• Ally Mackay

Guide To Indoor Cycling

So, I reckon we’re all in agreement that nothing comes even remotely close to getting outside into the Big Wide World and going headfirst down some gnarly trails on two wheels. Am I right? It’s a bit of a problem though when the Big Wide World isn’t available for one reason or another.

There might be a foot or two of white powder on the ground. Maybe your daylight hours are so full that your only chance of going riding is in the middle of the night. Possibly you have to stay home and wait for the plumber to turn up and fix that leaky tap. Or, and I know this is unlikely, there might even be a global pandemic leading to a full-on lockdown situation.

We’re living in funny old times and anything could happen to keep you in the house and away from the trails.

But there must be some alternative when you’ve been grounded like that? Surely?

Well, luckily, there is. It’s called indoor cycling and it’s a fantastic way of keeping your bike fitness up and your mental health intact.

Ben Jones, founder of BicycleVolt https://bicyclevolt.com/ (sadly, grounded by his mum since the early 90s), takes a look as the ins and outs (mainly ins, obviously) of cycling indoors.

Let’s start with a definition. What do we mean when we talk about indoor cycling? It’s actually really simple. What we mean is cycling inside (in your house/flat/garage) on a stationary bike. There are two main ways of doing this. Either you get a dedicated exercise bike, which can either be upright or recumbent, and pedal away to your heart’s content. Or you can take your outdoor bike inside, fit it to a special bike stand, and pedal pedal pedal.

What’s the point of indoor cycling?

It’s a question that’s often asked and, I think, there are some pretty powerful answers.

"Cycling indoors was a huge help in keeping my bike fitness up…and making me a nicer guy to be with"

In my life so far there have been plenty of times when I haven’t been able to cycle. Sometimes it’s been due to injuries. Occasionally, work’s been too hectic. Other times, it’s just been a case of ‘life’ getting in the way. Whenever those happened, I’d find that my strength, stamina, and happiness levels would drop like stones sinking in a puddle. Cycling indoors was a huge help in keeping my bike fitness up…and making me a nicer guy to be with.

Pedalling away on an indoor cycle can be a great way of helping yourself recover from injury when it’s used as part of program of physio. You’re maybe not feeling up to hitting the bike trails yet, or possibly your doctor isn’t ready for you to do that! But indoor cycling can allow you to build yourself back up in a safe and gradual way. Right now, you might not have the staying power for a full day’s pedalling in the Big Wide World. On the indoor bike though you can gradually work on your strength and staying power. A little every day throughout this week, then slowly increase the time as you get stronger. Getting kitted up to go to the bike trails for a few minutes would be kinda frustrating, so just take it steadily and pop on the indoor bike instead.

With an indoor bike set up at home you can get a bike ride in even if you don’t have a proper chunk of time on offer. Possibly you’ve got a small child you can park in front of the TV for a bit. Maybe it’s Mother’s Day and you can combine it with a phone call back to remind your mum that you’re still alive. But, whatever the excuse, it can be a great chance to get on the bike trainer and have a pedal. You’ll feel better for it, your child will get their fix of Peppa Pig, and your mum will be delighted. It’s a win all round.

Where can you pedal indoors?

Here’s the good news: you can do it anywhere and you don’t need a great deal of space to do it in.

Unlike Big Wide World biking, the only space you’ll actually need is the footprint of your bike and a little extra round the edges. That’s if you’re using your own bike and a bike stand. But if you’ve got a dedicated spin bike (such as a Peloton bike) then you can get away with even less. Maybe as little as 60cm x 120cm.

Take a look round the rooms in your home and I’m sure you’ll find the odd place here and there that you could fit a bike in. Maybe in the study (it’s not like you actually do any work in there anyway…) Possibly it’s in a spare room (once you’ve cleared away all the junk and clean washing that’s accumulated).

A useful Pro Tip is to actually take your indoor bike setup….outdoors. Yeah, I know that this might sound a bit daft, but if you’ve got a covered canopy or back porch then it’s a great space to use for this. Stationary biking can get fairly warm and sticky without the headwind that you generate when you’re speeding down a trail. Some indoor cyclists use a fan to give them a bit of breeze but it’s nicer if you can get a blast of fresh air instead.

