Getting the Best from Indoor Training and Racing
Indoor training isn’t new, but it has certainly got a lot more interesting and popular in recent years. It has evolved into much more than just ‘training’, it’s a whole world of interaction, games and racing competitions. And right now, with the COVID-19 outbreak there’s a significant spike in uptake, along with a lot of questions.
We'll try to answer some, including:
- Who is indoor cycling for?
- What new equipment and subscriptions are worth investing in?
- What are the best ways in for newcomers?
- How can experienced indoor riders get the best fitness, fun and value?
With moves to curb the effects of the coronavirus outbreak, much of the world’s cycling population have been unable to get out on the roads. For some of us that means not at all, even individually, group cycling events have become a global no-go. There’s been a shift in the way people ride and train, and the use of indoor cycle trainers is experiencing a spike.
Indoor riding, training and racing – often including some degree of interaction – is approaching ubiquity, and these past weeks we’re all finding ourselves able to share along with many of the world’s top athletes and the pro peloton posting their indoor rides, set-ups and ideas on social media. Out of every difficult situation must come some good and the experiences of some riders this spring might develop new long-term habits, friendships and fun. This might just be the start of a whole new sustained level with indoor riding outlasting the pandemic.
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One of the obvious benefits of indoor training is the ability to ride regardless of weather conditions or daylight – the staples of established indoor winter training for road riders, triathletes and increasingly, mountain bikers. Indoor cycle training is also for athletes who don't necessarily regard themselves as primarily cyclists, but use cycling as part of their cross-training regime.
Less obvious perhaps amongst indoor cycling’s benefits are how efficient it is in other ways. By riding at home you can be around your family for longer, cutting down on 'luxuries’ like childcare. There’s an element of multi-tasking: listening to cycling podcasts or even indulging in ‘working from home’ from the convenience of your garage, spare room or dedicated training pain cave.
But there’s also the control you get with a virtual ride. Planned intervals are just that: no surprises from traffic or extended delays at junctions, no unpredicted headwinds turning a medium effort into max, or ‘bonus’ tailwinds to skew your figures.
And you can ride ‘with’ anyone, anywhere, any time. That doesn't mean it can’t be your local club members, regular ride buddies or training partners, it just means you’ve got a lot more choice of who else to include!
Where to start
There is an investment involved, but it may not be as big as you imagine, and it will almost certainly pay off. Firstly, there’s the trainer itself. There are lots of different brands and some different levels of technology and features (we’ll explain a little more soon) and apps to consider: most of which work on a subscription basis to access training plans, data, ‘virtual worlds’ and many other connectivity features.
Beyond that, not much. Most contemporary bikes are compatible with many of today’s trainers: road, tri/TT and mountain bikes with different frame and fork materials, wheel sizes, axle standards and drivetrains work with the hardware from leading trainer brands, albeit with some adaptors required here and there. There’s something of a tradition of reserving ‘old’ bikes for riding indoors, but we’re all for making your ride as comfortable and efficient as possible with the best equipment!
You might want a stand for your tablet/laptop and mats to cut down noise, and accommodate the inevitable dripping sweat! Lightweight, breathable clothing and well-ventilated shoes are recommended, and riding in the safety of your own home is the ideal place to try out new equipment such as upgrades (we’ll highlight some CeramicSpeed drivetrain upgrades to consider), and to perfect your hydration and nutrition routines as well as working on your legs and lungs!
It’s quite ok to use an indoor trainer ‘just’ for training. At the simplest level, a set of rollers can help you spin your legs without leaving your house, or a ‘traditional’ resistance trainer can have you riding some virtual gradients. Building or maintaining fitness (or minimising loss of fitness), working on weight loss or more specific targets such as more climbing or explosive sprint power are all benefits to utilizing an indoor trainer.
But there is a lot more on offer. The ‘virtual worlds’ of gamified cycling apps means you can join in a ride on either a replica of a real route or on a fantasy course. You’re linked up with visuals on a screen: be that a computer, tablet, smartphone or maybe a multiplex-level plasma widescreen depending on how bling your pain-cave budget is.
If you’re used to training indoors, maybe the best favour you can do for friends, club-mates (or even complete strangers), is to help them set up indoors, keep moving and get hooked!
Choose the right hardware
In short there are three types to consider: rollers, traditional indoor trainers and smart trainers.
Rollers, the simplest option, have advantages and drawbacks. Control, resistance and communication with training apps for measuring wattage, cadence, heart rate, etc, are highly limited, and the ‘gamification’ options are almost non-existent. But they’re cheap, quick and easy to setup, and have almost universal compatibility. They’re also simple to use – albeit with an initial learning curve in terms of balancing! – and, being easy to transport, are great for warm-ups/downs at races for any discipline when we can go back outside (if you don’t already have a set, rollers are an investment to consider on that basis alone).
Traditional – or ‘classic’ – indoor trainers are a good choice for riders who want regular home workouts, with active resistance, but don’t require the advanced gamification. They typically have a limited amount of connectivity to ‘talk to’ training apps that deliver the information to change resistance to replicate hills, reps, and so on.
