Fed up of mixing it with the traffic to get your dose of fitness-focussed riding intensity? Don't worry, we know how you feel. Fortunately, there is an alternative: indoor cycling.
Don't skip past this article if your motivation for riding is purely for fun. If you're fitter, hills are less arduous, and you have a wider range of options of who you ride with and how far. Riding for fitness requires focus and at least some intensity, and that's best done away from traffic hazards. Along with the rise of connected training apps like TrainerRoad and Zwift, that's why retailers report they're selling indoor trainers year-round and not just in the traditional run up to winter.
If you’re riding for fitness or training for racing or a summer sportive, then indoor training offers numerous benefits.
1. It’s time efficient
Indoor training can be more time efficient if you don't have the luxury of 25 hours a week to ride your bike. If you only have an hour, say, you can get more out of that time on an indoor trainer as you don't waste any time umming and ahhing about what to wear. You can simply jump straight on the trainer and spend more time actually pedalling, minimising the wasted time either side of a bike ride, ideal if you're a time-crunched cyclist. Even a quick ride after work at this time of year requires a careful planning to ensure you maximise time on the bike. Indoor cycling is also a realistic option for people that have children, and you can't just leave them and cycling 20 miles down the road - you can set up the indoor trainer in the next room and still keep an eye on the kids.
2. It’s safer
There's a certain grim satisfaction to riding when it's cold, dark and wet; some of our most enjoyable rides have finished in the dark with a face covered with mud. Sometimes though, it can be the safe and sensible choice to hit the indoor trainer rather than brave the elements, especially if there's a storm outside or the roads are covered in snow and ice when the risk factor increases massively - and I write this as someone who has crashed on ice on several occasions, I know much it can hurt. If you don't fancy riding along unlit dark country lanes then riding on an indoor cycle trainer can certainly feel the safer option.
3. It's better quality
Controlled and targeted training is one of the big benefits of indoor training. There are no junk miles. An indoor trainer makes it easier to be very specific about your training compared to riding outside, allowing you to spend more time in key heart rate or power zones, with no time lost to stopping at junctions or freewheeling down the hills. It’s also possible to replicate any sort of road, flat or steep, on an indoor trainer, including roads that you might not have the luxury of living near to. There are all sorts of turbo trainer training sessions you can follow to work on specific areas of your fitness, whether you're training for a season of crit races or ultra distance events.
4. It’s faster
Do you feel slower cycling in the winter? You’re not alone. The colder it gets, the more effort it takes. Cold air is denser and it takes more effort to push yourself through it. Cold muscles won’t help, either. Lower temperatures, rain and windchill can mean your leg muscles aren’t operating at ideal temperatures. That’s why winter rides can be tough, especially if you try and ride familiar roads and climbs at speeds you know you’re capable off during the winter. You’re also likely to be wearing more or thicker layers and that restriction and increase in your frontal surface area can play a part in your decreased speed compared to riding in lightweight jerseys and shorts in the summer.
5. Get smart
The latest smart trainers with integrated power meters can take your training to the next level, with detailed and targeted workouts that can be incorporated into a structured training plan. They can be controlled from a smartphone, tablet or computer and allow you to easily change the training zones, helping you to get the most out of your training time.
You can get the most out of a smart trainer with an app like Zwift or TrainerRoad. The hugely popular Zwift has gone a long way to transforming indoor training for many cyclists by providing a realistic environment and other real-world cyclists to ride and race against. It provides an experience that is as close to riding outdoors as it’s possible to get without leaving the comfort of your living room. New courses and features are being added all the time; the workouts is a good addition that provides all the structured training you could wish for. Another popular option is TrainerRoad, which offers a larger suite of workouts and live performance data.
6. It’s fun
Yes, really. Indoor training can be a lot of fun, and more appealing than grinding out miserable miles by yourself in the freezing cold, dark and rain. You can chant rule five to yourself all you want, but if there’s no-one to hear you, does it really work? On an indoor trainer, you can do all sorts of interesting things like cadence drills, one legged drills, hill reps, speed intervals and other workouts that can really enhance your cycling fitness, and critically help time fly by. You can inject more engagement with something like Sufferfest, which overlays ride prompts over actual race footage, you’ll be acting out your wannabe pro dreams in no time.
David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.