Indoor cycle training guide: traditional and smart trainers, and the best apps

Apr 16, 2020, 14:30 PM

Professional athletes all over the world are facing the Coronavirus COVID-19 emergency by training indoors, thanks to a new generation of  home trainers and supporting software. More and more people are transforming their living rooms or garages into efficient indoor training facilities to help keep their shape and release their stress. The choice of equipment is huge and it’s easy to get confused, especially for the beginners. 

For example, what’s the difference between rollers and turbo trainers? And between ‘traditional’ and connected, or ‘smart’ trainers? Let’s shed some light on these and other topics.

The different kinds of indoor bike trainers

The traditional turbo trainer is the simplist, and most economical way to train efficiently at home. It’s quite common for professional riders to use them before races to warm up or just after, to aid recovery. In the simplest models, the rear wheel is secured to the trainer’s frame with its tyre pressing against a roller whose resistance can be adjusted, most often using a small lever fixed to the handlebars, to regulate the amount of effort required.


The most basic models can be quite noisy, which is something to consider, especially if it is to be used in an apartment. In such a case, it’s worth considering a magnetic resistance trainer which produces less noise but increases the cost. Other variants use liquid-filled chambers or centrifugal pressure mechanisms to create resistance; the noise is greatly reduced, but these are the more expensive options.


Another quieter option than the traditional 'wheel-on trainer' is the direct drive trainer model where the bike’s rear wheel is removed and the chain connects directly onto the sprocket set located on the roller itself. These models are very stable and capable of simulating high wattages and steep climbs. They are ideal for undertaking good quality training, similar to that out on the road, including strength work and interval sessions.


We must also mention the ‘free rollers’ with the three cylinders in a frame that are free to turn: there is no lock or clamp for the bike, so the rider has to be well balanced and focused.


The best models (traditional or smart) can be adapted for use by both road bikes and mountain bikes.


Smart or connected trainers


Whatever the model chosen, home trainers can be connected to produce a 'smart' home trainer: this has become very popular as it gives the rider the chance to reproduce a race at home or train in a group. Smart trainers keep cyclists far from the boredom, opening up virtual worlds where riders can challenge themselves or compete against thousands of other users. These models also display important training information such as speed, power and cadence.


The roller is motorised with resistance levels to simulate a climb and make pedalling harder, requiring the use of gears, or a descent. To use these kind of trainers it’s necessary to link up to a computer with good hardware (especially the processor) and a screen, even better if it’s panoramic! The price of a smart trainer is of course higher than a traditional one. The most popular models are able to connect to not only their own software, but also to the more advanced apps such as Zwift or The Sufferfest.


Tacx offers a wide choice of interactive and immersive indoor smart trainers including the Neo 2T Smart which can reach virtual inclines up to 25%, simulate a maximum power output of 2200 watts and different types of terrain. Elite also produces interactive home trainers such as Suito, using technology like ANT+ and Bluetooth Smart protocols to communicate wirelessly. In the Wahoo catalog there are several models including the very powerful Kickr which delivers professional results.


There are several excellent applications that can be used on smartphone, computer or tablet – for iOS and Android – connected to the hardware outlined above. Zwift recreates existing routes and landscapes from London to New York to Richmond to Innsbruck and also imaginary environments like the huge Watopia.


The Sufferfest is a popular, science-based app which includes a huge collection of structured cycling workouts, yoga for cyclists, strength and mental training - all wrapped up in a huge range of training plans. The Sufferfest also uses an advanced ‘4DP’ power profile to ensure all workouts are customised to an athlete’s full capabilities. The Sufferfest uses real footage of past races – such as the UCI Road World Championships – in their workouts giving riders a chance to feel like a pro. 


Riders can also explore the world with the Tacx training app, which has a library filled with more than 150 training films including actual footage of the Mont Ventoux, Col du Galibier, Passo dello Stelvio and many other legendary rides.


With BKool you can climb the Alpe d'Huez, tackle the Flanders Classics, experience the emotion of riding the velodrome or the natural parks of America. Other options include TrainerRoad, an analytic tool for intensive workouts, and FulGaz, an app to ride real cycling routes. A relatively new platform is Bikevo, an AI-based app developed by the Italian National Team coaches, which enables the user to switch between indoor and outdoor training over the seasons. 


This is just a brief overview of a market that is expanding rapidly.


Whichever hardware and software suits you, indoor training is a viable and healthy way to face the global emergency. It takes care of mind and body, helps people have fun, and keeps them connected in this unprecedented moment in history.


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