Clever Training Ambassador Nicholas Chase is a Professional Triathlete, USA Triathlon Certified Coach, IRONMAN Certified Coach, ISSA Elite Trainer and Co-Owns TRIBAL Multi-Sport. Working with athletes around the world under the TRIBAL umbrella means exploring all training modalities, most importantly: indoor cycling. Nicholas spends his season training and racing around the world while working with athletes hoping to reach world championship races in each race distance. As an athlete who races on mountainous courses, he must either travel to such terrain or spend many hours indoor cycling as he prepares for race day. As a coach, Chase also sharpens up athletes via indoor cycling, helping many athletes in cold, snowy climates earn new fitness levels via “the great indoors.”
A number of athletes I know would rather eat glass for breakfast if it meant they wouldn’t have to suffer through indoor cycling. The principle of this notion remains understandable; being outside is usually much more entertaining. There are cars to avoid, bike lanes to ride in (sometimes) and for some, feeling the wind against the skin is bliss. Mention indoor cycling to some athletes and a coach has to dig deep inside the “mantra” bag to ensure success. For others, however, the thought of waking up and starting in a safe environment where they can still be part of their wife and kids’ morning routine adds even more value. Hence, the reason indoor training can be a bittersweet notion. Weather can factor into the decision too. For any athlete who copes with metric tons of snow each year, indoor cycling is a no brainer; you’ll be suffering inside if you want to ride at all. However, enticing an athlete who lives Sunny Florida or California to spend three hours indoors can be a bit of a battle. The simple fact remains; no matter where you live there are times when grunting aloud to yourself in a sweaty, noisy room of death metal while the whining of the trainer annoys your loved ones is inevitable. Is the whining worth it? Let’s highlight the pros of indoor cycling trainers.
Indoor training can be a safe, convenient, and of course, climate-controlled alternative.
Let’s face it: the risk of being struck by a vehicle drops to 0%. For cyclists who have families, have seen friends recover from vehicular impact or have experienced the perils of road-riding first hand, indoor cycling is ideal.
Indoor cycling can improve the quality of your training session. Not everyone can walk out their front door and ride up mountains. Some have to fight for 30 minutes to escape endless traffic signals and distracted drivers. Why waste that time when you can immediately start your ride without breaks? For those of us who live in flat areas like Florida, it’s nearly impossible to get in any sort of climbing…and, no, bridges don’t count as a climb. An indoor trainer can add the same type of sustained resistance that a 24-mile ride up Mt. Lemmon can dish out. Plus, there aren’t any breaks, descents or stop lights…your legs only stop if you decide it’s time (unless you’re on a fixie).
Cycling indoors will reduce wear and tear on your gear too! Granted, you will need to cover your bike with a towel, since you’ll probably sweat profusely, burning through countless bottles of hydration as your alien-acid sweat soaks into your surroundings. Protecting your bike from road grime, heavy rain and bumpy roads can help sustain its life cycle too.
Indoor cycling can be social. Applications like ZWIFT make indoor training less boring, as your avatar blasts by other riders who are also on their indoor trainer. With technology taking bigger steps toward virtual reality, we can probably expect a helmet that has a built-in screen and maybe a fan that mists water on your face if it’s raining in your virtual world.
Finally, these trainers can be controlled directly by those third party applications via Bluetooth or ANT+, meaning the rider’s only job is to control cadence…working with that sweet spot, hitting low cadence power-sets or spinning their feet off at 110 revolutions per minute.
Not quite the "view" most cyclists aspire to. But there's no argument that indoor cycling is incredibly convenient!
Since we’ve hit some pros, it’s only fair to address the cons associated with indoor cycling. The list is short and will very from person to person based on opinion and outlook on their fitness, but the fact remains…it’s indoor cycling is NOT outside on a mountain. In fact, indoor cycling can sometimes feel like a “pain cave” dungeon where the rider stares at a barren wall, counting the cracks. Being indoors means you lose that “road” feel (unless you’re riding on rollers). And novice cyclists can miss out on vital opportunities to improve bike-handling skills like descending and cornering. Let’s also not forget stopping at intersections without tipping over. Odds are 3 out of 5 cyclists have heard “TIMBER” as they toppled down in front of their friends and loved ones because they forgot to un-clip from their pedal. Nope—you won’t get that kind of experience from training indoors. Aside from those few areas, the cons of indoor cycling are quite small, especially when you consider that regardless of the setbacks, indoor trainers let you take your ride indoors during winter or rainy season. An indoor ride is better than no ride.
