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The Road to Nowhere - Guide to indoor training.

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Article posted: 08/01/2013

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From the start of the British Cycling Sportive Training Plan, certain workouts are scheduled to be done on an indoor trainer. This isn’t just to give you a break from the British weather, although that is an obvious plus, but because of a number of other advantages that indoor training offers.



If you’re pushed for time or can’t find someone to mind the kids while you head out for a ride, an indoor trainer can be the ideal option for squeezing in a quality workout. You don’t have to waste time getting kit together, just jump on your indoor trainer and go.


For hard interval work and sessions which demand a constant output an indoor trainer provides a means to ride consistently without the distractions, variations and undulations of the open road.


When you’re pushing really hard it’s easy to lose awareness of other road users but, riding on an indoor trainer, it’s just you and the four walls so you can really bury yourself.


Riding on an indoor trainer really lets you focus on good pedaling technique and complete technique training workouts, such as single legged drills, that are almost impossible to do on the road.


The biggest advantage of an indoor trainer is that, without variables such as traffic, road surface and wind, you can easily compare workouts and monitor progress and fitness gains. This is why legendary cyclist Graeme Obree is quoted as saying that the first thing he’d rescue from his house if it was on fire would be his indoor trainer and, for anyone serious about becoming a better cyclist, it’s an essential tool.

It’s not all good news though and it’s important to also be aware of some of the limitations of indoor training.



There’s no getting away from it, indoor training can be skull crushingly boring. During a hard interval set, seconds can seem like minutes and minutes like hours. However a decent playlist on your MP3 (see here for some recommendations from top British Cycling riders), race footage or a favourite film/TV programme can keep you motivate to see out the session.


Although modern indoor trainers have improved in this respect, they can still produce a significant amount of noise and vibration when you’re pushing hard. You might not notice it yourself but, especially if you’re in a flat or upstairs room, the people below you will. Try to site your indoor trainer on the ground floor or, if this isn’t an option, put a double thickness of mat underneath to deaden the noise.

Bike Handling

Although indoor training on rollers is a great way to develop balance on the bike, both turbos and stationary bikes offer no bike handling training at all and do not stimulate the muscles involved in keeping you upright on the bike. Too much time spent training on them will have a significant negative impact on your ability to ride for real and it’s still essential to get the road miles under your wheels.

Heart Rate

Without headwinds and not having to support and stabilize your body it can be hard to elevate your heart rate to comparable levels relative to effort compared to riding for real on the road. Although heart rate guidelines are given for indoor sessions within the British Cycling Sportive Training Plan, don’t worry if you find them hard to attain and instead look for similar feelings of effort.


Without a cooling headwind, you’re going to generate a huge amount of heat and a corresponding amount of sweat. A cool room with good ventilation is essential and also invest in a fan. Make sure you have a mat to avoid soaking your floor and, as sweat can be corrosive to your bike, buy a sweat catcher and give your bike a thorough wipe down at the end of the session.

Turbo vs Rollers vs Stationary Bike

Choosing which type of indoor trainer to go for can be difficult as each has definite advantages and disadvantages. Budget, space and what you’re looking to gain from your indoor sessions will all have an impact on your final decision.


A frame with a roller that the rear wheel of the bike is bolted into. Early models relied on wind resistance from a fan and the resulting noise gave the turbo its name. Modern designs use liquid or magnetic resistance, are far quieter and many offer variable levels.


- Wide range of prices

- Able to generate high amounts of resistance and power

- Some models offer virtual riding games for motivation

- Easy to ride

- Take up little storage space and are portable.


- Don’t develop bike handling or balance

- Longterm use can be stressful to the bike

- Resistance on cheaper models can feel sticky and unrealistic


Used extensively by track riders to warm-up and cool down, rollers are about as simple as indoor riding gets. The rollers are usually hard plastic or metal and some designs have a curved profile to encourage riding in the centre.


- Excellent for developing smooth efficient pedaling, bike handling and balance

- Are more interesting to ride

- Most fold up and are easy to store and move around

- Realistic road like feel


- Some time is needed to learn to ride them

- Only a few models offer any degree of variable resistance but not enough for genuine strength or power work

Stationary Bike

A gym or spinning bike setup for home use.


- Once setup, it’s always ready to go

- Higher end models eg Wattbikes offer full training feedback and analysis

- Most offer a full range of resistance


- You need to spend a lot to get a realistic road feel

- They are heavy and take up a lot of space

- You’re not training on your actual bike

- Don’t develop bike handling or balance

Riding the Rollers

If you decided to opt for rollers, you’ll need to spend some time learning to ride them. It’s not difficult, won’t take too long and the horrors stories of people careering across their garages are massively exaggerated.

Here is the Insight Zone step by step guide to riding rollers

Ensure the rollers are on a flat level surface, which does not interfere with the roller drums. Position the rollers next to a wall, railing, or stable object so that you can gain you balance. Place the bike in a gear which will be easy to start a fluid pedalling action. Position the bike in the middle of the rollers, giving you plenty of room for sideways movement.

Set the outside pedal away from the wall at the bottom of the pedal stroke, ready to clip in. Place your leg over the bike, place your hand on the wall, and clip in to the pedal. Push your body weight into the saddle and clip the foot closest to the wall/object into the pedal.

To successfully pedal on the rollers, you should:

Start pedalling with your hand still place on the wall/object. Concentrating on an even pedalling stroke between left and right feet. Keep your head looking forwards. As with riding on the road, looking down will make you become disorientated. Once the wheels are moving and the bike has become stable on the rollers, remove the hand from the wall/object onto the handlebar.

As your cadence increases, change the gears to make sure you stay stable in the middle of the rollers through a smooth pedal action. Come to a stop by slowly freewheeling, placing a hand on the wall/object, and unclipping once the bike has stopped.


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