Indoor Cycling

INDOOR CYCLING: Better than the great outdoors?

indoor-cyclingThe prospect of indoor cycling during the long, cold winter months is more than many endurance athletes can bear. No wonder: They resign themselves to hours on the “trainer”, banging their heads with their favorite tunes and worn out tapes on the VCR. If only the sensory overload would somehow reduce the monotony help pass the time more quickly!

Before you reach into the closet this year to blow the dust off your old indoor cycling equipment for another go ’round, let’s revisit the idea behind all of this. Specifically, let’s go over the basics of indoor cycling: the available equipment, the training essentials, and some sample drills and workouts. By the time you’re through with this brief review you may actually welcome the time spent in the controlled, safe indoor environment. And who knows, you could become so excited with your progress that you’ll forget to crank the tunes before each session. OK, let’s not get carried away…

Various options exist for riding your bike indoors with “new and improved” mechanisms appearing all the time. To decide which option is right for you, it’s important to become familiar with the pros and cons of each:

The oldest and most established piece of equipment used for indoor cycling is a set of rollers. If you’ve ever seen a set, but never rode a bike on one, you may wonder how in the world anyone can balance a bike on a configuration of three (or four) parallel metal drums. The answer has to do with the band connecting the front and rear drums, and the angular momentum generated by the spinning bike wheels.

Positives: Excellent for practicing balance and improving pedaling efficiency.

Negatives: Can be unstable and unsafe for inexperienced riders. Also, resistance against pedaling only increases linearly and tapers off as steady speeds are achieved. This does not reflect “real life” conditions on the road, where it becomes much harder to pedal faster as speeds are increased. Rollers aren’t very portable, either.

Wind Load Simulators:
First introduced by RacerMate in 1976, this training aide was designed to increase pedaling resistance by driving a specially designed fan off the bike’s spinning rear wheel. The object of this design is to increase this resistance quadratically (making it much harder to pedal faster as speeds are increased), thereby simulating actual outdoor conditions.

Positives: Realistic resistance during pedaling.

Negatives: Rear wheel is held firmly in place and the rider therefore is not forced to practice balance, spinning, and other bike handling skills. Also, wind load fans are EXTREMELY LOUD when pedaling at higher speeds.

Magnetic Trainers:
The designs for these training aides tend to be similar to wind load simulators, with the main difference being that the resistance is generated by magnets rather than by a fan passing through air. Because of this difference the “mag” trainers are noticeably less noisy than wind load trainers.

Positives: Doesn’t inhibit the rider’s ability to hear, which leaves greater possibility for entertainment options.

Negatives: Mag trainers combine the negative aspects of rollers with the negative aspects of wind trainers. As with rollers, pedaling resistance with mag trainers is linear (unrealistic). As with wind trainers, the rear wheel is held firmly in place and the rider doesn’t have to practice balancing and pedaling more efficiently.

Fluid Trainer
This product deserves special mention for its technical innovation. The unit is quiet and the resistence is realistic, as the unit’s spinning flywheel generates resistance using trapped viscous fluid within the rear drum. This resistance increases quadratically (as the square) as speed increases, and the ride is smooth and quiet.

Positives: Very lightweight and easily transported. Realistic ride.

Negatives: Rear wheel still held firmly in place.

“Hybrid” Trainers:
Some roller manufacturers have attempted to address their primary equipment shortcomings by figuring out different ways to increase resistance quadratically (as the square) as speed increases. Some have hooked up fans to the spinning rollers and others have simply increased the “dampening” resistance when a normal roller drum is spinning.

Positives: More realistic ride.

Negatives: Less portable and more expensive than the standard roller option.

Other manufacturers have attacked the market with self-contained, highly technical pieces of equipment that offer more complete solutions for indoor training. This market segment is lead again by RacerMate, this time with their CompuTrainer. These products often combine visual feedback, producing “real-time” data that reflects speed, pedal cadence, the rider’s heart rate, and even a means of monitoring the power output at different points during the pedal cycle.

Positives: Incredible amounts of useful feedback available during training, enabling the rider to train more efficiently and improve performance more effectively.

Negatives: Rather expensive, with prices above $1,000 per unit. Also, most of these models involve holding the rear wheel stationary. For more product information, visit the CompuTrainer web site.

Getting meaningful, useful feedback during indoor cycling is essential. Keep reminding yourself: This year you’re not just “spinning your wheels” until the perennial spring thaw. You’re going to establish some discipline and stick to your regimen. And the best way to do this is to increase the quality and amount of feedback during your training sessions, and record what you learn for future comparison. The three areas most important to monitor during training are your heart rate, speed, and time.

Heart Rate Monitoring:
If you’re going to ride effectively indoors, you’ve got to wear a heart rate monitor–there’s no way around it. Monitoring your exertion is important to ensure that you continue to train at the desired levels for a particular session. This includes achieving the high levels of stress during intense workouts, as well as holding your heart rate down during Endurance and Recovery Zone training sessions.

Speedometers / Cyclometers:
A standard cyclometer used during outdoor riding will provide meaningful information during training. The information available generally includes current, average, and maximum speeds; trip and overall distance traveled; and a timer. Monitoring the speeds achieved during stressful riding can help you record and track improvements over time. For training options that hold the front wheel motionless you will need an adapter kit for driving your cyclometer feedback off the rear wheel.

Stop Watches:
By now every athlete on Earth has got to have access to a watch that includes a full functioning stop watch. In case you don’t you can also use the stop watch function on your cyclometer, or even the one your heart rate monitor might have, to determine the length of your training session. You may find it useful to have more than one stop watch available for timing individual repeats and sets within your training sessions.

Indoor Training Advantages

Riding indoors is actually superior to outdoor training options when it comes to performing drills designed to improve your cycling efficiency. The safe, controlled inside environment makes it possible to focus while evaluating your technique without worrying about the inherent dangers involved with riding on the roads. In the SuperCoach training program, we incorporate useful drills such as Isolated Leg Training.
Putting your bike on a trainer also provides a venue for experimenting with new equipment and other technical adjustments. Adjusting such things as seat post height and saddle position, as well as stem height, extension, and handlebar options, can be done more quickly, easily, and safely indoors. With appropriate feedback mechanisms in place you can better determine how to position your components to yield the best specific solution for you and your particular bike

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