Asked ‘why do you cycle?’ many riders will respond with wistful references to exploring the great outdoors, freedom, adventure – but all of that seems far, far away when you’re sprinkling sweat droplets onto the cold hard marble of the kitchen floor, staring at a narrow space of wall that could do with a re-touch, now you consider it.
Indoor cycling can be boring. However, sometimes the weather, the training plan or time constraints mean that thrashing away on the pedals indoors is necessary if you want to enjoy all that outdoors, freedom and adventure come the sunny months.
Or maybe you’re just feeling competitive and want to be the first up the mountain on the spring training camp, the first over the finish line or the fastest on the clock.
Indoor cycling has its benefits – these are pretty well documented but in case you needed reminding:
- It’s controllable, so completing set intervals and tracking progress is accurate
- It’s possible to push harder since there’s no need to worry about traffic
- It’s warm and dry – you can’t slip on ice on the turbo trainer (without great difficulty)
The downside? Well, you’re pedalling away indoors. But there’s now a wide selection of training apps and services to keep you entertained.
Zwift indoor cycling app
Read more: Zwift training app in detail
Best for: Riding and racing with (or against) others
The key feature of Zwift is that it allows indoor cyclists to join group rides where they can measure themselves against others in the comfort of their own homes.
Join a group ride, and if you put more power through the pedals you’ll ride away from people, struggle to hold the watts steady and you could drop off the back. You can even message other riders in the virtual world (most recommended during warm-ups/cool downs).
Rides take place over a series of courses in a variety of ‘worlds’ – Watopia (which also includes the challenging Mayan Jungle), London and Richmond plus more recently, New York.
You can chat to others or give them a thumbs up as they ride, too – and the Zwift companion app that allows this has been improved for the 2018/2019 indoor season.
Racing and community
Zwift even makes indoor racing possible. Races are organised by various groups, but ‘KISS’ launched in 2015 is the largest.
They started the ‘Zwift road racing series’ and promote the ‘Zwift World Championships’ and ‘Tour de Zwift’. The results of races are published on Zwiftpower.com and there’s everything from the e-bike World Cup events to e-fondo rides which are becoming more and more popular.
Chris Snook, PR man at Zwift told us: “Zwift has two major USPs; our virtual cycling environment and our community.
“The virtual world of Watopia allows riders to tackle all kinds of terrain and surfaces from flat circuits to epic mountain climbs and from smooth tarmac through to gravel roads and cobbles. You can even defy reality and ride through volcanoes!
“The community however, is really what makes Zwift unique. We are lucky to have a highly engaged community on Zwift and it’s this community that brings the virtual environment to life.
“Our community runs the majority of events on Zwift including social rides, training rides, races and even fondo events.
“Indeed it’s largely thanks to our community informally organising these events in game during the early stages of our development that we now have official events pages.”
There is still structured training
For those who want to train with others, without direct competition, there are ‘group workouts’ – during which all riders will complete intervals at the same percentage of their FTP, which means no one gets dropped from the group session.
It’s not all about indoor bike enabled socialising either – there are solo workouts for those looking to increase their fitness without the distraction of peers.
“Zwift undoubtedly makes indoor training more fun. Fun however, doesn’t necessarily mean less structured,” Snook told us.
“Structured workouts form a big part of Zwift – whether performing one of our many pre-designed workouts, importing workouts from a coaching program, designing custom workouts or taking part in our unique group workouts. This is a big part of Zwift’s appeal for serious riders from club level to WorldTour Pro.”
“Who is Zwift for? It’s for anyone with a goal – whether that’s to loose weight, maintain fitness over winter, train for a sportive or, if you’re Mat Hayman; win Paris-Roubaix!”
What do you need to run Zwift?
Zwift is available on iPhone, iPad, Mac, Apple TV, Windows and Android, it’s compatible with ANT+ and Bluetooth.
You can ride with a speed/cadence sensor, which will calculate your virtual power. For more accurate results, you can use a power meter on a standard set up but for the full experience a smart turbo trainer will replicate climbs, descents and the effect of drafting.
