BEST 2022 INDOOR CYCLING BIKES, TRAINERS AND TIPS
WHEN IMITATION IS THE TRUEST FORM OF FLATTERY & FITNESS
Between the ravages of the coronavirus and the limited supply of bikes and equipment available at our local bike shops, riding indoors has never been as popular as it has in the last year. Of course, just as new technology has always proven to be a boon for outdoor cycling enthusiasm, so, too, has it played a role in helping to ignite the indoor craze.
According to data from the U.S. Department of the Treasury, bike imports hit a 20-year low in 2019, but 2020 brought about a 16-percent increase in imports, which was partially hampered by the effects of coronavirus restrictions on production. Though the numbers seem positive, the overall trend for new bikes arriving in the country has been steadily declining for years.
However, indoor cycling has been growing in popularity. According to the independent market research group NPD, stationary bike sales led the cycling industry in terms of overall growth in 2020, peaking with a 270-percent increase in April year over year, plus April’s sales of trainers and rollers rose to an unprecedented 415 percent when compared to the previous year.
HOW TO RIDE?
Just like outdoor riding has branched off into focused segments of race, gravel and endurance categories, indoor riding tech has crept into its own form of segmentation focused around the three main categories of trainers, smart bikes and stationary bikes. Cycling brands have remained in control of the first two segments of trainers and smart bikes, but longtime fitness brands have recently upgraded the stationary bike catalogs.
Fitness companies like Peloton, Bowflex and NordicTrack have capitalized on the growing indoor riding trend with new all-in-one stationary bike releases. Twenty-inch monitors that can stream live, instructor-led spin classes and log workouts are becoming a standard on the high-end options. Weights and small exercise equipment like resistance bands can be added to create a full-on home gym.
The structure, efficiency and safety that indoor riding provides has boosted the popularity of the historically overlooked indoor cycling sector.
Peloton has set the precedent in terms of creating a simple yet chic home-workout machine that is accessible and easy enough to use that an entire family can enjoy it. Owing to its direct-to-consumer sales platform aided by white-glove delivery, Peloton gives the end user a hassle-free, though expensive, entry into the world of indoor riding.
Since its inception in 2009, in addition to repeated infusions of equity-fund money, Peloton has grown its premium membership service, which has accrued a vast library of on-demand spin classes, all of which are accessible on the 21.5-inch built-in touchscreen. To gain credibility and appeal to cyclists, Peloton worked with WorldTour pros like Christian Vande Velde, Alex Howes and Ben King to lead a handful of live spin classes, which are still available in the on-demand library. Currently, 17 new classes are streamed live every day.
Peloton keeps spin classes competitive with live leader boards that track total output based on a rider’s cadence and resistance. It’s essentially an estimated power-output tracker.
A variety of cardio, yoga, strength training and meditation classes are available as well. In order to access all of this content, a Peloton All-Access premium subscription is required, which is priced at $39. Without the subscription, the Peloton bike will not save workout history and will function as a standard “dumb” stationary bike.
TRAINERS AND SMART BIKES OH MY
Trainers and smart bikes are cyclist-centric options for riding indoors. Trainers have been around for just about as long as bicycles, but recently smart bikes and smart trainers have taken the lead in indoor riding tech. Wheel-off smart trainers are a mainstay for brands like Wahoo, Elite and Tacx. What makes them smart is the built-in power meter and live resistance trackers with the ability to connect to the internet and to sync to other devices via Bluetooth and ANT+ connections.
Smart bikes take cyclist-focused design cues and blend them with a stationary bike. A typical smart bike has a road-bike-like cockpit with a round handlebar with shifters. Like smart trainers, they can be connected to the internet via Wi-Fi or an ethernet cable and connect to various devices via Bluetooth and ANT+.
Most trainers and smart bikes connect to proprietary apps like the Wahoo Fitness app or the Stages Sync app to log workouts and activities for free. However, third-party software like Zwift adds an independent and immersive indoor riding experience.
DO YOU EVEN ZWIFT?
Zwift was founded in 2014 with the goal of creating a platform for virtual riding to enhance the indoor cycling experience. 2020 marked a major milestone for the Long Beach, California-based company as it surpassed one billion dollars in valuation and thousands of subscribers.
