Yes, we would all rather ride outside. But when weather, work and the rest of your life rules that out, riding inside can be highly productive. Here are the best three apps for indoor cycling, plus five others you might want to check out, and a list of the gear you need to get going.
Racing, training or touring?
There are a few categories you can keep an eye on with indoor cycling apps, such as intervals, racing and interactive tourism.
Some apps, such as TrainerRoad, are straight-up training tools — think personalized workout classes based on power output with a specific goal in mind.
Others use on-bike video from around the world, with your pedal power driving the scenic view — and, if you have a smart trainer, the route driving the resistance.
And then there is Zwift, where you can do interactive rides and races on videogame courses, with your experience based on power-to-weight output in real time.
Which is best depends on what you want to do. After logging well over 2,000 virtual miles and trying about a dozen of them, I found Zwift and TrainerRoad to be the clear leaders, with The Sufferfest offering a nice mix of solid training and humor.
What you need
To use an indoor cycling app, you need…
One of these three devices:
One of these three tools:
- Smart trainer (ideal: power meter, plus resistance controls for intervals and road gradient, but pricey)
- Power meter (great for accurate data that transfers to outside workouts)
- Classic trainer with speed/cadence sensor (virtual power is calculated)
One of these two wireless connections:
- ANT+ (usually via USB plug-in)
And both of these:
- Your bike
- A big fan to keep you cool!
The best indoor cycling apps
Founded by gamers with a love of cycling (and clearly some good investment backing), Zwift has straight up transformed the indoor riding experience.
No, Zwift didn’t invent virtual riding — Bkool and Tour de Giro were among those offering online competition driven by rider output and physics-based algorithms on weight, speed and aero drag. And Computrainer had the smart trainer experience years ago — but within a closed system that required a Computrainer setup.
Nor did Zwift invent power-based interval training. TrainerRoad had the early lead there.
But what Zwift has done is just absolutely crush it on the social interaction and graphic elements of the game.
With group rides and races going on almost constantly, it’s easy to jump in with a group for an easy spin or an all-out slug fest.
Besides working together (or attacking) with your fellow Zwift riders from around the globe, you can also chat with them as you ride, either on your computer or with the companion mobile app.
If you just try one app, try this one. I bet you’ll come back for more.
Riding a trainer aimlessly, staring at the wall is about as far from fun as you can get. On top of that, riding aimlessly isn’t really doing anything for your fitness.
Conversely, doing short, measured intervals — and then resting — will make you fitter and faster.
While some Type A folks may have had the discipline to guide themselves through workouts in their basements, I seldom did. But if a coach or an app is there walking you through the specifics, and all you have to do is pedal? Sure, I can do that.
TrainerRoad is streamlined fitness on your mobile phone. You can drop in and do workouts a la carte, subscribe to a training plan tailored to your target event, or, if you’re already plugged into a plan on TrainingPeaks or Today’s Plan, it will import those workouts and keep you right on track.
The interface is clean and simple: just follow the targets for power (and sometimes cadence) for the prescribed duration. The bar graphs show what is coming up, and the text explains the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’.
No fluff, just fitness.
- Visit trainerroad.com
Somewhere in between TrainerRoad’s straight-faced workouts and Zwift’s ride-in-party-hat virtual-reality interactivity lies The Sufferfest.
The brand started with pro-race videos, back before apps were a thing. While the basic science is the same — intervals make you faster; do them — the execution is more playful. Video mix-ups splice in attacks from races with leisurely scenic footage, and revving engines and gunshots alert you to changes in pace.
As with TrainerRoad and Zwift, and many others, it’s all about measuring and improving power output over various durations.
While the first two are rooted firmly in FTP (functional threshold power), The Sufferfest is charting a slightly different course with what it calls 4DP training.
In addition to the videos, The Sufferfest also offers downloadable training plans, mental training and even some guided yoga sessions.
|iPhone||Android||PC||Mac||Cost/mo||Free trial||Primary features|
|Zwift||✓||✓||✓||✓||$10/£8||7 days||Social, interactive, virtual riding, racing and training|
|TrainerRoad||✓||✓||✓||✓||$12||30 days*||Laser-focus on interval training, training plans|
|The Sufferfest||✓||✓||✓||$10||7 days||Workouts and training plans, humor|
|*Money-back guarantee for 30 days|
|Rouvy||✓||✓||✓||$10||14 days||Video routes, workout, races|
|TrainingPeaks||✓||✓||✓||✓||$20||7 days||Training plans, workout integration with Zwift, TrainerRoad|
|FulGaz||✓||$10||14 days||POV video rides and workouts|
|Bkool||✓||✓||✓||✓||$10||30 days||Virtual racing, 3D and video routes|
Other indoor cycling training apps
Rouvy: CycleOps’ mix of virtual riding and interval training
- Visit rouvy.com
Bkool: The Spanish brand’s virtual world comprises thousands of courses
- Visit www.bkool.com
Kinomap: Video courses from around the world
- Visit www.kinomap.com
TrainingPeaks: Not an interactive app, but a great training tool that works with Zwift and TrainerRoad for those training specifically for an event
- Visit www.trainingpeaks.com
FulGaz: HD POV videos with interval coaching
- Visit www.fulgaz.com