Whether you’re avoiding the weather, avoiding people, want a quick workout or the perfect sweat-inducing addition to your training plan, getting a cycling trainer and riding your bike indoors is a great investment. Here are a few tips for how you set up your space for indoor cycling while keeping your bike and home in pristine condition.
Proper Bike Fit
First thing’s first, you’ll want to make sure your bike fits you. Depending on what type of indoor cycling trainer you choose, you can hook up your mountain bike, road bike, gravel bike, or hybrid to ride indoors. But no matter what bike you are riding, proper fit will go a long way to ensure a fun and comfortable spin. Unlike riding outdoors, you will not be moving around on the bike as much, so issues with saddle height, bar width, brake placement, etc will be even more pronounced. We always recommend getting a professional bike fit, but here are some bike fit tips that will give you a great place to start.
Protect your Floor from Damage and Wear
The thing about riding indoors is, you sweat a lot! Without the wind in your face, stuffed up in a room in your house, you’ll heat up quickly – even if you’ve decked out your space with multiple fans. It’s best to choose a room with a hard floor surface. Sure, carpet will work, but protecting your floor from pools of sweat will be even more important. A yoga mat (or two) will do the trick, but a trainer or workout-specific mat with a little more substance will give you the added benefit of noise and vibration reduction.
Protect your Bike
There are two things that can damage your frame and components while cycling indoors:
Sweat corrosion. Yup, sweat eats metal! If left unchecked, the sweat that builds up under your handlebar tape can eventually cause your handlebar to weaken to the point it will break. Riding with a towel over your bars can reduce the sweat that collects under your bar tape, but you should still change your bar tape at least once/year (more if you’re doing a lot of indoor riding). Problems can also arise in your headset, bottom bracket, and seatpost. The key is to wipe your bike down after each ride and keep your bolts lubricated with grease (check this every couple of months with regular riding). You can also purchase a “sweat shield” and keep in mind, carbon parts are not susceptible to corrosion!
Wheel strain. If using a rear wheel-mounted trainer, use the steel skewer that was included with your trainer rather than the one in your bike. To avoid wear to your rear wheel, the best option is to use a spare wheel equipped with a trainer-specific tire and a sturdy cassette for a quick swap before riding indoors. If you’re using a direct drive trainer, it’s also best to purchase an extra cassette to keep permanently on your trainer. But, don’t forget to keep an eye on your chain wear! Replacing your chain often will ensure the other parts of your drivetrain remain in good condition for longer.
Types of Indoor Cycling Trainers
Rear Wheel-Mounted Trainer
This type of trainer is cheaper and may or may not be “smart” (Bluetooth-enabled to modulate resistance with the help of online training apps like Zwift). As the name implies, you keep your rear wheel on your bike and attach it to the trainer at the rear axle. Follow the instructions on your trainer to adjust the contact with your rear tire and ensure everything is tight before getting on your bike to ride. There are a couple of important things to note:
Rear wheel-mounted trainers will likely not work with your mountain bike. Not only could there be a clearance issue for the tire width, but the more nobs there are on your tire, the louder it will be. Check wheel size and tire width specifications before purchasing a wheel-on trainer.
As noted above, consider purchasing a cheap rear wheel, training tire, and cassette to prevent excessive wear on your road-worthy wheel.
Rear wheel-mounted trainers provide resistance in different ways – wind, magnetic, and fluid.
Direct Drive Trainer
These types of trainers me came onto the market in 2010 and are a bit more expensive but are generally “smart” trainers capable of connecting to online apps and make riding inside feel more like riding outside. Following the instructions on your trainer, install a cassette that is compatible with the drivetrain on your bike. Remove your rear wheel and install your bike directly onto the trainer. Here are a few things to keep in mind when purchasing and setting up a direct drive trainer:
You will need an extra cassette. Otherwise, you’ll be removing and re-installing the cassette on your bike every time you want to ride indoors.
Direct drive trainers can work with most types of bikes, including mountain bikes. Just make sure to check the specifications on the trainer to be sure your bike’s driver body and axle are compatible.
You must be comfortable removing the rear wheel of your bike for this type of trainer to make sense for you. Want to learn how? Check out our video on how to fix a flat to see how to remove the a rear wheel.
Rollers are indoor training devices where you balance your bike on three cylinders – one in the front and two in the rear. It can be a challenge to get used to rollers, but once you do it boosts your bike-handling skills and keeps indoor riding engaging. Rollers are not generally “smart” capable, though there are a few options out there. Want to learn more about rollers? Check out Allysa Seely’s guide to riding rollers HERE!
It’s ideal to have a designated space for your indoor cycling trainer. If possible, make sure you can keep your trainer, block for your front wheel, a towel, floor protection, fans, and your entertainment all in the same place. That way, all you need to do is hook up your bike when you’re ready to ride. If you are planning on using a smart trainer with an online cycling program like Zwift, you’ll want to ensure you have an outlet handy as well as a either a TV or table where you can set your laptop, phone or other Zwift-equipped device. Want to get the ultimate setup? Check out these different Zwift setups on BikeRadar.com.
If you don't have a smart trainer or Zwift, load up your favorite playlist, television show, or movie and those trainer miles will fly by.