Orrville Cycling & Fitness - Orrville, OH - Phone: 330-682-1911
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Riding in Place
Training indoors: trainers, rollers, stationary bikes

February 2010

Running has the treadmill while cycling has the stationary trainer. Both can consume great amounts of energy without actually taking you anywhere. But when riding outdoors is not an option, cyclists resort to riding in place.


Why ride indoors?

First, let’s talk about why indoor training may be necessary. Right now, in Ohio, an obvious answer is the white stuff currently blanketing our landscape. To be out on the road is not safe right now. The roads are narrow due to plowed snow and automobile drivers are having enough challenges with the roadway conditions. Passing a cyclist on a narrow back road can make for a delicate situation this time of year.

snow
A tall pile of snow in front of the shop.

Cold temperatures may be enough reason for some riders to abandon the thought of riding outdoors. It is possible, and dare we say comfortable, to ride in some pretty cold weather with the right gear, but everyone has their limit for the lowest temperature and wind chill they are willing to brave.

Even during summertime there may be cause to ride indoors. Thunderstorms, rain, or high wind may promote an indoor training session.

Sometimes our busy schedules prevent the time needed to ride outdoors. Maybe you have to ride ten miles to reach good training roads but you don’t have time for twenty roundtrip miles just to get out and back. An indoor session allows you to do a short warm-up and get right to work.

If you find time to train early in the morning or later in the evening, lack of sufficient daylight may be another cause to move indoors. Of course a bike lighting system (see our article here) allows you to ride in dark conditions, but an indoor trainer is another option.

One last thought, certain types of training may be better accomplished indoors. If attempting to follow a training program, it may be easier to ride at prescribed intensities indoors. Timed intervals, for example, may be difficult to do outdoors due to road or traffic conditions, but these variables are eliminated indoors.

In this article we will present three common options for riding indoors: trainers, rollers and stationary bikes. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, so let’s look at each one in detail. But first, here's a video we made at the shop showing each of the three pieces of equipment in action:


Trainers

For cyclists who wish to use their own bike for indoor riding, resistance trainers have become a popular choice. These devices consist of a frame which locks onto the rear axle of your bike and a resistance unit that engages your bike’s rear wheel. The bike is held a couple inches off the ground by the trainer’s frame, allowing you to pedal the bike as normal. Of course there is no balancing or steering needed because the bike is locked rigidly in place. The stability of the bike on the trainer is a function of the trainer stand’s design and construction, one feature separating good from not-so-good trainer models.

trainer
Stationary trainer: Jon uses a riser
block to elevate the bike's front wheel.

The resistance unit on a trainer consists of a drum that engages the rear wheel. The drum is pressed against the rear wheel by cranking a knob when the bike is first placed into the trainer. This crank adjustment is not adjusting the resistance of the unit, it is merely ensuring the bike’s rear wheel does not slip on the drum.

There are several different types of resistance units available including wind, magnetic, and fluid. Each has unique characteristics in regard to the “feel” of the resistance when pedaling your bike on the trainer.

As you pedal a fluid resistance trainer your rear wheel turns the drum on the resistance unit. The drum is turning an impeller within a housing filled with fluid. The resistance is not directly related to the speed at which your rear wheel turns. Rather, the resistance is progressive and increases at faster speeds, providing a more "road-like" feel. These units are typically the most quiet type of trainer resistance units.

trainer
This trainer uses fluid resistance. The sealed
resistance unit is on the left.

There are several implementations of magnetic resistance units. They basically work by turning a magnet attached to the drum against a fixed magnet within the resistance unit. The resistance of this setup may be directly related to speed, although some designs change the magnetic interaction as speed changes and approximate a fluid trainer’s resistance. On less expensive trainers the resistance is manually selected with a control level you mount on your handlebars. Magnetic resistance units are nearly as quiet as fluid trainers. There is variation in price for magnetic trainers, depending on the complexity of the magnetic resistance unit design, but they are generally less expensive than fluid trainers.

