This weeks blog cover why use a Turbo Trainer and their value for winter training.  Lets try and help cover these turbo trainer myths and help get everyone keep training through the rubbish weather.  Super purist die hard cyclists will argue that you need to be out there in the cold through snow and rain putting in the miles and wearing every item of clothing you have ever purchased.  We take a slightly less hardcore view and are regular occupants in the pain cave using a Turbo Trainer.  So do turbo trainers work?

Turbo trainers versus cycling outdoors

Winter cycling training

What is a Turbo Trainer?

Starting with the real basics just in case you stumbled upon this article and were new to cycling and triathlons thinking we were some kind of VeeDeb turbo charge page.  A turbo trainer (or Turbo for short) is a piece of training equipment you can install at home allowing you to replicate the experience of cycling your bike indoors.

You merely attach your current road bike onto a Turbo locking in the back wheel that rolls against a resistant roller.  Your front wheel is static and the back wheel rotates as you pedal.  Think exercise bike but way cooler and more beneficial in it keeps you in the same geometry as your own bike as you are using it indoors so no careful adjustments to find a comfy position.  Turbo’s come in various guises from magnetic to fluid to smart but they all essentially do the same thing in allowing you to cycle indoors safely.

What is a Smart Turbo Trainer?

Smart turbo trainers deliver the same benefits as regular turbo trainers.  They utilise the standard road bike in a static frame and replicate the feel of cycling.  The difference is that a smart turbo trainer connects through wireless technology to your computer and phone.  This allows the turbo trainer to receive more real time feedback on your ride and enables dynamic cycling training.  A smart turbo trainer opens up a community yo you allowing you to join the chain gang ride from the comfort of your garage.  It also allows the computer to set the resistance of your ride so you can enjoy cycling around the Italian lakes via a computer screen.  It allows you to connect with cycling apps such as Zwift or Sufferfest and track your rides in a gamification environment.

How Do Turbo Trainers Work?

One of the main reasons to use the turbo trainer in the winter and at any time of year is the ability to train with more accuracy than you might be able to outdoors.  By training on the turbo you can measure and plan your training more accurately, because there are less variables on the turbo like adverse weather and traffic to contend with.

Smart Turbo Trainers

Smart Turbo Trainers

Sometimes the weather stops you getting outside altogether so any miles on the turbo are better than an afternoon on the sofa eating your weight in pretzels.  If you have to juggle childcare with your training then the Turbo could be your friend as even when on childcare duties you can get some training in without having to leave the house.  While on the turbo you are training flat out and unable to freewheel whereas when out on the road you will inevitably spend 10-15 per cent of your ride freewheeling or stopping at junctions or traffic lights, interrupting your efforts.  Turbo equals wall to wall pedalling.

Can I train for an Ironman using a Turbo Trainer?

The reality is that for nearly every triathlete training for an Ironman the Turbo trainer is an essential companion so anyone that thinks they’re cheating somehow on the Turbo think again.  The key to good Ironman training is consistency closely coupled with the need to obviously rack up the hours in each of the disciplines with cycling needing some serious hours.

Relying on good weather & daylight to achieve this can make this difficult for anyone other than a professional triathlete with 40 hours per week to play with. Yes you could buy all the gear, rain jacket, waterproof trousers, lights etc.. but this adds up and the truth is that cycling in winter in lowlight can be a frightening business with cars taking liberties with your personal space.  While admittedly Turbo training can also be on the rather dull side its still beats not riding at all. The truth is if you rely on outside riding you will miss a lot of training opportunities and you can do all your training on a Turbo.  Come race day wind and hills might leave you grovelling but if you’ve been pounding in 7 hour sets on your turbo you’ll survive!

Training for an ironman indoors

Do Turbo Trainers Work?

Turbo Trainer Tips – Get the most from your Turbo Trainer

Using the turbo can also offer the opportunity to take a look at your technique while in the saddle. With cadence, speed and heart rate monitors you can assess how honest your cycling really is able to check in on your first and last mile through smart apps and smart trainers.  Smart trainer also allow you to vary your effort during your session and even to compete against with your club mates while in your garage.

