What Is It Wednesday – Indoor Trainers

I thought this WIIW topic was fitting for the start to a new year/winter time since I have been logging almost 100% of my miles on it lately. We’ll cover what the different types of indoor trainers, their upsides and their downsides (sorry it’s not all unicorns and lollipops), and I’ll talk a little bit about my current routine on the trainer.

But first let’s clear up the myth that cycling indoors is boring. I’m here to tell you that it isn’t, but sometimes it is. What you say?! Hey, I’m just being honest. The fact is it doesn’t HAVE to be boring, but it still can be, but there are ways to get around that. Keep reading and I’ll tell you what I’ve been doing lately to stay engaged while riding nowhere.

Alright, now for the main attraction! There are 4 basic categories of indoor trainers out there for you to choose from. You’ve got wind, fluid, and magnetic resistance types and then you have their crazy cousin rollers. Their price points range widely, and I will say in my experience you get what you pay for within each type so if you plan on using it a while, invest (unless you can get a sweat deal on Craigslist). There are others that are drivetrain based, but we’ll be discussing the wheel-on options here since that is the most common for at-home cyclists.


Wind

Here’s what you do, you get a big fan and stick it in front of you while you ride around the

windstat
Credit: PCStatic

room in a tight circle. Oh, that’s not how that works – my bad! Wind based trainers have been around a while and currently are the leading cheapest models out there, so that’s happy news for the wallet. Some of you may have even seen old-school stationary bikes with a fan attached at either the front or back “wheels”, my mom actually had one of these growing up and it was a great way to cool down someone else in the room. It looked something like this one here, and often had those movable arms like an elliptical.

 

Wind resistance trainers drew inspiration from these stationary bikes but have definitely innovated on the style and function. They work by connecting your bike to a fan, the faster you spin those cranks, the more resistance you experience. Gone is the wheel sized fan, these trainers

windtrainer-96135
Credit:CycleOps

utilize a much more compact version  One of the most popular and highly rated is the one offered by CycleOps coming in around $169 currently. Your rear wheel is held to the unit by the top bracers clamping onto your rear skewer (you may need to get a compatible skewer depending on your bike). The rear wheel rests on the barrel in the back which adjusts to accommodate several wheel sizes. The fan spins as you pedal and the rest is pretty much history.

Wind trainers are a great option for anyone on a budget since most can be picked up for what this CycleOps model runs or less. If you’re not sure how you’re going to feel with an indoor trainer, then wind trainers might be a good introductory option for you. Also, if this is just looking for a rainy day trainer, and you do’t often get many of those, I would say save the money and use a wind trainer. One word of caution, they tend to be the noisiest of the trainers, so set it up somewhere out of ear shot of everyone else in the house or put some music on to drown it out.


Fluid

The set up on the wind, fluid, and magnetic are all relatively the same – pop your skewer into a clamping holder and the rear wheel sits on a barrel that spins as you pedal. The major differences come in HOW the resistance is applied. You just read about wind resistance, another equally popular and higher price point version is fluid resistance. You could just take your bike to the pool and try and ride around underwater but the whole needing to breathe thing limits this possibility PLUS Mythbusters already did this.

how-does-a-fluid-bike-trainer-work
Credit: Bike Trainer Guide

So there is a little misnomer about fluid trainers, they’re also magnetic (most of the time). There is a magnetic flywheel WITH thick oil in the chambers. Bike Trainer Guide posted a wonderful graphic on this (above). This fluid adds to the resistance and is supposed to have the most road-like feel of all the trainers. It’s on the pricier end, I was lucky and got my CycleOps Fluid2 model at half price during an open box sale, but it typically runs the $350-$400 ranger. I’ve heard great things about the Kinetic Road Machine line as well, similar price point.

One thing to be mindful of is the fact that with heavy use, the oil could potentially heat up and burn out or cause a leak. I have yet to experience that or know anyone who has. The biggest, most common issue is just the wear on the tires, as comes with any trainer that your wheel sits on. You can buy a tire specifically meant for trainers which stands up to the heat produced and the wear and tear, but opinions are mixed on whether you need this. Aside from that, it is MUCH quieter than wind resistance models. The noise I hear from mine comes from the tire on the barrel, which could be alleviated if I weren’t using a MTB tire on it – but hey, you gotta use what you got.


Magnetic

OK, last of the squeeze your back wheel onto a clamp and let it roll on a barrel type of

conquer
Credit: Conquer

trainers is magnetic. Magnetic or “mag” trainers, like fluid, offer varying resistance levels and are quieter than their wind counterparts. The resistance is provided by a magnetic flywheel, and some newer models offer an electromagnetic version that allows the user to change resistance with a remote for example.

