The Ultimate Indoor Cycling Guide for Beginners

Indoor cycling guide for beginners: A man training on a Saris wheel-on bike trainer in his bedroom.

This guide will help you get started with indoor cycling.

I filled it with a ton of tips and know-how from my experience and the experience of other riders. It’s written in an easy-to-understand form, so it’s ideal for beginners.

Whether you want to maintain your fitness, hide against bad weather at home, or spend your training time more efficiently, you are in the right place.

We will dive into the basics, choosing and riding a bike trainer, indoor cycling accessories, and much more.

Let’s dive in!

What Is Indoor Cycling?

Indoor cycling is a relatively young cycling category that boomed, especially thanks to indoor cycling apps. It involves riding a (smart) bike trainer or a stationary bike indoors.

We can distinguish two types of indoor cycling:

  1. Indoor cycling on a bike trainer at home. You can train using an indoor cycling app or based on videos.
  2. Indoor cycling on a spin or stationary bike in spin and fitness centers. It’s usually led by a spin class instructor and accompanied by music.
An example of indoor cycling (for the purpose of the video, it involves more people)
An example of a spin class

This guide is written mainly for the first category, typical for road, mountain, and other cyclists.

The second category often attracts people who want to lose weight, maintain fitness, and combine spinning with other sports.

Why Should You Start with Indoor Cycling?

Indoor cycling has multiple benefits compared to riding outdoors. The most important are:

  1. You avoid crashes and aggressive drivers.
  2. It is more time efficient.
  3. You can follow precise, structured training (regardless of the terrain you ride).
  4. It is more convenient when the weather is bad.
  5. You can race at home without spending money on entry fees, fuel costs, etc.

Continue reading my article ‘Are bike trainers worth it?‘ where I go more in-depth.

How to Get Started with Indoor Cycling?

Here are the basic steps to get started with indoor cycling.

1. Get a Bike Trainer

A line of Saris H3 smart bike trainers prepared for mounting road bikes for a warm up before road cycling race.

To get started with indoor cycling, you will need a bike trainer. There are multiple types of bike trainers. The basic ones are:

1. A dumb trainer (mostly wheel-on)
2. Noninteractive smart trainer (wheel-on or direct-drive)
3. Interactive smart trainer (mostly direct-drive but sometimes wheel-on)
4. Smart bikes
5. Rollers (with or without resistance)

You can read my guide on How to choose a bike trainer for detailed differences, pros, and cons between them.

Most people either use a dumb wheel-on trainer or an interactive smart trainer.

Dumb trainers can’t adjust their resistance based on a 3rd party app. Instead, you have to change the resistance manually.

Smart trainers can change the resistance based on an app and measure your power, cadence, and other metrics.

Of course, smart bike trainers are more expensive but also more engaging and fun.

2. Buy Indoor Cycling Accessories

A detail on a front wheel with a front wheel riser for a more level position of a bike in a bike trainer for an increased comfort.

Indoor cycling accessories are optional, but I highly recommend them. Especially these three:
1. A bike trainer mat to protect your floor.
2. An indoor cycling fan to stay cool down.
3. A rocker plate to increase your riding comfort.

They will make your life much easier.

You can then also buy a bike trainer desk to have a place to put your laptop or tablet, front-wheel riser, gradient simulator, etc. But those are optional.

3. Set Up Your Bike Trainer and Accessories

A rider tightening a strap of a bike trainer to a Saris MP1 Infinity rocker plate.

Find a suitable training area where you set up the trainer. Its setup differs based on the type of trainer you have.

Direct-drive trainers require you to take off the rear wheel of your bike so you mount it directly to the trainer.

Wheel-on trainers are a little easier to set up. You just have to clamp your bike in them and adjust the cylinder to provide resistance.

I explain this procedure in depth in my How to set up a bike trainer guide.

Use a floor mat to protect your floor and eventually a rocker plate to increase your riding comfort and make the ride more engaging.

