Pros, cons and optimization tips for indoor riding

Top tips — and a few pitfalls to avoid — when riding indoors.

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Within the last two years, some retailers saw a greater than 200 percent increase in indoor bike trainers and smart bikes. Their popularity has certainly been on the rise for quite some time now. If you’re considering jumping on the bandwagon or if you already have and want to enhance your experience, I’ve put together my list of pros, cons, and ways to optimize your time for riding an indoor trainer or stationary bike.

Pros of Riding Inside

No distractions/stops
Likely one of the most popular reasons to turn over the pedals indoors is that there are no distractions or stops. When riding outdoors you will face traffic, stop lights, and varying terrain all of which can interrupt intervals or consistency.

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With bike and car incidents also on the rise, it makes sense that more people are riding in the safety of their own homes. Stationary cycling offers a way to ride without fear of crashing or someone crashing into you. Additionally, if you ride during odd hours in which light is limited, you don’t have to worry about a lack of visibility.

Another big reason that people choose to ride their bikes inside is the efficiency. For many people, finding the time to exercise is a challenge. Most people have a set amount of time that they can dedicate to the bike each day or week and once it’s gone, it’s gone. That means that if they spend more time kitting up, looking for gloves and glasses, then that time is taken out of their ride time. Riding on a trainer or stationary bike is highly efficient because you can leave it set up so that all you have to do is pull a chamois on, fill up some water bottles and start pedaling. Since you are riding indoors there is very little bike maintenance or cleaning required as well.

Exact numbers
Riding inside also allows someone to monitor their numbers closely. Many stationary bikes and trainers even have an “erg mode” in which the equipment will monitor the wattage for you. This allows an individual to complete structured training with less thought and planning than the ideal outdoor route can require.

Finally, riding inside means that you are not at the mercy of bad weather or conditions. You get to control your own environment and you won’t be faced with the challenges of poor air quality, cold temperatures, precipitation, or even heat.

Cons of riding inside

No bike handling skills
While the stationary bike can perform fitness miracles, it can also leave a rider lacking in the skills department. Indoor cycling will often allow a rider to push harder because the rider doesn’t have to worry about holding themselves up, balancing, or watching the road. While that can be good for fitness, it can also teach poor habits. If you plan to ride in groups or race outside it’s also important to practice riding outside so that you remember pack skills, use core strength for balance, and practice technical skills like cornering as well.

Power/standing difficulty
Some riders report difficulty hitting their power numbers inside. This could be for a variety of reasons, including the type of stationary bike or trainer that you are using. It can also be due to your riding style. If you are a rider that prefers to produce power by standing and pulling up on the bars then you may also feel limited with certain types of trainers that you cannot lean.

Hill climbing
Finally, hill climbing just isn’t quite the same indoors. The technology on this has increased greatly in the last few years, but there is nothing quite like the impact of gravity from pointing your bike uphill. Additionally, when you climb outside, you will often change your body position slightly on the bike and in turn work slightly different muscles. Indoor cycling can create the next best thing, but it’s still not quite the real deal.

Optimizing your indoor riding

Smartbike or trainer
If possible, start by using a smart bike or trainer. A smart bike that allows you to match your outdoor bike’s geometry will allow for the most streamlined transition from outdoor riding to indoor training. A smart trainer with a direct-drive hook-up will also allow for a smooth transition and should allow for a more real-world riding experience. Both of these set-ups should allow you to maintain similar power numbers to outside.

Good fan
One of the most important and simple things you can do to enhance your indoor riding experience is to have a good quality fan with high airflow. Keeping cool will allow you to push yourself harder.

Good entertainment
Some people complain that indoor riding is “boring.” Those people probably aren’t using the right entertainment. Zwift and TrainerRoad have created two different and fun interactive ways to ride with others while inside. You can also listen to music, podcasts, and even movies.

Good towel
If you have the right fan then you may not need a good towel, but if you’re a heavy sweater like me then this makes a big difference. When on the trainer, sometimes you will sweat so much that your body can’t evaporate the sweat. Using the towel to manually wipe the sweat off of your face and body will both keep you cooler and prevent heat rash.

Have a schedule
Since you don’t have to leave your house to ride, it can be easy to put off your trainer session since you can do it “at any time.” Make sure that you still set very specific time aside to get your workout done so that you don’t end up stalling all day.

Just ride

It doesn’t matter if you’re inside or outside, just keep turning over the pedals and enjoying the fitness, health, and freedom that the bike can bring!

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