A little rain or snow doesn’t have to put the kibosh on outdoor bike rides. In fact, cyclists often discover that with the right gear (and attitude), wintertime riding can be plenty safe and enjoyable. But some days, even diehards decide they’d rather not brave the elements—and that’s when indoor cycling offers a fun alternative.
Maybe you just smirked at the word “fun.” Hear us out. Indoor cycling doesn’t have to be boring. Not only is technology making indoor riding easier and more effective than ever, it can transform your workout into an immersive experience that mimics the outdoors.
Best of all, anyone can do it.
“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.
Try a Class
Spin classes are a great introduction to indoor cycling. But while they’ll teach you the basics, they’re not all the same. Some let students track their output on a screen and compare it against the rest of the class while others replicate real-world scenarios like big hills. (Briercheck typically describes terrain that cyclists can visualize, like a road that traverses rolling hills nearby, because topping out on a mountain peak typically feels more meaningful than hitting an abstract RPM.) Or if joining a friendly community is what really motivates you to show up for class, look for an instructor who cultivates camaraderie: Briercheck schedules costume rides during holidays and organizes road rides for spin participants who want to try the outdoor version.
Find the Right Indoor Trainer
Ready to ride at home? 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.
Briercheck’s favorite entry-level model is the Saris Fluid² Smart-Equipped Trainer. At $350, it’s reasonably priced, and 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 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 Terry Breakaway Bike Shorts. Their chamois pad features multi-density foam that’s perforated for ventilation. Men who have trouble keeping their pants from sagging might try the PEARL iZUMIi Attack Bib Bike Shorts. For women, try the PEARL iZUMi P.R.O. Bib Bike Shorts. 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 iZUMIi All Road v5. “It’ll give you the stiff sole and solid support you want,” Briercheck says.
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.