Indoor Cycling to Stay Fit During the Winter Months

Screen image of the Zwift App being used with an indoor cycling trainer.
Screen image of the Zwift App being used with an indoor cycling trainer.
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I started to get back into shape in 2013 through road cycling, and just added fenders for my road bike and wore layered clothing to ride during the rainy months in Oregon. In 2018 I was recovering from an accident and a cycling friend introduced me to indoor cycling by bringing over an extra smart trainer, then showed me how to use an App called Zwift. 

TacX indoor cycling trainer by Garmin.
TacX indoor cycling trainer by Garmin. submitted photo

To set up the trainer I remove the rear wheel of my road bike and then place the bike onto the trainer. I’ve used trainers from both Wahoo and Garmin before, and even Zwift has a popular smart trainer.

The Zwift App runs on my Apple TV, connected to a TV screen in my garage. You can also run Zwift on your phone, tablet, PC or Mac computer. I started out using an iPad, then a MacBook Pro, and finally settled on the Apple TV, as it is connected to a 42” TV, providing a more immersive experience than with smaller displays.

In Zwift there’s an Avatar that you get to customize to look like yourself, and then choose things like your helmet, gloves, kit, shoes, and even the virtual bike that you ride in the app. There are thousands of other cyclists on Zwift 24/7 from all around the globe, so it can be quite a social experience if you want to text other members while riding. My cycling friend also showed me another App called Discord, which allows us to talk using our smartphones, tablet, or PC, and it’s best to use a Bluetooth headset.

My first Zwift ride was in a virtual New York City, so I got to explore Central Park a bit. Zwift offers up several different worlds for cycling, like New York City, London, Richmond, Innsbruck, Yorkshire, Paris, Makuri Islands (Solomon Islands), and France (New Caledonia). Each of the virtual worlds has multiple courses, so there’s plenty of variety in the scenery. As you climb a hill in Zwift, your smart trainer increases the resistance, and when you descend a hill then you can simply glide along, just like cycling in real life. Cycling indoors on a smart trainer is similar to outdoor cycling, except that indoors you don’t have to balance, steer or look out for cars and avoid potholes.

Outdoors the wind flows past your body to remove heat, so indoors you want to add at least one fan to help remove some of the heat generated during cycling, and I use a box fan placed behind my trainer. Sweating is natural when working out, so I also lay a bath towel from my handlebars across the top tube of the bike, and occasionally wipe my face to keep dry.

Zwift is a subscription service, priced at $14.99/month, and I activate my account each year starting in October and continuing through March. I then suspend my account because I much prefer to be outside cycling.

There are several options for using Zwift, and at first, I just picked a route on one of the maps and began to ride. Then I discovered that Zwift awarded badges if you completed each route they offered. That made me motivated to ride every route in all worlds, collecting badges as digital rewards. 

While cycling in Zwift you have a lot of feedback about the workout, like seeing your heart rate, speed of the bike, distance traveled, revolutions per minute of your pedaling, power used while pedaling, calories burned, and normalized power divided by weight, expressed as Watts per Kilogram (w/kg). You can also see other Zwifters nearby, displayed on a leaderboard, showing their name and country flag of origin. Your Zwift ride results can also be automatically uploaded to Strava.

Zwift offers events like group rides, and races for those that want to compete, or even work out routines to help you get fit or train for an event. This is my fourth year riding indoors on Zwift, and I have joined two Zwift Clubs to ride with other friends. In 2021 I even accomplished something called a vEverest, which is climbing the height of Mt. Everest at 29,029 feet in one ride, a feat that took me 12 hours and 34 minutes to complete, while covering 132 virtual miles. 

Whatever your fitness goal is, riding Zwift in the rainy winter months will keep you fit and spinning on your bike, at least until it becomes dry and warm again for outdoor cycling.

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