Indoor Cycling

Cycling legend Graeme Obree was once quoted as saying that, if his house was on fire, the first item he’d rescue from the flames would be his turbo trainer. We’re not saying you have to cherish your indoor trainer to quite the same extent as Mr Obree but, for maintaining consistency and quality of cycle training through the winter, whether for sportives, triathlons or racing, indoor sessions are a necessary evil. Nikalas Cook tells you everything you need to know for a successful winter of indoor riding.

This is a feature article from Totally Active originally published in September 2016. Read more articles like this in Totally Active Magazine.

Why ride indoors?

In an ideal world, the skies would always be blue, the roads clear and we’d have as much time to ride as we wanted. However the reality is that the weather, road conditions and other demands on our time, such as work and family, mean that riding is often severely compromised or made impossible. An indoor trainer can keep your riding progressing for a number of reasons.

1. Convenience: No need to kit up and no need to even leave the house. Brilliant for dark evenings, great if you’re stuck with the kids and perfect for squeezing in a session if you’re short on time.

2. Quality: For interval work or sessions where you have to hold a consistent intensity, you can’t beat an indoor trainer. Without the distraction of other road users and the interruptions of junctions, you can focus 100% on your effort.

3. Safety: Dark and potentially icy roads are no place for pushing yourself to your limits. Get out at the weekends for your long steady rides but stay indoors for those intense midweek blasts.

Turbo trainers

A simple frame that you bolt your bike to. A roller then presses against your rear tyre and, by using a fan, fluid or magnets, generates resistance for you to pedal against. There are also some models where you remove your rear wheel and your chain drives a dedicated cassette on the trainer.

+ Massive price range to suit all budgets and, even at the lower end, you can still get a decent piece of kit.

+ You use your regular bike, so your position will be exactly the same.

+ They take up very little storage space.

+ You can crank up the resistance for high power workouts.

+ Higher end models offer a wealth of training data, connectivity and virtual reality options.

– If you’re using the same bike inside and out, swapping it back and forth can be a hassle.

– Cheaper models can be really noisy.

– They can chew up tyres and using a harder training tyre means either changing tyres every time you want to train indoors or having a dedicated wheel and cassette for the turbo.

– You won’t be developing your bike handling skills.

– If not set-up correctly, they can be stressful on your bike’s frame.

Minoura B60-R


Do a bit of internet digging and you can find this little beauty for under £100. It’s solidly built, amazingly quiet and the remotely controlled seven levels of magnetic resistance deliver a surprisingly smooth and road-like ride.



Direct drive, so no tyre chewing woes to contend with. The feel is incredibly road like, it’s reasonably quiet and, generating up to 1,500 W of resistance, should satisfy even the most powerful riders. With ANT+ and Bluetooth connectivity it should appeal to data geeks and makes it suitable for most third-party and virtual reality packages.


Three drums, two for the rear wheel and one for the front, that are connected with a belt and mounted in a frame. You “ride” on top of them, which requires no small amount of balance and skill.

+ Brilliant for developing a silky smooth pedalling technique and for improving your bike handling.

+ Not too pricey, £200 will get you a decent set and there are plenty of second hand deals.

+ You’ll be using your road bike so no position changes to worry about.

+ No bolting in position so no frame stress and minimal tyre wear.

+ Most fold to store.

– Most sets of roller don’t offer variable resistance and even those that do won’t generate the resistance necessary for high power or strength work.

– You’ll need to invest some time learning to ride on them.

Kreitler Kompact Hot Dog 3.0


Silky smooth to ride on and superbly built, these are the connoisseur’s rollers. The narrow 10 inch rollers may be a bit intimidating for novices to learn on but, once you get the knack, you’ll love them. Super compact for storing and, for warming up at events or the track, easy to transport.


Elite Arion Rollers


Ideal rollers for beginners with the wide drums inspiring confidence and their parabolic shape helping to keep you in the middle. Smooth, quiet, folds down neatly and the built in step makes getting on and off far easier.k, easy to transport.


