Indoor Cycling Vs Outdoor Cycling: Which Is Better?

Indoor cycling vs outdoor cycling: which is better?
Which do you prefer?

One of the great things about cycling today is that you can pretty much do it how you like: on a spin bike in a gym, using an indoor trainer in your spare room at home, or out and about in the great outdoors doing what bicycles were designed for. Cyclists have never had it so good! But which form of cycling is the best form: indoors or outdoors? Let’s take a look how each stacks up against some of the key things we take into consideration before getting on the bike.

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Weather

Cycling in summer
Is there anything better? (Credit: Hannah Carr)

Ah, the weather. A favourite conversation starter for many a Briton and for good reason too. April - October, you can count on as being pretty good for getting outside on your bike. November - March? No chance. You’re lucky to get 8 hours of daylight in the midst of a British winter and don’t forget the inevitable gale force winds, horizontal rain and frost-bitten toes. There’s no two ways about it, outdoor cycling in the UK is a challenge in winter.

Keeping your riding within the confines of your home is a great advantage of indoor cycling when the weather’s playing up. No frost-bitten fingers, no need for five layers of clothing, and no need to hose your bike down after each ride.

But let’s face it, is there anything better than a ride in the balmy depths of summer? The warm wind on your face, short sleeve jerseys, rides in the evening after work when it stays light until 10pm. When it’s good, it’s glorious. And, after all, that's what the bicycle was designed for, right?

Winner: Outdoor cycling

Social

Parlay cycling club cycling in London
Group rides are a great way to catch up with friends

The social aspect of cycling is one of its great joys. From being a member of a cycling club, to long weekend bunch rides with friends, to relaxed cafe spins for a cappuccino and a cinnamon bun. It’s one of the few sports which allows you to chat freely with friends while actually participating. You could catch up with every member of a relaxed 10-rider chain gang if you really wanted to. All while buzzing along at 30 km/h. It’s brilliant and an aspect of the sport often overlooked by the uninitiated.

Indoor cycling, on the other hand, is conducted alone. Generally in an otherwise cold and unused room in the house. Yes, nowadays you can interact virtually with others on training platforms like Zwift but it’s not the same, is it?

Winner: Outdoor cycling

Convenience

Cyclist cycling on an indoor trainer
Hop on and start spinning

While we love pretty much everything about cycling here at Pedalsure, we won’t lie there are some things about it that we’d file under ‘faff’. Things like replacing an inner tube on a flat tyre, applying 27 layers of clothes before a pre-work ride in the dark in the middle of winter, and sourcing that specialist one of a kind tool the manufacturer of your bike decided was needed to lower your seat post. That’s where indoor cycling offers a real alternative: it’s faff-free. Just change into your cycling or gym gear, hop on and start turning your legs over. And it’s not just gear and maintenance. You can ride whenever you want indoors. At 5am before the kids wake up, during your lunch break, the possibilities are endless.

Winner: Indoor cycling

Cost

Old bicycle locked
All you need is a roadworthy bike! 

Cycling can be as expensive or inexpensive as you choose, it’s up to you. Top end modern road bikes can cost north of £10,000 but you can find used models with plenty of life in them on second-hand marketplaces for a snip. When it comes to indoor cycling, you can’t get round the fact you will need some sort of indoor trainer: whether a budget-friendly magnetic trainer, a high end direct drive machine or even an indoor static bike. And don’t forget the other part of the equation: a bike to mount on the trainer. It all adds up.

Outdoor cycling on the other hand is different. From its origins, the bicycle has been the mode of transport for the everyman, accessible to anyone, and traditionally for the ‘working class’. While that may have changed a little today it’s still the case that all you need to enjoy the sport is a working bicycle of some description.

Winner: Outdoor cycling

Training

Female cyclist riding indoor trainer
You get more bang for your buck training inside

If a training benefit is what you’re after, is there really anything better than impact-free can-do-it-for-hours cycling? It’s no wonder that Tour de France cyclists are among the fittest athletes in the world. But is your indoor pain cave better than the great outdoors for training? The general consensus is that an hour of continuous pedalling on the indoor trainer is about the same as 90 minutes of cycling outside. That makes sense when you consider the traffic lights and junctions you encounter on the road combined with the time spent coasting on the downhills.

There are other factors to consider too. No matter the strength of your fan, it won’t replicate the wind you feel outside. That means a noticeable difference in temperature, with increased sweat production and fluid loss compared to riding outside. You’re likely to hold a very static body position on the indoor trainer compared to the adjustments you make outside. This means you fatigue quicker. In terms of raw power, studies have also shown that cyclists can produce more power riding outside than inside. It is estimated that on average cyclists can produce 20% more power outside than riding the indoor trainer.

Winner: Indoor cycling

Overall winner: Outdoor cycling

So there you have it. Our highly scientific research tells us that outdoor cycling is better than indoor cycling!


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