Got a few minutes? Read the whole thing, for explanations and tips.
TL;DR – just read the lists coming next. 🙂
The basics you’ll need for riding your bike indoors are:
- a bike
- a trainer (rollers or turbo)
- lots of determination, or a high boredom threshold.
However, you’re going to sweat. More than you’d expect. And also that boredom will suck your determination. So the “bearable” list also includes:
- a good fan
- a towel
- water bottles
- something to listen to, preferably with sweatproof earphones – music, podcasts, etc.
After a while, you may well find this training useful and even enjoyable. And want to make your bike work well with the turbo. So on the “good” list is:
- sweat mat
- turbo trainer tyre
- heart rate monitor
- screen / tablet / laptop – something to watch, iPlayer, Netflix, etc.
And if you want to do some targeted training, or virtual riding, or for longer periods, a “great” setup will have:
- smart trainer
- bike thong
- cycle training videos or software – Sufferfest, TrainerRoad, Zwift, etc.
- dedicated clothing
Wait, what? You think I’m going to ride a bike in a thong?!
No, the bike wears the thong – read the long stuff below and in the following posts to find out what I’m on about. And, at the end, to find out about the full pro-level bells-and-whistles setups if you’re really serious and / or have plenty of money to spend.
So, on to the long waffly article I started writing before realising I need a “just give me the facts” at the top…
As the pandemic continues and the shadow of lockdown approaches, a lot of us cyclists are really hoping that the UK government doesn’t follow Spain and France’s lead and ban leisure cycling. The logic behind that, apparently, is that cyclists injuring themselves while riding will put an extra strain on the emergency and health services. I totally understand that, but so many more people injure themselves falling out of chairs and slipping in the shower each each year, not to mention those injured and killed in and around cars, that banning an activity that generally maintains mental and physical health seems counterproductive.
Anyway, this entry’s about indoor training and should provide some basic information about how to get started and buy a trainer if you still want to ride your bike but you can’t leave your house. It can be a great way to train as you don’t have to worry about traffic but, if you’ve never done it before, here are a few pointers.
The bare minimum you’ll need is a bike and a trainer. And probably quite a high boredom threshold. You find space, fit the bike to the trainer, climb on and get pedalling.
Until a few years ago, there were only two types of trainer, and both involved keeping your bike fully assembled.
Rollers are literally a set of rollers on a frame and you adjust them so your rear wheel sits between the two close rollers and your front wheel sits on the other one, then basically ride your bike on top of them. You might have seen experienced riders using them to warm up at the velodrome or before races. The gyroscopic effect of your wheels spinning helps keep you upright, but they take a bit of practice to get right, and you need to stay focussed to stop you falling off. However, they engage your core muscles much more and because you are basically riding a bike without going anywhere, have a very natural feel.
The other kind was a turbo trainer, an A-frame that you clamp your rear axle into, that lifts your rear wheel slightly off the ground and usually has a roller that you push against the rear tyre. As you pedal faster, the resistance increases. And some have variable resistance with a cable- or electronically-operated remote. You’d usually need to lift your front wheel slightly off the ground so the bike feels level, and there are various devices for this, but a good old thick phone book has served well for thousands of riders.
Turbo trainers and rollers are great but can be noisy – all the moving parts on the bike channeling your pedal power, and all the moving parts on the trainer also rolling away and dissipating that power can make quite a hum, especially if you’ve got the setup sitting on bare floorboards in a flat. Your downstairs neighbours might not appreciate your new-found souplesse.
Wheel-off, or direct drive turbo trainers became commercially available a few years ago and have made a big difference to enjoyable and / or serious indoor riding. You literally remove your bike’s rear wheel and clamp the bike to the trainer, or the trainer into the bike in place of the back wheel. The advantages are that the trainers are usually quieter and because your chain is directly driving the cassette on the trainer they can offer significantly more resistance, more quickly-variable resistance and some can even provide a virtual road feel, simulating cobblestones for example. The disadvantages are that they’re usually heavier and can be significantly more expensive.
If you’re looking to get started and you don’t have the patience or the space to learn how to fall off a bike inside your own home, I’d recommend an A-frame classic turbo trainer. There are a huge number available and often many second-hand bargains that have been purchased with good intentions and then left in a dusty corner. Although I’d guess that may have turned into a bit of a seller’s market at the moment.
If you’re after classic track training, Nelsy swears by rollers. They teach good technique, smooth pedalling, they’re fixed-wheel compatible and they’ll train all the muscles you’ll actually use to ride a bike. And, after quite a lot of practice, you can balance no-handed and pedal and juggle at the same time like her!
But if you want to get into tekkers stuff later on like Zwift or TrainerRoad, you’ll be best off with a direct drive trainer. They can offer much more resistance and silence, but be prepared to pay a fair bit more. In the next post I’ll cover some simple set-up tips but I’ll leave it at this for now!