Hate the treadmill at the gym? Can’t wait to get back outside? Get a jump start on your cycling fitness by spinning on a trainer this winter, and reap the rewards when you hit the road this spring!
Choosing a Trainer
To get into spinning, you will need a bike trainer or rollers. There are many choices and price points, so the choice may seem overwhelming. Our local bike shops can help you through your decision process, and help you narrow it down. Compare trainers by keeping in mind what is most important to you. Ride performance, adjustability, ease of use, storage, noise & price are key points to consider.
Wind Trainer: Your back wheel powers a fan. Resistance progressively increases as you pedal harder. These are generally the lowest price point, but can be very noisy.
Magnetic Trainer: Uses a magnetic flywheel to create fixed resistance. Generally quieter than wind trainers. Some models offer remote resistance adjustments, others require you to manually adjust.
Fluid Trainer: Filled with a fluid, such as silicon, to increase resistance as you pedal faster. This is a popular model as it gives more of a “real road” feel than wind or magnetic trainers, and they are quiet. However, they are a bit more expensive.
Smart Trainer: These trainers offer interactive features - typically fluid, magnetic or flywheel models that feature Bluetooth and/or ANT+ compatibility so you capture and share workout data (power output, heart rate, cadence, etc.) to your mobile device or computer. You’ll pay more for this type of trainer, but it could give you the motivation you need to train regularly.
Rollers: More challenging as you do not lock your bike into place, but rather balance your bike while spinning on three cylinders (2 in back, 1 in front). Requires good balance and smooth pedaling cadence. There is a risk of falling off until you get the hang of it, but offers a great workout.
Flywheel Trainer / Bike: Uses a heavy duty flywheel. Many have realistic features to simulate rides or races, and lots of downloadable data. However, these are heavy and not portable and can be quite expensive.
Rear Axle Skewer: It is very important to replace your bike’s rear skewer with the steel one provided with your trainer. This will ensure your rear wheel stays securely locked in place. If you have thru axles, some trainers have conversion kits you can purchase.
Tire Block / Ring : This is what you place your front tire on in order to level out your bike, or stack them to simulate a climb. Can be as fancy as you’d like, or as primitive as a block of wood or some phone books (does anyone use phone books anymore??)
Training Tire: Take that nice tire off your rear wheel and replace with a used tire from your previous season. If you don’t have one of these, there are trainer specific tires you can buy which will prevent unnecessary wear to your nice expensive road tires.
Trainer Mat: Catches sweat and keeps your floor clean, a good idea if you are training in your living room.
Sweat net or thong: Protects your bike frame and components from the corrosive effects of sweat as you ride. Personally I just throw a hand towel across my frame and tuck it into the cables. If you don’t protect your frame, make sure to at least wash your bike every few rides!
Bike Sensors: There are many available makes & models of speed sensors, cadence sensors, power meters, heart rate monitors etc that will provide you will data in order to train in specific zones. Many speed sensors have enough range to work on an indoor trainer if you move the sensor magnets to the rear wheel, which will allow you to track virtual distance covered on your bike computer or training software.
How to Train
Alright! You’re set up and ready to spin! Now what? Training can be as basic as using a free app that will beep at you between intervals, to using computrainers to compete in virtual races with extensive amounts of data to analyze your performance. Here are a few suggestions to get you going.
The Free Route: Download a free interval trainer app and use perceived rates of exertion (e.g. scale of 1 to 10 for effort level) to spin harder during the intervals, with recovery in between.
Using Heart Rate: Use a heart rate monitor paired to your bike’s computer (or even a running watch) to train in desired zones, with recovery in between.
Spin Class: Many bike shops offer spin classes in the winter - some require you to bring a trainer and some have smart / computrainers you can pay to use. Check with your local bike shop to see what they offer! It is very motivating to spin with other people, and can even help you meet new bike friends to ride with come springtime.
Training Software / Apps: Use TrainerRoad, Zwift, Sufferfest, Bkool and more to enhance your training experience. These programs generally require at a minimum a speed sensor or power meter and heart rate monitor with ANT+ and/or Bluetooth connectivity, as well as a USB dongle that plugs into your computer to receive sensor data. Some offer free trials, with a modest monthly or yearly fee thereafter if you decide to stick with it. They are great fun and a helpful way to stay motivated to get on the trainer more regularly!
Set a Goal
This may be the most important part, helping you to keep your focus and provide motivation in the cold snowy winter. Pick an early spring ride and register for it now. Get your friends on board and create a team! Set a distance goal, or just a personal goal to start cycling in the cooler weather.
What is your setup, Jen?
I started a few years back with my husband’s magnetic trainer. It was a great price point and what we were willing to spend at the time. However, I’ve upgraded to a CycleOps Fluid2 trainer. We have two in the house now, and they have a much better feel which keeps us motivated to use them. I use the new style Garmin speed and cadence sensors, and Garmin heart rate strap paired with either my Garmin bike computer or with Zwift to train. Find me at Gus’ spin on Tuesday nights, or on Zwift Thursday nights and whenever else I find extra time to jump on between my outdoor adventures.