Alice Barraclough indoor cycling

Indoor cycling: “Why buying a turbo trainer was my best lockdown purchase”

Posted by for Strength

Cycling at home doesn’t mean you have to break the bank with an expensive Peloton – our writer bought a turbo trainer in lockdown and hit the virtual road with Zwift.

I bought my first road bike a couple of years ago, after I was peer pressured into entering the Blenheim Palace Triathlon by a close friend. “If anyone can do it, it’s you,” I remember her saying, “it’s in your blood”.

She was, of course, referring to my sports-mad family. My mum was a swimmer, dad loves cycling, and my three younger siblings took up triathlon at a very young age (the youngest still competes at elite level) – but it never really interested me. I swam competitively from the ages of nine to 23 – my highest achievement was making the finals at the East Coast Nationals in Atlanta, Georgia – but one sport was enough for me.

When I told my family I’d entered my first triathlon, they all laughed. “But you don’t even have a bike!” my youngest sister said. I was determined to prove to them – and myself – that I could do it. I might not be the fastest in the country (like my brother was – he won nationals at age 14). But I wanted to put myself through the pain of a swim-bike-run to finally feel like part of the clan.

Fast forward a year, and weekly cycles quickly became an integral part of my life. There was something exhilarating about being on two wheels – the wind on my face and exploring new areas of the Chiltern Hills after having lived there for over 20 years. Then, the pandemic hit – suddenly everyone wanted a bike.

The pandemic boom in cycling bike sales during the pandemic has been well-documented: suppliers have struggled to keep up with demand, cities redesigned their streets to accommodate an influx of new riders, and manufacturers such as Halfords reported a 57% rise in cycling-related sales.

And it wasn’t just outdoor cycling that experienced a revolution – in the absence of gyms, people also went mad for turbo trainers (Peloton and Echelon bikes, too). UK retailer, Sigma Sports, for example, saw an impressive 595% year on year growth in turbo trainer sales. While the virtual cycling app Zwift saw a 380% year-on-year growth in new subscribers. The pandemic turbocharged indoor cycling and brought it into the mainstream.

But with a Peloton bike costing an eye-watering £1,750 – and that’s their entry bike, if you want the flashy upgrade, you’re looking at £2,295 – plus, an additional £39 monthly fee for membership to access the classes (an app-based subscription that isn’t compatible with the bike is £19.49 a month), the self-named “Netflix of fitness” was somewhat out of my budget.

Like many others, I spent months looking online for a turbo trainer (where you connect your bike to a fixed turbo by removing your back wheel). They were sold out everywhere. On average, turbo trainers cost around £250 – the cheapest I could find was one on Wiggle for £99, but some do go for a lot more.

I wanted a smart trainer that would work with the road bike I already had, and could also connect wirelessly to my laptop so I could download Zwift – the cycling app which offers tailored training programs and races, and virtually takes you on tours through Paris, New York and London via CGI scenery. Because, let’s face it, without something to focus on, staring at a blank wall is going to become very dull, very quickly.

I finally managed to buy a refurbished Wahoo Kickr. Full disclosure: it’s retailed at £999.99, but I managed to get mine second hand in the sale for £599.99 – and I honestly think it’s the best purchase I made during lockdown.

Not only does it offer a convenient way to keep fit (I simply pull on a pair of not-so-sexy bum-padded cycling shorts and a sports bra, and walk into my kitchen). There’s also an element of safety – I don’t have to worry about cycling in the dark, or alone, or when it’s icy out. I can dodge both bad weather and bad drivers. When it’s raining – we live in Britain, it always rains – I know exactly where I’d prefer to workout (indoors).

I can use a 45-minute spin on the turbo as an easy way to catch up with a podcast, or if I’m looking for a way to improve my speed or endurance there’s a whole host of set training plans – such as a six-week FTP (functional threshold power) builder, which consists of four hours and 55 minutes of work a week.

The best part is that you can create private groups – or “Meet Ups” – on the app, and cycle virtually alongside your friends who also have Zwift, as if you’re part of a club.

I’ve spent quite a few hours in lockdown with Zwift loaded on one screen and Zoom or FaceTime on the other, so I can chat to my pals while we all virtually cycle together. My brother even let me tag along to his “Meet Up” – although he hit a setting where it would keep us riding together, so I wouldn’t fall behind – so even though I was in my kitchen in London and he was in his flat in Edinburgh, it felt like we were training together.

A word of warning, if you’ve ever been to a spin studio – I’m thinking the likes of 1Rebel, SoulCycle, Psycle – you’ll know that the sweat level is seriously unlike anything else. Indoor cycling at home is worse. I actually have to wring my sports bra out after a session and leave it in the shower to dry out. You will need a towel, lots of fluids and, preferably, a very powerful fan.

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