The Zwift ingredients require a bike, a trainer, a power meter or a speed sensor, an internet connection, and a membership to the service, which costs $15 per month. Smart bikes are easy to connect as well; however, only a few stationary bikes like the Bowflex Velocore are currently compatible with the program; a Peloton bike is not.
Zwift is essentially a video game in which a user’s avatar is powered by the output the user produces. Riders can meet up with others across the globe to ride together in a variety of ways, including organized group rides, which can draw thousands of riders at once, high-intensity races, organized group training workouts, or simply just to free ride.
There are a variety of features that gamify Zwift, like power-ups the avatars receive when crossing certain points on the maps, of which there are many. Currently, Zwift offers eight unique maps, several of which mimic real-world locations, like the famous tree-lined boulevard the Champs-Elysees made famous in the Tour de France and the unrelenting, switchback-filled climb up Alpe d’Huez. Developers have promised more are on the way.
INSIDE THE INDOOR WORLD OF CYCLING
A handy market overview to help guide you inside
Peloton Bike Plus
For 2021, Peloton released an improved top-of-the-line model dubbed the Peloton Bike Plus. The Plus starts with essentially the same drivetrain as the original model, but features a handful of upgrades to enhance ride quality and immersive experience. The most useful and modern update is the “Auto Follow” resistance feature, which allows automated changes of resistance during a workout class by the instructor. This is a major improvement over the original Peloton, which required constant adjustments of the resistance knob.
The Plus features a swivel monitor that is over 2 inches bigger than the original, and the speakers feature a wider audio range. While the Peloton can be used without the subscription package, the wide array of off-the-bike exercises make the Peloton app and Bike Plus a complete home workout package. Scenic rides on real roads and a variety of workout classes set the baseline for what to expect in a home workout bike. Peloton bikes can fit riders from 4-foot-11 to 6-foot-4 with the adjustable seatpost and handlebar.
Heading up NordicTrack’s vast home exercise machine catalog, the S22i is a commercial spin-class-level rig. Named for its 22-inch rotating screen, the S22i’s most appealing feature for regular cyclists is likely the ride-enhancing 20 degrees of incline and 10 degrees of decline, which are linked to the magnetic flywheel for real-world-like ride conditions. The resistance can be controlled by the buttons on the handlebar, automated and controlled by instructors during live workout classes, and inclines and declines match up to the scenic rides offered, so riders can experience live resistance changes as they spin through the hills on roads in Vietnam, Japan, France’s Mont Ventoux, as well as the rest of the unique library of real-world rides.
In order to use the workout programs, users will have to dole out $15 a month for the iFit app, but S22i owners receive a year of the service for free. NordicTrack’s S22i can fit riders from 4-foot-6 to 6-foot-1 tall with its vertically adjustable handlebar and seatpost.
Bowflex offers a distinctive take on dynamic indoor riding with their latest release, the Velocore. Most notable is the “Lean Mode,” which essentially simulates real-life cornering that Bowflex lauds as an efficient, easy way to strengthen core, back and arm muscles while pedaling; however, only a few classes on the supported JRNY workout program included with the bike incorporate the feature.
The built-in 16-inch monitor can run Zwift and the Peloton app, as well as entertainment apps like Netflix and Hulu, but you need a JRNY membership to connect. Without the JRNY membership, only manual workouts can be completed, and none of the ride data will be saved. The 100 levels of silent magnetic resistance on the 33-pound flywheel are controlled manually with a knob. An adjustable seatpost and handlebar are designed to fit riders 5-foot-1 to 6-foot-5.
Wahoo Kickr Bike
Thanks to its traditional road-bike-like handlebar and stem, cycling fitness brand Wahoo may have the most appealing indoor bike for roadie enthusiasts. Wahoo’s Kickr bike replicates outdoor riding with its 35 degrees of real-time grade changes with resistance changes to simulate climbs and descents.
The steep price tag comes with one of the most realistic road bike simulations, thanks to the Shimano-Di2-like shifters. The Wahoo Kickr bike is compatible with the free WahooFitness app to log workouts, but the experience is enhanced when linked to Zwift or other training apps like TrainerRoad and RGT Cycling.
