The end of October is the time of year when serious cyclists hibernate to their indoor retreats, or ‘pain caves’ as some like to call them. The reason why they are so popular is that they allow sessions to be completed whatever the weather, plus the controlled environment is ideal for harder intervals without the added distraction of ice, traffic and pedestrians – sometimes all three at once!
You don’t have to be a competitive cyclist to feel the benefit of a turbo trainer as it can simply help recreational cyclists maintain fitness over winter, rather than starting from scratch each spring. We run through the complete guide to turbo training to get you pedalling, from choosing the right unit to set up and accessories.
Which one to choose?
There are two main types of turbo to choose from and they are usually classified by the type of resistance they offer – magnetic or fluid.
Magnetic resistance turbo trainers are usually cheaper but can be louder and heavier – fluid resistance also improves the ride feel and smooths out the resistance, reduces the rear wheel slippage and makes the pedalling feel more authentic.
Another recent trend is the ‘smart’ trainer – this just means that it has the ability to hook up to your laptop/PC and provide interaction when hooked up to software, such as Zwift or Trainer road. They can also provide automatic resistance, allowing you to increase speed or power without having to change gear like you would on a regular turbo, making the experience more fun and interactive.
As well as the turbo, there’s a host of accessories which are designed to make it a much more pleasant experience. You don’t need all of these below, but some are very useful to have.
Trainer Mat: These are designed to soak up the vibrations from the turbo, reducing the noise and wear on your floor. They can also offer sweat protection, as turbo mats are usually easy to wipe down - especially handy if you have carpet! They are essential if you live in a flat or need to dampen the sound as much as possible.
Riser Block: When your bike is mounted on the turbo, it raises the rear wheel up off the floor. This small, usually plastic unit sits under the front wheel which levels out the bike. This means that your riding position is level - much similar to that on the road. It also prevents the front wheel moving about when doing harder intervals.
Sweat cover: a sweat cover protects the bits that are prone to excessive drips from the hard work! Sweat is corrosive to parts of the bike so a sweat cover is vital to keep your steed safe in the long term.
Turbo Wheel: If you plan on logging plenty of hours on the turbo, getting a dedicated turbo wheel and tyre can save plenty of money in the long run. A cheap rear wheel and turbo specific tyre, which has a harder, longer lasting compound rubber, can be swapped in for the regular rear wheel for each turbo session. This is ideal if you have expensive tyres and want to save them for riding on the road. Having a dedicated turbo wheel means it is quicker to change over than swapping tyres each time, and it doesn’t matter as much if it gets damaged, unlike those expensive new carbon wheels!
A fan: We certainly think this is essential! Riding on a stationary turbo means you’ll get hot, so if the environment isn’t right, you’ll be a sweaty uncomfortable mess 5 minutes in. A big floor fan pointing up is a great way to alleviate the heat and keep you riding longer.
Firstly, you’ll need to prepare your turbo training space. It needs to be a decent size to accommodate your bike, plus a little extra to manoeuvre and for a fan if you have one. We recommend a nice, flat surface that’s stable. If you have a trainer mat, lay this out and place your turbo at one end. Once you’ve checked its level, you can now fix the bike in using the quick release lever (or mount to the cassette if its direct drive).
Once the bike itself is fixed in place, it’s now time to set the resistance. Most turbo trainers have a screw which sets the resistance against the rear wheel – screw this in until the unit is firmly pressed against the tyre. Turn the pedals by hand to check if the resistance is too tight or too loose and adjust accordingly.
Once everything feels right, it’s time to turn your fan on, swing your leg over and start pedalling. This is when the hard work starts!