Since early 2020, when the world was forced indoors due to the global pandemic, indoor cycling and cycling in general, has taken off in an unprecedented way forcing even the cycling purists inside and on to a trainer or spin bike. There’s a plethora of reasons to jump on the bandwagon and join the cult of indoor cycling: the convenience of hopping on the bike regardless of weather conditions, the ease of scheduling a virtual ride with friends, the security given to loved ones knowing you’re not battling traffic and road conditions. Whatever your personal motivation is, there’s no denying that indoor cycling is here to stay, and we couldn’t be happier to welcome new riders into the fold.
For those new to cycling indoors the selection of clothing and gear can be overwhelming as there are hundreds of options with each brand promising comfort and style. While you may already own cycling gear, there are different requirements when you dedicate your time indoors. Cycling indoors does not allow the workout breaks that you’re given outdoors. There is no coasting or stopping for traffic signs and there are no inertia speed gains while pushing out of a corner. This translates to more time in the saddle and more pressure on points of contact: hands, feet, and pelvis. And while it is true, the better you look the more likely you are to wear a product, the most important relationship with your gear is comfort. Those $400 carbon-soled, ultralight double-boa, kangaroo leather cycling shoes look incredible but if your feet cramp or burn while wearing them, they’ll end up at the back of your closet. The more comfortable you are, the longer you will want to ride and the more likely you will be to get back on the bike the next day and the less you’re thinking about a burning foot or a sore bottom, the more focussed you are on turning out those watts and perfecting your form.
Here’s a look into the “must have” gear for indoor cycling:
It all starts at your feet and since they take the brunt of force from each pedal stroke, you’ll want to pamper those tootsies. Regardless of whether you clip into your spin bike pedals, push your sneaker into a toe-cage, or ride on top of flat pedals, a stiff sole is essential during indoor cycling. As you push down on the pedal, any flex in the sole of the shoe will push into the foot potentially causing hot spots, (a small spot of pressure that causes discomfort). Additionally, flexing in the sole will rob you of power, aka watts. When the shoe flexes, the energy goes into the shoe and not where you want it which is pushing forward and down onto the pedal. Therefore, most competitive and endurance cyclists opt for a carbon fibre sole on their indoor cycling shoes. Cycling shoes come in various stiffness and weights and while the latest and most expensive shoes are not necessary, ensuring that you’re riding a stiff shoe will keep your feet happy and your watts higher.
For those not clipping in, there are shoes made by many of the biggest cycling brands that can be used without installing cleats on the bottom of the shoe. These shoes, however, should be designated for cycling only as they are not designed for the constant motion of walking and rolling onto the forefoot like a sneaker. Hiking shoes or trail shoes will also do the trick for those who prefer to use a multi-purpose shoe that they also use for other activities.
Since you’re indoors and the cycling sock police aren’t around to pull out a ruler and measure your sock height, I suggest riding with a shorter sock. Cycling indoors is often a much warmer activity than cycling outside because there is no fluctuation in airflow drying your sweat and cooling you down, although a fan does help some. Wearing a thin, moisture-wicking technical sock will ensure a cooler and more comfortable foot, whereas a cotton sock will hold the moisture and potentially soften the skin and causing blisters or abrasions.
Let’s talk indoor cycling shorts and whether you really need a pair? The short answer is yes you do, and your tush will thank you for it. It’s important to add some padding in between your skin and the saddle because unless you’re standing on your pedals and out of the saddle, there’s little relief from pressure on the sit-bones and soft-tissue areas. Cycling shorts come with a chamois or padded barrier sewn into the crotch often made of foam or other synthetic fabric. Even the most experienced cyclist will remember the first time pulling up a pair of padded shorts how they felt like they were wearing a diaper. That diaper is literally padding and protecting your rear! Cycling shorts should be worn sans underwear as the chamois also gives the added benefit of pulling sweat away from the skin. It’s a foreign feeling for those new to these shorts but going commando will ensure that your underwear is not rubbing or holding sweat against your skin.
Much like the omittance of the sock police, the cycling fashion police aren’t around to judge you should you perform the ultimate sin of wearing a mismatched cycling kit; wear any combination of jersey and short that you want. If your temperature runs hot, a full-zippered jersey will be the ideal choice as a full zip allows you to shed the garment easily, otherwise any technical top will do, cycling-specific or otherwise. Cycling indoors also offers privacy so if you’re so inclined, ride without a jersey or base layer on at all, though for women, a well-supported sports bra is an absolute.
Gloves are typically used as protection from a fall or padding from the road vibrations, they can also be useful when cycling indoors. If you sweat heavily, gloves can absorb some of the moisture rolling down your arms and prevent a larger pool of sweat forming under you. Gloves can also protect your metal handlebars from salt corrosion. Gloves can give you a bit of a lift on the front of your bike if you feel yourself leaning forward onto the front of bike and they can also add some padding if you feel numbness in the hands or fingers.
While you don’t need to protect your head from the rain or cold, a cycling cap or sweatband is useful to keep the sweat from rolling into your eyes. And for those with longer hair, a cycling cap can help keep your hair out of your eyes when you’re out of the saddle or in your drops.
Written by Ryan Petersen, an NCCP Cycling Coach and IBFI and Retul Level 2 Bike Fitter and a 15-year veteran in bicycle retail and distribution. She has coached beginner and intermediate athletes in road cycling, mountain biking and indoor cycling. She has competed in road cycling, triathlon, cyclocross, ultra endurance cycling, downhill and cross-country but her heart belongs to bike packing and cycle touring. She is shade-grown on the west coast of beautiful British Columbia, Canada.