How to choose a turbo trainer

Laugh in the face of wind, rain and snow, and keep training through winter with a turbo

How to choose a turbo trainer

The turbo trainer strikes fear into the heart of some, but for the keen cyclist faced with awful outdoor weather, the turbo can be a close training friend through the worst part of the year.

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While it’s obviously no substitute for the open road, the sad reality is that ice, rain and snow can make outdoor riding unpleasant and dangerous. The last thing we want is for a bad-weather-related injury to stop us riding altogether, especially when training for an early-season race or event. With this in mind, it’s time to turn to the turbo and put in some serious indoor miles.

A good turbo isn’t just for Christmas, it can be a great training tool all year round – use them for warm-ups, cool-downs, and to polish areas of your riding without road obstacles getting in the way. Shopping for new indoor training gear can be confusing, so here’s a helpful guide…

Turbo training: the facts

Turbo trainers are quite simple pieces of equipment designed to enable you to ride your bike in a stationary position – the rear wheel of your bike is suspended in an A-frame via the quick-release skewer; your tyre sits on a roller, and a resistance unit then applies your chosen level of resistance to the tyre.

Triathlete on the turbo trainer

Depending on your budget, you will find different resistance technologies available – air, fluid or magnetic.

Air resistance offers limited adjustment options – a fan generates wind resistance and you use the gears on your bike to make some level of adjustment. Being at the lower end of the price range, air resistance turbos can be noisy and may not offer the best ride, so if you’re going to be doing a lot of indoor training it’s worth spending more on better technology.

Magnetic resistance offers more flexibility, particularly if you go for an electro-magnetic unit. A metal plate spins inside the unit, generating a magnetic field of resistance. They’re much quieter than air resistance trainers, and offer a better quality ride.

At the higher end of the market we find fluid resistance turbo trainers – these are the quietest and smoothest, so if you train indoors year-round they are worth the investment. An impeller revolves in an oil-like solution to create the resistance. Adjustments can usually be made via handlebar-mounted levers.

Direct drive turbo trainer

Another alternative – one which eliminates wear on your rear tyre – is a direct drive trainer. A cassette is attached to the resistance unit, and your bike is mounted onto the frame by removing the rear tyre and fixing the drive train directly to the cassette on the turbo.

More advanced turbos come with better control units, tracking capabilities, and connection options so you can monitor your sessions or immerse yourself in virtual rides, videos and games.

Click here to continue reading our guide to buying a turbo trainer

How to choose a turbo trainer

We continue our guide to buying a turbo trainer…

Turbo training: the extras

If you’re indoor training, a turbo trainer is probably top of your indoor kit list, but a turbo session is massively improved by adding a few extras.

Ideally, you want to have a dedicated space in the house for your turbo-trainer, but if that’s impossible there are many models that fold down to take up less space.

Triathlete on the turbo trainer

Make sure you have a training mat to protect the floor from sweat and pressure from the trainer. The floor needs to be hard and flat as you definitely don’t want your trainer to wobble, and the addition of a mat will also help reduce the amount of noise made by your turbo. 

Make sure your training space is well ventilated as a turbo session can be sweaty work – keep fans, towels and fluids within easy reach while you’re riding.

Your turbo trainer lifts the rear wheel of your bike a few inches off the ground, so it can be useful to have a stand for the front wheel to level things out – an appropriately-sized book will do the trick if you don’t want to spend the extra money.

Turbo-training can cause wear on your tyre, so if you plan on doing a lot of miles on the trainer you might want to get a dedicated training tyre or even a spare wheel. An old tyre will also work, but will wear out faster. 

Speed and cadence sensors mean you can monitor and track the work that you’re doing, syncing that data to your training log, and enabling you to use a multitude of training apps, including Velo-Trainer.

Athletes on the turbo trainer side by side

Get some friends involved – whether you set up your turbos side-by-side, or interact through your indoor training app to ride and race together, cycling’s better when it’s social, so don’t let being indoors stop you enjoying a ride with your friends. 

Turbo training: an alternative

If you’re not convinced by the turbo, you might want to consider training on rollers. These simple metal frames can be difficult to get used to, as you really need to focus on your balance and control to stay on the drums as you ride.

Rollers

Some feel rollers offer a more realistic riding sensation when training indoors, and the systems are very easy to set up. However, due to their simple nature, most don’t come with any resistance adjustments, so they may not offer all of the training potential you’re looking for.

Check out our guide to four of 2014’s best turbo trainers here. And once you’ve bought your turbo, get started with these five turbo trainer sessions.

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Tony Holt is a personal trainer and creator of Velo-Trainer, the social indoor cycling game