A Triathlete’s Thoughts On Indoor Cycling – For the Overwhelmed

Fellow peeps!

A very happy Friday to you all. Ah, I just love this time of year, and that sunny glow is enough to bring out the best in people! It also happens to be 90 degrees out… so maybe I don’t like this time of year as much as I thought.

I first entered the indoor trainer world in 2012, back when indoor training meant kind of having a written out plan that said something like “10 minute warm up, 3×15 minutes at 85% max, and cooldown.” Not that helpful… and frankly, it was just as horrendous to perform as it sounded. The consolation prize was that you could put on a movie, or even a cycling DVD (does anyone remember what DVDs were??), and still get your training in for the day. Pretty non-engaging, and definitely NOT cool.

By far the best (if you can call it that) indoor training experience, that could be offered from that setup, was watching Joe Satriani’s Live in Montreal epic two hour concert followed by the Lord of the Rings: the Two Towers. I mean, yeah, that was a long day to be inside going literally no where, but such is the life when you have to race 11+ hours I guess…

Flash forward a few years, and the indoor trainer market has absolutely exploded, and in two very important ways. First, indoor trainer technology has changed drastically. Instead of a “dumb” trainer where you manually set tension and then speed up or slow down to change difficulty, trainers have popped up all over the place that automatically adjust their resistance based on workouts they receive from training software (transmitted via Bluetooth or ANT+). Instead of having to blindly figure out what you’re doing for a workout, these training machines will automatically set the resistance based on your workout targets. Pushing hard into the region over your FTP? The trainer will take care of it… cruising at a warm up pace? The trainer will make sure you’re at the appropriate level. There is even software that displays a virtual world around you showing your biking adventures – and the trainer adjusts as you go! Bike hill coming up? You’re going to feel it!

Second, many trainers these days allow you to remove your wheel and attach your bike to the trainer directly via the rear cassette. This makes it so that you don’t need a trainer specific tire (since the rubber melts and wears much more quickly on the road), and reduces the general wear and tear on your nicer race or outdoor-specific wheels. Magically, it also provides a feel not dissimilar to what you experience when out on the roads. It’s definitely a nice touch, and so great not having to deal with a rear wheel at all. Back in the olden days, you either had to use an old tire on your rear wheel, or purchase a trainer specific tire to guard against meltdown and to provide some sense of longevity.

These interactive trainers make it so that you aren’t mindlessly pedaling away on your bike. They keep you engaged, providing power targets, high or low RPM goals, and a measurable, objective process for tracking improvements. The objectivity is something that has been a huge help to me, since subjectively, I felt like I was working hard, but couldn’t tell you much more than that or what hard even meant. Now, I can give you specifics as to the purpose of any workout that I’m doing. Here’s a sample of some of the workouts I’ve done: https://www.trainerroad.com/career/mrlavalamp

I’ve officially spent four months on the Cadillac of indoor trainers – the Wahoo Kickr. This thing is a beast! Weighing almost 50 pounds, it’s definitely not a lightweight addition to your pain cave. It was a supreme upgrade for me after five years on an older, static trainer. It’s easily adjustable to fit any road bike (700 or 650cc), as well as MTB frames that support 26″, 27.5″, or 29″ wheels. It is nice having a dedicated corner in the garage where the trainer lives, preventing setup and tear down timing, and having all your gear in one place increases the odds that you’re going to get a solid workout in. It was also icing on the cake that the Kickr came with a cadence sensor (easily attached to your shoe or bike crank). I was surprised the Kickr didn’t have a cadence sensor built in… I really have no clue why it can’t provide cadence without the sensor, but it is what it is.

Things I love about the trainer:

  • Built like a tank!
  • High quality build feels engineered not pieced together.
  • Rock-steady performance when charging out of the saddle.
  • Carrying handle makes it much easier to move around (the original version didn’t have this). I don’t really use the handle, but it’s nice when I need to move the trainer to clean the floor.

