While lockdown has allowed more people to train indoors, we’d be doing indoor cycling a massive disservice by presuming this was its only virtue.
These days, indoor cycling is less an alternative to real world cycling than a supplement to it. If you’re serious about improving your times, indoor cycling apps will help you focus on your weaknesses and increase your fitness and endurance using scientific analysis.
Whether you’re a competitive racer or determined hobbyist, if you’re serious about beating your personal best – then beating it again – you need to train using indoor cycling apps.
Before we get into the apps themselves
In order to use these apps, you’ll need at least the following:
- A bike trainer – bike trainers are the heart of indoor cycling and come in two forms: classic and smart. Both devices are designed to allow you to pedal while remaining stationary. The difference between them is that classic trainers do only that, while smart trainers can simulate hill climbs and record a wealth of analytics from your ride. The catch is that smart trainers tend to be expensive.
- A Bluetooth or ANT+ speed and cadence senor, or a power meter – you’ll only need one of these and only if you go for the classic trainer option. Both devices give you some functions of a smart trainer and allow you to use indoor cycling apps. However, functionality is limited compared to a smart trainer, as these devices tend to transmit cycling data, not augment the ride itself. Power meters tend to be more accurate and offer deeper analysis of your ride, but are more expensive.
- Smart phone / laptop / tablet / Smart TV – it goes without saying you’ll need a smart phone or tablet, but many of these apps also have desktop/laptop versions, with some even having smart TV functionality. Here’s a tip, too: if your app of choice doesn’t have Smart TV functionality or you don’t have a Smart TV, run a HDMI cable from your laptop/desktop to see your data on the big screen while you ride.
- Your bike – the most crucial item of all.
If you’re new to indoor cycling, here’s a helpful video showing you how to set up your trainer:
When deciding whether to go for the classic or smart trainer it’s best to consider what, if any, bike tech you own already could be repurposed for indoor cycling.
If you already own a compatible power meter, it’s much less expensive to only have to pick up a classic trainer on top. However, if you’re starting from scratch, indoor cycling peripherals can add up fast, so it might be better to go all-in on a smart trainer. Regardless, make sure you check the individual requirements of the app you decide to use.
There’s no pressure to make your mind up just yet though. You might want to build your set-up around one of our picks of the best indoor cycling apps below. Let’s get into them.
So, what are the best indoor cycling apps?
These are what we consider the top 5 indoor cycling apps on the market. We’ve included price, key features and more. Read below and see which one catches your eye…
Price: £12.99 a month
Free trial: 7 days
Operating systems: iOS, Android, Windows, Mac, Apple TV
Ideal for: cyclists looking to make indoor cycling more engaging and social
Zwift is home to over 1 million users – and for good reason. The app transforms the experience of indoor cycling by taking you out of your spare room and into a virtual world.
With Zwift, you create a character like in a video game, which you control precisely by pedalling. Not only this, the character pedals at the exact pace you are and moves through set courses in the world. If you have a smart trainer, Zwift will actually simulate course gradients as you encounter inclines and declines on a virtual route.
There are currently eight virtual worlds in Zwift, each with various routes for all experience levels. However, there is a catch – most of the riding you’ll do in Zwift will be in its fictional world of Watopia. Some real-life locations like London, Yorkshire, New York and the Giro d’Italia Bologna course are featured in Zwift, but they’re only accessible at certain times. On the plus side, that does give you an incentive to check-in regularly.
Best of all though, Zwift is entirely online, so you can ride with and race against friends or other Zwift users.
- True to life metrics – Zwift attempts to provide the truest simulation of cycling, so its metrics represent your performance out in the real world. Your weight, course gradient, draft (if in a group) and power all inform your character’s riding speed and ultimate course time.
- Races – race with friends or strangers in real time.
- Free riding – if you’d prefer to ride around the world at your leisure, you can do this too.
- Group rides – find other cyclists to ride with and see if you can keep pace.
- Workouts – Zwift has a broad selection of workout programs within the app, so you can train towards a specific goal or improve your weaknesses.
- Social networking – Zwift has an in-built social media platform, so you can challenge your friends or show off your personal bests.
- Special events – once in a while, Zwift offers you the chance to virtually ride with professional cyclists. See if you can keep up!
- Strava compatibility – you can upload your Zwift times to Strava, allowing you to compile your indoor and outdoor cycling statistics from both sources.
- Customisable character – as an added incentive to riding, Zwift lets you buy virtual clothing, bikes and bike equipment with virtual currency earned from riding.
Price: $19.50 a month or $189 a year (roughly £15 or £145 based on current market rates*)
Free trial: N/A (though it does have a 30-day money back guarantee)
Operating systems: iOS, Android, Windows, Mac
Ideal for: cyclists looking to improve their times and drill into hard stats
If Zwift strikes you as too flashy and you’d rather stick to the hard stats, Trainer Road is the app for you.
