With the recent global health crisis and associated restriction measures, cyclists everywhere were forced indoors. A spike in the sale of smart trainers was followed by the creation of a parallel surge in the popularity of indoor training apps. Most virtual cycling apps offer a free trial followed by monthly payments or one annual fee. Some gamify the riding experience in virtual worlds, while others propose augmented reality overlayed on real world footage filmed in beautiful HD quality. So, what are the best virtual cycling apps to make riding indoors fun? Let’s look at eight online training platforms that are the talk of the town in the cycling community.
Before we get started, follows is a checklist of the hardware you need to use and enjoy a virtual online training platform in your home.
One of these Bluetooth smart devices:
Followed by one of these tools:
• A smart trainer – it’s best for realistic ride quality, including simulated road surfaces, resistance and incline in erg mode.
• A complete smart bike – no fuss to set it up, but not everyone has the space nor the budget
• Classic turbo trainer with a speed/cadence sensor – more affordable than a smart trainer but with no resistance control and less accurate results as power is virtually calculated.
• A power meter (optional) – values are approximate without one
Important side note: before you download a free app or fork out cash for a subscription, verify that your devices have the necessary operational system to run the training platform you chose. We published a handy guide on how to set up your indoor pain cave a while ago, check it out.
Now onto the best indoor cycling apps.
Although the price might deter some cyclists, TrainerRoad is worth every penny of that monthly subscription and comes with a 30-day money back guarantee. It offers a clean user interface, is based on FTP (functional threshold power) and, most importantly, contains an extensive catalogue of about 2,000 structured workouts, which can also be modified to “do outside” versions as soon as the weather permits.
TR offers focused sessions for performance progression, and the workouts are built around the rider’s personal goals. The training plans are composed and tweaked by Trainer Road’s Head Coach, Chad Timmerman, who has over 25 years of experience. Another great thing about TrainerRoad is that it offers a structured training experience according to your preferred cycling discipline – be it time trial, cyclocross, climbing, road racing, triathlon or general fitness riding.
Make sure to calibrate that trainer or power meter! pic.twitter.com/WqYQleaJCD
— trainerroad (@TrainerRoad) November 2, 2020
2. The SufferFest
The first thing you notice about The SufferFest is the special universe that surrounds you. You follow dark-humoured storylines and training sessions are set in ‘Sufferlandria’ where you often represent the Sufferlandrian team. What started as a batch of single-download videos thrown together by the founder David McQuillen in his spare time became a full-blown training site.
He took real UCI race footage and applied some music and an amusing storyline you have to follow to hit your goals and voilà – The SufferFest training app was born.
Besides cycling, the app covers all activity bases which feature running, strength and mental training, and yoga sessions too. Similar to TrainerRoad, The SufferFest also bases its interval workouts off FTP, but they also developed their own evaluation tool called 4DP, which takes into account your neuromuscular, anaerobic capacity and threshold to better tailor personalised workouts. And if you’ve seen all the storylines and are growing a bit weary of them, the new app version also offers a “no-vid” section just for pure training.
Just in time for the indoor season, we're dropping two new SUF workouts – The Cobbler & The Attacker!!
— Wahoo SYSTM (@WahooSYSTM) October 26, 2020
We would be amiss to not feature the app we praise at almost every turn. Rouvy is perfect for those who don’t have a strict idea or a precise indoor training plan – it simply offers a bit of everything without breaking the bank. It’s available for all major operating systems and their routes control your connected trainer to give you a life-like experience of what you see on the screen. Feel like riding up Mont Ventoux? No problem with Rouvy.
Their outdoor route catalogue is quite sizeable and the plans feature structured workouts and virtual racing where you compete against the app’s clock or invite friends to join you in AR (augmented reality) – you’ll see them on screen on the road, right alongside your virtual avatar. Rouvy also stands out on our list because it’s one of the most affordable monthly subscriptions, compared to indoor cycling apps of similar quality and range of features.
Read a story of ROUVY athletes! 🙋♂️🚴🇪🇸
Meet Larry, a 60+ old rider, who is taking part in all of the La Vuelta stages.
How has his look on professional racing changed after riding the same routes as the PROs on the Vuelta?
