For some, the thought of a turbo trainer fills them with dread, but it’s a great way to sneak in some quick interval training or settle down for a calorie burning plod when it is sheeting it down outside. Let’s be honest, it’s not exactly the same thrill as riding a bike, but anything that removes the mental and physical obstacles of winter and gets your bum on a saddle has got to be a good thing. Right?
How Do They Work?
Most turbo trainers work in the same way. The rear end of your bike is clamped into a frame which stops the bike falling over. The rear wheel makes contact with a roller which is connected to a resistance unit. When you get on the bike and pedal, the back wheel turns the roller and resistance is generated, making it harder to pedal.
More recently, ‘Direct drive’ turbo trainers have become available on the market. These remove the rear wheel from the equation, giving a much more realistic feeling when pedalling. There's also a new generation of smart (computer-controlled) turbo trainers, which offer the convenience of wirelessly-controlled training sessions, paired with virtual reality experiences - so, you can race up the Col du Tourmalet from the comfort of your front room on a dark winter’s evening.
Different Types of Turbo Trainers
Resistance units have traditionally come in three varieties:
However, new generation such as direct drive trainers and smart electro magnet trainersare now widely available too. All of these turbos have different characteristics, which will affect the feel of the ride. Most turbo trainers on the market will offer a degree of resistance, which can be in the form of cable operated, handlebar mounted resistance selectors, or by a switch mounted directly onto the resistance unit. However, even on a cheaper turbo you can adjust the resistance by using the gears on your own bike.
Wind turbos work on the same principle as a fluid unit (see below). The faster you pedal, the harder it becomes for the propeller to turn and in turn the harder it becomes to pedal. Wind resistance trainers are becoming less common owing to the "fantastic" level of noise they generate.
Ask any time trialler, aerodynamic engineer or physicist and they will tell you that the faster you want to move through a medium, the harder it becomes to do so. At high speeds air stops being the thing that passes easily into your lungs and becomes a treacle like substance. Fluid turbo trainers have a propeller housed in a sealed unit filled with oil (impeller). The faster you pedal, the harder it becomes for the impeller to turn and, in turn, the harder it becomes to pedal. Fluid trainers are the quietest and smoothest turbos available and tend to be more expensive.
The resistance of a magnetic turbo trainer is generated by a flywheel, using opposing magnetic fields which repel one another when it turns. These are the most cost effective turbo trainers available, but are generally a little bit noisier than a fluid trainer.
These are a more recent turbo trainer incarnation, and remove the rear wheel from the equation. The bike mounts via its rear dropouts and the chain mounts onto a cassette fitted to the trainer. This means that resistance is applied directly to a virtual hub, giving a much more realistic feeling when pedalling.
A number of manufacturers have stepped into the market for computer controlled or ‘Virtual Reality’ (VR) trainers. These sophisticated units can be hooked up, or paired (via ANT+ or Bluetooth) with your PC, a TV, or even smart devices like iPads and iPhones. Your device then controls the resistance via an electro magnet, meaning that the training can be more complex and realistic. For example, it’s possible to follow a virtual route on the screen, which will apply greater resistance to the rear wheel as it goes up hill, simulating the climb. That’s right, you can race up the Col du Tourmalet from the comfort of your front room on a dark winter’s evening. All this, coupled with the fact that diagnostics like speed, cadence, and heart rate can all be monitored, make these trainers a very useful tool for developing performance.
As well as a turbo trainer, there are a couple of other accessories that you might want to consider, but they're not essential
As the rear wheel is lifted off the ground you will feel as if you a headed downhill. ‘Not much problem there’ you may be thinking but over time your body is diverting more energy to postural muscles rather than phasic ‘go’ muscles. A riser block is designed to sit securely under your front wheel and provide a balanced riding position.
Running a tyre constantly on a turbo’s roller can make it very hot, sometimes to the point of going pop. Even if this doesn’t happen it’s a very fast way to wear a tyre out. Trainer specific tyres are available with a much harder compound to reduce heat build-up and wear from friction.
You might not want your titanium skewers to be damaged by a turbo trainer clamp so it could be worth investing in a spare cheap one for turbo use.
A training mat is a rubber mat designed sit under your turbo and absorb vibrations. This reduces the noise transmitted to the floor. It may not bother you as you listen to Leo Sayer on your iPod, but your family downstairs will thank you for it.
Anybody who has attended the unique blend of nightclubbing and cycling that is a spinning class, will tell you that you sweat. A lot. Sweat doesn’t just make your armpits stink, it corrodes too. So, it is worthwile investing in a sweat guard, as all the sweat dripping from your chin isn't good for your frame. And whilst we’re on the subject…
Cycling indoors can get hot, very quickly! So, fan is a wise addition to your turbo room, you could even ask someone to periodically throw flies into it for that authentic road feel too.
In addition to keeping cool, keeping hydrated is vital when training indoors. All that fluid that is pouring out of your face will need replacing, so make sure you have got the bottles and electrolytes to look after yourself. Working hard doesn’t mean hurting yourself.
The turbo still not for you? Then maybe the roller trainer is a suitable alternative. Whilst many cyclists will tell you that you can either ride rollers or you can’t, that’s a load of rubbish… but it will take practice (quite a lot of it, possibly!)
Rollers are an arrangement of three cylinders on a frame. Two placed at the rear to support your rear wheel and one at the front. When I say ‘support’ I mean ‘hold off the ground’ because rollers will offer you no support at all. Once you start pedalling you are required to balance and keep the bike upright. This is fantastic for bike control and developing ‘core’ balance muscles, but some find it detracts from developing pedal power.
For a good laugh, check out the 'Stupid Roller Tricks' video below:
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