QUESTION: Do indoor bike trainers really work? Can you actually improve your fitness that way, or is it just a burning calories kind of thing for exercisers? – Bryan P
RBR REPLIES: Indoor bike trainers definitely work. In particular, the new generation of smart trainers and smart bikes that can both measure and control how many watts you are pedaling are extremely effective at improving cycling specific fitness.
In fact, one of the new issues that has arisen in competitive group rides and races over the last few years is that cyclists who primarily train on an indoor bike trainer using apps like Zwift or Trainer Road will have incredible cardiovascular fitness, but underdeveloped bike handling skills.
In the past when most people trained outdoors, the ability to ride fast generally came with at least some decent road skills and group riding skills. That’s because you’d generally be riding outside and often around other riders, requiring balance, cornering and drafting abilities along with the basic competency of riding in a group. A bike trainer improves your cardiovascular fitness, but not your bike handling skills.
It reminds me a little bit of what I’ve experienced when competitive runners would take up cycling and show up to their first few rides. The runners would have high levels of fitness and the ability to ride very hard and fast, but almost no experience with or understanding of group riding dynamics, bike handling, or even how drafting works. They were pretty dangerous to ride around at first.
Doing a lot of structured workouts on a trainer won’t inevitably turn you into a poor bike handler though. In fact, Zwift ran a program called Zwift Academy to identify cycling talent, which ended up with at least two riders getting pro contracts. Clearly, those cyclists are able to succeed in “real life” cycling.