Fitness: Torq, the inside track
Stationary cycling is one of the most exhausting exercises you can do
In January, Lance Armstrong, after years of denial, finally admitted to cheating. The superstar cyclist, who won a record seven straight Tours de France, did so with the help of illegal performance-enhancing drugs.
The saddest part? Doping in professional cycling is not uncommon. According to the US Anti-Doping Agency, 80 per cent of Tour de France medallists between 1996 and 2010 also used similar drugs.
As a huge sports fan, news of the widespread cheating in cycling left me disappointed and insulted. But then I took my first class at Hong Kong's first independent spinning studio, Torq Cycle. I now almost want to forgive Armstrong, because I'm typing this the morning after the 50-minute cycling session, and I still can't feel my legs.
I'm joking, of course. There's no excuse for cheating, but spinning - indoor, stationary cycling - is one of the most physically draining exercises around. One of the trainers at Torq is a former professional rugby player and professional muay Thai fighter named Adam Fabbian. Spinning is how he keeps in shape.
"I can't think of another exercise where you work as hard, burn as many calories, but have zero risk of injuries," he says.
Fabbian isn't the only trainer at Torq with an impressive CV. One was a professional gymnast in Canada; another was a championship cheerleader in Florida; the others are either competitive triathletes or certified trainers with degrees. And they're all super fit.
It's no surprise the trainers hold such elite pedigrees, since everything about Torq feels high quality. The lockers uses an electronic lock that requires no key or password, and the shower room feels like one you'd find at a high-end spa.
Then there are the bikes - the latest in the Schwinn Authentic Cycling series. These feature a long list of fancy technical specs, like "magnetic brake system" and "perimeter-weighted flywheels". But all you need to know is that riding it feels exactly like cycling on the streets.
Each bike is also wirelessly connected to a computer console that tracks RPM (revolutions per minute), heart rate, speed, distance, calories burned, watts and time. All that information is displayed on a screen in front of the class and is uploaded to Torq's online database.
With the exception of the actual riding session, Torq aims to make things as easy as it possibly can for the riders. There is no membership, and classes can be purchased individually or in packages.
Classes can be booked, with bike reservations, up to two weeks in advance. All of this is done online with a few clicks.
Owner Margaret Kao says a hassle-free experience was a main part of her vision for Torq: "I don't want our customers to ever have to wait in line or deal with salespeople. You book everything online, you show up at class time, and you ride.
"When you're done, take a nice shower, and you're free to go. All your information - like how many calories you burned - is uploaded to the server automatically. You can check online any time, and these stats stay with you from session to session," she says.
There are two types of classes: Torq de Hong Kong is a race, with teams or individuals, through various terrains. You simulate uphill riding by twisting a knob to increase pedal resistance while pedalling standing up. The second, TorqBody, is a full body workout that combines boxing, Pilates and yoga with cycling.
That's the class I take. It's non-stop, all-out riding for 50 minutes, and includes standing up, leaning forward, holding dumbbells while doing bicep curls, shoulder presses and other weight-training routines.
Three trainers take the helm during my class. The first, Jennifer Wathall, is a teacher at Island School. Her routine is easy to start with, but becomes increasingly challenging.
The second trainer is Fabbian, the professional fighter. He pushes us to go as fast as we can, and he swaps my light dumbbells for heavier ones when he realises that my arms aren't shaking enough during the lifts. Fabbian says he hates the notion that spinning only works the lower body, so he goes out of his way to make sure your arms and shoulders are exhausted during his class.
Last up is champion cheerleader Loretta Yuen, whose routine is energetic with stretches, on-bike push-ups, and breathing techniques.
I finish first in the class, but I'll have trouble walking straight tomorrow.
For more information, go to torqcycle.com Classes are sold individually (HK$250) or in packages (various prices).