The rise of indoor during COVID-19

Rebecca Morley looks into how COVID-19 has accelerated an already burgeoning trend

With gyms closing their doors in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, home workout options have grown in popularity. And given that indoor cycling was becoming more prominent than ever in recent years, it is no surprise that riders are heading back inside their homes as an alternative to their usual exercise routines.

“Whilst we were already seeing significant growth prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, we have seen extraordinary activity since the lockdown,” says Richard Baker, CEO of Wattbike. “March saw an increase of web sessions of 110%, with sales activity of 250%. April saw web sessions increasing 300% and sales activity 350%.”

Sales of the Wattbike Atom in the UK during March 2020 were 113% higher than sales in February 2020. There was also a 17% increase in active users on the Wattbike Hub App from those using an Atom, suggesting that there are not only higher levels of sales, but also active users, using their Wattbike to maintain fitness in the comfort of their own home.

Sigma Sports also released figures back in March around the uptake in sales of indoor training equipment, showing that the number of orders placed on turbo trainers as well as static bikes increased week on week by 440%. In addition, the launch of the new Wahoo Kickr Indoor Smart Bike and Trainer saw huge interest, with initial drops selling out on pre-order in just a few hours.

Newly-launched research company Cycling Insight has also shared indoor and virtual riding trends during the pandemic, with the significance of the search trend spike for turbo trainers from 15th March 2020 correlating to the start of the lockdown. The term ‘Turbo Trainer’ had 12,100 March monthly UK Google searches, up from 6,100 in 2019.

“While we have seen strong demand across the wider cycling industry, products geared towards indoor riding have performed particularly well,” says a Wahoo spokesperson. “Wahoo has seen year-on-year global growth rise by over 300% for its hardware, including a range of indoor cycle trainers.

“Meanwhile, The Sufferfest training app – a comprehensive indoor training platform for time-crunched athletes – has seen its user base grow fivefold from the previous year, after introducing its free ‘All In’ 30 day plans to help athletes during lockdown.”

Supporting the community
Many companies responded to the COVID-19 crisis too, to try and encourage people to keep active while staying inside their homes. RGT Cycling, which only launched in December last year, made all of its premium features available for free to all indoor cyclists, having seen national governing body British Cycling suspend all sanctioned cycling activities and suggest restrictions on club riding.

“RGT was created to empower all cyclists to ride inside in the same way they ride outside,” said Alex Serban, founder and CEO. “As the impact of COVID-19 is felt around the world, this mission has become more important than ever and after watching inspiring communities come together to support each other, our need to do everything we can to help became obvious. At a time when focusing on profit would be easy, this removal of restrictions will provide free access for all and, we hope, offer some support to the cycling community.”

The Sufferfest, part of Wahoo Fitness, released a suite of training plans designed for athletes who are staying indoors due to the outbreak. The ‘All In’ training plans are completely indoor-based and place increased emphasis on yoga, strength and mental training. Each indoor plan offers a different focus – cycling, multisport, cross-training – while incorporating sessions from The Sufferfest yoga and strength training video library.

“The current pandemic has disrupted every aspect of our daily lives,” said David McQuillen, head of the Wahoo Fitness Sufferfest division. “While all of us at Wahoo Fitness know that there are far more important things than that next workout, we also know that there is comfort, solace and meaning to be found in exercise.”

Wattbike has also made its new commercial bike, the Icon, temporarily available for home customers. Designed to improve the performance of athletes of all ages and abilities, and most often seen in gyms, health centres and elite sports institutions, the Wattbike Icon was introduced to complement the Wattbike Pro and Trainer in commercial settings.

New challenges
This doesn’t mean that companies haven’t had to deal with any challenges alongside the rising levels of demand, especially from 23rd March when the nationwide lockdown was implemented and many businesses were forced to alter their operations.

“The entire Wattbike team has done an incredible job of managing themselves, and the business, through such change,” says Baker. “Whilst many businesses were seeing revenues decrease, or even stop, within days of the lockdown we were seeing an increased demand.

“The team mobilised very quickly and were working from home and fully operational in 24 hours. We do have a technical team still working in our warehouse and again they have been highly professional in creating and working to social distancing guidelines. It is important to note that over 30% of our business effectively closed down overnight, with health and fitness, professional sports and education facilities shutting their doors.”

“As you would imagine, the sharp increase in demand for indoor trainers – outside of the conventional ‘turbo training season’ – has presented some supply challenges,” adds Wahoo’s spokesperson. “However, we have an excellent team here at Wahoo who have worked extremely hard to meet this increased demand and support the growing number of Wahooligans across the world.

“We’ve also taken steps to make our training platform, The Sufferfest, more accessible. Since the lockdown took effect, we’ve expanded the free trial period to 44 days to allow new users to access the new ‘All-In’ 30 day plans.”

Wider audience
But now that lockdown restrictions have started to ease, will this rising trend in indoor cycling continue? Cycling outdoors has also increased during COVID-19, with the Government encouraging active travel as a commute for those who cannot work from home, so what will happen as life returns to ‘normal’?

“As the many benefits of cycling become clearer to the public, we hope that more people will take up riding – both indoors and outdoors,” says Wahoo’s spokesperson.

“However, with many people having ‘learned’ how to workout at home during the lockdown, the benefits of indoor riding will be particularly clear. As more people try structured workouts on a smart bike or turbo trainer, we expect behaviour patterns to change with riders realising it’s not only possible to exercise at home, but it can actually be more time-efficient, effective and fun.”

Baker also says that the awareness of training at home is growing and opening up to a wider audience. “We are doing some further research to understand if our customer base has changed since COVID-19,” he says. “It is evident that we had a wide audience considering a Wattbike and that the lockdown has been a catalyst to them making a purchase. It is interesting that this has continued to increase throughout the lockdown period as people prioritise their fitness and recreation time.

“I believe the cycling industry is in the strongest position it has been in some time. More widely, there is an increased awareness of health and wellness – particularly around cardiorespiratory health. Commuting by bike is also seeing a steep increase in demand and investment from the Government, virtual events and races are helping to drive new types of cycling which in turn is opening up to wider markets.”

Wahoo says that while there is a huge opportunity in the growing public interest around cycling, it would be naive to not recognise the serious challenges that this global crisis presents for companies across the industry. “This is a hugely testing period for brands of all sizes, but we believe that it will be the companies who take an innovative approach – quickly adapting their business models to suit the changing marketplace – who will come out strongest on the other side.”

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