With Zwift and the other virtual reality apps becoming ever more sophisticated and the trainers themselves now objets de désir rather than instruments of torture, the indoor cycling revolution had already built up a head of sweat-infused steam well before coronavirus hit.
Ten or 15 years ago there was the turbo, a blank garage wall and a spiralling rate of perceived exertion. At the moment there might not be any racing, and club runs are cancelled, but at least we’re able to ride together, race each other or train around a choice of virtual courses on smart trainers that can replicate the feel of battering over pavé, grinding up a climb or even pushing into a headwind. We also have equipment, accessories and even indoor-specific clothing to support us every virtual inch of the way.
You’re probably already on Houseparty, but if you’re slightly late to the indoor-cycling party, here’s our guide to the clothing and equipment you need once you’ve plugged in your turbo and paired it with your favourite app.
Clothing manufacturers have started to produce indoor-specific jerseys and shorts made from fast-wicking mesh fabric that allows sweat to evaporate quickly and the body to cool itself. One of the first was Madison, with its Turbo jersey and shorts.
“Our CEO Dominic Langan was quick to spot the huge shift of cyclists taking to the virtual roads in winter, and found himself without ever quite having the right kit for the job,” says Madison head of own-brand Russell Whittaker.
“[In the past for indoor training] Most people opted for a bibshort and either a baselayer or short-sleeve jersey. A baselayer is OK, but often a little too snug fitting, and a standard jersey wets out and doesn’t breathe enough. Other people simply go topless, but garment technology now means you can draw sweat away from the body faster by wearing a single layer.
“For the jersey, we took the basic pattern of a short sleeve jersey and used fabric for super-light summer base layers, stripping off pockets and prints. The result is a flyweight jersey that allows a little air to move around to help with the wicking process.
“We played around with the idea of mesh bib shorts, but as these may be worn in gyms for spin classes, decided against using a full mesh fabric! Instead, we swapped the traditional nylon used in bib shorts for polyester to help wick sweat away from the body as quickly as possible.
“The other major development for the shorts is the custom chamois pad developed with TMF in Italy. The body moves differently on a static trainer, so it made sense that the pad positioning would need refining. On top of that, an anti-bacterial layer and perforations in the pad help draw sweat away from the body.
“To finish, we applied anti-bacterial treatments to all the fabrics as well as removing all prints. That allows the garments to be washed at 60 degrees to help kill the bacteria created with the excessive sweat.
“Of course you don’t need specific indoor cycling kit, but it’s certainly a nice thing to have.”
Here’s our selection of suitable sweat-specific gear to get you rolling.
Madison’s Turbo jersey is available in black, acid fade with ‘going nowhere fast’ slogan (pictured) and acid bolts. Madison says there’s no external printing so the jersey can be washed at 60°C to kill off all bacteria. There’s also an anti-bacterial coating in the fabric.
It’s made from an open mesh fast-wicking fabric like the Castelli and Le Col below, but unlike those two its rear pockets have been stripped away, meaning it won’t double up as an outdoor hot-weather jersey.
There’s the usual full-length front zip for easy removal or extra ventilation.
A full-length front zipper makes it easy to get on an off, and lets the fan blast cool air in when it's needed.
Available in Acid Fade, Acid Bolts, Black and in S-XXL (no women-specific options).
Castelli says its Insider jersey is a “highly technical garment that has been developed explicitly to keep you cool on your indoor training regime”.
It’s made from an ultra-lightweight 3D mesh polyester fabric for maximum moisture wicking and quick drying. Castelli says its fabric lifts excess moisture from the skin to keep the wearer cool and comfortable even on the toughest surges.
It has a short waist, low collar and full-length zipper that help overall ventilation and easy removal. Castelli says the fabric itself is balanced between transparency and opacity so that it can also be worn outside in hot weather. However, there’s no mention of UV protection so be sure to wear sunblock.
There are two pockets that are useful for storing indoor training accessories such as earphones, headbands or gels.
It comes in ‘light black’ and sizes XS-XXXL (no women-specific version).
Like the Castelli, the Le Col x Wahoo jersey delivers maximum airflow via a 3D mesh fabric that wicks sweat away from your body.
It also has a full zip and low collar to increase ventilation and three rear pockets so that, like the Castelli, it can also be ridden outdoors in hot weather. The same UV protection caveat applies.
There’s also a sleeveless version (£100) which, like the standard jersey, comes in both men’s and women’s fits.
Available in black/blue or Collective Edition (pictured) and in men's and women's sizes.
Rapha’s approach to the indoor training jersey is based on the fact that: “Theories abound as to what’s best to wear while training indoors.” So the British brand has gone for something that’s half baselayer, half old T-shirt. It’s a tank top with arm holes cut to make it comfortable in an on-bike position.
