Ah, the pleasures of riding the open road. Until it starts raining that is, and you come up with myriad excuses why you can't possibly go out on your bike. (Our favourite at TW is because we don't want our sparkling steeds to become grubby.) But guiltily sidling past your bike as it gathers dust in your hallway isn't going to make you a better triathlete. If you want to ride but can't face the great outdoors, there is another way.
Using an indoor turbo trainer offers the flexibility of training, whatever the weather, in a safe environment and at a time that suits you. Here's what to look for if you're thinking of introducing this extra element to your triathlon training.
Join the resistance
The biggest difference between the various turbo trainers is how they generate resistance. Choose from a basic trainer that uses air resistance, through more expensive fluid trainers that tend to produce a smooth, silent ride, to top-end models that employ magnets working against each other to create resistance. In general, the more you spend, the more natural the ride should feel.
The most basic trainers rely on you changing gear to change the resistance, but the majority offer adjustable resistance either via a handlebar switch or by adjusting the rear unit itself. Top-end models offer magnetic resistance that simulates actual rides - fancy tackling the 21 hairpin bends of the Alpe d'Huez? - or preprogrammed training workouts.
Look for a solid frame and wheel mount that will provide stable support for your bike. Check how the mount clamps around your bike's rear wheel - most trainers include a skewer to replace your bike's standard quick-release skewer - and that it will accommodate a variety of wheel sizes. Some trainers also include a front-wheel riser to keep your bike level when you're riding. If space is an issue in your home, check to see whether the trainer folds up for storage.
The level of noise generated by your trainer will largely be determined by the type of resistance it employs. The more you spend, the quieter the trainer is likely to be. If you want to stay on speaking terms with loved ones, consider how much noise the trainer will make before you buy.
Riding indoors gives you the chance to refine your cycling technique. Here are two drills that will help you make the most of your power by improving your pedalling and breathing mechanics. They also give you something to focus on when you're pushing through fatigue. Practise once a week on the turbo trainer.
Proper pedalling requires flexible ankles. As with walking, your heel should lead the downward motion - this allows you to begin applying power early in the pedal stroke. At the bottom of the stroke, use a scraping motion, as if you're cleaning the sole of your shoe. To start the upstroke, pull up on the heel first.
Practise pedalling with one leg to start with - rest your other foot on the turbo trainer. Focus first on the downstroke, then the upstroke, then on both. Start with a cadence of about 50 revolutions per minute (rpm). Repeat with the other foot, then with both feet clipped in.
Start with five minutes per foot for your first workout - as you progress, increase the time you are pedalling correctly to the whole ride. Once you feel comfortable, keep you cadence at a minimum of 90rpm.
Take in more air
Breathing properly takes practice and concentration. Most people try to breathe deeper by expanding their chest, but the muscles between the ribs don't move much. The best way to bring air into your lungs is to push your stomach outwards - this pulls down the diaphragm, so the lungs can fill to maximum capacity. And when you contract your stomach muscles, the diaphragm pushes upwards, forcing air out. As with the pedalling drills, try belly breathing for five minutes to start, then gradually increase the length of the exercise.
Cycleops Mag+ Trainer, £145
They say: The Mag+ trainer's unique design incorporates a flywheel for an unbeatable smooth and quiet ride, and features five setting adjustments for varied workouts. With a solid performance and Lifetime Warranty, the Mag+ Trainer is ideal if you're looking to stay in shape all year round. This model also features a handlebar remote shifter, which allows you to adjust the resistance while riding without getting off the bike.
We say: Like all the CycleOps trainers this was sturdy and well made - but we just didn't get on with it. The resistance-changing cable required some setting up (unlike all the others on test) and when set up just didn't seem to offer a great change in resistance; in fact, we were riding comfortably at even the highest resistance. The only way we could change this was
to increase the roller pressure on the tyre much more than is usually necessary. The trainer was fairly quiet, but started vibrating really unpleasantly during an extended session.
Tacx Cosmos Ergotrainer, £819.99
They say: The Cosmos is an incredible power-training device for cyclists who want to make the most of their training. This high-end ergotrainer, which can be used stand-alone, is equipped with a powerful engine brake so you can perform extremely hard workouts. It is possible to generate more than 1,000 watts at a low pedalling frequency. On top of that the brake simulates descents and climbs to a tee. The resistance corresponds perfectly with what you would experience on the road. Climbs feel just like the real thing.
