It’s nearly summertime in Europe and yet the cycling world is still almost exclusively training indoors. Those who aren’t training indoors are probably not getting much training done at all. If you’re feeling the lack of outdoor mileage, but don’t have an indoor training setup for what could be months of lockdown ahead, we have got the goods for you.
Indoor training options vary depending on a lot of things including space, time and internet connection. Granted, time is less of a consideration these days, or at least its implications have changed. Another important factor is just what you want to get from your training setup. Indoor trainers offer everything from dedicated training to virtual racing, and you can of course opt simply to turn the pedals. Nothing ‘smart’ about it; just you, the bike and whichever podcast or album you’re not bored of yet.
‘Dumb’ or standard trainers
The least ‘smart’ and perhaps purest form of trainer is the rollers, literally a trio of cylindrical drums connected by a belt drive that spin when you turn the wheels. They don’t provide an especially realistic experience, nor can you mediate resistance, but you’ll burn through the kcals, and the concentration required to maintain balance and stability will help the time pass – that’s all we want these days, right? What’s more, you don’t have to make any changes to your bike before jumping on.
A step up in complexity from the rollers is the standard A-frame turbo trainer, equipped with either magnetic or fluid resistance, the latter boasting a much quieter mechanism. They’re easy to set up, they don’t require any additional power source and they don’t take up much space. With these turbos, you mount your bike to the device, clamping the rear bracket – using the provided skewer so that you do not damage any part of your bike – with the tyre sitting on the rolling mechanism. Speaking of tyres, it’s a good idea to swap your standard road or MTB tyre for a turbo-specific model to reduce friction (approx. £35). And if you should want to take your indoor training online, all you need is a speed and cadence sensor and/or a power metre to get connected.
Rollers, like the Tacx Antares (£165), are going to set you back the least, starting from around £150. The choice of standard trainers is even broader with prices from £100 up to around £500.
The vast majority of trainers sold in the past two years have been smart trainers, those which hook up to the modern technology and apps that augment the training experience. A smart trainer will either look and operate very much like a standard turbo trainer, or it will be a direct drive device onto which you fasten your bike’s frame after detaching the back wheel. This arrangement puts less strain on the frame and no strain at all on your wheel, while also creating a significantly more realistic ride feel.
The market for smart and direct drive trainers gets more and more competitive with each passing year, and now more than ever, for obvious reasons. In fact, most are struggling to match supply to demand at present.
Elite and Tacx naturally provide a number of options, as do newer brands like Wahoo and Saris, from the nice and simple Elite Qubo at £325 to the top-of-the-range, direct drive Tacx Neo 2T (£1,199). One of the newest kids on the block is the Wahoo KICKR BIKE which builds on the game-changing technology of Wahoo’s now well-established smart trainers, but which resembles a high-tech exercise bike that you can match to your personalised geometry. It’ll set you back £2,999.99, about the same amount as a brand new full-carbon road bike, but it will absolutely revolutionise your indoor training.
Apps and training software
Smart and direct drive trainers are the first choice of professional cyclists who are naturally after the very best technology for their training. These devices hook up easily to any of the tech or software that you might want to add to your setup, like Zwift. Founded by gamers, the application is vast, providing not only a simulated environment to ride through, but a virtual community to interact with too. You might even find yourself riding alongside a pro cyclist.
To get started with Zwift, you’ll need a bike, a PC/Mac computer or compatible device with Bluetooth capability (smart phone, iPad or AppleTV), and a trainer equipped with ANT+ or an external device that will transfer your data, i.e. a power metre attached to your bike along with an ANT+ USB sensor plugged into your laptop. You’ll also need a Zwift membership which costs £12.99 per month (after a seven-day free trial). You can also get a digital or physical gift card for three or 12 months, which could be a good option if you or a friend is only wanting a distraction for as long as the Coronavirus situation lasts.
Other virtual training options include RGT Cycling, which connects up to TrainingPeaks for analysis and planning, simulates real-world climbs in incredible detail and even allows users to upload their own GPX routes for in-game simulation. In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, RGT have waived their £12.99 monthly fee and made all premium features free (as long as you go through them directly). The Sufferfest is another option, an app which makes use of real race footage to replicate intervals with an added element of exhilaration. Then there’s TrainerRoad, a goal-based app which focusses on training plans and tracking data. If you’re running low on motivation, there’s nothing better than structured, power-based training to really get you going – TrainerRoad is the go-to platform and we currently have a competition running on Instagram where one lucky cyclist will win a year’s subscription to the platform. Finally, the newest app on the block is Rouvy, only just out of beta and staying free to users throughout April. Rouvy combines the virtual elements of a platform like RGT with the goal-oriented interval training of The Sufferfest to provide a well-rounded product.
The perfect indoor training setup starts with a good quality mat (£25-£70) that will protect the floor (and mark your territory!). You’ll also probably want to make use of the riser block that ordinarily comes with the device but can be bought separately (£10-£25), lifting the front wheel off the floor and to the same height as the rear. Alternatively, you might want to take your training up a grade – pardon me – with the Wahoo KICKR CLIMB Grade Simulator (£499). It does exactly what it says on the tin, lifting the front of your bike (it attaches to the front fork) to physically replicate the gradient of the virtual inclines on your screen.
With the floor protected and the bike in place, next it’s important to look after your frame, especially if it’s carbon. You can get a purpose-made ‘sweat net’ that fastens to the handlebars and top tube (around the £30 mark), but you could just as easily use a towel, which also doubles up as…well, a towel.
Did we mention that you’re going to sweat? A lot. So you’ll probably also want a fan to keep the air moving and to cool you down, allowing you to keep churning those watts for longer. A standard domestic fan will do the trick, but you can also get something dedicated to the job at hand. The Wahoo KICKR Headwind Smart Fan (£199), for instance, provides “responsive and targeted airflow”, communicating with your smart trainer via ANT+ to modulate the wind speed for next level air-conditioning.
With temperature regulation still in mind, you’ll need to think about what clothing you’re going to wear. Regardless of the temperature outside, you’re going to get toasty very quickly so usually shorts and base layer or jersey are more than sufficient. Rapha’s indoor training page recommends their Core and Pro Team Training lines for home sessions, two collections that put optimising airflow and mobility at the forefront for hard and fast training.
Finally, you need to think about your device, whether it’s a laptop, iPad or even a smart phone. A whole range of mounting brackets (£35) and floor stands (£70-£200) for tablets can be sourced from a number of brands like Tacx and Wahoo, but an ironing board or even a child’s highchair have been known to do the job just as well.
There we have it. Everything you need to put together the perfect indoor training setup. At the rate we’re heading, we’re all going to come out of this situation fitter than we’ve been in a long time, ready to hit the trails and open roads with more conviction and drive than ever. Stay safe, look after each other, and we’ll see you out on a weekend soon.