What equipment is needed for indoor cycle training?
Why Pain Cave? Cycling is fun and should not be torture. But you can torture yourself quite a bit during intense intervals or even virtual races. That’s how this term became established. But what equipment do I need for indoor cycling in my own pain cave? This article gives you an overview of the different indoor set-ups, their advantages and disadvantages, helps you to choose a set-up and describes what kind of clothing and other equipment is needed for cycling in your own four walls. It also answers the question of how to increase the fun factor of training in your living room.
1. Indoor trainers – you can’t do it without them
There are a lot of possibilities for indoor cycle training in the living room, and in the end it depends on the individual needs and also on the financial possibilities. A direct-drive Smarttrainer is a great “toy”, but not actually necessary for all people.
Excursus: Smart trainers can be controlled by an app. This means that the resistance (the difficulty, so to speak) can automatically adapt to the gradients in a virtual environment. Direct drive means that the rear wheel is removed, and the rear axle is connected directly to the trainer.
Interval training and other workouts can also be uploaded onto a bike computer and ridden on a roller or roller trainer – smart functions are not necessary for this. Even apps like Zwift and others can be used with any indoor trainer if a supported power meter is used. However, the results are particularly realistic with controllable smart trainers, because the programme can adjust the resistance. The resistance is increased on an uphill and reduced downhill.
Rollers – a balancing act
The rollers offers the advantage that it can be set up very quick and easy and can be stowed away in a relatively space-saving way, e.g. under the bed. It can also be used to warm up for outdoor races. Since neither the rear wheel is clamped nor the bike attached to the rollers, the bike has to be balanced manually, which requires some patience and practice.
One advantage of rollers is that you practice balancing the bike, and at the same time work on your even pedal stroke. As a rule, it is not possible to look around and daydreaming on rollers. Your focus should be 100% on balancing the bike and a clean, round pedal stroke.
One disadvantage of rollers is the noise generated by the movement. Modern rollers are quieter than older models, but louder than other indoor trainers.
Virtual cycling is also possible on rollers. A smart roller is the Elite Nero interactive roller trainer, for which, however, you have to dig deeper into your pocket financially.
Tip: It is therefore a good idea to start by practising in a door frame. This allows you to lean against or hold on to the frame if you lose your balance. Alternatively, a wall is also a good option, with the possibility to hold on to one side. A wall, door frame or similar can also give you security for getting on and off the bike.
|Advantages of rollers||Disadvantages of rollers|
rollers are usually cheaper (the second hand market has a lot to offer)
it takes practice until you can move safely
|quick and easy to stow||training plans only via bike computer (you can also use a stop watch)|
|improves bikehandling||for more data sensors like speed sensors or cadence sensors are required|
|can also be used outdoors, as no electricity is required||noise level – are rollers too loud for your living situation? There are mats that dampen the vibrations of the roller and thus reduce the noise pollution.|
|also suitable for fixies||virtual cycling very limited, if you are interested there is more information here.|
|very simple maintenance||the tyre of the rear wheel will wear out fast, if the bike is only used indoors in winter, a special indoor tyre is recommended|
Wheel-on Trainers – a low-cost compromise
Wheel-on trainers are a pretty good compromise if you don’t want to invest that much and don’t want to balance on rollers. With an indoor trainer, the rear wheel is clamped. With most indoor trainers, it is possible to manually adjust the resistance in several levels to simulate climbs etc. As with rollers, interactive indoor trainers are also available. The cheapest indoor trainers can be bought for less than 100 €. Popular and solid models are available from around 250 €.
One advantage of an indoor trainer is the clamped rear wheel, which means that you do not have to concentrate on balancing. Since the rear wheel is clamped and the tyre mounted on it runs on the trainer, it wears out quickly. To counteract the wear and tear of the tyre, it is advisable to buy an extra training tyre that is more resistant to abrasion.
There are classic indoor trainers and interactive indoor trainers. The latter are suitable, for example, for use with virtual cycling apps such as Zwift, Trainerroad, RGT Cycling etc. For this, a transfer of performance data to your device (laptop, tablet, smartphone) is essential. Estimated power values and measured power values from an integrated or external power meter are possible. If you want to use the indoor trainer for virtual races, pay attention to the accuracy of the transferred power data. For virtual races, an accuracy of 2% of the power data is required.
