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Cyclist tries Sufferfest

Craig Cunningham
16 Feb 2016

Going outside to ride isn't always possible. But rather than a boring turbo session, we decided to try out The Sufferfest...

What exactly is ‘Sufferfest’?

Much like a regular spin class, a Sufferfest session sees you sit atop an indoor exercise bike with loud music blasting in your ears. But while normal spin classes are specifically designed to help you lose a little weight, Sufferfest programmes are engineered to whoop your derrière while working on a certain aspect of your cycling prowess. 

How does it work?

Using Wattbikes, you and up to 20 others in a class brace yourselves as some of the World Tour’s toughest races are projected on a massive screen in front of you. The heroic efforts of the pros push you more than any sweaty spin instructor ever could. Using the smart technology of the Wattbikes, your power, cadence and speed are measured. This will not only record your legendary output for later bragging rights, it also means you can keep track of what you’re doing wrong and what you’re doing right. Throughout the ‘ride’, you’ll be asked to adjust your own effort, rating yourself on a scale of one to 10. These measurements help you recognise how each effort level feels, with 10 an all-out finish-line sprint and one a gentle warm-up.

Why is it useful for road cyclists?

By creating different sessions based on different objectives, Sufferfest can help you train for specific goals – everything from improving your climbing to correcting your form on a bike. The intense nature of the sessions and the practicality of doing them
in a fixed location mean you get a brutal beating without having to travel miles on your bike. The relatively short session times (20-100 minutes) allow you to theoretically do one in your lunch hour – something we took full advantage of when we nipped over to Lee Valley VeloPark for a 60-minute class. As we were newbies, we booked into a so-called ‘Rubber Glove’ session – essentially a time-trial-based class designed to discover our functional threshold power (FTP) – a good measure of our current fitness level. 

What are the other benefits?

For some riders, Sufferfest is also a great way of getting back on the bike after injury. One rider we trained with at Lee Valley was, in fact, doing just that and showed us his recent war wounds to prove it – a scar the size of a small child down his right leg. He’d broken his femur last year and through the church of Sufferfest was getting back to peak fitness in a controlled manner. 

So what’s it like doing one?

In short, hell. For our ‘Rubber Glove’ session we started off with a 20-minute warm up to get the blood flowing. What constitutes a warm-up in ‘Sufferlandria’ isn’t what most normal folk would call a warm up – it’s more like a medieval torture, like biking the gauntlet. In front of us, the huge projector was blasting images from the notorious Flanders Classics. While the faces of the pros became festooned with mud, ours started to become awash with sweat. Just when we were beginning to wonder when it would end, the video plastered messages across the screen to keep us motivated. ‘Pain is good. Extreme pain is extremely good. Agony is ecstasy,’ one read. The absurdity of it all reminds you why you are here. To suffer.  

After building to a stable (7/10) exertion, we were given a breather for a couple of minutes. When came the big one. A sustained 20-minute FTP test that saw our efforts pushed into the red (8.5/10). When 10/10 is an all-out sprint, 8.5/10 for 20 minutes is total torture. We grunted on with raw lungs, bursting hearts and burning legs in the semi-darkness while constant House music banged away, providing the type of beat a slave rower on a Trojan warship would have recognised. By the time the music faded and the lights came up, our kit was drenched and our legs were shaking like a Jack Russell’s in the rain. But, the suffering left us oddly satisfied in the way that only us cyclists really understand. So despite the odd graphics, and the bonkers music, we’re definitely going back.  

Lee Valley VeloPark has launched a monthly VeloStudio membership scheme, with a £30 introductory offer for unlimited studio sessions, or £40 for unlimited studio sessions plus Pay & Ride on the road and mountain bike trails. See for more info.

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