So, you’ve opened up Strava and have seen a number of rides taken place over the last 24 hours by fellow SJ cyclists raking in the miles to help their respective teams climb the SJ Teams Leaderboard but then you look at the forecast and see temperatures close to zero and think – how are they doing it? The answer is very simple, they are using an indoor trainer from the comfort of their own home.
Now some say that using an indoor trainer is cheating, but using an indoor trainer is a very efficient and effective training tool, especially when the weather turns foul. InshAllah this article will explore the different types of indoor trainers available to help you achieve your cycling goals.
Disclaimer: this article is not an in-depth review of any specific trainer that exists, rather this is a high-level view of “what exists” and at “what price points” as everyone’s needs and budgets will differ. If after reading this article you want to explore a specific model in depth, then I would strongly suggest starting with DC Rainmker (https://www.dcrainmaker.com) who writes detailed reviews of pretty much every trainer available.
Disclaimer 2: I, nor SJ, have no affiliation with any of the products listed below nor suggest one over the other. Any links are purely used for illustration and guidance.
Why get an indoor trainer?
You’ve already spent a lot of money on a bike plus a bit more to purchase all the extras (the GPS device, the sunglasses and so on) and you know that you don’t have to pay to ride on the road so why spend even more money on an indoor trainer? It’s a fair question to ask and there are actually a number of reasons of why. I will focus on what I believe to be the main four:
it is much safer to continue your cycling indoors when the weather turns cold, when it’s pouring outside or when it’s too windy. Bad weather in England can stretch many days and extended time off the saddle can result in significant loss of fitness.
If you have a specific training target in mind (an increase in FTP1 for example) it can be difficult to find a road which is relatively car free to focus on training. Using an indoor trainer is like riding on an infinitely long road which is completely car free.
On the road there are many variables at play that simply don’t feature on an indoor trainer. A short 30 min spin before work can easily become a nightmare as a result of punctures or mechanicals or (even worse) accidents. Having an indoor training gives you the flexibility of doing a session at a time that is convenient for you and not worrying about taking more time than allocated.
Usually when the winter months come, you put the bike into hibernation and all the progress you’ve made withers away. When the sun comes out in March then you jump back on the bike only to find yourself back at square one and spend the rest of the summer trying to get your fitness back.
Of course, if you aren’t overly focused on keeping those summer gains then an indoor trainer probably isn’t something you are interested in. But given you are reading this article I assume you are looking to at least maintain your fitness as a minimum.
What types of indoor trainers are there?
There are currently 4 main types of indoor trainers, sorted in ascending order of price
- Rollers [£]
- Wheel On
- Classic [£ – ££]
- Smart [££]
- Direct Drive [£££]
- Stationary bikes [££££]
Smart or Dumb?
When any reference is made to a “smart” trainer then it simply means that the trainer connects (via Bluetooth) to an app. Most, if not all indoor trainers, above the £500 mark are smart (as a rough and ready guide). These would connect to Zwift easily. Most of these would require access to a power socket.
If a trainer is said to be “dumb” it means that it doesn’t connect to an app nor requires any power.
Power Meters are outside the scope of this article and will inshAllah be discussed in a separate article. But, something to bear in mind is that you won’t need a power meter if you purchase a smart trainer.
They say that “learning to ride rollers is like learning to ride a bike all over again”. I have no idea who “they” are, but this quote is pretty accurate. Rollers are like treadmills for bikes where you have rotating drums that spin as you pedal. In terms of feel, they are probably the closest to actually riding on the road. When cycling on rollers you need to engage your core and maintain balance which is great to keep your mind occupied and makes the time on the trainer seem to pass quicker but a small lapse of concentration can mean you fall off!
Generally, these are dumb and in order to connect to Zwift you would need either:
- A power meter
- Speed and cadence sensors
But in all honesty, I don’t think anyone could concentrate on Zwift whilst riding on rollers. Unless you have one that fixes the front wheel like our U16 rider below. The benefits of rollers are that they are relatively inexpensive, it helps improve pedal strokes and that you simply put the bike on the drums (no specific tyre needed) and pedal away.
These are the most commonly found type of indoor trainers and are an excellent way to get into the world of Zwift. They are super easy to use and set up – simply fix your rear wheel on the turbo and pedal away. These come in both “smart” and “classic” forms which may mean you need to purchase a few addons.
Smart trainers start around £250 and would include the following Wahoo Snap, 4iiii Fliiiight, Tacx Flow Smart. These would connect directly to Zwift but not necessarily offer ERG mode so if this is something you need then please check the trainer first.
Classic trainers are exactly that – classic. They start around £100 and would include Taxc Booster, Halfords Turbo, LifeLine TT-02. No Bluetooth, no fancy gadgets, no fancy apps. Don’t mistake it for being easy, far from it, they can cater for a seriously hard work out but most likely you will want to use it to connect to Zwift. If this is the case, then you can do it via either of the two ways
- Get a power meter
- Use a speed and cadence sensor
If you settle on a Wheel on trainer, smart or classic, you would need to swap your tyre for a specific indoor trainer one. This is primarily because you don’t want to get additional wear on the tyre but also because it is noticeably quieter. This may mean that you will need a spare wheel. And, that spare wheel will need a cassette with the same ratio as your current one. Who said cycling is a cheap sport?!