Static Bike

Ranging from bargain basement exercise bikes to high end training tools used by top athletes, a static bike is a dedicated indoor cycle.

+ Always set-up and ready to go.

+ Saves wear on your road bike.

+ Training data and feedback on top models is second to none.

– You really do get what you pay for and, to get a road like feel, you have to spend a fair bit.

– Big and heavy, you need to permanently dedicate space to them.

– You may struggle to replicate your road riding position exactly.

– No benefit to bike handling skills.

Wattbike Pro


Okay, getting your head around the two grand plus price tag is a little hard but, in the context of how much your bike might be worth, the fact that it’s chosen by the UCI World Cycling Centre as their global talent ID and coach education tool and that it offers power data that is directly comparable to top end meters such as SRM cranks, it doesn’t look quite so steep. Also, you can rent one for £78 a month, ideal just to see you through the worst of the winter, or you can look into the 0% finance deals.

On delivery, there’s no doubting it is a big and heavy piece of kit. You need some space for it and, if possible, avoid having to have it lugged up three flights of narrow stairs, as the poor delivery girls had to with mine. Set-up is easy and there’s enough scope to easily replicate your riding position on the road. I also swapped out the rather bulky supplied saddle for my preferred Fizik Arione but Wattbike are looking into offering more performance geared saddles in the future.

As, when it first arrived, I was in the early stages of rehabilitation, I stuck with flat pedals but, in the future, these could be clipped off revealing Look Keo compatible pedals or you could fit your own preferred system.

Wattbike 2

Once you’ve punched your stats into the computer, you just start pedalling. This charges the unit, meaning it doesn’t have to be plugged in. The pedalling feel is amazingly smooth and road like. You’ve got ten air resistance levels and a further seven levels of resistance braking. This means you can perform a full spectrum of workouts on it from high gear / low cadence strength work to high spinning leg speed sessions. For me, it meant I could fine tune the resistance to my stage of rehabilitation and consistently hit the power figures my physiotherapist had set.

Feedback on the computer is fantastic with the Polar View graph, showing pedal stroke balance and efficiency, especially invaluable. For more number crunching, you can link the computer to your PC and make the most of the free to download Expert Software. It’s also ANT+ compatible meaning it’ll talk to your bike computer and third party training software and virtual reality cycling packages.

Download the powerapp and you can view your session data in realtime on your Apple or Android phone or tablet and save your session data to the free online cloud storage, the powerhub. I’ve barely scratched the surface of these features but, as my riding turns from rehabilitation to training, I’ll definitely be tapping into them. Wattbike have got big plans for these two apps, including interactive workouts and training plans, which will be available in early 2016. I’m keeping hold of the Wattbike through the winter and will report back with a more in-depth review.

So far, I’ve been massively impressed. I’ve been riding with power on the road for the last three years and now, having replicable and comparable power data indoors, is priceless. It’s been a major factor in me getting back on the bike so quickly after my injury. It will be the key tool for getting me back to competition level by the spring. I’ve trained on rollers, turbos and other static bikes but none deliver the comprehensive training package of the Wattbike.

Enhancing the experience

There’s no denying, no matter how convenient or effective indoor cycling is, that it can be a  fairly unpleasant, boring and soul destroying experience. However, by following these tips, you can definitely improve it.

1. Location, location, location

Where you site your indoor trainer can have a massive impact on both the quality of your training and your relationship with your family and neighbours. The room needs to be cool, well ventilated and many trainers require power. Ground floor or basement are best for reducing noise and don’t forget a rubber mat to catch sweat. Try also putting some old carpet underlay underneath to cut down on vibration.

2. Beating boredom

Minutes can turn into hours on an indoor trainer so, at the very least, put together a decent motivational play-list. You can watch TV programmes or films but, when you’re really pushing hard, it can be difficult to concentrate. This is where some old race footage or immersive videos with cues, such as the SufferFest series, really come into their own.

