How to build your perfect pain cave: Part three – nice-to-have accessories
The final instalment in the definitive guide to building the best indoor training setup.
The final instalment in the definitive guide to building the best indoor training setup.
Over the past few weeks we’ve written about how to choose the perfect indoor trainer for your pain cave, and the essential accessories you’ll need to get started with indoor training. Today, in part three, we look at more tech and accessories that will help to make your indoor riding as enjoyable as possible.
I know what you are thinking: a trainer desk is hardly a luxury. Indeed it’s borderline essential. But here’s the thing, there is nearly always a surface of some description to place a laptop or iPad on. I have used tumble dryers, kitchen tables, bedside lockers, window sills and even cardboard boxes to prop up whatever display I was using.
That said, dedicated trainer desks, adjustable office or laptop desks, and tablet holders are immeasurably better than most of my previous hacks. Having your devices, keyboard, mouse, and accessories within easy reach while on the bike is like a breath of fresh air and especially helpful for controlling your avatar, smashing power-ups, or adjusting interval power targets.
The exact desk or device support you will need largely depends on your device and display. If you are using a tablet to power and display your training software, then a handlebar-mounted tablet stand will place the smaller screen closer to you. As mentioned in part two though, the trade-off might be some obstructed airflow from your fan and an overly high-tech sweat-catching device.
On the other hand, if you are using a laptop display, a desk that fits well around the front wheel may provide the best solution. Many options exist and some brands offer trainer-specific desks. A good desk will put the laptop (and other devices) just in front of your handlebars, making the display easier to see, while any accessories, remotes, and keyboards will be within easy reach.
If you are lucky enough to have a TV or other similarly large display in your gain-cave, that changes everything. The options mentioned above will place larger displays too close to the rider. These larger displays offer the opportunity to replicate the position your head would be in while riding outdoors.
As a rule of thumb, place the display 1.5 metres in front of your front wheel and slightly below handlebar height, then adjust fore and aft until you find the most natural position for you.
The tendency is to wall-mount large TV displays. A wall mount is fine if you have only one possible setup position/location. However, a tripod TV stand or wheeled stand will allow for future relocation should you fancy a change of scenery.
For all these setups bar the front wheel-covering desk option, you will need to consider keeping your devices and remotes within easy reach. You ideally want the option to control every accessory without ever getting off your bike. God forbid you should have to stop for a second and get the dreaded “ERG mode temporarily disabled” message or worse still miss out on that Zwift workout star.
If using a laptop or PC which requires mouse and keyboard control, consider whether the desk surface is compatible with your mouse. If not, you may need to go back in time and source yourself a mouse pad.
A music or tablet stand, or even just a tall stool or window sill, might be all you need to keep your phone, fan, and TV remote all within easy reach. Not-so-pro tip: I always keep a good lengthy “poking stick” close to hand. It’s incredibly handy for moving that fan just an inch to get the perfect airflow direction or flicking a light switch as the sun sets.
One last tip for the opposite end of the day. If you train in a rather chilly room or garage, a coat hook mounted to the wall or a nearby door will offer somewhere to throw off a jacket (or my case, a puffer coat) as you warm up. More on my extreme weather indoor training protocol later.
Pump up the bass! Is there anything better for workout motivation than some banging tunes? Music is scientifically proven to improve workout performance by reducing perceived exertion and fatigue, influencing your heart rate, improving your mood, and just being a simple distraction.
But not all sessions are full of lung-busting high-intensity intervals, and often podcasts such as the CyclingTips, Nerd Alert, and Freewheeling offerings (great podcasts) provide a calmer distraction for endurance and recovery rides.
When it comes to choosing an audio device, there are a few consistent considerations across the range of music and podcast tastes. The exact audio device that’s right for you will largely depend on your broader pain cave environment and setup. Those sharing a space with others or with close neighbours might want to consider headphones. For those with plenty of privacy, a soundbar might provide a more banging option. It’s headphones all the way for me, if only for fear of someone else hearing my guilty-pleasure soundtrack.
When it comes to headphones, wireless Bluetooth options provide an unrestricted connection without the risk of smashing a device to the ground should you forget you are connected to it via a headphone cable in the excitement of a virtual finish line post-up. Better yet, noise-cancelling options will provide a clearer sound for podcasts or virtual world sound effects without the need for window-shattering volume levels to drown out your bike, trainer, and selection of fans.
