The loneliness of the long distance exercise cyclist

The ad men have a lot to answer for. Book a hotel online and you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d be spending your time with your nubile other half having pillow fights on double king size beds after gazing across a candle lit roof top bistro table.

The weekday reality of a city-centre hotel is very different. It’s full of men, businessmen. All racking up intergalactic air miles and with enough hotel points to sell their home and take up residence in a hotel. The lobby reeks of alpha-males and loneliness.

I find myself in this very situation during the week, as work has taken me to Leeds. The Yorkshire Tourist board does a valiant job of trying to convince me that there is life out there, but I’m yet to experience it. Outside our client’s offices, my world revolves around room service, tables for two (with 50% occupancy), wake up calls and the smell of ironing.

To try to break the monotony, I thought I’d go for a swim. The hotel’s got a pool but it’s tiny. It feels like you’re swimming in a bath tub. At 13m my mind is working overtime to calculate how many lengths I’d need to do to do a mile. I lose count and get bored of turning and call it a day at about 80 lengths (1040m)

Next evening, I try the gym. Maybe I could get a few miles in on one of their exercise bikes. I’ve always thought that exercise bikes have something forlorn about them; like dancing bears or pit ponies. All that energy expended for so little progress. Exercise bikes are for perspiration not motion: even a Borris Bike has more style simply because it has more potential.

So I swallowed my pride, pulled on my (non-padded) shorts, tied on my (non-cleated) trainers and swung my leg over the (easily adjustable) extra-wide saddle.

Instead of tarmac and fresh air, you’re faced with a ceiling height mirror and data. Lots of data. I never knew that there was so much I didn’t know. Heart rate, calories burnt, rpm, average speed, current speed, distance covered. Whereas before I’d ride my bike, now I’m fat burning, hill climbing, doing cardio repeats. Unsure, I go for “random”, that sounds like a typical morning in the saddle around the South Downs.

I get up to speed, grabbing the fake tri-bars to allow the machine to measure my heart rate and watch myself at work. I think I look daft. Within a few minutes, I’m puce and dripping steadily onto the towel spread across the handlebars. Apparently I’m making progress. The display shows I’m about to ascend a climb of Alpine proportions and the resistance adjusts accordingly. It feels weird to still be in a tuck position – I should be on the hoods, dancing on the pedals, not sat on my arse.

After 20 minutes I’ve maintained an average speed of around 30kmh and burnt a KitKat’s worth of calories.  It’s mentally tough. I can see why people are plugged into their iPods as the monotony takes a toll. After 40 minutes in the Sunday road gang we’d have warmed up, caught up on the gossip and would be getting into the ride. After 40 minutes on the exercise bike I get off somewhat shakily, wipe off the sweat and go back to my room for a bath. The random setting was nothing like the South Downs and that wasn’t just because I was in Leeds.

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