Riding indoors: A whole new world!

The wind whips against your dry, cracked face. The unrelenting cold of mid february coupled with the extra weight of the holidays drags your body downward, each step and movement a source of another ache and sore. As you make your way home from another long day, you remember the neglected promises of the new year. With the deficit of self care due for reconciliation, you pull that bike out of the garage and dust off the old trusty trainer. Time to pay your debt to yourself. You begin to painstakingly churn out those first dreadful miles. Your choice to suffer now, rather than face the ridicule when it's 70 degrees out, and all your riding buddies have been secretly training away. You know that you can suffer now in the privacy of your basement or suffer on that first ride out with friends; and you know you want to spare yourself the embarrassment. 

Ok, maybe I am projecting here a little bit, but what I want to share with you in this column are the advancements that have taken place in the indoor cycling space, that I dare say have made what was once a dreadful experience into one that is “almost” fun. 

Indoor cycling devices, or as we call it in the cycling industry “trainers”, have been in use going as far back as 1884. These looked like bikes from the time with one large front wheel and a small trailing wheel. As the bike evolved into what it looks like today, the trainer evolved as well. Fast forward to the 70’s and the trainer evolved into a close resemblance of what it looks like today. 

This contraption held the rear wheel off the ground by clamping both sides of the rear axle and resistance was provided by a small drum that pushed up against the rear tire creating friction. This style was further refined with the form of resistance evolving, from wind as the force to create the drag, to magnets, and finally to an enclosed fluid system providing progressive resistance. This at the time was the pinnacle and most road-like. There was one trainer that paved the way for what we have today and that was CompuTrainer. It was way ahead of its time in the mid-’90s as it gave us a glimpse of what was to come. It measured your power output and on a computer screen, you were able to race an avatar. The trainer landscape stayed the same until the end of 2012 when Wahoo introduced the Kickr. This trainer eschewed the rise of the “smart trainer”. The smart trainer is a unit that looks very similar to the trainers of the past except it connects to a power source and ultimately the internet. To distill this down to its simplest form, you could now ride virtually against other people all over the world. 

The final evolution of the trainer is a standalone, stationary bike. These resemble a gym bike or a Peloton, but what differentiates them and makes them smart vs the aforementioned is all smart trainers give you progressive resistance. Meaning if you are going up a 10% grade in the virtual world, the trainer will simulate that effort. It will also simulate riding in a group where you are protected from the wind (drafting), therefore reducing your effort. These trainer bikes make for the most realistic riding experience. Some of the bike trainers have features that simulate climbing or descending by raising or lowering the front end and some have fans built in to simulate speed. We are only at the beginning of the virtual world of indoor riding. It will only be a matter of time before we are using full headsets and then rooms that simulate temperature and a 360-degree view. 

As we all know now our world has evolved into a series of apps, and it is no different in the world of training. The multitude of smart trainers available now all work with a plethora of apps that give you experiences ranging from riding around an active volcano in a virtual world to riding up Alpe D'huez with real footage of the ascent passing you by, dictated by the pace of your pedals. 

This is how I dare say riding indoors has now almost become fun. Gone are the days of watching your favorite movie on your VCR while you churned out the miles. Now the riding is interactive, where you can ride virtually with your friends, join a group ride or even participate in a race all from the comfort of your home. There is something about riding where you are now accountable to the outside world. Being seen, or worse, passed, really makes you dig just a little bit deeper giving you that dynamic workout that was never achievable with a “dumb” trainer watching the news. 

As with most things in today’s world that were once easy to navigate, trainers have multiplied to a dizzying number, let alone the number of apps to go with them, making the decision of which one to buy even more complicated. Due to the multitude of different features, knowing which is 

best for you can eat up hours of time researching. Instead of spending hours trying to figure it out, I would strongly recommend heading into your local bike shop where they can guide you through all the nuances and even help you download and navigate whichever app you choose to accompany your smart trainer. The technical part can be overwhelming for some and it is a 

great feeling to know that you have the support of a phone call or a visit to your favorite bike shop to answer all your questions. 

I am not saying getting on the smart trainer will be easy. It will not, but much like when riding outdoors, once you get going you realize how good it feels to be exercising. Instead of a static ride experience resembling a neverending mud hole or headwind, smart trainers get you engaged, giving you a dynamic workout that is much more pleasant and productive. I hope to see you in the virtual world riding your bike, lapping all the people surfing their couches, real soon!