Indoor cycling: keeping fit and staying safe

As this edition of the Holland Times went to press, the prevailing advice for safe cycling in the Corona crisis was moving from outdoors to indoors.  Having already transitioned to riding solo as a precaution against spreading the Covid-19 virus, the need to avoid congested bike paths moved the needle toward home-based solutions.  Thankfully, there are number of options to get a good ride in without ever leaving the safe confines of your living space.  However, a little homework is useful in getting yourself the right gear and this article is meant to give you a primer on what’s on offer.

Already in times without pandemics, the indoor trainer has become very popular in this land of early nightfall and cold and rainy autumns and winters.  Spinning bikes and even spinning classes have been a mainstay of cardio fitness at health centers for years.  Unfortunately, the Covid-19 bug has made gyms and the like off-limits for the time being.  The good news is that a home-based solution means no membership fees and the chance to set things up exactly as you like them.

There are number of different setups you can use – they vary in the way they provide resistance and the mechanical way in which the cycling takes place as well as in price.

Basic trainers
The basic trainer uses a magnetic or hydraulic brake to provide resistance to your own bike.  The level of resistance is controlled by a knob on the handlebars or as you pedal faster.  This type of trainer requires no electricity in order to function.  There are no sensors, so you won’t be able to make use of any of the cool software outline below.  You will be able to get in a good cycling workout and your investment will be minimal.

Basic smart trainers
With a basic smart trainer, you will not need to kit out your bike with external sensors for cadence, speed or power as this data will be measured by the trainer.  With this type of installation, you can use popular training programmes such as Zwift, Trainerroad, SufferFest, Bkool, Kinomap or the software from Tacx.  Through a connection with a tablet, smartphone or laptop you can directly measure and display your performance.  The magnetic, hydraulic or electrical resistance is still controlled by a knob on the handlebars.

Advanced Smart Trainers
With an advanced smart trainer, you home workout takes on an added virtual dimension as you ply along the simulated worlds of Zwift, Bkool, The Sufferfest (Wahoo), TrainerRoad or the real-life videos of Tacx.  With these setups, the resistance is automatically regulated by the trainer and corresponds to the virtual route you have chosen.  You’ll not only see an uphill climb on the screen, you’ll feel it in your legs as the trainer adds resistance.  You’ll adjust your gearing just as you would on an outdoor ride.

The trainer uses a wireless protocol such as ANT+ or Bluetooth to couple your devices and/or sensors.  In contrast to the basic or basic smart trainers, the advanced smart trainer can also simulate descent.  This set-up will require an electrical connection.

Direct Drive Trainers
Direct drive trainers perform identical to advanced smart trainers. The major difference is that in this setup, the bike is directly coupled to the trainer with the chain linked to the unit’s own gear set.  Not only is the chance of wheel slippage eliminated but the noise level is substantially less than using the bike’s own rear wheel.  The simulated ride is far more realistic than all other setups.

The manufacturers claim that the ride is very close to the real thing and by complimenting them with popular programs such as Zwift, Bkool or TrainerRoad, they aren’t lying.  The direct drive trainers can also simulate descents.  With their built-in speed, power and cadence sensors, they have the ability to link with your smartphone, tablet or laptop providing an unrivaled training experience.

Stationary Bikes
While spinning and exercise bikes are a different animal altogether, we’ll lump them together for the sake of brevity.  The important distinction from the other setups is that we’ve now replaced the outdoor bike component with a stationary one.  These bikes run the gamut in terms of sophistication and the manner in which they provide resistance. While some of them include their own, sometimes highly sophisticated training programs, those with data interfaces like Bluetooth may be coupled to programs such as Zwift.

Another note on software: it pays to shop around.  Check out the trial periods and offers at not only the aforementioned vendors, but also have a look at Rouxy and RGT.  RGT was offering free access to all their premium features for the duration of the Covid-19 crisis.  Another good source of information are the myriad of instructionals and reviews available on Youtube.  Global Cycling Network, for example, have done a number of features on different setups and programs.

Finally, an important consideration is the physical location of your setup.  If you’re living in a 30 square meter studio in Amsterdam, not only are your choices limited but your indoor bike may end up as handy place to toss your coat.  Hopefully you’ll have a bit more space and choice of where to put in your virtual rides.  The ultimate space, of course, is a dedicated room which you can transform into a training room.  These rooms have acquired their own nicknames with ‘pain cave’ being one of the more colorful.  A good cave can be a source of inspiration and whether you put up motivational posters or turn your room into a memorial of the Tour de France is purely a matter of personal taste.  There are a few important considerations to keep in mind.  You’ll likely need adequate network coverage and electricity.  The electricity will also come in handy for ventilation – a serious ride is going to feel a lot better and little more realistic with a light breeze supplied by a fan.  You’re also going want to think about your music.  While it’s not advisable to wear headphones on an outdoor ride for safety reasons, in the controlled environment of your very own pain cave you can feel free to rock it out helping to make the whole experience a little less painful!

Edition 10 April, by John Mahnen