Race Report: The Newark Hilton Stationary Bike Cycling Championships

03.7.2007 | 12:21 pm

I didn’t want a contest. I just wanted to work off the Delta Snack Box, the QDoba Mole Burrito, and the TCBY Frozen Yogurt (with mini M&Ms) I had eaten before, during, and after my flight.

I just wanted to try to do something right, food-and-training-wise, during my trip.

So as soon as I arrived at the hotel, I dug out some shorts and a jersey, put on the running shoes — I figured there was no way the hotel’s gym would have SPD pedals — and headed to the second floor.

There were only two stationary bikes: one upright, one recumbent. And both of them were taken. Both the treadmills were taken, too, which is good or I would have been forced to run. Ick.

So, confronted with the options of either lifting weights or skulking menacingly near the stationary bikes, I skulked.

It worked. Within a few minutes, someone got off one of the treadmills, and the woman on the upright stationary bike hustled over to it — clearly, she had been riding the bike just to kill time.

I got the seat to something approximating the right height for me — not easy when the saddle only adjusts in one-inch increments — and started pedaling the Lifestyle 2000 (or whatever it was called).

Hill Workout Plus
I’m pretty sure that in 1983, some very good salesperson sold the same exercise bicycle to every hotel in America, and that nobody has sold any exercise bikes since then. Meaning, yes, I’ve been on a bike like this before. I started pedaling, pressed the “Hill Workout Plus” button, and started pressing the “Level Up” button over and over, until I felt some resistance.

Then I turned on the iPod, put my head down, and tried to switch off my brain.

I did not succeed.

Here’s the problem with hotel exercise bikes. They’re poorly maintained (mine had a sticking point at the 8:00 position on the left crank), they have short crank arms to monkey up your spinning motion, and their built-in programs are specifically designed to bore you to death and back again.

OK, technically that’s more than one problem.

I endured the Hills Plus workout program pretty well, keeping my cadence right at 100, my heart rate right at 145. The hills never lasted more than a minute, so I didn’t really feel like they should be called “hills.” More like “very big molehills.”

As I rode, I occasionally looked over to my right. There, on the recumbent, spun a guy — about my age — who looked like a triathlete. You know the type.

Now something I’ve noticed in hotel gyms many times: nobody stays very long. I arrive, start pedaling, and by the time I’ve done a half-hour workout, there’s been a complete turnover in the gym.

But not this time. The guy was still pedaling, a nice 95+rpm cadence by the look of it.

So, when the workout ended, I immediately dialed up another one. This time a “manual” workout: a half-hour long spin where I got to specify the resistance at will.

A Brief Contemplation on Saddles and Sorting
As I pedaled, I devised a simple and foolproof test to tell whether someone is a cyclist. Here’s how it goes: Offer a person identical bikes, except one has a narrow saddle, and one has a big, padded saddle. The person who picks the big, padded saddle is the one who doesn’t know better — i.e., the non-cyclist.

The reason this simple test occurred to me is that the saddle I was sitting on was big and padded, and I was rapidly discovering how awful such a saddle feels — the thing was cutting into my butt in any number of painful ways.

On a good bike with a good saddle, I can literally ride all day. I could not, however, ride a bike with this saddle for more than two hours if my butt depended on it.

And it was while I was thus thinking that second half-hour workout ended.

And still, the triathlete (for I was increasingly certain he was a triathlete, though we had not yet spoken) pedaled on.

So I dialed up another half-hour workout.

It was official (in my head, anyway): it was a contest of endurance.

An hour and seventeen minutes into my workout, the triathlete finally spun to a stop. I contemplated saying each of the following things:

  • “Done already?”
  • “Better luck next time.”
  • “Good effort.”

Instead, I said none of these things. He, however, walked up to me and asked, “So do you ride mountain or road?”

Oh, so he was going to try the friendly approach. Fine. I can play that game. “I like both. How about yourself?”

“Oh, I’m a triathlete.”

I knew it. Knew it.

“Hey, enjoy the rest of your workout,” he said, and left.

