It’s that time of year when cold weather and short days drive cyclists indoors to suffer in their trainer “dungeons.” Fortunately, we’ve entered the age of smartphones, smart trainers, and virtual riding. Riding an indoor trainer is no longer a miserable chore.
This year, I completely revamped my trainer dungeon. I got a new computer and monitors for virtual riding on Zwift and TrainerRoad. Then, I purchased a Saris H3 smart trainer, an industrial fan, and capped it off with a Saris MP1 trainer platform. Compared to the simple fluid trainer and box fan I had set up in front of the TV 10 years ago, this is light years ahead.
My pain cave, version 2.0. Set up with help from Saris and STPC.
To make sure my set-up was completely dialed from the get-go, I reached out to Matt Gardiner and some of the other riders on the Saris + The Pro’s Closet (STPC) eSports cycling team to find out what products I needed. If you’re interested in putting together the perfect trainer dungeon, check out the essential gear that STPC riders choose for their home set-ups.
Indoor training essentials
STPC rider, Matt Gardiner, has his Zwift racing set-up dialed.
The STPC riders spend more time riding Zwift than most riders will spend outdoors on their bikes all year-round. They know what works and what doesn’t for indoor riding. Below are the five essential items they’ve selected. If you’re just getting started, these are the first items you need to put on your shopping list as you build your own trainer dungeon.
Saris H3, Lasko Blower Fan, Towels, Saris TD1 trainer desk
Direct-drive smart trainer
This may be obvious, but you need a trainer. To take advantage of the latest virtual riding platforms like Zwift, TrainerRoad, Rouvy, Bkool, and Sufferfest, you’ll need a smart trainer that can measure power, automatically adjust resistance, and connect to your computer, tablet, or smartphone.
There are several smart trainers on the market, but the Saris H3 is the trainer of choice for me and the riders of the STPC team. The H3 is a direct-drive trainer, meaning you mount your bike to it by removing the rear wheel. Riders who are serious about indoor riding prefer direct-drive trainers because they are quieter, more responsive, have a better “road feel,” and aren’t affected by tire pressure, drum tension, or tire slip. They also save your rear tire from excessive wear.
A direct-drive trainer’s only downside is cost. If direct-drive trainers are too pricey, wheel-on smart trainer options like the Saris M2 are more budget-friendly and can still measure power and adjust resistance. Platforms like Zwift also allow virtual riding with classic trainers (sometimes referred to as “dumb” trainers) with a virtual power curve (read how it works here).
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You need “wind” on the trainer to help sweat evaporate and keep you cool. Even if you’re riding in a freezing cold basement or garage, your body heat will rapidly rise without adequate airflow. Getting hot and sweaty is unpleasant and can sap your energy, so having a powerful fan is essential for comfort and performance.
You don’t need anything fancy, but often, generic fans aren’t powerful enough for serious use. The fan used by most riders on the STPC team is the Lasko Pro-Performance high velocity pivoting blower utility fan. Blower fans like this often serve industrial needs like drying carpet after water damage. This fan isn’t too expensive, packs a lot of power in a small package, and directs airflow precisely where you need it. For my purposes, one is enough, but there’s nothing wrong with adding more fans to your set-up for even more airflow.
Even with a powerful fan, large amounts of sweat are unavoidable during indoor riding. That’s why you need towels. Get a few soft, absorbent, small to medium-sized towels and keep them on your frame and/or handlebars. This will keep sweat from migrating into and damaging your headset bearings, frame, and other components. It also puts them within easy reach to wipe away the sweat and other gross stuff (I can’t blow snot rockets indoors!) that will inevitably cover your entire face.
Towels will keep sweat off your bike and face, but you will also need a trainer mat to keep sweat off your floor. Trainer mats are waterproof, and they also dampen vibration and noise and keep your trainer from moving around on slippery surfaces. Towels usually aren’t a good option because they will retain moisture, leading to floor damage or unpleasant smells. Cycling-specific trainer mats are very affordable, but yoga mats and exercise/garage floor mats are also a good option.