To make the most of your Turbo trainer from our experience you will need a heart rate sensor and cadence sensor as a minimum this allows you to monitor the quality of your training and track over time the impact your training is having on recovery.  If you can’t afford a smart turbo trainer and therefore can’t access the many training plans we recommend you follow a training pattern yourself with planned duration of effort permitting zones for your training during this session ensuring you keep your body guessing rather than a flat slog on the bike for an hour.

Can Turbo Trainers damage your bike?

In particular do Turbo Trainers damage carbon fibre bicycles?  There are numerous forum threads on this one with people sharing horror stories of carbon top end bikes exploding under the strain of a Turbo.  The reality is that if you set up your bike with the skewer connected firmly to the trainer and protect your bike from the mountainous volume of sweat you will issue while using it your bike is perfectly safe from harm.  Realities are that out on the road our bikes are subject to potholes and much worse so the rigidity of  a turbo is nothing that any well constructed bike can cope with.  Alas you can’t use this as an excuse for not using a Turbo and hitting the sofa for a marathon breaking bad session.

Turbo Trainer versus Rollers?

So we’ve covered what a Turbo is earlier in the article but what about Rollers?  Rollers are twin sets of rolling tubes that you front and rear wheels sit into allowing you to pedal away indoors in much the same way as a Turbo.  Key different being the front wheel is not fixed so you have an even more realistic road feel.  It also means your concentration levels need to be significantly higher as any drop of concentration will launch you into the fireplace.

Turbo Trainer Set-up

Turbo Trainer Set-up

Five mistakes to avoid when Turbo training

  1. Don’t overheat while using the turbo trainer.  While cycling you are battling the wind and the elements which in turn helps to reduce your body temperature.  While indoors on a turbo trainer there is no natural wind resistance and your body heat will progressively warm the room.  Use a van to cool your body or use a room with good ventilation and no heating.
  2. Don’t go all out for your entire turbo trainer session.  It is tempting to take your heart rate to the max and push your body to the limit for every minute of your session.  You can achieve better results from varying the effort levels through the session.
  3. Lazy cycling position.  If you just sit back on your bike and disconnect from the handlebars while using the turbo trainer you are not getting the most from your turbo training.  To maximise the benefits you should be cycling in the aero position as often as possible in order to achieve the greatest benefit.  Neck and shoulder muscles develop through cycling in the aero position and you can continue training these muscles on the turbo trainer.
  4. Failing to have a plan. Random training is better than no training but structured training yields maximum benefits.  Consider what you want to focus on in each session and how training sessions flow into each other to build on benefits.
  5. Having a poor set up for your turbo trainer.  If you don’t have a flat surface your bike will rock.  Ideally you want a very solid surface to set up on.  In many ways the same needs exist as those of a treadmill.  In addition you ideally want a front wheel riser block to hold the front wheel and elevate the front of the bike.

Three of the Best Turbo Trainers to Buy

Below are three of our favourite Turbo Trainers on the market at the moment and all smart style turbo trainers in the £500 – £1000 category.

Best Turbo Trainers to Buy

Best Turbo Trainers to Buy

  1. Wahoo Kickr Smart Turbo Trainer.  This is the ultimate in indoor turbo trainers in the market.  A full cassette that you lock your bike into so no need to consider tyre changes.  The feel and accuracy of the system are outstanding.  It is the perfect partner for Zwift and has a very loyal following. Not cheap at £999 but a serious bit of kit.
  2. Elite Drivo II smart turbo trainer.  My first turbo trainer was a liquid Elite turbo trainer and was absolutely faultless.  The Elite Drivo II follows a similar build model to the Wahoo Kickr with a rear cassette permanently in place.  Elite have worked hard to make it one of the quietest on the market but a number of reviews have found the resistance feel is not as reliable as others.
  3. TACX Flux 2 Smart Turbo Trainer.  Another of the key players in the turbo trainer field.  A further smart turbo trainer with integration technology to support smart training indoors.

If you want to get the latest price comparison and options on 5 of the best turbo trainers 2020 check out our latest article.

So to answer the original exam question of Do Turbo Trainers Work I think you have guessed our answer which is a resounding “yes”.

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Billy Ferguson

Founder of Trivelo

4 Comments

Mel Davies · 19/12/2019 at 1:04 am

A turbo trainer is on my Christmas list and hope get lucky to have one for next year.

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