The advent of smart trainers and training apps has seen the popularity of indoor cycling explode in recent years, even before the global coronavirus pandemic sent much of the world into lockdown.
Once seen as a niche winter pursuit for the truly dedicated racer, indoor cycling will now be a staple for many cyclists even during the summer months.
If you’re looking to get into indoor cycling apps such as Zwift and Rouvy, we’ve covered the best setups for every budget, but even if you only have access to a standard turbo trainer, the benefits of indoor cycling are well documented.
It’s an extremely efficient way of getting fit because you can forego junk miles and focus on using your workouts for specific efforts.
Beyond a bike and turbo trainer though, there are a number of accessories that range from useful luxuries to must-have items.
With that in mind, we’ve chosen five turbo trainer accessories that will help you get the most out of your indoor training.
A towel is an almost essential accessory for serious indoor cycling. Style Slice
A humble towel is one of the most important accessories any cyclist training indoors should have.
You don’t have to use a dedicated sports towel, of course, but if you don’t want your other half getting upset about you using the nice ones from the back of the cupboard, which were actually being saved for guests, then a dedicated sport towel is a little lighter, easier to manage and should dry a bit quicker too.
A large, powerful fan
Indoor cycling can get very uncomfortable, very quickly, if you don’t have a good fan. Pifco/Wahoo
Even if you live in a country like the United Kingdom, where the weather is consistently disappointing, you’ll rapidly overheat when cycling indoors without any wind to cool you down.
What you need for your pain cave is a fan, and ideally a big one to boot. Twelve inches is probably about as small as you want to go, but 18 inches or larger is better.
If you’re building a top-end indoor cycling setup for playing games such as Zwift, Rouvy or RGT Cycling, then you might even consider a dedicated indoor cycling fan like the Wahoo Kickr Headwind.
Water bottles, preferably large ones, are an essential indoor cycling accessory. Jack Luke / Immediate Media
With much less coasting, cycling indoors is hard work and you’ll feel the need to drink a lot more. Water is fine for short or easy sessions, but for racing or longer virtual tours you might consider an energy drink.
Our best advice is to get two large, 750ml bottles and to always fill up both before your ride, unless you’re absolutely sure one bottle will be enough for your session. Running out of fluids mid-turbo session is never a pleasant experience.
Wireless Bluetooth headphones aren’t essential, but are definitely nice to have. Simon Bromley / Immediate Media
Even if you’re using immersive indoor cycling apps, you’re probably still going to want to listen to some music. Aside from simply fighting boredom, the benefits of listening to music while training are well documented.
A set of wired headphones will do in a pinch, but wireless Bluetooth headphones are better because you can then keep your phone wherever’s convenient and not risk getting tangled up with the wire during sprint efforts.
Ideally you want the headphones to have a built in microphone as well. If you’re doing socially distanced virtual group rides being able to hear and talk to your friends makes the experience so much better.
Turbo trainer tyre
A trainer-specific tyre helps keep noise to a minimum and protects your precious race tyres. Ideally you’ll have a spare back wheel to mount it on because swapping tyres every time you want to use the trainer would be a major hassle. Tacx
If you’ve got a wheel-on trainer, you may have noticed they can wear down your back tyre quite significantly – especially if you’ve got soft, grippy tyres designed for speed.
To avoid ruining your best tyres you can get a tyre specifically designed for use on the turbo. Usually made from harder compound rubber, they’re designed to withstand the rigours of indoor riding and keep noise levels to a minimum.
If you’ve got a cheap winter tyre lying around you can also press that into service to perform a similar job, but it might be a bit nosier and more prone to slipping under power than a specific turbo tyre.
Cotton cycling cap
You might not be able to push the pedals like Eddy, but the effort is what counts. Prendas
There are dedicated (i.e. pricier) indoor cycling caps on the market, but in reality a standard, classic cotton cap will help prevent sweat dripping into your eyes just as well.
What’s great about caps is that they’re also available in a variety of classic team designs – perfect for a bit of inspiration. Who doesn’t want to feel like Eddy Merckx or Johan Museeuw?
For those with a penchant for late eighties and early nineties cycling fashion, a sweat band is a great alternative accessory that fulfills the same job.
Front wheel riser block
Why more trainers don’t come boxed with riser blocks, we’ll never know… LifeLine
For some unknown reason, most trainers on the market don’t come with a front wheel riser block. If your trainer needs one you’ll soon realise because you’ll feel like you’re constantly sliding forward on your saddle while simultaneously putting a lot more weight than normal on your hands and wrists.
Fortunately, they’re not too expensive and there are plenty of options from brands such as LifeLine and Elite, as well as generic options.
A power meter is the perfect accessory for taking your training to the next level. Stages
Power meters have come down in price considerably in recent years, and while they’re great for tracking your outside exploits in fine detail, the real value of a power meter is as a specialised training tool.
Okay, so a power meter isn’t an indoor training essential, but with one on your bike you can do proper FTP testing, train in specific power zones and use interactive apps on any kind of trainer.
Even if you do have a smart trainer, it’s likely it’ll measure power slightly differently to a power meter on your bike, so training devotees who want the most consistent data possible might be better served with a single power meter they can use inside and out.
There are lots of options on the market, with the main consideration generally being around where you want to measure power.
Pedal-based power meters, such as the Garmin Vector or those by PowerTap, are easy to swap between bikes, but you might need to get used to a different cleat system.
If you’re a Shimano or SRAM user, there are plenty of crank-based options. We’ve been impressed by Stages and Quarq over the years, with both offering power meters to fit a range of bikes and drivetrains.
The downside with these is that swapping cranks between bikes is a slightly more involved process, and in some cases you may need to install a new bottom bracket.