The Indoor Bike Trainer

Many of us dread the indoor trainer, but don’t discount the benefits year-round not just in the winter season. I know many hard-core cyclists who will ride outside in every condition imaginable and are much braver than me to deal with the elements. I think it’s the years of suffering – 25 years ago I would always go out and ride in 30 degree cold weather.  The technology advancements of indoor trainers have improved dramatically over the years and can be used to maintain and improve cycling fitness during every training season.

There are so many different theories of the “cross-over” effect of indoor cycling. For example: 1 hour of indoor cycling equals 1.5 hours of outdoor riding (no coasting indoors). We have all heard the various equivalent formulas of riding inside vs. outdoor riding. In my opinion, it’s just easier to keep it equal for both types of riding. For my training, 1 hour of riding indoors is equal to 1 hour of riding outside. It’s just easier and when training for long distance races “time is time”. A friend/fellow competitor from Sweden mentioned to me that his indoor cycling sessions during the winter months will have 14 hour durations. Can you imagine 14 hours on a trainer! This is mind-boggling to me. However, the training paid off and was the key reason to his success in placing second overall in the 2008 DECA Ironman.

In addition to the benefits of riding “without coasting”, I find that the mental training aspects provide a direct correlation to the cycling during an ultra-triathlon. Most of the ultra triathlon cycling courses are short loops (normally 1 mile to 5 miles) to eliminate closing down roads and monitoring traffic for such long time periods. Personally, I use indoor training sessions all year long and not only during the winter months. There is no question that my preference is riding outdoors; however with a busy work schedule, other time commitments; it is an important aspect of my year round training.

Indoor cycling provides benefits such as monitoring heart rate, power, mental toughness training which is required for time trialing, performance tracking ( ex: comparing specific time trials – 10 mile time trials “testing” every 6 weeks), “dialing” in race nutrition, without the issues of dealing with traffic, stopping at lights and the effects of weather. The indoor trainer has the “hidden” benefit of toughening up the “butt”. As we all know, how important it is to stand and get off the saddle to avoid saddle pain. Using the indoor trainer will also provide safety benefits when preparing for all night riding for ultra cycling or ultra triathlons. Indoor training can supplement (not replace) riding in the dark with headlamps/bike lights to simulate race conditions.

Different types of Indoor Trainers (Pro’s and Con’s)

1. Mechanical Resistance Trainers – Computrainer/Magnetic Trainers (mechanical resistance) – I have used a Computrainer for years and there are many comparable “magnetic resistance” type trainers that will provide significant cycling benefits. Tip – always use a wheel riser or block to elevate the front of the bike to eliminate the “downhill feeling” while riding.

Pro’s – easy to keep balance, provides a full workout with adding additional resistance

Con’s – can be expensive, especially Computrainer and comparable models (can easily exceed $1,000)

2. Rollers – These are the simplest trainers and consist of just a set of rollers that you ride and balance the bike. There is nothing to hold your bike vertical so you must maintain your own balance. When first learning how to use this design, it is helpful to have a wall or table to hold on to which will reduce the chances of rolling off the sides of the rollers. There is no question that the “intimidation factor” will get your heart rate up! Expect to crash a few times as you learn to ride the rollers.

Pro’s – least expensive trainer design to choose from, it will provide a more authentic ride which requires you to exercise your upper body to maintain your balance. This lets your bike and torso shift left and right as you pedal, just like real life on the road.

Con’s – It takes some practice for even the most agile cyclist to start up and keep your balance. You will need to be ready to handle falling off. You can’t use knobby tires. Most models don’t have resistance controls and the only resistance is provided when shifting to a harder gear.

Sample Workout – I incorporate into my year round ultra triathlon training:

Mental Toughness Training Session – This is a long session to get “time” in the saddle which is so important for the long 200+ mile rides required in ultra triathlons or ultra cycling races. I will incorporate this session after base building is completed during the off-season. Also, a unique (yes, I am a bit crazy – but it’s all about preparation for riding all night!) aspect of this session is the normal start time is 2AM.

Total Time 6-8 Hours (percentages of Heart Rate (HR) are related to Threshold)

60 minutes – increase HR gradually to 75%
30 minutes with sets of 8 minutes at 85%, 4 minutes at 65%
60 minutes – spin at 90-100 RPM’s (HR goal 70%)
Run outside for 30 minute run (negative split 75% goal)
120 minutes – (sets of 15 minutes at 80% – 85%, 7 minutes at 60%)
60 minutes – (sets of 5 minutes – larger gear at 85%, 5 minutes 60%)|
Run outside 30 minutes easy 70%
30-60 minutes recovery at 60%, spin at 90-100 RPM’s

Consider incorporating indoor bike trainers into your year-round program. The focus would be to use it as a supplement to the cycling training. There are significant benefits which include recovery rides, mental toughness and tracking of fitness progression. Have fun!

By Wayne Kurtz

Wayne Kurtz is founder of and Endurance Racing Report,  he has a lifelong passion for racing in various endurance sport races throughout the world. He is also the author of: ‘Beyond the Iron, a training guide for ultra-distance triathlons.’