To avoid overheating, set one, two, or more fans on your legs, core, and head. In addition, keep your windows open to have access to fresh air.

Prepare enough water (and food), so you won’t have to stop your training mid-ride.

Music or a movie can also boost your morale.

4. Start Riding with (or without) an App

A Saris cyclist riding out of the saddle on Saris trainer and rocker plate while watching app instructions in laptop put on an a desk.

When I started with indoor cycling, I trained according to videos on YouTube. It was fine, but I quickly got bored.

Then I tried Zwift, and it changed everything. I was more engaged and had more motivation and fun.

The disadvantage of indoor cycling apps is that they are often paid for. So if you are on a tight budget, they might not be the best option.

But there are also plenty of free indoor cycling apps that get the job done.

5. Clarify Your Goals and Expectations

A Saris cyclist riding in the saddle on Saris trainer and rocker plate while watching app instructions in laptop put on an a desk.

By clarifying your goals and expectations, you will realize why you want to do indoor cycling.

Knowing your motivation will help you in the long run. Sometimes, you may feel like you don’t want to continue anymore.

But when you remind yourself why you started, you get the needed push to keep going.

You can cycle to improve your fitness, virtually visit beautiful places worldwide, clear your head, etc.

How to Choose a Bike Trainer?

There are several types of bike trainers. For a beginner, choosing them can be difficult.

They work on different principles and have different features, resistance types, pros & cons, price ranges, and much more.

How to Choose a Bike Trainer? An example of a wheel-on and direct-drive trainer, rollers, and bike simulator
How to Choose a Bike Trainer? (Basic types of bike trainers) | Product picture source: garmin.com

I wrote a fully dedicated guide on How to choose a bike trainer that goes in depth. You can read it if you want to learn more details. But here is a quick summary:

  • Buy a smart interactive bike trainer if you want to use it with 3rd party apps. It’s more expensive than a wheel-on dumb trainer, but it will take your indoor cycling experience to a whole new level.
  • Buy a dumb wheel-on trainer if you are on a tight budget and you just want to spin your legs from time to time based on YouTube videos or with free indoor cycling apps.

Smart bikes and rollers are suitable for a narrow group of people. You can read my comparison of bike trainers vs. rollers and smart bike trainers vs. smart bikes to learn their pros & cons.

Which Indoor Cycling App to Use?

Indoor cycling apps like Zwift, ROUVY, or TrainerRoad have a huge share in the popularity of indoor cycling.

The question is, which indoor cycling app should you use? There are many types of apps that appeal to different groups of people. The basic types are:

  1. Apps where you move through the real-world (ROUVY, FulGaz, Kinomap…).
  2. Apps where you move through a virtual world (Zwift, Wahoo RGT, BKOOL…).
  3. Apps that only show you your ride data and workout structure (TrainerRoad…).

I recommend reading my article summarizing the Best indoor cycling apps, where you also learn which one to choose.

The following table shows my rating of different indoor cycling apps I tested.

AppPriceEase of SetupEngage-
ment
RoutesTrainingUXPlatforms AvailabilityTotal
Zwift355343528
ROUVY354533528
TrainerRoad253n/a*55424
Wahoo SYSTM**454355430
Wahoo RGT (RGT Cycling)**552242323
Kinomap442545226
FulGaz452532526
BKOOL452532425
My indoor cycling apps rating on a scale of 1–5 (5 is the best)
*TrainerRoad is different from other apps and doesn't offer any routes.
**You can only subscribe to the Wahoo X subscription and get access to Wahoo SYSTM and Wahoo RGT.

Which Indoor Cycling Accessories Are Worth It?

As with road cycling or mountain biking, you can elevate your experience by buying bike trainer accessories.

The most important one is an indoor cycling fan that will keep your room and body temperature down to avoid overheating. Feel free to choose one from the best indoor cycling fans.

Then, I recommend having a bike trainer mat to protect your floor against scratches and sweat (trust me, you will sweat a lot).

