Why Indoor Riding is a No-Brainer

By Chris Kaplanis | Feb. 12, 2018, 11:58 p.m. (ET)

indoor trainer

If you're a triathlete or cyclist, a bike trainer is a must have. This is especially true if you live in a place that it is difficult to ride outside year round.

I'm not suggesting you ride inside all of the time — although some of the best professional IRONMAN athletes do — but I'd like to explain why at least occasionally it is a good idea.

Unless you have unlimited time or don't mind getting dropped on group rides or posting an embarrassing bike split, having a bike trainer is invaluable.

Whether you already ride inside or can't stomach the idea of it, there is absolutely a time and place for a bike trainer. Here are six reasons why indoor riding is a no-brainer.

1. It’s safer

First and foremost, riding your bike inside on a trainer is safer. If your trainer is secure, you’re in control of your safety and can remove outside factors.

I love the freedom and thrill of riding outside just like everyone else, but riding alongside traffic — where drivers may be distracted or unsuspecting — presents a risk. Even though most states have a three-foot rule, which entitles cyclists to some space on the side of the road, many motorists are unaware of this rule or don’t respect it. Even a random bump or trouble unclipping, puts you at risk of falling.

You can reduce these risks by riding intelligently (i.e. choosing a safe route, riding with a group, making yourself more visible with lights or brightly colored clothing, riding at times of lesser traffic, etc.) — but if conditions aren’t right, you have the option to take it indoors. 

2. You can avoid undesirable weather

Maybe you're a tough cyclist and don't mind riding outside in the elements. I can admire that, but at some point riding in questionable conditions becomes undesirable and also dangerous.

Nasty rain, cold temps, snow, ice and extreme heat can make riding outdoors extremely challenging during different times of the year. And let’s not forget the shorter days and limited daylight each winter. By having the option to ride inside, you don't have to miss out.

While there is definitely a benefit to occasionally riding in less-than-ideal (rainy or windy) conditions, why put yourself through it? Mental toughness, you say? Sure, that is part of it, but I can assure you, you'll increase your mental toughness by riding inside as well.

3. It’s a good use of your time

When you ride inside, it’s more time efficient and there are less things to worry about. All you have to do is hop on your bike and ride. There is less gear to corral and no time wasted driving to and from the place you will be riding from. Also, when you're on the bike trainer, you are constantly pedaling. There is no coasting, so you'll always be working.

4. You’ll get stronger and faster by focusing on specificity

With no outside distractions like cars, stop signs, stoplights and intersections, you can stay focused on what you have to do.

If you're training for a specific race or event, riding inside will allow for more control and specificity. For example, I recently had an athlete email me who just signed up for a hilly race, but she lives in Florida, which is mostly flat. She wanted to know what she could do to best prepare for the bike portion of the race. My answer: low-cadence work on the trainer.

Even if you're solely looking to become a faster cyclist, having specific workouts with specific objectives will dramatically increase your ROI for each workout.

Whether your goal is to increase your ability to climb hills, improve your FTP, VO2 max or simply increase your overall power, there are specific workouts that will directly help. Likewise, if you're a new cyclist looking to improve your cadence, it's very easy (and safe) to incorporate cadence pyramids when riding inside.

Specificity can be achieved while riding inside on any type of trainer. However, if you're lucky enough to have a "smart trainer" like the Wahoo Kickr, CompuTrainer or similar, you will have the ability to program different types of workouts. Most of the programmable workouts will be driven by a percentage of your threshold power (FTP) making your time on the bike even more effective.

5. You can push yourself harder

The combination of specificity and safety allow you to push yourself harder. While there's no replacing hard group rides outside, this option is not always possible, especially year round.

If you're lucky enough to ride on a smart trainer, you can program specific workouts to push yourself beyond your perceived limits — and when properly integrated, it will make you stronger and faster.

Don't have a smart trainer? No problem! More and more cycling studios are popping up across the country. I'm not referring to spin studios like what you may find in your gym. I'm specifically talking about places where you bring your own bike and hook it up on their smart trainer. Most of these studios offer several stations, which means you'll be riding with others. This can be extremely motivating and allow you to push harder then if you were on your own.

If you don't have a place like this near you, getting together with a few friends for a tough indoor ride works just as well. Additionally, platforms like Zwift allow riders to connect and ride virtually with others across the world. 

6. The consistency will help you build fitness

Fitness increases through consistently applying stress and properly recovering. Those two elements combined with a variety of purposeful and thoughtfully timed workouts will have you leaving your cycling buddies in the dust.

By having the option to ride inside, you never have an excuse to miss a workout or spend extended time away from cycling. So, depending on where you live, there's no reason to start building fitness in the spring. This is especially important if you are training for an early season race or event.

Chris Kaplanis is the co-founder and assistant head coach at RTA Triathlon. RTA works with athletes from across the country offering a variety of services to get you faster, fitter and on track to successfully accomplish your goals. He is a USA Triathlon Level II Endurance and USA Cycling Level II Certified Coach. Kaplanis is a five-time IRONMAN finisher, in addition to IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship and USA Triathlon National Championships finisher. He is a USA Triathlon All-American. Learn more at ridgewoodtriathlete.com.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.