Conquer offers up a model that I have seen some nice reviews on for around $75. Definitely a great price, but with how often I’ve seen these crap out, I’m not sure it’s worth the pain to have to replace as often. Also, the resistance it offers is a smaller range as compared to the fluid trainers. But if budget is your main concern, go for it but be prepared to have to repair or replace. And if budget is the only concern, I’d say make the step up in price to a wind resistance model, it’s more upfront but more durable overall.


Rollers

That leaves us with the most expensive and more challenging model of indoor trainer. BTW – being challenging doesn’t have to be negative, I like a good challenge. What rollers offer up is the fact that both your wheels are spinning as if you were on a road. Basically your bike sits atop 3 rollers freely and you pedal to your hearts content. Resistance is provided by the diameter of the rollers themselves (smaller = higher resistance) or by adding on wind, fluid, or magnetic components (thought we finished with them huh?).

tacxroller
Credit: Tacx

The challenge with this method is balance and staying on the rollers, it’s easy to roll off until you get the hang of it. Sorry for the horrible pun. Big bonus on these models is they are quiet and compact! The other models we covered can fold up to take up less real estate but rollers can slide under a bed, or hang on a wall in the garage. One big consideration is cost. For as simple as they look, they range in price depending on materials used and any additional components, so you can get away with a basic model for $150 or go all out and get one for $600. Tacx Antares will set you back around $250.


What about me?

Well hopefully now you have a better idea of what indoor trainers are and which one might work the best for you. Currently I use CycleOps Fluid2 and have been using it for 3 years without issue. Since winter hit, I have been logging most all of my miles inside since the cold air hurts my respiratory system, one of the only remnants of my childhood asthma. We don’t get much if any snow here, so I do try to head outside when it’s not so cold out. But how do I keep it fun and not mind numbingly dull? Well right now I have the trainer set up in my living room, and pull it out in front of the TV and pull up YouTube videos, right now I am wrapping up Season 10 of Good Mythical Morning. I try watching stuff that will make me laugh, which GMM always delivers on, because then I can focus on having fun while my body is doing work. I also break up the monotony by including a warm up, cool down, and intervals of either sprints, heavy resistance to simulate climbs, single leg work, glute focus, and standing.

I’m actually thankful for the indoor training because I haven’t been able to do a standing pedal since I was a kid and I was able to figure out the mechanics again with the trainer’s stability assist. I’m also doubly thankful that it provides me a means not to slack off, without it I would not be able to stay consistent with my goals during a portion of the year. And since I’m moving back a part of the country with ACTUAL winters, my trainer will be more useful than ever before.

There are definitely a lot of trainers out there, including some that are meant more for commercial spaces and can run up a bill of over $1000 or more. You don’t have to spend a lot, just figure out what works best for your space and how much usage you will get out of it. And if you need more of a competitive spirit to get you going indoors, consider signing up for services like Zwift or Trainer Road. I’ll be signing up for Zwift in the next couple months and will give a review after I spend some time with the platform, so be on the lookout for that in the Spring.

 

What Is It Wednesdays Sensor Edition

Speed, cadence, power, heart rate – these are just a few things you can track while riding. It seems more and more we’re a data driven society. Data is no longer facts and figures relegated to analysts stuck in basement offices crunching numbers. Anymore we can just look at our phone or even our wrists to see just how many steps we’ve taken, calories burned, distance traversed and much more. Bike computers aren’t exactly new, but now more than ever they are more easily accessible to the masses. With that in mind, I’m sure plenty of you have asked exactly what are those number crunching devices and what are they doing – and hey, do I need one? So allow me to take you on a brief tour of the main sensors you will come across and hopefully answer some of those questions for you.


Speed

bontragerinterchange
Credit: Trek/Bontrager

Whether you measure in kilometers or miles per hour, a speed sensor is going to give you information about how fast you’re going (or not going in the case of that monster hill you dread, just me?). It’s taking your distance divided by the elapsed time that has passed. There’s a few ways you can measure your speed including dedicated sensors or computers,and apps like Strava, MapMyRide, and Wahoo.

If you opt for a sensor setup then what you will typically see is a magnet that attaches to a spoke on your rear wheel and a receiver mounted on the chainstay. Models can either be wireless or wired and may work with either a display mounted to your handlebars, or synced to an app on your phone. Personally I use the Bontrager Interchange (pictured above) which measures my speed and cadence, paired with my phone (via Bluetooth/Ant+) which I keep mounted to my stem while running Strava. This setup works for my rides at the moment, but one day I plan on upgraded to a full on bike computer, more on that and Ant+/Bluetooth later.

