Indoor cycling is a fast, efficient way to get fit – and though you don't get to smell the roses, there are plenty of ways you can keep it interesting

Most cyclists would like to spend the majority of their time on the bike spinning down country lanes or sprinting up the natural interval facilitators that nature intended. However, it’s not always possible – sometimes indoor cycling is the best, or the only, way.

Taking your cycling indoors means a lack of freewheeling, thus you’re utilising every pedal stroke towards your end goal, be that greater all-over fitness, weight loss or preperation for a target event.

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There are no cars or junctions, which means that intervals can be completed with your full attention placed on the effort, and it’s unlikely that you’ll be rained on when riding indoors which is a plus for most of us.

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Traditionally, cyclists looking to train indoors will head straight for the turbo or rollers set up in the comfort of their own home, while spinning classes are often considered the domain of gym users and more general fitness fanatics. That doesn’t need to be the case – there’s plenty of scope for us all to benefit from the range of indoor cycling options available.

Here’s a look at the top choices, their benefits and pitfalls.

Indoor cycling on a turbo trainer

Basic turbo trainer

A basic turbo trainer clamps to the bike with a roller providing resistance

Turbo trainers can be set up in your own home. You can pick up a basic turbo trainer for as little as £50 (though spending more will give you a more realistic pedal stroke) – you simply clamp your wheel in to one of these and pedal away, using the gears or inbuilt resistance controls to up the effort.

Wahoo Kickr Climb smart trainer

Wahoo Kickr Climb works with training software like Zwift or can be controlled manually

Turbo trainers can cost in excess of £1,000. Smart Turbo Trainers start at around £400 and use Bluetooth (or ANT+) to interact with apps like Zwift, TrainerRoad, The Sufferfest, BKool – either to suit intervals or to replicate hills on a given virtual route. In the case of Zwift, the effect of drafting will also be recreated as you ride with others in the virtual world.

Smart Turbo trainers can be direct drive, meaning the wheel is removed and the bike is attached to a cassette mounted on the turbo. These offer a more realistic ride feel and save your rear tyre from wear – though at present the flywheel means they’re quite heavy.

Pros: 

  • Can be really cheap if you go for a budget option
  • No need to leave the house; makes early morning or evening training easy
  • Most have foldable legs and are easy to tidy away (though direct drive turbo trainers are heavy)

Cons: 

  • Turbo trainers can be noisy, though the more expensive versions are less so
  • Can be boring, though there’s now a wealth of apps making it less so

Indoor cycling on rollers

Rollers are also easy to set up in your home, but they require a little bit of skill to ride – though most people pick it up after a few tries.

Rollers start from £100, and traditionally they’re fairly basic – three drums set up with a cable linking them together, allowing them to turn below the wheels. There are ‘Smart’ versions in excess of £400 that will replicate the resistance created by inclines on indoor cycling apps.

Pros:

  • Develop core strength and stability
  • More entertaining than the turbo trainer
  • Most sets are light and packable

Cons 

  • Takes a bit of practice
  • Only the very skilled can complete high-resistance, short efforts (eg sprints)

Indoor cycling at spinning classes

Spinning class

Image: localfitness.com.au

Most gyms hold spinning classes – and there are a number of spin class-specific studios like ‘Boom Cycle’ in London where that’s their number-one offering.

Spin classes are almost always led by an instructor who will motivate the group, calling out instructions for when to pedal harder or faster.

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Most classes are carried out on dedicated spin bikes. Much like a fixed-wheel track bike you can’t just stop pedalling, but the bikes have variable resistance. You can often ride them using clipless pedals, setting the bike up to match the measurements of your road bike.

You’ll be working at all times, and sessions being typically 40 to 60 minutes in length, you can expect a High Intensity Interval (HIIT) session. Some spin classes are tailored to those seeking a more holistic approach to fitness than cyclists would usually take so there might be some upper body work in there too, but this will depend on the instructor.

Pros:

  • Added motivation from having others around you and an instructor
  • Short HIIT sessions are easy to fit around work
  • More overall fitness gains such as upper body workouts included will appeal to some

Cons: 

  • You’ve got to travel to get there
  • Some bike riders want their limited time on the bike to be totally specific to outdoor riding

Group turbo or Wattbike indoor cycling sessions

Athlete Lab Studio

Image: Athlete Lab Studio

Group turbo or Wattbike sessions are similar to spin bike classes in that you’re getting a group workout. However, group turbo or Wattbike sessions are likely to be held at cycling-specific facilities, often with a greater focus on the skills required for cycling events outdoors.

Down South, you can find sessions at facilities like Athlete Lab, Cadence Performance, and Lee Valley Velodrome in London and Elite Cycling or Cyclopark in Kent. There are plenty more across the country.

>>> Beginner cyclist: tips and advice to get you off to the best start

Wattbikes and other options, like Athelte Lab’s Adjustabikes, are designed to be carefully honed to your outdoor position, while sessions run on turbo trainers that can fitted to your own bike offer the ultimate tailored experience.

Often, bikes or turbo trainers will provide power information and more, to ensure you’re completing intervals in the right zones for the session targets. 

Pros:

  • Training with other likeminded riders
  • Sessions will be tailored to bike riding, and you can probably further tailor them by picking those relevant to your target events

Cons:

  • You’ve got to get there and fit your schedule around the timetable

Indoor cycling on a gym bike

Exercise bikes

Image: Aberdeen Proving Ground, Flikr Commons

Our final option is simple: turn up at your local gym and jump on the exercise bike.

Though expenditure will vary depending upon intensity and weight, a 75kg person can burn anywhere between 600 and 900 calories when pedalling on a gym bike for an hour. That number will go up as intensity increases, down as it decreases – and it’ll be lower for lighter riders and vice versa. But it gives you an idea.

There’s a variety of gym bike styles, but most come with plenty of adjustability, metrics that show wattage and the opportunity to increase resistance.

What you’re not getting is any form of guidance or coaching, and you might have to join the queue in a busy period…

Pros:

  • You can slot cycling in alongside other exercises such as strength training
  • You can do any session you like or just pedal away
  • On-screen details should give you an idea of performance and therefore targets for the future

Cons:

  • Gym bikes are popular: go at a busy time and you may have to queue
  • Can get boring unless you plan a specific session