The summer is drawing to a close, and the days are getting shorter.For some triathletes, it becomes difficult, dangerous, or impossible to cycle outdoors before the workday or other responsibilities arise in the morning. Additionally, now that some of us are managing remote learning for our children, we are also looking for ways to fit in workouts while monitoring our young ones.In short, it's time to revisit the topic of bicycle trainers.
For the uninitiated, bike trainer seems like a strange word. It evokes an image of a person from your gym riding beside you and shouting encouragement, perhaps.But a bike trainer is actually a mechanical device that allows you to ride in place. The important factor for triathletes is that it allows you to ride your REAL BIKE (not an upright spin bike nor a fat-seat exercise bike). This is crucial because triathletes cycle in an aerodynamic position. Traditional cyclists often ride in a pack, where being in the aero bars is dangerous and not permitted. But triathletes lean forward, and therefore we need to train different muscles.We train our backs and abs to be in this strange position. We train our necks to hold up our heads and our helmets so we can see the road. We train our pelvises to hold our weight on its front rather than its base.We train our legs to use different facets of our glutes and hamstrings to pedal. (Triathlon-specific bikes are designed to save your running muscles for the run and tax slightly different areas while cycling.)So, while cycling on a spin bike or an exercise bike is better than nothing, the holy grail is training on your own seat, your own aero bars, and your own frame. With your own clip-in shoes so you can pull up on the pedals, too!
Answer: Whatever kind of bike trainer you will use most. Those who get very serious about this sport and are spending hours a week on the trainer will often find it worthwhile to invest in the most expensive options, because they know they are going to be toiling away and they don' want to make it harder for themselves. We'll start with a top-end setup and work downward, so you can see why people would spend a lot, and understand the options for going with a more affordable setup.
If you can afford it, why not remove the wear and tear from your expensive bike and isolate it as much as possible to the indoor equipment? A wheel-off smart trainer does just that. You remove the rear wheel from your bike and attach your rear axle and chain to the trainer. The trainer can then measure power accurately, as well as control the little avatar of you that appears on the screen. There are a variety of smart trainers on the market. Almost all of them are fluid trainers, which are the quietest. Some have their own built-in "game" and routes. With others, you'll use your own laptop or smart TV and log into an app or website to see a cartoon version of yourself pedaling down a cartoon road.
This setup has the advantage of being able to work fully with virtual training programs like Zwift, but is about half the price. (By working fully, we mean if there is a virtual hill in your training program, the trainer will apply additional resistance to approximate the effort you need to crest the hill.)What do you lose?
A fluid trainer, compared to a magnetic trainer or a fan trainer, is the quietest and usually the highest quality trainer you can buy. If you are dreaming of pedaling along while looking over the shoulders of your kids doing remote learning, you need a fluid trainer ... or noise cancelling headphones for the kids.What's the downside of not getting a "smart" version?
These are cheaper but louder. That's about all their is to say about that. You can choose models with a resistance controller to make it harder to pedal. Magnetic trainers, more so than fluid trainers, may need a boost in resistance. It's rare to find a triathlete so strong that they are pedaling freely in their hardest gear on a fluid trainer and need more of a challenge. With a magnetic trainer, that could happen if you don't have one where you can change the resistance.
Here's hoping they don't make these anymore. Fan trainers are very loud because they use the mechanical force of fan blades pushing the air to create resistance for your wheel. It's a common technology in more typical exercise bikes where the fan is in front, but it's rare to find for a rear-wheel attachment style anymore. They are also more dangerous with kids, who will be tempted to stick something between the fan blades.
Now that you have the basic lay of the land, you can move on to create your training space, complete with entertainment or a periscope for looking at your kids' homework.
Photo courtesy of Wahoo, a manufacturer of smart trainers.