I continued spinning, at a renewed pace.

Until he had been gone thirty seconds and I was confident he wasn’t coming back. Then I got off that stupid bike and promised myself I’d never ride on a hotel exercycle again in my life.

PS: Everyone who’s bought raffle tickets to support Dave Nice: Dave emailed me last night saying, “Thanks! I am blown away at how helpful cyclists are!” The raffle has earned more than $700 for Dave so far, which is awesome. In fact, it’s more than 1/4 of the total amount Dave’s trying to save up for his race. If you haven’t bought tickets yet, you still can: click here.


  1. Comment by UltraRob | 03.7.2007 | 12:47 pm

    I don’t think I’ve ever made it past 45 minutes on an hotel bike. Even then my butt feels worse than it does after 12 hours on my own skinny saddle.

  2. Comment by Mrs. Coach | 03.7.2007 | 1:27 pm

    I contemplated saying each of the following things:

    “Done already?”
    “Better luck next time.”
    “Good effort.”

    You rightly said nothing; but what you should have done is punched your arms into the air, looked up towards the sky with teary eyes and mouthed a special homage to some dear departed.

  3. Comment by TimK | 03.7.2007 | 1:39 pm

    Should have just told him who you were.

  4. Comment by TimK | 03.7.2007 | 1:40 pm

    At which point he would have either asked for money or advice on naming his bike (and I guess running shoes and speedo too)

  5. Comment by LanterneRouge | 03.7.2007 | 2:08 pm

    How many Double Plus Good Hill Workouts does one need to do to work off a QDoba Mole Burrito?

  6. Comment by Mocougfan | 03.7.2007 | 3:06 pm

    Was he wearing biking shorts or his speedo?

  7. Comment by KatieA | 03.7.2007 | 3:10 pm

    Don’t knock those bikes, they’re the ones I sell – and they’re called “Lifecycles”.

    But it’s true, things are never maintained the way they should be – hotels only call a service if something goes wrong, not just to check it over and look after it BEFORE something happens. *pet hate of mine*

    As for your competitor – do you know how long he was in the exercise room (I’m not calling a hotel room with 5 things in it a gym) BEFORE you wandered in? Perhaps the hour and seventeen minutes you spent on the bikes together was the end of a longer session for him… (just sticking up for triathletes here Fatty – after all, shock and horror, I want to be one)

    And I wouldn’t call it a race or competition unless one of you keels off the bike. Or threw up. Or pedalled so hard the bike came off it’s pegs and you were riding stumps.

  8. Comment by dug | 03.7.2007 | 3:10 pm

    hey, that’s funny, i wrote about stationary bikes today too:


    okay, maybe it’s not funny. but it’s ironic. well, probably not ironic either. but certainly coincidental. unless i told you i was writing about this. did i tell you? i didn’t, because i didn’t decide to until after spin class this morning.

  9. Comment by David Morrison | 03.7.2007 | 3:12 pm

    I despise my stationary bike – even though I have no choice but to be on it almost every day since winter seems inclined to hang on this year like grim death. Actually I should probably feel more charitably toward it since it has helped drop over 40 pounds since last August but I can’t, I just can’t. I have been able to be on my bike, the real one that actually takes me places, twice so far this year and each ride completely blew away my best session on the stationary.

  10. Comment by Mrs. Coach | 03.7.2007 | 3:31 pm

    Dug- I just read your blog and it was pretty funny. I hear the same thing about all spin instructors. Doesn’t seem to matter when or where, they are all of the same breed.

  11. Comment by Argentius | 03.7.2007 | 4:34 pm

    Dug — I borrowed a friends’s mountain bike once and we rode around some fairly non-exciting trails. I succeeded in getting 3 flats and 2 beestings…

    I head around some easy singletrack-to-fire-roads on my ‘cross bike sometimes.

