I have a complicated relationship with my indoor cycle trainer, as do most cyclists. I love it because I can get a training ride in no matter what the weather is doing outside. It doesn’t matter if it is cold, dark, raining, snowing, the ride goes on. I also have a job the requires me to be on call for field emergency response on some weekends and nights, effectively making outdoor training rides a poor career choice at those times. I can’t tell my boss that I will be right in, right after I ride the hour or more back to my house and change out of my chamois. The trainer allows me to get rides in when circumstances conspire against me, so I love it. It is also the most boring way to ever ride a bike. Anyone who rides does so as largely an outdoor activity. For most of us, it is where we learned to ride and it is largely the point of riding. To be outside. It doesn’t matter if you ride for fitness, sport, or plain fun; riding is better outdoors. It’s also better with other people. Again, most of us learned to ride to keep up with our friends and now someone to talk to or sprint against helps pass the miles and helps you push yourself harder. My indoor trainer offers none of that, so I hate it.
The worst part of my complicated relationship with my trainer is the results. It works. Two winters ago I joined a gym in an effort to keep riding or exercising over the winter. I rode the stationary bike on a regular basis and went into the new spring confident that I would be a stronger rider. Instead I felt like I had taken most of the winter off. My legs felt like jelly after a very short ride. I did some research and found out the stationary bikes at gyms are good for cardio but do nothing for your cycling. You work your muscles differently. A friend of mine suggested a trainer for the following winter. I set it up in my basement in front of an old television and spent the next winter catching up on my DVR queue. I spent the winter fighting boredom and forcing myself to ride and I was rewarded last spring. I went on my first ride of the season expecting jelly legs and got the opposite. I went further and felt better. The trainer works. It’s a blessing and a curse because if it didn’t I wouldn’t have to spend so much time on it, but I can’t avoid it based on the results alone. I began to search for a way to make trainer rides bearable. I learned to ride intervals because changing pace every few minutes breaks up the time. I started renting Netflix movies, playing music, anything I could to distract me from the truth. I was riding my bike in a basement.
Enter the Sufferfest. I had been seeing Sufferfest Facebook ads and decided to “like” their page based on their humor. The company calls their workers minions and use sarcasm to make their points. At the same time, they publicize their customer’s successes and sponsor lesser pro teams and help get the word out about talented but unknown riders. They do not pretend that riding a trainer is fun. They don’t try to sell you by showing pretty and thin people smiling while riding their bikes on trainers. They appeal directly to every cyclist’s inner masochist. The Sufferfest promise to make riding the trainer painful, but they also promise to make it worth the suffering. Their slogan sums up the entire ethos of the company: I will beat my ass today to kick your tomorrow. That sounds like the thought that every athlete has had while suffering through training, knowing it will be worth it once it comes time to compete.
I contacted the company and asked a few questions, the first being do they want to sponsor an overweight novice cyclist or at least throw him a free video to review on his blog. No such luck. They did respond almost immediately and offer the nicest rejection I had ever gotten. They explained that their focus was really on pro athletes, but they also spent a fair amount of time asking what my goals were and offing some great advice on what videos to try. This all occurred over Facebook and the minions couldn’t have been more helpful. The suggested The Downward Spiral among others and I decided to take my first trip to Sufferlandria.
The Downward Spiral is comprised of a warm up, two sets of descending intervals with a rest between them, and a warm down. It seemed so simple when I ordered it. Riding it was a whole other story. The instructions are simple, every effort is based on a scale from 1-10 and a suggested cadence. You decide what each effort level means to you, but basically 10 is near death and 1 is sitting on the couch. . The visuals managed to motivate me far more than I expected. Race footage from the chase motorcycles immerses you in the action. The editing is superb; each effort is matched to riders making the same effort on screen. There was never a case of seeing a pro spinning along while you were being told to go all out. There are instructions, demanding that you ride harder to not get dropped or to chase back on, further pushing you. The music is great, always matching the action as well. The way Downward Spiral is presented with on screen instruction; you could turn the volume down and substitute other music to suit your taste as well.
The video starts off with a gentle warm up with some great footage of a downhill run. You get an awesome first person view of the jumps and whoops while you wake up your legs. Next is a moderate effort with footage from a group ride. It serves as the rest interval footage as well. I was enjoying looking at cycling as I cycles, pretending to be on a fun group ride, the mood was set. Everything was going great until the descending intervals began. I was enjoying myself and thinking that it wasn’t too bad. The first two minute effort started, with a 9 out of 10 push. I was quickly sucking wind and thinking “whoops”. I survived and went into two minutes of recovery. I was almost thinking that it wasn’t as bad as I thought when it was time to hit 9 out of 10 again for 1:45. This continued all the way down to the: 30 second intervals which ramped up the efforts to 9.5 and 10 out of 10. There is a five minute break in the action where you are allowed to recover with a moderate effort. I started to think that it wasn’t that bad and maybe my efforts could be increased, but then I did it all again. The second set of descending intervals made me feel like lead weights had been tied to my shoes. My legs were shaking by the last interval when there was a surprise. Bonus intervals. There was the promised suffering, right there. The five minute cool down was entertaining footage from the Zurich Bicycle Film Festival entry by Gorilla Bicycles. I had to go back and watch that footage again. I was shaking the first time.
The Downward Spiral was brutal. It was difficult and painful. It was everything I wanted it to be. Once I was done I thought that it was exactly what I wanted out of an indoor training session. It is a great workout that leaves me feeling like I accomplished something more than spinning in place for an hour. I was impressed by the quality and the value. The Downward Spiral is only $12.99 for individual use. There are specials as well, including gift certificates for the holidays and multi video packages. I highly recommend your own trip to Sufferlandria, I know I will be going back soon.