Kit list.

The simple answer, though it’s also the most pricey, is to buy an exercise bike. This has the benefit of not having the faff of dragging your MTB into the house whenever you want to cycle inside. But it comes with a price.

You may have noticed that indoor cycling has boomed in the last few years with US brands like Peloton supplying fancy kit with screens integrated between the handlebars, streaming workout classes live 24hrs a day.

As you might expect these are far from being cheap. A basic bike from Peloton will cost you just under £2k, then there’s the monthly subs for the classes (£39pcm). Oh, and the Peloton accessories…

Fans of Peloton are though some of the most hard-core fanatics that I’ve ever come across. They might even come close to mountain bikers…

One step down from Peloton is a more basic, less whizz bang, stationary bike. There are some excellent brands available in this space – check out names like Wattbike and NordicTrack. These come in at a wide range of prices – anywhere from £250 up to £1700 dependent on the quality of the components and the extras that they ship with. Unfortunately, they don’t have the on-demand high-energy workouts beamed to a screen sat in front of your face. But you can always look outside at the birds and squirrels in the Big Wide World as you pedal.

Maybe you’d like to use your own bike for indoor cycling instead? There are some advantages to this in that (a) you won’t have to pay out cash for a second bike to use inside, (b) you won’t need to find space to store another bike if you already keep your outdoor one inside, and (c) the bike will be set up and adjusted just right for you.

There are two main options available when you want to use your own bike, these are turbo trainers and rollers. Turbo trainers fix to your bike (usually by attaching to the rear hub) and hold your bike upright. Most models will have the facility to change the resistance levels as you pedal to make it easier or harder.

Rollers tend to be much simpler and normally consist of three cylinders that can spin and are attached to a frame that goes on the floor. Because of this simple construction they don’t offer any resistance whilst you pedal.

For both of these systems I’d recommend that you change your tyres (or have spare wheels ready) when you want to use them. It’s not an essential, but a set of slicks will give less vibration. A cheap set of tyres is all that you’ll need for this. Nothing fancy.

Indoor cyclists, especially road bikers, tend to go more for the turbo trainers. Both types have their advantages and disadvantages. I used to prefer turbos as well but now I’m much more of a fan of bike rollers.

Let’s kick off with turbo trainers. Because your bike is fixed to them, they’re easy to balance on and fairly easy to set up once you’ve had a bit of practice. They also have some great integrations with apps like Zwift and TrainerRoad. These are all road biking apps and sadly there’s nothing for MTBers yet – but if you search on YouTube there are trail videos you can pedal to. A turbo will set you back between £150 to around £450.

"Rollers are my favourite though"

Rollers are my favourite though. And they’re the cheapest option of all. You’d think that they were a disaster that was about to happen, wouldn’t you? As we know from our childhood, trying to keep your balance on a bicycle whilst also pedalling takes a lot of hard concentration and determined effort. Doing all that whilst trying to stay on top of a set of spinning tubes sounds nigh on impossible. And, of course, it is. But really that’s the whole point of it.

Turbos give your legs a good workout. Do it properly and you’ll only be able to stagger off and collapse onto the sofa. But they don’t work many of your other muscles. In contrast, rollers give your body a full workout. That’s because, in trying to balance, you’ll need to constantly adjust your body position and keep your abs and lower back muscles tight. Six-pack, here we come!

It does take a bit of practice to use rollers, but you can make it easier to begin with by setting up your roller and bike inside a sturdy doorway. This gives you something to lean up against / gently bounce off. It won’t take long before you’ve got your balance point sorted though.

Because they’re a simple piece of equipment, rollers are also amongst the cheapest to buy. You can get a decent quality one for £100-£200.

Summing up indoor cycling.

I get it, being on your mtb outdoors is a whole (Big Wide) world away from indoor cycling.

If you don’t have any other options though than to cycle indoors, then I think it’s worth taking a closer look at it. It’s great for short bursts of activity that can really keep your fitness levels up. So, when you get out onto the trails again, you can really hit them running. Or, y’know, biking. 

Have a great time whether you’re indoors or out. Ben just recently started up his blog Bicycle Volt. Check out his site bicyclevolt.com and follow his Facebook page here.

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