Just before Interbike last year, I received a set of Carmichael Training Systems’ (CTS) latest series of training dvds Cycling For Cadence, Cycling For Power, & Cycling For Fitness. One common thread in the dvds, besides each one being a serious one hour work out, was their use of the new Blackburn TrakStand Ultra. So I figured, why not complete the CTS workout experience and use the same trainer to hopefully get through winter in the “best shape of my life” (sound familiar…?). The guys at Blackburn thought it was a good idea too, and were happy to send one my way.
The first thing I noticed when on the BlackburnDesign.com website, was the promise of “Ultra smooth, ultra quiet, ultra-realistic resistance”- that sounded pretty good, but without using electronics or fluids, how would they deliver on these lofty promises?
Reading through the few pages of their website, I was pleased to see simple explanations and diagrams that made logical sense to my often non-sensical brain. As an ex- ad agency marketing guy, I’m pretty familiar with language intensive marketing-spew that really doesn’t say much, so I found Blackburn’s use of plain language and fewer words consistent with the simple, straight forward design and function of the Trakstand Ultra. Nice.
In fact, their own description of how it works is suitable for reproduction here:
“CENTRIFORCE provides resistance based on speed and acceleration, which allows it to feel hard when you’re pushing it, but as soon as you back off, the resistance drops far more dramatically than with mag or fluid, allowing for a smooth feel that’s more like riding on a flat road.”
Blackburn licensed the resistance unit technology from 1upUSA, who’s trainers are used by a lot of you readers. But Blackburn has built their own base and added a lot of attention to detail to make the TrakStand Ultra their own.
Chris Carmichael’s training dvds use the new Blackburn TrakStand Ultra to deliver some hard-ass workouts.
The complete unit weighs just under 22 lbs and is 24 inches at its widest point on the base – that’s a solid and stable platform for just about anyone. Try as I might, my ‘uber-explosif’ sprint never managed to loosen the TrakStand’s grip on my bike, or cause me any concern about the dreaded ‘basement-blowout’ – an embarrassing situation best avoided.
Securing your bike is a snap thanks to big and beefy knobs like this. The big crank-ing knob should be an industry standard – and I’m sure anyone who’s tightened and loosened bikes without one knows the annoyance factor of using good old fashioned ‘wrist-power’ to tighten/loosen the bike mounts. Trust me here, it seems like a small point until you actually enjoy the luxury of a big solid crank arm like the Trakstand Ultra’s.
The axle anchors are solid and easy to set your bike into. The non-drive side features a nice wide gap for easy axle access.
Simple height adjustment allows for use with 700c, 650c and 26 inch wheels. Instead of adjusting the right and left side of the stand and eyeballing the balance, the Trakstand’s boldly marked adjusters allow even the meatiest fisted dufus to precisely balance the Trakstand. Any lopsided training will be strictly the fault of … the user.
Easy turning knobs make setting the correct height a breeze to set the height of the TrakStand for different sized wheels. They turned with two-finger ease, but never slipped out of alignment once set.
The heart and soul of the TrakStand Ultra is its flywheel unit – featuring their “CentriForce technology”. The diameter of the flywheel at the wheel contact patch is about 2.5 inches – more than double a lot of other trainers. This allows for a greater contact area between tire and flywheel, and also reduces the heat buildup on your tire so they last longer.
The TrakStand’s patented “Centriforce Technology” is what makes this one different. A major complaint with many trainers has been the lack of a ‘coasting sensation’ like we feel on the open road. Blackburn presents a trainer that really does a good job of simulating open flat-road riding, in both resistance and coasting. Like any good editor, I wondered how they did it, so I wasted no time taking the thing apart – and all I needed was a 6 mm allen key.
The whole flywheel unit is bolted together with 2 x 6mm allen bolts, and then the individual plates of the unit simply come apart like stacking cups (sorta). The flywheel unit itself weighs 8.6 pounds (at least that’s what my scale said), but it’s 3 small ball bearings that really make you work.
The secret behind the Ultra’s resistance – a few small ball bearings. Okay it’s not quite that simple, but basically: the faster the flywheel drum unit rotates, the further the ball bearings move outwards in those grooved ramps… (keep reading)
… As the flywheel unit spins, centrifugal force draws the ball bearings outward in those ramped slots. The faster your wheel turns, the further they move, thereby putting more force against the resistance plate, and increasing the wattage you need to maintain wheel speed… just like riding on the road.