If you’re a stout non-believer in the concept of training indoors, I challenge you to try at least two weekly indoor sessions of structured indoor trainer sessions that last 60 to 90 minutes. Ride outside all you want otherwise, but hit those two sessions of structure using a fun application like trainer road or ZWIFT. Using these applications, you can select the type of workout, duration and amount of “suffer”. It’s important to note that some of these sessions even come with videos of real life courses with on-screen instructions. With ZWIFT, you can actually ride with others who are also enjoying the thrills of indoor cycling. A trainer is also relentless and will keep a rider honest, especially when using a “smart” trainer like the Wahoo Kickr or Tacx or Cycleops
Choosing a Trainer: Smart Trainers vs Non-Smart Trainers
Smart Trainers – These new indoor cycling tools are booming within the trainer industry. For those willing to foot the bill, you’ll find that the quality typically improves over the $1000 mark. That’s because these trainers are designed to interface with proprietary applications or work with third-party apps, and if you have a phone that uses Bluetooth or an ANT+ adapter for the phone or computer, you can run these programs quite easily. The smart trainer is a quieter machine, using different types of electrical resistance vs the magnetic or fluid resistance non-“smart” trainers utilize. This does make them quite heavy and less mobile, but indoor trainers usually don’t need to be moved far from the pain cave anyway. A large benefit cyclists find in smart trainers comes from the added power meter built into each trainer. Effort, measured in watts, will be displayed alongside other metrics like heart rate, speed, cadence and distance—everything the data-driven, nerd-like cyclist or coach requires to track trends in fitness. The stability, ease and quality of indoor smart trainers certainly warrants their large price point, but you’ve already spent upwards of $3k on your bike, what’s another $1k, right? Finally, there are direct mount trainers and rear-wheel type smart trainers. For some, removing the rear wheel is just as daunting as knocking out an oil change. But for those who’ve learned to overcome obstacles rather than run away…it’s very simple to execute. If you’re looking to save a few dollars on a smart trainer, the rear-wheel driven trainers I’m about to describe below are slightly less expensive and lighter, but you will wear through your gator skins much faster.
Because they don't need a power source, classic "non-smart" trainers are much easier to transport outdoors.
Non – “smart” trainers – These stand-alone units have been around for years and still see some large improvements over time, namely noise reduction. You can also use these outdoors much easier as well since they’re more mobile and don’t require a power source. Say you wanted to hit some hard bike intervals followed by some hard quarter mile repeats on the track. This type of workout would be well suited for a less expensive, more mobile and still effective "non-smart” trainer. The best type is a fluid trainer, which seems to handle surges in power better while providing stable resistance. And if your bike already uses a power meter, it’s easy to control the power. As you increase effort or manually increase resistance on the trainer, you’ll simulate a real-road feel as you would also build wind resistance. Personally, I’ve had both types of trainers and because I can survive a few hours indoors, I’ve actually seen large gains from both smart and non-smart trainers. In my early days as an athlete I owned a CycleOps Fluid 2 and it was great! Despite the noise and wear on my rear wheel, I loved that thing. Since my bike had a crank-based power meter, it was also easy for me to measure my effort levels. I also did all of this training before ZWIFT or smart trainers were even around!
Smart trainers like the Wahoo New Kick not only simulate a true road feel but feature compatibility with a variety of apps that give you access to literally thousands of training plans right from the comforts of your pain cave.
These days, I use the Wahoo KICKR 2018 It’s definitely a much more robust system that I really don’t enjoy carrying anywhere, but it rarely gets moved beyond a few feet. The indoor smart trainer has revolutionized how I plan workouts for athletes too. Using the Trainer Road workout creator, I can pre-build workouts and avoid memorizing two hours of instructions. The app will respond to each athlete’s individual settings and ensure the metrics match his/her ability. Also with ZWIFT and Trainer Road, there are thousands of pre-build workouts and training programs. If you want to simply try out a newer smart trainer to see if it suits your style before committing to an actual purchase, I’d recommend searching your local area for indoor cycling studios that utilize smart-bike trainers. Odds are they will be attached to a bike shop. These studios are popping up all over the US and are a great way to familiarize yourself with all the benefits a smart trainer can provide. Regardless of what you go with, both smart and non-smart trainers are easy to use and with enough “can do” attitude will improve upon current fitness levels. It’s not a matter of ability when it comes to indoor cycling, it’s a matter of priorities. Would you rather NOT ride your bike during the winter? If that question is yes, then it’s clear you don’t take it as seriously as some…however, it’s still a great way to keep fit for next season, simulating mountain rides at low rpm’s. When making your decision on smart trainer, the likely roadblock is the larger price tag. They are a bit more expensive if cycling isn’t a dominant hobby. In that case, it’s best to add it to the Christmas list and send Clever Training’s Smart-Trainer link to your wife and family!
