Nothing really beats riding your bike on the open road, but for various reasons from time to weather riding indoors has always been a useful alternative. We’ve come a long way from basic turbo trainers and watching the clock though, with a whole world of interactive and immersive indoor cycling apps that take indoor cycling to another level.
The development of smart trainers with integrated power meters and Bluetooth/ANT+ control has led to a whole swathe of training apps designed to make the most of these new trainers.
As a result, riding indoors is now much more realistic and compelling than ever before. You can do everything from riding with your mates, virtual or real, take part in racing leagues, follow structured training programmes or ride famous roads and climbs from the world’s biggest races.
It all helps to pass the time much more quickly and rather than dread the indoor trainer, you can now embrace it and keep the miles ticking over and hit your training goals ready for the summer.
There are now many apps available to suit all needs, whether you’re simply training, want to get into racing or just need a suitable alternative to dark, cold and wet weather. In this article we’ve rounded up some of the most popular - if there are any we’ve missed do add them in the comments section below.
Most of these apps require a subscription. Many do provide a free trial so if you’re not sure which one is right for you, our best advice is to simply try a few out before you commit to one.
Tell me more: Zwift’s biggest feature and its unique selling point is the ability to ride in a virtual world against or alongside other people from across the world. It’s totally immersive. It makes indoor cycling a game and the result is that it makes turbo training fun and engaging. If you use Zwift with a smart trainer, the level of resistance adjusts to match the terrain so when you're going up a climb, it really does feel like it.
It’s a massive multiplayer game in essence, and you can race people from all over the world. There are many organised events, from training rides to races, so you can ride with people of similar fitness and get a really good workout. The races are particularly realistic and can push you really hard, because it’s always motivating to chase someone, even in the virtual world.
If you want more structured training, Zwift also offers a wide range of workout modes and there’s everything from sprint intervals to sweet spot sessions. You can conduct an FTP test and follow one of the 12-week plans if you want to enjoy the benefits of a virtual coach to get you fit for a big sportive or race. You can also customise the workouts and make your own, too.
It's also worth adding that Zwift ins moving into esports as well, with the recently launched KISS Super League bringing together professional cyclists as well as launching the British Cycling eracing championships.
Zwift might be getting all the attention at the moment, but there are many other options, as we demonstrate below.
Tell me more: TrainerRoad uses a simple and clean graphical interface that provides all the metrics you need to track your efforts, from speed, any connected sensors like heart rate, cadence and power. A workout is displayed as a simple graph representing your intervals and a line moves across this graph identifying your progress. Motivational and instructional text is provided on-screen to help you stay focused and provide useful tips. Immersive it’s not, but structured and detailed it certainly is.
But by far TrainerRoad’s biggest appeal is the vast number of workouts and training plans it provides. There are a staggering 1,000+ workouts so there’ll be something for all tastes and requirements. You can also follow a training plan (there are 100+) with plans for every type of cyclist, covering early season base work to race preparation. Following a plan is the optimum way of improving your fitness, and it removes the guesswork so all you have to do is concentrate on following the plan. If getting fit is your goal, TrainerRoad is a seriously compelling choice.
TrainerRoad also has a calendar functionality that logs all your outdoor rides too and keeps track of your overall Training Stress Score. If you don’t have power data for an outside ride you can get an estimated TSS based on your level of effort.
Tell me more: Sufferfest is one of the original training services that made riding indoors more appealing than staring at a wall or watching reruns of the 1988 Tour de France. It combined actual real pro cycling racing footage with instructions telling you when to ride easy and when to attack!
It’s all based on the solid theory of interval training, not just pedalling around in circles, so you maximise the time you spend on the trainer. There are more than 50 structured interval workouts to choose from, designed by world-class coaches, and tailored to help you meet whatever goals you’re working towards.
It might not provide a virtual world to cycle around, but the real pro race footage, music and storylines are very compelling and provide a great distraction and keep you pedalling hard. The company has also developed what it calls Four-Dimensional Power, or 4DP for short, which it reckons goes beyond FTP in using four metrics to help personalise the workouts to your exact needs.
And now, beside actual training, Sufferest is branching out by offering yoga, mental toughness and strength training programmes aimed at the needs of cyclists.
Tell me more: Much like Zwift, VirtuGo offers 3D virtual worlds based on real locations, like Coll de Sóller, and Willunga Hill, based on the Mallorcan and Australian locations respectively. There’s also Pulseville which is totally made up, a bit like Zwift’s Watopia. The graphics provide a very realistic environment with crisp detail and great colours. You get loads of data on your current pace and the progress of the workout if you’re not just free riding, and other riders will be accompanied by their current watts/kg so you can decide if you want to ride with them or not.
VirtuGo has put a bit emphasis on training plans with structured training a key part of its appeal. You can import rides from the real-world or use VirtuGO’s training sessions and programs that are apparently all WorldTour-tested to make training indoors effective and engaging. The sessions are based on different types of cyclists, from Time Trialist, Climber, Criterium, Sprinter to All Rounder, with the training sessions targeting a specific requirement.
But like Road Grand Tours, VirtuGo is currently in Beta and it’s offering free downloads on Mac and PC.
Tell me more: Clearly inspired by the success and popularity of Zwift, Road Grand Tours is another online training platform that provides a 3D simulation of the real-world to cycle around. It provides amazingly detailed, with crisp, clear graphics that add to the realism, and you can tailor every aspect of your avatar and bike.
