What Are The Different Types of Indoor Cycling?

In an ideal cycling world, every day would be pleasantly warm, with little or no breeze to slow you down. The day would stretch out before you, with no work or family responsibilities to intrude upon your ride time.

But this isn’t an ideal cycling world.

In fact it’s piddling it down outside, the temperature is close to zero and you have just 30 minutes for a cycle session, or serious relationship repercussions are heading your way.

Cycling indoors is your only option. (“Turbo Wan, you’re my only hope”).

But what do we mean when we talk about indoor cycling?

Not all indoor cycles were born equal. Or something like that.

In this post, we’re going to look at the options for a cyclist that doesn’t want to go outside….

Holy Crankshafts Montman, Why Are You Talking About Riding Inside When It’s Sunbeaming?

Okay people, it’s time to get real. Winter is coming.

Yes, us northern hemispheroids might be basking in glorious summer sunshine (or at least watching it on the Tour de France highlights), but it’s time to start thinking about when it won’t be so.

This is the start of a ‘season’ of posts with the aim of getting you (or, more correctly, me) ready for maintaining your cycling mojo over the darker months.

It’s been hard getting back into a cycling habit and I’m determined to maintain it (ok, at least ‘mildly keen’ to maintain it).

Unless you have total flexibility in your riding schedule during shorter, wetter and colder days, I’d suggest that some form of indoor cycling will be required. And as we know, if you get organised ahead of time, you’re more likely to follow through with the plan.

So what are the options (and what is the plan…)?

Indoor (Or Turbo) Trainer

For the most part, indoor cycling for me means training on a turbo (or indoor) trainer.

It’s a contraption that sits behind my bike. My rear wheel is locked into place such that the tyre rests upon a slightly rubbery roller. As I rotate the pedals, the little roller provides resistance.

My front wheel sits in a grooved plastic ‘climbing block’ (mine is made by Cycleops). This stabilises the front wheel so it doesn’t move around, and also props it up slightly so that the bike is level (the rear wheel is held off the ground by the indoor trainer itself).

This should probably go without saying (though I’ll say it anyway): when you pedal, it’s the rear wheel that spins round. Your front wheel only rotates as it’s pushed against the rolling resistance of the road. On an indoor trainer, as you’re not moving forward, your front wheel is quite happy just to sit there and do nothing (it’s good like that…).

The Elite Crono Elastogel (as viewed from the front…).

In the case of my trainer (the Elite Crono Fluid Elastogel), the faster I pedal, the greater the resistance level (it’s something to do with the fluid in there). Other trainers have set levels levels of resistance that can be controlled either directly by you or, in the case of ‘smart’ trainers by your bike computer or an app on your computer or iPad.

Click here to see my review of the Elite Crono Elastogel trainer (it’s a good ‘un…)

Turbo training tends to take place at home and generally indoors (hence the name…). My trainer is set up semi-permanently in my garage, with my old, slightly ill-fitting Dawes road bike.

You can do it outside if it’s not the weather that has sent you scurrying inside. Professional cycling teams will carry a brace of turbo trainers around with them, and set them up outside the team bus for riders to warm up before, and warm down after, the day’s stage. I’ve been known to ‘indoor cycle’ outside on the patio when I’m (supposedly) looking after the kids.

Not all indoor trainers rely on your rear wheel resting on a roller in order to create resistance. Some, known as ‘direct drive’ trainers, require you to take the rear wheel off your bike, and to hook (technical term) your chain around a cassette attached to the trainer itself.

The Wahoo KICKR is a direct drive trainer (as evidenced by the cassette int’ middle o’ picshure)

A couple of advantages of direct drive trainers:

  • they avoid excess wear on your rear tire (tyre…) – heavy duty users of turbo trainers sometimes have to buy heavy duty indoor-specific tires;
  • there is no variance caused by differing tire pressures during different training sessions – because there is no tire…

We’ll come on to smart and direct drive trainers in more detail in a later post.

Turbo Trainer vs Indoor Trainer: Is there a difference?

In short, no. There is no difference between a turbo trainer and an indoor cycle trainer. I’ve used both terms together and interchangeably above.

I think it all comes down to where you live.

Historically in the UK (and I’m guessing Australia), we’ve tended to use the turbo term. ’Muricans tend to call them indoor trainers.

As US companies (e.g. Wahoo) have launched and/or become more popular, and European companies (I’m looking at you Elite), have become less esoteric in their product range lineups, Aussies and Brits are tending more just to call them indoor trainers.

(And here ends my ill-informed treatise on the subject).

Indoor Rollers

Rollers scare me.

They’re a contraption comprising three rollers in a flat frame that sits on the floor. You put your bike on top. Then you ride your bike whilst desperately trying not to fall off.

Innocent enough looking. Lethal in the wrong hands (mine)…

The key point is that there is nothing holding your bike upright. Other than the same magic physicsy pixie dust (phyxie dust?) that keeps your bike upright whilst you’re riding it on the road.