The third most useful accessory is a bicycle rocker plate (RP). This is a device that you put under your trainer that will provide a side-to-side motion. Some RPs also have fore-and-aft movement.

Best Cycling Rocker Plates: A pro cyclist using a rocker plate and Elite Direto XR while zwifting
A rocker plate takes indoor cycling to a whole new level

As I explain in Why to use a rocker plate, this motion(s) will:

  1. Improve your riding comfort.
  2. Make your ride more engaging and realistic.
  3. Force you to engage your core muscles.
  4. Ease the pressure on your frame.

TIP: Check out my list of the best cycling rocker plates.

Other accessories like gradient simulators, bike trainer tires, or laptop stands are optional.

What to Wear When Indoor Cycling?

Honestly, you don’t have to buy indoor cycling-specific clothing. You will be completely fine with your road cycling shorts. You don’t even have to wear a jersey.

Indoor cycling clothing is almost the same as summer cycling clothing—lightweight and breathable.

However, if you have money burning a hole in your pocket, feel free to treat yourself and invest in quality indoor cycling bib shorts, eventually, a jersey.

You might also consider buying:

Indoor Cycling Shoes

Again, you can use your road cycling shoes (or mountain biking ones if you use SPD pedals on your bike).

Indoor cycling shoes are just better ventilated and lighter, so they are more suitable for riding indoors.

Some models have flat soles, so you can use them for multiple sports. Those are especially useful if you go to spin classes.

When choosing shoes for indoor cycling, you have to make sure they are compatible with the cleat type of pedals you use.

I recommend reading my guides on ‘How to choose bicycle pedals‘ and ‘How to choose cycling shoes‘ for more info, pros, and cons of the different types.

What to Eat and Drink When Indoor Cycling?

Bonking (sudden loss of energy and exhaustion) is not such a big deal when you ride home (unlike when you are dozens of miles away).

Most of us also can’t ride four or five hours on a bike trainer, so the chance of bonking is much lower.

But this doesn’t mean you should not fuel your engine!

I am not a nutrition specialist, so I recommend finding one if you want to optimize your fueling strategy.

However, here is how I do it:

I like to have one bottle with water and one with maltodextrin and glucose (in a 2:1 ratio) for extra calories.

With food, it’s more complicated. My favorite ‘bike’ meal is these oatmeal balls. They are tasty and full of energy, and you can customize their ingredients as you want.

Sometimes, I eat bananas, dried fruit, toast with jam, ham, or peanut butter—simply whatever I want.

Of course, you can buy cycling-specific products like gels, electrolyte and carbohydrate drinks, and many more.

I find them overpriced, and normal nutrition works just fine for me. So, find what works best for you.

How to Cope with Pain When Indoor Cycling?

Indoor cycling hurts. You will likely experience moments when your legs and lungs will burn from your efforts.

Trust me. You will eventually learn to manage the pain and get used to it. Once you get better fitness, you won’t get tired as quickly and will be more powerful.

Here are a few tips to reduce your pain:

  • Leverage techniques like cold showers, recovery rides, etc., for better regeneration.
  • Make sure you use a fan to reduce your room’s temperature and cool down your feet/body.
  • Feel free to keep your window open, but be careful not to be in a draught. Otherwise, you may catch a cold.
  • Don’t push it too hard in the beginning. Do a proper warm-up.

And remember:

You have to ride slower to become faster.

This a great video explaining why riding slowly makes you a faster cyclist

Indoor Cycling FAQ

Conclusion

I hope this guide provided you with helpful and actionable tips for indoor cycling.

It’s an efficient way to train at home during winter or bad weather. You will also avoid aggressive riders and other road dangers.

Some will argue that there is nothing like a bike ride outside with friends. And I agree with you.

But sometimes, it’s simply easier to hop on your bike trainer and work out at home.

Do you agree? And what motivates you to start indoor cycling? Comment below.

Preview and how-to pictures credit: saris.com

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