Indoor Bike Training

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As the Holiday season approaches and temperatures steadily drop, triathletes become faced with a difficult decision, to ride or not to ride.

As the Holiday season approaches and temperatures steadily drop, triathletes become faced with a difficult decision, to ride or not to ride. It is early Thursday morning, you wake up to the sound of the wind howling at your window, the temperature gauge outside reads 28°, and the chipper weatherman is calling for a chance of flurries throughout the morning from his cozy warm studio. Now what would you do? Option 1: Suck it up, layer on all the bike clothes that you own (which isn't very many because you have only been riding for a year), strap on your bike light (after all it is still dark out until 7am), place your travel mug into your water bottle cage and head out the door for a nice winter training session. Option 2: Decide that it is the off-season anyways, and you don't really need to ride today do you? Probably no one else is riding right? You just have a piece of pumpkin pie for breakfast and maybe head back to sleep for a few minutes in your warm bed. The problem is that somewhere out there, someone is riding their bike, getting stronger and faster for next season. Not competitive? How do you think that extra ten pounds you have now gained for eating pie every morning and sleeping in is going to feel on those first few major climbs of the year? So what is the solution?

Enter the wonderful world of indoor bike training. I can hear it now, "How boring!" or "I'm really not that competitive, I don't need to ride in the winter". The truth is that using a bike trainer does not have to be boring and it can help you improve your skills on the bike so that you can be competitive next season. And you can do it all without stepping foot outside in that nasty weather. Bike trainers have come a long way in the last ten years, and are now offered in a large selection in both price and style. Increasingly, triathletes are using them not only in the winter, but also during the busy workweek in season, for a quality workout in the bare minimum of time.

Types of Trainers

There are three main types of trainers, fan, magnetic and fluid. Fan trainers offer the most basic type of resistance generated through, you guessed it, a fan. The resistance felt is much like wind resistance you experience while riding on the road and will smoothly increase exponentially as you go faster. Resistance capability for fan trainers is based on the size of the fan on the trainer. Fan trainers are great for the occasional workout, spinning and low-impact interval work. Magnetic trainers provide the next step up in resistance. Resistance is adjustable manually or electronically and increases proportionately to the amount of power applied to the pedals. Magnetic trainers are very quiet and the wide variety of resistance allows you to simulate climbing, spinning, sprinting and just about any other condition you will meet out on the road. Fluid trainers work much like fan trainers, but offer more resistance, a quieter ride, and a more realistic road-like feeling. Resistance increases as your cadence increases, making it great for keeping your heart rate up during hard interval sessions.

And Then There Were Rollers

Rollers are an alternative to using the standard rear wheel stationary trainer. Rollers are generally best for those looking for spinning workouts and for a way to improve balance. To be used safely, rollers require a great deal more concentration than just hoping on and going to town. It is recommended that you try intervals on these only when you become more experienced and feel comfortable on them. Rollers will provide the beginner with a great steady calorie-burning workout. They can be more fun to ride as you concentrate on your form, are nearly silent to operate and cause less wear on your tires than a standard trainer.


So what qualities should you look for when choosing a trainer? Many models come adjustable to accommodate a variety of wheel sizes so that you can ride your road bike on it one day and your tri-bike the next. Storage of the trainer when not in use is also important. Most trainers are foldable now so you can tuck them in a spare closet or under your bed. And finally, think about versatility. A trainer that only allows you to get a good spinning workout is fine if you are looking to keep the holiday pounds off and get your heart pumping, but it is not going to help improve your leg strength for next season. Many brands of trainers offer one or more of each type of trainer. Popular brands of trainers with cyclists and triathletes are Kinetic, CycleOps, Blackburn and Tacx.

Indoor Training Boring?

Anyone who gets bored with their indoor trainer has ample opportunity to cure that with one of the many videos out there. Ranging from coaches guiding you over the heart-pumping music to a scenic view of the mountains, trainer videos offer great workouts that you can grind through to pass the time quickly. Videos tend to be geared toward working on one of many skills such as time trailing, climbing, sprinting, spinning, proper cycling technique, etc. Spinervals, CTS and Cylerobx produce a few of the many series of videos on the market today. Also becoming increasingly popular are computerized and virtual reality trainers. These trainers hook up to your PC and many models will allow you to ride the courses of popular races or program your own course. Virtual reality trainers also provide realistic resistance simulation throughout the video session.


Beyond videos, there are several accessories available to make riding your trainer more convenient. A trainer mat will prevent you from scratching up the nice finish on your wood floors while preventing any chance of slippage through your ride. A riser block will bring your bike to an even level by bringing your front wheel up to the level of your wheel. They also will keep you front wheel stable. If you want to catch-up on some reading or studying while riding, a SpeedReader will connect to your handlebars and hold a book, magazine, holiday cards that need to be written, etc. Finally, that big pool of sweat that accumulates at the end of your session, while impressive, is really kind of gross. A sweat net that extends from your seat to your handlebars will catch and absorb sweat, missed sips of water, pie (if you choose to combine the two), etc.


And if you are not convinced yet to run out and buy that new trainer, just think about the benefits of indoor training.

·  You can do it any time of day. Can't sleep? Hop on the trainer.

·  No frenzied holiday shoppers to share the road with.

·  Enjoy a controlled climate each time you ride. No wind, ice, rain etc.

·  Progress easily monitored and tracked when repeating workouts.

·  You can watch your technique in a mirror, or just admire those great legs.

·  Intervals without interruptions!
Seriously, riding a bike trainer during the winter months will allow the beginning of next season to be a little less painful and a little more enjoyable.

After all my convincing, if you still are leaning towards option 2, and are headed back to bed, just remember what your competition is up to. Think that no one else is riding this winter? Well, I'm in Tucson, and we are out there riding. So you better jump on that trainer, or hope we don't show up at your next race!

Happy Holidays and Safe Training.
Sarah Lieneke-Nickle


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date: September 1, 2004