Alternatively, if you’ve got a suitable trainer and technology, you could take part in a virtual ride or race. A number of indoor trainer manufacturers have been developing this technology for a while but, with advances in software, connectivity and data capture, companies such as Zwift are turning indoor training in gaming.

3. Keeping cool

Without a cooling headwind, you’ll soon start to produce copious amounts of sweat on an indoor trainer. Open windows, invest in a decent fan and make sure you have plenty of fluids on hand. Don’t forget a towel and to give your bike a good wipe down afterwards as sweat can be highly corrosive.

4. Saddle sore

You don’t shift position as much on an indoor trainer so saddle soreness can be a real problem. Invest in some high quality padded cycling shorts, use chamois cream and get into the habit of standing out of the saddle at least every five minutes.

5. Suitable sessions

Pick sessions which are suited to indoor training. Intervals, pedalling technique and recovery sessions are all good but, unless you’re a real masochist, avoid long and steady rides indoors. We’ve all heard stories of indoor epics, such as cycling through the original Star Wars trilogy, but keeping your indoor session short and sharp is our advice.

Top Two Indoor Sessions


British Cycling have given us two of their top indoor sessions.

2×20 minutes

Time: 1 hour 20 minutes

Warm-up: British Cycling 20-minute Warm-up

Ride: Cadence 90+ rpm during the efforts but allow to drop during recovery

Zones: Sweet-Spot HRZ high 3 – low 4 / PZ 88-93% FTP. Threshold HRZ 4 / PZ 100% FTP

RIDE GUIDE: British Cycling 20-minute Warm-up

20 minutes “Sweet-Spot” / Threshold

10 minutes Active Recovery

20 minutes “Sweet-Spot” / Threshold

10 minutes Cool down

Why: A classic indoor trainer session that’s hard to beat for raising FTP/FTHR and learning to stay focussed and pace long efforts at this key intensity.

When: Work through the session at “Sweet-Spot” intensity during the early off-season and then build up to completing it at FTP/FTHR as intensity goes up and volume comes down.


  • Pace the efforts as evenly as possible, don’t go off too hard and maintain a consistent cadence.
  • Try to hold a stable racing position without excessive movement of the upper body. If training for time trials, use your race position.
  • Make sure you have a bottle of water to hand as these are fairly long efforts.


Time: 1 hour

Warm-up: British Cycling 20-minute Warm-up

Ride: All of the “on” efforts are maximal, select a gear/resistance that means you don’t spin out. Just turn your legs over during the “off” recoveries.

Zones: Zones don’t apply as efforts are maximal.

RIDE GUIDE: British Cycling 20-minute Warm-up

15 seconds on – 45 seconds off

30 seconds on – 30 seconds off

45 seconds on – 15 seconds off

60 seconds on – 60 seconds off

45 seconds on – 15 seconds off

30 seconds on – 30 seconds off

15 seconds on – 5 minutes 45 seconds recovery

Repeat the whole set two more times but don’t do the recovery after your third set, go straight into your cool-down.

10 minutes cool down

Why: A classic workout for building sprint speed and power and tolerance to repeated hard effort of varying length.

When: Going in the season or anytime you fancy a hard hour long blast to clear away the cobwebs.


  • Sprinting is about leg speed, so don’t make the gear/resistance too high.
  • Even though you’re making a maximal effort, stay relaxed, don’t fight the bike and keep your upper body stable.
  • The 60-second effort can feel like an awful long time, you may have to pace yourself a bit for this one. Start the minute just below maximum and ramp it up to finish strong.

This article is a feature piece from Totally Active, a completely interactive online magazine written by active people for active people. Totally Active are on a mission to push endurance to its limits, to help readers achieve their potential, whatever the sport or activity. Totally Active have brought some of the world’s foremost endurance, performance, nutrition and fitness experts together in a publication which informs and inspires readers to go to the edge, to break boundaries, and to succeed. Read more articles like this at Totally Active today.

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