Virtual Cycling: Ride Your Bike Without Leaving Your House

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feature image via Shutterstock.

Winter is coming. For me, it’s difficult to stay active in the winter months, especially if you’re not into going to the gym and exercising in the cold or snow is either not your thing or simply impossible. I, personally, get bored exercising alone at the gym, stressed out about group fitness classes, and I’m a baby about my ears being cold when I’m outside (yes, I may be from Colorado but I hate skiing and snowboarding), so virtual training during the winter has become a really viable option for staying active while I’m snowed in.

There are tons of great training apps out there for everything from yoga to running, but when Ali asked me what gadgets I’m into lately, I couldn’t help but gush about a virtual bike trainer I’d come across recently. I’m new to the virtual training world, but I love to ride my bike, and I love gaming, so virtual bike training is a great combination of the two!

Sure, you could buy a simple indoor cycling trainer (try Craigslist, too, because they’re always on there) that simply hooks onto your bike and allows you to turn your bike into a stationary bike. No matter what, if you’re using an indoor cycling trainer, buy a training tire because it’ll wear out super quick. If, however, you’re looking to make your ride less boring and more immersive, come with me.

Okay, here’s the deluxe version that got me started. A friend of mine recently bought the CycleOps PowerSync ANT+ Trainer and while we were setting it up, I fell in love. I mean, for that much money, you’re basically guaranteed to fall in love or you’ll get your money back.

The coolest part about the CycleOps PowerSync ANT+ Trainer is the VirtualTraining software that lets you hook it up to your computer or smart TV and ride famous courses, and the trainer adjusts your bike to make hills more difficult and so on. I also really like that it shows your stats (I’m a sucker for stats, anyone else?), lets you compete against other people who have the same equipment, and connects seamlessly to your heart rate monitor if you’re wearing one. I’d recommend this type of trainer for anyone who can sit through one hour of the Tour de France, because you’re more dedicated than I am. Also, if your friends also have CycleOps trainers, you can hook them up together.

One drawback is that you have to have a really strong wifi connection in the room where you hook up your trainer. So, if you, like my friend, want to set it up in your basement, you might find that it lags slightly.

But let’s say you aren’t a Tour de France fanatic and you just want to ride your bike but still want the social element of competing against others in real-time. (Whatever motivates you!) An alternative to the CycleOps VirtualTraining software is Zwift, an app that lets you ride with others. You can connect it to any type of trainer, so you don’t have to have a “smart” trainer like the CycleOps one. You can buy speed and cadence sensors and although this won’t adjust your trainer to the terrain, it still calculates your speed in order for you to ride virtually. You can also hook it up to your super fancy stationary cycling bike, like in this video:

I think Zwift looks fun and simple, so if you’re new to indoor cycling, this could be just the thing to get you motivated. A cool thing about Zwift is that it has training mode as well, so that you can personally improve as a cyclist. Again, you have to pay a monthly subscription fee, but if you already have a trainer and are just looking for the virtual experience and want to compete in real-time, Zwift is a great option.

If you’re looking for a very basic virtual training, there are also DVDs you can buy. So if you are just looking for some motivation while you’re using your trainer, I’d recommend Trail Trainer. DVD training is about personal training and not so much racing, so think P90x, but on your bike. You’re not virtually hooked up and can’t see your stats, so you’re not held as accountable, but you also get to watch some cool scenery.

I could also see myself just lying on the couch watching these because they’re kind of mesmerizing.

So, what’d I miss? What are some of your favorite virtual trainers?

Hansen is the former DIY & Food Editor of Autostraddle.com and likes to spend most days making and cooking and writing. She teaches creative writing at Colorado State University and is pursuing a Masters of Fine Arts in her free time.

Hansen has written 190 articles for us.

12 Comments

  1. Sufferfest is super motivating! They have apps, coaching and training plans. The virtual experience is amazing quality and you feel like you are in each race competing with top athletes. Tons of content. I’m usually close to vomiting or passing out by the time I’m done. The results are amazing. Price is reasonable and the sufferlandria community is pretty hilarious. Bike nerds are my favorite.

  2. Are trainers of any sort pretty feasible in an apartment with really shitty insulation between floors? My neighbors and I already share enough of each others’ lives, I’d really hate to add ‘maniac with the loud bikey thing’ to the list of things they bitch about.

    (for the cost, I should probably just avoid the issue completely and go to the rec center across the street, but I am a LAZY otter)

  3. Wat I got, was a Bench Press (which is basically like a table dat yu lie on, which yu lift weights on in diff. ways), and a barbell (a long metal pole with clips to clip weights on it) – and weights to put on da barbell. And so ~ I have a home gym. It cost £40 ($50) fo da B.P., £20 ($30) fo da barbell pole, and I got free weights from dis website called Freecycle. So fo da price of 2-3 months’ gym membership, I have a home gym forever :0) woo. The only problem, is dat I live in London, so I can barely move at home cuz it’s a tiny place. Plus I have a pool table, also from Freecycle, in here. Which yu can only access from one side lol. There is also a free outdoor gym about 5 miles’ walk away. Altho yu have to wrap up warm to use it in winter. N if yu walk a lot, I tell myself dat it’s doin cardio (kinda). N some ppl do this free running stuff N skateboarding dats supposed to be cheap too but I ain’t tried it.

  4. This is awesome! I have a bike trainer set up in our living room for when I feel less inclined to ride in the bitter winter months. I’ve been using the same Carmichael Systems and Spinnerval DVDs for years now, so it would be nice to change it up a bit. I will say that I don’t bother using a training tire. I just save my old tires for the bike trainer, and they’ve worked out quite well. As for people asking about the noise of a bike trainer, mine is relatively quiet fluid trainer. It will make a constant droning noise, but nothing that would disturb the neighbors. If you’re using a training block for the front tire, movement from the block may make some noise if you’re a spirited rider. In that case you could buy the training mat that would likely mitigate the issue. Pedal on!

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