Plus, the built-in buttons on the hood are compatible with Zwift steering, making it the only indoor bike with that ability. The 13-pound flywheel and motor can generate up to 2200 watts of resistance. With five points of adjustment, the Kickr bike offers one of the widest ranges of fit, ideal for riders that use size 46–60cm frames.
Stages Cycling SB20
Better known to cyclists for their latest foray into power meters (as relied on by Tadej Pogacar for victory at the 2020 Tour de France) and GPS head units, Stages Cycling has been a commercial indoor bike manufacturer for over a decade. Building upon the release of their original smart bike simply named the StagesBike, the SB20 is developed around three power meters—two on the crankarms and one on the flywheels for superior accuracy. Four points of adjustment allows riders 5 feet tall to 6-foot-3 to match the fit of their regular ride.
A standard 26mm handlebar is paired with Stages hoods. The cockpit features 10 shift buttons, with three on the inside of each hood and four that can be placed anywhere on the bars like on the inside of each side of the drops. Workouts can be tracked for free on the Stages Sync app, and the SB20 is compatible with Zwift, as well as all other major training apps.
Wahoo released the fifth iteration of their flagship Kickr smart trainer ahead of the traditional trainer season. It maintains the same 16-pound, 2200-watt-capable flywheel as the previous version, but Wahoo has improved the accuracy of the power meter from +/- 2 percent to +/- 1 percent. In an effort to make the already-quiet system more silent, Wahoo added three sets of compression pads that reduce vibrations sent to the ground by pivoting independently. Wahoo claims the pads can be customized by size to mimic the outdoor riding sensation, the smallest-diameter pads provide the most feedback, while the biggest provide the most support.
Also notable is the new network port, which allows for a wired connection to the internet via an ethernet cable and an adapter. This allows a direct connection to a home network to minimize data loss and connection dropouts during online activities. Wahoo designed the Kickr with compatibility in mind. It is compatible with a standard quick-release axle, 12x142mm and 12x148mm thru-axles. An 11-28 Shimano 11-speed cassette is included, but the Kickr can run 8-,9-, 10- and 12-speed cassettes with the proper adapters. ANT+ and Bluetooth connectivity allow for a wide range of compatible accessories.
Elite Direto XR
Elite has evolved its Direto line of interactive trainers and has upgraded the Direto to the top spot in the Italian company’s catalog, replacing the Drivo line. Earning it the top spot is its increased power capacity (up to 2300 watts), increased flywheel weight (up .7 pounds to 9.9 pounds) and with 24-percent grade-resistance simulation. Elite claims the Direto XR holds the same +/- 1.5-percent power accuracy as its predecessor.
Our favorite aspect of the new Direto is that it comes pre-assembled, while previous models required assembly of the legs out of the box. Elite has enhanced the responsiveness of the flywheel for an impressively quiet and smooth ERG experience. The added power capacity is still about 1000 watts too high enough for us to reach, but real beefcakes might have a new trainer to consider.
The Elite XR is Bluetooth and ANT+ compatible. It is compatible with Q/R and 12x142mm thru-axles, but with the proper adapters can fit 12x148mm thru-axles, as well as 10-12x135mm axles. An 11-speed Suntour 11-28 cassette is installed, users can add Campagnolo and SRAM XD/XDR cassette bodies with the proper adapters.
Tacx Neo 2T
The Tacx Neo 2T is the refined and improved pinnacle trainer in the Tacx lineup. It features the same 2200 watts of resistance and simulates up to a 25-percent incline as their Neo bike. When your bike is mounted, it also offers a level of bike rock to simulate a more natural ride quality. An integrated power meter with pedal analysis offers data to help improve pedaling efficiency. The Neo 2T can be connected to the Tacx Training app, which will log activities for free. A library of workout and training plans is available for $12 per month.
WHAT ABOUT TRAINING APPS?
Zwift is currently the leader in the virtual riding experience sector. The consistent software updates, and immersive maps earned Zwift support from the UCI to host the inaugural e-sports World Championships in 2020. Novel features like in-game steering require more levels of concentration and inches closer to mimicking the outdoor riding experience. Workouts designed by WorldTour pros and event-specific training plans are ideal for beginners training for their first gran fondo or experienced riders trying to raise their FTP (functional threshold power).