Trainer Road has one ultimate goal: to make cyclists faster. Not only indoors, but out in the real world too. It does this with science-based training and uses masses of data to design the best workouts for your goals (see “Key features” below). These workouts can be very specialist as well, so there’s coverage for even the most niche goals.
In addition, the app provides some of the most comprehensive analytics of any indoor cycling app on the market. You can drill into the details of every ride and its context within the bigger picture. Training Road does a great job of keeping these figures tangible, so you can keep track of your improvement over time.
- Outside workouts – though Trainer Road is primarily an indoor cycling app, in 2019 it introduced the Outside feature. This helps you take your training program out on the road and improve your real-life cycling, which is ultimately this app’s end goal.
- Science based training – as mentioned, training plans are built using the latest scientific research and a database of more than 70 million rides, so any training advantages that emerge are passed onto you. Trainer Road provides over 1,000 structured workouts all informed by and adjusted to this data.
- Structured training flow – Trainer Road adopts a 3-step approach to training called Base, Build and Speciality. The Base phase cultivates endurance, Build raises your ability to maintain power (which is great for hills), and Speciality can fine-tune you for specific events and courses.
- Planning – The calendar provided by Trainer Road helps you plan and track of your schedule, while the custom plan builder helps you target specific goals.
- Group workouts – Cycling alone and indoors can be a bit under-stimulating. That’s why Trainer Road has integrated video and voice chat so you can ride with friends. You even see your group’s power output compared to yours to get some friendly competition going.
- Comprehensive stats – Trainer Road compiles your stats from indoor workouts, outside rides and other activities and compares them to your training plan. From here, you can watch your fitness grow over time – and in detail. A glut of metrics and customisable functions allow you to extract the data you want.
- Cross-platform support – the data captured in Trainer Road can also be shared with Strava, Garmin Connect or Training Peaks, giving you the best visibility of your data all in one place.
Price: Free (basic edition) or £6.99 a month (premium edition)
Free trial: Basic version is free indefinitely
Operating systems: iOS, Android, Windows, Mac
Ideal for: cyclists looking to simulate real-world locations
Road Grand Tours presents another virtual world for you to escape into, except this one specialises in real-life locations. You can complete famous routes like Cap de Formentor in Mallorca, Pienza in Tuscany, or Mont Ventoux in France among others. You can access each of these courses any time, all the time.
The jewel in Road Grand Tours’ crown, though, is Magic Roads. This function allows you to upload a GPX file of any route under 100km and have Road Grand Tours simulate it for you to ride. Imagine you have a sportive coming up and you could ride the route early, gradients and all, in a virtual space to practise beforehand.
However, if you want to download Road Grand Tours, you’ll need both a smartphone and a tablet or computer to run it. The smartphone enables you to track your stats and the tablet or computer allows you to see your character riding the routes.
- Real roads – choose from a selection of true-to-life roads. Others not mentioned so far include Borrego Springs in San Diego, Canary Wharf in London, Paterberg in Belgium and Stelvio on the Italian-Swiss border. There are even more to choose from besides these.
- Magic Roads – as mentioned above. Within this feature, you can also create any route you like, address problematic areas and even race on it with friends.
- Camera angles – select different views as you ride, from drone view to moto camera view.
- Structured workouts – created by real coaches in conjunction with TrainingPeaks. You can choose from the following types of workouts: recovery, endurance, threshold, VO2 max and anaerobic. With these, you’ll be able to improve all components of cycling fitness.
- Training plans – again, these have been created by TrainingPeaks coaches, all of which are free to access. You can build your training plan here.
- Free vs. premium model – to its credit, Road Grand Tours does a good job of retaining its core features within the free version. All of the roads are still accessible in the free version, with premium offering more social aspects like racing, as well as Magic Roads and workout plans. A full comparison chart is available here.
- Real physics – along with simulating gradients and draft, braking and obstructions from other riders are taken into consideration. This enhances the app’s sense of realism and trains you in line with the conditions of outdoor cycling.
- Events and races – compete against riders from all over the world. You can join competitive races, group rides, group training sessions, or create your own races and rides and invite riders to join you.
- TrainingPeaks integration – Real Grand Tours was created in partnership with TrainingPeaks, so all data collected in one app will synchronise with the other if you want it to.
Price: €9.99 a month (roughly £9 after conversion*)
Free trial: 30 days
Operating systems: iOS, Android, Windows, Mac
Ideal for: cyclists looking to explore the world by bike
Bkool is more than an indoor cycling app. It doesn’t simply make the most of riding in one spot at home; it gives you experiences you can’t replicate by just leaving your house and riding your bike.
It can take you on rides thousands of miles away, from all around the world. Bkool perfectly encapsulates the idea that indoor cycling is not a substitute for real cycling in the off-season, but a companion to it.
