Indoor vs. outdoor performance levels

A lot of users report higher performance outdoors than indoors. I am just the opposite.
My cadence indoors runs 85-100 with no issues, and with AI I’m hitting my targets.
When I do outdoor rides my cadence falls to 75-80 and watts on the bike computer are harder to hold at Threshold levels. I ride a lot indoors due to the weather and a desire to precisely hit the target numbers. I do a lot in ERG mode for strict adherence to the targets. My indoor speeds are 18mph if that is accurate and 15-18 outdoors.
Question. Is it just a matter of more outdoor riding, cadence drills, not using ERG indoors? I am 63 years old, heavy (if that matters), ride 4 to 5 thousand miles a year about 50% outdoors. Non racer and more of an endurance rider. I’m willing to put in the work and enjoy the training as much as the rides with friends or charity rides.

Questions first:

  1. Are you using the same exact bike and power meter inside and outside?

  2. What trainer do you use?

  3. What gearing are you using for ERG on the trainer?

  4. Ignoring all other details, the cadence difference you mention is rather large and very important factor to consider. Do you have a gut feel or reason you think they are so different?

    • This matters potentially because you are straining your body with a different emphasis between higher and lower cadence efforts. Low is a bit more muscular loading vs higher with more cardio loading.
    • Does any of that correspond to the way you feel inside vs outside?
  5. Not a question, but I am choosing to ignore speed because there is no good comparison between inside / outside that would prove helpful here.

  1. I have a dedicated bike for indoors, an old Carbon Fiber Cervelo.
  2. Using Wahoo Kicker, trainer road for power. Have a different power meter for outdoors.
  3. Indoor gearing is small ring in front and mid ring in back.
  4. You are right on speed. Indoor is inaccurate.
  5. If just feels easier indoors to hit higher cadence and power levels. Maybe it is bike stability.
  6. I feel if I can get the cadence higher outdoors (when I am not purposely focusing on it), the torque and power would increase. Also climbing would be easier.
  7. I have trained a lot so cardio is strong. I have been inconsistent with weight training so strength is probably very average for my age and ability.

Ron Dickinson

(Moderator note: I edited this post to remove the default email footer that I think you probably don’t want included here.)

  1. Since you have two different bikes in play, how similar or different is the actual bike fit between both?

    • There can be small differences between separated setups like this that lead to variation in how we feel and produce power on each one. If you haven’t already done so, matching them as closely as possible is my best advice here.
  2. With two different power devices in play, that is a HUGE variable.

    • You are using the Kickr power meter for inside.
    • You are using some different of power meter outside.
    • This matters because it is entirely possible that the power data between these devices might NOT match. We see it all the time around here. Don’t assume that they match unless you have actually done some decent testing with both devices actually in use together. This would mean placing your outside bike on the Kickr and tracking power data for the trainer and power meter for direct comparison. Without that, we should not assume they match.
    • Depending on the power meter you have on your outside bike, it could be a further issue than just being different. If you have a single-sided power meter, that could be skewing results as well. This is because it is taking one side and doubling power data. This is different than the Kickr since it is effectively “whole” power since it is measuring power from both legs as part of the process. Any power balance discrepancy you might have between left & right legs (which is more common than not) will also be leading to deltas in power between inside & outside.
    • So there is real potential that the wattage feel between both situations is partly from a delta between power data measurement & reporting.
  3. Small ring inside on the trainer is commonly recommended and used. I should have asked, but I will take a reasonable guess that you may use the large ring mainly outside on the road?

    • If so, this is also worthy of review. This matters because training inside with what amounts to low “inertia” from slower trainer flywheel speed (small ring) does not necessarily match the feel & loading when compared to big ring riding outside.
    • To counter this, many people use the big ring on the trainer, to spin the flywheel faster and get a feel more like outside. This is likely worth a test if you haven’t done so.
  4. Good on skipping Speed, this is just a placeholder so numbers line up.

  5. I get the basic idea and preference for faster cadence inside. But the real issue here is that broadly speaking, we should train in ways we plan to ride and/or race outside.

    • By doing mostly higher cadence inside while using lower cadence outside, you introduced a disconnect in your training. It’s not a clear good/bad situation, but you are missing an opportunity to make your training more specific to your actual needs.
    • It’s part of the “Theory of Specificity” where we try to apply training in ways that reasonably mimic our needs. It’s true that we do a BUNCH of stuff for training that is not meant to be a direct match and we get gains from that. But if we do too much that is different or not aligned with our actual needs, we are potentially missing opportunities to make our work more rewarding.
    • That in mind, I suggest reevaluating your cadence inside and try to move it closer to your outside cadence. It’s good to work on a wider range of cadence in training to make sure we can handle the ebbs & flows, but much of our work can be closer to the average we use most for good results & parity inside & outside.
  6. Agreed, that is a common reason to move towards higher cadences.

