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How to get started with indoor cycling
I’m guessing we’re all in agreement that nothing comes anywhere near to cycling along roads and trails in the ‘Great Outdoors’?
But, what’s a girl or guy to do if the Great Outdoors sadly aren’t available for one reason or another? It might be that there’s a thick blanket of ice and snow on the ground and a storm blasting. Or, maybe, the only time you have to get on the bike is in the middle of the night (and your cycling partner is refusing(!) to accompany you). Maybe you have to stay home and hang about waiting for a contractor who’s given you a (not very helpful) appointment window of 8am to 6pm. Even stranger, you might find yourself in the midst of a lockdown resulting from a worldwide pandemic. You can never really tell what’s just around the corner. But we’re living in fairly strange times right now and anything can come up that has you stuck inside and off your bike.
If you find yourself ‘grounded’ like that, what other options do you have? Well, one good way to preserve your strength, stamina, and sanity is cycling indoors.
Let’s take a closer look at the ins and outs of indoor cycling.
What do we mean by ‘indoor cycling’?
First up, what do we actually mean by ‘indoor cycling’? In simple terms, it’s just bicycling inside your own home, or in the garage, on a bike that is stationary. There are a couple ways to do this. Either bring your own bicycle into your home, fit it to a dedicated bike stand (there are a few types, as we’ll see in a moment), and pedal away to your heart’s content. The second way is to get a dedicated stationary bike. This can either be upright (similar to a standard outdoor bike), or recumbent, and will stay inside your home all the time.
What benefits do you get from indoor cycling?
In my life so far there have been quite a few occasions when I haven’t been able to get out and cycle for a period of time. Sometimes I had a solid reason like workload or injuries. Other times it was just a case of ‘life’ getting in the way. At those times, I began to notice that my stamina and strength would fall dramatically (having taken a long, long time to build!) I also became really grumpy and lethargic. The main benefits for me of cycling indoors is that it enables me to maintain my biking fitness and (as my family will happily tell you) make me a nicer and more relaxed person to be around.
Cycling on an exercise bike can be very useful when it’s combined with a rehabilitation program if you’re on the road back from an injury. You can build your muscles back up in a way that is safe for you, if you’re not quite ready to hit the roads and trails at the moment (or your physician isn’t ready to let you loose yet!) You might not yet have the strength for a full day out on the bike, but you can start off cycling indoors and take it nice and slowly. In that way you could do, for example, a half hour a day this week, then build to an hour a day next week, and so forth. It might be frustrating to get kitted up for an outdoor cycle that lasts only a few minutes. But you can just pop onto the indoor bike instead and have a quick pedal to get the legs moving.
Indoor cycling is a great way of getting some exercise when you haven’t got a worthwhile time block available to go out riding. Maybe the kids are watching their favorite TV show for the next 30 minutes. Maybe you can be the Queen of Multitasking and call your mom whilst on the bike. Whatever the reason, it’s a great opportunity to get in a little extra pedal time.
Where can you park your indoor bike?
One of the best things about cycling indoors, is that you don’t require a lot of room to do it.
You’re not moving any place, so you’ll only actually need a space measuring a generous rectangle under your bike. You’ll need even less room if you’re using a dedicated stationary bike. For example, a Peloton bicycle, has a footprint of only 24” by 48”.
Chances are that you’ll be able to track down more than one space in your home that meets the requirements. How about a corner of your lounge? How about your home office? A Pro Tip is to actually take your indoor bike out into the outdoors. Whilst this may sound crazy, if you’ve got a canopy or covered porch with a little room, then they can be perfect. Indoor cycling can be quite warm and sweaty as you don’t have the cooling breeze that’s created by cycling normally. So, it can be a real benefit if you can get some fresh air as you pedal.
What kit do you need for indoor cycling?
The simplest method is to have a dedicated exercise bicycle. It’s the most expensive option but does enable you to keep your outdoor bike for use outdoors and do all of your indoor bicycling on the stationary bicycle. Stationary bikes have turned into a huge business over the last decade with companies like Echelon and Peloton producing bikes that have integrated screens streaming live workout classes 24 hours a day 7 days a week.
But, they’re expensive. A Peloton bike, for instance, costs over $2k and you’ll also need to pay monthly subs of nearly $40 for the streamed workouts. However, Peloton fans are some of the most fanatical people that I’ve ever met. So much so that they’re almost on the same level as roadies.
The second option to consider is a more basic, stripped-back, style of exercise bike. Brands like Assault and Nordictrack are good ones to look for. Depending on the quantity of fancy extras and component quality, you can pay somewhere in the region of $300-$1500 for one of these. Bikes like this won’t have the same razzmatazz workouts streamed to a HD screen between the handlebars unfortunately. But instead you can always pop open a window and listen to the squirrels and the birds in the Great Outdoors.
If you want to use your own bike instead, then there are a couple of options available to you:
1. Turbo trainers
The downside is that you’ll need to bring your own bike inside. But there are a couple of clear advantages. Firstly, you won’t need to pay the money for a second, stationary, bike and secondly the bike will be configured just the right way for you and so won’t need to be adjusted.
The main differences between turbo trainers and rollers are:
Turbo trainers keep your bike held upright. They normally do this by fixing on to the rear wheel hub. That means you can use them if you find balancing more of a challenge. Most models also provide variable resistance to make pedaling harder and so force you to work harder.
Rollers, by comparison, are made of three cylinders that can spin and are fitted to a frame that sits on the ground. They generally don’t have the variable resistance that turbo trainers do.
For both turbo trainers and rollers you’re usually best to change out knobbly tires (or have a spare set of wheels available). This is because smooth tires will transfer less vibration and noise up through the bike and into you. A cheap set of tires is all you need as they’re only being used for the trainer.
Turbo trainers are the most common type of trainer setup. However, I find myself increasingly drawn towards rollers.
Both types have their advantages and disadvantages. For turbo trainers, set up is simple and balancing on them is easy. You just hop on and start pedaling. They also have great integration with some popular biking apps such as Zwift and Trainerroad (due to the variable resistance). A basic turbo trainer will cost around $150-$400.
On the flip side, you’d think that rollers were a disaster about to happen. Trying to balance on a bike whilst spinning the pedals takes a lot of concentration and focus (as my scraped knees and elbows will tell you). Doing all that in your home office on three cylinders spinning in a metal frame sounds tougher by a long stretch.
And it is tougher. But, actually, that’s kind of the point.
Turbo trainers are great for exercising your leg muscles. But they don’t build muscle anywhere else. Because you have to work hard to keep balanced on rollers though it gives you a much fuller body workout. Arms, legs, abs, lower back, and everything else will get a thorough exercising.
To begin with, you can help your balance by placing your rollers and bike within a door frame. This will give you a support to prop up against and touching the frame is an early warning mechanism if you start to veer away from the center of the rollers. After a few rides though you’ll find that this all becomes much easier.
Rollers are super cheap (a good set will be around $100 to $200) and so a useful way to try out indoor bicycling.
I get it, cycling outside is soooo much better than indoors. But, if there’s something keeping you inside, then it may be worthwhile having a closer look. It can be a great method of keeping your cycling fitness levels up so, when you get released into the Great Outdoors again, you can easily hit the ground running.
Or like, you know, bicycling.