Actually, Cycling IS an Impact Sport. Just Ask My Butt.

by Tarja Parssinen
Originally Published: 

I thought long and hard about taking this exercise class. In fact, I thought for about a decade, because I’m not one to jump willy-nilly into anything except a chocolate swimming pool. What is spin class, you ask? It’s a group of people on stationary bikes, in a dark room, with loud music. Like a night club, if that night club were a sauna with people having heart attacks. Naturally, I was worried about a couple of things:

1. The group part

2. The exercise part

But apparently if you want to strengthen something called your “quads” and get something called “cardio,” spin class is a good option for you. So I decided that I should not approach this with the same fear I brought to the high school cafeteria. Dammit, I was a grown up, and it was time to put on my grown-up spandex pants!

The first step to attending your first rave, I mean, spin class, is to make a reservation, which I like to think of as a velvet rope to keep all the non-partying sauna haters out.

The second step is to show up. Which I did—and then realized that the second step should have actually been to buy those ridiculous little velcro biker shoes that make you walk funny. Which made me panic and wonder if I should also be wearing the lycra shorts with the padded butt? Thank goodness I have a naturally padded butt.

Upon entering the cafeteria, I immediately went and sat alone at the back—wait, we decided to not go with scary high school analogies, didn’t we?—and then I ingratiated myself with the teacher and begged for assistance with equipment set-up. I was shocked to discover that these bikes did not look like the Barbie bikes of my youth, nor did they look like chaise-lounges. The bikes in a cycling studio are like the props for a film called 50 Shades of Pain: There’s lots of metal and this leather thing that you stick between your legs. There’s also a screen with all sorts of info, like RPMs and resistance and stuff, that becomes hard to see through your tears. I mean sweat.

(Foreshadowing: I am the resistance. And if “RPM” stands for “Revolutions Per Minute,” then things were looking very France circa Maria Antoinette, and this class was becoming an epic battle for the right to eat cake.)

Of course, the pain and torture and revolt were hard to fathom at the beginning when a gentle Sarah McLachlan remix was playing. True understanding came at 2 minutes and 30 seconds, when my thought process switched from I’m fired up! Yeah! Hell yeah! Let’s jack this resistance up to 13! to Oh sweet baby Jesus I’m having a heart attack. I can’t breathe! Help! Knock the resistance down, knock it down! At that point, we transitioned to hypnotic pop-electronic songs and the instructor was chanting loudly, “THIS IS YOUR MORNING! WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO WITH IT? CLIMB CLIMB CLIMB!”

Because apparently, we were approaching a mountain.

And when we reach mountains, we’re supposed to “RISE UP OUT OF THE SADDLE!!!!”

Let me tell you what it’s like to “rise up out the saddle”—or riding the bike standing up. For this old nag, it’s less of an equestrian analogy and more of an aviation one. It is like I’m a plane taking off and landing, again and again and again. And I need to take off and land while maintaining speed, except my landing gear is really out of practice and my wheels are sticking and it hurts really bad when I crash land on that thin leather thing called the “seat.”

As I climbed Mt. Everest with Bruno Mars screaming at me, I envisioned several scenarios. I was the ancient prop plane landing belly up in a Colombian rain forest. I was the shitty Airbus abandoned in the Hudson River. At one point, I was the JetBlue plane whose landing gear got stuck and kept circling the airport trying to burn off fuel—maybe I don’t ever have to land, I thought! I will stay up out of the saddle the whole class!

Let’s call this a famous last thought before my quad muscles gave out entirely.

When we finally sat down again after that first hill, I was triumphant. True, I felt—and smelled—like uptown funk, but I only had 48 more minutes to endure and it’s not like I had anything to prove. I just wanted to win the Tour de Spin. I mean, when 70 percent of the class are AARP members and they’re kicking my ass, it’s time to look in my heart and wonder why it’s beating so hard and so fast and why I feel like I’m going to die.

On this, my first day of spin class, I learned a new reality:

1. Cycling actually is an impact sport. Just ask my butt.

2. I never want to do this on the open road, unless it’s downhill on a Huffy with streamers from the handlebars.

3. I’m with Lance. The only way to survive cycling is by doping.

Vive le Tylenol.

This article was originally published on