How To Track Distance On An Indoor Bike Trainer

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Intro

I remember the first time I seriously considered purchasing an indoor trainer. I had absolutely no idea where to start.

Although I’ve been a passionate and dedicated cyclist my entire life, it was only 3 or 4 years ago when I actually purchased my first trainer. Now, when I say I had no idea, I mean it. 

I didn’t know if I needed sensors, Wi-Fi, or BlueTooth, and I most certainly didn’t know how to track crucial data and metrics, like distance, speed, power, cadence, and so on. 

We have long winters where I live, so the indoor trainer has become an absolute lifesaver. Snowing outside and -15c? No problem; I can jump on the trainer and crush 100kms in the comfort of my own home: no wind, no snow, and no more freezing fingers and toes.

The indoor trainer can be daunting to set up, and knowing how to track metrics like distance can be baffling. But in reality, it’s one of the easiest things to do.

So let’s take a look at the different ways you can track distance and get you started on your journey to becoming an indoor cycling expert. 

How To Track Distance On An Indoor Bike Trainer

What is a Smart Trainer?

Smart trainers come in two basic styles; wheel-on and direct-drive types. 

With a wheel-on trainer, your rear wheel rests on a smooth metallic flywheel or drum. It’s as simple as clamping your thru-axle, and away you go. On occasion, however, your thru-axle might be the wrong size, but finding the right one online is straightforward and cheap.

Wheel-on trainers are less expensive than their direct-drive counterparts, and for the vast majority of cyclists, these trainers do an excellent job. However, they have a couple of downsides, such as significant rear tire wear and the need for regular calibration. 

  • Cheap and easy to use
  • Quick set up
  • Will put wear and tear on your rear tire
  • Regular calibration is required

Related: Best Budget Bike Trainers

Direct drive trainers require you to take the rear wheel off and attach a new cassette. Direct drive trainers provide much more accurate data and metrics, making tracking your performance and progress easier. The big downside here is cost and weight. Purchasing a direct-drive trainer such as the Wahoo Kickr will set you back a pretty penny.

  • Accurate data and metrics
  • Tracking progress is second to none
  • Heavy
  • It will cost you a pretty penny

Equipment you need to get started

  • Bike 
  • An indoor trainer
  • Good quality Wi-Fi
  • Fans to stay cool
  • An appropriate sized dedicated training area
  • Smartphone, tablets, or PC
  • Optional: cadence and speed sensors

Best Ways to Track Your Distance

Zwift

If you haven’t heard of Zwift, you may have been living under a rock. Zwift is the premier cycling app used by millions of cyclists worldwide; from amateurs to pros, Zwift leads the way. Zwift offers amazing virtual rides that allow you to ride alone, join a group, or even sign up for a race.

To get started, simply download the Zwift app, which is very affordable at only $14.99 a month. Once you’ve downloaded the app, the next step is to connect your device via BlueTooth or ANT+. You’ll also have the option to connect and sync speed and cadence sensors and even a heart rate monitor.

Zwift saves all your information, so there’s no need for expensive bike computers. The Zwift app tracks every second of every ride, everything from cadence, power, speed, heart rate, and distance, so it’s easy to see why most pro teams are signed up on Zwift.

I’ve been using Zwift for several years, and it’s taken my fitness to another level. As a professional coach, the individualized training programs are second to none, and the fact you can join group rides and races makes it interactive and fun.

Wahoo Systm

Wahoo is undoubtedly the leader when it comes to everything indoor cycling. Trainers, sensors, and indoor bikes, you name it, and Wahoo has the best. 

However, the Wahoo Systm app is a relative newcomer to the scene and, similar to Zwift, is very affordable at $14,99 monthly. Where the Wahoo System separates itself from the pack is its structured training plans tailored to your individual needs. 

YouTube video

The app tracks distance, cadence, speed, power, plus more and then provides an exhaustive ride report detailing your metrics. It then takes your ride data and creates training programs specific to your physiological attributes.

The Wahoo Systm app is available to all Mac, Android, and Windows users. The app even has mental strength training classes and yoga programs designed to help you reach your maximum cycling potential. 

Garmin

Garmin has been around for decades and is one of the most well-known and reputable brands in the cycling industry. Garmin is mainly known for its top-of-line bike computers, developing high-quality smart trainers, watches, and heart rate monitors. 

Garmin will not only accurately track your distance, but it will also track important ride data such as power, heart rate, calories burned, and average cadence. Your best bet is to pair the Garmin app with a compatible Garmin head unit to ensure you get the most of the features on offer. 

Garmin provides graphs and detailed ride reports, making tracking your progress seamless and straightforward. Tracking your data allows you or your coach to monitor your progress and create training sessions tailored to your current fitness levels. 

That’s a Wrap

In days gone past, indoor cycling meant staring at a wall for hours on end while balancing on a set of old school rollers. But this is no longer the case, and tracking distance and ride data have never been easier.

With the advent of technology, the popularity of indoor cycling has boomed in recent years. Virtual rides, races, group rides, and data tracking are all part and parcel of the indoor cycling game. 

Zwift, Wahoo, and Garmin are the pack leaders, but do your research, as several other apps are worth looking at. Remember, you don’t need fancy bikes or expensive equipment to enjoy the benefits of indoor cycling.

So go out, get yourself a trainer and start your journey to becoming a better fitter cyclist.

Happy indoor cycling!

Brenton Barker

Brenton holds a Degree in Sports Coaching from the University of Delaware and was the former Head Advisor for the Japanese Government's Sports Science Institute. Brenton currently consults with several Professional Athletes and clients in Self- Accountability, Health, and Goal Orientation.

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