    Beyond that, no, I have never mountain biked. I might change that sometime, but, space is kinda limited, as I live in an apartment and have no garage. And, a road race bike, a cross bike, a fixie, and a TT bike…

    I think I’d have to get out for a number of rides with friends and stuff to get hooked. That might happen…

  12. Comment by Sean | 03.7.2007 | 5:39 pm

    I once hit the Lifecycle in the workout room at my condo complex. 40 minutes was about all I could endure before I threw in the towel. I was walking funny for the rest of the day.

  13. Comment by Jill | 03.7.2007 | 5:53 pm

    TIm: “Should have just told him who you were.”

    Probably not the best idea either. After last year’s “open letter to triathletes,” I’m not sure Fatty is as loved in the tri community as he is in the cycling community.

  14. Comment by the weak link | 03.7.2007 | 6:12 pm

    The most frustrating thing about stationary bikes is that there’s hell to pay if you fire off some snot rockets.

  15. Comment by buckythedonkey | 03.8.2007 | 1:34 am

    Re: no mailing of raffle prizes

    While I am very happy to turf 5 bucks at one of Fatty’s down-on-his-luck mates (and get a FC email address to boot – how easy am I to please!?) I am a little miffed that almost all of the raffle prizes are unavailable non-US residents.

    That is not right and I am accordingly outraged! Here are some (easily executed) options:

    - some vendors (e.g. Twin 6) do ship abroad. Should I win a Twin 6 jersey I would be delighted to pay for the postage.
    - some foreigners (e.g. me) have friends in the US. If I win anything I’d like the option of shipping the plunder to a US-based mate. I can think of a couple of people who would be suitably mystified upon receiving an ironic, unsolicited gift of energy bars.

    Think globally dude. Think World as in Worldwide Web and not as in World Series.

  16. Comment by Terri | 03.8.2007 | 4:45 am

    I love my stationary bike. It’s a CycleOps Indoor Trainer and it’s sweet. I can’t even think of riding a LifeCyle after riding this trainer.


  17. Comment by msk | 03.8.2007 | 6:38 am

    had a similar “championship” recently
    i was part of a team doing a massive 24hr spinathon type thing
    250 stationary bikes in an ice hockey arena

    being the kind soul that i am, i had the 1am – 5am time slot
    pretty early on got into a nice zone HR 130-145 and intermittently i would dial up the resistance and pop out of the saddle to sprint for a while and get the HR up to 170 or so for a minute

    after a while i noticed the spinner to my right would pop off her seat at the exact same time as me and was returning maybe 10 – 15 seconds after me – so ok time to pick this up a bit with a 2 minute sprint – same again, smoothly back into the seat, not immediately after me but 10-15 seconds after (a time that says i could do this all day but don’t want to demoralize you)

    ok so now its war

    my sprints became longer and longer in an attempt to outlast her
    for the next 3 hours i poured sweat, cursed her under my breath, suffered, wept – all while maintaining (i hope) an expressionless mask of indifference

    plain and simple she just kicked my ass

    she was still spinning away as i was relieved at 5am
    we never even spoke or looked at each other but as i walked past her she slightly cracked a smile and nodded inperceptibly and that was that (well actually i may have imagined the smile and nod)



    ps so fatty maybe you need a blog entry on the physical characteristics of trithletes that make them so easy to spot – is it the well toned upper body, the sunny disposition?

  18. Comment by TimK | 03.8.2007 | 6:42 am

    I have to say that I agree with BuckyTheDonkey. I might regret it if I lost the prize I want most to a Euro Fatty Fan, but fair is fair.
    The World Series comment cracked me up, because I could see a British Baseball Club coming to the plate carrying a cricket bat. “We’ll be right back after this tea break.”

  19. Comment by axel | 03.8.2007 | 7:31 am

    the triathlete probably got up to go for a run…
    no wait, this is Newark, the only safe place to run is probably the treadmill.

  20. Comment by DOM | 03.8.2007 | 8:07 am

    OK, I don’t travel for work and don’t stay in hotels all that often, but am I the only one amazed that there were people in the exercise room? I have never seen a sole in one. I guess I need to stay in nicer, business class establishments.

  21. Comment by BotchedExperiment | 03.8.2007 | 8:16 am

    Mrs. Coach, I salute your salute comment.

