Winter is rapidly approaching. The days are getting shorter and the temperatures are getting lower. While some folks throw on snow pants and studded tires, the majority of us would rather suffer indoors to keep training throughout the winter.
That said, riding a bike indoors does not have to wait until the weather gets bad. Indoor training is a great way to isolate intervals without having to worry about the variables that accompany outdoor riding.
In this article, we’ll help you figure out what kind of setup you need, how to prepare your bike and indoor space, and what you can do to stay entertained and make the most of your workout.
#1: Choose Your Setup
There are several setups to use for indoor training. These include stationary bikes, trainers, and rollers. Which one you choose is dependent on your budget, space, and training goals.
The first option is to buy a dedicated stationary bike like the Peleton. Peleton bikes are expensive, but with this option, you do not put any unnecessary wear and tear on your road or triathlon bike. This is also a good option if you are brand new to cycling, don’t have a bicycle, or plan to bike indoors exclusively.
These bikes start at around $2,300 and are a great option for those that love the energy and format of a spin class, but would like the ease and convenience of working out at home. The Peleton App offers both live and on-demand classes taught by elite instructors, so you can get excited and motivated from the comfort of your own home.
Indoor Bike Trainers
The most common setup for the majority of cyclists is a stationary trainer. Fluid and magnetic trainers are very popular options. These trainers are straightforward, easy to use, and the most affordable option.
A trainer attaches to the rear axle of the bike and provides resistance by pressing against the rear tire with an adjustable steel roller. The resistance is manually set by tightening a knob. Once you are riding, you can still shift to adjust tension which ends up feeling similar to climbing a hill on the road.
Smart trainers have recently become very popular, and are starting to come down in price. What used to be only affordable to high-end training facilities is now able to be purchased for home use.
CompuTrainer was one of the first smart trainers on the market. Now, many brands offer smart trainers. One of the most popular of these is Wahoo*. Most of their trainers require rear wheel removal, which eliminates the need for a trainer tire.
Smart trainers are a great option for the data-driven, serious cyclist. These trainers provide metrics like RPM and watts and are able to load GPS courses to adjust the tension and mimic the feel of the road.
Whichever type or brand of trainer you choose, be sure your bike is compatible with it before you buy. If you have disc brakes, many trainers will require an adapter. Additionally, different bicycle companies use different hub spacing and thread pitches that might not be compatible with the trainer you are eyeing. If you are not sure which option to go with, check with your local bike shop or contact the company directly for assistance.
Rollers are popular among die-hard road riders and track cyclists. Rollers provide the most accurate road feel since the bike is not fixed at any point on the trainer. The rollers move freely, like a treadmill for bikes.
These are tough to get the hang of at first. Riding on rollers feels a lot like riding on ice.
For your first few times, I recommend setting the rollers up between a door frame, so you have something to lean against when starting out. Once you get the hang of it, you can start dialing in your tricks like Ruby Isaac…this is just one example of her incredible bike handling.
#2: Prep Your Bike For Trainer Use
In a perfect world, you would have a dedicated trainer bike. Since many people are not able to have a bike specifically for the trainer, there are some changes you can make to your bike to make it trainer-ready.
Some trainers attach to the rear axle of the bike and provide resistance by pressing against the rear wheel. This resistance is tough on tires, so it is smart to swap out the rear tire to a trainer specific tire*. Trainer tires reduce wear on the trainer and saves the tread on expensive road tires.
Also be aware that many bicycle manufacturers recommend not putting a carbon frame on a fixed trainer. Trainers put stress on frames that they are not necessarily designed to handle.
#3: Utilize Software To Make Your Ride More Productive
Similar to trainers, there are many different companies offering training software to make the most out of your indoor training time. Trainer Road and PerfPro are both great options for very tailored, specific workouts.
I personally use PerfPro with a CompuTrainer and love the customization available for the workouts. You can write your own workouts based on FTP, use one of the pre-written workouts, or load a GPS course. When you load a GPS course and are on a smart trainer, the tension automatically changes based on the elevation.
This is a great feature for riders that race across the country. That way, you know what to expect on the course in terms of difficulty without having to travel and pre-ride the course.
