Stationary trainers have been around for quite a long time, and most experienced cyclists have often had a complex relationship with them. For many, stationary trainers have been used as a necessary—albeit boring, in many people’s opinions—tool for maintaining one’s fitness during the colder months of the year. They’ve also served as a handy way to give you a predictable, reliable warm-up prior to rolling to the start line of a bike race. Whatever your experience with a stationary trainer has been like in the past, we recommend leaving it there—in the past. That’s because, like so many other components and accessories in cycling, stationary trainers have evolved by leaps and bounds in recent years, to the tune of advanced technological updates, digital connectivity, and even virtual racing.
The Rally Cycling pro team is filled with ardent supporters of indoor cycling, who recognize its benefit not just as a means to supplement one’s regular riding and fitness goals, but also as a way to achieve a more unique and enjoyable relationship with riding by mixing up one’s regular routine of training. Some members of Rally Cycling have also competed in professional virtual racing, including last year’s UCI-sanctioned eSports World Championship. We asked several athletes of Rally Cycling for some insight on how pro cyclists approach indoor riding, and how they optimize their bike setups. If you’ve never tried riding on an indoor trainer, or if you’re looking to improve your existing indoor setup, these tips and bits of insight are for you.
There’s nothing quite like riding your bike outside, especially in warm, pleasant weather and with the wind in your face. That feeling of freedom and the joy of the open road is what attracted us all to cycling in the first place, after all. And while nothing can replicate that incredibly unique and classic sensation (at least, not yet), modern stationary trainers are more realistic than ever before. Features like simulated hill-climbing, automatically changing levels of resistance for key workouts, and the ability to ride virtually with friends and loved ones across a simulated landscape all offer a unique take on pedaling and how you find joy with your bike. For the pros—those cyclists who spend more time on their bikes than anyone—riding on an indoor trainer offers a chance to shake things up, and afford them a new perspective on their status quo.
“I choose to ride and race virtually at moments that I could be riding in Malibu in 65 degrees,” says Rally Cycling athlete Krista Doebel-Hickok, who resides in Southern California. “I think everything is more enjoyable when you feel that you’ve chosen it.”
The high intensity of indoor training sessions—where one doesn’t need to worry about stop lights, automobile traffic, rough roads, or treacherous descents—means that cyclists can focus on getting a solid workout without any distractions. This gives cyclists the ability to finely tune and selectively choose their riding and training experiences. That can pay big dividends when you’re on your bike as much as a pro cyclist, but also, too, for nearly every cyclist regardless of experience or fitness level. So how does one go about creating the very best trainer setup? Krista and some other Rally Cycling athletes have a few recommendations.
“I think the additions to my training setup that are key for me to make it a great setup are having as much cooling as you can get so you're not feeling like you're riding in a sauna,” says Matteo Dal-Cin, a former Canadian National Road Champion.
“I can't stress enough the fact that a good fan is a game-changer,” agrees Pier-André Coté. “For me, the worst part of indoor training used to be being all wet [with sweat] after 15 minutes and having to ride with this condition for several hours. Invest in some comfort.”
“Who wants one fan when you can have four fans?” adds Krista Doebel-Hickok. “All kidding aside, the Wahoo Headwind fan is as powerful and dynamic as four, but I still like to be surrounded. I guess fans are like my safety blanket—they make me feel all taken care of and ready to go.”
Everyone agrees that having proper ventilation and cooling is key to a safe, effective, and enjoyable indoor cycling workout. Remember, when you’re riding outside on the road, you’ll always have the breeze blowing past you, wicking sweat off your body and keeping you cooler than if you were simply pedaling on a stationary trainer. A reliable fan—or, better yet, an array of them blowing at you from different directions—will keep you cool while you’re pedaling, and will also help the experience feel a bit more similar to riding outside. What other recommendations do Rally Cycling riders have?
“Make sure you have easy access to your screen, devices, food, and water that you’ll need while riding so you aren’t having to hop on and off the bike during your workout, or straining to see your screen way off in the distance,” says Dal-Cin.
“Make sure you have a reliable ethernet cable,” says Doebel-Hickok. “Always hardwire your internet connection to avoid the ever frustrating drop outs.”
Keeping everything within arm’s reach is solid advice. Remember, your goal for riding on your indoor trainer is to enjoy the experience as much as possible, and also to let yourself focus on a workout or a virtual race, if you’re so inclined. To that end, if you’re hooked up to a smart trainer with internet connectivity and a compatible service like Zwift or RGT Cycling, make sure your internet connection is as good as it can be. Test it ahead of time to make sure your setup can properly stream the riding experience to your accompanying television or computer screen. Finally, if you’re looking to enhance the realism of your indoor rides, consider looking into accessories designed to allow your trainer and bike to simulate real-world movements and sensations.
“The most unique thing about my training setup is that the trainer is installed on a rocking platform to reduce body fatigue while riding and allow me to experience a more natural feel on the bike,” says Dal-Cin. “I have a homemade rocker plate, but they make consumer-ready models, as well. Additionally, Wahoo has recently come out with AXIS feet to add to the trainer to achieve something similar.”
If you’re looking to take your indoor cycling to the next level, consider signing up for a virtual cycling experience like Zwift or RGT Cycling. You’ll need a smart trainer with a built-in power meter and Bluetooth connectivity (or similar—be sure to check each service’s required hardware specifications), as well as a connection to a television screen or computer monitor. Then you’ll be able to ride and race virtually with fellow cyclists from around the world, all from the comfort of your own home. Many pro teams and athletes ride on virtual programs, and Rally Cycling even has a regular virtual social ride where fans can ride with their lineup of pro cyclists and interact in the virtual space.
“What I like most about the racing experience on Zwift is being able to assess where my form is at during the winter,” says Pier-Andre Cote. “We all used to train for several months in our ‘caves’ with limited ways of telling how our progression was going. Now you can throw it down with your friends or total strangers online! But be careful, it's really tempting to race everyday, but it’s probably not the best option for long term gains.”
“Training and racing on Zwift has been great,” says Dal-Cin. “I rode my fair share of trainer time being from Canada, and it's been amazing to have something more engaging than watching TV shows and staring at your power meter to get you through the winter training. The thing I like best about virtual racing is the motivation you get from racing to push harder than you would in a solo workout.”
“Virtual racing can be brutally hard, both physically and mentally,” says Doebel-Hickok. “It requires the utmost focus and determination. It asks you how much you can hurt and keep going. And the community will cheer you on with every pedal stroke, which might be my favorite part of the experience.”
Whatever your fitness or competitive goals may be, be sure to give indoor riding a try.
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