Tolerance levels on when one needs to ride indoors vary, but with the exception of the warmest climates, even the hardiest of cyclists will likely have to succumb to the realities of weather, road conditions and darkness at some point during the winter. When that point comes along, here are a few pointers that will hopefully make the experience more bearable if not somewhat enjoyable:
Pick a good environment: Everyone’s domestic situation is different, but picking a comfortable room to setup your trainer or rollers in is a big first step. I know a few athletes who say they can’t stand riding inside but then come to find out they have banished themselves to dark dank basements or garages with poor lighting, no climate control with their trainer squeezed in between unpacked boxes from their last move. Regardless of the space you are in, making it comfortable, well lit, clean and as inviting as possible will do wonders for your attitude towards indoor riding.
Get a good fan. It’s not wimpy, when you ride outside you have 15 to 25 mph of wind keeping you cool all the time, you should have it inside as well. Sweating in puddles may feel all Rocky like but it does you no good unless you are a high school wrestler trying to make weight. With a good fan (the spinning type, not the cheering type, although those are nice as well), you will be able to ride longer and your equipment, body and housemates/guests will thank you. Floor fans that you can angle to direct the air work best.
Protect the “nether” regions. Tough topic, but saddle sores seem to be more common in the winter for athletes who have to do a lot of indoor riding. Being locked in place and not having the variety of motion to vary pressure points exacerbates the issue. A few recommended approaches to handling this:
Entertain yourself! There is no reason to be miserable. TVs, computers, tablets and audio devices are cheap these days. Any of those can provide hours of audio and video entertainment. If you have the disposable income, advanced indoor trainers such as Computrainer interact with your computer or tablet to provide a virtual course to ride and change resistance to simulate varying terrain. There are also a number of companies that provide cycling specific videos that incorporate workouts into the video and you can use whatever trainer or rollers you have. Pick your poison, expensive, cheap, cycling related, non-cycling related, whatever works and is within your budget, but just don’t stare at the wall hyper focusing on how awful it is to ride inside. Review guru DC Rainmaker provides an excellent overview of trainers and training apps that you may want to consider on his website.
Give yourself a break. If doing rides over an hour, take a 5 minute break every 45 minutes to an hour. Re fill bottles, stretch a bit, take a natural break. It does wonders for your mental state. Also, due to the continuous nature of riding on a trainer or rollers (no coasting or drafting) you are really riding longer indoors for a given amount of time. The general rule of thumb is 45 minutes inside is equivalent to 60 minutes outside in terms of stress on the legs.
Shorten and intensify. Some folks can slog out hours on the trainer, but if you don’t have the time or level of tolerance, inserting some higher intensity interval training, cadence or isolated leg drills to mix things up can help keep your fitness and technique going in the right direction without boring yourself to tears. There are numerous articles out there on options. A classic option is warm up and then 2 x 10-20 minutes at 85-95% of your Functional Threshold Power (FTP = Intensity you can hold for an hour all) with half the interval length as rest in between repeats.
Bring a friend. My wife and I have trainers set up side by side and often ride on the weekends or early in the morning together. Have someone to ride with can help pass the time as well.
Eat, drink and be merry! Keep up with your nutrition and hydration. Indoor winter environments are dry and fairly warm, closer to late spring and early summer conditions, and a great opportunity to practice your nutrition strategy and keep on top of it.
Your attitude and surroundings will determine how tolerable and beneficial your indoor training sessions can be. Spend a little time prepping you environment to make the experience as enjoyable as possible. Work with your coach or if self-coached, do a little research on your own to set up workouts that will maximize the benefits of indoor riding and minimize the mental strain to help make next season your best yet.