I work as a customer service agent for a company that makes an indoor training app and have helped thousands of people with their indoor setups. Not only that, I constantly troubleshoot common problems and pitfalls on a daily basis. I have all the answers you are looking for when setting up your Bicycle Torture Chamber (BTC). Read this guide and it will solve 95% of the problems most users have when setting up their BTC. Also, I hope to share some of my personal mistakes for your benefit.
You want to skip all the reading? Watch the video below which summarizes what is in this article. Those that prefer the video App can subscribe to my Youtube Channel. I try to match articles with videos as much as I can. Also, anything you purchase through the links in the article help me keep my website running. Thanks for reading and feel free to comment if you have any questions. I’m here to help. Want to know which trainers work better than others? Check out my Equipment Comparison Page.
This article will cover the basics of getting setup, the extras that help improve your experience, and the pitfalls some people encounter. I will do two more articles after this talking specifically to Virtual Power users and Smart Trainer users (links coming soon). The pitfalls are an education lesson in what we can and cannot do with certain setups, and the dreaded “Wifi” router problem. With that out of the way, we need start with the bike and trainer.
Bike and Trainer
To train indoors you need a mighty steed to mount. This can be your bike, back up bike, or Indoor Spin Bike. Yes, we can configure indoor spin bikes (Article: Converting Old Spin Bikes to Indoor Cycling Machines) if you don’t mind spending a little extra money. Besides spin bikes and rollers, we have three types of trainers; basic fluid/mag/wind trainers, wheel-on smart trainers, and wheel off smart trainers.
Basic trainers can be used with all training apps as long as the company has the virtual power curve. Virtual power curves are created for these trainers and users can now get the same benefits as power meter users. The only downside is the lack of standardization for virtual power curves, which means they may vary from App to App. However, they do give you a power number to train to and that is what is important; making that number go up! All you need is a speed sensor to communicate to the App. The training App then interprets your speed number and displays it as a power number.
Wheel-On smart trainers can be very affordable. They are not as good as the pricey smart trainers out there like the TACX Neo or Wahoo KICKR, but they will still do a good job crushing your legs and keeping your fitness up. I have two lists on my Equipment Comparison Page for Mid-Range and Budget wheel-0n smart trainers. All of them have their own individual strengths and weaknesses.
I have used the Wahoo KICKR and can tell you it works very well. These trainers require near zero shifting. You can put high end trainers in the 39 x 27 gear ratio and they will grind your legs into a pulp. That is the main separating factor between a high-end trainer and a mid-range trainer. The budget trainers can only put on 100 to 115 watts on the 39 x 27 gear ratio (requires shifting to hit targets) and the mid-range trainers can only hit 200 to 340 watts on that 39 x 27 gear ratio.
The decision on which trainer you purchase is down to budget. The TACX Neo is probably one of the best trainers on the market but requires a significant investment. The Elite Qubo Digital Smart B+ can get the job done for very cheap, but it has it’s limitations. What you purchase is solely up to you.
Computing Device and App
Computing requirements are very particular to each App. Make sure you check the webpage of the app you are using and see if you are compatible. For example, The Sufferfest Training Centre works with everything except for Android, TrainerRoad supports everything, and Zwift requires a more powerful computer because it is literally running a multiplayer video game. There are other nuances also. Some Apps support bluetooth on Windows Computers while other Apps may not. Again, make sure you go to the training app you want to use and look up your computing requirements.
Now is the time we need to talk about communications. All sensors will either communicate via ANT+ or Bluetooth 4.0 (also called Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)). Having Bluetooth sensors makes things easy. All devices these days are running BLE 4.0 which means your sensor can talk directly to your computing device. All you need to do is make sure the Training App you are using supports Bluetooth 4.0 on the computing device you want to use. If they don’t, then we need to buy an ANT+ receiver (also called a “Dongle”).
The only computing devices that have built in ANT+ receivers are Android devices. Apple doesn’t have that and most Windows computers don’t have built in ANT+ receivers either. The two most reliable ANT+ dongles for Mac and Windows computers are the Garmin or Suunto sticks. You may already have an ANT+ dongle, but you need to ensure it works with the App you are trying to connect to. Trainer Road can work with older ANT+ dongles, but the Sufferfest Training Centre will not. I also advise on getting a USB Extension cable for your ANT+ Dongle. The Dongle is simply a USB stick and will work with any USB extension cable. I have seen USB extension cables make huge improvements in signal consistency.
I have quick links to gear that I know works with these training Apps on my Basics Page. This is the exact same equipment that I use in my BTC. Now, if you need to connect an ANT+ sensor to an iOS device, things are going to get expensive. Please review my article on Wahoo Sensors before you make your iOS ANT+ Purchase. To connect ANT+ Sensors to an iOS device, you need the Wahoo Dongle and the lightning to 30 pin adapter. That is going cost you about $90 dollars. The Wahoo Dongle IS THE ONLY ANT+ Dongle that will work with iOS. I will say it again, THE ONLY ONE that will work. For a little more, you might as well buy all new Wahoo Sensor.