We say: If you can't work out your mobile phone then this may not be the trainer for you. It requires dedication to get the best out of it and will reward you with an array of data to help target your training. You can programme in automatic changes in wattage or percentage-slope gradients and download workout results to your PC. Features such as a powered rear wheel to simulate descents may help keep you interested if you're bored by the monotony of sitting on a less flexible turbo trainer. The ride feels smooth, but did become a little jerky with fast changes in target wattage on the manual setting.
The Cosmos comes with a front-wheel riser.
Elite Crono Mag ElastoGel Turbo Trainer, £166
They say: The Elite Crono Mag ElastoGel Turbo Trainer uses a magnetic resistance unit that includes extra magnets to increase the resistance and trainer's reliability. The ElastoGel roller enhances tyre grip and reduces wear and vibration. The frame uses your bodyweight to keep the rear tyre on the roller while body movement replicates a more realistic ride and easy-to-use twist action handlebar mounts offer five adjustable resistance positions.
We say: This trainer has a completely different setup to the other trainers on test: instead of the resistance roller being tightened to the rear tyre, rider weight is used to press the wheel onto the roller. This means setting the bike up is super-easy, with no need to adjust the roller pressure. In use there was no rear-wheel slippage, despite the design, and noise levels were acceptable. Possibly as a result of this design, the trainer had the most freedom of movement of the rear wheel on the roller unit, which at times felt a little disconcerting - but then it's not what we're used to. On the downside, the resistance (added via a handlebar mount) could have been greater and with this design there's no way of increasing the roller pressure (short of putting on weight) on the rear wheel.
Tacx I-Magic Fortius, £529.99
They say: The I-Magic has a hyper-modern interface, while the electromagnetic brake seamlessly matches anything you would experience on the road. You will feel as if you are riding on smooth asphalt or a bumpy path through the woods, through loose sand or on wet grass. The I-Magic works with Fortius software to create a virtual world that unfolds before you on your screen, turning riding in your home into a very special event. In Tacx's virtual worlds, rider movements are natural and their pedal strokes perfect.
We say: This trainer is for the serious athlete who loves technology and wants to squeeze every last watt out of every last training session. It includes software that allows you to complete a preprogrammed session or simulate the ups - thanks to the amazing resistance (1000W at 20kph) - and downs of classic cols such as Mont Ventoux using the DVD function. Use the data you've collected to monitor your training progress. Riding it in your living room will be smoother than the Tour's climbs, but the serious triathlete will be rewarded with enormous training benefits and great views. A front-wheel support and software are included.
Minoura M50R, £119.99
They say: This, the new entry-level Minoura trainer, has a classic A-frame with strong
oval tubing. The Japanese-made M50 has a compact single-sided Mag unit, with a
500-gram flywheel. The seven levels of resistance are set by a dial on this Mag unit, so you can have a great workout or an easy spin session as you require.
We say: This was more sensitive than others on test to achieving the correct contact pressure on the rear tyre - it could be noisy, otherwise - and felt noticeably less smooth compared with the other trainers. Despite this, it felt fine to use after five to 10 minutes riding and the ride was smooth enough. The resistance shifter gave a good range of adjustment, albeit with some large steps and loss of smoothness at high resistance. It was relatively quiet to ride.
CycleOps PowerBeam Pro, £1000
They say: The world's first trainer with integrated PowerTap technology, so you know how hard you're working. The PowerBeam Pro's PowerTuned flywheel is precision engineered for a smooth, real-world feel. A stiffer yoke limits vibrations at all speeds, while a large, precision-machined alloy roller reduces tyre wear. Closed- loop resistance control allows for precise interval training with instantaneous resistance changes. Meanwhile, train gauges embedded in the resistance unit give PowerTap resistance control that's accurate to + or - five per cent.
We say: This has the sturdiness and smoothness of other CycleOps trainers, plus a new avenue of training via its inbuilt power-measuring technology. Like the Tacx Cosmos, the Powerbeam Pro needs programming to get the best from it, though it features an intuitive computer unit. The handlebar-mounted display comes with preset workouts and repeatable fitness tests, and you can upload bespoke programmes to it and download your results to a PC. It also uses the same clamping system as the JetFluid Pro and, if no power supply is available, has PowerTuned Technology so it can be used as a stand-alone unit. A pleasure to use.