An overview of indoor trainers and their use with Zwift can be found here.
|Advantages Wheel-on Trainer||Disadvantages Wheel-on Trainer|
|top value for money||extra tyre or training wheel recommended|
|also possible for fixies||resistance only manually adjustable (if no smart function)|
|no balancing required||noise level|
|connectable with apps||without accurate performance measurement, participation in virtual races (mainly in the A-range) is only possible outside the classification|
|Quick change between outdoor and indoor training possible when riding with the same tire outdoors and indoors||requires space for storage|
|When pedalling strong, the tyre can lose its grip and slip – you then pedal into the void, which can be unpleasant. The motto here is to pedal sensitively to prevent this from happening.|
|Active braking can damage the trainer and also the tyre. In practice, do not use your rear brake when your bike is on the trainer.|
(Actually, you don’t have to brake at all when riding indoors).
Direct Drive Trainer – Training without rear wheel
For Direct Drive trainers, you need to remove the rear wheel. Instead of the rear wheel, the trainer is connected to the rear axle of your bike. A suitable cassette must be mounted on the trainer. Many Direct Drive trainers transmit performance data and are controllable, meaning the resistance can automatically adjust to the incline in the virtual training world. Adjusting to the incline means that the difficulty increases or decreases according to the incline. Direct drive trainers allow you to feel the speed and wattage changes immediately, while other trainers may take a little longer for the changes to reach you.
|Vorteile Direct Drive Trainer||Nachteile Direct Drive Trainer|
|Generally quieter than the previously introduced trainers||Price|
|Protecting your bike components – bicycle tyres, cassette, rear wheel hub||an extra cassette is needed|
|Direct power transmission||requires space for storage|
|no balancing required||not possible for fixies|
|high data accuracy|
Smart Trainer – for rides in virtual worlds
Indoor trainers with smart functions range from rollers and indoor trainers to trainers with direct drive. Smart trainers have been especially popular since the Corona pandemic. They offer many advantages for people who want to stay fit during the winter months or who want to work specifically on their performance. Whether it’s painful intervals, hill simulations or virtual races, the range is huge and apps and gimmicks for virtual cycling are sprouting up. Once the right app and the right setup have been found, there seem to be no limits. Even the riding experience is getting more and more realistic. Trainers with a more flexible base allows the wheel some freedom of movement so that the rigid feeling on the clamped bike is reduced. There are also trainers that imitate the surface of the virtual world through vibration.The racing community is constantly growing and exchange and support is possible on a wide variety of platforms (Facebook, Discord, Slack, etc.). One of the biggest disadvantages of the Smart trainer is the price. A good setup can quickly cost 1,000 € and thus excludes people who cannot afford these purchases. There are platforms that offer to rent a trainer. You can find more information on this via the search engine of your choice. You can read more about indoor cycling in our article about the advantages and disadvantages of indoor and outdoor cycling.
|Advantages Smart Trainer||Disadvantages Smart Trainer|
|virtual races & meetups||price|
|connectable with apps||usually needs good electronics (laptop/TV)|
|Resistance adjusts automatically||needs electricity to adjust the resistance automatically|
|cycling close to reality|
Indoor training bike – a complete bike for indoor cycling
For the sake of completeness, the possibility of indoor bikes should also be mentioned here. In terms of price, these are the top of the range of indoor trainers, as they cost several 1,000 €. All other trainers presented are relatively small and easy to store compared to an indoor bike. The indoor bike needs a place indoors all year round.
|Advantages Indoor Bike||Disadvantages Indoor Bike|
|Your actual bike is not wearing out||price!!!|
|less noise||space – the bike takes up space in the apartment all year round|
|Quickly and flexibly adjustable to different riders||Raw material requirement and resource consumption of production are greater than other trainers|
Questions you should ask yourself before buying an indoor bike trainer:
- How much money can and do I want to spend? Determine your budget, bearing in mind that there may be other expenses in addition to the trainer, for example for a mat or fan.
- Is there enough space for an indoor training space? There should be room for a mat, bike and possibly a table for a laptop, tablet, screen or even a fan.
- Is the noise level compatible with neighbours and flatmates/family? There are louder and quieter trainers. A mat can also reduce the noise.
- Do I want to train on platforms like Zwift? With a controllable smart trainer that adjusts the resistance to the gradient, the experience becomes more realistic.
- Do I want to participate in virtual races? A power meter is mandatory to participate in virtual races within the classification. For category A races, 2% accuracy is required.
- Where do I store the trainer during the summer months? Remember that the trainer has to be stored somewhere during the summer months. Where do you have space for it? Storage room, basement, …?
