Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

I’ve seen the spinners at the gym. They’re the ones lined up a half hour before class starts, clutching two water bottles and a towel. They stand there patiently, shifting their water bottles from hand to hand, making quiet conversation. When the instructor arrives, they file into the room and proceed to pedal furiously on stationery bikes for the next 45 minutes while a slim young lady yells at them. LIKE A BUNCH OF LUNATICS.

Seriously, who does that?

Apparently, I do.

I recently joined the bike club here. In an effort to not embarrass myself on the first ride, I decided to try some spinning classes. While it’s not the same as riding my bike, it would at least get my leg muscles ready and add some much-needed cardio to my workout regimen.

It began easily enough. I shoved my feet into the pedal cages and tried a tentative revolution. Obediently, the beast sprang to life, whizzing the one non-fixed wheel with a satisfying mechanical purr. A knob at the base of the handle bars set the degree of difficulty.

The instructor, a perky brunette, cued up her music and climbed on her bike. “Hey guys, are we READY?” she yelled as a Lady Gaga song came crashing through the speakers at maximum volume. My fellow spinners whooped enthusiastically. I smiled nervously, wondering what kind of exercise class encourages battle cries prior to commencing. The instructor yelled out unintelligibly over Gaga. I caught snippets of what sounded like instructions, possibly important ones: “…then you…three positions….water…use your CORE…and then…stand UP…okay?”

“Okay!” we yelled back. I realized then I had passed the Point of No Return. There was no way of getting out of the class now without faking some kind of illness or injury. I hunkered down and grabbed the handle bars. “LET’S GO!” the teacher yelled.

We began spinning furiously. The first couple of minutes weren’t too bad, honestly. I spun happily along for the rest of the Lady Gaga tune. “HA! Who brings two water bottles to THIS kind of class?” I thought with very premature cockiness.

“Alright gang,” the instructor called out, “turn that knob a quarter up!” A quarter turn? No problem! I obliged, noting the slight increase in resistance. “Oh no! We’re hitting some wind!” she hollered, “Half turn up!” Some wind, you say? I laugh at you, wind! I cranked it up by a half turn. “Keep going,” she encouraged, “until it feels like you’re biking through wet sand!” The wet sand part was when I felt the smile evaporate from my face. My heart started to pound loudly and beads of sweat were forming on my forehead. I glanced down at my watch: Ten minutes had passed. TEN MINUTES ONLY.

“Keep it up, guys!” yelled the teacher. “Quarter up!” Again I complied, my thighs burning in protest.

“QUARTER UP!” the teacher screeched. “QUARTER UPPPPPP!!”

For the next ten minutes, I heaved my way though varying degrees of difficulty. Sometimes we were standing and pedaling. Other times she had us sitting. There was also this sadistic hybrid called “hovering” – not quite sitting but still, always, pedaling.

About halfway though the class, it dawned on me that no one was monitoring our bikes. WE set the difficulty. The instructor could sit up there yelling instructions at us all day long, but she couldn’t see how hard (or easy!) our bikes were set. Panting, thighs burning, I employed a life-saving technique I’ll call “the Phantom Turn”. When she screamed for us to turn the setting another “quarter up!”, I moved my hand, not the knob. Yes, it’s true, I was only cheating myself but I was okay with this.

By the end of the class, I noticed with a sense of rugged accomplishment that a few drops of sweat had accumulated under my bike. Looking around the room, though, I saw that most people (including and especially the instructor) had veritable pools of sweat under their bikes. I slid off the bike for the cool-down feeling fully humbled – just because I’m a fitness instructor I am by no means Master of the Gym Universe. In fact, if that class taught me anything, it was just how badly I need an ass-kicking cardio workout in my life.

I survived the class. I even felt pretty good afterwards. I still prefer riding an actual bike, outdoors, with no one yelling at me. But I WILL be there tomorrow, two water bottles and a towel in tow, ready to spin.

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