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If you’ve been confined to indoor cycling when you’re used to being out on the roads or trails, then I feel your pain. There can be many reasons why this happens (bad weather, bad pandemics, or even when you’ve been bad and your mom’s grounded you) but if you ARE indoors then it’s important to keep cycling for your fitness and your sanity. A cyclist who can’t do any sort of cycling is not a fun person to be around (so my wife tells me…)
Is it possible to turn your outdoor bike into a stationary bike without a trainer? Yes, it is, and we’ll look at the best DIY ways of how to do this. I’ll take you through these in a moment.
If, after seeing the DIY options, you’re feeling a little unsure about the levels of kit, tools, skills, or time involved in constructing one of these impressive contraptions….don’t worry! There are some other fantastic off-the-shelf options available which will get you, um, on the road in no time at all. I’ll also take you through the pros and cons of these and look at picking the correct one for you and your bike.
Ready? Let’s go!
What are the best DIY methods of turning a bike into a stationary bike?
DIY Turbo Trainer
A turbo trainer is essentially a stand that goes at the back of your bike. It either props up the bike so that the back wheel is off the ground, allowing it to turn freely as you pedal, or it takes the place of the back wheel. If you’re making one of these yourself the simplest method is to build a stand out of timber then fit BMX-style pegs to either side of your rear axle. The pegs will sit in notches at the top of your timber stand, supporting the rear wheel, and you can then pedal away to your heart’s content. There’s a good video below which shows a useful DIY method of creating one of these for yourself.
Bear in mind that, with homemade turbo trainers like these, there’s no resistance as you pedal. That means it will feel like you’re just pedaling along a smooth, flat pavement. That might be perfect but it could start to feel a little easy after a while. However these trainer stands are easy and cheap to build so it’s worthwhile experimenting with them to see if they’re the right solution for you.
DIY Bike Rollers
In contrast to a turbo trainer, bike rollers are a frame with rolling cylinders. The frame sits on the floor, you put your bike on top without attaching it, hop on and start pedaling. These give a more realistic feel for your riding vs a turbo trainer as you need to balance to stay on top. That means it’s great for your core muscles but it can be tricky to begin with as you need to find your balance point. One trick that I found which can work well with rollers is to position them inside a doorway. This can give you an upright to lean against or bump off with your shoulder. Just be careful as falling off can be sore.
If you’d like to have a try at making your own bike rollers, then take a look at the video below. They’re very cost effective easy to build.
Is there an easier off-the-shelf option for a stationary bike setup?
These are all great DIY options, but oftentimes you might be lacking the critical components you need to build your homemade bike trainer. In my case there would also be a lack of the necessary skills! Either way, it’s worth looking at the off-the-shelf options as there are some great alternatives to DIY that won’t break the bank and can get delivered to your door ready to ride on.
Let’s take a look at the best trainer styles, the advantages and disadvantages of each, and how to choose the right one for you.
- Pros – many offer a resistance workout, compact to store
- Cons – can be fiddly to fit, may require a trainer tire
How to choose a turbo trainer
With any indoor bike setup you’ll need to make sure that you have enough space to put your bike + trainer, with extra around the outside for mounting and dismounting the bike. Turbo trainers often require power so you’ll want to setup your bike near the wall socket. Having trailing wires across the floor is a trip hazard that you don’t need when you’ve got wobbly legs after a workout on the bike.
There are a couple of different options for turbo trainers in terms of setup – either using your existing wheel or taking the place of the wheel. Direct drive turbo trainers are those which take the place of your back wheel and offer the best riding experience, however they’re also the most expensive and the trickiest to setup. You also have the choice between smart and non-smart trainers. A smart trainer is one that will connect to cycling apps (via WiFi) such as TrainerRoad or Zwift. With these you can get a video game like experience using a laptop or TV screen – cycling along in a virtual world with other virtual cyclists and competing in virtual races. If you’re the competitive type (cough, like me) then these can be a valuable way of ensuring you train hard.
- Pros – Setup is fast as there’s no need to attach your bike to the rollers, you just pop it on top
- Cons – balancing and pedaling takes some getting used to (a bit like learning to ride a bike!)
How to choose bike rollers
Bike rollers consist of a frame that holds 3 rolling cylinders – 2 for the back wheel and 1 for the front. The smaller the diameter of the cylinder the higher the resistance as you pedal. Simple. What’s not so simple is balancing on the rollers as you cycle. This takes some practice and you might be put off as a result. But hang on. This balancing act is one of the main benefits of rollers, working your core and your concentration – there’s no zoning-out when you ride rollers as you need to concentrate hard to stay cycling. This makes the workout harder and as a result gives you more benefit.
- Pros – there’s no need to mess with your outdoor bike in order to fit it to a trainer or whatever
- Cons – top-of-the-range models can be expensive
How to choose an exercise bike
Home exercise bikes have exploded in popularity in recent years, driven by brands such as Peloton and dedicated spin cycling studios, such as SoulCycle. They give a great workout and can be connected to apps for a real immersive experience or even to live-streamed classes (in the case of Peloton). Exercise bikes have also been around for years so that means that you can find a bike to suit your budget, whatever that is, from a basic no-frills machine up to an all-singing-all-dancing Peloton.
If your budget won’t stretch as far as a Peloton (upwards of $1500 plus a monthly subscription) then I’d recommend a bike that has a belt drive system and magnetic resistance. These combine to give virtually silent operation and a tough-as-you-like workout with the variable resistance mechanism. Some of the cheapest bikes are fairly flimsy and will likely start falling apart quite quickly once you’ve put them through a few good rides. I ride standard upright bikes so wouldn’t choose one of the recumbent models. You might prefer one of these but bear in mind that the footprint of the bikes is likely to be longer (sometimes quite substantially) than the uprights.
Turning a standard outdoor bike (whether it’s a road bikes, MTB, or something else) is doable and there are plenty of good tutorials showing you what you need and how to go about doing it. You need to have the skills to build one though. You also generally need to have all the bits handy and lying about in your garage somewhere – if you don’t then tracking these down and buying them can sometimes be at least as expensive as buying a good quality turbo trainer or set of bike rollers. You might even decide that having a dedicated exercise bike is the right move for you. Muddy tire prints on the carpet and oil splatters on the walls are never the easiest to clean off…
Enjoy your workout.