Video: How to set up Zwift using a smart trainer and a non-smart trainer.
Indoor Cycling: Final Thoughts
You might ask, “how did you mentally entertain yourself for 3 to 4 hours on the trainer before there was ZWIFT”? The quick answer is because I could catch up on all my favorite shows! The “coach” answer I would give to most serious athletes who might actually listen is in two parts. First, determine if your internal commitment level matches what you’ve told your coach, friends or loved ones. It’s easy to say “I want to race in Kona, IRONMAN World Championship in two years” or “I want to summit Pikes Peak” or “I want to win my age group at Road Race National Championships this summer”. It’s very common to hear these statements when an athlete first signs on with his/her coach or starts a program; however the mental commitment associated is often exponentially larger than initially thought. The second part of this question relies on personal depth of knowledge and focus. I’ll tell you what, the people who suck at indoor cycling will tell you they do and consequently, they end up sucking because they say willingly proclaim, it “I hate indoor cycling and suck at it”. I’ve never encountered anyone who said, “I can’t to treadmills and I can’t do indoor cycling” actually see huge gains. Why? It’s bigger than just a statement or task. These athletes have put limits on their training gains early on. The ability to adapt to any environment and mentally find methods to allow development is crucial. It’s the champion’s mindset and sadly we don’t all have the hunger. The hungry athlete, the adaptable “throw anything at me” athlete and the focused athlete will prove a success story. Those who “can’t” and say they “can’t will limit themselves from the start. It’s not until logic kicks in that it’s easy to push through the negativity. If spending time indoor cycling means I get to spend more time around my family, receive more focused training since I don’t have to fight traffic, oh and not to mention I can avoid 3:30 am pitch-black rides while looking like a Christmas tree, the pros are certainly obvious. In endurance sports, the mind needs to be stronger than the body so if an athlete can’t or won’t even try this method of specificity, it says a lot about that mental commitment level. The mind needs to push the body and when the body starts to fail, focus and time spent “suffering” indoors will add value. Odds are, some people will never NEED to train indoors because their climate allows for it and for those people who live in year-round mild 70-degree temperatures and are surrounded by mountains, open coasts and great coffee shops…we all envy you. But if there’s 5 feet of snow outside or it’s so hot that your sunglasses fog up the minute you step outside, your options are limited, and I’ve personally found indoor cycling to be a solid alternative. The ability to adapt to any environment and mentally find methods to allow development is crucial. It’s the champion’s mindset and sadly we don’t all have the hunger. The hungry athlete, the adaptable “throw anything at me” athlete and the focused athlete will prove a success story. Those who “can’t” and say they “can’t
The ability to adapt to any environment and mentally find methods to allow development is crucial. It’s the champion’s mindset and sadly we don’t all have the hunger. The hungry athlete, the adaptable “throw anything at me” athlete and the focused athlete will prove a success story. Those who “can’t” and say they “can’t will limit themselves from the start. It’s not until logic kicks in that it’s easy to push through the negativity. If spending time indoor cycling means I get to spend more time around my family, receive more focused training since I don’t have to fight traffic, oh and not to mention I can avoid 3:30 am pitch-black rides while looking like a Christmas tree, the pros are certainly obvious. In endurance sports, the mind needs to be stronger than the body so if an athlete can’t or won’t even try this method of specificity, it says a lot about that mental commitment level. The mind needs to push the body and when the body starts to fail, focus and time spent “suffering” indoors will add value.
Odds are, some people will never NEED to train indoors because their climate allows for it and for those people who live in year-round mild 70-degree temperatures and are surrounded by mountains, open coasts and great coffee shops…we all envy you. But if there’s 5 feet of snow outside or it’s so hot that your sunglasses fog up the minute you step outside, your options are limited, and I’ve personally found indoor cycling to be a solid alternative.
The Top-Selling Smart Trainers at Clever Training (starting at $529.99):