You’ve bought a bike and are ready to embark on an indoor riding odyssey from home to increase your fitness and well-being. What are the key pieces of equipment you need to get the most out of your at-home ride experience? It’s quite simple, aside from a bike, you’ll need the right shoes, tunes, a fan, and a plan.
While not considered an absolute requirement, using cycling shoes rather than regular running shoes will dramatically increase your power and efficiency on the bike. When using proper cycling shoes, your power transfer and comfort will increase immediately.
Cycling shoes and cleats keep your foot in the best position for efficiency throughout the pedal stroke. While regular trainers and running shoes have flexible and bendy soles, cycling shoes have a very stiff and rigid sole, often reinforced with lightweight materials such as plastic and carbon fibre. This allows for a very specific transfer of force directly onto the pedals keeping power loss at a minimum.
Counter-intuitively, bike pedals that allow for a rider to “clip in” with cycling shoes and cleats are called clipless pedals. These pedals typically come in two styles:
Road-style shoes have three-threaded inserts for a cleat that sits on the outside of the sole. The cleats that work with these shoes are SPD-SL cleats;
Mountain bike-style shoes take a two-bolt cleat that sits in a recess in the sole tread so the shoes are easier to walk in. For this type of pedal, you will need SPD cleats. The majority of indoor bikes use SPD cleats, simply because walking around with exposed cleats can ding up floors and surfaces.
Despite the fact we all have different musical tastes, the one thing that cannot be denied is that the right music will not only keep you motivated and working hard but can also be a way to significantly impact your cycling efficiency. Research into the effects music has on cycling performance dates all the way back to 1910 in this study and has been researched countless times over the last century.
Listening to music while exercising can be used in one of two ways: Synchronously, where the rider synchronises their pedaling cadence with the music; or asynchronously, where the music is more background noise with no effort to synchronise RPM with the beat.
While it may be tempting to just throw on some of your favorite tunes, research has identified that music can have an ergogenic effect.
A number of studies have tested the impacts of both synchronisation and the motivational qualities of music during high-intensity activity. It was shown that less oxygen is required to perform the same amount of work which leads to increased efficiency. Matching cadence rate to music also leads to a decrease in feelings of effort and time, reducing a rider’s feelings of discomfort and fatigue while at the same time leaving them positively stimulated. So, go for music that has a variety of BPMs, or better yet cadence rates that help to further improve your efficiency on the bike.
Perhaps one of the most misunderstood concepts about exercise is ambient room temperature and performance. Increased sweat rate is NOT an indicator of how hard someone is working. On the bike, your body is running at around a 25% efficiency rate. What does this mean? A lot of the power we are producing is wasted via generated heat and if that heat is not moved away from our bodies, our ability to perform at our best on the bike drops significantly.
“But I FEEL like I am working harder when the room is hot!”
When riding outside, the air flowing over our skin evaporates our sweat and cools our bodies keeping our core temperature in check. Without that moving air, the heat we expend surrounds our body creating a pocket of superheated air that, in time, leads to increased core temperatures, cardiac drift as the heart has to work harder, and either an increased RPE (Rate of Perceived Effort) or a substantial drop in power.
Thermoregulation studies show that it only takes an increase of three degrees Fahrenheit before the body and brain start pumping the brakes. Not only is this disruptive to your training goals but it can be quite dangerous if it is not addressed. If you only have one fan, ensure it is aimed directly at your face and upper body. If you are able to use multiple fans, other areas to direct airflow are at the torso and the back. Realise that what works for one person may not be as effective for others. When it comes to getting your best performance on the bike, you may want to play both with room temperature and the number of fans in use.
A Proper Plan
Despite the fact that indoor spin classes have been around for over 35 years, the watershed moment for home-based riding programs was during the pandemic. With this came the introduction of multiple indoor cycling programs and plans, each with very different promised outcomes.
While there are many cycling plans to choose from, to get the most out of your time on the bike, you’ll want to use a program that is both customisable and structured.
Look for cycling programs that are interactive with an open interface - meaning it can read performance metrics directly from your bike that will guide you during the workout to guarantee you are staying on track and hitting targets. The ability to measure power, intensity, and tempo in real-time is critical to your success.
Ensure that your program allows you to test for training benchmarks such as FTP (Functional Threshold Power) and also adjust personal zone boundaries as your fitness increases or changes after training interruptions.
Tracking of past performance is also crucial to see what if any changes need to take place to keep you on the path of changing your fitness levels.