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February 5, 2021

Indoor Cycling Apps: A Review of TrainerRoad

Welcome to our ultimate guide of the world’s leading indoor cycling apps. Find out what app is right for you, and check out our other reviews of cycling apps.

The Fundamentals

Ride Type: Structured training workouts and planning
Compatibility: iOS, Android, Windows, Mac
Required Equipment: A smart trainer/power meter or speed sensor
Integrations: Strava, Garmin, TrainingPeaks, Final Surge, Wahoo, DropBox, TriDot
Cost: $19.95/month or $15.75/month with an annual membership

Who It's For

Serious cyclists who want to realize the benefits of science-based training without the cost of hiring a coach to curate personalized workouts.

App Set Up

TrainerRoad is different from most other indoor cycling apps given it is fully geared toward making users faster on the bike rather than providing an entertaining, gamified, race-for-your-next-avatar-jersey type of experience. TrainerRoad brands itself as a science-based training and planning system, which – in practice – is essentially a virtual coach (a convenient offering in our COVID-19 self-isolating reality). But that means, too, that setting up the app/software, while certainly not difficult, is slightly more involved than indoor cycling apps focused on individual rides/workouts.

The user's journey starts on the TrainerRoad website to register (read: pay up). The user is then guided through a series of questions designed to automatically generate a training plan (there is even an option to reverse these steps to get a glimpse of the first week of training based on the platform's algorithms). The training plan generator asks the user a whole bunch of questions – existing training volume, desired volume, experience, start date, A/B/C events for the training period, and scheduling-related queries. Recommendations are proposed along the way, and it is all very user friendly. Alternatively, if users already know what they are seeking, they can select from a series of standard training phase-based plans (including base, build, and specialty) – all of which are offered with various options to help the user narrow down their selection to what feels right for them. A final option in setting up a plan (should the user simply prefer to start riding) is to skip it altogether. That said, the whole purpose of the app is to enable science-based training; therefore, users are probably selling it short if they opt to skip the training plan.

It is at this stage that TrainerRoad asks the user to download the app on their platform of choice, which is as simple as anyone has come to expect. Users have an option to pair from a list of apps, such as Garmin Connect or TrainingPeaks, to import data or facilitate the upload of workouts when training starts. After syncing, users move over to the app to pair devices, which is (again) very intuitive. If the user opted for the training plan set up, then the first workout will be a ramp test to assess their level of fitness. If the user skipped the training plan, then they can select an individual workout from TrainerRoad's extensive library of over 2,000 FTP-based interval sessions, or the user can create/edit a workout in the Workout Creator application, which is currently only available for Windows. A notable feature is the instructions that complement each of the TrainerRoad workouts. There is no guesswork involved as to what energy system is the target, and there are instructions on how to get the most out of the workout. Similar workouts are offered as variations if a workout is not quite 'right' on any given day, and – needless to say – users can go back anytime and select a different workout altogether.

TrainerRoad cycling app screenshot

In-App Experience

Ultimately, TrainerRoad is a training tool for those of us (guilty!) who take cycling a bit too seriously, and there isn't a whole lot more to say. Once the workout is loaded and the rider starts pedalling, they are immediately greeted by data – glorious data! TrainerRoad actually suggests on its website that users bring their own entertainment (BYOE?) – music, TV, or whatever will keep you pedalling. The fact is, we tune into Spotify or Netflix even when using apps that are geared toward providing entertainment, so TrainerRoad's suggestion feels reasonable. It's easy to tune out and power through the workout when the ERG mode on the smart trainer is doing all of the thinking (though it is easy to predict how that could become a double-edged sword).

A cool new feature offered by TrainerRoad (as of March 2020) is the ability to create group workouts and invite your friends to join you on video/audio to power through the same training session together. As COVID-19 restrictions keep most of us locked up indoors, this seems like a fun way to stay connected (and, yes, you should seriously consider what you wear to those sessions). Currently, group workouts can only be created on the Windows and MacOS platforms.

The Verdict

While not known for entertainment, TrainerRoad is a fine training tool, particularly for the self-coached athlete. The auto-generated training plans, which are based on a handful of simple questions, are likely more robust than the nature and sequence of your workouts today. When left to our own devices, we have all experienced the second guessing and circular justification logic of why it is appropriate to get on with our favourite session even though we powered through it the day before. This isn't to suggest that TrainerRoad replaces a real-life coach – it doesn’t – but for those of you that can't justify the cost of a personal coach, or simply don't want the pressure of a coach looking over your shoulder, TrainerRoad has you covered. If you already have a coach curating tailored workouts for you, then it's harder to justify the cost, but the workout import function is convenient, and the new video-enabled group sessions are a fun way to stay connected with your training buddies.

Full Disclosure: We’re cyclists – not marketers – and we are not affiliated with TrainerRoad. This is an independent review based on our own experience with the app – to help you decide if it’s right for you. For more, check out our other reviews of cycling apps.

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