Indoor trainer rides provide cyclists a way to continue riding our bikes during inclement weather (it’s pouring right now as I write this) and when it dips below our Florida comfort zone of 50+ degrees. But do the advantages outweigh the boredom that sets in within 5 minutes of beginning a ‘drainer’ ride…indoors…with no scenery…and no excitement…
The answer is yes, absolutely, but only if the cyclist is willing to properly utilize this valuable tool!
1. You are on a bike -- even though the weather bites, winter has arrived and brought with it unbearable temperatures, or the sun is setting at 4:50pm every single day. You are still on a bike!
2. You can multitask – no need to balance (unless you’re on rollers…if you’re on rollers, then you definitely need to balance), so you can catch up on a whole season of The Walking Dead, or Game of Thrones, or read the latest issue of Velo News. You can even participate in an online seminar or conference call with your boss. You get the idea.
3. Your workout becomes more focused, more intense. There is no such thing as coasting, downhill or otherwise, no stopping, no traffic, no tailwind. When riding a trainer you must generate consistent power, or it just won’t work.
4. You can do your workout perfectly – let’s say for example you want to do 8 x 5 minutes at tempo at 95 cadence with a 1 minute rest. On the indoor trainer you can do it exactly, NO excuses. Outdoors you have obstacles on every ride - uphills, downhills, stops, etc. - that make it harder to stay at your target intensity for an entire workout.
5. You can more easily control your cadence. Pedal faster or slower, you can control all of it without external factors to change it.
6. High intensity intervals become simply high intensity intervals -- just pedal hard in a lower gear for the designated time period, without worrying about cars or dangerous sections of road or turns or sand or rough roads.
7. Less packing and planning leads to less time -- no need to pack up all of your supplies - food, flat tire kit, cold weather or rain clothes. All that’s required is getting a table set up next to you with nutrition, and then just get on and go!
8. With no stops or coasting, I believe an hour on the trainer translates to 90 minutes outside…how’s that for efficiency?
9. No. Daylight. Required. – which quite honestly is in rather short supply right now, am I right?
10. You can stop at EXACTLY the right time.
Of course, there are a few minor drawbacks to overcome:
1. The most obvious: Boredom. Doing Zwift or other resistance based software and watching TV helps me ride, but we understandably want to get out and have some fun outside!
2. You don’t get to practice on real hills. You can raise the front of your bike up to simulate climbing, but it’s not quite the same. There is great value in real outdoor conditions!
3. Your bike handling will never develop as well if you’re indoors all the time. Bike handling is vital to being a good solid rider, so get out there and group ride also.
4. Trainer rides do not provide practice varying your riding position to fit the outdoor conditions. Making your body smaller into the wind cuts down on unnecessary drag and gives you free bike speed. You also need to develop the ability to make changes to your power profile depending on wind speed and elevation changes. These are things you can only practice on the open road.