Should you go down the surround sound speaker or soundbar route, these should provide all the same options as Bluetooth headphones on a larger scale. Although most soundbars can likely deliver much richer sounds, it’s debatable how appreciative you will be of these improved acoustics while riding at VO2max.
One other word of caution: regardless of whether you opt for speakers or headphones, you are adding at least one more Bluetooth signal into an already busy room. If you are already suffering from signal interruptions you might be forced down the hard-wiring options list.
Former WorldTour professional Russ Downing provided the following tip from the top tier of pain cave setups. Contactless gesture control audio systems provide music and volume controlling functions regardless of how wet and sweaty your fingers get. Downing uses the Systemline E50 for a dedicated solution, although presumably, any smart Bluetooth speaker with connected devices could provide similarly handsfree voice control for any number of devices.
Both Wahoo with the Kickr Climb and Elite with the Rizer now offer gradient simulators for indoor workouts. Both devices offer interactive (and manual) gradient simulation, meaning when your avatar hits a climb, these front-wheel replacing contraptions raise the front end of your bike to simulate said climb.
Do we need gradient simulators? No. But are they a nice addition to the perfect setup? It’s a definite yes from me. While an expensive way of bringing another element of faux-outdoor feels to your indoor riding, the Climb and the Rizer do offer an improvement over standard indoor setups. The gradient simulation is a nice feature, and better yet, it helps target climbing-specific muscles in a way a fixed, flat position cannot.
However, it is the positional changes, and the improved front-end fluidity in what is otherwise a very fixed position that are the real bonuses for me. That little bit of extra front-end motion can make a significant difference if you spend hours on the saddle.
A word of note though: these gradient simulators work only with selected trainers, and the gradient simulation is directly linked to the trainer difficulty setting in Zwift. Set the difficulty lower for a more enjoyable ride and you will get much less of the gradient simulation you are hoping for. One workaround is to trick the simulator by doubling your wheelbase length measurement.
Rocker plates are a relatively new apparatus in the indoor training space. They offer the benefits of a stationary trainer with less of the unnaturally static rigidity of having your bike fixed to a heavy trainer. Rocker plates give back some of the side-to-side and fore-and-aft movement of riding outdoors for a “more realistic feel” (we know how I feel about that from part one in this series on trainers) and improved rider comfort.
Rocker plates might even make your bike more comfortable, potentially reducing some of the stresses exerted on the frame as you slam down the watts while it’s fixed to the trainer, unable to move.
Our own global tech editor James Huang reviewed the rocking and rolling Saris P1 Nfinity trainer platform last year and had this to say: “It feels more natural, it really does improve comfort, and — truth be told — it’s actually just kind of fun. From a purely functional perspective, the MP1 is a winner.” Meanwhile, Andy van Bergen, membership manager at CT and woodworking magician/handyman extraordinaire, built his own DIY rocker plate at home.
I have never experienced a rocking stationary trainer so I can’t comment on their value, however, as mentioned earlier, I like gradient and steering simulators so a rocker plate seems right up my Watopia street. Except for one major issue: it is seemingly a case of rocker plate or gradient simulator. Take your pick.
The Wahoo Kickr Climb is not compatible with any current rocker plate offerings. The Elite Rizer looks more promising in terms of mounting it to a trainer but the jury is very much out on whether this is even desirable. James and I agree that for a rocker plate to work, it seems the rising would need to happen beneath the platform rather than at the front forks. Gradient simulators are designed to lift your forks straight up; adding a side-to-side motion would see the bike swinging a bigger arc than both the platform and riser are designed for.
Neither James nor I have have tested the combination of Rizer plus rocker plate, but I will endeavour to do so.
Ah, the good old days when indoor training was so dull a 45-minute spin was the longest ride humanly possible and old worn-out shorts were the only clothing necessary. Thankfully we have moved on from those days, and much longer spins are almost the norm.
Those longer spins do mean clothing choice has become very important. Factor in the more restricted riding position combined with less time spent out of the saddle, and good shorts become a must. I have seen myself go from keeping old worn-out shorts specifically for indoor riding to an advocate for using your best bibs for those sweaty virtual rides, despite the increased sweat rate and wash cycles potentially contributing to higher wear rates.
Determined not to get left behind in the indoor cycling boom, clothing companies are now offering indoor-specific kit. Just as we do with fans, we have a deep dive on indoor-specific kit forthcoming, with some of the latest offerings tested and reviewed.
