Monday, September 29, 2014

Taking the "Pain" out of the Pain Cave - Part 2: Resistance

Image used with permission from Saris Cycling Group.

For the first "real" post of this series regarding indoor cycling, we'll start out discussing the hardware involved.  Whether you call it a "trainer" or "turbo", the main component of indoor cycling is going to be the device that you put the bike in to provide resistance while you imagine yourself cruising your favorite outdoor routes, free of traffic.  There are a lot of options available, and please don't consider what I list here as an endorsement for particular products, nor is this a comprehensive list of everything out there - these are the models and brands that can be found here locally in Indiana.

The key word today is "resistance".  When you are on the road, the weight of your body and bike, combined with the tires rolling on the ground and aerodynamics all provide resistance.  As you go faster, the resistance increases.   You can think of the resistance as being progressive and is often expressed as a curve.  Going from 15 mph to 16 mph will require additional power, but going from 30 mph to 31 mph will require increased additional power.

In order to provide a road-like feel, trainers need to provide resistance in a way that mimics the resistance curve of the outdoor experience as best as they can.  There are essentially 3 ways trainer manufacturers do this - wind, magnetic, or fluid resistance.  Let's take a brief look at each approach.

The CycleOps Wind Trainer
Image used with permission from Saris Cycling Group.

Wind - These trainers use fan blades to provide the resistance.  They tend to be very loud, and it's not like the wind is actually directed towards you to help cooling.  So, by the time you have a wind-resistance trainer, and a fan to cool yourself, you could just as well have 747s take off in your living room.  That might be OK if you're trying to watch a TV show about 747s taking off.  So, in my opinion (if you can't tell), these aren't a real compelling option, unless you're on a really tight budget.

Examples (with MSRP):

Summary:  Loud, but relatively affordable.

The CycleOps Magneto
Image used with permission from Saris Cycling Group.

Magnetic - As the name implies, magnetic trainers use a flywheel with magnets built in to provide resistance.  Magnetic trainers tend to be a bit more affordable than fluid trainers, although there is some crossover.  Many provide variable resistance, which is kind of neat, but not necessarily all that useful.  Some folks feel that they lack the "road feel" of a fluid trainer, although there is more than just the resistance that goes into that.  "Road feel" is as much the act of balancing yourself as it is the rolling resistance of the tires on the road and acceleration and deceleration.  

Magnetic trainers have a reputation for being loud.  Not as bad as wind trainers, but not nearly as quiet as fluid trainers.  In recent years, some of the newer designs have much improved noise levels.  The trainer I use in the fitting studio and my personal pain cave is a CycleOps Supermagneto Pro magnetic.  The noise level has never affected conversations in the studio.  I think it's pretty quiet.

Examples (with MSRP):

Summary:  In the middle on price and noise levels.  Road feel is decent.

The CycleOps JetFluid Pro
Image used with permission from Saris Cycling Group.

Fluid - Fluid trainers are usually considered the quietest option and to have the best road feel.  This means that they tend to feel a bit more natural as you accelerate and decelerate.  Magnetic trainers are often compared to how much they feel like a fluid trainer, and better magnetic designs in recent years have kind of closed the gap.  I've heard of some fluid trainers leaking before, but have not experienced this personally.  Maybe if I were generating 1200 watts and caused the fluid to boil over, but alas, I don't have that problem.

Examples (with MSRP, unless otherwise stated):
Elite Qubo Fluid - $179 (Performance Bike)
Elite Qubo Fluid+ - $229 (Performance Bike)

Summary:  Quietest, best road feel.  Tend to be the most expensive.

Features of These Trainers

The trainers linked above are all what I would describe as your "classic" trainer - they use a special skewer to attach the bike to the trainer and are good, solid foundations for a safe trainer workout using your complete bike.  Resistance is applied to the tire via some sort of mechanism to tighten it down.  This can be a lever like on the CycleOps or a screw on the Kurt Kinetics.

