Choosing a Turbo Trainer Part 1

Choosing a Turbo Trainer Part 1


Choosing a Turbo Trainer Part 1


By Simon Whiten


Choosing a Turbo Trainer Part 1 looks at how you decide which turbo is for you.


The British winter seems like it’s been here for a while but the really cold weather doesn’t usually kick in until now, in late January and February, so this seems like the perfect time to talk turbos.


If you don’t have a turbo trainer then now is a great time to buy one as there’s never been such a wide range of quality turbos that link into motivational training videos, virtual reality simulators, clever mobile apps and sophisticated computer software.


The ideal vision of turbo training...
The ideal vision of turbo training…


However, unless you are extremely lucky, surprised with a Christmas turbo trainer gift that suits you down to the ground, you are likely to be buying one for yourself and may soon realise that finding the right turbo trainer is not that easy. For a start there’s the sheer variety: traditional turbo trainers, wheel out ‘direct drive’ turbos, fully independent ergo trainers, rollers and so on. Then you’ve got further subdivision based on how the resistance is provided: by fans, magnets, fluid or electronic braking. After wading through all of that there’s the further complication of deciding upon which of the proliferation of different apps, add-on devices and online training software you want to record your session data.


...and the reality of turbo training for most of us.
…and the cramped reality of turbo training for most of us.


So rather than writing an overview of the currently available turbo trainers for everyone, we reckon a better place to start is to decide what type of indoor cyclist you are, or at least think you’ll become. Only then you can make the correct choice of turbo with which, if you get it right, you’ll soon find that the benefits from training indoors are huge and you are more likely to carry on doing it even when the better weather arrives. In that sense, we reckon you should see buying a turbo trainer as an investment in your fitness.


Step 1: What type of indoor cyclist are you?


We have come up with 5 different categories which we think most riders will fall into…


The Hardcore Indoor Cyclist


If you’re an experienced cyclist with a busy life that means you don’t have much time for training out on the road, then you have already discovered that the turbo can provide an amazing training effect in a relatively short time; there’s no such thing as junk miles on the turbo. You are already training regularly indoors, more so than outside and all year round, so it makes sense to get the biggest, baddest turbo trainer there is, something that will truly reward the hours you put in.


If this is you then often it’s a case of upgrading the trainer you use at present. It will have to be a tough turbo unit in order to be able to cope with continuous abuse, and must be able to handle a wide range of workouts, from low cadence strength and power intervals to full on sprints. You will also require a decent data recording system, either one that comes with the turbo or a trainer that is adaptable to a number of different apps. You may also want to make better use of the virtual reality options and online training video libraries that many training software manufacturers offer.


Training on the turbo can be very effective, allowing you to control every aspect of your workouts, something that can never be done out on the road...
Training on the turbo can be very effective, allowing you to control every aspect of your workouts, something that can never be done out on the road…


The New Indoor Cyclist


If you are relatively new to cycling – especially the training bit of cycling – then turbo training is a great way of getting a bit of extra, or more structured, training done to help build your fitness. An entry level turbo trainer that’s not too expensive makes a lot of sense until you see if you actually like indoor cycle training, though we use ‘like’ in the loosest possible sense of the word as if you doing it properly there’s little to like…


A basic turbo is a good investment as if you later decide to upgrade, your old trainer can always be used as a warm-up machine for those essential pre-races warm-ups, something that an all-singing and dancing electronically controlled turbo may not be suitable for; a good reason not to give that old turbo away.


Alternatively, if you think you will really take to training indoors, you may see this as short-termist and an unnecessarily expensive option. One of the main issues with turbos is motivation, so for a bit more investment a more advanced unit which you can link up to videos or your computer may be a major boon to your indoor cycling success.


The Reluctant Indoor Cyclist


Most riders seem to fit into this category; a brief survey revealed that most riders I know do. Despite the fact they know it’s good for them, they really don’t want to do turbo training. Many riders have a turbo trainer because they think they should have one and don’t use it much, if at all. The only way they will ever use it is if it’s really raining cats and dogs outside, otherwise they are out on the roads “where cyclists belong…”


So if this is you and you already have a little used turbo trainer gathering dust at home, then perhaps in order to really experience the training benefits that the turbo can offer, you need to take advantage of the virtual revolution and invest in something motivational, with some degree of virtual reality that will take your mind off “the boredom of training indoors”. Many modern turbos link up to laptops, with software providing pre-determined interval routines and route videos, all of which make training much less monotonous. Plus you will find huge benefits in both controlling and monitoring your training more effectively.


It's all a blur! Pushing it on the turbo will have massive benefits out on the road.
It’s all a blur! Pushing it on the turbo will have massive benefits out on the road.


The Intervals Only Cyclist


There are a fair few cyclists who fit into this category. They tend to be hard training, high volume cyclists who do most of their training out on the road, using a turbo trainer for controlled, structured interval sessions only. If you are in this group it’s important to be able to use the turbo trainer in conjunction with your prefered data recording system. It’s also important to be able to follow a variety of set workouts provided by a coach or to be able to create your own workouts and interval sessions.


If this is you, then a tough trainer that can withstand punishing workouts is the order of the day along with one that is versatile enough to work with a variety of software and apps.


The Pre-Race Warm-up Cyclist


This is the group of riders that have discovered the benefits of the turbo for pre-race warm-up and preparation. If you are doing a short event, like a crit, a time-trial, track or a cross race, then having a good warm-up is essential – see the Team SKY warm-up over on


As mentioned before, if you are about to upgrade be sure to keep your old turbo as then you’ll already be sorted for warming-up. If not you may be looking for something that won’t really be used much indoors, so is simple, easily portable and weatherproof. Of course, many riders have rollers for warming-up but rollers don’t like uneven ground or gravel strewn car parks, so turbos are much more useful in those situations; if you race cyclocross you’ll usually find that a turbo is a more versatile warm-up machine for use in the poor conditions of most ‘cross car parks.


Step 2: Where will you use the turbo?


Talking of cyclocross car parks brings us on nicely to where you will do most of your training. If you have a garage or shed you can use for turbo training, then noise is not really an issue. However, if you plan to do your training indoors, close to loved ones, then you need a trainer that’s quieter. No turbo trainer is ever really quiet, so sound absorbent mats are a good investment to help deaden some noise.


Step 3: Budget


Negotiating an area or room just for indoor training can be difficult and even costly. As well as mats, you’ll need a fan, some sweat absorbent covers or towels to protect your bars, stem and frame, and possibly, a specific turbo tyre. You may even go as far as getting a specific turbo bike – an old bike is best – to create a permanent trainer. Budget is going to come into play when choosing your turbo; the more you spend the less you have for your race bikes and kit. However, you should be ready to invest a decent amount to get the right turbo for you, especially if you aim to use the turbo a lot.


Next time in Choosing Turbo Part 2 we’ll look at which turbo trainers are available to the experienced indoor cyclist.


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