Riding indoors on a stationary trainer was once considered strictly a wintertime activity and a boring one at that. However, with game-like virtual training programs like Zwift, smart trainers that feel more akin to riding outside, and with more available information on how to boost performance with structured training, more and more riders are opting for indoor rides year-round. While nothing beats the fresh air on your face as your cruise down your favorite descent or the high of sprinting against your friends as you hit the town line sign, riding indoors can offer key training benefits as well.
Benefits of Riding Inside
Regardless of whether you ride with basic equipment or expensive top-end gear, riding indoors first and foremost provides an added element of safety. In many locations, roads are slippery during wet and wintery months. Training inside allows riders to focus on the ride ahead instead of trying to keep the bike upright. Also, for riders who don’t feel comfortable riding in congested areas or don’t want to battle with car traffic, riding inside takes the stress out of pedaling so you can focus on the fun, or the pain, the choice is yours.
Besides safety, indoor riding also delivers a level of consistency and control over your training that riding outside cannot. There are no unexpected stop signs, detours, or inclement weather to deal with. You are in control of how hard you ride, when to time your intervals, and you can make sure you won't get stuck on an uphill section when you’re supposed to be riding easy. You can ride exactly as easy or as hard as you desire, free of stops or distractions.
Finally, with no rain, snow, or dirt to contend with when riding inside, you can typically enjoy a reduction in cleaning and other routine maintenance. It’s still important to take care of essential tasks like cleaning and lubricating your chain to keep your bike running smoothly. It’s also important to wipe down your frame and components after hard rides when sweat likely dripped onto your bike and into its different parts.
Using a Power Meter for Riding Inside
A basic stationary trainer and a set of headphones can go a long way with your indoor setup. However, adding additional equipment like Shimano’s dual-sided DURA-ACE Power Meter can significantly up your indoor training game. Power meters measure the actual work output (watts of power) you’re producing while pedaling your bike. This measurement is typically displayed on a small handlebar-mounted head unit or cycling computer, which can save files for later analysis by you or a coach.
Measuring your efforts with power provides a much more accurate picture of how hard you worked rather than merely looking at your speed or estimated distance. These basic metrics alone are often affected by numerous other variables, such as rider size and weight, terrain (outdoor or on Zwift), and wind speed. Watts can also be used to calculate other figures such as kilojoules (kJ) or calories burned.
Virtual Training Programs Like Zwift
Using a virtual training program like Zwift can elevate your indoor riding experience from a lonely solo mission to a fun social activity. Zwift allows riders to virtually ride with or compete against other cyclists from around the world in real-time. Each cyclist creates an avatar, which you use to participate in a cycling video game displayed on your computer, tablet, or television screen. When you pedal harder, your rider in the video game speeds up for a ride experience that feels more like riding outside.
While Zwift doesn’t require a power meter to participate, the program provides the most realistic ride experience when using a power meter. Alternatively, riders can connect a Bluetooth speed and cadence sensor, which creates an estimation of your power output in order to move your avatar forward. Using a power meter improves response time in the game and ensures that you’re on a level playing field with your fellow riders and racers, rather than relying on a calculated power figure.
Other virtual programs such as Rouvy, CVRcade, and TrainerRoad also provide indoor training platforms that work in conjunction with your power meter to provide indoor workouts. Each program offers its own unique take on virtual training, providing a much more exciting and interactive workout than was possible only a few short years ago.
With any indoor training program, power enhances the experience. Whether you’re training for a big race this summer or looking to stay in shape during the dreary months, indoor training with power will help you feel fitter and ride faster so you’ll have more fun when you hit the road this summer.