— ROUVY (@gorouvy) November 4, 2020
4. RGT Cycling App (Road Grand Tours)
If you’re looking for realistic virtual-world riding with or against other cyclists around the globe, look no further than RGT Cycling. You’ll never run out of roads on this indoor cycling app thanks to their Magic Roads feature. Cyclists can send in their own workouts via personal .GXP files of 100km or less and RGT creates an immersive virtual world around you based on your file complete with road signs, place names, road graffiti, the works.
Users can’t help but notice that the app was no doubt developed by experienced gamers-slash-riders thanks to the sheer realistic feel. It could easily be compared to Zwift, but the Road Grand Tours team has worked on improving graphics and precise rider movements when cornering, drafting or braking, which are all integrated into the gameplay.
RGT is one of a limited number of free indoor cycling apps. Cyclists can ride for nothing on a limited selection of RGT Real Roads and FTB based structured workouts. You can still enter group rides and races too, but if you move to a premium subscription, you can invite your friends to virtually join you for free, and you unlock Magic Roads, enhanced training and other features.
🏁 TORO ONE DAY 🏁
🏁 TWO DAYS 🏁
Race our recreation of Stage 13’s – Muros to Mirador de Ezaro.
➡️1.8km climb – 14% avg
Join the event in the Mobile App.
— RGT Cycling (@rgt_cycling) November 4, 2020
The Spanish company BKool is another one of many fantastic indoor cycling training apps. It originally started out as an indoor trainer manufacturer but eventually decided to pursue creating riding software full time. Their namesake app is great for setting goals and challenges. They focus solely on providing the best indoor riding experience no matter what trainer you use and, with over 100,000 active users, they’re certainly onto something.
Choose from four types of sessions: “Route” for road riders with Grand Tours at heart, “Workouts” for personal goals, “Velodrome” for that Keirin and pursuit race feel, and the must-have “FTP test”. The unique thing about BKool is that you can choose from three points of view and switch between them as you ride– the first-person view, a virtual 3D avatar or map view.
Do you feel part of #TeamUnlimited?
Let's prove it!💪
— BKOOL (@BkoolSport) November 2, 2020
Their company motto states “Less virtual, more reality” and that is precisely what you get. The FulGaz training app offers plenty of features, a huge library of rides, real-ride footage, physics-modelled rider and road surface responses, immersive feeling and more. The app not only adjusts resistance based on what’s happening on screen but even the footage reacts realistically to your performance and how you’re currently riding.
FulGaz takes rider weight and power into account and uses real elevation data to control the smart trainer accordingly. The breathtaking 4K footage is taken from the handlebar POV and the route library now offers 596 rides ranging from the mythical Alpe d’Huez in France to Colorado’s Sunshine Canyon.
— FulGaz App (@FulGazApp) October 26, 2020
It’s a name thrown about and justly so – Zwift serves as a model example of an all-round indoor cycling app. Ride in a variety of virtual fantastic worlds such as Watopia (featuring e.g. the lush Mayan Jungle map) that challenge and entertain you along the way. Zwift’s key feature is that it allows indoor cyclists to join group rides to battle it out against others without leaving the comfort zone of their own home.
The true testament to Zwift’s rideability, interactivity and good programming is that the annual National E-Racing Championships and the debut 2020 UCI E-Racing World Champs were held on the platform. Customise your avatar, do structured workouts, there’s always someone to ride with and the app’s developer team regularly adds new features and routes. The app wasn’t the first to offer a virtual indoor cycling experience but it did spearhead introducing the social aspect – in Wattopia, you can chat with and even draft off of your riding mates. Zwift is truly leading the way in gamifyng indoor training.
Let the FUN-DO action begin! 🤩 The Zwift Fondo Series returns Nov 8th! 🚴♀️🚴♂️
— Zwift (@GoZwift) November 5, 2020
8. Tacx Training
Tacx (owned by Garmin) is a smart trainer manufacturer so it comes as no surprise they came up with their own training software. Like other apps, you can enjoy riding anywhere from the French Alps to the spring classics via high-quality videos. If you upload your Strava or GPS data and routes, it will create 3D riding maps for you to follow.
The biggest downside is that it’s only compatible with Tacx smart trainers, so if you don’t have one, you are out of luck.
When the real or virtual road kicks up, power to weight ratio comes into play. Here's why it matters and what you can do to improve yours.
— Tacx (@tacx) October 14, 2020
Let us know if we’ve missed any of your favourite cycling apps. Stay fit and #StayNegative (COVID-19-wise, of course!)