Zwift costs £12.99 or $14.99 a month – and there is a free seven day trial.
Trainer Road indoor cycling app
Available for:Windows, Mac, iOS, Android
Best for: focused training and progression
Trainer Road offers a wealth of specific training plans that are built around rider’s goals. The plans are written by Trainer Road’s Head Coach Chad Timmerman, who has over 25 years of experience.
There are over 100 different plans, which are very specific – for climbing road racers, criterium riders, time trialists, rolling road racers, century riders, triathletes (sprint to full distance), XC Olympic, XC marathon, short track XC, cyclocross, gravity and general fitness riders.
Trainer Road has over 1000 workouts in its system, if that’s not enough, there’s a workout creator for coaches and riders to use.
Once signed up, you can choose a training plan, log your sessions, as well as your fitness and progress – all inside the app.
Keep it up, and you’ll be able to look over your ‘cycling career’ – with software tracking your fitness over time.
Very specific training plans
CEO and co-founder Nate Pearson told us: “TrainerRoad focuses on just one thing; making cyclists faster. The core of the product takes cyclists through structured, power based workouts and training plans.
“TrainerRoad’s advantage comes from the fact that they get very specific in your training depending on what your cycling goals are and where you are in your season.
“To get faster, riders need to work through progressions of different energy systems depending on the time of year.
“Short-term and long-term training stress needs to be taken into account, and a proper taper needs to be involved if the rider is targeting an A-race.”
All sessions are based off FTP, which is measured in an initial assessment – and all plans concentrate on three specific phases – a Base, Build and Speciality. Base builds initial endurance and skill, Build focuses on improving FTP, then the Speciality phase is a fine tuning process focused on specific goals.
Each plan totals 28 weeks and comes with low, medium and high volume options – and riders can modify them according to their needs as their target events loom closer.
“There’s a lot of science behind cycling training, and it can get very confusing very quickly. The beauty behind TrainerRoad is that they make this whole process simple,” Pearson explains.
Entertainment isn’t build in
Trainer Road is not top of the list if you’re after entertainment over specificity. Workouts don’t come with accompanying music – but then that might be a plus for some.
Pearson adds: “TrainerRoad spends 100 per cent of their time trying to make cyclists faster. We are unique in the fact that they ask riders to bring their own entertainment with them while they use the app.
“Rider’s tastes vary, and we feel that products like Netflix, Spotify, Youtube, and HBO GO do a fantastic job of entertaining people. We just focuses on making cyclists faster.”
What do you need to run Trainer Road?
Trainer Road runs on Windows, Mac, iOS and Android.
You can use Virtual Power, riding with a speed/cadence sensor on a standard turbo trainer, a bike with a power meter, or a smart turbo for auto adjusted resistance.
It costs $12 (£9) a month or $99 (£73) a year. There’s no free trial, but if you don’t like it after 30 days you can get your money back.
Read more: The Sufferfest training app in detail
Best for: entertaining sessions and very well tailored training zones
The Sufferfest has progressed from offering videos for individual purchase to a full workout app in the last couple of years. In January 2019 it released a brand new app which lets you watch your own videos and select whichever metric overlays you want on screen.
Sign up and download the app and you’ll discover a host of cycling training videos, as well as running sessions, yoga and mental training. There are training plans, devised by APEX coach Neal Henderson, that can be downloaded in PDF form and The Sufferfest is now working with Training Peaks to provide integration so that athletes can access data and sessions all in one place.
Effort levels can be based on perceived effort, virtual power (using a speed/cadence sensor) or if you’re using a power meter the app will tell you what how many watts you should be producing during intervals and recoveries.
With the new app, there’s more workouts too under the ‘no vid’ section – these don’t have music and sounds but will provide more structured training options.
Base power numbers on 4DP – because ‘FTP is dead’?
Power numbers can be based on a percentage of your FTP, or you can use Sufferfest’s own ‘4 Dimensional Power’ (4DP) test. With the new app, you can adjust the ‘levels’ for each of the 4DP elements to suit your goal.