    Fatty, you should have packed the dahon flo and just taken your chances with the NYC traffic. OOH, maybe you could find one of those crazy bike messengers to follow around and challenge to a race. That would be a good workout.

    Don’t worry, you arent missing much here. Kenny, Ricky, Chucky, Jared, and I went for a 36 mile road ride yesterday in shorts and short-sleeved jerseys. It was fairly glorious.

  22. Comment by RobCat | 03.8.2007 | 11:58 am

    Classic! You were obviously in the same hotel riding the same bike with the same thoughts about the sofa perched atop the seat post that I stayed at a couple of weeks ago.

  23. Comment by DoubleJ | 03.8.2007 | 3:13 pm

    Jill said:

    “Probably not the best idea either. After last year’s “open letter to triathletes,” I’m not sure Fatty is as loved in the tri community as he is in the cycling community.”

    Now, being a triathlete myself, I have to say that I really like Fatty and all his pointless ramblings. I even ordered a jersey, but I’m a little concerned it won’t work for me since I have the toned, greek god-like body most often associated with triathletes.

    Still, most triathletes take themselves a little too seriously and probably don’t get the whole fat cyclist thing.

  24. Comment by LanterneRouge | 03.8.2007 | 3:20 pm

    msk, according to the intertubes parlance, who were pwn3d.

  25. Comment by Ultra Guy | 03.8.2007 | 3:47 pm

    Hey Double J,
    When you decide to get out of the shallow end and are ready to really challenge yourself, get into Ultra cycling or AR. I’ve “been there, done that” with IM events, needed a bigger challenge.
    You might even improve your “geek god” body.
    I do agree that most tri-guys take themselves much too seriously.
    Ultra Guy

  26. Comment by dug | 03.8.2007 | 6:41 pm

    double j and ultra guy, it’s great to see how other triathlets or ultra competitors take themselves too seriously, but you guys don’t. i wanna hang out with you guys, maybe get some pointers on how i can improve my geek god body.

  27. Comment by Caloi-Rider | 03.8.2007 | 10:56 pm

    Hey, I just wanted to clarify, I wouldn’t actually become a triathlete just by doing a triathlon, would I?
    Would I instantly morph into a geek bod-type form? I might have to rethink my spring race plans …

  28. Comment by msk | 03.9.2007 | 6:36 am

    bad news for caloi-rider

    tri·ath·lete (trÄ«-ăth’lÄ“t)
    One who competes in a triathlon

    so if you just “do” the triathlon you might be ok
    but if you “compete” well then my friend you would appear to be a triathlete

    and more bad news

    you don’t “instantly morph” into the greek god bod
    it’s a gradual change over 1-2 days
    some are quicker though, mine was overnight



    oh, and just remember – “slow is smooth and smooth is fast” – a triathlete mantra

  29. Comment by Caloi-Rider | 03.9.2007 | 7:51 am

    Gotcha. No competing in the triathlon. 10-4.

  30. Comment by Tim D | 03.9.2007 | 8:27 am

    Having taken part, but definitely not competed in several triathlons, I can assure everyone that the greek god like body does not miraculously appear overnight. I think they should start introducing a “fat, middle-aged bloke who likes his beer more than his training” category. 4 weeks to my first tri of the year, almost as many weeks as lengths swum this year.

  31. Comment by Ultra Guy | 03.9.2007 | 8:58 am

    Dug –
    I get a lot of that. Unfortunately, most of those who want to “hang out” with me just end up trying to “hang on”.
    It’s tough being as cool, good looking and fast as me (oh yeah, rich too). Women love me. My fans adore me. You appear to be somewhere in between.
    You’ll have to get with JJ to get the pointers on your “Geek God” body. He’s the one who professed to have one. The Greeks never designed anything as magnificent as me.
    Ultra Guy

  32. Comment by Al (female) | 03.9.2007 | 9:07 am

    Man, I’ve been doing triathlons for years and don’t have a Greek or geek body. I’ll blame it on me slowly being sucked into the world of cycling exclusively.


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