You may want to pay close attention to how that mechanism works.  You want to be able to apply consistent pressure to the tire to give yourself a consistent workout (especially if you want to use TrainerRoad's Virtual Power, which we'll discuss soon).  The CycleOps lever takes a bit more getting used to, and if you somehow mess it up, can be hard to get back to where you had it.  The Kurt Kinetic's mechanism is a little bit easier to reproduce pressure - turn it so it touches the tire, and then give it a certain number of turns to prevent the tire from slipping on the roller attached to the flywheel.

With the exception of the Kurt Kinetic Rock-n-Roll, these really don't allow any natural movement side-to-side, which can sometimes aggravate the aspects of your bike fit that aren't ideal.  There are some bikes that are not necessarily compatible with being mounted in the trainer.  The Quintana Roo Illicito, for example, is not recommended for use with a stationary trainer.  So, you may want to check with the manufacturer of your bike before you purchase a trainer.

One aspect of road feel that can also be considered is the flywheel weight.  A heavier flywheel can provide a more naturally feeling acceleration or deceleration.  Kurt Kinetic offers an add-on flywheel for their fluid trainers.

Finally, most of these have frames that can be folded for storage or travel purposes, and usually have some sort of adjustment for ensuring they are level.  If you watch pro cycling TV coverage at all, you may have seen the pro riders warming up before the time trial on trainers.  I've seen quite a few elites amateurs at cycling events also warming up on their trainers.  So, depending on what kind of riding events you may do, a good solid frame is especially important.

What's Next?

Beyond the resistance type and basic features found in trainers, there are also different ways of attaching the bike to the trainer and providing the resistance.  In the next installment, we'll look at alternatives to the "classic" trainers discussed here, including what I would describe as "direct drive" trainers, technologically-advanced power/virtual trainers, and rollers.

If you made it this far, thank you - I hope you found something useful here.  As always, comments and feedback are greatly appreciated!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Taking the "Pain" out of the Pain Cave - Part 1

The Pain Cave.  Image used with permission from Saris Cycling Group.

Winter is coming, and for many of us who like to ride bikes in Indiana, this could mean our opportunities to ride outdoors might be coming to an end soon.

In the fitting studio at Vector Cycle Works, I often have conversations with customers about how they can improve their fitness and cycling efficiency.  This inevitably leads to talking about indoor training and how to make trainer time more effective and fun.  I spend a lot of time on the trainer year-round, and I really enjoy it.  I've recently done quite a bit of research for my customers, and thought it would be nice to share it with everybody.

So, this is the first of a series of posts intended to discuss indoor cycling options.  A lot of people find the trainer to be an awful experience, but a lot has happened over the last 3 to 4 years to make it better.  I thought this might be a good time to take a look at what trainers are available today, software options that can be used to enhance the experience, and alternatives to the pain cave.  

I don't claim to be an expert on all things regarding indoor cycling, and I don't have hands-on experience with many of the products discussed here.  So, please don't expect this to be an in-depth review of every product out there (although if anybody wants to send me stuff, I'll gladly review it as long as you let me be honest!).

The goal of this series is to promote awareness of what products and services are available today.  Regardless of whether you are a Cat 1 roadie or someone brand new to cycling, maybe this will inspire you to find a way to make this your best off-season ever.

As we move through this series, here are some of the questions I hope to address:

  • Which Trainer is Right for Me?
  • What Else Do I Need?
  • How Can I Make my Workouts More Effective?
  • How Can I Make my Workouts More Fun?
  • I Don't Want to Die in my Basement Alone.  What Other Options are Available?

That's just a start, although it's already looking like a lot to cover.  Who knows?  Maybe some more topic ideas will come up.  I do plan to do another series at some point regarding training and racing with power.  So, there's a lot coming.  Feel free to leave comments with some ideas or suggestions for additional topics.  

I'm a bike fitter, but I'm a cycling advocate first.  I got into bike fitting because I honestly love seeing people finding happiness in cycling.  I enjoy spending time with the people who come to me for a bike fit - every one has been an inspiration.  The cycling community has a lot of great energy, and I hope this blog can give back something positive.  This is all about sharing the cycling experience with anybody who wants to ride a bike.  I hope you enjoy the upcoming articles.