Indoor cycling that doesn’t suck

Zwift lets you ride with a group from the comfort of your own home. Photo: Zwift

Zwift lets you ride with a group from the comfort of your own home. Photo: Courtesy of Zwift

Spinning, “stadium cycling” and indoor cycling at the gym has a dirty little secret: it sucks. It’s expensive. It can annihilate your technique (aka pedal stroke). The teacher has a special Murphy’s Law mix playlist just for you: Whatever music you despise will be on heavy rotation.

Cycling at home is terrible for different reasons. Namely, it’s as fun as watching the presidential debates of the party you dislike. And those DVD training sessions like the aptly named Suffer-O-Rama, A Very Dark Place and Do As Your Told will fill you with more murderous rage than motivation.

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Until now — and I say this with a heavy heart as someone who moved to sunny California, left his trainer behind and gave away his rain gear to his ungrateful East Coast friends.

The high-tech Wahoo KICKR Power Trainer paired with an online program called Zwift not only makes indoor cycling at home fun-ish, but turns indoor cycling into something you want to participate in year-round. Full stop.

With Zwift, you can customize your virtual rider. And the more you ride, the more upgrades you earn. Photo: Zwift.

With Zwift, you can customize your virtual rider, and the more you ride, the more upgrades you earn. Photo: Courtesy of Zwift

Even if you live in a place like Southern California where rain is infrequent and it’s always warm, having this setup in your house means that even if you only have 30 minutes, you can still get a solid workout in, whether that means a mellow pedal with a few sprints for good measure, a recovery ride or anaerobic-threshold training.

There’s two reasons for that: Choosing a workout is as easy as picking one from a menu, which is like having a virtual coach, and being able to ride with others creates a virtual community that’s similar to Farmville (but not lame).

First things first: The Wahoo KICKR is a smart trainer. Unlike most trainers, you remove your rear wheel before installing your bike on the trainer, which is set up for rigs with 11-speed cassettes. Hop on and you’ll notice that pedaling feels damn close to being on the road.

Want to practice hill climbing? Use your chosen app — there’s a bunch to choose from — to increase the tension, or set your designed wattage output, and the trainer will adjust on the fly.

Although there are many app options, you should probably just go with Zwift because it turns training into a video game. To use it, riders just need an indoor cycle trainer and an ANT+ cadence/speed sensor and ANT+ dongle, which will run you $40.

Once you’re up and running, you can check out a free 15-day trial before throwing down the $10 a month.

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For that 10 bucks, you’ll get a bunch of routes to choose from, as well as different workouts of varying durations. You’ll also be part of a virtual community, so you can chat, encourage and trash talk with fellow riders via the app as you ride.

Wanna solo off the front while staying inside? Zwift lets you do that. Photo: Zwift

Want to solo off the front while staying inside? Zwift lets you do that. Photo: Courtesy of Zwift

You can ride with friends without having to wait for their unpunctual asses at the meeting spot. A lot of folks call Zwift a “video game,” but that’s a bit generous.

Sure, you can draft and see your simulated self on screen, but it’s not really typical gaming because you don’t have to steer or do much that would require hand-eye coordination. This was a little bit of a letdown. How cool would it be to steer on crazy descents and maybe even get some road-bike freestyle in?

So, if you’re thinking video, think Pong more than Grand Theft Auto. The more you ride, the more upgrades you can earn. This gamification is a nice touch and can even get you more excited to come back the next day.

Zwift also collaborates with pro teams like Team Sky so you can often pedal with the pros. Heck, Zwift even enabled ambitious female pedalers to try out for a pro team recently from the comfort of their own homes

And if you have a cool boss, get him to get one for you, complete with a desk you can pedal at.

Want to link your results to your Strava? You can do that too.

The negatives? Like any stationary setup, it takes up some space. Although it’s easy to break down, having to set up and break down after each ride is a serious kink in the convenience department. But, the biggest bummer for most is the cost of entry: The KICKR will set you back $1,200.

That’s a serious chunk of change, but if you can swing it, it’s a trainer that you’ll want to use year-round. Having the convenience of being able to have a good workout that’s about as efficient as it gets (timewise), it justifies the cost and then some.

Should you get one? If you’re a serious cyclist, you should consider it because when you’re in a time crunch, the weather sucks or you don’t want to go outside due to darkness or rush hour, you can still get a good workout in. And it’s tough to put a price on that.

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