Need to Know
  1. Keep riding your own bike no matter the weather
  2. Online programs let you set workouts and track your progress
  3. CompuTrainer classes will let you ride your own bike inside

indoor bicycle trainerChilly mornings and evenings can leave your bicycle gathering dust in a corner and you desperate for the freedom of long rides. While it can’t quite match the feeling of wind rushing past your face as you bomb downhill on a sunny day, getting an indoor trainer for your bike can keep a little of the outdoor spirit in your cycling workouts during the worst weather conditions.

Compared to spin classes, trainer workouts have some benefits: you can set up the trainer at home (so no need to go anywhere!), you can make up your own workout, and you can watch or listen to whatever you want to — or nothing at all. But perhaps the biggest plus is that you’re on your own bike — ideally a bike that’s familiar and comfortable and already fitted to you — riding in positions similar to the ones you’ll be using to ride outside once the weather gets more pleasant.

Trainer options can be overwhelming — magnetic, fluid, variable resistance, and so on. DC Rainmaker’s guide to trainers can help you sort it out, but in general, the more you spend, the smoother the trainer will feel to ride. (My pick: the mid-priced Kurt Kinetic Road Machine.)

Once you’ve got the trainer, set it up and start riding! You may want to raise your front wheel to keep it level with the back wheel, so you can either pick up a climbing block — which will also allow you to prop the wheel up even higher to simulate hill climbing — or go with something low-tech like an old phone book. If you have a cadence sensor for your bike, you can use it indoors to get a sense of how fast you’re riding. If you don’t, pay attention to your effort level (and your heart rate, if you have a monitor) to make sure you’re getting the kind of workout you want. Here are a few quick workout ideas:

  • Warm up for 15 minutes, alternate three minutes hard/two minutes easy for 20 minutes, and cool down for ten minutes.
  • Practice single-leg drills (pedaling with just your right leg, then with just your left leg) for 30 seconds to a minute per side a few times during your ride.
  • Try a longer block of riding at a tough but steady effort. Pedal easy for 15 minutes, then ride ten minutes at a pace and resistance level that feels tough but sustainable for you. Recover at an easier pace and resistance level for five minutes, then ride another ten minutes at your tougher settings. Cool down for five to ten minutes.

Some ideas for taking your trainer workout to the next level:

  • Make your space comfortable. Play music or watch Netflix by setting your phone or laptop nearby and piping in the sound via a pair of wireless headphones. Keep towels, water bottles, and snacks handy.
  • Consider subscribing to a training program like TrainerRoad, which sets up specific workouts and provides dynamic feedback on your power output, cadence, and speed.
  • No place to stash a trainer in your home? Find out if there’s a CompuTrainer studio near you. In a CompuTrainer class, the studio will supply a special trainer, but you’ll still bring and ride your own bike. The group setting and differing workouts can feel a lot like a spin class, but you get immediate feedback about how you’re performing and improving on your actual bike.

Last tip: Be sure to have a spare tire on hand when you return to outdoor riding. The resistance from the trainer wears the back tire out faster than the front one (which stays stationary), so you may need to replace it sooner.