Zwift’s catalog of maps has increased steadily year after year, and riders can now pedal across the Champs-Elysees or climb up the 21 switchbacks on Alpe du Zwift, a meter-for-meter replica of the famous road used in the Tour de France, the Alpe d’Huez. Zwift can be run from just the mobile app, but performs best on a laptop or Apple TV. Zwift requires a bike on a trainer with a speed sensor, a power meter or a smart trainer; select indoor bikes are compatible as well.
Price: $15 per month
RGT Cycling is an up-and-coming virtual cycling training program with a unique take on virtual riding. Users can start off with a free membership, which gives them access to two of the eight available roads currently on the platform. A premium membership costs $10 a month. It’s the most affordable option available.
Included is RGT’s “Magic Road” feature, which creates a virtual environment around any 62-mile or shorter GPX file. This can be used to simulate the route for an upcoming event to better understand what lies ahead before the ride. In addition to the customizable routes, RGT has races, group rides and famous roads like the classic Tour de France climb up Mont Ventoux and the Alpine Stelvio pass made famous in the Giro d’Italia.
Price: Free; $10 per month (premium)
Looking to boost your FTP or simply improve your endurance for your next event? TrainerRoad has got you covered. Work with personalized, structured training plans to maximize your training time. TrainerRoad uses exclusive ride-analysis tools to consistently measure your progress. With no fluffy animations or avatars, just numbers, TrainerRoad just requires a trainer and a speed sensor or a power meter to get started, but smart trainers are ideal. Users can focus only on their efforts to maximize their efforts and minimize their indoor training time. TrainerRoad offers a complete training plan that can be incorporated on outdoor rides to meet one’s goals. An indoor riding setup with a method of tracking power and heart rate will create the best results.
Price: $20 per month
In addition to the $39 monthly subscription, Peloton’s diverse library of live and on-demand workouts are also available on the Peloton app— without the Peloton bike—for a fraction of the price. Experience nearly the full range of thousands of on-demand, instructor-led classes, including strength training, stretching and yoga workouts. However, leader boards and live on-screen metrics will be absent from the app if you are using non-Peloton equipment. While no equipment is necessary to use many of the features on the app, cycling workouts can be completed with any indoor bike or trainer setup. At $13 per month, the subscription service offers the best bang for your buck in terms of content, but the lack of live fitness-tracking metrics for those without Peloton equipment is
Price: $13 per month
TRAINING WITH AVATARS
From learning how to Zwift to making it useful year round
By John Perry
I’ve always figured that the whole point to enduring a learning curve is to discover that new things can be found around the bend. Going into my third month with Zwift, I’ve realized that the learning curve is actually akin to a long, slow corner—there is much to learn and even more to get out of it.
After getting the Wahoo trainer set up with my bike and connecting it to my Strava and Garmin Connect, I quickly realized that there was much to learn.
The first thing to remember is that Zwift is basically a video game (and an addictive one at that!) that wants you to keep playing (riding). In fact, the more (and harder) you ride, the more you’re able to gain points (“sweat drops”) to upgrade your bike and accessories.
Staring out, you are then asked to select a challenge. I suggest that you choose the Everest Challenge, because this is the event that needs to be completed in order to achieve the elusive, top-level “Tron” bike. I climbed over 12,000 feet before I figured this out, even though it wasn’t a wasted effort. By selecting the Everest Challenge, you will have a more direct route towards a goal.
The next two things that are important are Zwift Power and Zwift Companion. Zwift Power keeps track of all your event results and your overall ranking within the Zwift world (zwiftpower.com). Zwift Companion is the place to find events and friends who are also on Zwift.
The other important element in Zwift Companion is the Zwift Forum. There is an answer to just about anything that you can dream up about Zwift, and if not, you can ask your personal question and it will get an answer. You can find the Zwift Companion wherever you get apps for your Android or Apple platform.
