For quite a long time, most cyclists and triathletes looked at indoor trainers as a either a convenient means of warming up before a race or a necessary evil for getting in a workout when the weather turns foul. But not these days. Modern indoor trainer brands are utilizing the latest technologies to better simulate the sensations of riding outside on the road. Likewise, many products have also arisen that have sought to further enhance the indoor riding experience with digital environment simulations, virtual racing, and other gamification techniques. The current leader in this space is Zwift, whose online platform has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years, both in terms of technological sophistication and popularity.
Together, all of these companies are aiming to elevate the indoor training experience and encourage more people to ride their bike in the comfort of their own homes. And with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing athletes to seek out new ways of optimizing their training while remaining socially distant, there has been an enormous, worldwide boom in indoor riding. Below is our list of five essential items (along with a few bonus items) that you'll need to start riding your bike indoors—and loving it.
Chances are, you already have a bike. If not, don’t worry—we’ve got you covered.
When it comes to indoor trainers, there are more options available than ever before. First, consider your budget, and make sure you’re spending within your means. Even some of the lowest-cost trainers can give you a stellar workout and years of usability—just make sure to get one from a reputable brand. If you’re looking to take part in any of the modern virtual cycling experiences, such as Zwift, then you’ll most likely need a “smart trainer,” that is, one that can connect to a television screen and or computer via Bluetooth. Check out Zwift’s (or your riding platform of choice) to confirm their system requirements before selecting your trainer.
Just like with any ride, make sure you’re looking after your body and monitor your nutrition needs. Keep some food, energy gels, nutrition bars, or other healthy snacks nearby to make sure you’re properly fueled. Even more importantly, though, is to make sure you have plenty of water handy. Set up a table next to your bike and trainer if you don’t have bottle cages on your bike. Use your favorite drink mix if necessary. Just be sure to have plenty of fluids easily accessible.
Some people dislike riding on an indoor trainer because of a potentially stifling atmosphere. After all, when you ride outdoors, you have the wind in your face and the thrill of motion activating all of your muscles. Help keep yourself not only motivated and engaged in your indoor ride, but also properly cooled and safe, with a set of fans. We recommend a fairly large one positioned directly in front of you for adequate ventilation, body temperature management, and to help simulate the feel of riding outside. If you’ve set up your bike and trainer inside a closed space, such as a basement or garage with no windows or doors handy, then consider adding one or two additional small fans, as well. Whatever you do, make sure your indoor riding experience is as safe as possible—and this always includes proper ventilation and mitigating overheating.
One of the most common complaints from athletes when it comes to riding on an indoor trainer is that it is boring. While this certainly can be the case, it’s one that’s easy to remedy. Set up your trainer in front of a television. Or place a laptop or tablet onto a chair and prop that in front of your bike. One of the most fun things about riding indoors is being able to multitask activities that you couldn’t do while riding outside. Want to catch up on your favorite television show, or enjoy a great film? Flip it on and watch while you pedal. For extra riding motivation, pull up some classic bike races and pedal along while watching the pros race their brains out. But the best option for indoor cycling entertainment that we’ve found is also the most immersive one. Sign up for a virtual riding experience, such as Zwift. You’ll need a specific type of trainer, so check their requirements. But you’ll be able to ride with friends (virtually), participate in online races, level up and unlock digital achievements, join your favorite pro on a ride, and so much more.
WORKOUTS: Sure, you can enjoy a fun, leisurely spin on an indoor trainer, and we highly recommend that. But to get the most out of your time on the bike, try a structured workout to maximize your time and efficiency. One of the biggest benefits of riding indoors is that you can often get a better workout thanks to being able to focus solely on your efforts rather than other variables you’d otherwise have to contend with during an outdoor ride (stop lights, rough roads, foul weather, etc.) There are plenty of great resources online for in-depth workouts, but we've put together a list to help you get started.
TOWELS: When you ride an indoor trainer, you’re going to sweat. A lot. This is because you won’t be coasting as you would during certain parts of an outdoor ride, and you won’t have the wind flowing across your body, wicking away sweat and moisture. This is why we recommend fans as an essential item (see above), but you’re still going to sweat. Again, a lot. Get some towels ready to wipe down your body and bike.
RUBBER MAT: Since you’ll be sweating during your indoor ride, that sweat will eventually drip onto the floor underneath your bike. If you’ve got carpet, then do yourself a favor and get a high-quality rubber mat to make cleanup easier and protect your textiles.
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