Indoor bike trainers – Do I really need one?

If you live in Sydney and you love road cycling like me then you’re probably a little frustrated at the moment. That’s because it’s the height of summer and we’ve had heaps of rain the past month which really impinges on getting out regularly on the bike.

So I thought it timely to talk about indoor trainers and whether it’s worth the investment or not. Rain aside indoor trainers are great for cold weather or when you’re short of time. I’m lucky enough to live in a place where the weather is conducive to cycling all year round. The coldest temperature I’ve ever recorded on my Garmin 500 in Sydney is 3°C (37.4°F) and that was freezing cold for Sydney standards.

I’ve also read that indoor trainers are time efficient – one hour spent on a trainer is the equivalent of two hours on the road because there’s no coasting so you’re constantly putting in the effort.

But rather than repeat what you can read in reviews on the Internet I thought I’d give you a brief rundown of my indoor trainer setup. If you want to read more about indoor trainers then I’d suggest you start with a great article in the May/June 2009 edition of Bicycling Australia magazine which I’ve scanned and you can read here - Wind trainer reviews.

Firstly I think indoor trainers are great to keep your training program on track during inclement weather or when you’re pushed for time but they are no real substitute for a great group ride on the road. I only ever use mine when I can’t ride outdoors.

My setup

I’m fortunate enough to have a garage that never houses a car. In fact Phillip more correctly calls it ‘the shed’ because it really isn’t a garage. It houses all manner of things including our bikes. Initially I used the trainer in our lounge room so I could watch TV and many of my friends set their bike trainers up indoors so you don’t need a garage to use one.

The Jet Black Mag2 trainer

We have a medium priced indoor trainer (JetBlack Mag2) and it works pretty well. My only criticism is that it takes a while to lock the back wheel in because it’s a screw in mechanism rather than something that locks in to place. It’s very secure once it’s in place but takes a little time to get it there.

I would also recommend that you invest in a proper mat to go under the whole setup and a block to house the front wheel. Our first front wheel block was a piece of ‘four be two’ and it wasn’t great.

I use my old road bike on the trainer so I can leave it set up. You could easily achieve the same thing if you only own one bike but if you’ve got a spare it’s easier to keep your best road bike ready to go without the hassles involved in setting up a trainer.

I also have an extra back wheel complete with cassette and a special indoor trainer tyre. The indoor trainer tyre is very hard wearing because the mechanism on the trainer can wear down soft road tyres. I learnt this the hard way with one of my first attempts at using the trainer resulted in me burning rubber literally and wearing down a perfectly good road tyre. The only detraction of the trainer tyre is you can’t use it on the road so I have a special back wheel setup to use only on the trainer complete with cassette so that I can easily switch the back wheel without having to change the tyre. The same thing could of course be achieved just by changing the tyre.

Trainer DVD

When I first started using the wind trainer I used to watch TV and found that I could only handle about 20 minutes at a time without getting very bored, plus I wasn’t putting in a huge effort. Then I discovered Spinervals DVDs. These are a series of DVDs produced by an American guy called Troy Jacobson and they are designed to be used with indoor trainers and road bikes. I have two of them and both are about 40 minutes long. It’s a bit like doing a spin class at the gym. Coach Troy tells you what gear to have your bike in but keeps it fairly simple so you’re not constantly changing.

Coach Troy talks you through a complete workout, and believe me, you really sweat and get your heart pumping. I know this because I have my Garmin 500 monitoring my cadence and heart rate. In fact Coach Troy refers to cadence and heart rate which gives you a good idea of how you’re tracking.

In fact I’m such a Spinervals fan that I refer to using my indoor trainer as ‘doing a Coach Troy’.

I play these DVDs on a cheapo DVD player that I bought from Dick Smith Electronics for $59 and a old 34 cm analogue TV that would otherwise have gone to the rubbish tip. So it’s nothing fancy.

In summary my recommendation would be to buy a medium-priced trainer and give it a go. If you really want the full experience of indoor training then you can go and see my friend Phil Stanton at Computrainer and buy a fantastic system that will make you feel like you’re really riding on the road. It will cost a little more than your average indoor trainer though.

One comment

  • Hi, we’re Aussies living in Switzerland, so as you can imagine, we no longer have the luxury of year round cycling. Of course we can ski whenever we want but, it doesn’t help make us ready for summer’s cycling. We purchased a TRACX traininer 3 years ago and haven’t looked back. There are plenty of pre-programmed ergo sessions ranging from 40mins to 3 hours, plus we’ve purchased about a dozen programmed DVDs each of which has 3 or 4 rides perfectly simulating many of the famous TdF, Giro and Vuelta routes and especially the climbs. My wife Mary is a machine on the TRACX trainer – she does at least 3 sessions per week every week from November to March. Not unusal for her to tally up 5 hours per week of quality, effort related work and it really shows when she hits the road come April.