The next thing that took me a while to figure out was the Trainer Difficulty. When the program is in default setup, the Trainer Difficulty is set at 50 percent. You can change this via the menu bar (in the lower left corner) after you’ve selected a ride and are on the course. When you tap this menu button, a screen will appear that has several icons on the right. At the lower right of the menu is an icon that looks like two gears; click on this. The third item from the top is the Trainer Difficulty setting. You can slide the bar to make the trainer easier or more difficult. Setting the Trainer Difficulty at 100 percent will give you a realistic road feel, and 0 percent will give you no real resistance.
YOUR ZWIFT COMPANION
When I first started Zwifting, I stayed on the 100-percent setting and was never ever able to stay with the groups in the events that I entered on Zwift Companion. It was discouraging to always getting dropped. I turned to the Zwift Forum and asked about the Trainer Difficulty option, and there were answers within seconds to my question. Zwift Forum communicated that people set the Trainer Difficulty between 0–30 percent for events and 100 percent for everything else that they do on Zwift. When I entered the next Zwift event, I set the Trainer Difficulty at 0 percent, which made a huge difference in my experience. I didn’t get dropped!
Finally, I did not get dropped during the event and finished with the group. When using the 0-percent setting for events, it is different because you turn a consistent gear and try to maintain a specific wattage. Whereas with 100 percent, you will need every gear that is available in order to maintain the wattage. My advice is to play with the Trainer Difficulty option so that you can find your true sweet spots.
Zwift events and races are really where the true aspect of the video gaming experience comes into effect. Events are run 24/7 with no breaks. The events are broken down into categories from A to D based on your watt output per kilo (of body weight), with A being the hardest and D the easiest. Integrity is king here. Your weight and height are important since they determine your avatar’s resistance and your watts per kilo. Fudging with these numbers for better results, which plenty of people have been busted for, is popularly known as “avatar doping” (note to cheaters: Zwift has internal algorithms that will catch the inflated numbers).
WITH A COACH’S HELP
I’ve found the most productive growth from Zwift by using structured workouts and the 100-percent setting in my return to preparation for my hoped for summer season of gravel racing. I’m now using the Cinch Cycling Form under the direction of Tommy Danielson to help achieve my best performance at Unbound Gravel.
The level of fitness that Zwift has provided has allowed me to focus on the specifics of the daily structured workout without distractions. What are these distractions that are no longer present virtually? We all know the easy ones like cars, wind, flat tires, but the biggest one of all is weather.
Beyond distractions is the concept of time, because Zwift allows you to do your structured workout or event at any time of day. I’ve come to find that with Zwift at adjusted to 100-percent Trainer Difficulty, I can improve my form and position on the bike, which is a game-changer at being efficient on the bike. It also allows me to focus on the exact demands of the structured workout.
REAL VERSUS VIRTUAL
While it’s tempting to ride Zwift every day since it’s so easy to get on and go, be aware that overdoing it with Zwift is a definite possibility. With Zwift you are always working, never coasting or taking advantage of the undulations that real outdoor roads provide. Be careful not to do hard rides day after day since you may do more harm to your fitness than good. Recovery days are just as important with Zwift as they are with real-world riding.
Given that you sweat and burn calories with Zwift just as you do when riding outside, it’s important to keep yourself fueled. In fact, I’ve found that the indoor setting is a perfect place to experiment with nutritional products to see how your system reacts before finding yourself miles from home and having it all go wrong.
Recently, I went out for a real ride after Zwifting for eight weeks of winter weather, and all I can say is that it was an eye-opener. It felt like I’d forgotten how to ride a bike! I also lost some of the good sense to pay attention to what was happing around me. It took the most of a two-hour ride outside to feel comfortable on the bike while watching for road obstacles, cars, wind and reaching for a water bottle.
Thanks to Zwift, I was strong and able to ride through the bad weather in Durango, Colorado, during the winter months. Zwift is not just a cold-weather option and can be used any time of year. Once summer arrives, you will want to be outside riding frequently.
However, as we all know, sometimes that thing called “life” can interfere with the best-laid training program. And, as I thankfully discovered this past winter, Zwift is a great option when the real world interferes with outdoor rides. At that point, give yourself one hour on Zwift while using 100-percent Trainer Difficulty. It may be 9 pm and 90 degrees outside, but I’m confident that riding in your air-conditioned home will make Zwift a year-round cycling game-changer.