Nothing beats riding a bicycle outdoors. For many of us, this isn’t an option. I have been riding for many years. However, living in a city where winters last what feels like forever, I quickly realized if I wanted to get better at riding, I needed to learn how to ride my bicycle indoors.
Riding indoors can be boring – yes I get that. However, things have changed in the past few years. Indoor bike trainers have taken a giant step forward and opened up the doors for cycling entrepreneurs to develop software that can communicate and interact with your indoor bike trainer. This enables them to control the trainer resistance and simulate real courses. Now you can ride your indoor bike trainer in a virtual environment, ride with friends, do a group workout, or take a part of a virtual race with other cyclists in real-time.
When purchasing an indoor bike trainer, you have the option of getting a classic trainer or a smart bike trainer. A classic trainer, also known as a dumb trainer, is good if you just want to ride your bike and don’t care about all the technology that goes behind a smart trainer or doing any virtual riding. These bike trainers tend to be cheaper and just get the job done.
Smart bike trainers, on the other hand, are more expensive, but allow you to do much more. Also, they can take the boredom out of indoor riding. So why should you spend a little extra and get a smart indoor bike trainer? I will give you seven reason or benefits of a smart indoor bike trainer:
So why should you spend a little extra and get a smart indoor bike trainer? I will give you seven reason or benefits of a smart indoor bike trainer:
1) TRAINING WITH POWER
One of the best features of smart trainers is their ability to provide power numbers. Power is the gold standard in bike training and the best way to get the most out of your training time. Power meters give you real-time information to measure your effort and see progress. Some smart bike trainers come with a real power meter that is just as accurate as your crank-based or hub-based powermeter.
When you pair a smart trainer to a cycling app such as Zwift, Rouvy, Kinomap, Bkool simulator, or others, the app can use the power metrics to measure your real efforts, convert your power into speed and take terrain and weather elements into account. This allows these apps to create real-world course simulation.
2) ERG MODE
ERG mode, short for Ergometer, is when your smart trainer automatically set the resistance for you. A smart bike trainer and a compatible cycling app or bike computer are required to use ERG mode.
When riding in ERG mode, you are basically telling your trainer to take control adjusting the resistance for you while you concentrate on your workout. Smart trainers will make small adjustments to keep you at your target watts.
Let’s say you want to ride at 200 watts. You set your gear and start pedaling. The trainer will adjust the resistance to keep you at 200 watts regardless of your cadence. You can increase or decrease resistance and the trainer will make small adjustments to keep you at your target watt.
ERG mode is an effective way to train and can be a little challenging at first. Here is an article where I dig deeper into how to use and train in ERG mode.
3) REAL WORLD COURSE SIMULATION
Indoor smart bike trainers have the ability to simulate different gradients. Depending on the type of trainer you get, some can simulate up to 25% gradients.
Some cycling applications offer the ability to ride real courses. Some come with real videos. You can ride famous routes or climb some of the world most challenging climbs right from your living room using your smart indoor trainer.
If you are not happy with any of the available options, some allow you to create your own route. You can either import your own GPX data, plot it on a map, or if you have your own fancy camera with GPS data, you can create your own route with a video.
The software will send route feedback to your smart bike trainer and the trainer will send those feedbacks to you – the rider. If you have a really fancy trainer, such as the Tacx NEO, you can even feel the road surface, such as cobblestones, wooden boards, tracks, etc.
4) SOCIAL AND GROUP RIDES
Indoor riding has a reputation for being lonely and boring. Only you, music, Netflix or both running in the background. That’s not the case anymore. With a smart bike trainer, you can jump online anytime and ride with a friend, join a group ride or do a group workout. Zwift took community interaction to whole new level. Every time you login to Zwift, you will find 2000 of your best friends in a group ride, riding around, racing, or doing their own structured workout.
Other cycling software offers this type of community interaction as well such as Rouvy and Kinomap.
If you like to mix it up a little, or maybe like a little extra pain in your legs and lungs, give online racing a try. You can find a race in Zwift almost every hour that you can join.
Zwift racing has grasped the attention of thousands of cyclists across the world. The competitive side in us human beings has resulted in an ever-growing ferocious world of pain, suffering, and stronger legs. From Brazil to New Zealand, riders from the deepest pockets of the world are consistently participating in this virtual racing.
These races can get competitive and many take them very seriously. You can read more about Zwift racing, strategies and tips our article here.
6) CONNECT TO TRAINING APPS
Cycling apps such as TrainerRoad, The Sufferfest, and Zwift untapped the technology behind smart trainers and made training fun and engaging. Zwift, for example, is an immersive game that makes indoor training fun and rewarding. Your real-world efforts power your avatar across beautiful and fictional landscapes. When you ride in Zwift, you are riding with other cyclists at all levels in real-time.
The Sufferfest created videos with exclusive footage of professional races, soundtracks, and fun engaging storylines.
TrainerRoad offers a huge library of power based cycling workouts. It’s like having a cycling or triathlon coach right there with you.
With Zwift, you can join a group ride, race, group workout, a challenge, connect with other riders, or just ride and enjoy the virtual experience. You can also create your own workout or follow some of their structured workouts available in their fast-growing workout library.
A smart trainer will take the Zwift experience to whole new level. With the right smart trainer, you will receive feedback from Zwift and the trainer will simulate terrain, drafting, road feel and other aspects of the game.
7) REALISTIC ROAD FEEL AND Quiet
Higher end smart trainers offer silky smooth road feel. Much better than the old fluid trainers. Real road feel is subjective but they are as close to real-road as you get. Direct drive trainers, in particular, tend to come with a heavier flywheel which is important when it comes to simulating road inertia. The Tacx NEO, for example, can even simulate descents and road surface. Yes, road surface –like cobblestone, wooden boards, dirt roads, snow, etc.
Indoor cycling doesn’t replace the beauty of outdoor riding. However, planning for the weather, and dealing with distracted drivers can make outdoor riding a bit more challenging and unpleasant. Smart trainers can be a better use of your time and safer.