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The main reasons for this are as follows:
1. Rolling resistance is different
The flywheel will decelerate your bike a lot more quickly than the road. This requires constant pedaling, which requires constant pedaling, which is an increased level of muscle activation.
2. Reduced rate of convective cooling
On a trainer, the usual source of convective cooling is provided by a fan. When riding outside, the athlete is generating "wind" that is equal to their speed moving forward. This overall reduction in your ability to shed body heat (reduce core temperature) will increase the RPE of any session.
3. Lack of "moving" or "shifting" around on the bike
While riding outside, we are constantly shifting in position for various reason (comfort, change of intensity, terrain, traffic, etc...). When we are on the trainer, those small and often subtle shifts are not required, leaving "comfort" as the main reason to change body position. As discomfort in the seat area increases, so does RPE.
4. Lack of "moving" or "rocking" the bike
When we are outside, we move the bike underneath us. Not only in a forward fashion by pedaling, but from side-to-side. When we do this outside, it changes the recruitment pattern of the muscles being used, to include activating additional muscles that are not used while "sitting" on the trainer.
"The only way you're going to get better is if you put in the work. And if you do the bare minimum, you just go out the practice, you just do what you told to do and that's it, you're going to get bare minimum results. If you want to be great, you have to go above and beyond, and do whatever it takes to be great." - JJ Watt
In triathlon terms, this is referring to the "extra" work that must be put in to get the most out of your athletic ability. This doesn't necessarily mean adding additional workouts, it could, but that is not the main point of this post.
In triathlon and endurance sports, it also means doing the small things that your body needs to fully recover between sessions. Activities such as foam rolling, active stretching, supplemental strength exercises, proper nutrition and enough sleep are a few examples for the extra work that would account for extra work.
Do you make time in your busy schedule to get in the extra work or are you just doing the bare minimum?