- Are there people in your circle of friends where you can try out one or more different indoor trainers? Theory is good, practice is better and might help you make a decision.
2. Indoor Cycling – Not without my fan
In addition to rollers or a trainer, appropriate ventilation is pleasant. Maybe a tilted window is enough. Especially during intensive sessions, a simple fan can provide the necessary cooling. But you can also go extravagant, because there are also fans on the market that can be linked to a heart rate sensor and thus adapt to individual needs during training. Depending on the home and also the duration of the indoor session, Steffi recommends using a dehumidifier in addition to the fan. This can filter excessive moisture that remains in the room despite good ventilation, and thus prevent mould and bad smells. A dehumidifier can be particularly useful in mould-prone flats (not only for indoor training).
Tip: If the fan dries out your eyes, it can help to wear cycling glasses or to set the fan a little lower.
3. Clothing for sweaty indoor bike rides
The clothing required for indoor cycling can be as individual as for outdoor cycling. However, most people limit themselves to bibs, shoes, socks and a sports bra if necessary. Steffi prefers to wear clothes indoors that aren’t suitable anymore for long distances, or are generally no longer 100% wearable for cycling in the fresh air. This can be old, worn-out bibs, old socks or shoes that no longer meet the requirements outdoors. There are also more and more brands that offer indoor collections.
Old bib shorts that may no longer be suitable for long tours are often still good enough for indoor training. Cycling shorts that became see-through are also sufficient for cycling on an indoor trainer at home.
Suitable cycling shoes with the right cleat setting are the right choice for indoor cycling. Of course, old shoes can also be used.
Indoor cycling gives old and unloved sports socks a second chance.
A sports bra is comfortable for many cyclists – both outdoors and indoors.
An old T-shirt is especially good for the first few minutes, i.e. for warming up when indoor cycling. Many also cycle with a base layer.
Cycling glasses prevent dry eyes from the fan. A sweatband can be useful to absorb sweat and prevent it from running unhindered into the eyes.
4. Further equipment for the Pain Cave
Even with a fan, indoor cycling is a sweaty affair and therefore a towel should definitely not be missing. It also protects your bike from aggressive sweat. Sufficient water should also be at hand. As the indoor sessions usually don’t exceed 90 minutes, you usually don’t need more than one gel or isodrink. How much each person feeds the body must be tested individually.
Steffi and Sandra’s indoor equipment includes the following:
- Drinking bottle
- Mat: A mat under the bike and trainer is recommended for several reasons. It absorbs vibrations and thus ensures less noise, it prevents the indoor set-up from slipping on the floor. This can be particularly useful during intensive sessions. In addition, the mat catches sweat that would otherwise drip onto the floor.
- With a bike computer or a sports watch, you can ride your own or predefined training sessions.
- An app is required for virtual cycling. You will need a notebook, tablet or smartphone to use it.
- Heart rate monitor
- Bicycle protection or sweat guard: A sweat guard catches the sweat that would drip onto the top tube. It is stretched over the top tube between the seat post and the handlebar. This protects the frame from the sweat.
- “Wobble plate”: movable plates can be placed under the trainer to allow more movement and allow the bike to move more naturally.
- Climb simulator: raises the front of the bike to create a more realistic riding experience on climbs
5. Apps for more variety in indoor cycling
Sitting alone at home on your bike and staring at a wall quickly becomes boring. Listening to podcasts, riding along on YouTube training rides or watching series and films can offer a good change. If that’s not enough, you can diversify your indoor training with apps that take you into virtual worlds. It is even possible to ride together with friends – no matter how many kilometres lie in between. At Sport Tiedje, apps like Zwift, Sufferfest, RGT Cycling, Trainerroad and Kinomap are compared with each other. That can help you choose an app. Or the decision is made according to what most of your friends use with whom you want to train together.
Our two cents on indoor cycling equipment
You can invest a lot of money in indoor cycling – but there are also other ways. On a simple trainer without smart functions, for example, workout videos on YouTube can also give you the feeling of being directly on the track. A search term for this could be “indoor cycling workout”. Training sessions can also be ridden while, for example, a podcast or series is playing. Workouts can be downloaded to a cycling computer for targeted training.
Do you ride your bike indoor yourself? Feel free to share your tips & tricks as a comment to this article.
Text: Stefanie Fritzen & Sandra Schuberth
Proofreading: Eva Ullrich
Layout & Edit: Sandra Schuberth
Photos: Sandra Schuberth, unless otherwise specified