As the nights are drawing in and the weather is getting colder, you may not be too motivated to get your bike out. However, you will want to make sure your fitness is up to scratch when you finally get out on your bike. This is where a turbo trainer comes in very useful.
What is a Turbo Trainer and why use one?
A turbo trainer is a device that allows you to ride your bike, stationary indoors. This means that they are the go-to piece of training equipment for when time is against you, the weather is horrible or just to warm up before a race.
Sitting on your bike, pedaling in your spare room may seem a bit boring. However, they are fantastic for targeted fitness for all kinds of cycling. Winter is regarded as turbo trainer season, as ice, rain, wind and snow can make riding outdoors very unpleasant or impossible. Therefore, using a turbo trainer is a safer and more comfortable way to exercise.
Additionally, those people who are recovering from an injury that need gentle exercise will benefit from a turbo trainer. They can take it easy and stop whenever they need to. This means they are not stranded far away from home if they have over done it.
One of the main advantages of using a turbo trainer is that you can focus your training. This means you can work towards goals and easily monitor your progress. Additionally, you can keep it interesting by going online, which lets you train and compete with others. Turbo trainers are also great for those who are short of time. A 30-minute blast every other day will make a big difference to your fitness, without taking up too much of your time.
Types of Turbo Trainer
Magnetic Resistance Type
This is probably the most common type of turbo trainer. They work by using a magnet to control the amount of resistance on the flywheel of the turbo trainer. Most types allow you to can change the resistance manually, by turning a dial on the handlebars, just like a spinning bike.
This easy adjustment of effort is great for interval training. It is also great for an easy ride, as you can just turn the dial down. As a rule of thumb, the more you spend on a magnetic resistance type turbo trainer, you get a bigger magnet. Bigger magnets give you more resistance.
If you live in a flat or plan on using a turbo trainer at unsociable hours, a magnetic turbo trainer is a good option. They are reasonably quiet and should upset too many people. They also fold flat, so are easy to store under your bed or in a cupboard.
A good Magnetic resistance turbo trainer is the CycleOps Mag Basic.
The CycleOps Mag Basic is an ideal turbo trainer for beginners. It has five resistance settings, unfortunately, you can’t adjust them remotely. However, this turbo trainer is great value for money, and you can increase the resistance using your gears.
The direct drive type of turbo trainer is quite new. This one works by bolting your bike to the turbo trainer with your quick release axle. This means you don’t use your back wheel. This type will give you more resistance than a magnetic turbo trainer. It will also cope better with hard pedaling and sprint sections.
The main disadvantage of a direct drive turbo trainer, is that it is heavier and bulkier than the other types. This isn’t a problem if you don’t move it around too much, however, if you are planning take it to race days to warm up, it may not be the best option.
A great direct drive turbo trainer is the Jet Black WhisperDrive DDM.
This turbo trainer is has direct drive with magnetic resistance. As the name suggests, it is super quiet. It is also very easy to use and provides you with a realistic ride. You get seven levels of resistance that you select using a control on the handlebars. Due to the low amount of noise it makes, it is ideal if you live in a flat or have a sleeping child you don’t want to upset.
It feels very solid, thanks to its wide base and weight, even when you are sprinting hard. However, this does mean it is not as portable as some turbo trainers on the market. Therefore, it may not be the best option if you are using it to warm up before a race.
Fluid resistance turbo trainers offer the smoothest feel through the pedals. This method is also the quietest, therefore best for not annoying your neighbors. They don’t allow you to change the resistance from your handlebars though. The resistance is changed by the progressive effort you put in to the pedals. Therefore, the harder you pedal, the harder the resistance. The idea behind this, is so you can just concentrate on pedaling and not have to worry about tweaking a dial.
A great option for a fluid turbo trainer is the Jet Black Z2.
This turbo trainer is a great introduction to indoor training. It is smooth and quiet enough to not upset those around you, and very easy to set up. The fact that if folds flat, means it is easy to store away. It provides resistance up to 900W, which is enough for most riders and interval sessions. One of the biggest advantages of this is the price, making it a good buy for your first turbo trainer.
Don’t worry you don’t need silly goggles or a special helmet for these, as they are designed to work with your computer or tablet. You ride with the screen in front of you, and you can ride using real world footage of spectacular alpine climbs. Some even let you upload your local route.