With three different ways to experience each ride, you’ll never be short of something new to experience. But it’s not all about entertainment value; Bkool gets into the stats as well. Amongst the data shown on screen is your current speed, RPM, wattage output, power output, and a line graph of the gradient of the ride. All of this, along with your personal times, is collated and stored so you can study it and see where you can improve.
The draw of Bkool is that it aims to give you the thrill of riding outdoors, indoors. It’s immersive and addictive, so it will definitely keep you training and improve your times.
- Ride your way – choose from three riding visualisations. The first is 3D view, which is similar to Zwift and Real Grand Tours in that you control a virtual character in a simulated world. The second is map view, which shows your progression on a top-down map much like a GPS device. The third – and most notable – version is video, which uses real life footage of the routes you’re riding to give you the feel of actually being there. Video playback slows or increases based on your speed.
- Cycling route editor – this is the unique selling point of Bkool. The route editor is a companion app for Mac and PC that allows you to upload your own video footage or GPX data and then share those routes for other Bkool members to ride. With rides being decentralised and created by the community in this way, there is a huge catalogue of rides to experience – and the number is growing all the time.
- Dynamic weather – Bkool’s Real Weather feature means that when you select a route, the current climate at that real-life location is recreated for your ride. So, if it’s snowing in Alpe d’Huez, Bkool will instruct your smart trainer to simulate riding in snow. The same is true for rain, headwinds, sunshine and times of day. However, you can turn this feature off if you’d rather ride in optimal conditions.
- Extensive device compatibility – Bkool might be the most democratic indoor cycling app out there. Check out the list of smart or classic trainers, power meters, fitness bikes and cadence sensors it supports here. If you recognise anything you own in that list already, you’re halfway to cycling indoors with Bkool.
- Challenge other riders – see how you match up against other cyclists with online races, leagues and multiplayer challenges. You can even race against professionals.
- Bkool fitness – Bkool also gives you access to guided spin classes and training programs from expert coaches, meaning you can emulate the gym experience from the comfort of your home.
- Cross-platform support – as with Trainer Road, Bkool is compatible with Garmin Connect, Strava and Training Peaks, so you can collect all your data in one place.
Price: $10 a month with 2 extra accounts for family (roughly £7.50 after conversion*)
Free trial: 14 days
Operating systems: iOS, Android, Windows, Mac
Ideal for: cyclists looking for a more realistic simulated ride
Rouvy combines the video footage of Bkool and the simulated world of Zwift or Road Grand Tours. The result is one of the most graphically impressive virtual cycling experiences available. You can be fooled into thinking you’re actually watching a real cyclist power up the Passo Giau.
A substantial number of UK routes are featured in Rouvy, so it’s ideal if you’re training for an event and want to plan your strategy. Here’s a cool fact about Rouvy, too – Rouvy’s Digital Swiss 5, a digital version of five Swiss races, was aired in place of the 2020 Tour de Suisse which was cancelled due to COVID-19. It seems the gap between outdoor and indoor cycling has shrunk a little more!
- Augmented reality – Rouvy adds virtual riders to real video footage of cycle routes to provide a visually stimulating and realistic simulated ride.
- Virtual routes – Rouvy boasts over 4,000 route videos of 70 iconic locations and race courses, totalling over 7,000km. Amongst these locations are Andorra, Corsica, Sicily, Innsbruck and California. There’s also a substantial amount of UK routes, owing to Rouvy’s acquisition of UK-based CyclingRecon.
- Route editor – as with Bkool, Rouvy allows you to film and upload your own routes, provided you meet its quality requirements. These are then shared with the Rouvy community and given the same augmented reality treatment as Rouvy’s own courses.
- Official races/trainers – Rouvy features tournaments and races created and sponsored by Ironman, Tour de Suisse, GFNY and Kolo Pro Život. Rouvy also recently confirmed that it will feature regular group rides with a former Swiss professional.
- Prizes – the Challenges and Career modes in Rouvy feature prizes worth up to $20,000 a year. These include kit from sponsors, gift cards and tickets to events. Besides this, there are recreational online races, leaderboards and public rankings.
- Analytics – Rouvy Virtues and its advanced pedal metrics are Rouvy’s proprietary analytic systems. They are designed to measure power output from your pedal and optimise your power efficiency and effectiveness through technique. This is done by highlighting parts of your technique where your foot might drag and power is lost, all to give you an edge for your next ride. Find out more here.
- Tiered training structure – Rouvy provides a platform for all rides, whether indoors or outdoors, as well as a 7-tiered training structure. These cover endurance, tempo, anaerobic capacity and neuromuscular power, with more detailed here.
- Cross-platform – Rouvy auto-uploads to and shares data with Strava, TrainingPeaks, social media and more.
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*Conversion rates correct as of August 2020