Home cycling has exploded in the past two years, thanks to a growing range of equipment and apps, such as Zwift, which allow people to compete against one another. Peloton, Echelon and others took the gamification and competitive elements of these apps, and the community group elements of gym spin classes and built a new kind of home exercise system.
The popularity is set to continue as fair-weather Mamils look to maintain their fitness levels during winter when dark, wet roads are less enticing.
Broadly, equipment can be divided into three types. Indoor training bikes for competitive and serious cyclists, spin bikes for keep-fit fanatics, and turbo trainers for those who want to use their existing bicycles. Within these categories, there are “smart” options, which use digital elements and apps to monitor performance, alter effort level and enhance experience.
Wattbike is the most established indoor training brand. It was developed in 2000 in collaboration with British Cycling to create a realistic static cycling experience for off-season training. Classic Wattbikes use fan-like air paddles to replicate resistance. They cost upwards of £2,500. Wattbike also makes a spin-style smart bike called the Atom, starting at £1,599.
Spin bikes, which include Echelon, are more accessible and arguably more fun. They have a fixed gear, a heavy flywheel and steady frictional resistance. Used with the associated online apps and memberships, they enhance the riding experience and hook you up to a virtual community.
Prices vary hugely and it is worth bearing in mind that the market is so competitive that costs change frequently. Generally, for a well-made, full-feature smart spin bike, you should not expect to pay less than £1,000. There is a lot of choice at the lower end of the spectrum, such as XS Sports SB500 Aerobic indoor bike and the Ergo Life spin bike, both available for less than £250, but these offer little in terms of features and functionality.
For those who want to keep cycling on their own bikes but stay indoors, turbo trainers are a good option. These are frames on to which the back wheel of a bike is attached, or, in some cases, the back wheel can be removed completely and the bicycle attached directly to the trainer, which has its own gear cassette. They also vary in price depending on spec.
I tried the Tacx Neo 2T, a top-of-the range smart turbo trainer, which retails at £1,199. After attaching a gear cassette to it, my road bike fitted easily and the front wheel was held stable with a holder. The motor inside the trainer provided a very realistic ride feel, especially during climbs and sprints, and even mimicked the action of cycling over cobbles or gravel.