Time was that if you wanted to maintain your cycling fitness through the winter months there was really only one option – dig out your winter clothing and get out onto those cold, wet roads and trails. Winter riding can be fantastic – but it can also be pretty grim and can take its toll on your bike and equipment quickly. Thankfully, cyclists now have a range of options for winter training that can supplement the cold but crisp winter days when getting out on the bike is a pleasure. Recent years have seen an explosion in indoor cycling, driven by advances in technology that have made workouts more interactive and ultimately more effective. For some the option of a trip to the local fitness studio for a spin class is a great motivational option, but for those a little more committed a home set up is the way to go. Whether you have a corner in the kitchen to temporarily set up your trainer or an entire dedicated ‘pain cave’ in the garage, there are tonnes of kit options to choose from. In this beginner's guide, we'll explore various indoor cycling equipment and systems so you know where to start, each with its own set of pros and cons.
Let’s start with the most basic, but still very valid option. You’ll often see riders at track and road cycling races using a simple set of rollers to warm up on. They are portable and easy to set up and get going, so great when at an event or at home when you don’t have a permanent space available. Rollers consist of three linked rollers that support your tyres – so both wheels spin and you are required to balance yourself (this takes a bit of practise). Rollers are also a very cost-effective entry point to indoor training.
- Provide a more realistic riding experience as they require you to balance.
- They are compact, easy to set up and easy to store when not in use.
- Steeper learning curve for beginners.
- Less resistance than a Turbo Trainer for intense workouts.
Our Pick: Tacx Antares Rollers. Around £165
For the purposes of this article, turbo trainers will refer to ‘wheel-on’ trainers that do not have any smart connectivity (more on this later). ‘Wheel-on’ means that your bike (with both wheels on) is mounted to the trainer by clamping the rear wheel. Resistance is generally provided by either fluid or magnets, with the rear wheel of your bike running on a small roller with variable resistance sometimes controlled by a handlebar mounted switch. A basic turbo won’t provide an immersive experience, but they are great for people who just want to simply set up and get training – so offer a no-frills, good value experience. Just be careful to consider noise levels if you live in a flat as they can run loud!
- Turbo trainers are simple to set up and use.
- They offer adjustable resistance for a variety of workouts.
- Can be noisy & may prematurely wear your expensive road tyres.
- Struggle to replicate a realistic road feel.
Our Pick: Saris Basic Mag. Around £150
The next step on from a turbo and biggest growth area in indoor training are smart trainers. They take the same general concept of mounting your bike to the unit, but this time you generally remove your rear wheel and mount your frame directly to the drive unit. The ‘smart’ bit comes from internet connectivity that gives access to a whole world of virtual training platforms and elevates indoor training to a completely new space. Set up your laptop or tablet, connect to the trainer and take your pick from any number of virtual riding or training platforms. The resistance you feel through your bike can be automatically adjusted in line with the virtual terrain you are riding, with ride feel vastly improved as your bike chain is driving the unit directly. The whole experience is way more realistic and engaging, but significantly increased cost and complexity are the trade-offs.
- Smart trainers automatically adjust resistance based on virtual terrain.
- They can sync with various training apps for a connected experience.
- Pricier compared to traditional trainers.
- Require power sources and can be complex to set up.
Our Pick: Tacx NEO 2T Smart Trainer. Around £1100
Smart Exercise Bikes
If smart trainers are the foundation for the growth of indoor cycling, then smart bikes are the logical conclusion. Remove the need to use your ‘outdoors’ bike at all with a dedicated training bike, always set up and ready to ride. You’ll need a permanent space to set the bike up, but once there it’ll be a centrepiece to your training regime. These fully integrated machines major on practicality and functional performance, with full connectivity again allowing access to the app of your choice just like a smart trainer. An added benefit is not wearing out components on your expensive road bike as you train. Prices are fairly eye-watering, but if you are serious about training and want the best set-up this is the way to go.
- Removes the faff of training – always ready to ride.
- Provide the most immersive experience of all, with great ride feel.
- Require power sources and dedicated space.