The resistance of your rear tire rotates the roller at the back, which is attached by a band of some sort that rotates the front two rollers, which gets your front wheel spinning as well.

Rollers tend to be more the domain of the hardcore cyclist and specifically the hardcore cyclist that wants to warm up for something. Hence you see them a lot in the rider area of a velodrome at track cycling events.

They don’t tend to provide much rolling resistance, so are less relevant for cyclists looking to do more strength-based sessions.

What they do offer is (apparently) more fun (maybe the thrill of impending doom), good ‘road feel’ and are useful for developing a smoother pedal stroke.

For me, I can see a set of rollers as being the ideal way to break both my collar bone and my carbon road bike frame, and spending a couple of hours on the garage floor until my wife realises that I haven’t returned from a 30 minute spin in the pain cave…

Exercise bike

I’m struggling to think of things to write about exercise bikes. They are not the most inspiring piece of fitness equipment. So I’m not going to write much.

I guess the main (obvious) point to make is that an exercise bike is a standalone piece of equipment, whereas an indoor/turbo trainer or a set of rollers involves the use of your own bike (or most if it, in case of direct drive trainers).

Based on the scant amount of ‘research’ that you’ve come to expect from this blog, it appears you can buy ones that are similar to the ones in gyms from places like Argos and Amazon. You can also buy versions similar to those used in spinning classes (see below).

I must admit, when I’ve ridden exercise bikes in gyms I’ve never much enjoyed it. Ten minutes on them seems to be my max.


I suppose Wattbikes are a subset of exercise bikes. Somehow they seem to have transcended the slight naffness of the exercise bike that purebred road cyclists like us (yes, like us) look down our refined (and aerodynamic) noses at.

Watt you get for spending £2k+ on an exercise bike…

Perhaps this is because they cost a squillion dollars, have in-built power measurement (to over 3,700 Watts) and pedalling efficiency analysis, and provide (apparently) the ‘most authentic road feel available’*.

(* Presumably aside from riding on an actual road).

Like a number of cycling products (generally expensive ones: power meters, the Castelli Gabba/Perfetto), I have a fascination with trying out a Wattbike. There is always a chance that it is the holy grail that unlocks pro performance (or at least the ability to complete a peaky century ride in my local Peak(y) District).

Interesting then that you can rent Wattbikes. Which is probably another expensive way of discovering (confirming) that I am a (very) mediocre cyclist.


Spinning is a cult.

Okay, maybe it’s not. But I’m pretty sure it’s a trade mark*.

(A quick Google search tells me that it is – owned by Madd Dog Athletics Inc – and that I should probably work out who to type one of those little ‘R in a circle’ symbols…)

The term has become synonymous with the disturbing practice of gathering a group of people in a dark room, putting them on indoor cycles, assaulting them with pumping dance music, and having a microphone-armed cult leader shout at them to ‘increase the resistance’.

Actually, it’s a pretty effective way of using peer pressure to ensure that you have an effective, high-intensity cycle training session. Or a synchronised heart attack.

Most gyms run group indoor cycling sessions of some sort.

The bikes they use look like pared down exercise bikes. The front wheel on a Spin bike (the flywheel) is weighted. Resistance is controlled by a dial that you tighten (normally whilst been shouted at by a deranged motivational gym instructor) in order to make it harder and thus mimic the feel of riding up a hill. There is no freewheeling (as I recall) so you have to be pedalling all the time, even when ticking along at a light resistance.

To be fair, I like spin sessions (and similar non-trademarked ‘faux-Spin’ indoor cycling sessions). They are effective at dealing with some of the ‘behavioural issues’ around cycling training:

  • As an organised and timetabled session, they commit you to actually pulling your finger out and doing it (none of this, “I’m hoping to find 45 minutes later for a cheeky cycle…” – it goes in the diary);
  • You work harder than if left to train on your own (which probably means you shouldn’t timetable a spin class in place of the ‘active recovery’ ride in your training programme).

Of course, you do need to be a member of a gym or book on to a pay-as-you-go session in order to participate in a spin class, which costs money. When I was a member of my office gym, the classes tend to book up very quickly, so it wasn’t always easy to find a session.

Cycle Training Studio

How, you might ask, is a ‘cycle training studio’ any different from a spinning session?

But get this. There are fitness emporia whose sole purpose is to run indoor cycling training sessions.

They’re generally designed to appeal to your design- and history-conscious road cyclist (yes, that’s you) and hence an awful lot trendier than your bog standard gym spin. Or at least more bikey.

And as a 38-year-old father of three, whose last trend-related purchase was a mustard coloured ‘Sweater Shop’ jumper in the mid–1990s (yes really), I am uniquely qualified to judge these things.

I went down to one in the City of London and thoroughly enjoyed it (and met Team Sky Procycling rider – indeed Tour de France ‘road captain’ – Luke Rowe).