Smart – or ‘interactive’ – trainers are what’s really taken off. Advanced wireless connectivity (usually Bluetooth, ANT+ or both) link up with apps running on your computer or smartphone. The accuracy and speed of the software’s manipulations of topography and conditions are reflected in the changing resistance of the hardware connected to your bike. The fact that this is real-time, online, immersed in ‘virtual courses’, and, if you choose, hooked up to many, many other riders, that you can ride with or against, is where this concept really comes into its own.
With both traditional and smart trainers there are model types where you keep the rear wheel on your bike, clamped in a stable frame at the rear axle, and with the tyre pushing against mini-rollers which are driven with resistance by either magnetic or fluid systems.
‘Wheel-off’ systems are the most advanced and accurate, as they are driven directly through the drivetrain, with a cassette mounted on an axle on the machine that integrates with your chain, rear derailleur and the rest of your bike to. Without the variances caused by tyre, roller or wheel flex, there’s a high accuracy of power and real-time data transfer, so those virtual experiences can feel incredibly real!
Matching a wheel-off smart trainer with a cutting-edge app allows the workouts to really can be fun.
A world of Apps
There are a number of competitive apps for interactive indoor cycling. They’re mostly available on a subscription basis, and while some are free, many have free trials, and there’s usually a bundle deal with hardware. There are also proprietary systems that come with the hardware.
Options include TrainerRoad, which is focussed on training plans and workouts; a serious fitness choice with a clean interface but without the flashy visuals or gameplay. Then there’s Sufferfest, one of the longest-standing apps that majors on applying the interactive resistance technology to real pro race footage on your screen (there are also a number of interval-based training plans). B-Kool is another simulator that provides real-life road riding footage linked to an interactive engine – the harder you pedal, the faster your immersive B-Kool world zips by. And VirtuGo, currently in Beta and showing a lot of promise, offers virtual 3D worlds (like Zwift), but based on real-life locations – hills, mainly! It also has training sessions targeting different types of riders: climber, crit racer and time trialists.
But there’s no doubting that the daddy of indoor apps is Zwift...
While Zwift does have a wide range of structured training tools, with workout modes and intervals that you can make, import and follow, it’s the depth, quality and detail of the immersive, interactive worlds that really set Zwift apart. And within them, the speed and convincing accuracy of changing resistance levels to recreate climbs and speed changes are what wins a lot of people over. The fact that you can ride with, alongside or against other Zwifters from anywhere in the world – friends, foes, WorldTour pros – that’s truly impressive. It’s a massive multiplayer videogame that makes your legs hurt.
Zwift’s level of interactivity is like no other indoor cycling app. You can join in with a friend’s ride, wherever they may be, or create a Meetup, where you can choose the (virtual) world, the course, distance/duration, and of course who’s in – with room for up to 50 riders. There are various ways to interact with the other riders, and in a Meetup everyone there can see all the chatter.
Ride with the Pro’s
All the pro road teams are using some kind of structured indoor training set-up at the moment – with the racing calendar on pause, teams like Astana Pro Team and Israel Start-Up Nation are among those using their OSPW Systems, Bottom Brackets and other CeramicSpeed upgrades to their advantage.
Check out CeramicSpeed-powered triathlete David McNamee making the best of things and sharing his ‘day job’ breakdown.
And mountain bikers are also keeping their training up, along with the social side. Centurion Vaude have been running a “Ride with us” session on Zwift every weekday evening. The idea is training together, combining fitness and friendship.
Centurion Vaude’s pro mountain bikers will also be enjoying the smooth-running efficiency benefits of their CeramicSpeed OSPW and Bottom Brackets. Saving Watts and getting the most efficient, smooth ride that accurately matches the data transmitted through the combined hardware/software system not only increases the accuracy but also the feeling.
Full-on indoor racing
And of course, there’s racing. In fact, there’s a full-on structured e-sports world. Races are scheduled in the Zwift Calendar, and organised by ability, just as you would a real-road crit race, but instead of Cat 1 or 2, your sorted by power brackets, specifically, your Functional Threshold Power (FTP) which, roughly speaking, is the kind of power output you can maintain over an hour without significant fatigue. Any Zwifter can save and analyse their race performances.
The e-sports pro race leagues – the KISS Super League – with men’s and women’s pro teams, have course distances typically around 25 miles mixing the Zwift fantasy worlds with authentic replica interpretations of real courses. You can watch online, just like a ‘real’ race, and there are regular community races following a similar format.
Canyon ZCC are among the finest teams who dedicate their efforts to riding on Zwift, and they’re also getting the racing advantages of CeramicSpeed equipment, just like their asphalt-bound counterparts. Of course, they ride Canyon bikes, a long-term CeramicSpeed partner, and Canyon ZCC are fully loaded with smooth-spinning bottom brackets, watt-saving OSPW Systems and slick UFO Chains.
“I’m stoked to see CeramicSpeed joining us and having now raced with the new setup,” said Canyon ZCC rider Lionel Vujasin. “I can confirm that the feeling of total smoothness combined with improvement in power transfer it gives to the bike is unbelievable.”
Let’s take this outside!
It’s addictive being shoulder to shoulder with the pros in the world of eRacing and its effective training at home, whether that’s the regime of following a strict plan or the camaraderie of Watopia-like challenges.
At some point, the world will return to ‘normal’ and when we get back to the roads and singletrack we can take many benefits of home training with us and make time on the trainer work harmoniously with time on the tarmac and trail, as part of an overall plan.
Until then, stay safe, stay fit, and stay in touch.