The joys of indoor training: Part 1 – Equipment

Hi Lee,

Thanks for the info reguarding weak hip flexors. I’ve started in on James’ DB combo workout too.

I am looking for some advice on a stationary trainer for intervals to complement my treadmill workouts for the winter. I’ve read about your recumbent on such a device, so I suspect you have an opinion on this.

I ride a GF HiFi Pro and have a RMountain Trailhead for commuting and easier trail riding. I have no racing aspirations, just like riding with a friend for exercise, conversation and fun.

Cheers Greg

Hey Greg,

Dude, it’s that time, isn’t it?

I do not enjoy riding the trainer. When it’s unrideable outside (which is rare), I would rather run, shovel snow, carry my dumbbells around the neighborhood — anything. But trainers serve a purpose. You get a cycling-specific workout. You stay home with your family. You watch Heroes.

Which trainer?

Doctor of Stationary Cycling: World and Olympic XC champion Gunn-Rita Dahle’s training is very scientific, and rollers give her great control of her workouts. I shot her for the book right before the 2004 Olympics. She was riding no-handed and drinking from her bottle like it was her job — oh yeah, it is.

I am not a Doctor of Stationary Cycling (thank goodness) but I’ll offer this:

– Rollers are supposedly the best way to perfect your spin, but they take a lot of mental effort (unless you’re super pro). If I’m on the trainer, I either want to be sprinting my brains out or mindlessly watching TV. Clamp-in trainers are easiest. Plus: They’re easier to use for race warm-ups.

– Fluid seems best overall. It has a decent feel, and it’s way quieter than wind.

– Magnetic trainers let you increase the resistance. This helps you simulate hills or compensate for an under-geared bike.

– A power meter is nice. Power is the best way to quantify your … uh … power.

– If the trainer fits your bike, and it isn’t too loud, and you can afford it, it’s probably fine. The trick is actually using it.

I have an old Performance Travel Trac fluid trainer, and that thing has been perfect for like 15 years. $200 seemed like so much back then, but it’s been a great value.

Last year I picked up a new Performance Millennium trainer. Its wireless handlebar-mounted computer shows time, speed and wattage. Wattage is key. The drum is polyurethane rather than metal. It’s quiet, but when my intervals hit about 600 watts, the tire slips on the drum. That’s a bummer, because 600 watts ain’t nothin’.

BTW: Do not go on the internet and compare your wattage to the pros. This will only make you feel weak.

Which bike?

– Ride in your normal position. This is a good reason to use your normal bike, or to set up your trainer bike to fit like your normal bike.

1) This translates better to real riding.

2) Changing position, especially when you’re fit enough to pin it, is asking for knee problems.

3) It’s more comfortable.

Last week I suffered through an hour on the Kestrel road bike. This weekend I set up my Specialized SX with a long seatpost, a rear slick and flat pedals, and I rocked 90 minutes with no problem and way higher power. My body is used to the SX’s slacker seat tube angle and closer/higher bars. Riding a trainer can suck — be comfortable!

* Most Doctors of Stationary Cycling ride their everyday/race bikes.

– Make sure the trainer’s clamps fit your rear hub. Every trainer is made to fit standard quick release skewers. You’re pretty much stuck with a standard road or trail bike. No through-axles or fancy dropouts. Yeah, I know you wanted to ride your new Intense M6 …

– Use a cheap, slick rear tire. Knobbies are noisy and don’t grab the drum. Any tire will be ruined. My Specialized FatBoy just got worked! That tire is too expensive to be flung, piece by piece, all over my family room.

– Flat pedals are a fine idea. 1) They teach you to spin more smoothly. 2) When you’re sitting in one position for long periods, being clipped in can contribute to overuse injuries. The trainer already feels like a prison; you might as well find some freedom. Inspired by the Luddites at Rivendell, I did my last trainer workout wearing Crocs. Super comfy.

Other stuff

– Unless you are a true animal, set your trainer in front of a TV. The Sopranos and my recumbent have gotten me through many a shoulder injury. Reading will make you less stupid, but it’s difficult to ride hard while you’re reading.

– Put your front tire on something. My Webster’s Unabridged works well. You usually want your bike level. To simulate hills, prop the front wheel higher.

– Cover your floor, especially if you’re riding on carpet. Lots of sweat and many expensive tire particles.

– Have water close at hand. I suppose a sports drink will help you ride longer, but — dude — you don’t want to ride longer.

– Fans and open windows are a good idea. You need to create air movement.

– If you wear glasses, you need something to wipe your brow.

– Get a treadmill for your dog. The mighty Jon and Bobbi Watt spend the winter watching movies and building base on their trainers. Their dog Bailey runs alongside them on the treadmill. Only among cyclists is that not completely insane!

– Ride with purpose. Part 2 will give you some workout ideas.


— Lee

10 replies
  1. cycloscott says:

    I’ll go one further. Cover your bike as well as the floor. And clean up your equipment once your finished.

    If you do it right, you’re going to be sweating like a pig in a sauna. Even with a fan. And you don’t have a breeze to blow all that sweat back onto you instead of your frame. It seems that some people have more corrosive sweat than others. I’ll say without shame that the sweat from my trainer/roller sessions will destroy cables, pit the exposed chrome on King headsets, and burn through handlebar tape. Glad I’ve got good powder-coat on my frames.

    One big callout. Get off the bike every 25 minutes or so if your doing extended workouts. You’ll soon realize that you coast, stand and change position a LOT when you’re actually out on the road. Something you don’t do on a trainer. So force yourself to move around a bit or risk putting parts of you to sleep.

    My recommendations:
    Any good fluid trainer for longer sessions. I can tolerate almost 3 hours on my Kurt Kinetic (not regularly). Excellent road feel, and it mimics resistance vs speed very well.