No make-believe worlds here, instead you have accurate recreations of some of the most iconic climbs in the world. There’s Ventoux, the Stelvio and Cap de Formentor and the realism of riding up this famous climbs from the comfort of your own home is incredibly appealing.
Road Grand Tours is intended to be a social platform providing multiplayer races and rides, allowing you to interact with other users via the mobile app. Racing is intended to be accurate, the simulator also takes drafting and peloton dynamics into consideration, so when you hit the front of the peloton you'll need to put out considerably more power than if you were in the pack.
It all sounds really good on paper, and we were impressed with a quick spin, the only snag is it’s still at the beta stage with the final product not yet ready for release. Given time, it could be a decent rival to more established platforms but in a fast-growing and rapidly maturing market time isn’t a luxury it has.
Tell me more: The Bkool Simulator software provides real-life footage shot from a cyclists point of view (or, more likely, a camera mounted on a car) with a variety, of course, to choose from. The harder you pedal, the faster the footage plays, and if you have a smart turbo, the resistance will vary with the gradient of the hill. It does provide an immersive experience and if you’d rather watch real-world footage than a pretend world, this could be the training package for you. It looks best if you've got a nice big telly set up in front of you, and a decent internet connection is also needed.
The appeal of Bkool Simulator isn’t in the social angle, it’s in the appeal of riding up an actual hill and measuring your effort and time, with actual real weather and headwind. And there are thousands of real-world routes and climbs to choose from, including Alpe d’Huez, Col du Galibier, even the Isle of Wight if you ride to ride somewhere closer to home. So it’s a good way to prepare for riding those climbs in real life or just a better distraction than a virtual world.
If you have a video camera you can create your own video sessions to ride, but unless you’re going to film your cycling holiday I’m not sure there’s much interest in riding your local rides indoors. You also have the choice of riding in a 3D world where you can race against rivals from around the world, and this appears to be the new focus for the Bkool Simulator, moving away from video to providing virtual options of all major climbs.
And just in case you’re wondering, you don’t have to have a Bkool smart trainer to use the Bkool Simulator.
Tell me more: If you want to ride real roads then Rouvy focuses on reality, providing a staggering 125,000 miles of video routes from around the world. But it’s USP is augmented reality, with 3D avatars appearing over the real video footage. It’s currently still in public beta phase, they plan to roll out 2,000 real-life geo-synced video routes with augmented reality, but it’s an exciting development and if you want realism this could be the app for you.
There’s a lot more on offer too, including structured workouts, training diary, pedalling technique analysis, fun challenges, races and leaderboards so you can see how you compare to friends.
FulGaz is another new kid on the block that lets you ride real roads indoors.
Tell me more: This training app combines real video footage from road races, so if you want to ride Alpe d’Huez from the comfort of your home, FulGaz lets you do just that. The videos have been filmed in 4K from a camera mounted to a bike and the footage is sped up or slowed down to match your actual performance. It’s as close to riding the real thing as it gets.
It’s currently offering 415 routes and 7,903km, so plenty of exploring to be done.
If you’ve bought a Tacx trainer this winter then it could be worth trying the company’s own training software. Like some other apps here, it provides high-quality films so you could ride anywhere from the Alps to the spring classics. The library is growing all the time with more videos being added. You can also upload your own routes by linking your Strava account or uploading GPS data, and follow a 3D map view. There’s also the options to ride with live opponents or enlist virtual training partners, and there’s also structured training plans with a calendar function.
Tell me more: Designed to work with Elite’s wide range of trainers, this app provides a virtual coach by giving you training programs to suit all levels of fitness and ability. It also provides real videos with a growing library. However, the app lets you record your own routes so you could film a route and then play it back on the indoor trainer. Or you can ride routes that other users have shared. You can also create your own 3D course by using Google Maps to ride anywhere in the world.
Tell me more: Kinomap lest you ride, from the comfort of your house, real roads that its users have shared in its growing library. This takes the emphasis away from the company providing videos and encourages users to upload videos. And there’s a lot to choose from, with 142,048km of routes to choose from. The quality does vary quite a bit. Still, if you want to ride real places that you’ve never been before it’s a good choice. You can also participate in group rides with a ride taking place every hour. There are multiplayer sessions, interval training sessions and races availble on the platform too.
Tell me more: Here’s another app that offers virtual rides from around the world, including the Alps and Pyrenees, so if you want stunning landscapes to ride through when it’s cold and wet outside, this could be for you. It’s not the biggest catalogue but there are some interesting choices, such as the Quebrantahuesos gran fondo. When you ride you can see upcoming hills and all the data you need such as speed, power, distance and time.
Tell me more: China’s answer to Zwift, One Lap appears to offer a similar virtual world to cycle around in with your own avatar. It offers a physical model that simulates the gradient, wind and drag resistance. We’d love to tell you more but the English (or US) version of the website is a bit rubbish.
It’s currently only available as a PC download, there’s no Mac or smartphone support at the moment. That’s why we’ve yet to try this app, but if you have let us know what it’s like, please.
|Name||Website||Multiplayer?||Virtual worlds?||Video?||Legendary routes?||User routes?||Workouts?||Training plans?||Racing?|
|The Sufferfest||$12.99/mo, $99/yr||-||-||✓||-||-||✓||✓||-|
|Road Grand Tours||Free beta||✓||✓||-||✓||-||-||-||✓|
|My E-training||£8.99/yr (£15.99/yr with video)||-||-||✓||✓||✓||✓||✓||-|
David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.