The lightweight polyester fabric features a gradient knit structure to wick moisture away from the skin and help it evaporate rapidly.
There are stretchy side panels that make Rapha’s indoor garment tighter fitting than a regular T-shirt but looser than a baselayer, striking what it claims is a perfect balance between airflow and sweat absorption. It is cut short at the front to avoid bunching and longer at the back to keep you covered in group sessions.
Comes in dark navy/white, olive/black or white/carbon grey and in XS-XXL.
The fabric used by Decathlon’s in-house brand is an open-weave mesh which is highly breathable and comfortable against the skin. At under a tenner you can’t go wrong.
The Manchester-based company manufactures its products here in the UK, outsourcing to Italy for the 'multi-filament yarns' that make up the four-way stretch fabric used in this baselayer's construction.
As far as we know, Le Col is the only brand so far to make an indoor-specific warm-up top. It features a brushed-back Lycra that, says Le Col, offers protection from cold air without sacrificing the breathability and fit of traditional summer jerseys. It’s suitable for outdoor riding too, with three rear pockets. Comes in men's and women's sizes.
As with the jerseys, you might decide that your regular bib shorts will do for indoor training. If you’re planning on spending a lot of time training indoors, though, there are specifically designed shorts that focus on improved moisture management. Le Col x Wahoo’s shorts, for example, are claimed to offer increased temperature regulation and a pad that provides extra protection for the different dynamics of static training. Rapha goes bibless while Madison goes for stripped-back lightness, a redesigned chamois and hot washability.
Like the companion Turbo jersey, the bib shorts are stripped of all unnecessary features, are fast wicking and have anti-bacterial properties. With no external printing they’re also washable at 60°C to kill off bacteria, and an anti-bacterial Lycra is used.
Madison says a custom designed Italian pad has been made specifically for these indoor shorts by TMF.
Open mesh straps with soft binding are designed for breathability and comfort and there are silicone leg grippers to help them stay in place.
Black, sizes S-XXL.
Lusso's indoor shorts are made from a lightweight compression fabric and use a Dolomiti antibacterial endurance pad that it says has excellent stretch and freedom of movement, allowing plenty of breathability and moisture transfer.
The bib is made from Tritech mesh fabric with 7cm wide straps.
We have a pair in for testing at the moment, so keep an eye out for our review.
Available in men's and women's sizes.
Rapha says the Core waist shorts, which also come in the Cargo version with leg pockets (pictured, £95) are for summertime riding, indoor training, and commuting – so they’re not strictly indoor specific, but Rapha says the lack of shoulder straps will help you beat the heat. As with a lot of indoor training kit, this could be down to personal preference.
They’re made using the same materials and technology as Rapha’s Core Bib Shorts – a dense-knit fabric, flatlock stitching and laser-cut leg grippers.
Available in men's and women's sizes.
Castelli says the Insider Bib Shorts, which are paired with the Insider jersey in the picture, are perfect for keeping you cool throughout the rigours of indoor training with unrivalled breathability, moisture management and superior comfort.
The Pro Dry Soft fabric derives from Castelli’s Inferno shorts, which are intended for midsummer mountain climbs thanks to their quick-drying properties.
With the Kiss Air2 chamois Castelli has focused on moisture management: it’s not as thick as the Progetto X2 but supplies enough padding for indoor training.
The legs have raw-cut edges, stitching is flatlocked and the bib section is made of mesh.
Like the Insider jersey, these bib shorts can also be worn outside.
Available in black, sizes S-3XL.
Like Rapha, dhb goes for bibless waist shorts, saving the fuss of removing the straps before the session is over. A compressive waistband and silicone grippers are designed to hold the shorts in place in the absence of bib straps.
The side and rear panels are extra lightweight and breathable for temperature regulation, while the chamois was developed specifically for indoor training and features enhanced moisture management and a more pronounced central panel for relief while on indoor trainers.
Available in men's and women's sizes.
Le Col says it has designed these bib shorts to meet the demands of indoor training, ensuring that breathability is optimised through micro perforations along the thigh, enhancing airflow and improving the cooling effect.
The bib straps are made from fast-wicking mesh and a Dolomiti Pro Gel chamois, optimised for indoor training, is used. Seams are flatlock stitched and there are silicone leg grippers.
Available in men’s and women’s sizes, black (pictured) or Collective Edition.
Some people wear a McEnroe-style headband to keep the sweat out of their eyes, but in case you prefer to channel Simpson (hopefully you do), Le Col and Rapha make indoor-specific casquettes.
The Le Col x Wahoo cap is modelled on the classic casquette and is more traditional looking than Rapha’s. Made of 65 per cent polyester/35 per cent cotton, it is aimed at absorbing sweat and stopping it dripping rather than helping it evaporate.
