– Reported by Craig Griffin & Eric Fletcher –
Coming face to face with a lack of winter fitness the day before the local Hardman Road Race in March, or the Triple Death Century in May, is a situation best avoided – even if it means using an indoor trainer. (Oh – the horror!) But the guys at WiredBike.com have an answer – as purveyors of all things cycling training related (power meters, trainers, and gadgets galore), they’ve seen – and tested the range of trainers available for all levels of cyclists.
So let’s start with the easy ones (‘easy’ being of course a relative term)…
Indoor Trainers For Recreational Cyclist
Whether your goal is to get in shape for a big ride next year or to stay with the fast group ride, now is the time to lay the groundwork for super spring condition. Cycling rewards consistency. Getting on your trainer 2 times a week, and a nice weekend ride during the winter will work wonders for your ability to ride more, and harder, later in the year. Your body will be accustomed to riding, you will have a decent base of cardio vascular fitness, and the legs will be used to going ‘round.
The best thing about the trainer is that it is concentrated riding. An hour on the trainer will be like 2 on the road. OK, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but it definitely ‘counts’ for more. And since you are simply trying to get some exercise, and not blasting around Tom Boonen in a field sprint, your trainer doesn’t need to be fancy. Your workouts will be of the longer interval variety – 4-6 minutes just below anaerobic threshold, sprinkled throughout an hour long session.
A good option is the Minoura 500L, which runs just $129.99. It has magnetic resistance, which is good up to about 700 watts – a level good for anyone but the strongest, biggest riders.
The Minoura 500L – they don’t come much simpler than this.
Unpacking the Minoura trainer, we find an all steel frame that just needs to have the adjustment knob screwed on. This is about the simplest trainer assembly I can remember. Plus the whole unit is lightweight, so folding and stowing it under a bed or in a closet is easy. It also comes with a block for your front wheel, to keep the bike level. I’d recommend using a bike computer that has rear wheel speed and cadence, like the Cateye Astrale 8, to give you some basic information about the level of your efforts.
Getting your bike on any trainer always seems to be a 3 handed operation, and the Minoura is no exception. I’d recommend using the included extra quick release, as today’s wheel manufacturers are competing to design the most sculpted skewers on the market, which will only serve to jettison you off the trainer when you start going hard – and likely result in a mangled quick release. Get the bike in the trainer by backing the wheel into the frame and tightening the hand crank till nothing moves. It is possible to overtighten, bending the trainer frame outwards, so be reasonable. Then wind the knob on the resistance unit down until the rear tire won’t slip. I usually test this by jerking the back wheel up and down with my hand, and if there is still slippage, keep cranking. A really useful item for trainers is a trainer specific rear tire. Tacx makes a super hard rubber rear tire ($40) that resists melting on the trainer roller. Your nice 120tpi handmade tires will be no match for the heat of a normal training session.
Tacx iMagix with Steerer attachment actually makes indoor training ‘fun’.
But alas, there is one thing that the Minoura won’t do: provide entertainment. Yes, riding a trainer is like watching paint dry, but more painful. So there are a slew of trainers out on the market that help. At the top of the heap in effective, quality workouts, while having a really fun time, is the Tacx iMagic ($799) with a Steering Frame ($299). It’s this fun aspect that should appeal to cyclists of all levels – from rookie to racer. t’s the closest to a Wii on the bike. The Tacx iMagic is a Virtual Reality trainer that hooks up to your computer and has virtual worlds to explore, ride and race. Want to be Tom Boonen as your online avatar? No problem. But don’t forget that you do have to actually pedal, and the resistance of the trainer changes as the terrain moves up and down. You can also go “off course” to see what’s around by using the steering frame.
Indoor Trainers For Racers
No matter how hardy the racer, or how inviting the winter weather (I’m looking at you Tucson) every rider looking to start their season off strong will end up spending quality time with an indoor trainer. While rollers are good for developing smooth pedaling action and a still upper body, they are rather terrible for intervals. And even in the dead of winter you still need to be incorporating interval work into your training sessions, or a very unpleasant surprise may be coming for you in the spring. So a high quality, sturdy rear wheel trainer is a must for a racing cyclist.
Given the intensity and duration of an interval based workout, my experience has been that fluid resistance based trainers work much better then magnetic and fan based resistance units. Fluid units tend to be more dynamic in the kind of resistance provided and more able to handle high wattages of a racer’s intervals. Look for a strong steady frame, beefy resistance unit and a big flywheel.
Finally, a racer’s trainer needs to be durable, and able to take more punishment then a spring breaker’s rental car. Over the last few years, one of the best fluid trainers has been the Kurt Kinetic – (read the PEZ-Review here). Industrial grade base, huge flywheel and massive resistance unit made the Kurt a favorite replacement unit over older wimpier fluid trainers, or for racers who had outgrown their magnetic or noisy fan based trainers. Combined with Kurt’s cyclo-computer (which generates wattage numbers based on the resistance curve of the trainer), the Kinetic was my favorite rear wheel trainer. Until now.
Kurt has come out with a new trainer model, the Rock and Roll. This trainer’s resistance and flywheel are the same as the Kinetics, but the hefty frame has been replaced with a much larger and even sturdier base unit with extended horizontal legs. This additional stability is needed, as the Rock and Roll is cleverly designed to allow both side to side and up and down movement while on the trainer, providing a much more natural feeling while on the trainer. Bad habits that a fixed position trainer encourages (bobbing when driving the pedals, sloppy positioning on the bike etc.) are quickly exposed. So, some of the benefits of rollers are incorporated, while still allowing high wattage intervals (I was able to repeatedly hit 1100 watts on my SRM, and the R&R was ready for more).
I adjusted quickly to the motion of the R&R and found that it did a nice job of mimicking a road ride with the motion of the trainer and the progressive resistance ramp up of the fluid unit and trademark massive flywheel.
The only downside to the trainer is that it is movable in theory, but in practice it is so heavy you are unlikely to want to carry too far. So as a race day warm up trainer it has some drawbacks. It can be done, but you will need extra room to carry it, and you are not going to want to set up your trainer too far from your car.
Once you have a high quality fluid trainer, here are a few tips to help stave off winter trainer time insanity.
• Try to set up a dedicated trainer area with your tunes, tv/dvd player and everything thing else you need so that you can get started quickly. The easier it is to start, the less likely you are to avoid it and more time you can spend on the bike.
• Have a fan and few sweat towels at hand. Once you start doing intervals, you will need them.
• Consider setting up a weekly trainer session with your teammates. Each of you can take turns planning the workouts, music and details. It is a good way to push the intensity, build camaraderie and maintain motivation.
• Hone your TT position and ability to generate power on your TT bike by doing your trainer sessions on your TT bike in the aero bars.
• Finally, start each session with a plan. Sprint intervals, threshold work, or just a recovery ride- always have a plan prior to clicking into your pedals. Remember you suffer now, so they will suffer later.
About the Authors: Craig Griffin is a 15 year bike racer and the owner of WiredBike.com, an online retailer of cycling electronics. He loves training with power and has extensive experience with many different power meters. Eric Fletcher is a Masters racer and a connoisseur of finer bicycles.
WiredBike.com sells a large variety of electronic training devices for cyclists, including bike computers, power meters, hrms and electronic trainers.