When it comes to indoor cycling, the foundation for any effective and enjoyable workout starts with comfort. (And we’re not talking about avoiding challenges by sticking to your comfort zones!) Specifically, there are a handful of major boxes every rider should check to ensure your physical setup is safe, supportive, and primed for cycling success.
With over 100 years of experience supporting cyclists worldwide, we’ve found that (1) proper bike fit, (2) foot support (our wheelhouse!), (3) technique, (4) pre-ride packing, and (5) attire are absolutely key to unlocking a comfortable ride.
Key #1: Bike Fit
First and foremost, there’s no contest to the fact that you’ve got to get your equipment setup right. Period. The top factors to bike fit will be seat and handlebar placement - the height, fore-and-aft (backward-and-forward positioning), and securement of each setting. No loose, jiggly bolts please!
In Section 1 of Five Ways to Keep Your Knees Healthy When Indoor Cycling, Amy Schlinger dives into a host of bike fit tips we recommend, including physical therapist Ryan Waldman’s suggestion to “line up the seat height with the top of your hip bone.” A slight bend in the knee at full-leg extension with a 20- to 30-degree angle at the ankle are signs of a solid setup. For at-home indoor trainers, this guide to Dialing In Your Home Bike Setup includes wheel alignment tips for your bike, and beyond. Once you’ve already gotten started with your workout, it is still important to hop off the bike and make adjustments anytime you’re feeling discomfort. Pausing your ride to adjust your seat is safer than continuing to exercise with the wrong setup.
Remember – whenever you’re riding in-person at your local studio or facility, the professionals in the room are there to help you. As industry veteran Doris Thews shares in her Top 5 Questions About Indoor Cycling, it’s a great idea to show up early and flag down a pro for help with a personalized bike fit, just for you. Plus, with a pro’s help, you can ask about any special tips they may have on getting comfortable with the local facility’s specific bikes. Don’t be shy!
Key #2: Foot Support
As we all know, the force transfer from body-to-bike happens where those feet hit the pedals - so it’s no wonder that comfortable feet are our next Key to unlocking a comfortable ride! Fortunately at Shimano, equipping your feet is what we do best, and while naturally we recommend investing in “clip-in” cycling shoes to promote an amazing ride, there’s even more to foot comfort than the shoe you decide is best for you. Pedals and foot positioning, assisted by cleats and their rotation (for example, straight installation without any turn inward or outward) not only affect comfort, but the critical alignment required for a safe, efficient, and effective workout.
Moreover, choices like wearing socks that are breathable, sweat-wicking, and neither too thick nor too thin may sound basic, but you might be surprised to learn that in fact, many riders show up to workouts sockless, then leave with blisters!
The good news is that there are more ways than not to make sure your feet are comfortable so that your entire body is primed for success. If you’re starting to take a look at your first or next set of cycling shoes, this Ultimate Indoor Cycling Shoe Guide offers a great deep-dive into the most important features you should consider when it comes to indoor cycling shoes.
Key #3: Riding Technique
Once comfort with your bike and feet are locked down it’s time to hone riding technique. While theoretically, indoor cycling might seem simple to master (you’re on a stationary bike, after all!) there’s more to it than meets the eye.
Here are a handful of the most important technique pointers, which you may hear professional indoor cycling coaches remind you of before and during a ride:
Enough Resistance - As a baseline, you need to start riding with some resistance on the bike that you can feel. If you have zero resistance on a bike, it can undermine the safety and effectiveness of your workout - and there are actually some bike models with pedals that will keep moving on their own without resistance! On the flipside, don’t overdo the resistance; adding way too much resistance can risk injury as well. The precise level of resistance required to feel supported and challenged throughout a ride will be a little bit different for everyone.
Neutral Spine - If your spine is overly rounded or overly flexed, likelihood of strain on your spine is increased. You also want breathing to come easily.
Loose Grip - Solid support with your hands on the handlebars will set you up for a great ride, but keep a light grip. Remember, indoor cycling is predominantly a cardiovascular, lower-body workout.
Relaxed Shoulders - Relatedly, are your shoulders sneakily hiking up throughout your ride? Take a breath and on the exhale, let those shoulders come back down to a neutral position.
Knees Forward - Knees bowed outward or pointing inward throughout a ride take you out of safe and effective alignment. Keep those knees pointed straight forward at all times.
Hips Centered - In the standing position, it may be tempting to sway your hips side-to-side, especially to a rockin’ beat. That said, you want to keep your body weight squared over that bike, and that weight coming down over the pedals - not way out to the sides far beyond the pedals.
Beyond, many instructors and studios have their own lingo and key terms to help riders visualize what to do. Check out the ABCs of Indoor Cycling for even more pointers.
Key #4: Pre-Ride Packing
There are few moments that are less comfortable in an indoor cycling class than a mid-workout realization that you’re parched, but missing a water bottle! Or that your eyes are stinging from the sweat, with no towel or headband in sight! Set yourself up for success with a simple kit including the hydration and accessories you need to be comfortable throughout class! In this Indoor Cycling: Getting Started FAQ, packing pointers can even include electrolyte powder packs to help boost hydration as well as a post-workout snack. When you pack what you need ahead of time, your future self will thank you for it!
Key #5: Outfit!
When it comes to indoor cycling, there’s something to be said of the old adage: “dress for success.” The good news is that an increasing number of clothing designs and fabric blends exist to amplify your comfort while riding.
As mentioned in What To Wear For At-Home Indoor Cycling, “it’s important to wear something that will cover your upper legs and butt to prevent any chafing or uncomfortable contact between the seat and your skin.” Certain articles of clothing that work for your other workouts (say, running shorts) may not be comfortable in a riding context.
In terms of fabric, the #1 tip in 7 Tips To Help You Get Started With Indoor Cycling is to look for “sweat-wicking” material, or fabric is designed to pull sweat away from the body. This is designed to keep you cool during your workout.
Without a doubt, there can be plenty more Keys to Comfort that you may personally seek beyond just these 5! In additional to physical comfort, there’s also the importance of your psychological comfort during a ride. To learn more, check out 5 Ways to Make Those New to Indoor Cycling Feel More Comfortable.