Why you should try outdoor cycling

The indoor riding alternative everyone is talking about

Why you should try outdoor riding

I know you’d all prefer to ride indoors, but I’m here to tell you about the benefits of a less obviously appealing riding discipline: outdoor cycling.

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Outdoor cycling is much like the indoor experience we all know and love. You work hard, build up a sweat and get a great workout in the company of like-minded individuals*.

But it’s also so much more. Indoor cycling may be the purist’s version of the sport and the one that’s more spiritually rewarding, but if you’re prepared to relax your moral stance, outdoor cycling is almost as enjoyable.

[*Please don’t ride with like-minded individuals if your local laws currently prohibit doing so for reasons of social distancing. Do your bit, and hopefully life will eventually return to something resembling normal. See here for our latest guidance on cycling and coronavirus.]

Going for your first outdoor bike ride

On a practical level, outdoor riding does require some extra kit. You can leave your smart trainer and iPad at home (don’t forget to put a rear wheel on your bike. Doing so is a mistake you’ll only make two or three times), but you will need extra clothing. 

I also recommend that you wear a helmet because the outside world is hard and unyielding for the most part, unlike your spare room or garage.

To be clear, this is actual physical clothing I’m talking out, which you’ll have to put on your body. It’s not as simple as selecting items from a menu.

Riding on a dusty road
Riding outside brings fresh challenges, and it’s not for everyone.
Matthew Loveridge

The actual experience of outdoor riding will feel quite alien at first. Airflow generated by your movement will do a pretty good job of simulating the effect of a fan, but you won’t be able to control it directly – it’s dependent on your speed and the weather conditions.

On the subject of weather, I’m afraid it’s bad news. Sometimes the conditions won’t be perfect and you’ll have to adjust your outfit to suit. Remember, you must bring all the kit you need for your ride in advance; you can’t just pause the ride and switch things up.

Rider-to-rider communication is straightforward during outdoor rides, you simply speak and the sound is automatically transmitted through the air to those nearby. 

The downside of this is that your fellow riders need to be at roughly the same location as you for the system to function.

The benefits of outdoor cycling

Cool lady with two bikes
The outside world is almost as exhilarating as the inside one.
Matthew Loveridge

If all of that sounds like a lot of effort, don’t let that you put you off – riding outdoors is a truly immersive experience. 

Three-dimensional visuals are delivered straight to your eyeballs and the soundscape is incredible. 

Bike-specific effects combine seamlessly with ambient noises from nature and traffic, although you’ll have to supply your own music if you need it.

The physical sensations of riding outdoors will shock you with their immediacy, with features such as gradient (where the front of the bike raises and lowers to simulate terrain) and wind included as standard.

You’ll know exactly when you’re climbing a tough hill and you’ll experience the respite of actual coasting during descents. 

It’s really important that you remember to brake because a moving bicycle has real kinetic energy that needs to be dissipated. 

Braking is pretty simple, just pull backwards on the large levers in front of your shifters. Again, this is something you’ll only forget a few times.

Side view of Shimano R8070 levers
Those big levers aren’t just there to protect the shift buttons on your Di2-equipped indoor bike.
Matthew Loveridge / Immediate Media

Likewise, steering is not an optional upgrade, it’s all part of the fun and an advanced skill that’s great to have in your armoury.

Outdoor cycling isn’t for everyone, I get that. However, we embrace all forms of riding at BikeRadar, no matter how niche, and I really think it’s worth giving it a go even if it’s only as a way to mix up your regular diet of indoor group rides and races.

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If this article inspires you to try outdoor cycling, let us know how you got on in the comments below!