Direct drive trainers offer a realistic ride experience, are very good at simulating climbs and cost about half (or less than half) of a stationary trainer. They usually start around £550. For this type of indoor trainer you simply remove your rear wheel and attach your bike to the cassette on the trainer (see the picture below). The key benefits to using a direct drive indoor trainer are
- They are smart
- They are on average much quieter when compared to the wheel on
- Like stationary bikes they would also come with ERG
You will however need to purchase a spare cassette to put on the hub which needs to match the one your bike currently has. This should cost no more than £40 as a simple entry level (eg 105) cassette will do perfectly.
These are the ultimate tool in a cyclists stash and come with a price tag to suite. There are a number of options available such as Peleton2, Wahoo Kickr Bike, Wattbike or Stages Smart Indoor. The price point roughly starts around £1,700. All of these would be considered smart and come with ERG mode.
The key benefit for getting a Stationary Bike is that it can be used by everyone in the family. Now you might need to set up a rota to use it but once that’s been agreed you can quickly adjust it to your set up just before you ride.
This is demonstrated by our local rider in the pictures below who is testing out a stationary bike (Wahoo Kick Bike) that has been reconfigured for his height (6ft 2in) given the bike is normally used by another local rider whose height is 5ft 10in.
ERG or SIM Mode
Most smart trainers (and a few wheel on trainers) come with two modes of use ERG or SIM.
ERG mode, simply put, means that the trainer will set the power target (which is measured in watts) automatically and all you need to do is pedal. This is hugely beneficial in training when you need to target a certain power number as you don’t need to worry about constantly adjusting your gears to reach the required output. ERG mode makes workouts super simple (not to be confused with super easy!)
SIM (short for simulation mode) means that you will need to use your gears as you would normally when cycling on the road. So, if you are climbing up a 5% incline, the indoor trainer will simulate the resistance of a 5% gradient and you will need to use your gears to pedal up this simulated hill.
If you use a dumb (aka classic) trainer to train, then you would need to constantly adjust your power to match the required output which is doable, but, over an hour and a half, can be mentally draining.
If you want to cycle around Zwift and focus less on training, then this is less of a concern as you wouldn’t use ERG mode to cycle in Zwift (unless doing workouts) so a classic trainer will suffice.
However, please note that most dumb trainers come with multiple resistance settings that are operated by a lever, which you, as the rider, can adjust to make the resistance harder or easier. That being said, in practise you would typically keep it in one setting and use the bikes gears instead to make things harder or easier.
If you’ve reached this far then well done. There’s a lot to take in but it’s not over just yet and neither is the spending. Once you’ve figured out which turbo you want then you would could consider the following extras
- Zwift membership – £12 per calendar month. There are alternatives such as TrainerRoad but they are all similarly priced.
- A fan or two. Cycling on a turbo will make you sweat and without that headwind you will overheat quickly. You can even buy a specific smart headwind fan from Wahoo for £200!
- Climb simulator from Wahoo that lifts the front forks of the bike to make climbing more realistic at only £499!
- Steering frame so that you can turn your wheel left and right from Elite (Sterzo) for £75.
- Towel to dry the sweat away.
- Mat to put under the turbo to stop marks and to catch the sweat
- Laptop stand to keep the laptop nearby (can use a desk as alternative)
- You’ll quickly find yourself cycling many more miles and will need to eat to keep the energy levels up
Where can I get one?
So you’ve made your choice and want to make a purchase, unfortunately due to the 2020 and 2021 lockdowns the demand has outstripped supply and there are long waiting lists for indoor trainers. The price of second-hand indoor trainers have sky rocketed and it’s not uncommon to see second hand trainers going for a price close to brand new.
My best advice is to get an order in and get on the waiting list or hunt out the bargain online. At the time of writing Wahoo have some availability on their website.
The world of indoor training is not cheap, but you can make it on to Zwift for about £400. It won’t be the most slickest set up but it will work. Once you’ve made the right purchase for you and your budget, you’ll soon find yourself cycling many miles in Zwift, going from strength to strength and improving that FTP of yours.
InshAllah you have found this article helpful but if you have any questions feel free to reach out. I’ve added a table below that summarises the comments and inshAllah will help with your indoor trainer search. It’s only a high level guide so please take it at that.
FTP stands for Functional Threshold Power and is the measurement of how much power you can output for 1 hour. More information on this will be released in a separate SJ article
Note: the Peleton bike doesn’t connect to Zwift by default and is intended to be used with its own app. There are work arounds, but it does require another additional purchase of power pedals.
Written by Yellow Jersey Captain, Sajjad Meghjee.