SINGAPORE - In the past, when national cyclist Samuel Leong had to complete his interval training thrice a week, he would have to set off at 6am so he could train when the roads were less crowded.
But since he started using a smart trainer at home in March, he can now do his interval training at any time.
The 19-year-old Nanyang Polytechnic student simply removes his rear wheel and attaches his bike to his Garmin Tacx Neo smart trainer, which in turn is linked to virtual training app Zwift. The combination allows him to select overseas routes, feel the terrain and gradient of the route as well as see animated scenery - all while riding on his own bike in his own home.
Other apps such as Tacx Training and RGT Cycling also offer similar functions and training programmes while CycleOps, Kinetic, Minoura and Technogym are some other brands of trainers in the market.
Leong, who is part of the ProCyclingSG Academy at the Singapore Cycling Federation (SCF), told The Straits Times: "This helps me to save time because I can start training at any time of the day. Now, after home-based learning, I can just hop onto the bike, finish my session, then sleep early.
"It also makes training less mundane because we can look at something else instead of just focusing on the numbers."
His favourite route is the Alpe du Zwift, modelled after the iconic Alpe d'Huez in southern France, which involves him cycling uphill for about an hour, something he cannot replicate in Singapore.
His teammate Darren Lim added training indoors sometimes raises the quality of training as well. The cyclists, who train about 25 hours a week, can also race against other competitors in Singapore or overseas on the same platform virtually.
Lim, 22, said: "In Singapore, it's very hard to find a place you can continue pedalling for 20 minutes non-stop at high power because you'll hit a traffic light or you'll have to turn. But with this, you can go faster since you don't have to worry about external factors like traffic.
"It's also really humbling, especially when your avatar is behind a pro cyclist's avatar. It tells us that there's someone way stronger than you and we're still not at that level yet.
"Outdoors, we won't be able to immediately go up against them in competitions but with this, we can see straightaway where we stand among them."
Andy Chia, 35, directeur sportif at ProCyclingSG Academy, said the trainer also helps strengthen the cyclists as there is no wind resistance.
"You can't coast on the trainer. Everything is sheer power and no matter what, they would have to grind to produce results.
"These trainers have a power sensor so there's a certain power they need to hit. It's really just hard work so physiologically, it helps them become stronger athletes.
"It cannot simulate physical competitions 100 per cent, but in terms of race tactics, they can learn some of these skills."
The benefits of the trainer are not just for competitive cyclists as participants of The OCBC Cycle 2020 Virtual Ride can also complete the 23km The Straits Times VR or 42km The Sportive VR on the devices.
A basic trainer costs about $200 while smart trainers, which can be connected to a smart device, start from $500. Those that come with bikes can cost thousands.
Chia said: "With the use of smart trainers, the resistance changes according to the terrain, so you must apply more force when going uphill, which is like doing strength training at the gym.
"It's also engaging because you can still ride with your friends. And it brings you virtually to places you have never been to before."
With a 40 per cent increase in indoor cycling activities during the circuit breaker period, based on data collected from Garmin devices like watches and indoor bicycles in Singapore, Garmin community manager Edwin Shen believes indoor cycling will remain popular even after the pandemic.
He said: "It offers cyclists a great alternative as they can still experience the sensation of cycling on the road despite being indoors on smart trainers.
"With most people working from home, they can squeeze in a quick ride at lunch time or at night. They are unable to travel, but can still experience different terrains and routes around the world, or schedule a ride with friends virtually.
"In Singapore, where the weather can be rather unpredictable, indoor cycling allows avid cyclists to continue with their riding plans while riding in a safe environment."