Cycling indoors can be an excellent way to jump-start your fitness when you can’t get outside. While riding in your basement or living room might not sound like a ton of fun, with the right setup, you can make the experience enjoyable and plenty worthwhile.
So instead of sitting on the couch, use this guide to set up an indoor cycling space that’s comfortable and allows you to maximize your training time this winter.
Indoor trainers can range anywhere from $80–$2,000+ in price. The difference in quality comes down to the resistance unit and whether or not you’d like to incorporate power metrics, heart rate and cadence data into your workouts.
The most common resistance units on indoor trainers are:
- Wind: This entry-level option uses a fan to provide resistance to your rear tire as you pedal. Top-end speed is limited on these models, which makes interval training difficult. Noise may also be a factor and should be considered if you plan to use it in a small space or a living room.
- Magnetic: Utilizing magnets for resistance, these trainers are inexpensive but quieter than wind trainers. The feel of the unit as you pedal isn’t as road-like as higher-priced options, and the amount of resistance is fixed — meaning you can only make pedaling more difficult by changing gears on your bike.
- Fluid: Silicon or other fluid is used to create resistance against the tire. Acceleration and steady efforts are similar to what you’d experience on the road, and these are much quieter than wind or magnetic trainers. Interval training, hill repeats and power-based workouts are possible on most models. On the downside, they’re expensive and usually range in price from $350–$1,000+.
- Rollers: While you won’t get as much resistance with rollers as with other trainers, they do require you to balance as you pedal. This can help improve bike handling and pedaling technique — something you won’t get with other “fixed” indoor trainers.
- Flywheel: Similar to a spin bike (you won’t need to attach your own bike), these models are often the most expensive. The flywheel allows for microadjustments to dial in resistance, and it often provides data feedback for power, heart rate and cadence. Most models include interactive features that simulate races, specific rides or workouts.
Once you have a trainer that fits your needs and budget, you’ll need to consider a few other things to set up the perfect indoor cycling space.
- Staying cool: Without proper air circulation, you can overheat quickly on an indoor trainer. For this reason, make sure you have a few fans nearby to cool you off as you ride. And if you’ve got the heater blasting in the house, close the vents in the room where your trainer is set up while you ride to avoid a face full of hot air as you pound the pedals.
- Sweating: You’ll sweat plenty while you spin indoors. A sweat net or a few towels on the top tube and handlebars of your bike will be needed to keep from damaging your frame (sweat is corrosive). A floor mat under the trainer may also be a good idea, particularly if you aren’t working out in a garage or basement.
- A riser block: Sure, you can use a telephone book to raise your front wheel a few inches, but it won’t keep your wheel steady during hard efforts. A riser block will make simulating hill training easier and provide security when you stand on the pedals during sprints.
- Entertainment: After a few hours on the indoor trainer, you’re going to need more than just your bike for entertainment. Music, television or cycling workout videos are great ways to make the time pass.
Working out indoors quickly can feel like a grind. And when your motivation wanes, setting up your indoor trainer for a ride will become less and less likely.
Fortunately for us, modern technology has once again come to the rescue. Tons of new apps and software programs have made it easy to break up the monotony — and some of them can be a lot of fun, too.
If you’ve got the budget and are looking to take your indoor cycling to the next level, you may want to give one of these a try:
- Zwift: This app connects ANT+ devices on your bike and uses its data (like speed and power) to simulate virtual races and workouts on your computer or television. You can race old friends or new ones; it’s a really good way to get your competitive juices flowing indoors. There are three different subscriptions available, depending on your setup and budget.
- CycleOps Virtual Trainer: The Virtual Trainer app from CycleOps works similarly to the Zwift app in that it takes data from ANT+ sensors to create virtual rides on your computer or television. Where it differs is that Zwift steers more toward competition — making it more like a video game experience for cyclists while you train. On the other hand, this app features thousands of routes from all over the world streamed via real video, giving it a different and perhaps more realistic feel.
- Trainer Road: If getting faster by way of suffering is your plan this winter, Trainer Road is probably the software you need to own. By tracking your power, heart rate, speed and cadence data, you’ll get personalized training plans and interval-focused workouts designed to help you push fitness to the limit.