If you’re a cyclist, then you may have toyed with the idea of indoor training, but just haven’t gotten around to it. Maybe you don’t know where to start, or hate the idea of riding indoors.
Whatever the reason, we’re here to help you get over any hurdles you may be facing when it comes to indoor cycling. But before we get into the details, I need to make one thing clear: we’re talking about indoor cycling here, not spin classes or exercise bikes (like a Peloton, for example)—those are two completely different things.
We’re going to focus on indoor cycling with a “real” bike and a trainer—a device that’s used to ride your outdoor bike inside. And that’s the first place where you’ll start—but it’s also just the tip of the iceberg.
Also, I want to touch on a common misconception about indoor training: it’s not just for cold weather! Some people use indoor trainers all year round to stay strong or fit in workouts when time is short. You may be looking to invest in something like this for the cold months where there is a clear benefit, but you’d be shocked at how beneficial it can also be in the spring, summer, and fall. In all honesty, there’s no better way to get fast—indoor training, when done properly, is far more efficient than outdoor riding.
A Good Trainer ($200-$1600)
This is by far the biggest thing you’ll need to buy to start indoor cycling—you already have the bike, you just need a way to ride it indoors. And for that, there is a range of products to choose from.
We already have a guide on the best bike trainers you can buy for various disciplines, and at a range of price points, so I’ll point you in that direction for an in-depth look at the different kinds of trainers and what you get at each price point.
For now, I’ll just reiterate what was originally said in that piece. If you’re looking to get a good trainer that will last for ages and won’t break the bank, get the Kinetic Road Machine Smart. It’s a fantastic fluid trainer and worth every penny of its $300 price tag.
If you’re looking to get into the smart trainer game, the Wahoo Kickr Snap is an excellent wheel-on trainer with controlled resistance over Bluetooth for superior training quality.
And if money is no object, the Tacx Neo Smart (shown above) is the best trainer on the market today. At $1400 it’s also incredibly pricey, but it’s quiet, efficient, and provides one of the most “realistic” road experiences you’ll find in a trainer.
A Trainer Wheel and Tire (Optional, $150-200ish)
If you opt to go for a wheel-on designed trainer like the Road Machine Smart or Kickr Snap, it’s a good idea to also get a separate trainer wheel and tire.
The reason for this is two-fold. First, you need a trainer tire for your trainer. While you can try to use your regular road tire, the trainer will absolutely destroy it in no time. Road tires just aren’t designed for that sort of wear and tear. Also, if you’ll be riding a mountain or cyclocross bike on the trainer, those tires will be insanely loud. A trainer tire is quiet.
Secondly, separate wheels makes it easy to switch back and forth between indoor and outdoor rides. If you train indoors all year round, a quick wheel swap is all it will take to go from the trainer to the road—but that’s also at a higher cost. You’ll need the wheel itself, as well as a cassette for that wheel—for folks that aren’t hardcore cyclists but are reading along at home; the cassette is the cluster of rear-tire gears on a multi-speed bike. You should absolutely factor that in when considering whether to buy a wheel-on or direct drive trainer. The new Wahoo Kickr Core comes in at $900, which can be just $150 more than getting a Kickr Snap, a wheel, tire, and cassette. Something to think about!
When it comes to a wheel, you’ll need to make sure to get the right size for your bike—axle size and the like will all be important here, so you’ll need to do some research (or even check with your local bike shop). The same goes for a cassette, but I’d recommend getting something similar to what you use on the road. It’s also worth noting that if you’ve upgraded to a new wheelset on your bike at any point, the stock rear wheel will be perfect for use with your trainer.
As for tires, I’ve personally tried a handful of different brands, and by far the best one I’ve used is the Vittoria Zaffiro Pro. It’s ultra-quiet and super robust, making it an excellent choice for any wheel-on trainer. Plus, it comes in 700c, 29er, and 26-inch sizes.
A Training Mat ($30+)
Along with your trainer, you’ll need to get something to put it all on to keep the floor underneath from getting soaked in sweat. You can probably skip this step if you plan on keeping your trainer setup in a garage or similar, but it’s still a good investment either way.
These mats are basically just thick rubber mats—similar to yoga mats, but a lot more robust. They’re designed to handle the wear and tear that comes with indoor trainer, as well as be easy to clean. If you’ll be training in your house, this is a must-have. There are a ton of options to choose from—some of which can get pretty pricey—but you can find decent options as low as $30, like this one on Amazon.
A Good Fan ($13+)
I’m sure you’ve seen pictures of people absolutely dripping with sweat after an indoor training session, which is generally pretty accurate. But here’s the thing: indoor trainer gets very hot very fast, so you absolutely have to have a way to keep cool.
A good fan is absolutely clutch when it comes to indoor training, because you don’t get nearly the airflow you do outside. Even on the hottest of days outdoors you generate your own breeze on the bike, which simply doesn’t happen on the trainer.
While you can go all out and get some crazy-expensive fan, I’ve found that a couple of simple small fans—like the Honeywell TurboForce—do the job nicely. At only ~$27 for a pair of these, it’s well worth the money and a great way to stay cool. Pair those with some smart plugs so you can say “OK Google, turn on my workout fans” and you’ll never have to worry about forgetting to turn them on, either.
Training Software ($13/monthly+)
When it comes to indoor cycling, the number one complaint I hear is “it’s just too boring.” Outdoor riding is exciting and dynamic—even if you ride the same route, things can change from ride to ride. With indoor cycling, it can be a slog.
That’s why you need something to keep you “entertained” while you work—Netflix is a good start, but just spinning your legs with no real direction while watching TV is about the least effective way to handle indoor training.
Instead, something with structured workouts is the way to go. Dedicated training software has become quite popular over the past few years, which makes a lot of sense—not only does it keep you occupied during training sessions, but it provides real purpose to your indoor rides.
When it comes to getting the best training software you can, there are two names that stand above the rest: TrainerRoad and Zwift. I’ve personally used both, so here’s a quick breakdown of my assessment of each:
- TrainerRoad ($13/mo): Full-on structured training. Excellent for seasoned riders and veterans alike, every training plan is designed to make you a faster, better, and more efficient cyclist.
- Zwift ($15/mo): More “fun.” This is digital cycling—kind of like a game. You can get an avatar you get to customize, and it provides more of a road-like feel through a digital medium. There are virtual group rides, online races, and more. It also has limited structured training, though it doesn’t compare to TrainerRoad in this aspect.
When it comes down to it, you can get a good workout from both, though I’ll readily admit that I saw far better gains from TrainerRoad than Zwift. If you’re looking for something with a social aspect to it, Zwift is great. If you want to get work done and simply get faster, TrainerRoad is unbeatable.
Some users also do both at the same time—they’ll use Zwift’s workout creator to build the day’s workout from TrainerRoad, then run the two side-by-side. It’s a bit of overkill, sure, but it’s great if you want the work from TrainerRoad with the beauty of Zwift.
Personally, I just turn on Netflix or loud music while powering through workouts on TrainerRoad, but you have to do whatever helps you enjoy the workout.
Just like with anything else, there’s a bit of a financial curve to getting started with indoor cycling—especially if you want to do it right. But once you pick up everything you need, there’s only one thing left to do: set up your pain cave and get to work.