    Kreitler rollers for working on technique. Get your spin smooth enough and you’ll be able to ride no-handed and mop your face at the same time. Bonus points for being able to ride no-handed and only one leg.

    Something to watch. I built a PC for my garage, just so I can watch movies while I’m on the trainer.

  2. Greg says:

    Lee, Cyclo: Thanks for the replies. Way more info than I was expecting, all of it well worth digesting. You both confirmed some ideas I had been mulling over.

    Since my bikes have similar geometry and I already have a second wheelset with Schwalbe Marathons mounted, I can give both bikes a try until I pick up a slick.

    Bring on Part 2 Lee! 😉


  3. leelikesbikes says:

    Thanks Scott!

    Everyone: If anyone knows about self flagellation on a bicycle, it’s cycloscott — the Best Tandem Stoker on Earth. Home boy will still be pedaling when you hit the ground. Not saying how I know that …

  4. Chris says:

    I havent’ tried this experiment myself but I hear that running some adhesive tape around the roller near the sides will create a mimi-berm that limits how far to the side your tires will go. It supposed to make things easier. Just what I heard, is all. I use a wind trainer when I am desperate with a capital D. I’d prefer to ride at midnight in the rain than get on it. Mind you, I don’t live where it snows.

  5. jimmy says:

    ugh!!!! I have a trainer but never use it except for warm up when I use to race. Went to Whistler last year out of shape because I have no time to ride and ended up wasted really bad every day. I guess I should ride it so my vacation next year will be more enjoyable. ugh.

  6. Lou says:

    Riding in snow is a great workout. Talk about resistance! And it also builds good traction keeping skills especially on uphill and downhill situations. The key is choosing the right area. You can’t ride in snow deeper than 6 or 8 inches. You can’t ride really steep terrain. But those beginner trails you never ride… Those are probably perfects in the winter. Choose a place you would never normally ride like a slightly hilly park with trails that have a lot of hikers and dog walkers during the day. They pack the snow down during the day. At night (sans foot traffic) as it gets colder things harden up and the packed snow makes a good riding surface. The more you ride it the better it gets. Get a good headlamp and go. No need for studded tires. They only work on real ice. Lighter wheels with big knobbies are good. Start out a little cold because you sweat your butt off (like X-country skiing). Toe warmers and booties or dedicated winter riding shoes are essential. Get a real pair of winter riding gloves (Specialized are best). Do a few local loops, a few hill repeats on the sledding hill, some snowcross around some open fields and you will find that you will probably get more tired out than during prime season. It’s not as much fun as dirt but its a lot more fun than being inside and it definitely kicks your butt every bit as much as summer rides. Best of all it gets you and your buddies out riding ! Spend your roller money on winter biking gear!

  7. Sean says:


    for some riders it may be beneficial to use rollers. Accomplished riders probably have fairly smooth pedal strokes. Less-skilled riders will quickly learn how poorly they pedal when they get on rollers.

    For sure rollers require mental energy — it’s like a road bike on an icy road, lots of small muscles are recruited to help with balance. The first ride on rollers usually is no more than 10-15 mins for even an accomplished cyclist.

    The end result, though, will be a buttery smooth cadence and power delivery, which makes a rider more efficient. Once you can balance as 2d nature on rollers, you can push a bigger gear and work the power.

    I’d suggest that rollers are more useful for MTB riders than bolt-on trainers, but that would get me branded as a heretic, since most rollers are used by skinny leg-shaving lycra-wearing roadies!

  8. leelikesbikes says:


    What about flat pedals?

    What about a fixed gear on rollers with flats?

    You’re right: We can all learn a lot by riding rollers. But I still think the best trainer is the one you actually ride. If you have Roller Fu, then rock it!

  9. cycloscott says:

    I seem to recall a study done many years ago that looked at non-professional cyclists. And the MTBers had a far better spin than the roadies. Made sense to me at the time, back in the non-suspension days. Technical climbing required more mental energy, and your stroke had to be butter smooth or you’d spin the wheel.

    Here’s a couple of my favorite roller workouts. Disclaimer: Both are geared towards racing ‘cross.

    1. 10 minute warmup, and a couple of hard efforts to get the heart going. Then 1 minute at 5bpm below LT, 3 minutes 5bpm above LT for a single interval. Repeat intervals, lengthening the time by 1 minute for the above portion, 15 seconds for the below. If you’re feeling sassy, keep the below portion at 1 minute or less. Cool down for 10 minutes. Work up to 10 minutes above LT and you’re sitting at a 1.5 hour workout. If you want to go longer, work back through the intervals decreasing the lenghth.

    2. 10 minute warmup. Then spend an hour alternating between 2 gears every 5 minutes, while keeping your heart rate at LT +/- 3bpm (all while remaining seated). 75 inches and 95 gear-inches. 75 makes you spin, 95 makes you produce low-cadence power. This really only works if your trainer/rollers mimic a realistic road resistance.

    The second one is especially fun for the road as well. Especially if you live someplace with hills. Nothing like turning a hairpin on a 10% grade and having to shift into the 53-15. I’ve had to climb some hills cranking out about 15rpms in the saddle. Needless to say, I didn’t stay at LT, but I got a really good upper-body workout too.

  10. Chris says:

    I once sent Lee some links to the findings of some scientists who discovered that non-cyclists could improve their pedal stroke in about twenty minutes to apoint that rivals that of accomplished cyclists. As long as the person was already fit. The symposium was in Boulder (or at least CO) last year.

    Too bad I can’t find the email anymore.

    “Fixed gear on rollers on flats”. Ha, ha.

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