Why to do it, what equipment you need and most imporantly how to stay motivated while doing it.
Why You Need Indoor Cycling
Reason #1: Weather
No matter where you live, weather is not always on your side. In the northern states you are forced to stop mountain biking outdoors once the snow starts piling up.
Here in Texas we are blessed with unbelievable weather year round for riding. However, we still have plenty of rain and the occasional icemaggedon that prevents us from hitting the trails. During those times instead of sitting on the couch getting fat, jump on the indoor trainer to keep up your current fitness level or, maybe just improve it.
Reason #2: More Effective Training
I believe it was in “The Time Crunched Cyclist” by Chris Carmichael where he says that…
“50 minutes on the indoor trainer is equivalent to 1 hour on the road”.
Keep in mind, that is on the road, just think about how much more effective it will be for us as mountain bikers. With no trees, roots, rocks or other obstacles you are able to get up to speed and maintain your power level, intensity and heart rate zones much quicker and more consistently on a trainer than when riding the trails.
I’m not a professional coach or a doctor, but I’m willing to go out on a limb and say that the primary downfall of mountain bikers who only train on the trails is sustaining threshold efforts for long periods of time. When mountain biking you just don’t have the opportunity to train for power and threshold with enough consistency. We get really good at burst efforts and going anaerobic quickly, but holding that effort is entirely a different story
Whether you’re looking to win your next race or just toast your buddy on an upcoming ride, improving your ability to produce long term efforts is absolutely key. Especially for Cat 3 racing where the entire race is only 45 minutes. Can you imagine holding the same high intensity effort for your full race instead of just having a few bursts available to you. That would be a powerful change indeed.
Note: I can’t find that quote directly from the book however I do have it is listed here from (gag) a triathlon website.
Second Note: I’m definitely not advocating just training indoors, that would suck royally and you would get killed on any technical sections or tight winding courses. Indoor training should be used to supplement your trail riding, not replace it. But I think that’s probably pretty obvious.
Equipment Needed For Indoor Cycling
There is one big must have and then there is a bunch of highly recommended items that I’ve got for you.
First off, the one must-have is some way of taking your bike indoors and using it for indoor training. There are three options that you have available, each with their own strengths. The options are as follows and each option is reviewed further in this post.
Additionally, these other items are highly recommended. Descriptions of why each are needed are further down in this post.
- Videos, Music, Entertainment
- Heart Rate or Power Meter
- A Mat
- A Towel
- Plenty of Water
Indoor bicycle trainers are my favorite option and probably the most widespread. They are simple to use, easy to setup and you aren’t risking a head injury while riding one.
Bicycle trainers come in three main types, Fluid, Magnetic and Wind.
Use progressive resistance so the harder you pedal the more resistance there is. It is the most similar to riding on the road and the quietest option available for bicycle trainers. The best fluid trainers are the Kurt Kinetic Rock N’ Roll, the Kurt Kinetic Road Machine and the CycleOps Fluid 2.
Use steady resistance, meaning that the resistance doesn’t change no matter the speed you are pushing. Magnetic trainers will usually have adjustable resistance from a bar mounted remote or on the trainer itself. This allows you to increase or decrease the resistance as needed. Obviously this means it doesn’t feel much like the road, however you can get a great resistance workout on one of these magnetic trainers. Magnetic trainers aren’t very noisy, but usually not as quiet as the fluid trainers. The best magnetic trainers are the CycleOps Mag+, Blackburn Tech Mag 6 and the Kurt Kinetic Magnetic 2.0.
Are not nearly as prevalent as either fluid or magnetic trainers because of the heavy downsides that they bring with them. Wind trainers are extremely noisy to the point it is hard to hear a radio, training video or your instructor as you ride. Think about a giant box fan blowing next to you and that is about what these sound like.
Wind trainers are also known for having very poor resistance progression. The resistance is created by a small fan spinning on the rear of the trainer, this fan has small blades that grab the air. The only way to increase the resistance on a wind trainer is to increase the density of the air, something you probably can’t do very easily. I don’t recommend any wind trainers, you are better off getting a magnetic or fluid trainer.
