Tri Talk Tuesday - A Quick Guide to Indoor Cycling Options

Now that November is here, I think it's safe to say that almost everyone in the Northern Hemisphere has probably taken the majority of their cycling training indoors.  The mornings are too dark and cold for my liking and the evenings aren't much better so I've started frequenting my "Pain Cave"on a more regular basis.   This is exactly why Cynthia, Courtney and I thought that indoor cycling would be a great topic for this months Tri Talk Tuesday.  I'm going to delve into the different types of trainers available and the pros and cons of each as well as other options for indoor cycling that don't involve spending long hours alone in your basement.

If you live in the Northern Hemisphere chances are you spend the majority of the winter months with your bike on some kind of trainer.   There is something out there for every budget.  I'm going to start with the pricier options first.

Electronic Trainers (a.k.a "Smart Trainers")

For the longest time the Computrainer was the be all and end all to indoor cycling training (it came out in 1986!) and it's still the most widely used system in most indoor group cycling facilities.   This device essentially simulates riding outside.  In the most basic sense, a Computrainer is a trainer (with a flywheel) that is connected to a software program.  You have the option to ride one of the many courses in the Computrainer database or you can chose to ride in ERG mode which, according to the Trainer Road web site is "like loosening your grip on the reins of the horse you're riding.  You basically give control to your trainer/horse and simply ride."  Erg mode sets the resistance for you and it's based on your FTP so you need to know that number before you start to ride. If you choose to ride a course, you don't need to know your FTP, you can just ride.  The Computrainer will give you power, speed and cadence (if you have the optional cadence puck).  It won't give you heart rate and since that is something I always train with, I wear my Garmin, set on indoor cycling mode.

 There are other electronic / computerized trainer options available now.  Ones that are compatible with MAC, which is kind of a big peeve of mine with the Computrainer.   It's P.C compatible only.

The other two popular options are the Wahoo KICKR and the Cycle Ops Power Beam Pro.  I know a few people who have the KICKR and really like it.   The interesting thing about the KICKR is the fact that you don't use your back wheel on this trainer.  You take it off and the bike gets mounted on the gearing of the trainer.  This saves you from the annoyance of having to put a trainer tire on your back wheel so you don't burn through a good tire.

Pricing:  ranges from $1200 - $2000 depending on the model and accessories you choose.  The KICKR is the cheapest of the three but that's still a fair bit of money to spend on a trainer.

Pros:  Simulates riding outside, ability to train with power without having to purchase a power meter, really quiet

Cons:  Price and if you're a MAC lover and want a Computrainer, be prepared to factor the cost of a P.C. into the price.  With the KICKR you have to remove your back wheel to use it.  There are several other electronic trainers on the market, these are the three that I'm familiar with.

DC Rainmaker did an excellent comparison chart of all the electronic trainers he's reviewed.  You can read it here.

Manual Trainers (a.k.a "Dumb Trainers")

By manual I mean powered strictly by you - it's not hooked up to a computer (although with some trainers there is the option to ride online programs, which I will discuss later).

There are 3 types of "manual" trainers:  fluid trainers, mag trainers and rollers

1) Fluid trainer:  A fluid trainer uses fluid to build resistance against the wheel of your bike.  A fluid trainer requires a bit of a warm up period to get the fluid moving so when you first start riding it generally feels a bit easier.   The fluid becomes harder to push through the harder you pedal.  Fluid trainers generally give a more road like feel than a mag trainer.

Pros:  quiet, reliable, cost
Cons:  can't ride with power (unless you have a meter on your bike already), can't ride courses unless you're hooked up to a training app, can be prone to leaking due to expansion and contraction of fluid when heated.

Cost:  between $300-$600 

Kurt Kinetic Fluid Trainer

2) Mag Trainer:  These trainers use the repelling force of similar poles of magnets to create resistance.  Magnets are placed in a configuration that exploits their ability to repel each other, and that is what creates the work load for the rider.

Pros:  Cost, quiet
Cons:  resistance has an upper limit, prone to breaking, can't ride with power (unless you have a meter on your bike already), can't ride courses unless you're hooked up to a training app

Cost:  between $200-$400

3)  Rollers:  These are going to be the most challenging to use of all the trainers listed.   Rollers are just that:  a frame that has 3 rollers attached horizontally into a frame.  Usually one at the front and two at the back.

Your bike doesn't mount into anything so this is like riding on the road except you're not moving forward.  Riding rollers requires balance and concentration.  There is no zoning out on these things.  If you want to improve your core stability while on the bike, these are what you want.
By placing magnets in a configuration that exploits the magnets ability to repel each other, Mag trainers create a workload for the cyclist. - See more at:
By placing magnets in a configuration that exploits the magnets ability to repel each other, Mag trainers create a workload for the cyclist. - See more at:
By placing magnets in a configuration that exploits the magnets ability to repel each other, Mag trainers create a workload for the cyclist. - See more at:

Pros:  cost, improve balance & pedaling efficiency
Cons:  difficulty of use, potential for injury if you fall off, mad balance skills required

Cost:  usually between $200-$400 but there are a couple of newer options that are around $900

Trainer Apps:

This is a whole new category of awesomeness that has become available to the basement bound masses.  One of the big draws is that they can provide a social aspect to a relatively solitary activity.  These have really come into their own in the last couple of years and there are SO many out there with so many different features and costs, it's difficult to know where to begin.  Thankfully there's DC Rainmaker, who actually took the time to delve into 20 different apps and what each one offers.  You can read that article here.   The ones I see a lot of people using are ZWIFT and Trainer Road.  I have yet to try either of them out but will probably give both of them a test run at some point this winter.

Cost: around $10/month

Indoor Group Cycling:

I'm not talking about spinning.  Spinning has it's place but if you're a triathlete or a cyclist, nothing beats the comfort of your own bike.  Enter the Indoor Group Ride.  People have been getting together to train in garages and basements for ages.  Some entrepreneurial folks took notice of that and started creating specific places that you could go with your bike and ride with like minded people.  99.9% of this type of group cycling is done on your own bike on a Computrainer.  Some places will put up a course and you ride it for the duration of the class.  Others will have a specific workout that you do and others look to the long term and design a program that provides you with a periodized training plan.  There are a few places that I know of in Toronto that offer these types of group cycling classes. 

West End:  Watts Up Cycling 
I'm currently testing the Watts Up Home Cycling program and will review that in a week or so. 

East End: Gears Leaside

Personally I'd rather have some company for a 2 hour ride vs. sitting in front of the TV in my basement.  That's one of the reasons these classes have become so popular.

Cost:  $40/class to $300+ / a month depending on how many times a week you want to ride.

With so many options for indoor cycling these days, there is bound to be something that works for you.  Many of these trainers can be found used through your local classifieds, tri group or ebay.  My hubby got his Computrainer on ebay at a fraction of what it would have cost.  So it pays to look around!

Next months Tri Talk Tuesday will be on December 7th and the theme is Christmas gifts for the triathlete in your life (a.k.a things to put on your Christmas list!)