The temperature is dipping below 50 degrees. The sun goes down before 5:00. Let’s face it: it’s time to move the ride indoors. For those of us that want to keep up our cycling fitness, we find it necessary to resort to our basements and spend the non-snowing days riding our bikes (once the snow comes, I’m taking to the snowshoes and the skis).
I ride a bicycle trainer in the winter to keep my cycling fitness up. This ingenious device keeps me pedaling my bike in the winter without worrying about slipping and sliding on icy roads (or watching other vehicles potentially slip and slide into me on those same roads). Just to be clear, though, I am not condemning riding in snow, it’s just not my thing (yet). Let’s face it, though, riding on the trainer can seem more like a chore.
So what keeps me motivated to ride in my basement all winter long? Simply put, when I get back on the road in spring, I’m ready. Even more, I want to keep getting stronger so I can keep up with the stronger riders on group rides.
I’ve been riding on a trainer since the winter after I got my first hybrid bike a few years ago. In that time, I’ve played around with things that do and don’t work for me.
Before you hop on the trainer, though, there are a number of things you need to make the ride bearable. As I stated, riding a trainer alone is very boring. But there are tools that make it more bearable. In addition to a bike and a trainer, here is my list of things that will enhance the experience of riding on the trainer and why they work for me.
When you work out, you get really warm and start sweating. It’s no different on the bike. But when you’re riding outside, the movement on your bike helps keep you cool. You don’t have that movement when the bike is stationary, though. A fan cools you down, making it much more comfortable on the bike.
As I mentioned, riding on the trainer gets you sweating. A towel is useful for wiping sweat from your face, especially when it can drip into your eyes.
If you’re working especially hard on the bike, a towel is often not enough to keep sweat off the bike. A sweat catcher, like the CycleOps Bike Thong, is very effective at keeping the sweat off, which can be corrosive to the bike (remember that sweat includes salt).
Trainer skewer (axle)
This comes with your trainer. Using this skewer prevents damage to your bike’s regular skewer, which could be damaged from being clamped down in a trainer. Swapping them is easy, so take the extra 10 seconds to do it.
The big advantage of using a climbing block is to stabilize the front wheel and put it close to the same level as the rear wheel. As an added bonus, climbing blocks can help elevate the front of your bike to allow you to work different muscles, similar to how different portions of your body are engaged when climbing. I once tried a phone book in place of a climbing block; my front wheel slipped way too much, so I consider it dangerous and would never recommend it.
These rubberized mats serve two purposes. The first is that it keeps sweat and other items (as one friend admitted, sports drinks) from ruining your floor. Second, it dampens the noise from your bike and trainer. There is a third advantage as well: when riding on a higher pile carpet, it helps keep your bike stable.
Cycling computer with rear-wheel sensor
This one is optional, but a cycling computer is really useful if you’re trying to maintain a certain cadence or are working towards a speed-specific goal. I especially prefer ones that include heart rate. Some people even use power; I don’t, yet.
Any time you work out, you should always have water available. You will get thirsty on the trainer, so replacing fluids is absolutely critical. One good option is to include an electrolyte drink, especially if you’re riding longer than an hour.
Tires wear out after normal use. They also wear out on a trainer. A trainer-specific tire is really useful because it lasts much longer when pressed against the trainer’s roller. Also, they are much quieter than regular road tires. If you are changing the tire yourself, invest in a really good tire jack.
Cycling (padded) shorts
If you’re going to spend any amount of time on the trainer, you’re going to want to wear cycling shorts. When riding a trainer, you probably will spend less time out of the saddle, so the padding makes it that much more comfortable.
I prefer wearing a cycling cap because it captures more of my sweat, meaning I reach less for the towel. A sweatband also works.
Music or DVDs
These really help take the edge off. I used to ride only to music, but I found it didn’t push me enough. Lately, I started using the RealRides DVDs with Robbie Ventura. The Power DVD truly motivates me and keeps me pushing hard when I need it, with the proper structure for effective intervals and really ramping up the intensity. If you’re starting off on the bike, you may find the Ride 101 especially useful, which has a lot more information about riding safely and effectively. There are other options out there as well, so the trick is to find what works to keep you motivated.
There are a lot of things to consider when starting to ride on a trainer. All of the things listed above make it so much more worthwhile, though. After riding for three years on the trainer, I’ve found what works well for me. I’m curious to hear what works for you. Or feel free to ask questions. Happy riding, and I’ll see you on the roads in spring.