Tacx Satori Pro, £214.99
They say: Top road cyclists such as Robbie McEwen, Fabian Cancellara and Thor Hushovd ride Tacx trainers. The robust Satori Pro has been designed to withstand incredible forces. The brake consists of a powerful Neodymium magnet, an extra-large steel flywheel and a handlebar-mounted shift lever. At low pedalling frequencies the trainer can generate extremely high power. It is possible to generate 400 watts at the relatively low speed of 27 kilometres per hour, perfect if you need to warm up before the start of a race.
We say: The Satori exhibited excellent ride quality, with the ability to add massive amounts of resistance to your workout. Like all but the three most expensive on test, the Satori is easy to transport if you want to take it to the start of a bike race, and Tacx include a padded carry-bag to put it in for protection (these usually cost around £50). The only downsides with this trainer are that it was difficult to get the resistance shifter to hold securely on the handlebars, leading to two-handed shifting, and the fact that it is a simple manual trainer, so doesn't offer you additional training data - but that's good for technophobes who just want to get on and ride. As well as the carry-bag, the Satori also comes with a front-wheel riser block. This is a real beast of a trainer that felt solid and smooth.
Blackburn TrakStand Ultra, £195
They say: Promising to give you a smooth, quiet and ultra-realistic ride, the new TrakStand Ultra's trademarked CENTRIFORCE resistance unit uses a centrifugal clutch giving a silent, more realistic ride and progressive resistance at three different resistance curves up to 3,000 watts. With a smooth rollout, there's a more natural and responsive pedal stroke when coasting. With adjustable height your rear wheel can be only a quarter of an inch off the ground, giving you a more stable ride and the feeling of riding on the road. Stability comes in the shape of the folding aluminium frame.
We say: This was a virtually silent trainer. While less sleek than others on test, the TrakStand Ultra was rock-solid to use; in fact, a little too solid for some. Like the JetFluid Pro, this trainer features a progressive rather than adjustable increase in resistance, as you increase your effort. The TrakStand also has adjustable legs to lower the rear wheel as close as 1cm to the ground - so no riser is required for the front wheel - and an easy-to-use cranking handle to attach bike to trainer.
CycleOps JetFluid Pro, £265
They say: The most realistic ride a trainer can offer. We took great care to design an impeller that allows fluid to pass smoothly and easily through the blades, providing optimal resistance. PowerTuned Technology provides the perfect balance between the most realistic power curve and a precision-balanced flywheel for sustained efforts and accelerations. Simply shift into the big ring for
added resistance, just like out on the road, and let the JetFluid Pro prepare you for all the challenges of the upcoming season.
We say: A solid, well-built trainer, with an adjustable leg for levelling on uneven floors. A little noisy for a fluid trainer, possibly due to the addition of a cooling fan, which, it's claimed, gives better performance to the resistance unit. The resistance unit itself features CycleOps' PowerTuned Technology for a realistic on-road ride. It increases resistance as you increase your effort. The ride was certainly smooth, with a good progressive increase in resistance when clicking up through your gears, though this is best for simulating flat-terrain riding rather than hills. The bike clamping system was also simple to use.
Accessorise All Areas
Get the most from your turbo-training sessions with these extras:
A tyre designed for use on the trainer
will wear better than a regular tyre, and stay cooler - reducing the chances of
your tyre exploding. Try the Continental Hometrainer.
A towelling or waterproof strip which covers your bike between the saddle and handlebars will prevent highly corrosive sweat from attacking your bike.
A floor mat will protect your floor from marks and it will also deaden the sound of the trainer.
Check your tyre pressure before each ride to minimise differences in roller pressure.
You'll sweat even more indoors than outdoors so ensure you stay well hydrated. You can also practise drinking while looking straight ahead.
You will become hot when training indoors but a fan will help you keep your cool.
Handy for wiping away sweat.
Cycling indoors can be a little monotonous so keep boredom at bay by watching TV, listening to the stereo or playing your favourite film.
Decide what you want to achieve before you climb aboard, and don't do interval sessions every time you train.
Eat and rehydrate afterwards, since you will sweat a lot indoors. Consider an electrolyte replacement such as Nuun.