Regardless of what’s going on outside, you can stay fit, healthy and happy with a decent indoor training set-up – here’s our guide to getting started
With interactive training apps such as Zwift so popular, indoor cycling is now part of many riders’ routines even when storms or social distancing aren’t making outdoor pedalling tricky.
To access most online training apps you need to connect your turbo trainer wirelessly with a laptop, tablet or smartphone. The best way to do that is by using a smart trainer – there are work-arounds for non-smart trainers, but a smart trainer is undoubtedly the easiest way to do it and it will help you get more out of using apps like Zwift. Once you’re up and running you can train and race with other people all over the world, join group rides led by WorldTour pros or set up your own virtual rides with your regular mates.
The other main benefit of indoor training is that it allows you to train in a perfectly controlled environment. If you really want to nail an interval session the open road is not the best place for it. If you have to negotiate junctions, traffic lights, potholes and cars it’s not easy to do a five-minute interval at a set intensity. On your turbo trainer there’s nothing to distract you, so not only do you have total control over your session but with no freewheeling it’s also a more efficient way of training.
Choosing a turbo trainer
Turbo trainers work with your own bike and broadly fall into two categories: direct-drive and wheel-on. With the direct-drive type, you remove your bike’s rear wheel, clamp it into the trainer, and your bike’s chain drives the trainer’s own cassette. With the wheel-on type, your bike’s rear wheel stays on, as the name suggests, and it drives a roller linked to the trainer’s resistance.
Direct-drive trainers such at the Tacx Neo 2 Smart are generally more expensive because they are usually more accurate, sturdier, quieter, they have a more realistic ride feel and are able to supply higher resistances so that you can lay down as much power as you like without having to worry about tyre slip. However, they are also much heavier than the wheel-on type, weighing around 20kg.
All direct-drive trainers are ‘smart’, so that you can use them with either the trainer manufacturer’s training app or a third-party app such as Zwift, TrainerRoad or Sufferfest. The higher-end wheel-on types, such as the Elite Aleno Smart Elastogel, are also smart, while the more basic ones, such as the B’Twin In’Ride 100, do not have smart functionality but can of course still be used with a heart-rate monitor, power meter and speed/cadence sensors paired with your own bike computer – or simply pedalled for the sake of keeping the legs turning.
Where to train
If you have a garage, shed or room in the house where your bike and turbo trainer stay set up, a smart trainer’s extra weight and lack of portability won’t be an issue. However, if you’re having to take it down and put it away after each session, the wheel-on type is easily folded up and stashed.
Also consider noise levels: because smart trainers tend to be quieter than wheel-on trainers and generate less vibration, if you live in a flat the neighbours would probably steer you towards the smart trainer.
The other essentials
Without the wind cooling you down, it can get very hot very quickly – so you’ll need a powerful fan. Run it from the start of your session and wear a long-sleeved jersey for your warm-up that you can strip off as the intensity builds.
Even with the fan, there’s bound to be some sweat if you’re working hard, so you need to protect your bike from its corrosive effects. Use a towel over the bars to catch the drips – the microfibre type such as the Nabaiji is compact, lightweight, absorbent and quick drying – or try a dedicated sweat catcher. B’Twin’s sweat catcher attaches between the bars and seatpost and has a storage bag at the front that doubles as a bottle holder so that you don’t have to reach under the sweat catcher to your bottle cage.
So that other members of your household don’t reach the end of their tether before you reach the end of your session, you’ll need to protect the floor. A dedicated mat such as the B’Twin Turbo Training Mat is designed to keep sweat off the floor as well as protect it from damage from the turbo’s feet. Its underside is made from an anti-slip foam so there’s no chance of the turbo moving under hard pedalling.
What to wear
As little as possible is the short answer. It’s going to get hot, so wear shorts and a base layer at most, and an outer layer for warming up.
Other bits and pieces that make indoor-training life easier
If you’re using a tablet with a smart trainer you’ll need to put it where you can see it – but safely away from sweat. Tacx makes a tablet handlebar mount that places it in exactly the right spot in front of you.
Wheel-on trainers can chew up regular tyres very quickly, so if you’re going to be setting up a bike and leaving it in the turbo, use a turbo-specific tyre that has better durability and also better grip on the roller.
Wheel-on trainers use a specific quick-release skewer that is usually included in the box, but spares are sold separately. The same goes for riser blocks. Since a wheel-on trainer raises the rear of the bike, a riser block under the front wheel levels it up.
Get yourself properly set up and you’ll probably find that even when the sun comes out and lockdowns are lifted, indoor training has become an essential part of your riding.