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RAGBRAI Training: Does Indoor Training Count Towards Mileage Goals?

  • 25 March, 2018
  • TJ Juskiewicz

by Coach David Ertl

The calendar says that spring began this week, but one wouldn’t know it looking outside. As I write this on March 24, is it literally freezing outside and sleeting.  Last week we posted the 2018 training planner for RAGBRAI, which offers suggestions on how often and how many miles you should consider riding each week.  Well, with the weather, it’s already been difficult to stick to the plan.  I received two emails this week asking the same question: Can I count indoor training or spin classes towards my training plan mileage goal?  The short answer is Yes.  But that would make for a very short blog, so here’s my justification for saying so.

Remember, the purpose for training is to prepare your body, and also your head, for the challenges ahead on RAGBRAI. Almost everyone I know, with a very few exceptions, enjoy riding outside more than riding indoors.  For me, if riding indoors was the only option I would have picked a different sport.  But having said that, indoor training offers a way to supplement outdoor training and maintain and/or build fitness.  It it a way to keep your legs moving when the weather prevents you from riding outside.  It can also help burn calories to fight weight gain from being prevented from riding outside.

There are two main ways to train indoors.  One is to get a stationary trainer, mount your bike on it, and pedal away, going nowhere fast.  This technology is increasing rapidly.  There are now ‘smart trainers’ which can talk to your computer and adjust the resistance. You can watch videos with programs such as ErgVideo and Rouvy, do structured training with TrainerRoad and Sufferfest, and even do real-time racing against people across the world with apps such as Zwift. However you don’t need all this fancy hardware and software. For years I just trained with my stationary trainer, heart rate monitor and clock.  The other way to train indoors is to take part in spin classes.  These are led by an instructor who can push you harder than you probably would by yourself.  You might be amazed how hard you work and how much you sweat in a 50 minute class, and the time goes by quickly.  No time to be bored in a spin class.

There is an ongoing debate whether we should count indoor miles along with our outdoor miles.  I have always counted mine for two main reasons.  First, indoor miles are more difficult mentally than outdoors. You should get credit for that.  When you get into the end of the day while doing RAGBRAI, you will need some mental toughness to get through. The discipline to force yourself to train indoors can help with that toughness.  Second, if done right – and that’s the only way you should do it– indoor training is at least as hard physically as riding outdoors. You don’t want to spend hours training indoors, it can become very boring and monotonous. Therefore, keep if fairly short but make the most of your time.  You really can’t expect to improve your endurance riding indoors for an hour or less at a time, but you can build aerobic fitness which will help. Push the pace and get some intensity in.  Indoor training is a great time to do structured intervals. For example, every five minutes, go really hard for one minute.  This will push your aerobic fitness and will also help pass the time. It’s amazing how fast those four minutes between intervals will go by.  In less than an hour you can get in a really good workout and build fitness.  Save the endurance training for when you can get outside.

If  your indoor bike doesn’t record distance, you can estimate the distance to put on your training log.  Just look back at how fast you typically ride outside and then calculate how far you would have ridden with the time you spent riding indoors.  Don’t feel guilty about counting those. They count and often I’ve thought that indoor miles should actually count more!

Train hard out (or in) there!

Coach David Ertl

David Ertl is a USA Cycling Level 1 Coach. He coaches the Des Moines Cycle Club Race Team, JDRF Ride To Cure Diabetes and individual cyclists through the Peaks Coaching Group. He also provides cycling training plans and ebooks at his website: . He can be contacted at


  1. Keith Lippincott

    If I ride indoors daily on my trainer for 45 minutes a day, does that help build my endurance more than if I ride every other day for more distance?

  2. Roy Trent

    I use a Cycleops Hammer on Zwift and have found it to be very similar, at least as similar as can be expected, to actual road riding. I was able to get out on the road for an easy ride yesterday and was pleased with how I felt after only being on the trainer for Feb and Mar..

  3. Keith Lippincott

    I have been using a cyclops trainer since late December. When I was outside last week I was able to ride at a faster pace. I will be a rookie on RAGBRAI this summer.

    I want to prepare for the hills.

  4. ploeg

    One caveat: outdoor riding presents challenges that indoor riding does not, particularly when the weather turns hot and humid. There’s plenty of runners who don’t put in many miles on their bikes before RAGBRAI but who do well because they’re used to the heat. There’s also plenty of spinners who achieve a high level of fitness in temperature-controlled settings but who aren’t used to drinking the amount of fluid that you need during the late summer months. One or two long rides before RAGBRAI help you figure out your hydration and sunscreen requirements.


    There are no hills on RAGBRAI………

  6. Jaydray

    I totally agree. Ya there’s no hills or fighting wind and temp, but they’ll be plenty of that come summer. And I must admit, I don’t turn my odo off going down hill …

  7. Steve Carter

    You had me until the very end. I’m a huge supporter of Zwift. The ride is as close to real as you can get with a smart trainer. Telling people to guesstimate their distance is completely wrong. There are too many extenuating circumstances to compare an hour effort indoor to the same ride outdoor. First, how is the resistance even remotely the same; second, elevation; and third, wind/weather/road surface/vibration all come into play. Cmon!!

  8. Kent Clow

    One thing I find is that I typically get in more miles in a 45 min spin class than in an hour of street riding around Charlotte, NC. Too much traffic and too many stop lights to get a good continuous hour in.

  9. Peter Diotte

    With a smart trainer, I’ve found the resistance to be dead on. I input routes that I’m familiar with an am impressed how the same hills indoors are beating me up just like outdoors. Good point about temperature controlled environment – indoors is ideal except you’ll never have a tail wind either. I count my indoor miles against my annual total

  10. Edward Molyneaux

    I am one of those few who prefers indoor riding. Inside you get much better aerobic training because you can’t coast. If you stop peddling the machine stops recording progress and says “pause”. Outside you can very easily think that when you are coasting you are exercising, not so. When you take inside training (continuous peddling) outside you will be amazed how much ground you can cover. Ed Molyneaux

  11. Billp70964

    Two reasons inside, rather outside. No coasting! Every bike (inside) we attempt the throttle hard. At outside, it’s easier to pedal on my bike outside.

    I live in Chicago, the traffic is horrendous. I think spin classes is best all weather. I can 3 spin classes a week.

  12. mblair843

    Although you have no wind or heat on an indoor trainer, you must pedal 100% of the time. (No coasting downhill) Not counting temperature and wind, mile for mile it’s harder riding my TACX trainer than the exact same route live.

  13. Justin Hilts

    I have started training for next year (2019) and I don’t think I’ll be spending $1200 on a Cycleops Hammer thing for my $50 (used Schwinn Solara) but I did pick up some $130 rollers :) its a fun workout but I would rather be outside. I live in the middle of Iowa though so this winter I might have to buy a cheap fat tire bike to ride outside on the snow lol, not ideal but should be some fun to change up my winter workout.

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