The 4DP test and algorithm was designed by Henderson – coach to riders such as Evelyn Stevens, Taylor Phinney and Rohan Dennis.
The test itself, called ‘Full Frontal’, assesses your Neuromuscular Power, Anaerobic Capacity, Maximal Aerobic Power and Functional Threshold Power performance over five second, five minute and 20 minute efforts as well and your ability to recover after them, tested via a one minute interval after fatigue.
Dylan Robbins, ‘Senior Minister for External Affairs’ at The Sufferfest told us: “4DP is something Henderson has refined after ten years of testing and training athletes – not just elite athletes but amateurs too.
“He would see two athletes with the exact same FTP – based on a fitness test in the lab during a controlled situation – then get them out somewhere else and find their abilities above threshold were vastly different. So the types of training that you would assign to them would be vastly different in order to develop them as athletes.
“The feedback that we’ve had from our test group and Facebook communities has been huge – especially people who are more anaerobically inclined, who have a peak 5 second power much higher than their FTP – they’re seeing that the sprint workouts [like Violator] are much more effective and tailored for them which means better training adaptation. Even the endurance athletes are able to use maximal efforts more, so it’s effective for them too.
“It’s like bringing power to the people. The principles behind 4DP aren’t new, or revolutionary – but we’ve made it accessible to a broader group of people who can’t or don’t want to delve into the sports science of it themselves.”
“We’re soon going to be launching a whole library of training sessions that are accessible via Training Peaks [since our conversation, 35 of these have gone live], that will focus on targeting primary weaknesses – so it’s bespoke and takes into account strengths and weaknesses and can make you a more complete athlete. That’ll be available with a Basic [Free] Training Peaks account. It can include mental training and yoga components as well.”
Own brand of humour
The Sufferfest has its own brand of humour – sessions are set in ‘Sufferlandria’, and there’s often a story line in which you’re representing the Sufferlandrian team. You’re probably going to lose the whole race and be flogged if you don’t smash the last interval – of course you will win at which point everyone will do a chamois dance. You have to try it to get it.
“David McQuillen the founder has been really successful in creating an intensely loyal but inclusively tribal community. I think that sets it apart – there are lots of tight knit communities that don’t let people in – but we are inclusively tribal. You go on the Sufferfest Facebook page and there are riders of all different types, and everyone is helpful and supportive. We’ve built the science on top of it, but it was really the community that made The Sufferfest what it is today,” says Robbins.
What do you need to run The Sufferfest?
The Sufferfest App works on Windows computers, iPhone, iPad or Mac. It’s compatible with ANT+ and Bluetooth devices.
Sessions can be ridden on a standard turbo trainer with no power, in which case you simply ramp it up when the instructions tell you to – based on perceived exertion or heart rate.
You can add a speed/cadence sensor, and the app can work out ‘virtual power’ based on your turbo trainer type and wheel size. Or, for greater accuracy, you can invest in a power meter or smart turbo trainer. The latter options means that resistance can be increased for you by the app.
The Sufferfest app costs $10 a month/£7.48, or $99 a year/£74.
Alternatives to using indoor cycling apps at home
Not everyone wants to complete all of their bike riding lit up by the glow of an iPad – but winter means plenty of us have to find options away from the fresh air.
Of course, you can turbo at home using some of our turbo sessions – though we’d suggest tuning in to some music as well – this can help keep you motivated and studies have shown listening to your favourite tracks can boost performance.
Spin bikes aren’t like the standard indoor training bikes – they usually have a heavy weighted flywheel that is linked to the pedals – so riding one is much like using a fixed gear bike – your legs won’t stop moving and every second is put to good use.
Spin classes vary greatly – some include weights and upper body training – whilst others will have a more traditional focus on working the muscles used for cycling – so quiz the instructor before you sign up or be prepared to shop around.
There are also more cycle racing orientated sessions – these are often completed on Wattbikes or bikes with more data available. Central London’s Athletelab runs a range of sessions, with rider’s data displayed on the screen throughout and tracked over time.
There they use Adjustabikes – which can be set up to be identical to an rider’s road bike.