I guess the main difference to the spin gym sessions I used to do is that they had some way of measuring the power output of each rider (could it have been a power…. meter…?).

There was a screen at the front that had a leaderboard, letting you know how you were doing relative to the rest of the peloton (i.e. the other people in the room). In my case, it let me know that I was doing badly.cyclebeat spin studio

I am used to ‘doing badly’ from an athletic performance perspective, so I don’t tend to have much of a competitive streak. But strangely (or perhaps not), the session did seem to at least tickle the ‘competitive switch’ in my brain (psyche? loins?). So I found myself, if not going deep, at least going somewhat towards the back of my pain cave.

Where I emerged sweaty and red faced, in time to get a picture with the above-mentioned pro cyclist.

Monty meets Luke Rowe
Note: I always look this sweaty

Track cycling

The last form of indoor cycling (at least for today’s post) is one that I was all set to forget. Until I remembered it. And now I’ve started writing about it.

I guess as a form of indoor cycling (from a personal perspective), track riding doesn’t immediately spring to mind. Not least because you need rather a large indoors to house the cycling in.

I appreciate that not everyone has access to a velodrome, and even fewer have access that is sufficiently convenient to make it a core part of their training, but I raise it as an option (or something to try) because I found my session at the Derby Velodrome at the back end of last year a lot of fun.

It is with a slight twinge of regret that I have not followed that beginner session with completion of the three additional sessions that would have given me track accreditation and the ability to join ad-hoc training sessions (spin sessions where the bikes actually move…). And I’m one of those people that does have reasonably convenient access to a velodrome (the Derby one is 9.9 miles from my house/service course….).

Okay So Those Are The Options. You Mentioned A Plan?

Did I? Ah yes. Well I meant a plan in the (very) loosest sense of the word.

My ‘plan’ is to (i) write a bit more on this here blog; and (ii) give some focus to indoor cycling. The ultimate objective is to help you (and me) prepare so that you’re (we’re) able to maintain some sort of cycling habit over the winter, and retain some semblance of fitness.

Ah the search for a semblance of fitness….

Reader! What is your favourite form of indoor cycling? Let me know in the comments. Do it now, thankyouplease.

Products Mentioned In This Post:

If you’re in the market for an indoor trainer, here are a few options. As always these are affiliate links – if you click and buy something, I will receive a commission at no cost to you.

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Monty - Sportive Cyclist
Monty is an enthusiastic road cyclist with only moderate talent. He started Sportive Cyclist in 2013 to record the journey to his first 100 mile ride, the RideLondon 100. Over time the blog has expanded to include training advice, gear reviews and road cycling tales, all from the perspective of a not-very-fit MAMIL. Since you're here, Monty would also like you to check out his YouTube channel. Also, Monty really needs to stop referring to himself in the third person.

3 thoughts on “What Are The Different Types of Indoor Cycling?”

  1. “Faux spin” instructor (and sportive rider) here !
    The key positives for me in doing spin training are 1) no traffic, 2) no potholes and 3) zoning out, eyes closed, won’t result in a crash.
    Living in the south-east I tend to do a lot more indoor work throughout the year because when it comes to road traffic there are too many aggressive drivers for my liking.
    Spin (IMHO) is great for simulating hard flat riding, but not so good at hills. Yes, you can crank up the gears, but ultimately you are not working against gravity at all, and so real outdoor hills are definitely harder.
    45 minutes of spin 5 days a week sets me up for about 3 hours worth of decent road riding – London to Brighton for example.
    For anything over that duration (Ride London say), I have to get over the traffic fears to do some longer training sessions beforehand, else the last couple of hours tend to show up the stamina limitations.

  2. I went for a track taster session at the Olympic velodrome, as a birthday present from my wife. It was seriously one of the most fun days and I will get the next stage of the course for Christmas. I’d highly recommend it, you won’t be sorry! I also own rollers at home. The reason I got rollers over a turbo trainer is because they actually help you with technique while you are exercising. It’s right that they don’t offer the same resistance level as a turbo, but put your bike in 52/12 and you’ll start to feel it after 10 mins. Rollers help with balance – even if you don’t think this is something you need to work on. You develop a very smooth pedalling style and you’ll find your ability to hold a straight line is improved in no time. Skills like taking a bottle out of the cage for a drink and returning it, riding no hands, removing clothing etc. are very tricky at first, but if you can do these on rollers, the road is a breeze! As for falling off, will, if you position the rollers in a door frame, you can steady yourself with your elbow if you wobble, or want to mount/dismount. Once you get your wheels spinning, the bike takes care of it’s self and you really do gain confidence. You also need to concentrate to keep on them, unlike on the turbo. Therefore, time flies by! They are also recognised as being the best way to train for the track, as a smooth pedalling style is a real asset for the boards. Give them a go, you’ll love them when you get over the fear.


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