Buying a turbo trainer
What to look for when buying your first turbo trainer
Essential for some, an instrument of torture for others, a turbo trainer can be preferable to heading outdoors when it's thundering down with rain or the roads are covered in ice.
Granted, there's nothing quite like getting out there on the open road, but sometimes it can be too treacherous and a turbo trainer allows you to focus on your training through the winter months so you don't miss a ride. And if you're racing or planning to race, a turbo is a perfect way to do really high effort interval sets.
Many people swear by turbo trainers. If you're serious about your training and do a lot of competitive cycling, or are planning to, a turbo trainer is an excellent way of doing very specific and targeted training sessions. With heart rate monitors and power measuring devices to helpyou, it's possible to train very effectively on a turbo .
Turbo trainers aren't just for winter. Many use them for warming up before races and they can be used throughout the year to brush up on your top-end with sprint and high intensity training, without traffic or junctions getting in the way.
A turbo trainer is a relatively simple design. The rear wheel is suspended in an A-frame and the tyre butts up against a roller in a resistance unit. This is the heart of the turbo trainer and is really where your money is going – the more expensive trainers have more advanced units. If you're planning to use a turbo a lot of the coming winter, it can be worth paying a little more but, that said, we've found simple trainers fine for occasional use.
Resistance units usually come in three main varieties; air, fluid and magnetic. Air resistance turbos are usually more affordable due to their simplicity while fluid types offer a smoother and more realistic feel. Here's a brief explanation of each...
Air resistance: A fan generates wind resistance. These aren't the quietest option, however, and don't offer the best ride experience, but they are cheap. They also have limited adjustablilty, leaving just the gears on your bike the only available adjustment.
Magnetic resistance: These are very popular at low to mid price points. A metal plate spins inside a magnetic field so they're simple to produce. You can buy magnetic trainers with adjustable resistance so you can tailor your workout. Spend a bit more and electro-magnetic units offer more control.
Fluid resistance: Usually more expensive because of the complex internals, these offer a quieter and much smoother ride. Inside an impeller revolves in oil and they can offer plenty of adjustment via handlebar mounted levers.
Adjusting the resistance
The cheapest trainers won't offer any resistance adjustment, leaving you to use the gears on your bike to make any adjustments. Often this can be more than enough, but if you want a turbo with adjustable resistance you're going to have to pay a bit more.
Basic turbos have a lever on the resistance unit but that makes it hard to adjust during a session, so look for one with a handlebar mounted remote lever to make on-the-fly changes.
More expensive turbos will have complex electronic control units that mount to the handlebar and can deliver all sorts of information. Many of the expensive trainers will provide you with power measurement. Some will even plug into your computer as well.
We're starting to see a lot of trainers that will hook up to your computer or television and display 3D or real world video so you can ride your favourite Alpine mountain or Belgian pavé. They will automatically adjust the resistance based on the terrain and can make time spent on a turbo trainer a lot more fun.
A turbo trainer needs to have a sturdy frame that won't flex or bend under your riding. A larger footprint and heavier frame will ensure it's more stable, which you do want if you're doing max interval efforts in your kitchen. Space can be a premium in many households and many turbos will fold flat, but how much space they take up when folded down differs greatly from brand to brand.
A turbo fixes to the quick release of the rear wheel, and often a quick release will be supplied with the turbo that is specifically compatible with the model. A cam locking system will adjust two cones that clamp around the skewer. The better models get ergonomic levers that make setting up a breeze. Most trainers will also accommodate various sizes of wheels, and some feature a latch to bring the roller up against the wheel, saving you from having to set the roller each time you begin a session.
Perhaps the least attractive aspect of a turbo trainer is the noise they make. It can sound like a plane taking off and that can pose problems if you live in close proximity to your neighbours. Live in a first or second floor flat? Don't expect your neighbours to be happy with the racket as you hit the first of your interval sets. Special turbo trainer tyres use a harder rubber compound that can decrease the noise (and wear out more slowly), and you can get mats to go under the turbo to stifle the noise.
Road.cc reviewed trainers
There are far too many turbos to recommend here, so here are a few picks from recent Road.cc reviews. You can see the full archive here.
The Clarke CCTI Bike Trainer is a well priced magnetic trainer at £77.99.
Kurt's Kinetic Road Machine shows what you get when you spend a bit more, because at £299.99 it's an ultra-sturdy trainer with a smooth and consistent fluid resistance unit.
The innovative Lemond Revolution trainer is unlike every other indoor trainer in that you first remove the rear wheel before fitting the bike, and use a cassette that's fitted to the trainer itself. The first and most obvious benefit is you're not going to wear out your tyre. And at over 14kg it's a very stable trainer and doesn't budge even during the hardest sprints. It's a big investment at £399.99 though.
And if budget is no obstacle, then perhaps the best indoor trainer you can buy is the Wattbike which, as the name implies, measures your power. Designed with input from Team GB, it's the ultimate indoor trainer although it's pricey at £1,650.00.
The alternative: Rollers
If you watched any of the track cycling over the summer, you'll have seen the athletes using rollers to warm up and cool down on. Rollers are simple metal frames with three rollers, or drums. Two of the drums are attached with a band so that when you're cycling, both wheels rotate.
It takes a lot of skill to ride rollers comfortably though and you need a good deal of patience as there's nothing clamping the bike in place. There's no resistance adjustment but they feel a lot closer to riding a bike on the road than most turbos. They can be a lot more fun too. A major benefit of using rollers is they hone your balance and bike handling skills, and many say they improve the smoothness of your pedalling style. They're much easier to set up than a turbo.