Obviously, foul weather can make riding indoors more a matter of necessity than choice. But there are three special benefits of indoor cycling that can make it worth doing even on perfect days:
1. Safety. Let's face it: Sharing the roads with cars is a little scary at times. Most cyclists have had close calls and know at least one fellow rider who has been hurt in a bike-vehicle encounter. Indoor cycling is a way to reduce your risk of an accident.
2. Performance. High-intensity interval workouts are an essential part of serious cycling training and triathlon training. Many athletes feel that these workouts can be done more effectively in a room, which presents a controlled environment where you can just put your head down and hammer.
3. Time. Indoor cycling saves time. You can get started more quickly without the usual tire inflation and other preparations and you don't have to stop for traffic lights. Also, because there is no coasting indoors, indoor cycling is slightly more intense, so that an hour of pedaling indoors is equivalent to 65 or 70 minutes on the roads.
Select Your Equipment
Various types of equipment can be used for indoor cycling. Bike rollers and fluid trainers are devices that you can mount your regular bike on for stationary indoor riding. The chief advantage of these options is that they allow you to train on the same bike you use outdoors. Most cyclists find, however, that riding their regular bike is a lot less comfortable indoors because the constant, subtle changes in saddle-rider contact points that occur outdoors are eliminated with stationary pedaling. In other words: Your butt gets sore much faster.
Dedicated indoor bikes such as the CycleOps 300PT are typically more comfortable for indoor cycling and may be a better way to go if you plan to ride indoors often. But these bikes are pricey. The CycleOps 300PT costs $1,900.
The stationary bikes at your local fitness club represent another option. The design of these bikes, however, is very different from that of road racing bikes (larger saddles, wider pedal-to-pedal measurements, etc.), and for this reason they are not as well-suited to long or high-intensity workouts.
Know Your Reasons
It is important to have a clear understanding of why you ride indoors, because this can help you determine how to train indoors most effectively. For instance:
You ride inside only when something makes it impossible to ride outdoors. In this case, simply do your best to replicate your planned outdoor rides indoors. Most workouts are easily transferred. Long rides can be exceptions as many cyclists find it very difficult, both physically and psychologically, to perform multi-hour rides under a roof. In cases when you know you will not be able to go the full distance of a planned ride that you have transferred indoors, just go as long as you comfortably can.
You ride inside for long stretches during the winter. Cyclists and those in triathlon training who choose to "ride out" the winter mostly indoors should consciously approach this phase of training as a lower-volume phase. Make up for reduced cycling volume by cranking up the intensity of some of your rides, adding some cross-training to your program (e.g. cross-country skiing), and/or lifting weights to build strength for the upcoming season.
You ride inside to boost performance. Choose the types of rides you do inside wisely when looking to improve performance. Long rides and hill repetitions are best done outdoors, as hill climbing is difficult to properly replicate on a trainer. The trainer is conducive to recovery rides, base rides, and all types of high-intensity training other than hill climbing.
Active Expert Matt Fitzgerald is the author of Iron War: Dave Scott, Mark Allen & The Greatest Race Ever Run (VeloPress 2011) and a coach and training intelligence specialist for PEAR Sports. Learn more at mattfizgerald.org.