    • Related to #5 above, working on your cadence inside & outside is probably worthwhile. It may be that some point between those current averages works for you.
    • Keep in mind that there is no magic cadence and people all have different preferences. So just experiment and find what suits you. But I do think that working to close the gap between inside & outside cadence is a worthwhile goal.
  7. This might be factor as well, considering a lower cadence outside might lead to more and/or earlier muscular fatigue.

    • This could be worth addressing with strength training, but I do think changes mentioned above might handle the bulk of your issues.

I tend too tend to be able to ride harder indoors at least in the longer term. At a guess I’m spending too much cognitive load dangers, handling and backing off too much outdoors, whereas indoors I can channel all my energy into more stable pedalling. In a shorter time period I do perform better outdoors though.


In addition to what The Other Chad mentioned, it is worth noting that riding outdoors typically involves terrain and grade changes as well as changes in wind resistance. Thus, riding with a fixed cadence/speed will have a fluctuating power, which can be harder than a fixed power (think of over/unders).


Wow. Thankyou for the detailed and specific information. Very useful.

I believe your comments on small gear inside vs. large gear outside are spot on.

Thus, I have trained but not specifically to how I ride outdoors.

High cadence indoors has developed over time to be able to accomplish the tough workouts.

(AI always has me on an appropriate stress edge. Accomplishable but not easy. )

I can get the Threshold and V02 max workouts done with a higher cadence.

I plan to ride indoors Tuesday and Thursday to do the Trainer Road interval workouts in the Mid Volume grand fondo plan

I plan to go outdoors more (Weds, Sat, Sunday) now that it has warmed up and winds have decreased to get more zone 2 and endurance work in.

Hopefully, I can merge the two riding styles.

I will move to large gear inside and push more strength a little bit more, instead of cadence to hit power targets.

When outdoors I will try and increase my cadence through experimentation in gears and spinning drills.

Once again, Thanks for the advice.



I agree. Indoors, I crank the music. Controlled environment and mentally I can focus for 1-2 hours.

Outdoors is fun, lots of other stimulus. And natural barriers like corners, stop signs, cars etc. that break the ride.


I can’t say that I’’ve ever cared about my cadence outside, and I’m not bothered that it is lower on average - I’m not sure why I would be. But maybe that’s because my local terrain is different to yours.

Either way, I don’t regard this as a problematic difference in performance indoors and outdoors. I would describe this as the challenge of outdoor execution, which is always beholden to environmental factors.

I just want to do better outdoors, after all the winter indoor training. I have been consistent and worked hard, but the outdoor early rides are very average.

what type of terrain do you ride on outside? Its flat as a pancake here, but I’m between two mountain ranges (Coastal and Sierra Nevada). Regardless, what I personally found is that doing indoor trainer work in sim mode on Zwift or RGT was ‘better’ than Erg. Second best was standard mode on a Kickr.

I have flat city trails, flatish rails to trails and rolling hills with 6-8% grades for 1/4 to 1 mile.
Right now I’m just talking flat rides.

Maybe you can post a graph of a typical ride where we can see the power, cadence, elevation, speed and HR.

I’m also heavy, always around 2.8-3.0W/kg, and thats what its like when I ride for an hour and hit some rollers and hills. With standard sub-compact bike gearing that requires, for myself, a huge variation in cadence. Erg mode on the trainer discourages that, hence why I’ve found that doing workouts in sim or standard (Kickr) modes have been better for training all the cadence. Because outside I’m riding all the cadence.

This was 6 intervals of 215 to 235 wastts. 4-5-6-6-5-4 minutes each.
flat paved bike trail.

Was hard to hold watts over the 215 at times.
Felt ok when it was done and ranked it moderate to hard.
I have to admit I have not been outside much so far this year. Very cold then was windy until recently.


I had myself up to 2.98 pre-covid. Had a set back with Covid and lack of discipline. Went to 2.1, currently back to 2.35. Goal of 2.5 to 2.6 by the end of the summer.


Have you done this workout inside as well?

  • Is the max HR similar inside and outside
  • try using an easier gear and increase the cadence - 77 sounds a bit low.
  • Is the resting power and duration similar inside and outside. Easy to go too hard on the rest.

Those look like a good start. Cleaning those up is possible, although it takes some focus and muscle coordination that you are unlikely to develop using Erg or going out for a ride (unless its a long sustained climb).

Whether you should be concerned is another question. I did a lot of intervals that looked like that in 2016 and 2017, and I got really fast. Most of my power PRs are from that timeframe. From my point-of-view, doing outside intervals like that had no real impact my adaptations.

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Ok, I get you.

Have you got a local hill or a local circuit you can use as a benchmark or personal best?

I went round a local route I use occasionally (but over several years), two weeks ago and found that I’d set a personal best climbing it afterwards. Which was a confidence builder.

But I tend to use FTP and race times (real or virtual) as my performance measures.

Not exactly the same workout side but similar ones, before I started I was confident I could stick 225-235 for six minutes over and over. I was struggling to hold a consistent watts and hold it up there.

I like the easier gear and higher cadence plan.
I also agree I was going too hard during the rest and warm up. Hard to only go 100 watts.