Hear us out. If you’ve dismissed indoor cycling as a boring cousin of the real thing, it’s time to revisit that position. Especially when we’re all spending more time in our homes than ever. Not only is technology making indoor riding easier and more effective, it can transform your workout into an immersive experience that mimics the outdoors.
“It makes cycling available to a wider audience,” says Mark Briercheck, a Category 3 road racer who teaches spin classes at L.A. Fitness north of Pittsburgh.
So if you’re keen to get started with indoor cycling, or just need ways to freshen up your existing training, read on.
Find the Right Indoor Trainer
If you already have a bike, all you really need is a trainer—basically a stand that can turn a regular bike into a stationary bike. Since there are no hills to climb in your house, trainers have various means of supplying resistance for your workout. Some place your bike’s rear wheel on rollers and use magnets or fluid to create friction. Direct-drive trainers, on the other hand, replace the wheel entirely with a dedicated resistance unit that couples with your bike’s drivetrain.
A great entry-level model is the Saris M2 Smart Trainer. It fits many common road and mountain bike frames. Its machined roller ensures a snug, smooth interface with the bike tire, and the integrated speed sensor means you can sync it with popular indoor cycling apps like Zwift, TrainerRoad and Rouvy right out of the box.
With no breeze to cool you down (unless you’re situated near an open window), it’s important to wear breathable clothing. And although padded cycling shorts aren’t required, trust us, they’ll make your workout much more comfortable. Consider the Pearl iZUMi Sugar Bike Shorts (for women) or the Pearl iZUMi Attack Bike Shorts (for men). Riders who have trouble keeping their pants from sagging might try the PEARL iZUMi Attack Bib Bike Shorts (men’s) or PEARL iZUMi P.R.O. Bib Bike Shorts (women’s). You can pull them down for bathroom breaks without the hassle of removing your shirt—convenient.
You can wear running shoes, but you’ll feel stronger in dedicated bike shoes that clip into your pedals. Look for a stiff sole that translates all your effort into the wheel. Briercheck recommends the PEARL iZUMi All-Road v5 (women’s). “It’ll give you the stiff sole and solid support you want,” Briercheck says. Other shoes to consider: TIEM Slipstream Indoor Bike Shoes or the Shimano RC1 Road Cycling Shoes.
Pick Your Playlist
You know the boost you feel when the car radio plays your favorite song? You get the same pick-me-up on a bike. No really, it’s science. For example, one study found that cyclists who pedaled in time to music required less oxygen than those that didn’t. Another found that faster music not only inspired cyclists to work harder during their workout, they also enjoyed it more.
Upgrade Your Ride
Hit the App Store
Sure, you could park your now-stationary bike in front of the TV and watch movies while you work out, but one of the easiest ways to take your indoor training to the next level is to imagine yourself on an actual ride with an indoor cycling app. Zwift, for example, turns your workout into a kind of video game. You’ll pedal your digital avatar through real places (like London) or imaginary landscapes (like Watopia) while completing a workout of your choosing or even joining other users for a ride. For his part, Briercheck likes The Sufferfest, which pieces together race footage to create a lifelike backdrop for your workout. If your stand doesn’t come with a speed sensor, you can turn any trainer into a smart trainer with a plug-and-play model like this one from Garmin.
Play with Light and Sound
Spin studios use sensory excitement to enhance workouts, and you can, too. Park your trainer beside your windows to soak up some outdoor visual inspiration. Or try the opposite: Briercheck sometimes rides in utter darkness and plays loud house music to create the workout equivalent of a rave.
Upgrade Your Tire
If you have a roller-style trainer and are experiencing wheel slippage or want to save your regular tires for the road, consider replacing your standard road tire with an indoor training-specific model like the Vittoria Zaffiro Pro. It features a special, durable compound and tread specifically designed to increase heat dispersion and reduce noise on indoor trainers.
To reduce vibration and noise, consider getting a floor mat like the Wahoo Fitness KICKR Bike Trainer Floormat or the Saris Trainer Accessory Kit. Your housemates will thank you when you’re cranking away at all hours of the day. The mat under your bike trainer also helps to protect your floors from sweat.