Zwift is a relatively new platform that has become incredibly popular. Zwift is almost like riding in a video game. You can ride structured workouts, casually ride through the various virtual reality courses, or race against friends for the coveted jerseys.
While the power-based smart trainer is the best option for Zwift, you can make it work with a standard trainer, speed sensor and cadence meter, or power meter.
Zwift has rapidly gained popularity over the past couple of years. So much so, the UCI has partnered with Zwift to offer the first ever e-world championships in 2020. Riders will gain entry through regional and national qualifiers. Details are still being finalized, but the clear focus is equality. Men’s and women’s races will be on the same schedule, the same length, and offer the same prize money.
#4: Optimize Your Space For Indoor Riding
You’ve got your trainer picked out, bike adjusted for indoor riding, and software up and running. There are a couple other creature comforts that will elevate your indoor riding experience.
For those who plan to spend a lot of time on the trainer, it is smart to have a dedicated space. Many riders will set this up in their garage or spare bedroom. That way, you do not need to completely tear down your bike and trainer every time you finish working out. It is hard enough to motivate to work out in the winter, and if your trainer is always ready to ride, you will be more likely to stick with it.
Put a yoga mat under your trainer to avoid damaging floors, and to keep the trainer from slipping. Yoga mats will also help dampen some of the noise. Trainers can be pretty loud, so keep that in mind if you live in an apartment complex.
Trainer blocks* are helpful for maintaining a comfortable angle on the bike, and also help keep the front wheel still. Like any accessory, trainer blocks range from very basic to quite high-tech. Wahoo recently released the KickR Climb, which simulates grades based on the course. This is only compatible with Wahoo smart trainers but does provide the most accurate ride feel an indoor system can offer.
Throughout my years living in cold climates, I have learned one gets quite hot and hungry while riding. Keep a fan nearby to run during workouts. I built a shelving system that holds a box fan in front of the trainer. This keeps the fan out of the way when not in use, and in the perfect spot for when I am riding.
If you can fit a small table next to your bike, that will help eliminate the need to get off your bike during longer sessions. A small table that can hold some extra water, snacks and tv remote will be a nice oasis when you get to hour 3-4.
#5: Keep Yourself Entertained
There are many ways to take your mind off the task at hand: music, tv shows, movies, or intervals.
Zwift is a great distraction as well. The app even has interactive components to it. There are different “boosts” you can collect along the course to launch during the ride, similar to Mario Cart. I was skeptical at first, but these little perks really make the workout fly by. There are also message boards to check in, or trash talk, your friends.
If you are a Netflix fan, look for a software that can share screens to easily show the course, workout, and metrics on the screen with the show. PerfPro has a good platform for the movie buff. You can still see metrics and the route, but the route profile is locked to the bottom of the screen, and out of the way.
Finding a sport-specific program to watch can help motivate as well. Mountain bikers will enjoy many movies on Red Bull TV, such as Motive, Revel in the Chaos, and Not Bad. Road riders and triathletes should turn to Netflix for movies such as Icarus, Stop at Nothing: The Lance Armstrong Story, and Iron Cowboy.
For those that need a beat to really push it, there is always music. Make sure your playlist matches the ride. There is nothing worse than having a slow song come on during a 30 second all-out effort.
There are a few longer cycling-specific mixes, created by Velobeats. Although there aren’t any new mixes coming out, these are still a great option for 1-2 hour workouts.
If you are riding a course, or even just pedaling against the resistance of the trainer, you can use songs to dictate the intervals. You can do a sprint workout where you sprint through the chorus of the songs. You can also alternate efforts per song, giving 80% through a whole song, and backing it off to 40% for the next song.
Get after it, winter warriors!
Now it is time to hop on the trainer and get started on base fitness for next spring. Winter is the perfect season for staying in and watching movies, so you might as well watch on the trainer.
And remember: fitness journeys always help when you have a buddy. Grab a friend, start that free trial of Zwift, and get after it!
Other Winter Options
If training in your basement isn’t the only way you want to bike this winter, here are a few more articles that will help you keep on riding all year long.
About The Author
Kira Maicke has been an avid cyclist since 2010. She started racing road bikes in college for the University of Georgia and switched over to mountain biking after graduating and moving out west. When she’s not on one of her bikes, she’s out playing in the mountains with her husky, Semenuk.