How I Track Distance On A Bike Trainer (Smart or Non-Smart)

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robbie ferri headshot
By Robbie Ferri CPT

CPT & Indoor Cycling Instructor

Indoor cycling is a huge amount of fun, and in recent years, the number of people doing it has increased significantly. Not only do we have spin and exercise bikes, but we also have indoor smart trainers, meaning you can use outdoor bikes inside. 

A question we often get asked here at Girl Bike Love is, “How do I track distance on an indoor bike trainer?” Well, in this article, I am going to be answering that for you and teaching you everything you need to know by discussing:

  • The Different Types Of Indoor Bike Trainer
  • What Are You Going To Need To Track Distance?
  • Our Step By Step Guide To Track Distance On An Indoor Trainer
  • Distance Isn’t Everything

The Different Types Of Indoor Bike Trainers

There are two types of indoor bike trainers. You have smart trainers, and you have non-smart trainers. There’s a big difference between the two, and it affects how you track your distance. 

Smart Trainer

direct drive trainer

A smart trainer is a trainer that has the ability to track your power, cadence and also connect to outside devices such as tablets, laptops, and even mobile phones. Typically, these come as direct drive trainers, which you remove the wheel of the bike and slot it in.

Non-Smart Trainer

bike into a wheel on indoor trainer

A non-smart trainer is just a basic trainer you put the whole bike into. It will let you cycle indoors, but you need to add extra sensors to be able to track distance or cadence. They are very basic, and typically, people tend to upgrade to a direct drive after a season or two.

What Are You Going To Need To Track Distance?

So, if you want to track distance on your indoor bike trainer, you are going to need a few different things. It will be different depending on whether you have a smart trainer or a non-smart trainer. Here’s what you need to know.

Smart Trainer

  • Tablet Or Smart Device
  • Application To Track With
  • Wifi Connection

Non-Smart Trainer

  • Speed Sensor
  • Tablet Or Smart Device
  • Application To Track With
  • Wifi Connection

This will be everything you need. For a better experience, consider a heart rate monitor, power meter, or cadence sensor. 

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Our Step By Step Guide To Track Distance On An Indoor Trainer

Now for the fun part, let’s teach you how to start tracking distances on your indoor bike trainer. It’s surprisingly much easier than you might think.

Step One: Setup The Bike

The first thing you are going to need to do is get the bike set up. Put it into the trainer to start and ensure it’s nice and tight. If you are using a non-smart turbo trainer, you will need to add a speed sensor on the rear wheel. Start pedaling to wake up the trainer. 

bike into a direct drive trainer

Step Two: Download An Application

The best way to track distance on an indoor bike is by using an application. You are going to have a lot to choose from. Here are my recommendations.

  • Zwift: The most popular indoor cycling application available. Zwift is roughly $15 per month but worth every penny. You can go and explore virtual worlds and ride with friends. It tracks not only distance but also power, cadence, and training history. 
  • Rouvy: Next, we have Rouvy. Instead of cycling in a virtual world, you can cycle on real-world climbs from your home trainer. It’s a less popular application compared to Zwift but a lot of fun with some great interactive features. 
  • Wahoo SYSTM: Wahoo SYSTM is an application that you can use to train on. It lets you into amazing workouts, and through the process of doing them, it tracks distance, calories, time, cadence, and much more. 
zwift in a tablet

Step Three: Connect To The Application

Next, you are going to need to connect to the application. When starting it up, it will offer you the option to connect via BlueTooth or ANT+. Once this is done, you will be sent to the main screen. 

Step Four: Get Riding

Next, you need to get riding, and all the distance information you need will be on the screen. Once you have finished the workout, it will save it on your profile of the application you are using.

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Distance Isn’t Everything

It’s important to understand that distance is not everything, and the metric itself is not the best judge of a workout. The best judge of a workout is duration, heart rate, and power. 

Distance, although it will give you a rough idea of how far you have virtually gone, doesn’t take elevation into account, which makes a big difference. 20km up a mountain is very different from 20km down a mountain. 

It is much better to judge your workout on duration and a metric of how hard you’re working, such as heart rate or power. This will give you a much better figure and will help you train and see improvements over time. 

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A Final Note

The best way to track distance on your indoor training is to use an application such as Zwift or Rouvy. These will not only tell you the distance but elevation too, and in some cases, power and heart rate. Thanks for taking the time to read our article make sure to check out the Video on the Girl Bike Love YouTube Channel!

Robbie Ferri CPT

Robbie from “Riding with Robbie” is a Personal Trainer living in in Norfolk, UK. He has bikepacked all over the World, and also raced ultra distance at a top-level. He has worked closely with industry leaders such as Shimano.

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