Ideally, cycling is meant to be an activity enjoyed in the great outdoors beneath warm sunshine and clear skies. But the unfortunate reality is busy schedules, limited daylight hours and bad weather can often keep us from staying fit and enjoying the sport we love.
The good news is there are other options you can try to still get a ride in no matter what life decides to throw your way. Here are five ways you can ride a bike indoors and the advantages of each discipline:
INDOOR RESISTANCE TRAINER
One of the most popular types of indoor cycling for road cyclists, indoor trainers are devices that connect to the rear wheel or drivetrain of your own bike and provide road-like resistance as you pedal. Indoor trainers, in essence, convert a bike into a stationary machine, allowing you to ride indoors in your home when you’re short on time or it’s too cold or dangerous to head outdoors.
One type of indoor trainer that has gained popularity in recent years is the smart trainer. A smart trainer is like an indoor trainer but also has the capability to connect to other devices such as heart rate monitors, power meters, training programs or even apps that connect to virtual or online cycling workouts like Zwift. Though smart trainers are significantly more expensive than standard indoor trainers, they are more interactive, provide a good deal of training data for goal-oriented workouts and can be a fun way to fight off the boredom of indoor training.
Advantages of indoor resistance trainers:
- Ideal for interval training
- Safer than heading out for a ride in bad weather
- Can be a good way to structure your workouts
- Allows you to use your own bike
This stand-alone piece of exercise equipment is available in almost every gym and meant to resemble and mimic a standard road bike without wheels. Most stationary bikes have a limited number of adjustments that can be made to dial in fit, with the seat height sometimes being the only option. Stationary bikes do often have pre-programmed workouts that you can try that adjust the level of tension or resistance during your workout.
A newer option for stationary bikes is the Wattbike or Peloton, which have come to the market recently and are geared toward serious road cyclists. The cost of these stationary bikes is high. However, unlike those bikes at the gym, these newer models have a resistance feel that closely mimics outdoor cycling and features more levels of adjustment, including handlebar height and reach. On many of these models, you can also attach your own handlebars, seat and clip-in pedals for added comfort and performance. Virtual workouts on an attached monitor are also included on some models.
Advantages of a stationary bike:
- Can be an inexpensive option for indoor cycling if you ride one at the gym.
- Tend to be less complicated if you don’t like fooling with a bunch of gadgets.
- Gym models can be ideal if you don’t want extra cycling stuff in your house.
- They’re a great way to get in a little cycling before you do some offseason strength training in the gym.
Falling somewhere in between a regular bike and an exercise bike, a spin bike uses a weighted flywheel for resistance. Most feature adjustable handlebars and seats, and have the option to use clip-in cycling shoes. Spin classes in gyms have become popular for their high-energy, full-body workouts that are a cross between an indoor cycling session and an aerobics class.
Spin classes are led by an instructor and are similar to high-intensity workouts like intervals. The efforts can be difficult but are usually short, lasting around 45 minutes. Though it is quite different from road cycling, supplementing with spin classes can improve your performance and help keep your cycling from getting stale.
Advantages of spinning:
- Enthusiastic instructors and heart-thumping music can make the workouts fun.
- It’s a good way to mix up your regular road cycling.
- You’ll get a great workout in about 45 minutes.
- It can be refreshing mentally from other types of indoor training.
- It’s a good way to improve your strength and speed.
An old-school training tool of professional cyclists, rollers consist of a metal frame and three rollers that sit on the ground. Your existing bike is placed on top of the rollers and you ride as you normally would. But since your bike is not fixed or attached to a unit, balancing and staying upright can be quite a challenge if you’re inexperienced.
While the rollers don’t provide much resistance other than your gears, you’ll still get in a good workout and improve different aspects of your cycling. Rollers are fairly inexpensive (around $200) and most can be folded up to make storage in a closet or garage easier.
Advantages of rollers:
- It will improve your balance and bike-handling.
- It can be a great way to supplement your resistance training, which doesn’t force you to control your bike as you pedal.
- They’re usually reasonably priced.
- Rollers can help you improve your focus on the task at hand instead of letting your mind wander.
The original indoor cycling, track cycling is an Olympic sport held on banked wooden tracks called velodromes. In most cases, fixed-gear track bikes are used without brakes or gearing. Track cycling is usually high-intensity and short in duration, focusing on sprint or short time-trial type efforts.
Track cycling can be exciting, fun and a great way to build your on-the-bike strength and skill. However, indoor velodromes aren’t as common in the U.S. as they are in Europe, and it can be hard to find a place to participate in this discipline.
Advantages of track cycling:
- It improves your power, speed and bike-handling.
- It’s as close to riding outdoors as you can get.
- You can compete and race no matter the season.
- It’s one of the most exciting disciplines of cycling.