A wind trainer is the most basic type of trainer. A fan is turned by the drum and the resistance is a result of the fan having to move air to turn. While the resistance is progressive, like a fluid trainer, these units are noisy due to the fan. Wind trainers are the lowest price point trainer option.

Expect a price range of $150 to $400 for a trainer.

Rollers

As the name suggests, rollers consist of… well, rollers. There are three roller drums mounted in a frame. The two, rear rollers are positioned such that the rear wheel of your bike sits between these rollers. The position of the front roller is adjustable so it can be set at an appropriate distance from the rear rollers to accommodate your bike’s wheel base length.

rollers
Rollers: Stan has developed a
smooth pedal stroke by riding rollers .

To ride on the rollers, you set your bike atop the device and by stepping on the frame of the rollers you throw a leg over the bike. The bike is not held by the rollers in any way, it is simply resting atop the roller’s drums, so it is necessary to pedal in order to remain upright. It’s a bit of an adventure the first few times you ride rollers. Many people start off with the rollers positioned in a doorway or along a wall so they can catch themselves should they let the bike wander off the rollers. It should be mentioned there is no chance of sliding off the rollers and unexpectedly launching forward as the wheels hit the ground. You do not have any momentum while riding the rollers, so the moment your wheels leave the rollers the wheels stop and you fall over or hopefully catch yourself.

rollers
The bike is not attached to the rollers,
it is free to move side to side.

So why ride this crazy contraption? The biggest benefit of rollers is they force you to be smooth while riding them, else you wildly move left and right on the drums. A smooth, circular pedal stroke is instantly rewarded with a steadiness on the rollers, and a smooth pedal stroke is more efficient.

A roller workout mostly focuses on smooth spinning with moderate to high cadence pedaling. You probably will not be doing resistance related intervals on rollers. Most rollers do not have any type of resistance device, however some do offer a resistance device that attaches to the rear drum.

Within the rollers category there is a large difference in cost. More expensive units have higher grade bearings and better balanced rollers, providing a smoother and quieter ride.

Some cyclists say rollers are more entertaining and less of a chore to train on because they require greater attention than riding a bike locked into a trainer.

Expect a price range of $200 to $500 for a set of rollers.

Stationary Bikes

With a stationary bike or spinning bike your “outdoor bike” is not used. Instead you have a dedicated piece of exercise equipment for your indoor riding.

spining bike
Spinning bike: Roger enjoys the
whisper-quiet operation.

A typical stationary bike allows adjustment of seat height and fore/aft seat position. The pedals have loops to capture the toes of your athletic shoes while pedaling. Resistance is manually adjusted with the crank of a knob. More expensive models have electronic displays where resistance is changed with button presses or a programmed “course” provides varying resistance as a workout elapses.

A spinning bike typically allows more adjustability than a stationary bike. In addition to saddle position, handlebars are adjustable. These adjustments allow you to set the spinning bike to a similar geometry to your road bike. You can use a pair of clipless pedals with the spinning bike to gain the advantages of riding in your cycling shoes. A spinning bike has a large flywheel that is driven by pedaling. Resistance is varied by turning a dial and changing the friction applied to the flywheel. A belt drive helps make the spinning bike whisper quiet while in use.

spinning bike
A high quality spinning bike, such as this Lemond
Revmaster, can go many years and many
miles without need for maintenance.

Stationary bikes and trainers are well built to provide years of maintenance free use. Using one of these pieces of indoor exercise equipment saves wear and tear on your outdoor bike (keep in mind cogs, chains, shifters and cables on your outdoor bike are worn from use when your bike is setup on a trainer or rollers).

Expect a price range of $500, for an entry level spinning bike, to $1000+ for a club quality spinning bike.

Conclusion

Indoor training can be a great way to maintain or improve your fitness year round, regardless of weather conditions. Stop by the shop to try a trainer, rollers, or stationary bike and decide which piece of equipment is best for you.

- OC&F

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