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07 May 2013

"He's Shaving...His Legs."

I've been meaning to post on this for a while. As I regularly remind you readers, I am a cyclist. I ride primarily for fitness, but I also enjoy it recreationally. I've never competed and, though I had aspirations as a younger man, I don't ever intend to compete. I'm quite content to do a solo hour-long aerobic ride six days a week. I generally prefer to ride outside, but when the weather is inclement, I'll ride indoors on a trainer. I have a good friend who occasionally attends spin classes. I regularly have given her crap about it. I've, however, been giving it a little more critical consideration. What are the social differences between spinning and actually riding a bike?

Physiologically, spinning and cycling offer different types of workouts. Road cycling is typically an aerobic exercise, focused on burning fat and increasing cardiovascular endurance. Spin classes, on the other hand, are typically interval training sessions, which are defined by alternating periods of high intensity and recovery. Ironically, spinning is better at preparing participants for competitive situations instead of increased cardiovascular fitness and weight-loss, the presumed goals of most spinners.

Economically, there are steep start-up costs to road cycling. Bikes and gear are not cheap. While I haven't done the maths, I suspect, however, that gym memberships and class fees make cycling less expensive than spinning in the long run. In terms of convenience, a road bike is always available. Spinning classes, on the other hand, are offered on a fixed schedule and, thus, could be a less easily sustainable practice.

Socially, both spinning and cycling can be group activities. Spinning classes do offer a built in social motivation in a barking instructor. While I haven't often taken advantage of them, group rides and local bike clubs can offer much more effective social pressure, though. Both are occasions for social interaction, but cycling feels much more organic.

Culturally, road cycling (and to a lesser extent mountain biking) carry a certain cachet, or cultural capital. Spinning has a middle-class tourist feel, while cycling has an elitist authenticity. This helps to explain a lot of the boundary work done by cyclist. Go into any local bike shop, and you'll get a feel for what I mean. There is a certain level of relatively arbitrary cultural knowledge demanded in such spaces. Those not in-the-know can experience a great deal of discomfort. (Hell, even those of us who are somewhat in-the-know experience discomfort!) This atmosphere is unwittingly cultivated by proprietors and aficionados to maintain exclusivity, thus generating high levels of in-group solidarity. (An ethnography of a bicycle shop would make a great dissertation project for a sociology or anthropology grad student!)

There are certainly some class differences between spinning and cycling. Given the myriad benefits of road cycling, it would be good to break down the social barriers and to grant access to all.

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