Indoor training, part 1: Overview

There will be times when riding outside just isn’t feasible. The fair-weather cyclist, for example, will be relatively quick to cancel a planned bike ride when drops of rainfall show up. Alternatively, you may have restrictions placed on your riding time and locations. Such situations don’t necessarily mean skipping out on riding time wholesale.

One way of getting around this is by riding indoors.

A typical stationary bike from Schwinn. The position in this photo is very upright. Many stationary bikes are nowhere near as adjustable in position as a road cyclist will require.

There are many ways of doing so. The most obvious method would be to invest in a stationary bike. If you already have your own bicycle(s), however, a stationary bike may not be the best solution because of just how different it is from your own steed(s). Many of them, especially the cheaper units, don’t really simulate the kind of muscular load and training you’d get from riding your bike outside. Let’s not forget that you’ll have to dial in your bike fit to the stationary bike, too – and in my observation, very few of them out there allow you to replicate your exact bike fit and riding position. Finally, it may not be the best option if you live in a small area.

Many cyclists would rather just find a way to use their existing bikes to cycle indoors. If this is your cup of tea, then you can go with either a roller trainer or a turbo trainer.

ROLLER TRAINERS EXPLAINED

Tacx Antares roller trainer. Note the drive belt between the front and rear rollers.

Essentially these are made up of three cylinders held in a rectangular frame. Two of them sit close together to support your bike’s rear wheel fore and aft, while the third supports your bike’s front wheel and is connected to a rear roller via a drive belt. This way, pedaling the bike mimics the behavior of riding on the street very easily.

As with riding on the street, you have to keep your balance on the rollers. This can be tricky to learn. Beginners are often told to start beside a stationary object to hold on to, or to set up the rollers in a narrow hallway one can lean against.

The main limiting factor of rollers is the lack of resistance adjustment on the fly. How much resistance a cheaper roller trainer offers is dictated by the size of the cylindrical rollers themselves, and they’re usually not interchangeable. In recent times, roller trainers with resistance units have gone on sale, but they’re rather pricey.

Rollers are ideal for developing cadence and souplesse, or pedal stroke smoothness. This determines how much of the total pedal stroke you can use to put out power. Raising your power output itself, however, requires a different tool.

TURBO TRAINERS EXPLAINED

A turbo trainer from Tacx. A riser block holds up the stationary front wheel.

These involve a stabilizing frame that clamps to the bike’s frame and rear wheel (hence removing the need to balance), and some sort of drive roller that makes contact with the rear tire or wheel. The front wheel typically doesn’t do anything except get suspended off the floor so that the whole bike is level.

The earliest turbo trainers used wind resistance, provided by a fan the rider powered while pedaling; the higher your cadence, the harder the resistance. Japanese firm Minoura pioneered the use of magnets for resistance in 1988 for improved scalability and reduced noise. Other firms such as CycleOps adopted fluid as resistance, which is supposed to better replicate actual road riding and reduce noise. Finally there are “direct drive” turbo trainers that do away with the bike’s rear wheel altogether – they provide the rear axle and cassette you attach the bike onto.

A LeMond Revolution direct-drive turbo trainer. Note how the bike’s rear wheel is eliminated altogether. The turbo trainer essentially becomes the rear wheel.

With the need to balance negated, turbo trainers are better for developing ultimate leg muscle power via greater resistance. Many of them provide a variable resistance setting in addition to the gears on your bike. You can practice very high cadence on them too without worrying about your pedaling smoothness. Turbo trainers also offer a convenient place for newbies to clipless pedal systems to clip into and release from their bikes.

Catch my next post to see what I ended up with.

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