Turbo Trainers Buying Guide
Turbo trainers are convenient training devices that allow you to cycle indoors on your own bike away from the weather. They are great to keep your legs spinning throughout the year but especially in the autumn and winter months. The rear wheel of your bicycle is typically suspended from the unit, and when pedalling the resistance provided replicates the ‘feel’ of being out on the open road.
Why use a turbo?
If you watched Team Sky’s Chris Froome win his third Tour de France you probably could not fail to notice that his post-stage interviews were largely conducted as he warmed down on a ‘wireless’ turbo trainer. Whilst ‘wireless’ turbo trainers are useful for warming up and down before and after races, an ‘indoor’ turbo trainer really earns its keep in the colder months when weather or darkness discourage you from riding outdoors.
By training indoors, perhaps when the roads are icy, or you don’t have time to do a full outdoor training ride, you retain your fitness throughout the year and can also perform set structured training sessions without any interference from the weather or other road users.
Choosing a trainer: which is the best one for me?
Your choice will ultimately depend on your budget but factor in the type of sessions or amount of training you plan to do on it. If your training time on the turbo is going to be significant then it’s likely you’ll want to invest in a more sophisticated model. You might need to consider your neighbours and choose a quieter unit or your space to store it may be limited.
What type of turbo trainers are there?
There are many different styles of turbo trainers available to purchase and now an increase in the popularity of new ‘Smart’ trainers which can connect to social training ride programmes such as Zwift and TrainerRoad. The more sophisticated trainers are interactive and can be used with the associated software playing a laptop, television or even a projection screen in front of you. The main choice between the different trainers is the style of the resistance unit which vary in both price and feel.
A magnetic turbo trainer creates resistance from a magnetic field. When the bicycle back wheel spins against the turbo trainer, the ‘mag’ unit creates resistance which provides your workout.
Most turbo trainers that use this form of unit can vary the resistance to the bicycle. This means it can be made more difficult to pedal, increasing the effort you have to put in. The most common way that this resistance is changed is by a lever mounted to your handlebars. These are some of the most popular trainers on the market due to the ‘feel’ and the affordable price of them.
View our range of Magnetic Turbo Trainers
A fluid turbo trainer makes use of a propeller in a chamber that is filled with oil. This technology provides a resistance that is more gradual, and cannot be changed like on a magnetic system. Instead the harder you pedal, the harder the resistance, so changing gears can influence the ride.
Fluid turbo trainers are often quieter than magnetic trainers, so are a good option for people who do not want to disturb others.
View our range of Fluid Turbo Trainers
A wind resistance turbo trainer is very similar to a fluid turbo trainer but has an external fan which helps to provide the resistance. This is varied by pedalling harder and by changing the bicycle’s gears. Not as common anymore due to them being extremely loud! They are however some of the cheaper turbo trainers on the market.
The newest style of turbo trainer, a direct drive requires the rear wheel to be removed from the bicycle. The dropouts on the bicycle are then placed directly onto the turbo, which has a cassette mounted to it.
The advantage of this style of turbo trainer is that as no tyre is used they do not wear out, and due to this they are perhaps the quietest turbo trainers on the market. Perfect for people who are going to be training in apartments.
View our range of Direct Drive Turbo Trainers
Smart Turbo Trainers
For some people, turbo training can be a little boring, and to combat this and to make it more like riding out on the road, virtual reality ride experiences are gaining in popularity. Programmes such as Zwift and TrainerRoad work perfectly with ‘Smart Trainers’ so that you can ride along a route, even race against other people across the world.
A smart turbo trainer connects to a computer or a tablet via Bluetooth or Ant+. This will then change the resistance of the motor unit depending upon what you are riding on course, so if you come to an incline, it will get more difficult to pedal, and vice versa. Ride data can then be uploaded to other programmes such as Strava to analyse further.
View our range of Smart Turbo Trainers
‘Converting’ a turbo trainer to being smart
If you already have a turbo trainer, but it is not a ‘smart’ one, you can still take part in the Zwift and TrainerRoad activities. By purchasing a speed sensor and an Ant+ dongle for your computer it is possible to join in. You won’t get the full experience such as it getting more difficult to pedal when you come to the ‘virtual hill’ but it still livens up your average trainer session.
Can I use any bicycle on a turbo trainer?
In most cases the answer is yes. Road and mountain bikes can be used on virtually all of the turbo trainers. It is common practice to use a ‘turbo tyre’ when using a trainer where the tyre is in contact with the resistance unit. This is because they are harder wearing and do not degrade as quickly. A change of rear quick release skewer (usually supplied with the trainer) may also be required to ensure your bicycle is clamped in securely.
What else might I need for indoor training?
As well as using a hard wearing/cold running turbo tyre (if you have a spare rear wheel it’s convenient to have the tyre permanently fitted on this) you can purchase other useful indoor training accessories such as a Riser Block to lift your front wheel off the ground and level the bike during turbo training. A training mat not only protects your floor but stops your bike and trainer from slipping and also dampens vibrations so is kind to anyone living below you! A sweat net stretches between your handlebars and seat post to protect your frame and components from corrosive sweat.
What are Rollers?
Riding on the rollers is a skill, but once you master it you will be pedalling from the hips more, just as you would naturally on the road or track. Rollers are completely wireless, collapsible and so easy to transport to races for warm-up or warm-down.
View our range of Rollers
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Andy is the Product Specialist and Content Writer at Ribble. He takes part in all disciplines of cycling, but can mostly be found either on his road bike or on the mountain bike trails.