Our Pick: Wahoo Kickr Bike. Around £3500
One platform, more specifically Zwift, has been responsible for taking the connectivity smart trainers and bikes have to offer and using that to serve riders a whole virtual world that takes indoor cycling to a new place, all you need is a laptop or tablet connected to your trainer. Gone are the days of grinding through a dull training session – replaced instead by a vast community of users where riding with mates, racing strangers from around the world or riding grand tour stages all become possible. It’s this ‘fun’ element that means you actually look forward to a session – and also why people are riding indoors year-round. There are now a multitude of different apps leveraging smart technology in different ways. TrainerRoad focuses more on structured training plans and data analysis. Rouvy offers a large selection of real-life videos for immersive training and Sufferfest combines structured workouts with entertaining videos. Each will come with a subscription cost – so do your research before signing up to determine which will best suit you and the type of riding or training you are looking to do.
Our Pick: Zwift's £12.99 subscription
How About Peloton?
There is another option, often seen as a smart exercise bike for ‘non-cyclists’ – could the Peloton bike and associated eco-system be a viable alternative for ‘real’ cyclists? Whilst other smart trainers and bikes allow you to use any 3rd party training app like Zwift, Peloton offers a sealed system that cannot be used on other hardware (and other apps cannot be used here). This is good and bad. Thankfully, Peloton has a huge range cycling classes of differing styles, lengths and intensities – but all based around the same format of being in a live spin class with an instructor leading the class facing you. This set up can be really motivational and allows you to compete on live leaderboards with people in the same class from around the world, you just won’t ever be able to go for a group ride on Zwift or try another app if you get bored. Thankfully, the operating system is slick and the bike comes with a large integrated touchscreen. The cost of the bike is not inconsiderate though and the monthly subscription of £39 is 3x that of Zwift – it is worth considering you also get a huge catalogue of off-bike classes covering anything from running to yoga. For this reason Peloton probably stacks up more if you are into home fitness of all types, rather than cycling focussed.
- Offers interactive spin-style classes, making workouts more engaging.
- It's a slick all-in-one solution with a wide range of classes, including off-bike.
- Requires a costly Peloton-specific bike and works on ‘closed’ system.
- Monthly subscription fees for content are higher than pure cycling apps.
Our Pick: The Peloton Bike+ with rotating screen. Around £2000
What Else Will You Need?
You’ve invested a big chunk of cash into your chosen training equipment and selected the apps you like the look of. You even cleared a space in the garage, but what else do you need before starting your training regime? As always in life, there are endless accessories to buy:
- First and probably most essential (to stop noise, dampen vibration and stabilise your trainer) is a soft rubber trainer mat. Tacx rollable mat, around £60.
- As the back of your bike is suspended off the floor, you’ll need something to level it back up by supporting the front wheel. This can be simple and cheap like the Saris Levelling Block (£10) or expensive and complex like the Wahoo Climb (£530), the latter can mimic varying gradients as you ride a virtual course!
- There is no cooling wind indoors, so you’re going to sweat A LOT. A sweat catcher (it looks a bit like a bra for your bike) will set you back around £15. Also have a towel to hand at all times and sweat bands are a good option.
- To limit that sweat, set up a fan in front of your trainer – anything powerful will do, but you could go all-in with a bluetooth smart fan from Wahoo, around £230.
- To help cool you further, there is specific mesh-based lightweight clothing aimed at indoor cycling – in reality a thin base layer and old summer bib shorts are perfect.
- If you are using a wheel-on trainer, get yourself a specific trainer rear tyre that will wear less and run quieter than your nice ‘outdoors’ tyres. Scwhalbe Insider, around £30
- Becoming more popular with those using a turbo or smart trainer is to have a dedicated ‘trainer bike’ that is left in situ. This might be one of your old bikes that has been retired, stripped of frivolities such as brakes and set up with the same dimensions as your road bike to allow hours of comfortable training. The obvious benefit here is that your ‘best’ bike avoids wear and is reserved for nice days out.
Match Your Needs
We have only really scratched the surface in what is a big and fast-changing topic with many technical elements. If approaching for the first time, think primarily about the type of riding experience you want or training you want to do, then about the space you have available to you and lastly once these are defined, your budget. You don’t need to go all-in initially – if unsure, get a basic system, then build on that if you catch the bug. Regardless of the equipment you choose, indoor cycling is a fantastic way to stay fit and maintain your cycling progress when the weather outside is less than inviting and you may find it becomes the foundation of your training year-round.
If you are thinking about a home trainer set up, let Bike Hero help get your ‘indoor’ bike in top condition or modified to your requirements for the season. https://bike-hero.co.uk/pages/services-repairs