If you plan on utilizing your phone’s GPS to display that info instead of a dedicated system, no worries, it will give you a great estimate. One word of advice just from my own experiences, the GPS available in most phones will just draw a straight line between two points as it pings the satellite with your location meaning it can over or undershoot your distance. In areas with spotty GPS this can provide unreliable stats. For example, I was once going 3,200 mph on my bike, now I know I like to think of myself as Wonder Woman but I had left my invisible jet home that day. I’ve also missed out on many miles that were cutout because of the finicky GPS in my phone.


Cadence

cateyestrada430
Credit: Cateye

Often you will find speed and cadence paired together on sensors, not always but typically if the unit cost $25 or more it’s going to have both. Cadence is the number of times you pedal within a given amount of time, with the standard being rotations per minute or RPM. If you wish to measure cadence then you will have to have a dedicated sensor as your phone will not be able to measure this on its own. Same setup as a speed sensor – a magnet on a rear wheel spoke that connects to a receiver every time it passes during the wheel’s rotation. The Bontrager model that I showed in the section above also tracks cadence, but I thought I would also show a model that is built into a dedicated bike computer such as Cateye’s Strada 430. You can see the cadence displayed at the bottom right.

Don’t be mistaken with cadence, the higher the RPM doesn’t always equate to faster speeds ESPECIALLY when multiple gears are involved. When going up a hill I will shift to a lower gear in order to pick up my cadence and maintain a fairly level rate of perceived exertion (RPE). In English that means that while I am going up a hill, something that is more difficult that riding on a flat surface, I will drop my gear so that I can pedal faster but with significantly less resistance so that my legs don’t feel like murder jello later, saving energy so I can ride longer.


Power

garminpedalpower
Credit: Garmin

This one I had to do a little of research on because while I have heard of them and seen a few, I don’t have any personal experience using one. Power meters measure how much effort you put into moving you and your bicycle over a distance in a measurable amount of time. Power meters will display in watts which translates to the amount of energy it took to do what I just broke down. Power meters come in a few styles and can be found on the crank, pedal, hub, and less common as a footpod you can put in your shoe. The one pictured here is a pedal based unit from Garmin Vector. As you can imagine, the calculations that go into interpreting this data are much more complex than cadence and speed.

Power meters allow you to see just how hard you’re working because speed and cadence don’t always give the full picture (hello fast down hills!). A great combo to analyze is actually the power you’re outputting in conjunction with your heart rate to understand if you can push harder or if you’re running out of juice.


Heart Rate

polara300
Credit: Polar

The last sensor we’ll discuss is the humble and handy heart rate monitor or HRM. HRMs come either as the traditional chest strap model or less accurate optical sensors on some watches and fitness bands. HRMs are measuring how fast your heart is beating over the course of a minute represented as beats per minute or BPM. Some bike computers can pair with HRMs otherwise you can use one that displays on a watchface like the Polar A300 pictured.

As I mentioned in the power section, measuring your heart rate can give you insight on how hard you’re training. Once you figure out your max heart rate and target heart rate range then you’ll know if you can kick it up or notch or need to take it a bit easier. If you’re interested in learning more about target and max heart rates, let me know and I can make that a What Is It Wednesday one of these Wednesdays.


Ant+ and Bluetooth

I am going to keep this section brief. If you have a smartphone or tablet then likely you are already familiar with Bluetooth, it’s a method of pairing devices together so that can work hand in hand to perform a task (phone + Bluetooth speaker = jamming out while meal prepping for the week). Ant+ isn’t new but it’s not as big of a name as Bluetooth. It serves a similar purpose – allowing two devices to communicate with each other wirelessly. Newer phones are coming with built-in Ant+ more increasingly. If your phone, or computer, doesn’t have Ant+ built in you can still use it, you’ll just need to purchase a separate Ant+ stick to plug it in to your device. I am actually going to be signing up for Zwift soon and need to replace my Ant+ stick, maybe I’ll do a review 🙂


So whether you need any of these is really up to you. My recommendation is that if you’re a casual rider then you’re not likely going to benefit and can likely take a pass on these. However if you ride as a means of training then try using what is already built into your phone/apps as a test run before dropping some cash on a device and when you’re ready to make that step – do your research! Find out what will work for your riding style, where you ride, and how you plan on keeping tabs on all of this information. Alrighty folks, this concludes another What Is It Wednesday, see you in a week, hope you learned something!