Systems such as Zwift, allow you to ride and compete with other riders, it even has its own Strava segments. Obviously, you will need to plug this type in to make it work, but this means that they are more realistic, as they can simulate tougher ascents than the other types. They can even feedback different road surfaces, such as cobbled streets in to the back wheel.
Our favorite virtual reality turbo trainer is the Tacx Vortex.
This is a smart trainer (see below) with a difference, as you leave your wheel on and it is not quite advanced as a full-blown smart trainer. However, this can work to your advantage, especially when it comes to price. It is around half the price of its more advanced counterparts. It may not have all the same features, but it will still get you super fit for your next ride.
This type of turbo trainer can be connected wirelessly to your phone or tablet via Bluetooth. This allows them you to use a wide variety of unique training experiences. You can download free and paid apps to your phone, that tell the trainer when to make it difficult or easier for the training programme you are doing.
The ability of a smart turbo trainer to connect with these apps, makes this the most sophisticated and effective type of turbo trainer available.
Our pick of the smart trainers is the Wahoo KICKR.
This turbo trainer offers the most realistic indoor training experience available. It works via a large flywheel, and is virtually silent. When you link it to your phone or tablet, you can simulate pretty much any ride you want, using virtual routes. These routes are synchronized in real time to your workout. It even simulates the on-screen terrain.
Analysis of your ride comes from the RPM Cadence Sensor. It also monitors your speed, distance and power to allow you to keep tabs on your progress.
If you want to be really antisocial, you can buy an air turbo trainer. As you pedal, a fan creates the resistance, you change the effort you need by changing gear. However, it is probably no surprise to you that they are very noisy, therefore, you don’t see many of them around anymore.
Turbo Trainers for Mountain bikes
Most turbo trainers can be used with a mountain bike. But, if you are using anything other than a direct drive type turbo trainer, get a slick back tyre. This will mean that your regular tyre won’t wear out and you will have a much quieter ride, as mountain bike tyres are knobbly.
Tips for making a turbo trainer more interesting
Using a turbo trainer can get pretty boring, therefore, motivation may become an issue. But, there are a few things you can do to make a turbo trainer more interesting.
1. Put it in a good place
You will find it difficult to jump on a turbo trainer if is in a place that isn’t very nice. Therefore, you need to prepare the location you plan on putting it. You need to consider your location, as you don’t want to annoy your neighbors and you don’t want to drip sweat all over your carpet. You want your turbo trainer’s home to be inviting, so you get on it at least twice per week during winter.
Garages, basements, attics and spare rooms are ideal. If noise is an issue, you can buy noise damping mats, that will help. You can also buy a fan, that will help to reduce your sweatyness, you may want a hand towel to mop yourself too. High end turbo trainers come with a special cross bar protector, to protect the finish of your bike from the sweat.
Setting your bike and turbo trainer up perfectly will also make it easy to jump on and just get on with it.
2. Entertain Yourself
Music, films, TV, podcasts are all things that can block out the tedium of static riding. Films and box sets are good for long, low intensity workouts. When it comes to high intensity ones, create a motivational playlist of songs that will get you going. I like to use 80s rock with a bit of the Rocky soundtrack thrown in. You can even use the time to discover new music through Spotify.
Alternatively, you can follow training videos. A good one to check out is thesufferfest.com.
3. Set yourself Challenges
Get a heart rate monitor, as it will give you an idea of your personal limits. With this, you can link up to apps that will give you workouts to complete. Doing this will make it easy to monitor your improvements.
4. Strava it
You can now do virtual Strava segments on your turbo trainer. The Wahoo KICKRPower Trainer is a direct drive turbo trainer that allows you to simulate 2 million Strava segments from home.
5. Feel the Difference
After doing a bit of indoor work, you will notice the difference in your fitness. This feeling will give you some motivation for your next indoor session.
Which Turbo Trainer will you buy?
There are a few considerations, but once you have made your decision, it will change your fitness for the better. Getting in to the best shape of your life to improve your mountain biking is not exactly a bad thing.
Let me know your thoughts and questions in the comments section below. Also, don’t forget to sign up for the MTB-Threads newsletter!