Nowadays, the latest generation of cycling apps works across multiple platforms from PCs to smartphones and tablets. They offer hundreds of virtual places to ride with or against other riders, with realistic, real-time graphics or video. They can also connect to the latest generation of smart trainers to vary the resistance automatically, making the experience more authentic than ever.
How to choose indoor cycling apps?
The perfect indoor training app will ultimately be one that keeps you motivated to ride.
Indoor cycling has great benefits – these are pretty well documented but in case you needed reminding:
- Controllable, so completing set intervals and tracking progress is accurate
- Possible to push harder since there’s no need to worry about traffic
- Warm and dry – you can’t slip on ice on the turbo trainer (without great difficulty)
The downside? Well, you’re pedalling away indoors. But there’s now a wide selection of training apps and services to keep you entertained.
How to choose a smart trainer?
Many turbo trainers offer the option for the user to vary resistance via a remote switch mounted on the handlebars. This works by adjusting the level of magnetic resistance in the flywheel, enabling riders to recreate the effect of, for example, riding up steep gradients.
Smart trainers do away with this manual resistance control, instead of linking up with computers, smartphones and compatible bike computers which can control the resistance level for you.
This has created a whole market of interactive training apps and simulators that have two benefits.
The first is the ability to follow preset workouts, with resistance changes coming at set points without you needing to intervene. It’s almost like having your own coach.
The other benefit is being able to link your turbo sessions to realistic online worlds – either computer-generated or linked to real-world videos – where you can ride with/against others, with the resistance of your turbo trainer increasing every time you hit a virtual hill.
Entry-level models such as the BKool Smart Go cost around £350 and include everything needed to get started, but for a more realistic experience check out the Tacx Neo Smart, which among its many features can simulate road vibration and has a bone-shaking price tag to match – £1,299.
Just make sure any prospective purchase includes both ANT+ FE-C and Bluetooth Smart, the two most widely used wireless protocols, maximizing app compatibility including all those featured in this guide.
Top 5 cycling apps for a smart trainer
The graphics of Zwift aren’t quite Hollywood CGI, but we found them so engaging that we soon forgot we weren’t actually riding. Saddle time is rewarded with XP points, which allow you to upgrade kit and equipment and adds an extra level of interest and possibly motivation.
In the ‘Just Ride’ mode, the resistance responds to the gradient and the Zwift programmers must be commended for providing a fantastically smooth and realistic feeling.
If you want something more structured, you can enter one of the many group rides scheduled daily, or follow your own workout program. In these cases, the resistance responds to the particular training block and the groups are held together regardless of how much power an individual rider is producing.
With thousands of riders Zwifting at any one time, we were never on our own for a ride, further increasing engagement with the app.
Apart from a small number of connection issues, everything worked as it should making for a seamless experience. And for anyone with a place in this year’s RideLondon, you can train on the slopes of a virtual Box Hill and hone your sprint finish down the Mall too!
- Summary: Lacks serious in-depth data but turns tedious turbo sessions into a fun, sociable experience
- Platforms: iOS/Mac/Windows
- Cost: £12.99/month
2. BKool Simulator
You’ve got to be cool and patient to make the perfect attacking move on a ride, or so they say, and BKool’s expansive offering will help you build the legs needed to execute it.
We found the real-world rides challenging and engaging, particularly in the 3D virtual renderings with fellow competitors to keep you company and crowds to cheer you on.
But on the plus side, any ride can be turned into a BKool session (by linking to your own GPS tracks) and enjoyed in an aerial map mode.
The velodrome sessions add another extra element of fun, allowing you to compete against other riders in a pursuit or kilo time-trial, with the only limitation being the number of other users online when you want to ride.
- Summary: With such a wealth of content, BKool is one of the most engaging and best value apps out there
- Platform: iOS/Android/Mac/Windows
- Cost: £7.99/month
Get it on:
As the old saying goes no pain, no gain, and the Sufferfest dishes both out in spades. With its unique blend of tough-love motivation, inspirational race footage and targeted intervals, it’ll help any rider gain access to their personal pain cave and emerge a stronger rider.
At the core of the app are the Sufferfest workout videos; combining race footage and music to match the effort demanded by a particular interval.
It took a little while to get used to the amount of information displayed on the screen. However, it wasn’t enough of a problem to distract from the workout itself.
Uniquely offered is the use of 4-Dimensional Power using the Full Frontal workout, whereby the app builds a 4-D profile and identifies your strengths and weaknesses with recommended workouts to build on these.
With 50 or so workout videos, there’s enough to keep you coming back to Sufferlandria for a whole world of pain – again and again.
- Summary: A good choice of workouts, lots of data and a user-friendly interface. Fun, as long as you like pain
- Platforms: iOS/Mac/Windows
- Cost: £7.50/month
If you want a no-nonsense app that’ll make you a faster cyclist, then this is the one for you. Don’t get us wrong, no-nonsense is not a euphemism for poor quality or lacking in features – quite the opposite.
TrainerRoad is a well-thought-out and easy-to-use app with industry-leading features.
It focuses on delivering high-quality training sessions and doesn’t require you to have a degree in sports science to use it. Simply chooses your discipline, development area and volume to arrive at your multi-week training plan.
Following the Winter Base plan, we knew exactly what we had in-store each day. Therefore, there was worth deciding what to do before each session.
The PowerMatch feature does an excellent job of working with your bike’s power meter to control the resistance of your smart trainer, making indoor sessions comparable with those completed outdoors.
Built-in trainer and power meter calibration is another feature that shows the developers at TrainerRoad are serious about accuracy.
- Summary: With loads of data, training sessions and plans, it’s ideal for those who take their indoor training seriously
- Platforms: iOS/Android/Mac/Windows
- Cost: £15/month
If you’ve ever heard the Classics racers give a post-race interview you’ll probably have heard the term ‘full gas’. It’s when you’re going as hard as you can and there is nothing left. Which provides a helpful clue as to what this video-based simulator is all about!
Using physics modeling to reflect the ride sensations by altering resistance on your smart turbo trainer, along with high-definition videos of real races. They really pulled us in, to the point where we naturally chased the wheels in front of us.
On occasion, the turbo resistance felt lumpy and out of sync on the steeper gradients. But adjusting the settings of rider weight, aerodynamic resistance and gear ratios certainly improved things.
FulGaz has a vast library with over 250 global videos that cover from 1-100 miles, and offers three ride modes:
- ‘Steady’ plays the video back at the speed it was recorded
- Making it ideal for fixed-duration workouts
- The ‘Reactive’ and ‘Challenge’ modes respond to how hard you’re working
For an added incentive, you can use Challenge mode to race against a ghost of yourself or an online rival.
- Summary: Great for anyone who wants to turn watching pro races on the TV into a more interactive experience
- Platforms: iOS only
- Cost: £9.99/month
While smartphone use while biking is often frowned upon, a few groups can handle fitness apps better than cyclists. Above are 5 cycling apps that deserve a place on any bike enthusiast’s smartphone.