As they move to the outside of the ramps, they apply pressure to the flywheel, forcing it against a non-rotating resistance plate. Friction between the two provides the resistance you work against. The faster the rear wheel turns, the more pressure is applied to the resistance plate (= greater friction) resulting in greater resistance against your efforts.
Resistance is created by friction against a special compound ‘gasket’ that’s bonded to the resistance plate. It’s about 2-3 mm thick, and is replaceable. No word yet on how long they last, but as the units began shipping in late 2006, Blackburn has yet to receive word of any wearing out. And never once during my two months of testing did I smell anything burning… okay except my legs.
The ‘coasting’ feel of the unit is a plus – doing a nice job of simulating real world coasting. Again the operation is simple. There’s a small, light-gauge spring between the flywheel and resistance plate. When you stop, or back-off on your pedaling, the reduced pressure on the flywheel allows the spring to push the flywheel back off the resistance plate. This reduced pressure allows your wheel to spin more freely and with much less effort – just like on the road.
• More big knobs keep adjustments simple. This fat-boy on the rear of the stand adjusts the pressure of the flywheel unit against the bike’s rear wheel. Blackburn recommends cranking it to a point where wheel slippage disappears – and this will vary depending on tire pressure and personal pedaling style. However, too much pressure between the tire and roller will wear out your tire faster than you may like.
Stow and Go: The whole unit folds down flat by snapping a couple of small release buttons. You should have no trouble packing this along on race day or down to your local shop for a winter Wednesday night training session.
Riding the Trakstand Ultra was actually a lot of fun. It rolls up to speed with minimal inertia, and once rolling, it feels great – but you know you’re working.
I like to spin along around 105-107 rpm, often ramping up to 110-112, and found the unit held me and my bike nice and steady both in the saddle and out. The base flexed slightly when I was out of the saddle, but this is not such a bad thing, as I’d rather have some of those forces transfer through to the trainer versus just twisting my bike frame.
Amazingly, the 3 ball bearings that come loaded in the unit provide way more resistance than I could overcome, and Blackburn test riders have reported that wattages up to 1000 (and beyond) have been recorded with this stock setting. I set it up with a fresh new PowerTap rear hub to gauge wattage, and found that my workouts to the CTS dvds with intervals in the 200-300 watts range left plenty of gears untouched. Good to know should I ever start cranking out ProTour-level wattage… (like that’s gonna happen.)
For big time hammerheads, the unit comes with extra ball bearings that can be used to increase the levels of resistance to some pretty high numbers – too high for me. I added these to the unit to test just how much resistance they added. Whoa: Even in my 34×23, spinning about 90rpm, I was pushing about 175 watts, which quickly climbed to 225 when I spun up to 105rpm. A couple gear changes up to 34×19 and I was doing 300 watts, and I pretty much ran outta gas at 360 watts in my 34×17. I have no idea what the top end would be with those extra bearings in place, but I can assure you there’s no danger of me ever getting remotely near it.
I found the resistance ramps up at a nice even rate, and although my interpretation is purely subjective, I’d say it comes on slightly stronger than actual pedaling on a flat road. This is a tough one to judge when you’re not moving forward and there’s no real wind in your face, but then a steeper than actual resistance curve is better for a trainer anyway, you’re on it to train.
How quiet is “ultra-quiet”? This one’s also gonna be subject to subjectivity. I found my test unit on par with my CompuTrainer for sound levels – which is about as quiet as they come. I was able to hear the race dvd and the CTS training dvd (both playing at the same time) without cranking them to 10. Still, I’m pretty sure my tenants, whose suite shares a wall with my ‘basement training center’ wondered what the whirring-panting ruckus was all about.
The warranty also warrants mention – 5 years, no questions. You have a problem and they’ll send you a new one – says so right on the website – pretty cool.
Actual spy photo of the Astana team pumpin’ up da watts on Blackburn’s TrakStand Ultra.
Back To Basics
What stood out as promising for me when I opened the box, stayed true and delivered consistently through a couple solid months of use: it’s easy to set-up and use, and the feel really is realistic to the road. The CentriForce Technology does a great job of simulating real flat road feel, and the sensations of coasting are not just marketing words, you really can back off and coast for a few seconds, then get back on the gas and up to speed without overcoming a lot of flywheel inertia.
It’s as portable as a solid trainer should be – you can easily fold it for transport to your race or Wednesday night spin session. Finally, I’d say the icing on this cake is the price – at US$299.00 – this is a very affordable training device for most of us.
• Price: US $299.00
• See the website: BlackburnDesign.com
• Trainright.com website
Where To Get ‘Em
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