in Place Training indoors: trainers, rollers, stationary bikes
Running has the treadmill while cycling has the stationary trainer.
Both can consume great amounts of energy without actually taking you
But when riding outdoors is not an option, cyclists resort to riding
Why ride indoors?
First, let’s talk about why indoor training may be necessary.
Right now, in Ohio, an obvious answer is the white stuff currently blanketing
our landscape. To be out on the road is not safe right now. The
roads are narrow due to plowed snow and automobile drivers are having
enough challenges with the roadway conditions. Passing a cyclist on a
narrow back road can make for a delicate situation this time of year.
A tall pile of snow in front of the shop.
Cold temperatures may be enough reason for some riders to abandon the
thought of riding outdoors. It is possible, and dare we say comfortable,
to ride in some pretty cold weather with the right gear, but everyone
has their limit for the lowest temperature and wind chill they are willing
Even during summertime there may be cause to ride indoors. Thunderstorms,
rain, or high wind may promote an indoor training session.
Sometimes our busy schedules prevent the time needed to ride outdoors.
Maybe you have to ride ten miles to reach good training roads but you
have time for twenty roundtrip miles just to get out and back. An indoor
session allows you to do a short warm-up and get right to work.
If you find time to train early in the morning or later in the evening,
lack of sufficient daylight may be another cause to move indoors. Of
course a bike lighting system (see our article here) allows you to ride
in dark conditions, but an indoor trainer is another option.
One last thought, certain types of training may be better accomplished
indoors. If attempting to follow a training program, it may be easier
to ride at prescribed intensities indoors. Timed intervals, for example,
may be difficult to do outdoors due to road or traffic conditions, but
these variables are eliminated indoors.
In this article we will present three common options for riding indoors:
trainers, rollers and stationary bikes. Each has its advantages and disadvantages,
so let’s look at each one in detail. But first, here's a video
we made at the shop showing each of the three pieces of equipment in
For cyclists who wish to use their own bike for indoor riding, resistance
trainers have become a popular choice. These devices consist of
a frame which locks onto the rear axle of your bike and a resistance
unit that engages your bike’s rear wheel. The bike is held a couple
inches off the ground by the trainer’s frame, allowing you to pedal
the bike as normal. Of course there is no balancing or steering needed
because the bike is locked rigidly in place. The stability of the bike
on the trainer is a function of the trainer stand’s design and
construction, one feature separating good from not-so-good trainer
Stationary trainer: Jon uses a riser
block to elevate the bike's front wheel.
The resistance unit on a trainer consists of a drum that engages the
rear wheel. The drum is pressed against the rear wheel by cranking a
knob when the bike is first placed into the trainer. This crank adjustment
is not adjusting the resistance of the unit, it is merely ensuring the
bike’s rear wheel does not slip on the drum.
There are several different types of resistance units available including
wind, magnetic, and fluid. Each has unique characteristics in regard
to the “feel” of the resistance when pedaling your bike on
As you pedal a fluid resistance trainer your rear wheel turns the
drum on the resistance unit. The drum is turning an impeller
within a housing
The resistance is not directly related to the speed at which your rear
wheel turns. Rather, the resistance is progressive and increases at faster
speeds, providing a more "road-like" feel. These units are
typically the most quiet type of trainer resistance units.
This trainer uses fluid resistance. The sealed
resistance unit is on the left.
several implementations of magnetic resistance units. They basically
work by turning a magnet attached to the drum against a fixed magnet
within the resistance unit. The resistance of this setup may be
directly related to speed, although some designs change the magnetic
interaction as speed changes and approximate a fluid trainer’s
resistance. On less expensive trainers the resistance is manually selected
with a control level you mount on your handlebars.
resistance units are nearly as quiet as fluid trainers. There is variation
in price for magnetic trainers, depending on the complexity of the magnetic
resistance unit design, but they are generally less expensive than fluid
A wind trainer is the most basic type of trainer. A fan is turned by
the drum and the resistance is a result of the fan having to move air
to turn. While the resistance is progressive, like a fluid trainer, these
units are noisy due to the fan. Wind trainers are the lowest price point
Expect a price range of $150 to $400 for a trainer.
As the name suggests, rollers consist of… well, rollers. There
are three roller drums mounted in a frame. The two, rear rollers are
positioned such that the rear wheel of your bike sits between these rollers.
The position of the front roller is adjustable so it can be set at an
appropriate distance from the rear rollers to accommodate your bike’s
wheel base length.
Rollers: Stan has developed a
smooth pedal stroke by riding rollers
To ride on the rollers, you set your bike atop the device and by stepping
on the frame of the rollers you throw a leg over the bike. The bike
is not held by the rollers in any way, it is simply resting atop the
roller’s drums, so it is necessary to pedal in order to remain
upright. It’s a bit of an adventure the first few times you ride
rollers. Many people start off with the rollers positioned in a doorway
or along a wall so they can catch themselves should they let the bike
wander off the rollers. It should be mentioned there is no chance of
sliding off the rollers and unexpectedly launching forward as the wheels
hit the ground. You do not have any momentum while riding the rollers,
so the moment your wheels leave the rollers the wheels stop and you fall
over or hopefully catch yourself.
The bike is not attached to the rollers,
it is free to move side to side.
So why ride this crazy contraption? The biggest benefit of rollers is
they force you to be smooth while riding them, else you wildly move left
and right on the drums. A smooth, circular pedal stroke is instantly
rewarded with a steadiness on the rollers, and a smooth pedal stroke
is more efficient.
A roller workout mostly focuses on smooth spinning with moderate to
high cadence pedaling. You probably will not be doing resistance related
intervals on rollers. Most rollers do not have any type of resistance
device, however some do offer a resistance device that attaches to the
Within the rollers category there is a large difference in cost.
More expensive units have higher grade bearings and better balanced rollers,
providing a smoother and quieter ride.
Some cyclists say rollers are more entertaining and less of
a chore to train on because they require greater attention than riding
a bike locked into a trainer.
Expect a price range of $200 to $500 for a set of rollers.
With a stationary bike or spinning bike your “outdoor bike” is
not used. Instead you have a dedicated piece of exercise equipment for
your indoor riding.
Spinning bike: Roger enjoys the
A typical stationary bike allows adjustment of seat height and fore/aft
seat position. The pedals have loops to capture the toes of your athletic
shoes while pedaling. Resistance is manually adjusted with the crank
of a knob. More expensive models have electronic displays where resistance
is changed with button presses or a programmed “course” provides
varying resistance as a workout elapses.
A spinning bike typically allows more adjustability than a stationary
bike. In addition to saddle position, handlebars are adjustable. These
adjustments allow you to set the spinning bike to a similar geometry
to your road bike. You can use a pair of clipless pedals with the spinning
bike to gain the advantages of riding in your cycling shoes. A spinning
bike has a large flywheel that is driven by pedaling. Resistance is varied
by turning a dial and changing the friction applied to the flywheel.
A belt drive helps make the spinning bike whisper quiet while in use.
A high quality spinning bike, such as this Lemond
can go many years
miles without need for maintenance.
Stationary bikes and trainers are well built to provide years of maintenance
free use. Using one of these pieces of indoor exercise equipment saves
wear and tear on your outdoor bike (keep in mind cogs, chains, shifters
and cables on your outdoor bike are worn from use when your bike is setup
on a trainer or rollers).
Expect a price range of $500, for an entry level spinning bike, to $1000+
for a club quality spinning bike.
Indoor training can be a great way to maintain or improve your fitness
year round, regardless of weather conditions. Stop by the shop to try
a trainer, rollers, or stationary bike and decide which piece of equipment
is best for you.