By Jeffrey Stern
There are places across the globe where riding outside during the colder, darker, damper winter months is really no big deal. Those lucky enough to live in Mediterranean climates are only slightly affected by the changing of seasons; add a vest, arm warmers, knee warmers, thicker wool socks, gloves and you’re all set for the pre-dawn commute. However, for the vast majority of people, old man winter can make things very difficult, if not downright impossible to keep up with your riding routine. If you don’t have all the necessary gear (think waterproof everything) lobster gloves for sub-zero snowy conditions and the likes, setting your bike up on a trainer in the coziness of your own home can be a great option.
The comfort of riding indoors is undeniable; you can wear less clothes, a pair of padded shorts/bibs will do because you can control the temperature. There is no wind chill factor, the chance of rain is zero and no lights, no problem. Heck, there isn’t even a chance of a flat tire. You might break your chain, but that won’t leave you stranded in the dark, cold night. Could a sport that jacks your heart rate into your throat be more comfortable?
How about the incredible convenience? You can watch the kids, dog, keep an eye on dinner in the oven and even pop off the trainer to swap loads of laundry. You can safely take or make an important phone call (just slow down a bit to eliminate the heavy breathing) catch up on your favorite Netflix series or NPR podcast. Send emails, take selfies, post to all your social media channels…the options from aboard your bike saddle when inside are endless. Riding the trainer must be multi-tasking at it’s finest.
Riding a trainer is also extremely time efficient. When can you ride your bike in 60 minutes and be absolutely dripping in sweat? Sometimes, I’m so out of shape in winter it only takes 45 minutes, but that’s only because my trainer was being borrowed by an injured friend and I didn’t ride for nearly two months. Pedaling a trainer in my basement is nearly as effective as getting my heart rate into that fat burning zone as running on a treadmill (which is something I would NEVER do).
Companies like Zwift have also turned trainer riding into a video game like experience. With a USB dongle and power meter, you can join virtual races or workouts with riders from around the world. Some cyclists love services like Zwift so much, they ride inside even when the weather is good. Preposterous, right? Well, give it a try and you might never see the light of day again. Safety and racing have never gone in the same sentence until Zwift came along.
If you live in a place that doesn’t prevent you from riding comfortably outside or if you already have all the necessary gear to battle the elements, riding outside is still the best option in my opinion. However, if you’re time-crunched, don’t have all the appropriate gear to stay warm/safe, picking up a trainer (we found some for as little as $50 on eBay) is a great option to stay fit without leaving the comfort of your own home this winter. Once the snow thaws and you’re back to riding in the spring with friends who haven’t pedaled a mile since October, they’ll wonder where all your fitness came from. Beware though, when you tell them your secret, they might ask to borrow your trainer next winter and you could fall into the same trap.