If you aren’t quite ready to hit the roads outdoors or just want to stay in the comfort of your own home, or do a bit of both, indoor cycling is a great option.
What you need: an indoor trainer
There are a variety of indoor machines you can buy that attach to your outdoor bicycle so you can use it in the comfort of your home. Some of them are cheap and cheerful, while others can cost even more than a bike.
The most basic, and cheapest, is a set of rollers. This device looks like three rolling pins held together with some wire string and a frame, and you simply place your bike on top and start pedaling. It’s recommended you set it up next to a wall so you can balance using one arm to ensure you don’t fall off. You can buy one of these by Tacx for AED829 on amazon.ae.
Most cyclists, though, are opting for more technically advanced indoor ‘smart’ trainers equipped with Bluetooth. These can be connected to cycling simulators such as Zwift, which enables you to ride a variety of virtual terrains, including steep mountains. The trainer communicates with the simulator to increase resistance through the pedals as you head uphill.
You can buy two types — a cheaper version is called a ‘wheel-on’ trainer, which requires you to keep a back wheel on your bike that rests against a metallic roller to create friction, and a direct drive trainer, where you remove the back wheel and link your bike’s chain to the machine itself. Direct drive trainers deliver the most accurate experience (when it comes to replicating riding outdoors and how much power you are pushing through the pedals) and can also simulate gradients up to an 25 percent. That accuracy, though, comes at a price.
In the UAE, you can buy wheel-on trainers by Saris from Primero bike shop in Abu Dhabi. Direct drive trainers by Tacx are available from Wolfi’s in Dubai, while Wahoo direct drive trainers (which will set you back Dh5,299) are available at Revolution Cycles in Dubai’s Motor City.
The best simulators
There are plenty of apps and software programs available to help you keep riding, most of which have a membership of around Dh20-Dh50 a month. The most popular is Zwift, which combines state-of-the-art graphics and the cycling world’s first truly interactive social experience. Every cyclist you see when riding on Zwift is a real person, meaning you can go for a ride with your real-life pals, and the app offers a mixture of real locations — such as London and France — along with its own worlds, such as Watopia, which is an island with volcanos, jungles and even dinosaurs.
Zwift’s success lies in its passion for the social side of indoor cycling. The program hosts races every day, and during the summer lockdown months the sport’s professionals even entered tournaments on the app.
There are many alternatives to Zwift, too, with most of them offering a slightly different USP — they use video from real-life locations such as Mont Ventoux in France and even Liwa in Abu Dhabi. Our recommendations are FulGaz, which you download on your iPhone, and BigRingVR, which is available for Macs and PCs. Both use high-definition videos that will almost make you feel like you are riding mountains for real. If you are serious about your training, TrainerRoad focuses more on performance and allows you to create custom training plans to help you get faster.
Other indoor cycling essentials
Cycling indoors can be a sweaty affair, so it’s recommended you invest in the following to make it a more pleasant experience. Use at least two big towels – one on the floor to soak up sweat puddles, and one to cover the bike’s handlebars and frame (to protect it rust from the salt in your sweat). Purchasing a cheap indoor fan from a supermarket is also essential to keep you cool (your aircon won’t be enough) and buying an anti-fungal spray for your cycling shoes is also a good idea — your shoes don’t breathe indoors like they do outside, and athlete’s foot can be an issue. A TV is also required, especially if you are using a training simulator on your phone. Training indoors is a more exciting experience if you can watch what you’re doing on a 32inch screen as opposed to squinting at a small phone or laptop.
Who to ride with in the UAE
Yes, you read that right — it is possible to ride indoors with your friends and with cycle clubs in the UAE. Dubai Roadsters and Yas Cycles both host rides every week on Zwift — you can find details via the Zwift phone app or on their Facebook pages. Other UAE clubs such as Raha Cycling in Abu Dhabi and Cycle Safe Dubai were hosting rides earlier in the summer, and most clubs share a Zoom link beforehand so you can have a chat with your friends while tackling a virtual version of Alpe D’Huez.
Fitness pros and cons of indoor cycling
Indoor trainers are a great tool for getting stronger on the bike, but they also come with a word of warning. Many experts believe training indoors is a lot harder than riding outside. Traffic lights, cars, tailwinds and riding downhill will reduce the amount of effort you are putting in outdoors, and often the amount of pedaling, but you won’t experience most of these in your house, meaning you are always turning your legs and constantly putting in more effort.
The good news is it’s easy to lose weight and get stronger if you regularly ride inside; the bad news is it’s also possible to fatigue yourself and overtrain.
Finding a balance between the two is recommended.