Indoor vs. outdoor cycling in the winter – which is better?


The off season and subsequent preparation period are always a challenge when it comes to cycling training. Over the past few years, I have experimented with different approaches to the problem. Is it worth braving the cold, or are you better off perfecting your indoor cycling setup? You will find my take on the topic in the lines below.

Due to my physiology, I generally get better results using traditional base training. This goes along with a high training volume and low intensity work. Indoor training as such does not really lend itself to a regimen like that, so I tend towards riding outdoors for the most part. For the past few years I have been lucky with the weather, as we had really mild winters. This resulted in me being able to do 99% of the work outside. Of course, the conditions were not always a walk in the park.

Training in general is not a very pleasant experience – either on a trainer or out in the cold. Because of that, my most important principle has been to choose equipment that makes it as convenient as possible. For winter riding, this naturally means a few good sets of clothing for various conditions, but a winter bike is also greatly beneficial and can make the whole experience a lot less miserable. There is a lot that goes into a good indoor setup as well as there are may details than can make or break your schedule. Both of these are quite vast topics in themselves, so I will write about the specifics in a separate article.

Benefits of Outdoor Cycling in Winter


  1. High Volume, Low Intensity: Outdoor training allows for extended periods of low-intensity riding, ideal for building aerobic capacity. Because of this, riding outdoors is my priority in the pre-season period.
  2. Improved Immune System: Exposure to cold weather for prolonged periods can boost immunity, reducing susceptibility to illness.
  3. Skill Retention: Riding outdoors helps maintain bike handling skills despite weather challenges.
  4. Adaptation to Cold: Gradual acclimatization to cold weather over time can enhance comfort and resistance to lower temperatures. Lower temperatures also mean a lower overall strain on the body, enabling better recovery.
  5. Versatile Clothing Options: Advances in winter cycling gear, such as layers, gloves, socks, and shoe covers, enable comfortable riding in various conditions.


  1. Preparation and Maintenance: Requires considerable preparation, proper clothing, bike maintenance, and increased wear and tear on equipment.
  2. Safety Concerns: Risk of accidents due to unfavorable road conditions, including black ice or poor weather.
  3. Weather Limitations: Extreme conditions like heavy snow, sleet, or pouring rain may make outdoor riding impractical or unsafe.

Benefits of Indoor Cycling in Winter


  1. Convenience: Simplifies training with minimal preparation—no need to contend with changing weather or road conditions.
  2. Structured Workouts: Enables precise control and structure for workouts, particularly for intervals and structured training plans.
  3. Heat Adaptation Retention: Helps retain heat adaptation gained during summer months through consistent indoor training.
  4. Community Engagement: Allows participation in group rides, races, and community events on platforms like Zwift, boosting motivation.


  1. Monotony: Indoor training can be boring and less engaging than outdoor rides, potentially affecting motivation and adherence to longer sessions.
  2. Limited Health Benefits: Lack of exposure to natural elements may lead to reduced immune system benefits and overall health compared to outdoor riding.
  3. Body Strain and Recovery: Increased heat exposure in indoor environments might impact recovery time and overall strain on the body.
  4. Lack of Circulation: depending on the size of your training room and the amount of circulation, you may start to re-use expelled air, lowering the oxygen concentration and negatively affecting performance and recovery.

Finding a balance between both indoor and outdoor training based on weather, schedule, and personal preferences can optimize training effectiveness and overall fitness outcomes.

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Stay tuned for detailed articles on preparing bikes for winter and optimizing indoor training setups for enhanced performance.

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