Like most best decisions, my indoor riding career all started with FOMO. Going into my first [Ironman] 70.3 season with my Chicago Endurance Sports teammates, I was an outlier having skipped out on an indoor offseason opportunity at partner studio Precision Multisport. Suddenly, my friends were talking about things like watts, FTP, and CompuTrainer. While lacking in detail, they made it sound…fun. My only experience with indoor riding had been on a busted up second- or third-hand magnetic trainer that I tested out while watching a boring quarter of a Bears game, which ultimately led to my neighbors asking if I was doing a construction project and me dumping the trainer into my storage unit. Color me intrigued.
The next CompuTrainer session didn’t start until the following January, but by early winter, I’d inadvertently learned about something called “rollers” which I tracked down and purchased without having ever seen any in person. They were supposedly quieter than a trainer and I could use them in the interim. I set them up in a doorway and checked my balance with one hand firmly gripping a file cabinet, the other white-knuckling my handlebars. When I finally let go the cabinet, I lasted 15 seconds before crashing off the side of the buffer-less alloy cylinders, finding myself stuck between my bike and a hard place (the wall). But we persist. After a few more tries and a completely traumatized Joe Meower (the cat), I was able to ride steadily. From there, I started setting little goals for myself, "tricks" I called them: grabbing a water bottle, drinking from the water bottle, taking a selfie, sending a text, coasting, standing, moving into the drops and back...that's about how far I've gotten.
I tend to incorporate high cadence sprint workouts on the rollers, as well as easy recovery rides.
My pedal stroke has improved, and my cadence continues to climb. I've also had a few close calls with unpredictable pedestrians (and a large angry dog) on outdoor rides that I could NOT believe didn't result in a horrific high-speed crash. I have no way of proving that rollers gave me the sense of handling to prevent these clutch skid-save situations, but it certainly didn't hurt. You’ll work your core! And they’re probably the cheapest investment of all indoor riding.
What is Needed
Your bike, rollers.
A mat, fan, music/Netflix.
Stay relaxed. Don’t stare at your front wheel. Have something sturdy to grab on to, and a good friend to take video of your first attempt.
I'm now on my second season training out of Precision Multisport in Evanston. I can't say enough about how much this place changed my cycling life. I love the bike-lined facility, with it's turf gym sun-lit under high-beamed ceilings, next to the main room—host to the 16-bike CompuTrainer stage. It's small and inclusive and everything about it feels like home. It's highly focused on multisport athletes but hosts a range from hockey teams to endurance cyclists. But the highlight is real-time coaching feedback. A lot can be accomplished when you’re cruising along at 20+mph in one place.
Within the studio there are a couple of different methods to riding. Riding a “course” offers the opportunity to dial in on shifting and cadence; essentially practicing race pace. The computer adjusts the load to emulate changes in terrain to match the selected course. Intensity/endurance interval workouts don't require the same shifting (computers adjust the load), but require just about everything else your body and mind can muster.
This is a crucial way to build strength and increase wattage. The transparency makes it impossible to cheat yourself. Improvements are measured by ride (for data junkies like me, each ride generates a complete report) but over time by FTP (functional threshold power). The FTP test is administered every 5-8 weeks at Precision—a 20-minute all-out ride that measures your maximum power output over an hour’s time. Your workouts are set to intensity levels appropriated by your FTP, so it’s important to give each test your all.
There’s also something to be said for the social aspect of the CompuTrainer…it’s fun. There are no pace groups. Everyone does the same workout, based on their own FTP. The room recovers together and the room goes silent together. It’s not often that an outdoor ride provides me the opportunity to chat and laugh with 16 of my friends, so I don’t take that for granted.
What is Needed:
Bike, trainer skewer, water bottle, studio membership/punchcard/pass/etc.
Towel, trainer tire, flat kit (flats on a trainer are more common than you may think), gift/bribe for coach.
Show up early to set up before the ride begins (like any group ride). Don’t sandbag your FTP test or your workouts will leave something to be desired.
Where to Ride:
Precision Multisport (Evanston)
^PM via Chicago Endurance Sports (Evanston)
Vision Quest (Chicago)
Wheel & Sprocket (Evanston)
Edge (Chicago) *Kickr studio
There are home-CompuTrainer options. I have no first-hand experience with these, but friends do speak highly of the *Wahoo Kickr. It pretty much does everything a CompuTrainer does, and the Kickr even comes with a cassette so you actually remove your rear wheel to attach to the trainer (no trainer tire necessary). If you have available funds (they’re pricey) and appreciate the convenience of training at home, the Kickr could be a great option.
** An announcement this week that CompuTrainer will be going out of business has been confirmed by manufacturer RacerMate. Details: https://www.dcrainmaker.com/
Thanks to a good friend, I’ve had a decent secondhand CycleOps Fluid turbo trainer for less than a year, and even with my rollers, CompuTrainer, and outdoor training, I still find myself using it on a regular basis. This is the classic indoor way to train—cue the grunts and groans—and probably the best convenience/value/benefit combination. I don’t have much of a story about the trainer, rather a plethora of ways to better enjoy the suck.
Music & Stats:
Pretty self-explanatory. Pay attention to your effort and intervals. Music for mood. Sometimes, this is enough! Netflix/TV seems like a popular option, but with it the tendency to zone out of the workout.
Stats? I recommend the Garmin speed and cadence monitors with a Garmin device, or a wireless CatEye connection that you’ll have a finagle setup with your rear wheel (your front wheel doesn’t move, so devices wired to your front wheel won’t work).
After much tech struggle, I finally tapped into the world of virtual cycling through a Zwift trial. Zwift connects to Bluetooth/ANT+ sensors (in my case, a Garmin speed monitor) via an app. If you’re using a bunch of old tech like me, check Zwift’s compatibility. I was able to connect with my 6-year-old MacBook Pro, and worked up more of a sweat than I expected. It’s super user friendly to set up…once you have the compatible devices.
Once you’re in, you can ride select courses or choose workouts. You can attempt to ride with friends/groups, and more (but drafting is near impossible). It’s pretty entertaining if nothing else!
Shift in reverse if you have a classic trainer. You need to generate more watts to climb faster, so shifting into your biggest gear will help, when you approach a steeper grade. Shift into easier gears to recover on the flats/downhills.
Stream Le Tour or whatever else:
I spent a lot of time on the trainer during le Tour last year. Try to match their cadence.
Resistance and strength-building (hills) are key players (we are flatlanders), but don’t discount the stability…trainers are a great way for new cyclists to practice clipping in and out of clipless pedals, and for triathletes to get used to the aero TT position.
What is Needed:
Trainer tire, trainer skewer, floor mat, towel, fan, entertainment.
There are all kinds of cyclists, and the indoors can fit into a regimen in as many ways. Whether it’s the social highlight of your week to a supplement to your goal-driven racing career, enjoy the ride.
Benefits of all:
Safety, convenience, uninterrupted workouts, weather-independent off-season training, social, multi-tasking, scaring the cat
Lisa Luttenegger is a Chainlink ambassador and triathlete with Chicago Endurance Sports/Precision Multisport—racing any distance from Divvy SuperSprint to the Ironman—and a marketing agency project coordinator. She learned to ride a bike on a dirt mound in the back yard and hopes to someday return to these cyclocross roots and remedy her bike-race envy. Lisa shares a condo with her tuxedo Maine Coon, Joe Meower, and their bicycles: Freddie Mercury, MC Scat Cat, Batman, and Benji.