Things I don’t care for as much:

  • It’s loud – this isn’t as much an issue in the garage, because there’s no one there to be disturbed, but it does sound like a small airplane is taking off. You get used to it, and the music, fans, and background Netflix audio tend to make it much more manageable. The dog doesn’t seem to be affected though…
  • Finicky rear frame attachment – there are times when aligning the rear frame can be a bit tricky to center the bike perfectly, especially since it only has the front wheel as a guide. It usually just takes an attempt or two, so again, not a deal breaker, just something that could be more seamless.

A few things that you will need for your Pain Cave:

  • A good towel (I love my microfiber option) – one of the most disgusting (and disturbing) aspects of indoor training is that you don’t have the natural breeze to dry the sweat off you as you sail down the road. Sweat rate is increased 100%, and you’re going to want to keep it out of your eyes. Ick!
  • Horizontal surface for holding laptop, bottles, nutrition, iPad, fan, etc. – What’s brilliant about most of these trainer setups is that they can be run on almost any device – you just need a Bluetooth or ANT+ connection support. Choose a screen size that makes you happy, and off you go. Most training software is cloud based, so your data will sync across whatever device you choose >;] I find it infinitely helpful to have all of those items within arms reach, primarily so they can be accessed while I’m still pedaling, but also so that I don’t have to dismount and interrupt the workout.
  • Fan(s) – This is one of the more critical items, especially if cycling in a garage where the airflow is less than stellar. I currently use two larger fans, and one small one specifically pointed at my head and back. While it would be nice to be kept cool, the primary goal of the fans is to keep your core temperature managed, not make you feel like you’re in the air conditioning.
  • Source of entertainment – Netflix, HBO Go, Hulu, live concerts. Pick something to keep your brain from going numb.
  • Music – from AC/DC to Michael Jackson, you’re going to need a library full of upbeat music to survive!
  • Favorite furry friend – this is self-explanatory. My dog loves hanging out in the garage with me while I cycle away. I’ve since moved her dog bed to make the garage more comfy, and she dozes and naps while I sweat and suffer. At least one of us is excited for those pre-dawn workouts…
  • HR monitor – I wouldn’t say that this is a critical piece of information, but it can provide additional insights into how hard you’re working. I do like going back to the data from time to time, but only as reference. The one insight this allows shows is when I’m fatigued. My heart rate will be 10-20% higher when I’m exhausted yet still doing an easy workout.
  • Bluetooth USB receiver – this nifty little device gives Bluetooth support to laptops or desktops that may not have it. I needed it because my Wahoo Kickr couldn’t sync to the laptop without it. You can also get a similar adapter for ANT+, but in the reviews I’ve read, Bluetooth is just easier to use.

A few disclaimers. You actually don’t need a laptop. My Kickr can actually pair to my phone, tablet, or PC (via Bluetooth), but I like to use the laptop to receive the ride data and have the workout displayed while I stream Netflix to the TV. There are a myriad of options of how to execute this, and it boils down to personal preference. I’ve also had the workout on the TV and the entertainment on the laptop, and even tried having them both on the same screen. Some workouts, it’s nice just listening to music and grinding, while others I find that I really need to lose myself in an episode of Daredevil to forget how bad my legs are burning!

Lucy naps - I pedal!

 

From a software perspective, my weapon of choice is TrainerRoad. I’ll have to write another blog on that… there’s too much! I have seen massive improvements in my racing performance since emphasizing indoor training, and while I do miss being out in the sun constantly, it does provide safety and specificity that the outdoor roads just can’t. It’s another tool to have in the bag… More thoughts to come as the weather begins to cool off.

Hopefully these thoughts help. There are plenty of indoor training options, and I spent years using an old-school “wheel on” trainer before making the plunge this past April. It’s been worth every penny!

Hope you have a wonderful week! If you like this post, please share and subscribe. I can be found on InstagramYouTubeLinkedInTwitterFacebook, and the planet Earth.

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2 Comments

  1. Great write-up,lad. Suggest you send into many sports-related sites and pubs. But what is ANT+? It “bugs” me that I don’t understand the technology world anymore. Look fwd to reading your Traner Road article since you were so excited about it.

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