Fans are a crucial part of your BTC. You don’t need anything special or expensive. You only need some that blows a good deal of wind over your body. Without a fan, you will burn up and your performance will degrade as you begin to overheat. I use a fan with a remote control (Lasko Remote Fan). This makes things easy for me to turn on and adjust the intensity of the fan. I keep the fan remote one a table in front of me within arms reach. Working out with a partner? I would recommend getting two fans. The wife and I sometimes suffer together and having one oscillating fan just doesn’t cut it. I miss the airflow when it moves off me and onto my wife. Two fans are better than one when we are talking about multiple riders.
I already covered sensors a bit when talking about computing accessories. My recommendation is always the Wahoo Sensors because they transmit over BLE and ANT+ at the same time. Be wary of the cheap sensors you can find online. I have had many customers come in to me complaining about sensors failing or not working. Cheap sensors will perform cheaply. All of the Training Apps have articles on supported sensors. Make sure you take a look to see if your current sensors are supported.
Here we will talk about some of the extra things you can do in your BTC to help improve the overall experience. These are the little things that save you time, improve your ride experience, or help protect your floor. None of these suggestions are necessary, but they are things that I use myself. I’ve been riding indoors for many years, and sometimes it is the culmination of the little things that can create big improvements in your experience.
We must protect our bicycles. Many veterans of indoor training know what I am taking about. Some veterans refuse to use their nice bicycles in the indoor environment and will opt for indoor spin bikes that are specifically made to withstand the elements. The primary culprit is sweat which is water and salt. Salt can be highly corrosive to your metal components on your bicycle. I highly recommend getting a Sweat Net that attaches to your handlebar and straps to your seat post. This will capture all of your indoor holy water and help keep your bike protected.
Some of you may or may not need sweat protection. Those that are setting up their BTC in a basement with concrete or outside in the garage won’t really care about sweating on the floor. Those that are riding on hard wood floors or carpet, are much more concerned about sweat. Here is what I can tell you. Do not buy the squishy floor mats. These ones really move around a lot and cause a bunch of frustration. Buy the floor mats from the companies that make indoor trainers. This Wahoo Floor Mat gets the job done very well.
You only need to read this part if you have an uneven floor or are riding on carpet. Indoor trainers can rock quite a bit on uneven floor surfaces and carpet. The easiest thing to do is head to the lumber store and buy a small sheet of plywood. That is all you need to do. That will create a more stable surface area and really reduce the rocking.
The Big Screen
I love putting my training Apps up on the big screen TV. There are many solutions out there. One of the easiest for Apple devices is the Generation 3 or 4 Apple TV’s. Either one will work, and you can find a Gen 3 Apple TV for pretty cheap right now.
I mirror my screen on my Apple device so I can watch the TV on the easy parts, and then also look down at the Apple screen when I’m chewing on my stem. For Windows computers, there are a multitude of connectors out there you can use. You just need to look for the output options on your computer and then the input options on your TV. Go to Amazon and type something like “HDMI to VGA” and you’ll get every connection ever made that will work.
The Table is another that is great to have. It allows you to put your computing device right in front of you. I would chose a table that has a height adjustment. You can spend very little or a whole lot on tables. There is the Wahoo Fitness Desk, but it costs a lot of money. I don’t use that desk. I use something very cheap and inexpensive from IKEA and it gets the job done.
The last thing we will cover is the pitfalls or obstacles that users run into. I will be real short and to the point here so I don’t confuse anyone. Getting wordy here can confuse the issue and I found that it is much better to just state the facts.
There are two things that kill and interfere with sensor communications. The primary culprit is the Wifi router. Wifi routers can operate at 2.4ghz with a much higher power level. ANT+ sensors and bluetooth sensors also operate at 2.4ghz. Get the Wifi router away from your BTC. The second problem is having your ANT+ Dongle on your computer. Use the USB extension cable to improve performance. Your computer is still sending out electromagnetic energy that can interfere with signal reception.
This one is pretty simple, but most people don’t realize how bluetooth works. Bluetooth is a monogamous sensor. It will only connect with one device at a time. This means you can’t connect your polar watch to the H7 bluetooth heart rate strap and connect to a training app at the same. ANT+ can be shared to anything as much as you want, bluetooth cannot.
Smart Trainer Rules
Here is the rule with smart trainers. Only one App can control a smart trainer at a time. This is why the smart trainer manufacturers program trainers to send multiple signals. All smart trainers send an additional bike power signal that a training App will read as a power meter. So, if you want to run your Garmin Bike computer with your indoor training App, the Garmin bike computer has to pick up the smart trainer as a power meter. If you have two things trying to control a smart trainer, the smart trainer will just give up.
This is for all you Apple users. DO NOT BUY NON APPLE CABLES! They will not work with these training Apps. I know, I’ve bought many non Apple cables just to see if they would work. Most of them do not. They are missing the Apple Chips in the cables that assist in splitting off and segregating different signal types. It is tempting, because Apple cables are expensive, but most 3rd part cables don’t work or fail rapidly.
I know this article got a bit long. However, I wanted to help as many people as I can understand the basics of getting set up. Learn from my mistakes, so you don’t waste your time or money like I have. I help thousands of people every month in customer service with all of these issues. These are the primary obstacles and problems that I see every day. Best of luck to you all, and don’t forget to check out my website athletictechreview.com. I am passionate about what I do and I hope it shows.