Since the first-time bikes were raced, cyclists have turned over every stone in search of marginal gains, tinkering with a seemingly endless list of components, apparel, and techniques to go as fast as possible at the lowest cost of effort. From the moment the Saris NoPinz team began racing competitively indoors, their search for the optimal indoor setup began.
It’s no secret that many cyclists loathe the indoor trainer. Flashbacks to lagoons of sweat pooled on the basement floor while we pedaled to Spinervals DVDs or stared at our home’s foundation make us shudder in fear. For most of our team, living in areas where the winter weather prohibits quality outdoor training for a significant portion of the year, this was all we had. Throwing the bike on an old Cycleops trainer and pedaling along to something on the TV or a prescribed workout hoping that time would accelerate and get us off the bike as soon as possible.
This reality remains for many staunch holdouts who have refused to delve into virtual training platforms like Zwift or ROUVY. However, simply connecting that old dumb trainer to a virtual training platform won’t erase the dread of the indoor trainer immediately. It takes proper environmental controls, the right equipment for immersion, and a bit of a leap of faith in community to fully unlock your optimal indoor experience.
The first thing a cyclist will notice when taking their first pedal strokes indoors is the absence of wind. Outside, there are two kinds of wind; the one you generate by moving, and the one that you hate (unless it’s behind you) which is blowing regardless of your movement. Inside, the latter’s absence is welcomed. No headwinds to ride into – yes! The former is a significant reason you stay cool outside. Riding at 20mph is essentially having a 20mph fan blowing all over your body continuously.
Many cyclists simply don’t have a strong enough fan to cool themselves properly indoors. Replacing that 20mph wind is crucial to optimizing your indoor setup. However, it’s only one piece of the puzzle, because your efforts generate heat and moisture indoors which can alter the environment significantly while you ride - raising the temperature and humidity throughout your workout or race. Finding ways to mitigate the heat and humidity will unlock your ability to push indoors.
For our team, we utilize the NoPinz SubZero indoor-specific kit, which comes with gel packs which go into the freezer until your ride. The kit comes with 2 sets, so you can keep one set in a provided cooler bag to swap out when the first set loses its cooling effects. When you’re deep in the hurt locker, it’s incredible how much perceived exertion drops when you put an ice pack between your shoulder blades and on your lower back!
Our riders also employ the use of portable dehumidifiers and A/C units specifically for the training room. If the room is smaller in size, riding hard in it will impact the environment easily, and once a room’s humidity exceeds 80%, your sweat rate will be increasingly difficult to manage. The further you get into a ride with high humidity, the more your performance will be impacted negatively. We see the same impact from temperature, where a modest increase can negatively impact performance. If your space is warm (70F/21C or above) to begin, it’s likely that it will be too warm for hard training or racing after just 30-45min of riding as your body gives off heat.
Virtual platforms like Zwift are very similar to video games like World of Warcraft, Call of Duty, or Halo, except for one very important difference: on Zwift your character’s abilities are directly linked to your physical abilities in real life. When you get stronger, you get faster virtually! Where traditional video games and Zwift align, is that when you actively participate in the community you gain access to a much deeper experience than you can have on your own. Training, riding, and racing with friends and teammates makes the game far more enjoyable and will make you more fit!
Our team uses a text and voice chat app called Discord to have an ongoing conversation throughout the day, and we regularly talk with the voice and video functionality when riding and racing. Think Zoom call, but more sweat and swearing as you suffer together. In races, the ability to communicate is a game changer, and makes the time pass much more quickly.
Whether you have a team already or not, the Zwift community is unbelievably vast, inclusive, and friendly. We highly recommend jumping into the DIRT (Dads Inside Riding Trainers) community (moms and non-parents also welcome!). It’s the largest community on Zwift and the surest way to get stuck in on Zwift.
While community, gamification, and a controlled environment are great ways to improve the indoor training and racing experience, it’s still hard to forget that you’re riding in your dingey, dark and cold basement without immersion. That’s where a direct drive trainer, rocker plate, and an optimized setup come into play.
Direct drive trainers like the Saris H3 are far and away the most important addition to any setup to give you an immersive riding experience. Feeling every bit of each undulation in the road; your wheels spinning faster on descents and getting that instantaneous feedback that you’re starting up a mountain climb and should shift gears accordingly will transport you from your basement to Watopia.
Additions to your setup like the Saris TD1 desk put everything you need conveniently at arms-length so you don’t have to think about grabbing a bottle, it’s just right there. No need to worry about a dying tablet or phone batteries, plug them into the desk’s USB ports. Similarly, a moving platform (more than a rocker plate) like the MP1 will increase your immersion as you jump out of the saddle at the base of a climb – the bike responds by rocking and allowing you to leverage that motion into power as you push the pedals with each side-to-side rocking movement.
If you’re going to put some time in on the trainer for a significant portion of your training, we promise these additions will improve your level of enjoyment and impressiveness, making those virtual miles fly by. If you intend to take your eRacing and training up a notch we have some specialty tips and tricks which we’ve adapted for our own setups over the years.
Team co-founder, Holden Comeau, is known for his insane sprint ability. His mantra for sprinting on an indoor trainer is “lift the car”. Quite literally, he envisions walking up to the back of a car, placing his hands firmly underneath the bumper, and trying as hard as he can to lift it. A proper sprint feels like a failed lift – where he never quite gets the car off the ground, making sure every ounce of effort goes straight into the pedals. That’s where the Sprintboard comes in. Holden took the top off of a Saris MP1 Platform with Nfinity Technology, which has straps to secure the trainer and front wheel to the board. When the bike and trainer can’t move or jump around, every ounce of energy Holden puts into the pedals goes into making sure his avatar in-game crosses the finish line first.
Hey Alexa/Siri, Okay Google, Turn On Fans!
We hammered away the importance of fans in the paragraphs above. Here’s the ultimate way to level-up your indoor setup: smart switches. If you’re using a strong fan, it’s likely that you won’t need it right when you hop on the bike or in the early part of a race. Plugging your fans into a smart-enabled plug adapter will give you remote control of your fans, regardless of how “smart” they are! If you’re especially handy, you can hard-wire the fans onto an electrical switch, too!
While outdoors aero is everything, inside you are not penalized for a poor aerodynamic position. Many cyclists find decreasing cadence and standing up controls their effort and allows them to push more power for a longer duration than if they were seated. Saris NoPinz racer Ryan Larson, a former collegiate runner, finds that standing makes climbing and pushing power easier. While this may not come easily or quickly, experimenting withstanding efforts, increasing duration over the course of a few weeks will help you adapt to the position. Give it a try!
Turn, change camera views, and hit your powerup without moving your hands off the bars using a bluetooth-enabled, handlebar mounted switch. Titan Lab, a cycling technology company, has a product called the Kommander just for this use. It gives you all the controls you could want mid-race and you won’t have to fumble with your phone or keyboard to hit that powerup in the key moment of your race!