What It’s Like to Live With a DIY Exercise Bike

1
Photo: Ted Odeh, Shutterstock
Photo: Ted Odeh, Shutterstock

Back in July, our own Abu Zafar showed you how to build a DIY Peloton from a $150-ish bike trainer and an app on your phone. I’ve been using the same setup, off and on, for a month now, and I’m here to report: it holds up. While it’s not as versatile as a Peloton, it fulfils a need that I would normally fill with my gym’s cardio equipment.

I used the same bike trainer Abu did — a green triangular stand that supports the back wheel of the bike. It’s not electronic and it doesn’t do anything fancy; it just lets the wheel move as you pedal, with adjustable resistance. I set mine up in the garage because that’s where I’ve been working out.

Setting up my space

Unlike Abu’s shiny setup, mine was made from an old mountain bike I hadn’t ridden for years. I’d been keeping unused it in a garden shed, so I had to pump up the tires and remove a serious number of cobwebs. If I were going to ride the bike outdoors, I’d probably want to take it for a tune-up, but for indoor use, I didn’t have to worry about breaking down on the side of the road. The chain’s a little rusty. It’s fine.

I did have to do a few things to convert it from an outdoor-appropriate bike to a handy one to keep inside. For example, I took off some accessories, including the bell on the handlebars, to make room for the trainer’s resistance selector and the little holder for my phone. I also removed a wedge pack that normally lives under my seat — the velcro strap was scratching my legs when I pedaled in shorts.

I also discovered there’s more to set up than just the bike. Sure, I could use this anywhere, anytime. But why stow a water bottle on the bike’s frame when I could set it on a shelf within arm’s reach? And why not set up a box fan to blow on my face and torso to cool me down as I ride? This was starting to get almost luxurious.

How to get a good workout

The downside to this DIY setup is that it’s not as versatile as a real exercise bike. I’ve never used an actual Peloton, but I’ve done cycling classes where you have a knob that easily and instantly changes your resistance. This is not that.

The bike trainer comes with a resistance knob, which connects to the bike via a long cord (so it can reach up to your handlebars). It’s fine, but the difference between the highest and lowest resistance levels is… subtle. After trying and failing to get enough resistance to stand up in the saddle, I found I had to hop off the bike and twist a screw at the back of the trainer before I could find a level that was hard enough to really push against.

After that, instead of messing with the trainer’s knob while I rode, I realised I could use the bike’s own shifting mechanisms. Mine is a mountain bike with three gears on the front derailleur and seven on the back. If I adjusted the trainer’s screw so that I could pedal standing up on my bike’s highest gear, that allowed me to get a nice easy ride if I shifted all the way down to the lowest.

With this setup, I was able to follow along with classes on the Peloton app. When the instructor tells you to turn your resistance to such-and-such level, you have to ignore those numbers and just go by your gut. Try to match the cadence of the song you’re pedalling along with (there’s no cadence monitor, of course), and go easy when you’re supposed to go easy and hard when you’re supposed to go hard.

How to Make the Most of Limited Gym Time

Maybe you have to sign up for a time slot at your gym, when you used to be able to mosey on in anytime you liked. Maybe they kick you out after an hour so they can clean. Or maybe your gym is operating as usual, but you’d rather limit...

Read more

Beware the minor annoyances

If you’re a Peloton devotee, that might not be good enough for you. But it works for me: I can do an easy ride while listening to a podcast or calling into a meeting where I can stay on mute. Or I can do a session on the app that mimics a ride with rolling hills, although I still don’t feel super comfortable on the standing-up sections. (The bike is perfectly stable; it’s a rock. It’s just that the resistance is never quite heavy and smooth enough. I stay seated most of the time.)

The trainer is also kind of loud. My bike has smooth tires, but I’ve heard that if you have knobby tires, like the typical mountain bike, it’s even worse. And that box fan definitely adds to the noise. The overall effect was that I was sweating alone in my garage with two different machines roaring in front of and behind me. Pretty bleak.

That is, until I thought to use my noise-cancelling headphones. Then I could hear my music/podcast/Peloton instructor just fine, and the bike became a little oasis from the world around me. I opened the garage and pointed my bike toward the outdoors, which is a delightful way to spend a rainy day when you’d like to go for a walk but don’t want to get wet.

Final thoughts

Overall, it’s a great solution for getting in some cardio when it’s not practical to go outside. My neighbourhood isn’t a great one for biking, and during the summer I didn’t want to brave the heat to run. The DIY bike was perfect for light to moderate workouts; you can definitely get the resistance up high enough for some sprints, but you might not be popping out of the saddle as often as the instructor on the screen.

A friend tipped me off to a little-known secret for storage: If the back of your bike faces the wall, you can pivot it on the back wheel to prop the bike up. The handlebars will be against the wall, so be careful with any knobs or phone holders that are installed there.

Comments

Log in to comment on this story!