Indoor Trainers Vs. Riding Outdoors

Indoor trainers provide cyclists with a way to continue riding their bikes during inclement weather and long, snowed-in winters. Many road riders and mountain bikers may view time on the trainer as somewhat boring, as it lacks the variety of sensory input that miles of pavement or single track can deliver. However, indoor trainers offer certain advantages that make them a beneficial addition to a cyclist’s overall training program.

Outdoor Riding Advantages

Cycling is an outdoor sport, so riding outdoors is part of its fundamental nature. Outside, the bike isn’t rigid -- it moves slightly from side to side, helping you synchronize the rhythm between your lower and upper body. You develop balance while biking outdoors, especially when transitioning in and out of the saddle, climbing hills, cornering and riding technical off-road terrain. Both pavement and single-track offer unexpected variations in terrain and headwind, keeping you more focused and developing your fluidity. Cycling outside also dissipates the heat you generate while working. Staying cool can help you maintain your power output by keeping your heart rate lower.

Outdoor Riding Disadvantages

Some of the benefits of outdoor cycling are also drawbacks, when approached from a different angle. Outside, your training is dependent on the terrain as well as on the wind. If you live in a relatively flat area, you may have few to no hills to train on. If you'd like to maintain a specific cadence over the course of your ride, a headwind can make you work harder, while a tailwind can keep you from reaching your target heart rate. Riding outside is subject to weather and time of day. While lights make it possible to train in the dark, you can't always see every obstacle or pothole, which increases your risk of a flat tire, or worse. Traffic is one of the perpetual risks of outdoor riding, made even more dangerous by riding at night, dusk or dawn, when visibility is lower.

Indoor Trainer Advantages

The principle advantage of indoor trainers is that they keep you on the bike when you can’t train outside due to weather, seasonal change or time of day. Because your bike is kept stable by the trainer, you don’t need to focus on balancing, and can therefore multi-task, either by watching television or reading. This stability is also advantageous for cyclists with broken clavicles, a common cycling injury. Provided your physician gives you the go-ahead, the safest way to keep training while on the mend is on an indoor stationary trainer. Trainer workouts don't give you any breaks, such as riding downhill or with a tailwind. Because you must generate consistent power, your overall workout becomes more intense.

Indoor Trainer Disadvantages

The lack of sensory variety in an indoor training session can make it seem boring compared to riding outdoors, where the scenery changes constantly and you must react to vehicles, road conditions and traffic signals. Certain types of trainers can stress your bike frame and possibly chip the paint. The rolling resistance trainers provide against the back wheel causes the tire to wear out quickly, requiring you to change out your tire for a cheaper one if your bike is on the trainer often, or risk ruining your better tire. While you can improve your cadence on a trainer, its rigidity doesn’t allow you to develop balance and fluidity on the bike.

About the Author

Based just outside Chicago, Meg Campbell has worked in the fitness industry since 1997. She’s been writing health-related articles since 2010, focusing primarily on diet and nutrition. Campbell divides her time between her hometown and Buenos Aires, Argentina.