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Indoor Bike Trainers for Beginners: 5 Frequently Asked Questions
Decades of recommendations, distilled into a five-question Q & A.
There doesn’t have to be an off-season when it comes to cycling. Use your bike 365 days/year with an indoor trainer. Not only will you reap the physical rewards, your mental health and wellness will get the needed care they deserve. What trainer is best for you? That is a loaded question.
We’ve been making indoor bike trainers for more than 30 years, and we’ve fielded a lot of questions over that time. Here you’ll find five of our most frequently asked questions on the topic of indoor cycling and bike trainers.
Q: I’m new to this whole trainer thing…what should I keep in mind when setting up a training space at home?
A: Welcome to the land of indoor training! The keyword for getting your training space set-up is: comfort. Here's some guidance to get you started.
- Make it fun! Approach setting up your trainer space like a cool and fun home improvement project. Plan out the riding space (aka: the place you will be spending time with your bike indoors) with a focus on time and efficiency for getting in rides.
- Plan ahead. Consider whether you can always leave the space intact, or if you need to store the trainer and set up after every ride. Think about how you plan to entertain yourself with apps, tablets, smart phones, or a television. Invest in the space under your trainer and bike as well, a good mat will prevent reverberating noise and prevent sweat from soaking into the carpeting or floors.
- Take a test ride. The first time you set up your trainer space, budget 15-30 minutes to get everything just right before you "start" your ride.
Here are additional set-up tips based on the type of indoor bike trainer you're using:
- If your bike trainer is of the basic, wheel-on, variety, like the Fluid2 you may need to adjust the trainer's feet to make sure you , your bike, and your trainer are perfectly level.
- If you're riding on a smart trainer, budget additional time to connect to the indoor cycling app of your choice, like Zwift or Rouvy.
- If you have a direct drive smart trainer, like the Saris H3, you will need to install a cassette and get the trainer attached properly to your bike before your first ride.
TL; DR: Get comfortable. The idea is to set up your space so that you will be comfortable for your entire ride.
Q: How can I stay motivated? Do you have any tips for keeping my energy up? (Apps, music, training programs?)
A: Motivation to ride indoors comes very easily to some people, but not everyone. If you have a race goal and structured training to do, that is great. Build a plan, follow a plan. If you just want to hold on to enough fitness so that the first outdoor ride is fun and easy, try one of these tips:
- Blend sports. Instead of riding the couch during a football game, ride your trainer. When the offense snaps that ball, do a hard effort and then recover between whistles.
- Make a playlist. A mixed tempo playlist, that is. Warm-up to a mid-tempo song, then alternate between fast, up-beat tracks and mellow tracks. Headphones are a good idea so you can crank it up without anyone else in the house rolling their eyes at your track selections.
- Race the pros. Find footage of a race on YouTube and try to do what the racers are doing. Fast forward through the race so that coverage ends when you want your workout to end. Ideally, you’ll be sprinting for the win at the end of the stream.
- Try a cycling app. Rouvy and Zwift are two popular apps that make indoor training more immersive. A monthly subscription and a speed sensor are all you need for the most basic experience.
For next-level motivation, a smart trainer may do the trick. It can provide key insights into your riding and can control your ride through electronic resistance. Want to feel that hill that is the key to state road race next year? Download it. Want to race on Zwift all winter long? A smart bike trainer will help immerse you into the ride.
Q: How should I measure rate of exertion when training at home?
A: There are three common ways to measure rate of exertion:
- Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE). Generally measured on a scale of 1-10, RPE is a gut check on how hard you think you are working. Measuring RPE requires no additional gear, and can be tracked in a training journal by simply recording how hard you went for that day’s workout.
- Heart Rate (HR). Measuring exertion via heart rate requires some additional gear in the form of a heart rate (HR) monitor, plus an app or bike computer to display the reading. HR monitors are inexpensive and accurate. Your personal heart rate will vary based on age and current fitness. HR will also very greatly depending on day-to-day health, stress and even hydration.
- Power. Power, as measured by watts, tells you how hard you are turning the pedals. Power measurement is the gold standard in cycling because it is consistent. Watts don’t change day-to-day and they are not subjective. You could invest in a power meter for indoor or outdoor riding, or rely on a smart trainer that broadcasts power to a bike computer or cycling app. There are also estimated power values that you can use on apps like Rouvy, Zwift and Strava.
Q: Is there a cycling training program you can suggest?
A: The gaining popularity of smart trainers has brought with them a wave of training knowledge. The classic go-to of high intensity interval training (HIIT) is being rivaled by multi-week training plans and cycling apps like Rouvy, Zwift, and BKOOL.
Q: What are some ways to upgrade my at-home training to make it more enjoyable?
A: After you’ve ridden inside for a few hours, you’ll be able to identify things that may not be to your liking. You may find your equipment is lacking, or suddenly a favorite pair of cycling shorts don’t make the cut for indoor sessions with more saddle time. Here are some categories where upgrades may apply.
- Add a trainer tire. Swapping out your outdoor tire with a trainer tire designed for indoor use can help reduce wear and slippage for wheel-on bike trainers.
- Control temps. Airflow and temperature management are key. A cool basement and fan work for some, while others may need to crack a window or even ride on a porch to stay cool.
- Be media mindful. Media can also be a huge benefit (or barrier) to your indoor ride. The key is to find the balance between enough media to make the ride fun, but not so much that you spend most of your training time looking at social media.
- Organize. You now know what you need for an indoor ride, like a fan, towel, water, etc. If you have everything you need to stay comfortable within reach, you’ll remain focused and away from distractions.
- Get comfortable. For next-level comfort on an indoor trainer, the MP1 Nfinity motion platform is the best indoor training accessory. It reduces saddle pressure, as well as hand and foot pressure, for a more comfortable ride, so you can trainer longer and harder.
- Recruit a ride buddy. Ride buddies are one of the best motivations around, and even if you are on opposite sides of the planet, they will help to get you on your bike more often and train even harder. Ride buddies could be in-person, riding trainers side-by-side, or someone you can ride with in virtual group rides via apps.