Guide to Indoor Cycling

Want to ride indoors but not sure where to start?

Katie Ridehart
Feb 10, 2022
Femail indoor cyclist in front of a televisionFemail indoor cyclist in front of a television

Nothing beats riding your bicycle outside, but bad weather, hectic schedules, and lockdowns often have a way of messing with your plans - so it's no surprise that indoor cycling has had a revolution over the past two years.

In 2020, Peloton saw their number of sales double as people stuck in lockdown rushed to buy exercise equipment. With the US still struggling with a shortage of bicycles and components, the trend doesn't seem to be slowing down anytime soon.

Here's everything a beginner needs to get started with indoor cycling. 

What You Need to Start Indoor Cycling

Technically, all you need for indoor cycling is a stationary bike. 

But, if you want to do something other than stare at the wall or watch TV, there's an entire world of apps designed to help you push your performance and keep you engaged when you can't ride outside.

Nowadays, there's an app for almost every kind of cyclist, so take your time to figure out which works best for what you want - the days where they all pretty much do the same thing are long gone. 

Here are the basics you'll need to get started once you’ve found the right space for your setup: 

  • A turbo trainer (indoor trainer) or exercise bike
  • The right indoor training accessories
  • A monthly subscription for your selected app (if on a smart turbo trainer)

All of the apps on this list require a monthly subscription fee, but they all also offer a free trial.

Turbo Trainer or an Exercise Bike?

If you need to move your training indoors, you have two options to choose from - a turbo trainer or an exercise bike. 

When looking at indoor bike trainers, there are three different types: wheelbased, roller trainers and direct-drive. A wheelbased trainer attaches to your bike's rear wheel, whilst a roller allows your bike to sit on a device with 3 rollers at floor level. For a direct-drive the rear wheel of the bike is removed and placed on a cassette connected to a resistance unit. 

These trainers can be smart and have the ability to be paired with a device to connect to a variety of training platforms/softwares.

Indoor bike trainers enable you to use your own bike, get a realistic feel, and mimic a natural riding posture, although, on the flip side, you need to set it up each time you want to use it (unless you have a bike dedicated to indoor use).

On the other hand, exercise bikes don't require any further adjustments after the initial set-up, so you can hop on and ride without any fuss. They usually don't feel as realistic as an indoor bike trainer, and, depending on the type of exercise bike it is, the seating posture might be different from outdoor bike riding. There are however exercise bikes now that are almost completely customizable, like the Wattbike Atom and Wahoo Kickr bike.

None of these options fare better or worse than the other. It all comes down to what workout you want and what you want to get from your training.

Our 4 Favourite Indoor Cycling Apps

Zwift: Best for Indoor Cycling with a Social Twist

Price: $14.99 per month

If you're the type who's motivated by competition, you'll love Zwift! 

Zwift is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) that combines the thrill of competition, real-time gaming, and cycling to create an immersive, enjoyable experience within virtual worlds. 

Every day, hundreds of thousands of users are online, so you'll never be short of people from all around the world to race, whether you're up at 5 AM or up at 11 PM with a competitive itch you need to scratch. 

Zwift Indoor training app.

The app offers loads of organized events, so you can ride with or compete against people similar to your fitness level. If you have the Zwift Smart Trainer, your resistance will even adjust to match the terrain you're riding, giving you an ultra-realistic experience. 

Other features include a variety of workout modes, an FTP (Functional Threshold Power) test, and training plans you can customize to your goals. Zwift also features regular in-game competitions where you can win real prizes, such as Zipp road bike wheelsets, Wahoo KICKR trainers, and Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT computers.

TrainerRoad: Best for Setting Long-Term Cycling Goals

Price: $19.95 per month

 A vital part of getting your indoor cycling set up ready is deciding how you want to cycle. If Zwift doesn't sound like your kind of thing and you'd rather focus on your own goals instead of having a social element, TrainerRoad might be what you're looking for.

 Unlike many of the available apps, TrainerRoad doesn't emphasize entertainment while cycling. Its goal is purely to record and monitor training/fitness. It also allows you to collaborate with a 3rd party coach. Built on the idea that training without structure isn't training at all, TrainerRoad is ideal for cyclists looking to commit to long-term training.

The custom Plan Builder is one of the most exciting features of the app. If you're training for a specific event or race, you can input information about the race and how much time you have until the race to tailor a unique plan to your needs.

SYSTM (Previously Sufferfest): Best Indoor Cycling App to Feel Like a Pro

Price: $14.99 per month

 If you want something a touch more exciting than TrainerRoad, but don't want to compete with other people, SYSTM offers compelling storylines and footage of pro races to make you feel like you're part of the action.

SYSTM is based on interval training - alternating between low and high intensity - which has been shown to maximise your performance efficiently. It's also not just for high-level athletes. Because it's such an effective way of training, it's also perfect for people who don't have much time to commit to training.

With over 50 structured workouts, plans and coaching, and Four-Dimensional Power fitness test that uses four metrics to help customize your training to your goals, it's perfect for cyclists who want a gamified experience that balances fun and performance.


Price: $15 per month

Like Zwift, Rouvy enables you to compete against other cyclists but, unlike Zwift, it uses a mixture of altitude data and video footage of existing roads to give you a real world riding experience. With Rouvy, you'll get to explore thousands of various routes and more than one hundred augmented reality courses.

If you're training for an event or race or want to take a trip down memory lane to some of your favourite routes, you might even be able to find the route on Rouvy - giving you the chance to explore outside, even when the weather doesn't allow for it.

All prices displayed are accurate at the time of publishing.

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