Turbo Training

A turbo trainer is a necessary evil in winter.

The very mention of a turbo will strike fear into many cyclists - or send them into a boredom-induced coma - but when it's blowing a gale or the roads are covered in snow and ice, an indoor trainer allows you to 'ride' whatever the weather.

Sure, you can't beat the feeling of tarmac beneath tyres but a turbo trainer is also a great way of keeping your training focused - particularly if you race through winter - as it enables you to sneak in an interval session to keep your top-end fitness in shape without worrying about traffic lights, road furniture, other road users and, of course, the weather.

It's why a time trial specialist like Alex Dowsett, the Commonwealth Games champion in the discipline, uses a turbo through winter, while Team Sky coach Rod Ellingworth also believes in their usefulness.

As ever, there are plenty of features on offer, and options available, when buying a turbo trainer. We have looked at what to consider over the following pages.

Want to get going on your turbo? Take a look at our guide to turbo trainer sessions including strength efforts, threshold, sweetspot, VO2 Max and cadence drills.

Turbo Trainer

Most turbo trainers look similar on the face of it, with an A-frame normally made from steel.

As the frame supports the weight of both the rider and the bike, it needs to be strong and stable to ensure it can stand up to a high-intensity interval, so the heavier the unit and wider the stance of the frame, the better.

Most turbo frames will also fold up easily for storage but check how compact it is if space is at a premium at home, or if you want to throw it in the back of the car to warm up on before a race.

Almost all turbo trainers are static but the Kurt Kinetic Rock 'n' Roll incorporates lateral movement to offer an experience which is a little more comparable with road riding.

Wheel mount

Turbo trainers use a cam lever which clamps two cups around the rear wheel skewer, locking it into place with the tyre resting against the resistance unit.

All trainers should come with a skewer designed to replace your machine's standard skewer when using the turbo and most turbos will accommodate a variety of wheel sizes.

Tacx Resistance

Some turbo trainers are very noisy and wind resistance units generally make the greatest racket.

That noise is exaggerated if you use a heavily-treaded tyre, or if the turbo trainer is placed on a wooden floor. Your neighbours may not appreciate you using a turbo trainer at unsociable hours, particularly if you live in a flat. If noise is an issue, look for a turbo trainer which is quiet like the CycleOps Fluid 2.

You can take others steps to keep the noise down. Special mats are available which help dampen vibrations before they reach the floor, and turbo-specific tyres are completely slick and are made from a special compound which is quieter and more durable.

That said, turbo tyres can only be used indoors, so are only a viable solution if you have a spare wheel to swap into the bike every time you use the turbo, or if you plan on spending all winter on the indoor trainer.

Tacx Lever

Resistance is the most crucial component of a turbo trainer and is where trainers vary a large amount.

The type of resistance affects the feel of the ride, and the higher the specification (and price) the more natural it feels when pedalling.

Most turbo trainers offer something in the way of adjustable resistance, whether on the unit itself, via a handlebar-mounted control, or in the action of the flywheel.

Remember, though, you can adjust how hard you are working on a cheaper turbo just by using the gears on your bike. Listed below, however, are the technological options on offer.

Air resistance

The original turbo trainer technology, using a plastic fan to generate wind resistance.

While affordable, it's a noisy solution - like Concorde taking off,  in the worst cases - and offers limited adjustability, so air resistance turbos are increasingly uncommon.

Magnetic resistance

You're now more likely to see magnetic resistance turbo trainers at the low-to-mid end of the market.

These units use a metal plate which spins inside a magnetic field, creating a ride sensation which is smoother than an air resistance turbo, but not as silky as a fluid resistance trainer.

Most magnetic turbos offer adjustable resistance, on the unit itself on cheaper models (which is a pain if you want to change the unit resistance mid-session), but normally by way of a simple handlebar-mounted, cable-operated lever which moves the magnet to create more (or less) resistance.

A lot of magnetic turbos will have a built-in fan which cools the flywheel (the Tacx Booster, for example), but those that don't, like the Minoura V130, can get extremely hot so give it time to cool down after use.

Fluid resistance

Another step up in price, a fluid turbo uses an impeller (fan) revolving in oil to create resistance. It's a quiet and smooth solution, but usually expensive, too.

Many offer resistance adjustment by a handlebar-mounted lever which adjusts the flow of oil, though the CycleOps Fluid 2, intorduced in 2012, is a progressive unit which increases and decreases resistance in response to changes in wheel speed.

Electromagnetic resistance

If you need a little more to enliven your indoor training experience, top-of-the-range turbos use electromagnetic resistance to offer a virtual reality riding experience where the world is your oyster.

It's an expensive option, and one for only the most committed of turbo riders, but many allow you to hook the turbo up to a television or PC to ride, for example, a Belgian cobbled climb or Tour de France stage, while the BKool trainer, which impressed us back in 2012 provides Strava-like feedback to motivate your winter riding.

Most electromagnetic resistance trainers offer an array of training data, sometimes including power output.

Tacx Booster Wheel Support

Accessories

A turbo trainer, by the nature of its design, will leave your bike at a very slight 'downhill' angle as the rear wheel is held off the ground.

A riser block, sold separately by most manufacturers, will solve this, and can be placed under the front wheel to bring the bike back to a natural level. Some also offer a range of heights to simulate the bike's position when climbing.

Training videos

Training videos can provide much-needed motivation to punish yourself through a set of vomit-inducing intervals.

A good training video will provide a tough but structured workout, with a clear training objective, and popular options include workouts from 3LC, run by Pete Kennaugh Snr (dad of Team Sky's British champion).

The Sufferfest, meanwhile, offer a range of downloads set to a motivational soundtrack and with footage from the best races in the world and have just launched a subscription-based app too.

For London-based riders, meanwhile, Athlete Lab is an indoor cycling studio which uses ‘real’ bikes, rather than spin bikes, to mimic the feel of riding on the road in order to allow City-based cyclists to maximise their midweek training time.

Rollers

Still can't face the turbo? Here are two other alternatives.

Rollers

Rollers offers a more technically challenging alternative to a turbo trainer and are preferred by some riders for the increased interest offered by having to make sure you stay upright.

Rollers are great for honing your technique and working on core stability, though their inherent instability makes eye-out intervals much more difficult than on a static, fixed turbo trainer.

Once you've mastered the technique of riding on rollers, it's easier to get going for training sessions as you only have to place your bike on the drums, clip in and pedal off into the distance (well, maybe not).

That said, rollers take up more space than a turbo, but many, including the Minoura ActionRoller Advance reviewed here, can be folded.

Wattbike

Wattbikes are used extensively by British Cycling and for good reason - they offers an incredibly smooth riding sensation, with plenty of resistance adjustment and enough numbers (including power and left/right pedaling efficiency) to keep the most data-hungry rider happy.

The main drawback is the cost, at £2,250 for the latest model, but Wattbike now offer a zero per cent finance option for payment.

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