensively on this blog if you're curious) and had to stop. I knew I could stick the routine with a bit of effort. I'd got myself an inexpensive spin bike to help out (I used to like to do steady cardio in the gym on the bikes) and decided to pick up that routine again. I targeted 30 mins every other day, as this was close to what I did in the gym. The problem is, it's not enough. I knew that was well short of what the average commuter cyclist does every day. I started to drop days, and pretty soon I wasn't doing it all. Reset.

I resolved to try harder, and decided I'd attempt 30 minutes every day. The problem with the indoor bike is that it does get boring - there's no way past it, it's a simple fact - so rather than do the cardio bunny low-resistance thing while watching Netflix I thought I'd better challenge myself. That's when I discovered GCN's YouTube videos.

Global Cycling Network (GCN) is the 1000lb gorilla of the cycling world on social media. Based in Bath, Somerset England they pump out an incredible quantity of content, and have an international presence, with staff from all over the world. I've counted American, Spanish, and German contributors so far. For me, it was their High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) videos that really helped. Here's the 30 minute one I use a lot:

The first time I tried this it beat the hell out of me. I could only do 15 minutes before an attack of fuck this came over me. I knew it would get better, and the next day I was able to complete it, with the simple trick of slowing down deliberately in the rest periods. I was able to do two weeks of this with 5 on, 2 off, although I felt I could do 6/1, but in the fourth week I started to sense some fatigue in my legs. I have not sensed any injury so for now I'm pressing on.


I realised early on I was short of the sort of metrics that everyone in cycling seems to love, namely:

  1. Cadence

  2. Watts

  3. Heart Rate

I had a simple 'spin bike', with a weighted flywheel, variable resistance via a brake, and a head unit that displayed time, speed, calories, mileage, and odometer. Quite standard for this kind of bike.

Yosuda spin bike

The exercise videos don't expect you to have anything but a bike, which is really quite excellent. They rely on Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) which is a scale by which you estimate your effort from "I can do this all day to "I am going to die" [CDC]. The problem I encountered is '1' is easy enough, and '10' is easy enough, but distinguishing between 6-10 is very difficult. In my own experience the difference between a maximal effort and nearly maximal doesn't feel that big, but the physical effect is profound.

Cadence is simply crank RPM, or how fast you're peddling. You can estimate it by counting the rise of one knee over 10s, then multiplying by 6. I was able to tally that with displayed speed saving me the count, but the digital speedo had slight latency and with my eyes in low light I could strain to read it.

Watts (power, essentially) is the gold standard. The cyclist and bike are basically a system - an engine - and measuring the power output of that system is the most effective way to evaluate fitness. This is typically measured with a meter at the crank, a small strain gauge altering it's own electrical resistance due to deflection and this allows calculation of torque. Multiply that by RPM and you get power. More expensive bikes and 'smart' trainers have this included, or you can purchase pedals that measure it where the pedal fastens to the crank.

I bought myself a fitness 'tracker' for Christmas, which has been very interesting, especially if you like data. I wanted it mainly to capture my heart rate, but it also measures my sleep, and estimates blood oxygen saturation during sleep. These are helpful indicators of systemic health.

To measure is also to pay attention, and I'd realised how much I'd been overeating. I don't count calories, I tried (I really did) and found it frustrating and boring. I do pay attention to food labelling though. Having children about means there's no shortage of very tasty snacks (crisps/chips, cereal bars) and they're right there. I cut the beer to one night a week too. After the first fortnight I stopped trying to train after drinking because it just wasn't working for me, so I organised my time to not have to worry about that.

Winter riding

My wife kindly gave me her bicycle. It's a 'hybrid' bike, which means it's a road bike with fat tyres that can do some limited off-road, and it has an absurd amount of gears, 21, with a 28/38/48 crankset. It also has sprung forks and a sprung seat post. It fits me nicely and has an aluminium frame, but it's pretty stout and doesn't feel much lighter than bikes I owned as a teenager.


The housing plan I live on has a convenient loop that's about 700m long. This forms a nice circuit, but it's on a slope, so one side is entirely uphill with the other, er, down. This has the effect of creating a very short interval between climbs. The first time I tried it was a bucket of cold water. I got completely out of breath after about 20 minutes and had to stop. I was disappointed as I thought I would do better with a couple of weeks spinning under my belt. I just wasn't able to climb well, and it wasn't even that steep. I had tried to maintain a cadence of around 75-80rpm in a midrange gear (why, why? I still don't know why) and it just destroyed me.

The 2nd time out I decided to use the appropriate gearing and simply slow down if I felt my heart ringing in my ear, and managed my 30 minute goal without drama. The third time was similar but I really struggled with the cold. I can't wait until spring when I can take the bike to the park and some trails.

A late convert is a fanatic

I haven't even thought about a bike, because I rather like the one I have, but I have been buying things. I got a chest-strap heart monitor because I can output it to my phone/tablet with pretty much every cycling app. My Fitbit wrist tracker is great but I do find it hard to read during exercise. it's also proprietary and doesn't talk to other apps. Come on, Google. I also splurged on a power meter (I told myself I was going to want one, so just get it over with) and that meant shoes because the pedals are 'clipless', meaning they do in fact, have clips. The whole shoes/cleat situation is utterly confusing, cycling industry. Sort it out. It also gives me cadence, so ya-hoo.

The power meter (Favero Assioma, if you're curious) has opened up a whole world of apps and fun. That's another blog post.

Fat bastard does Zwift

I have no idea what I'm doing why is my heart beating so fast



(Perceived Exertion (Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion Scale) | Physical Activity | CDC)


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