I love to ride my bike outdoors in all kinds of weather (except pouring rain). Last November, I bought cycling boots and more layers to brave the chilly winter weather. I thought this would keep me outside from January to March, it didn’t. I learned it’s really easy to ignore riding in cold weather and more fun inside enjoying coffee! Unfortunately, drinking coffee doesn’t build the fitness I need!
I’ve used an old school bike trainer for years, it was clunky, loud, and wobbled a bunch. The flywheel was lighter which limited resistance settings. The rollers that spin had worn down from heat and friction off the rear tire. It lasted me a solid ten years but had seen better days. A friend suggested that I check out the Wahoo Kickr smart trainer. I was apprehensive about this and wasn’t sure I’d use it. It costs a fair bit too; would it really change my riding? The answer, YES, total game changer!
The Wahoo KickR is an indoor bike trainer that hooks up to your road bike, or whatever bike you have. You simply remove your rear wheel and attach your bike to the pre-installed cassette (what changes your gears) on the KickR. Installation was a breeze (even I could do it) as I admittedly enjoy riding more than working on my bike. The online videos made it easy to follow along and set up was complete in about 15 minutes. The trainer has adjustable feet that allow the bike to rock back and forth a little, so you get that realistic road feel when pedaling.
What makes a smart trainer smart is that it talks to your device and automatically adjusts the resistance when riding. No switching gears necessary. All you need to do is snap your cleats in and pedal. I’ve been on the smart trainer for about three weeks now and it’s definitely had a positive impact on how I ride.
Riding an indoor trainer allows you to work on techniques that may not seem as obvious when riding outdoors. For example, understanding and increasing your cadence overtime will make you a better cyclist. Cadence is the rate at which a cyclist pedals. It measures the revolutions per minute, think RPMs. The higher the cadence the stronger typically your overall fitness is. Cadence increases overtime by riding often and practicing drills.
One drill that I’ve found helpful to increase my cadence and overall strength is one legged cycling drills. Problematic to do outdoors as you are watching your surroundings, much easier to carry out when you’re stationary on a trainer. This identifies “dead spots” in your spin and allows you to really focus your efforts and energy to be a smoother, faster rider.
Along with measuring cadence, a smart trainer will also measure your power output. How much power can you sustain for a period of time? There are various tests to figure out your power so that you can configure your device for the proper amount of resistance. A favorite among cyclists is the 20-minute FTP test. FTP, stands for function threshold power. Essentially you warm up your legs, when ready pedal as hard as you can for 20 minutes without getting sick. Then some math and algorithms will compute your power score. As your fitness increases overtime you generate more power. Periodically, you’ll repeat the test as you grow stronger and adjust your FTP settings on your device. More power allows you to climb better, attack better, generally go faster with a bigger smile as you pass those who can’t keep up 😊.
Now that your trainer is set up, how do you configure work outs? There are many tech solutions that you may subscribe to that provide structure and a schedule to improve your riding. Workouts, training programs, or virtual riding with friends via Zwift are all possible with a smart trainer. I use TrainerRoad which has hundreds of workouts and a cool feature that adapts my training based on all the metrics captured during my rides. The more you ride the more data there is to geek out over (I like this). You can go crazy and set up a TV screen, multiple monitors, or keep it simple with a laptop or smartphone. All these devices will track your progress as you pedal and supply helpful feedback to make you a better cyclist.
I started cycling twelve years ago and learned a couple things along the way. First, this sport can be as inexpensive or expensive as you choose to make it. All you really need is a bike in relatively decent shape to get started. It can be a slippery slope with new cool gear and bikes that continually show up each year. Self-control is helpful (I repeat this often to myself). Second, cycling is a wonderful way to get exercise both indoors and out. Your body continues to burn calories well after you’ve gotten off the bike which is great. Third, and most importantly, cycling is social sport. Maybe less so in the cold winter months but definitely spring through late fall. It’s great to connect with all riders, all abilities, and be outdoors together. No devices, no distractions, just being present with friends and exploring a new route or trail.
Although I wasn’t a fan of indoor cycling, the Wahoo KickR has changed my opinion on the matter. If you own a bike and would like to keep your fitness current while it’s cold outside, go test out a smart trainer. You may be surprised at how much you enjoy it. Ride safe!