Indoor Training - Part 1

By Chris 0'Hearn

Indoor Training - Part 1


There's a saying that there's no such thing as the wrong weather, just the wrong clothing - so there's no reason not to get out on your bike.


But it isn't always that simple and indoor training is often a good alternative, not only because of climate.


Riders recovering from injury often find it useful for safety and control, while some training sessions can be completed much more precisely and accurately than outdoors where you have to deal with changing terrain or interruptions.


The problem with indoor training has always been that it's mind-numbingly dull. Many regard an hour on a trainer behind dental surgery as a way to pass the time.


Fortunately a couple of recent developments have the potential for really changing the indoor training game. Indoor cycling studios like Bespoke Ride in Dubai are following the model of Athlete Lab in cities like London and Singapore. Then there's the development of virtual environments like Zwift which has crossed online gaming with indoor training.


I'll explore those separately, but for this first part I'll start with the basics. You want to train indoors at home, what next?




Cycling is just a shopping opportunity for middle-aged men, at least that's what my wife tells me, so of course we have to start with equipment.


There are three basic types of trainer and then you have a couple more choices, so let's explain those first. Not everyone would categorise them in the same way as some of the options overlap but this is how I think of it.




The most 'traditional' type of trainer are called Rollers. Basically just cylinders on axles where you balance the bike and it spins under your rear wheel. The size of the roller can change resistance but this is mostly done with the bike gears.


Rollers are really best suited for more experienced riders - look up the many You Tube videos of people falling off them if you want to see why. They are great for balance and developing a smooth stroke but if you're a candidate for Rollers you'll probably know it already.


Contact Trainer


This is the most common and accessible type of trainer, where the bike rests in a cradle and the rear tyre is in contact with a drum which provides resistance.


There are different types based on how they generate resistance. The main options are fluid resistance, fan resistance or magnetic resistance.


So many options and levels are available it's impossible to say which is best suited but generally fluid and electro-magnetic options are more compact and quieter. Magnetic resistance allows you to set the levels of resistance, often from a control attached to your bars but it may require a power source. Fluid resistance increases and decreases with your own efforts, much like on the road and is probably the most realistic of these options.


If you're using a contact trainer you need to think about tyres too.


Contact trainers take a heavy toll on road tyres and it's better, and quieter, to use a specific trainer tyre which has a heavier rubber compound. However these can't be used on the road, so either you need to change the tyre, which is a major hassle, or have a second wheel (or bike) which is dedicated to the trainer.


Direct Drive Trainer


These are generally more sophisticated and expensive than contact trainers but are a good option if you want to get really serious.


The best known of these is the Wahoo Kickr but there are other options. Essentially the trainer replaces the rear wheel of your bike so your chain becomes the contact point, not the tyre, eliminating the swapping issue and also avoiding wear on your rear cassette.


They are often quieter but the main benefit of direct drive trainers is usually that they include power measurement, which also explains the cost.


Dumb or Smart


Sounds obvious really - who wants Dumb? But there are a few things to think about here.


First is whether you train - or want to train - with a power meter. A dumb trainer generally means there's no power meter in the trainer.


But If you have a power meter of some sort you'll be able to adjust your riding on a dumb trainer according to the feedback from your meter. Even if you don't have a meter some dumb trainers may estimate your power, and there are other non-power options for feedback like heartrate.


A smart trainer generally has some sort of inbuilt power measurement. Most direct drive trainers are smart, but increasingly many contact trainers are also smart so it's becoming more accessible.


The other aspect of a smart trainer is that it can usually take input from external sources like a training program such as Trainer Road. So your ride can automatically follow a plan and synchronise the files. Some programs combine these with videos or virtual courses which adds yet another dimension.


It's the closest thing you can get to real road riding and if you're spending many hours on the trainer it can be a great way to simulate the outdoor experience.


More on Smart v Dumb when we deal with the training environment in Part 2.


Bits and Pieces


Finally, whatever training you're doing indoors there are a few other things to think about. Riding indoors is sweaty and hot and you have to protect your bike and your home.


  • You'll need a trainer mat to go underneath. This not only stops sweat pooling in your carpet but dampens noise and vibration.


  • A sweat-catcher, like a triangular towel that goes from your bars back to the saddle will stop sweat getting in parts of your bike where you really don't want corrosive liquids.


  • A fan is essential. Whatever the room temperature it helps to have moving air as you ride.


  • Entertainment - many people listen to music, watch TV or there is a popular line of cycling videos called Sufferfest which combine planned workouts with music.


  • Towels - small hand towels to wipe your face and neck.


  • Hydration - just because you're inside doesn't mean you don't need to drink as usual, in fact you may find you need more.


Most of all you need a good attitude. It's easy at home to put off the training, find distractions or not be able to cope with the lack of changing scenery. Apply the same dedication to your indoor and outdoor riding and you're on the way.


In the next part I'll look at the new ways computer games are enriching the indoor experience.





Chris O' Hearn

Chris O'Hearn is a competitive cyclist who races for the Ride Bike Shop team in the UAE and Dulwich Paragon in the UK. Chris does road racing, TTs, sportives and group rides. He is a coached rider and trains 4-5 times a week. He's usually easy to spot by being one of the few people not wearing a helmet, unless he has to. His favourite bike is his Giant TCR. He also has a Giant Trinity TT bike, a Ridley Noah and a steel custom-built Roberts. At the beginning of 2015 Chris had a bad accident while training and fractured his hip. He was back on the bike within three weeks and has been working to recover with both indoor and outdoor training.