Thursday, January 13, 2011

Some Trainer Magic - Part 1 of 2

A common question we get in the shop this time of year revolves around whether there is a way to use the a bicycle indoors to get a workout.  The answer is most definitely "Yes, its called a bicycle trainer - or trainer for short."
A trainer is a device that holds a bicycle stationary and provides some sort of resistance against the rotation of the rear wheel.  The resistance is necessary since the natural forces of wind and uphill climbs do not exert force on the bike while it is stationary.  Absent resistance you would quickly spin the rear wheel too fast to get much of a workout (think revving a car engine in neutral vs in gear).

The resistance is provided by either a fan, special magnets or a series of blades that turn enclosed in a sealed chamber filled with fluid.  The fluid type is very popular because good units are quiet and provide a very realistic feel to the rider.  Prices range from about $100 to $500 depending on the type of resistance and other features.  Plan to invest an amount somewhere in the middle for a quality unit that is well designed and will last you for years.

Most of us have ridden some type of trainer once we got into cycling and learned the hard way that physics and biology do not take a holiday during the winter.  If it is possible, the laws of the Universe become even more severe as the available light and temperatures drop.

Many riders view the trainer as a necessary evil to maintain some semblance of conditioning until hitting the road in spring.  That being said, there are very few riders who profess love for the iron beast lurking in the basement.  The rest of us have to play various games to maintain motivation to spin and sweat for hours on end while watching the Green Network Channel.  Sometimes just completing a mileage goal is enough for a session, while others try to maintain a certain speed, cadence or wattage (measure of power output) to stay motivated.

So in addition to a trainer, you need some manner of monitoring your performance while on the bike.  That way you can keep track of your workouts and compare them to see how hard you work on a particular day and whether you are improving over time.  Watts are considered one of the best measures of performance since it is a standard unit of power and can even be converted to horsepower if you are so inclined.

Once you have decided on a trainer, you will want to set it up in an area that has a solid flat surface and reasonable ventilation since you will be generating a lot of heat during hard sessions.  The other considerations are whether the surface under you will be harmed by dripping sweat (believe me when I say you will sweat) or by any bits of grease that may drop from the bike.  Most people place a big piece of cardboard under the bike and trainer to protect the carpet and maintain harmony in the home. 

Another consideration is the rear tire.  Because of heat and pressure, a trainer will wear-out a regular road tire faster than riding it on the road.  Some people keep a stock of old tires for the trainer while others use tire that is specifically designed for this purpose.  The tire compound is made to withstand the heat generated while reducing noise.  The choice is yours, but don't be surprised if you notice little black bits of rubber collecting under the trainer after a few weeks. (See above comments about maintaining harmony in the home)

Finally, some form of entertainment is a good idea if you plan on spending long hours on your trainer.  Most watch TV where they have recorded their favorite episodes of shows, or watch movies.  This is important because time slows when you are on the trainer.  You never knew a minute could take so long when they tick by while you are on the trainer.  If ever a time machine is invented, it is going to have a bike trainer as the time management engine since it is the only device I know of that makes time slow to about half speed. 

There, you are good to with a way to stay in shape during the long dark winter days.  Regardless of your cycling goals, a few times a week on the bike in the off season will make a huge difference in your riding later in the year.  You may not be in peak shape when you hit the road, but you will have a good foundation on which to train and will be able to train harder earlier in the season.

Our next installment will discuss ways to measure your workouts and stay motivated using a trainer.

1 comment:

  1. Speaking of entertainment, you can also log into YouTube and make a playlist with cycling video clips, then set that to Shuffle. Check out some of this guy's clips:

    He's used Dashware to overlay GPS location data, power, heart rate, cadence and speed. I prefer the clips from a bike-mounted camera to those from a helmet cam, but either way, the footage puts me in the mood to train well.