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How to cycle indoors: getting started for beginners

How to cycle indoors: getting started for beginners

If you’re new to the world of indoor cycling and contemplating the idea of embarking on this exhilarating fitness journey from the comfort of your own home, it’s wise to begin with a thoughtful approach.

If you’re new to the world of indoor cycling and contemplating the idea of starting a new fitness journey from the comfort of your own home, it’s wise to think about your set up right from the start

Before pedalling away at the indoor miles, it’s essential to consider a few key points that will make the experience as enjoyable and effective as possible. By pinpointing your preferred workout style and making a few key decisions around space, bike, budget and gear, you’ll be ready to make the most of the world of indoor bike workouts.

What kind of cycling workouts will I enjoy?

Put simply, find something you enjoy and you’ll do it more. Getting clear on what makes you tick and what you want from your indoor sessions is important because it determines where you go next. 

If cycling’s your focus, this doesn’t necessarily mean hours of soul-destroying miles staring at a blank wall. By choosing an indoor training set up which appeals to you from the get-go, along with the right bike and kit, you’ll stay more interested, focused and motivated.

If you’re more of a studio spinner looking for a diverse range of professionally coached cardio and strength workouts, it’s worth exploring membership and hi-tech kit options with the likes of Peloton or rivals Echelon.

The good news is that all of the indoor apps have huge indoor workout libraries, with structured workouts and training plans for all abilities from beginner to pro.

Ride the streets of Yumezi / Makuri Islands / Zwift
Ride virtual streets from around or off world with Zwift – in this case in Yumezi, of the Makuri Islands

If you want to get in a tough workout with structure, purpose and focus, platforms such as TrainerRoad are a great place to start. Whilst fairly minimalistic in looks, they get straight down to it, with epic collections of workouts and training plans allowing you to strip out guesswork and improve your fitness fast, once you’ve taken a standard benchmark or FTP test.

If you’re looking for a bit more fun, head straight to the interactive, gamified options of apps like Zwift and Rouvy, which pride themselves in immersing you in virtual worlds of fictional and real-life routes as you ride along with (or compete against) cyclists across the world, in real time.

How much space do I need?

It’s a myth that you need big spaces for a home set up. Or that it only counts if you are grinding out the miles in a draughty pain cave. The easier and more fun you make it to jump on, the more you’ll get from it.

The basic requirement is somewhere that can accommodate your bike, with space to safely climb on and off, close to a power supply.

Indoor cycling with a Zwift and Wattbike atom pain cave
A TV to immerse or distract yourself from the cycling is a nice luxury but far from essential

Your kit can be pretty heavy and moving it is a hassle so think carefully about location. You will need an inside (or very sheltered) area with space for your bike plus laptop/ tablet/ screen in front of you. In addition to the space, decent WIFI will boost your whole experience.

To make it easy to hop on for a quick session, try and keep your set up tucked out of the way of your daily life. The same applies to noise; cheaper models can be fairly noisy and if you’re up off your seat powering up the hills, you’ll want to consider that too.

What’s the best indoor bike for me?

There are three main types of indoor bike trainer: turbo trainer, smart turbo trainer or static bike.

If you have a bike and you want to get going immediately, turbo trainers are a decent starting point and vary in price, features and sophistication.

At the cheaper end and in its simplest form, the bike fits onto this type of trainer at the back of the rear wheel.

Using your heart rate monitor to capture data (or a power meter on the bike) is the simplest way to hook up and start pedalling. With starting prices as low as £100, look out for brands like Saris, Elite, Lifeline and the Wahoo Snap.

This trainer comes with word of warning on tyres. To protect your tyres for outdoor riding, you might want to switch in a harder winter tyre or trainer-specific tyre on your rear wheel.

This is the next level in price and sophistication, where you start getting a more realistic, interactive feel.

With these trainers you remove your bike’s rear wheel and hook your own bike chain onto the unit. This is good news for your bike tyres; when you want to ride outside you add your own wheel back on again.

Another added advantage is noise; these trainers are significantly quieter and smoother in feel; with the ability to switch gears manually or use something called ERG mode, where the trainer holds you to a preset level of difficulty.

Smart trainers can also automatically increase and decrease the resistance to simulate changes of gradient or to give you a harder, more immersive workout.

Just like a basic turbo, by jumping on your own bike you’ll instantly feel more at home in the saddle. Names to watch here are Zwift Hub, Wahoo KICKR and Tacx for starters.

The level of realism and functionality of indoor cycling apps like Zwift, Rouvy and Wahoo SYSTM recreate the experience of real life and virtual routes. If you’re serious about indoor training, a smart trainer is well worth the investment.

If you want to invest in an asset as close to an outdoor (and in some cases even a lab) experience as you can get, look no further. If you can justify splashing some cash, take a look at Wahoo Kickr and Wattbike, arguably as close to riding your bike on the open road without leaving home.

Think less gym or spin bike and more a highly technical piece of kit with capabilities to monitors the likes of stroke, speed, power, heart rate and the ability to control resistance automatically.

These bikes offer the best features of high-end smart trainers like Zwift Hub and more. They’re essentially maintenance-free and ready to go at any time.

What’s my budget?

Creating your indoor set up is perfectly possible without breaking the bank.

As a general rule, the more you spend, the quieter and more realistic your trainer setup will be. Step into the world of smart trainers and you’ll get accurate power measurement, adjustable resistance and bike positions to simulate real climbs and target specific training zones, plus a host of additional features like cadence (aka pedal stroke speed) sensors.

As the market becomes more competitive, free trials and bundles are becoming the norm. If you’re unsure, try picking out a couple of platforms and take them for a spin before you commit.

What other gear will I need?

Aside from the bike itself, a few well-chosen accessories are essential for getting started and avoiding being left flailing around unprepared.

Indoor cycling workouts are hot, sweaty experiences, so think about a wipe clean floor or mats to protect carpets. Add a small towel (or two) and water bottle within easy reach. The room can fast become a sauna so consider opening windows doors pre-workout to avoid a rookie error as you clamber off mid-ride, gasping for air.

Otherwise, let’s look at a few essential items of kit that can enhance your indoor workout:

Indoor Cycling Shoes

Cycling Shoes

Indoor cycling shoes are a personal choice. Even with the most expensive static bike you can wear trainers and use the cages provided but if you want to replicate the real-world experience and get the best upthrust, get yourselves some compatible clip ins.

Wahoo Kickr Headwind Fan


Fans will fast become your friends. Even on cold days, they’re a surefire way of keeping you from overheating and help mimic the outdoor experience, so have a play at positioning them, remembering you’ll need to be able to reach them during the session to avoid stopping your workout.

Enjoy the benefits of indoor cycling with a huge TV

TV / Display

If you’ve decided to follow an online workout or use a virtual cycling app, having a TV, tablet or monitor to display it on is a must. Static bikes often come with mount but you will be limited to a relatively small display, whilst the most impressive pain caves are often built around a huge TV display for the immersive experience.

What next?

Indoor cycling workouts offer so much more than outdated cliches might have you believe. The easier and the more fun you can make it to ride indoors, the more you’ll get from the experience. Plus it’ll only enhance your outdoor performance.

If you’re just getting started it’s important to take your time and think about your preferred workout style, space, bike, budget and gear before investing.

Remind yourself that everyone starts somewhere; just by jumping in and joining an ever-increasing and diverse community of all abilities you’re in good company.

Pace yourself and start slow. Whilst it might take a little time to immerse yourself in the full functionality of your chosen set up and platform, by taking some well-informed advice, you might just find yourself hooked…

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