A Beginners Guide to Road Cycling: Turbo Trainers

A Beginners Guide to Road Cycling takes a look at the Turbo Trainer *aka Cycling Marmite* and introduces the uninitiated to the world of indoor training.

My regular reader will be aware that I began road cycling back in spring 2012, oh halcyon days! To begin with the weather was almost always perfect in my little part of Yorkshire and it wasn’t until the weather turned, around autumn / winter of the same year, that I began to look at ways to continue to cycle and to keep dry at the same time.

Early on in my research I looked into purchasing a Turbo Trainer, they sounded the business, but to my surprise the cycling community seemed to shun this piece of equipment. Then without actually trying what one of these devices, my mind was made up to avoid such horrors when I read this description of a Cyclops Wind Turbo on eBay…

I’m selling this bastard thing because I HATE it.

I’m sure there are people out there who like or even have a perverse love affair with their turbo trainer. It might even attract some sort of love/hate duality. I know for a fact that some people, many of them ostensibly sane with some hideously rapid times to their name, view the turbo as the essential piece of training equipment. Personally, i’d rather rip my face off and dive into a bath of saline solution than use this horrible piece of apparatus. It’s utterly soul-destroying and mind-numbing, which is a pretty vicious combination.

The straw that broke the camel’s back:

I thought i might do a ‘quick’ turbo session this evening. The reason being that the weather is pretty terrible and i hadn’t got the time to head down to the lake for the first race of the season. By the time i’d sorted out the rear turbo wheel by putting a tyre on and then pinching an inner tube, then changing the tyre and putting a new tube in, switching the cassette and setting up the bike and then setting up the computer with ‘The Flying Scotsman’ on the iplayer with headphones and subtitles (because of fearsome noise) to alleviate the dreadful and crushing ennui of it all and then got changed and put some water within reach and found my sweaty turbo towel that hasn’t been washed since the last time i dared to ride the bastard (turbo, not turbo towel) and wrestled with the quick release mechanism and then adjusted the height with a series of books under the front wheel by getting on and off about four times then adjusting the saddle height then going back and adjusting the resistance about 6 times with the manual turny thing, i’d wasted about 55 minutes. This was about as long as i intended to spend on the bastard piece of shit.

I managed about 11 minutes at about 70% of max before two things happened. The iplayer began to freeze and unfreeze, robbing me of the only thing that helped me think that i wasn’t actually on the turbo, and then without warning the back wheel leapt out of the dropout clasps and i had to do an emergency unclip and braking manouevre ON THE GODDAMNED TURBO just to stay alive. i suddenly lurched towards the computer where Graeme Obree was riding off the front of some sort of Tour of the Scottish Prettylands in the early part of the film and very nearly ended up joining the crazed circular-breathing scotsman on the silver screen.

If you’re made of far stronger stuff than I am, and I’m thinking Ivan Drago in Rocky 4 when he kills Apollo Creed to death – that sort of stronger stuff – and think you can handle the savage bestiality of the CYCLOPS WIND TURBO then please, please, please buy this REPULSIVE ITEM.

…so, instead, in the winter of 2012 / 13 I went to spinning classes at the local leisure centre, something I quite enjoyed and certainly helped keep my cycling legs in shape for spring 2013 when the weather was more to my suiting.

Fast forward to autumn 2013 and I once again found myself spending less time out on my push hog and more time sat on my gluteus maximus, all the while those valuable training hours on the road ebbing away. So, like the year before, I decided to take up spinning at the LLC, only this winter it’s become extremely popular and after numerous failed attempts to get in a class, I finally threw in the towel and started to look at other winter training alternatives…

Choices…Choices…

The way I see it I had three choices this winter:

1. Buy a winter bike.

2. Join the Gym.

3. Buy an indoor trainer.

Initially I looked at buying a winter bike, a cross bike or hybrid, something I could feel comfortable riding in all conditions. However not only would I need to buy a new bike, I’d have to get suitable clothing and good lights – this all proved too expensive.

Secondly I thought about joining the gym, but with the LLC only allowing 12 months membership, I ruled this out.

The third option was to buy an indoor trainer, I don’t consider myself skilled enough to ride on rollers, so I set my sights on a turbo trainer…

Introducing the Turbo Trainer

For something so polarising, the Turbo Trainer, or indoor trainer, is a very simple device. Basically the TT turns your existing bike into an exercise bike by suspending the rear of the bike from the ground on a metal frame and resting the rear wheel on a resistance unit, offering friction when pedalling.

Types of Turbo Trainer

Many company’s produce turbo trainers, ranging from lower end units to high quality trainers…

Elite
Cycleops
Tacx
Minoura
Jet Black

Typically Turbo Trainer resistance is gained by using one of the following methods:

1. Air Trainers – These tend to be the lower price range and much like exercise bikes, use fans to generate wind resistance and use the bikes gears to alter the effort, so the faster you pedal the more resistance is formed. Fan Turbos can be noisy and offer little in the way of adjustment, but they can be picked up for less than £100, so would suit a cyclist on a budget.

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2. Magnetic Trainers – These come in two types, magnetic and electromagnetic, but use the same principal of causing resistance by creating an adjustable magnetic field. These trainers are more likely to be found in the mid price range and have the advantage of being quieter than fan turbos and also adjustable via handlebar mounted levers. The basic mag trainers can be found for under £75, but more complex models are £100+.

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3. Fluid Trainers – The higher price point turbos will be typically fluid based, using a rotor submerged in oil to generate the resistance. These units are favoured by more experienced riders as they offer more refined adjustment and are much quieter than magnetic and fan trainers. These trainers are typically £150+.