Made predominantly with a lightweight spacer mesh, Rapha's cap draws moisture and heat away from the head, working well in conjunction with a fan. The front panel features the same lightweight fabric as Rapha’s technical T-shirts, overlaid above the spacer mesh to improve airflow and sweat dispersion. It comes in one size, held in place by a continuous elastic band. The peak can be popped up, while bound seams allow it to be worn with maximum ‘luft’.
We haven’t seen any indoor-specific socks so far, but summer socks will do the job just fine. Look for lightweight socks with a mesh ankle. Here are 14 of the best we’ve tested.
Once you’re all kitted out with the clothing, you’ll need to have a think about the rest of your indoor-training paraphernalia. As with the clothes, some of it can be improvised using what you already have, but there are certain things that are essential, such as a powerful fan.
If your core temperature rises and you start to overheat, your body will protect your organs by limiting the amount of work you can do – which means your power output declines. According to Hunter Allen in this TrainingPeaks article: “Overheating can easily cause a reduction in indoor power by 20 to 30 watts alone, so it’s critical that you have a large fan blowing on you during your workout and if you can do it in a cool room, that will make a difference as well.”
Ways of keeping corrosive sweat off your bike and the floor ought to be a priority too. Options here range from generic microfibre towel to bespoke sweat catcher with integrated smartphone window.
Wheel-on turbos clamp the rear wheel off the floor onto a cylinder, which means you need to also raise the front wheel to level up your bike – or you’ll find yourself riding very aggressive geometry.
The only cycling-specific fan at the moment (as far as we know) and very expensive. The Wahoo Kickr Headwind is sensor controlled so that as your speed or heart rate increases, so does fan speed. There are also four manual speed settings so you can set your own airflow. Simulates speeds of over 30mph – it’s cooler than cool.
Browse Amazon for a non-cycling-specific high-velocity fan to suit your budget.
Giant’s sweat catcher is made from terry towelling and fits over the bar of any bike, attaching to the seatpost. It has a phone window set in – not big enough for a tablet, but if you’re doing a simpler, non-virtual reality workout or just using your phone for music, a smartphone will do.
The sweat catcher from Tacx has a smartphone window, like Giant’s, and is made from an absorbent manmade fabric. It also attaches to the bar and seatpost. Like the other two here, it fits all bikes.
Like Giant's and Tacx's, Decathlon’s sweat catcher is strung between the handlebar and seatpost, creating a sort of sweat-catching hammock. It is made of absorbent polyamide so fortunately doesn’t need emptying afterwards. It includes a storage bag/bottle holder that can be attached to the handlebar.
With its two elasticated hooks, Rapha’s towel is designed to be attached to the hoods and to sit on the top tube, within easy reach for wiping face or arms. Made with soft 450gsm 100 per cent cotton, it’s super absorbent. It measures 460mm wide, 650mm long and features an embroidered Rapha logo.
At only £2.99 it's probably worth panic-buying a few of these.
Decathlon has gone for a manmade quick-drying microfibre rather than cotton. It doesn’t have any bike-specific features – it’s just a basic rectangle to place over the bar and stem – measuring 420 x 550mm.
Available in three colours.
Tacx’s handlebar bracket allows you to attach a tablet to your handlebar at a safe distance from sweatfall. Suitable for handlebars with a diameter from 26mm to 35 mm and adjustable to different tablet sizes ranging from: length 182-267mm, width 112-190mm, max thickness 13mm.
You can put your front wheel right through Tacx’s clever tablet stand, allowing you to position your tablet at exactly the right height and distance from the handlebar. The tablet holder itself accommodates the same tablet sizes as the Tacx Tablet Holder.
Very stable and sturdy steel frame that provides support for notebooks, tablets and smartphones with an adjustable anti-slip, scratch-free soft rubber plate.
Giant’s multi-block accommodates wheels from 24in through to 29ers.
Tacx’s front-wheel support raises the front wheel and also doubles up as an ingenious handle to carry a Tacx wheel-on trainer.
Designed to prevent damage to your floor from sweat or your turbo’s feet, Decathlon’s training mat is made from a dual material. The lower section is constructed from anti-slip foam for stability, while the upper section is a dense foam. It’s not absorbent so can be wiped dry and clean after training.
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Simon finished his MA in online journalism back in 2003 when the internet wasn't very exciting or popular yet. So he got a job as a sub editor on Britain's biggest weekly cycling magazine, where as well as taking out commas and putting them back in again he got to review a lot of bikes and kit.
As a keen time triallist he has spent many hours riding up and down dual carriageways early in the morning and has a national medal, a 19-minute 10 and a few open wins in his palmarès.
He and his eight-year-old son do the school run on a tandem, beating the traffic in car-choked Reigate and getting a great workout at the same time (for one of them).