Spinning, the Stuff of Life

By Chris Kostman

Originally published in the Bridgestone Owners Bunch Gazette, Issue #4, September 1993, then in Over The Edge, July 1994, then in a shorter form in ULTRA Cycling, Winter 1994. In 1995, when Spinning went "big time," I wrote another article on the subject. Later, I started my own school of indoor cycling and you can read about that here.

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If making a perfect circle was simple, we wouldn't have needed a compass in geometry class, the Egyptians woudn't have needed to discover Pi, and cyclists wouldn't be advised to take up roller riding or use a fixed gear in training. And a perfect, freehand-drawn circle wouldn't be the goal of aspiring artists everywhere, plus a simple perfect circle would have waylaid the inventors of oval chainrings, lever-drive bicycles, and other such bio-spaced products.

There have been scores of articles on developing the perfect spin, lots of coaches, numerous products, and yet, when the dust clears, nothing is more central to the sport of cycling than The Spin. Interestingly, spinning is still viewed almost solely from a mechanistic point of view. This misses much of the point, though, for subconsciously our desire to improve our spin is a reflection of our quest for perfection.

Cycling is one realm of our lives where perfection seems attainable, where Mastery can come to the dilligent and sometims flagellant. The chief manifestation of this potential is The Spin, for this is the flag of excellence that Masters carry to inspire others in their wake.

Interestingly, The Spin may be best understood and mastered by those who don't come to the sport with the preconceptions of traditional cyclists. These Masters of the Spin appreciate both the physical dexterity AND the intrinsic meaning of The Spin. For the great metaphor of The Spin is the perfection that is the Cosmos, the participation in the movement which makes the Heavens go round, the Wheel of Life on which we ride, the greatness of simplicity. (And yes, although an orbital ellipse is no circle, it's still constant and perfect, the stuff of life to be emulated and extolled.)

Who are these Masters of the Spin? They're not pros, not Olympians, some might even say that they're not even traditional cyclists. Instead, they are wide-eyed participants in what amounts to the hottest new trend in the fitness club scene in LA and New York. Invented by black belt martial artist and former RAAM racer Johnny G (short for Goldberg), Spinning is a total body aerobic fitness program that uses special fixed gear stationary bikes, music, and the instructor's motivational efforts to eke out the best workout and best possible spin from the participants. Living by the motto, "Let Go, Get Fit, Live Life, Spin," G's athletes learn far, far more than just how to elevate their heartrate or burn fat. "In Spinning, as in life, there will always be new hills to climb and new challenges to face. If you continue to spin and actively pursue fitness, then strength, awareness, and balance will surely be yours," explains G.

I'll never forget the day I received a call from Johnny G inviting me to come to LA and participate in one of his Spinning® classes. "I think we can do some powerful things together, Chris," he said. In LA shortly thereafter and heading to the Voight fitness club in Hollywood for one of G's classes, I kept remembering what I'd seen of G before: when he won the Race Across America (RAAM) qualifier hands-down in 1986, he had a brand new, black Mercedes for a support vehicle. At the following RAAM in 1987, he had a less stellar performance and dropped out halfway across. G was back in 1989 with a Range Rover support vehicle and a swank looking crew and placed 12th on the tough LA to NY course. Since then, he's earned black belts in two different martial arts disciplines and had become one of the most sought out personal trainers in the Hollywood jet set scene as well. He's trained Kenny Rogers, Brook Shields, Dolly Parton, and others, and has even appeared on Geraldo. So I knew that a Johnny G Spinning Class would be no small production, whatever it was. But nothing prepared me for what I experienced...

The fifteen or so of us rode beefy stationary bikes bearing G's name, while G rode an identical "Johnny G Spinner" bike perched on a small stage and facing us all. First we just spun and warmed up a bit on our own, each of us doing our own thing and getting our bike adjusted correctly. Things changed quickly, though, once G began the ten second countdown that would begin the actual class. With us all chiming in with the countdown and picking up the pace on our bikes, the low hum of spinning cranks and chains took over the room. The lights were soon extinguished and music began to blare from speakers in each corner of the mirrored room. Things were getting serious.

The next fifty minutes were a blur in a sweat lodge. We rode fast, we rode slow, we pedalled in the saddle, we pedalled out of the saddle, we did things I've never seen done before on a bike. Like pedalling no-hands and holding our arms straight up until the lack of blood made our arms scream. Or doing forceful breathing exercises while making different arm motions in the air in front of us like Jean-Claude Van Damme. Or spinning the cranks around so fast that it seemed like a loss of concentration just might have made the bike flip over on top of us. Or listening to G say things like "let the roof disappear overhead and let your mind explode into the cosmos above. Become one with your bike, with the universe, with yourself. Defeat this hill and you defeat all of the challenges in your life!" Before the class was over, my quads were blown and I was seeing stars, but I wasn't hallucinating or going hypoglycemic. Instead I discovered my union with the cosmos, my small but significant spot in the intertwining cycles of life. Yes, for a brief moment, I was illuminated.

Time for the understatement: Spinning with the Spin Master was certainly one of the most unusual and rewarding experiences I've ever had on a bike. The lessons learned in that one class have forever changed the way I ride my bike, not to mention my view of my role in the universe. And I can vouch for two things about G and his students: One, I've never seen any cyclist spin anywhere near as well as G and his "non-cyclists" do; Two, I've never before met cyclists with such clear vision of What It All Means.

So my query is this: Have the egos and technology gone amuck in our sport separated The Rest Of Us from our inborn gifts to realize perfection as we ride our bikes in this universe? I'm not sure, but I, for one, am riding fixed gear and rollers a whole lot these days, just in case. See ya on the Wheel of Life!

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