Unsurprisingly breathability is the number-one factor here. Indoor clothing tends to feature lighter-weight, more breathable fabrics than are typically found on outdoor garments. Think lightweight perforated summer jersey versus standard jersey. However, add in a few winter kilos, and the trade-off for all this increased breathability could be some increased transparency.
Anyone training in the privacy of their own pain cave can, of course, strip down to the bare essential garments. However, many of the indoor specific garments are said to offer improved sweat-wicking for a more comfortable ride. Much like layering for cold weather riding, the key is to get the sweat away from the skin to the garment surface where it can evaporate. The mesh panels on indoor-specific shorts, jerseys, socks, and sweatbands help promote this sweat-wicking.
Last but by no means least, don’t forget your shoes. Earlier this year we looked at a range of indoor-specific (and not-so-specific) shoe options to answer the question: “what are indoor cycling shoes, and do we really need them?“
One thing I do still use old clothing for is my indoor training extreme weather protocol.
Anyone who has to go outside to get to their indoor training setup in another building will know all too well the absolute shock of going out in the winter weather before and after an indoor ride. The predicament is getting your kit choices right for a hot and sweaty indoor ride sandwiched between outdoor excursions in the depths of winter.
My protocol is as follows. Dress for the indoor ride, add a sacrificial old warm hooded jacket and woolly hat, begin the ride with an extensive warm-up, remove jacket and store on dedicated hook (see table/desk section above), complete ride, reapply old jacket and hat to the sweaty smelly body, remove cycling shoes, then run like hell back to the warmth of your private dwelling. Repeat multiple times per week to understand why the jacket is sacrificial.
One of the major benefits of a smart bike is the ability to offer all the features of an interactive trainer in one dedicated machine. No switching wheels or taking bikes on and off the trainer. A smart bike is ready to go anytime you are. However, all that simplicity comes at a higher price point. But, there is another option: dumb bikes.
If you are lucky enough to have an older bike or frame gathering dust, it might prove to be the perfect dedicated trainer bike. Dust it down, give it a once-over, replace any worn parts with the cheapest alternatives you can find, and introduce it to its new forever home: the trainer.
Working shifters, a clean and functional drivetrain, ideally the same saddle you typically use outdoors, and the right fit, are the only essential features for a dedicated indoor bike. No need for brakes, fancy wheels, or even bar tape. The result is the same ready-to-go simplicity of a smart bike with arguably a better feel and position. Better yet, you will have put an old bike to use and saved your good bike from sweaty indoor riding. Win-win.
All that pedalling on the spot is fantastic for fitness but does little for bike handling skills and core strength. Keeping a set of rollers in your pain cave can offer a change of scenery from the usual trainer setup and a host of fitness and performance-improving benefits.
Just to be clear, as the picture above suggests, I mean cycling trainer rollers, not foam rollers for post-ride recovery, or even hair rollers. Unsupported by a trainer, rollers require you to stay upright. Thankfully they are much easier to master than they first appear and that balance requirement means riders must engage their core and pedal smoothly – both great for developing good technique. Furthermore, rollers require more concentration than fixed indoor trainers, and as such, many riders report time passes quicker while riding rollers.
Hard training can often leave legs feeling tired, sluggish, and diesel-esque. Riding rollers can increase fluidity and many riders speak of riding rollers to get “speed in the legs”, adding the finishing touches to their race/event preparation. More on rollers in a dedicated article coming soon.
Sitting on a bike and cycling is a highly unnatural position and action for the human body to adopt. Too much time in this position without proper care and attention can lead to aches and pains or, worse yet, injury. Most of us understand the benefits of stretching and building a strong and stable core, but if you are anything like me, knowing and doing are very different things.
Keeping my stretching and core work simple and quick help me make a habit of striking those all-important poses. It seems perfectly sensible then to include a core and stretching area into your perfect pain cave. Heck, while we’re at it, throw in some dumbbells, a squat rack, a bench press, and a yoga and meditation corner.
For those reading this who will be disciplined enough to make use of this little corner for DIY body rehab and injury prevention, please let me know how to be more like you. Answers on a postcard to Let’s Fix Ronan, PO Box Last, Injury Lane.
In the meantime, the closest thing to a recovery lunge in my pain cave will be a sofa to collapse into post-interval session, right next to the fridge with all the bevvies.
Ultimately the list of possible pain cave accessories is limited only by your imagination. The dream setup will vary from person to person, as dreams do. Any pain cave with even half of the items listed here is already a contender for the best pain cave setup ever.