There has been a massive increase in the number of cyclists taking to indoor training over the winter months, and this boon has been caused by a new generation of smart trainers.
Here are six reasons why you might want to stump up for a smart trainer this winter.
1. Efficient for time-crunched cyclists
For time-crunched cyclists, there are a lot of benefits to investing in a smart trainer. No concern with what to wear, charging up lights or finding a spare inner tube, just jump on the trainer and smash out an hour and you're done. Less time faffing, more time training.
There are loads of workout sessions available through most apps like Zwift and TrainerRoad that can add a lot of variety in that hour as well, so you're not just staring at a blank wall, but engaged in the workout and riding with purpose and focus. Some people say an hour on the smart trainer is time better spent than two hours on the road with all the stops and freewheeling that's usually involved.
2. Power meters provide accurate and structured training
If you’re wanting to make the most of your time and see actual improvements in your training, nothing beats using a power meter. Power is the gold standard in cycle training, and it’s not just for pros, anyone can benefit from using power, especially time-crunched cyclists. The latest generation of top-end smart trainers have power meters built right into them, making them ideal training tools for ensuring you are getting a really good workout.
Once you know your FTP (functional threshold power) you can plan sessions at targeted power zones to really get the most out of your riding time, and really boost your fitness. And ERG mode is the best feature to embrace power training on a smart trainer.
Simply enter the power you want to ride at, 200 watts say, and the trainer will set the power leaving you the simple task of pedalling. No traffic lights or junctions to impede your progress, you can spend more of your time in the key power zone. This means you don’t have to focus on keeping the power at 200 watts, like you do with a dumb trainer, but can just concentrate on turning the pedals.
3. Connect to Zwift, TrainerRoad and Sufferfest and many other cool training apps
While the technology in smart trainers is impressive enough, it’s the software that has really untapped their potential. The likes of Zwift, TrainerRoad and Sufferfest, to name just a few of the most popular options, have helped to transform indoor cycling. These apps make indoor cycling and training fun and entertaining in a way turbo training never used to be. Zwift even lets you partake in races and organised group rides.
These apps have made indoor training engaging, interesting and exciting, with workout sessions, structured training plans and virtual races providing different approaches indoor training, and lots of options for mixing it up. The smart trainer can be controlled by these apps, so when you hit a climb or interval session, the trainer will automatically increase the resistance. As a result, they are far more immersive than the old days of counting the time down on a Polar heart rate monitor on a traditional dumb trainer.
You don’t even need a computer, most trainers offer both ANT+ and Bluetooth and many apps run on smartphones and tablets. You can even control most smart trainers from a cycle computer, like a Garmin Edge or Wahoo Bolt, and change the resistance levels at the touch of a button.
Zwift even lets you race or ride with friends without even having to leave your house!
4. Realistic road feel - it's almost like being outside
The best direct drive smart trainers (where you remove the rear wheel and mount the bike to the trainer) offer a stupendously realistic road feel. Okay, so it’s not quite the same as actually being out on the road, but compared to my experiences with old turbo trainers, smart trainers are silky smooth and about as close to the real thing as it’s possible to get. Add in the app control that simulates steep gradients and it can sometimes really feel like you're riding outdoors, from the warmth and safety of your house.
Another benefit is that you aren't going to wear out the rear tyre as well.
5. It's cheaper than buying a winter bike
Controversial one this, but hear me out. It used to be the thing to build or buy a dedicated winter bike, complete with a durable frame, solid wheels and sturdy tyres and mudguards, for thrashing out the necessary winter miles. But there is another option. Invest instead in a smart trainer and a subscription to a training app and you have an interesting alternative to that dedicated winter bike, and a tool that is likely to reap bigger rewards come the spring.
6. Safer than going out in the rain and wind
As much as we love riding in the dark, bracing ourselves against the wind and wrapping up fend off the cold, sometimes avoiding all three is appealing, and smart trainers do provide a good alternative.
Granted, if you just want to go for a ride to clear your head, you can’t beat the outdoors, but if you want to do some decent pedalling without letting the conditions impact your training, then taking to a smart trainer can be not only safer, but make better use of your precious 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.