If you want to use a virtual riding platform like Zwift or TrainerRoad, it’s a good idea to have some sort of desk to hold your computer, tablet, or smartphone in front of you while you ride. Trainer desks like the Saris TD1 used by the STPC team are designed with indoor riding in mind. The legs are spaced to clear the front wheel of your bike so you can pull the desk portion closer to your handlebars where it’s easier to reach. This way you can interact with the virtual riding software without having to constantly get on and off your bike. They also have additional USB and electrical sockets to keep cables organized.
If a cycling-specific trainer desk is too pricey, many riders build their own or use low-cost alternatives like music stands. I use a music stand right now. It works, but I have to position it to one side to reach my computer or phone during workouts. A true trainer desk is next on my list of purchases.
Other nice trainer gear to have
Beyond the five essential pieces of indoor training gear listed above, there are a few other accessories that the STPC riders use to improve the indoor experience.
STPC riders Caroline Murray, Matt Curbeau, Ryan Larson, and Anna Russell show off some of their favorite trainer dungeon additions.
Wheel riser block
Riser blocks go under the front wheel to elevate the front of the bike. This can improve comfort for riders who have too much weight on their hands or soft tissue in a stationary riding position. Some riders also like high riser blocks to mimic their riding position during climbs. Basic plastic wheel risers are affordable and securely cradle the front wheel. If the height isn’t quite right you can raise it up with hardcover books or wood blocks.
Listening to your favorite music during exercise can amp you up and reduce your perceived exertion during long intervals or races. Watching movies, TV, or bike races during your training sessions can help long sessions on the trainer go by faster. The problem is, despite how quiet modern trainers are, they still make noise. Add a powerful fan to your set-up, and things can get even noisier. Many of the STPC riders like to use Bluetooth headphones to hear their favorite jams. According to STPC rider Matt Gardiner, the best type of Bluetooth headphones are “cheap.” You don’t want to risk damaging your fancy AirPods with your sweat.
If your trainer is set-up in a small or enclosed room, things are going to get muggy. For racing, some of the STPC riders use dehumidifiers along with their fans to get every performance gain possible. It’s worth considering if performance is your priority, or if you just want to improve the climate in your training dungeon or prevent mold from growing.
Some riders complain that a stationary bike leads to discomfort or boredom. In recent years, resourceful riders started building homemade “rocker plates” that increase realism and comfort by allowing the bike and trainer to rock from side-to-side while pedaling.
A few companies make rocker plates for purchase, but if you want the ultimate tool for the job, Saris makes the MP1 Nfinity trainer platform. This platform has the normal side-to-side movement found on other rocker plates but it adds fore-aft movement for the most realistic virtual riding experience possible. Several STPC riders like to train and race with the platform as it allows them to do longer sessions and stay more engaged. Not only does it improve comfort and fun, but Matt Gardiner says the MP1 platform also improves his power output by up to 20 watts. Many riders struggle to make power on the trainer and, if you’re one of them, the MP1 could help you unlock it.
A large screen
Nearly all the STPC riders use a TV or large monitor connected to their computer. It’s not necessary, but projecting your avatar onto a larger screen can make Zwift or other virtual platforms more immersive and fun. If you have bad eyes like me, staring at a tiny screen can lead to eye fatigue. Plus, if you have more than one screen, it opens up possibilities like watching TV while simultaneously training on Zwift. This is how I binge watch my favorite TV shows without feeling guilty.
This one can cost you nothing but have a very positive effect on your performance. Decorate your training dungeon with anything that will encourage you to get on your bike. For the STPC riders, this means old race numbers, photos of loved ones, bright LED lights, and motivational mantras. Having your area feel bright and futuristic or warm and cozy can make it easier to get on the bike. Just because they call it a trainer dungeon, doesn’t mean it has to look like a dungeon. Of course, if a dungeon-like atmosphere suits you, go for it.
What did we miss? What are the essential elements in your trainer dungeon? Let us know in the comments!