One thing to consider about any indoor training is that you will probably want to use a trainer tire, road slick, or a road bike for two reasons. First, most bicycle trainers won’t fit a 29er tire, using a smaller road slick or trainer tire will allow you to use the same wheel and just change the tire. Second, a knobby mountain bike tire increases the noise from the trainer. This is not desired at all.
Bicycle Rollers are a great option for those looking for a bigger challenge than a bicycle trainer presents. With rollers you have to balance your bike while riding, much like you would have to do on the trail or road. For beginners this usually results in some hilarious crashes while they learn. Check out a few below.
Rollers are typically constructed with 3 drums or rollers attached to a frame. Better quality rollers will include a flywheel inside the rear drums that make it possible to coast for up to 30 seconds at a time or a magnetic resistance unit so that resistance can be adjusted.
A more budget friendly option for rollers is the Nashbar Reduced Radius Rollers, however they do not include an inner flywheel or resistance adjustments.
The last option for indoor cycling is a spin bike or stationary bike. You’ve probably seen them in your health club’s spin class section, you may even have joined a session or two. These bikes will typically feature a large front spinning flywheel driven by a belt connected to the cranks. Depending on the quality of the bike the resistance and feel can be very similar to road riding and extremely smooth.
My personal experience with a spin bike is that the overall feel of the bike is lost and no matter how much adjusting I did I could never get the bike to feel natural. I adjusted cockpit height, saddle height and position, I even tried different saddles. But I could never get the bike to feel as natural as if I were on my actual bicycle. My recommendation is to ride what you race, that means stick with your bicycle on a bicycle trainer or set of rollers.
Staying Motivated While Indoor Cycling
Let’s face it, indoor cycling can be pretty boring. Staying Motivated during your indoor cycling sessions is critical if you are going to get the most out of it.
To stay motivated, try to come into each session with a specific workout in mind. Focus your session on improving a specific skill set, whether it is sprints, power & climbing or even improving your cadence. All of these things will help once you get back on the trail.
The Sufferfest provides very intense workouts designed to target specific training principles. The videos are extremely well put together and have the easiest to follow instructions I’ve ever seen. I HIGHLY recommend these videos, and at only $13 a pop you will get plenty of use out of them.
Other ways to stay motivated while indoors are to listen to music, watch tv or a movie, or join a spin class at your local health club. None of which are as fun as The Sufferfest. 😉
In addition to a bike trainer, rollers and a good workout video, there are a couple of other items that I definitely recommend for anyone doing some indoor cycling.
Heart Rate or Power Meter
Being able to track your progress and effort while going through indoor sessions is extremely beneficial. Use a heart rate monitor like the Garmin 500 to keep tabs on your power, cadence, heart rate and more.
A Mat & Wheel Block
Putting a mat under neath your bike will protect your floor from scratches, scuffs or sweat stains if you are inside the house. If you’re in the garage then no-worries, just get after it.
A wheel block props up your front wheel so that you’re bike is level. Unless you are purposefully putting your bike in a climbing position with the front wheel higher than the rear, your bike should always be level on the indoor trainer. You should never have your bike at a decline.
Let’s face it, you are going to be sweating buckets while you sit inside doing sprints on a trainer. Since there is no wind to dry the sweat from your skin it just runs into your eyes the whole time. Keep a towel on your handlebars to dry your head and hands occassionally, you’ll be thankful.
Typically, the more fans the better. Keep the air circulating in the room and you may even want to shut the heat off or open up a window before you start. It get’s hot fast while riding indoors.
Plenty of Water
You need to pay as close attention to your hydration while riding indoors as you do outdoors. Keep a bottle of water with you and drink frequently.
Hopefully this helps you get a handle on what you need to start indoor training. If you had any questions about equipment, gear or indoor cycling, shoot me a message. I’m always answering readers questions and giving additional input so feel free to shoot me a message anytime.