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4. Direct Drive Trainer – A relatively new innovation for indoor training, these trainers differ from the methods above and instead require the rear wheel to be removed, using a cassette on the trainer to drive the system. The advantage is a more realistic experience, however this comes at a price, expect to pay £400+

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Why Go Turbo?

Whichever unit you decide to purchase, all will offer the same benefits for the beginner or Pro…

1. The ability to train in a safe and dry environment when the weather is poor or if you don’t like riding in the dark.

2. Improve and/or maintain fitness during the winter months.

3. Improve Technique and Form.

4. Ideal for Interval Training.

5. Ideal for pre race warm up.

The Optional Extras

As with most things cycling, the turbo training experience can be improved with the help of some optional extras…

Front Wheel Riser Block – As the rear of the bike is raised by the turbo trainer, a front wheel riser block will help level the bike and more advanced blocks can be used to simulate changes in level.

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Sweat Protector – Turbo Training is a sweaty business and the corrosive effects of perspiration should be kept away from your pride and joy, so these bike thongs will catch any drip from your brow.

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Training Mat – Mats are essential if using your trainer in the home, not only will it catch any oil, sweat or spills, but also helps dampen sound from the rollers.

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Training Tyres – Turbo Trainers wear the rear tyres, so harder compound trainer specific tyres can be bought, alternatively use an old tyre and keep your best for the road.

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Electric Fan – Using a turbo is a static exercise and your body core temperature will rise, so buying an electric fan to help to cool your body is a very good idea, it won’t stop the sweating, but it will help with overheating.

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Training Aids

Apps – From what I’ve seen there are several Apps that can improve the turbo training experience. The majority of these Apps, like myETraining by Elite offer a multitude of statistics based on Cadence, Heart Rate, Power, Speed and Time to help a serious rider improve in the off season.

Videos – Several companies, such as 3LC.tv and The Sufferfest, offer training DVD’s and/or digital downloads, which not only give very well designed training plans, but offer encouragement to make the turbo experience more fun.

The Turbo Experience

As ever, working on a budget, I opted to buy the Elite Magnetic Force Elastogel Trainer Pack from Halfords, this offered me a relatively inexpensive introduction to Turbo Training and included everything I needed – The Trainer, Riser Block, Floor Mat and Sweat Guard.

Having now used my trainer for a month I have to admit I quite enjoy the experience, but allow me to qualify my comments…

1. I only use the trainer for short periods of time, from 20 mins to 1 hour – This has stopped me getting bored and leaves me wanting more after I finish.

2. I’ve set the turbo up in a nice place, a dry comfortable spare room, facing a window and with large opening windows and close to a power socket for a small fan – I would almost guarantee my turbo experience would be the opposite if I had the bike set up in the cold, dark and spider infested garage!

3. I’ve never trained without a training video, initially I used a short 20 minute interval training session by the Global Cycling Network, now I’ve started using the excellent 3LC.tv training DVD’s – I cannot imagine how I would use the trainer without the instruction these videos give, highly recommended to not only help to keep you interested, but also provide structured training.

4. All the time I think that using a turbo might be boring compared to actually getting out on my push hog, I also remind myself that using an indoor trainer will improve my fitness and I’ll have more fun when the nights get lighter and the weather improves.

5. After only one month I’m already feeling the benefits of using my trainer 2 to 3 times per week.

6. It’s introduced me to the joys of interval training, something I would never have done on the road.

7. You can use the trainer to set up your bike properly, including seat height, reach, cleats etc…

Now before you all rush out and buy a turbo trainer, there are some well documented negatives and it’s only fair I note these in the interests of a balanced argument…

1. It is very boring in it’s basic form and at the very least you need to entertain yourself to improve the experience.

2. It’s nothing at all like riding a bike, it is more like a cross between a spinning bike and an exercise bike – The only advantage I see is that you are sat on your own bike in your own set up.

3. It is very noisy, this might be because I have a lower value model, but from the reviews I read, I understand that my particular turbo is a relatively quiet model – It isn’t, especially when training with Mark Cavendish on the 3LC Sprint Training Session!

So there we have it, hopefully this guide will have been of some use to anybody looking to buy their first turbo trainer, if so let me know how you get on and also add any of your own tips in the comments box below.

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3 Responses to A Beginners Guide to Road Cycling: Turbo Trainers

  1. Pingback: The Push Hog Reviews: 3LC.tv Train with the Manx – Road Race & Sprinting Turbo Sessions | sensisuperstar

  2. Emma says:

    Thanks for this. It’s certainly helped me get prepared for winter Trainingg a beginner to this game.

    I was wondering, did you change your tyres to turbo ones or yes your road tyres? I was advised to pump the tyres to full pressure to prevent wear and tear.

    Thank you

    • Thank you for the feedback and for taking time to read the blog post.

      I use my old warn out tyres for the turbo, so I’ve never seen the need to buy a specific trainer tyre. From what I understand, turbo trainer tyres are a harder compound that don’t wear as much as a normal road tyre. In my opinion, old tyres are an ideal alternative, but if I used the turbo more frequently I’d probably buy a turbo specific tyre.

      If you use the turbo a lot, then it’s a good idea to preserve the tyres, so pumping to higher pressures might help prevent wear and should also improve traction. I run my bike tyres at high pressure in any case, say between 100 and 110 psi, so I haven’t noticed any excessive wear.

      I hope this helps.

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