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Indoor Training -- Resistance Trainers and Rollers

Sometimes it's the weather, sometimes it's darkness, and sometimes it's just a demanding schedule that forces a cyclist to stay indoors for a workout. Done right, cycling inside can be just as productive (and nearly as much fun) as riding outdoors.

The Basics:

Other than carving through corners, there isn't much you can achieve during an outdoor ride that you can't also pull off indoors. You can ride for cardiovascular fitness, endurance, strength or do speed intervals--all from the comfort of home. You can even "race" on the Web against other riders connected through a computer. It's just a matter of having the right equipment and setting up each indoor session to be as productive as possible.

Thankfully, 21st century cycling technology has graduated beyond old school stationary bikes with huge, uncomfortable seats and noisy fan-bladed wheels. There is now a broad range of options to fit virtually any riding style, level of fitness and budget.

Stationary Trainers

The main advantage of stationary trainers is that they allow you to ride your everyday bike indoors without much fuss or setup. Most require no bike disassembly and support the rear wheel by way of a simple, yet secure clamping system. The wheel then rests upon a spinning cylinder that offers resistance in one of three ways:

Indoor Trainer
A Fluid Resistance Trainer
  • Adjustable Magnetic Resistance
    Magnetic resistance generally provides the least expensive entry into in-door training, yet at very high quality. Resistance is controlled by the amount of separation between two magnets, and can be changed by adjusting the magnet unit. Magnetic resistance is not progressive; meaning that increases in pedaling speed will not increase resistance.
  • Fluid Resistance
    This type of resistance is created by a disk spinning through fluid held within the unit. Fluid trainers are very quiet and provide progressive resistance, meaning that the level of resistance increases with the rider's pedaling speed. These properties provide a more realistic riding experience, similar to wind resistance when riding outdoors. Fluid trainers are also available with adjustable resistance to add increased ranges of progressive resistance.
  • Inertial Resistance
    This new resistance technology is very similar to progressive fluid resistance in most performance aspects, but is smoother and and more lively. Progressive fine tuning is based upon mechanical inertial resistance, which provides the most road-like riding experience. This is the technology of the future.

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Rollers are a set of three smooth, rolling drums strung together on a frame by a large band that keeps the front and rear drums spinning at the same rate. Riding rollers is really the most "natural" way of riding indoors because, unlike a stationary trainer, you balance on them just as you would the road. Many people are intimidated by rollers because they are afraid of flying off. However, as with anything, give it some practice and you'll soon become a natural. Rollers are best for developing pedal technique and balance. Certain models also feature resistance systems to enhance cardiovascular training.

One of the best ways to safely learn how to ride on a roller is to set up near a structure like a wall, a column or a door frame for support. If you start to lose your balance, you can reach out and steady yourself.

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Electronic Trainers

Electronic trainers, while more expensive than other trainer types, are ideal for serious fitness riders and racers who must spend a lot of time indoors and need to vary their riding experience. These Cycle-simulators provide electrically-controlled resistance and create a virtual riding experience that can simulate climbing a hill or racing against another rider. Advanced models can be connected to your computer, displaying the route and, on some models, the addition of a virtual competitor to enhance your training experience.

Monitor Your Training Session

Integrated electronics are a nice feature on certain resistance trainers if you would like to monitor your rides. These electronic displays generally provide data such as speed, distance, ride time, power output, slope and elevation gain.

Some cyclocomputers can be used to provide this data. If it is a wired unit, it needs to be rear wheel-specific or come equipped with a wire long enough to reach the rear wheel. If the unit is wireless, it needs to have a strong enough signal to work with the increase in distance to the rear wheel.

Set up for Success:

Each indoor riding session takes a bit of planning and preparation, but it's well worth it. Here are the basic steps:

  • Ensure that your bike is securely attached to the training device.
  • Adjust the temperature of the riding area. When riding indoors, use a fan to keep you cool. If weather permits, open a window as well to ventilate the room.
  • If using a Stationary Trainer, use a front wheel block to level your bike for a more comfortable and realistic riding experience.
  • Keep a towel handy for when you perspire. Salt-laden perspiration can be corrosive after time, so consider covering your handlebars and bike frame. Place a training mat on the floor under your bike to catch perspiration and protect flooring surfaces. A sweat guard is an excellent option for protecting your bike.
  • Keep a bottle of water or energy drink on the bike or within easy reach. You still need to hydrate, even when indoors.
  • Gather any items you may need while riding, and keep them at arms reach: TV remote, phone, radio, baby monitor, etc.
  • Consider indoor training DVDs to get the most out of your workout.

Ride Your Way Through Dullsville

Electronic Indoor Cycling Trainers
Preventing boredom is a huge factor in the enjoyment of indoor riding. It may be easy to pedal 15-20 minutes, but after that it can be difficult to stay focused. Here are a few tips to keep your legs spinning:

  • Watch cycling DVDs, listen to music or a podcast, or read using a handlebar-mounted book stand.
  • Watch your favorite shows on TV. Use commercials to your advantage by increasing effort while they run, then slowing down to a steady pace when the main program starts again.
  • Train with other riders. There's nothing like friendly motivation to keep you moving. Trying scheduling an indoor training party with other riders--the camaraderie will help recreate the feeling of a group ride, and it's a great way to get together on bikes during the winter months.

Indoor Cycling Tips

  • Use a sturdy, inexpensive smooth tread tire, not a knobby or deep tread tire for riding on trainers and rollers. These devices can be hard on tires, and there's no need to go through expensive rubber while riding indoors.
  • All trainers create heat as you pedal, so be careful not to touch the resistance units after your ride.