Cycling on a Trainer vs Road

Cycling on trainer vs road

Bart Haynes here in sunny San Diego.

Spring is here and that means one thing for me: getting off my bike trainer. The first ride away from the trainer – after 4 months of exclusively riding on the trainer – is always a little strange.

There’s no getting around the fact that while a good trainer is an extremely valuable asset for any biker, it cannot replace riding on the road. I was talking with a good friend who is a cyclist as well, and our brief conversation went something like this:

Bart: Had my first road ride yesterday. 60 miles.

Friend: Ouch. Did you stand all day at work today?

Bart: No, I wore three pairs of bike shorts.

We were joking (kind of) of course, but there are some distinct difference between road riding and using a trainer. Here are some things that stick out to me my first road ride every year.

What I like about the trainer

Simplicity along with total privacy. It is far easier to just jump on the trainer without having to get out all of my bike apparel and get prepped for being out on the road. It also allows me the ability to close my eyes and pontificate life in silence and forget all together that I’m working out. It’s one of my favorite places to meditate.

The privacy of the trainer can be a beautiful thing when I don’t feel like sharing my space with so many other folks…or when I just feel a bit lazy because, frankly, it’s easy to just “check out” and slacken my pace on the trainer without noticing.

What I like about the road

On the other hand, being out on the road is a far better “full body” work out and pushes the cardio limits much farther.

It is also a very liberating feeling when I’m out on the open road. Cycling in San Diego is such a stunning area that it’s easy to appreciate the full splendor of nature on display with all the sights, smells, temperature changes and wildlife. I also immediately become aware of all the other people/cars/attitudes, etc., which is rather stimulating.

Trainer vs road difference 1: seat feels harder

After 60 miles road cycling vs trainer cycling, the road feels like I had been riding on a cement seat. I don’t get sore like that on the trainer. This makes sense. On a trainer, things are smooth as silk. But the road, of course, has rocks and bumps and is simply a lot more taxing on your body.

The difference isn’t huge, especially because my carbon fiber frame picks up most of the road. But after a 60 miles I definitely feel the difference.

Trainer vs road difference 2: cardio gets better workout on road

The fact that my legs get tired quicker but my cardio feels top notch makes me very suspicious that:

  • I don’t have enough resistance on my trainer; or
  • Trainers naturally benefit cardio, but don’t quite give you legs the requisite workout that road riding does.

After 60 miles on the trainer, I feel a normal level of tiredness. The first 60 miles on the road, my legs feel a bit week but my chest feels like I did much less than 60 miles.

Trainer vs road difference 3: road provides more full body workout

As I hinted at, the reality is on the road you are changing your pace up more often, hitting hills, going down hills, turning, and using your body in many small ways that add up over the course of 60 or 100 miles.

Secondly, as I said, it’s easy to “check out” on the trainer and go at a more relaxed pace than on the road. Put the two together, and I simply feel more tired after 80 miles on the road than 80 miles on the trainer.


I enjoy road cycling for the workout and the stimulation of being outdoors in nature.

I enjoy the trainer for the peace and meditation, and simplicity and privacy of being able to ride in the comfort of my garage or back yard.