How do you set up a turbo trainer? Avoid common rookie mistakes with our guide to getting started with bicycle training at home.
Today's smart turbo trainers are about more than simply avoiding bad weather. Unlike spin bikes at the gym, they replicate outdoor cycling by automatically altering resistance based on your workout goals, which makes them a perfect solution for targeted training plans.
With the growing popularity of turbo training apps like Zwift and Sufferfest, there's never been a better time to get started. Here's our beginner's guide to turbo training.
1) Read the manual. Then read it again
We're not going to tell you how to physically set up your turbo trainer. Depending on what you have, you might need to remove the rear wheel, you might not - there are so many brands and models we're not going to go through them here.
However, incorrect setup can damage your bike and your turbo so make sure you familiarise yourself with the process before you start, then keep referring back to the instructions.
If you still get stuck, most brands have some great instructional videos on YouTube.
2) Create your perfect space
Finding the right location for your turbo trainer will make your experience far more enjoyable. Of course, you'll need to work around whoever else you live with and we appreciate that most people don't live in the kind of spacious luxury you see in the adverts.
Here are some key considerations, as well as tips on how to adapt spaces that are less-than-perfect.
Is it flat?
A bit of wobble might give you a more realistic feel, to begin with, but in the long-run could cause damage and even injury! If you really can't find somewhere totally flat, stabilise with some folded card under a leg.
Is it sweat-proof?
Without fresh air flowing in the same way as it would outside, you'll be surprised by how much you sweat. If there's somewhere in your house with a tiled or lino surface that you can easily wash, you might want to pitch up there.
If your only option is to set up on the carpet, it's best to lay down a mat underneath. You can buy a specialist turbo-training mat and even a sweat catcher, or you can use an exercise mat or an old rug that you really don't like anymore.
Can you reach your stuff?
If you're using a road bike with a bottle cage, don't forget to use it to keep water close to hand. If you're on a mountain bike and don't have room for a bottle, set yourself up near a table. You'll also need a towel within easy reach.
Can you see your screen
Whether you plan on using a training app like Zwift, or you just want to catch up on Netflix while you work out, make sure you think about where your screen will be. If you can't set up in front of a TV or PC monitor, can you prop up a laptop or tablet somewhere?
You might want to consider a trainer table, or you could get creative with what you have. Music stands do the job just as well. In fact, we've even seen tablets propped on anything from books to barbecues.
Can you get some fresh air?
Did we mention you'll sweat? A lot? If possible, it's a good idea to be somewhere near a window, or even outside if you have a balcony or patio.
If your family have confined you to the deepest, darkest corner of the house, you'll probably want to invest in a fan.
Will you disturb anyone?
Although turbo trainers are now pretty quiet compared to earlier models, you might still want to consider padding the floor with a mat to absorb the noise. Especially if you live in a flat and don't want to fall out with the neighbours below.
3) Dress to sweat
Sorry to keep going on about this, but cycling indoors generates far more sweat than cycling outdoors.
It's just as well, then, that nobody will see you except for perhaps the people you live with.
This is a great opportunity to get some extra wear out of your oldest, scruffiest kit that is no longer fit to be seen in public. The two most important things are to keep cool and to stay comfortable.
Make sure you're wearing shorts that have a decent pad, even if the rest of the shorts are crash-damaged or faded. The extra moisture you'll generate can lead to more friction and potentially more risk of discomfort and even saddle sores.
If you don't have any shorts you're happy to wear on the trainer, or you'll be training indoors regularly, you might want to invest in a pair of turbo-specific shorts. With the surge in popularity of indoor training, many of the leading brands have created specific ranges that feature cooler fabrics and tailored for spending long periods of time over the bars.
4) Make it interesting
Gone are the days of turbo tedium. Whatever your indoor training goals, there's an app to help you achieve them.
Designed to keep you motivated and replicate outdoor riding, indoor training apps show you a virtual ride in real-time and control the resistance on your turbo-trainer remotely accordingly.
Here are some of our favourites:
Cost: 7-day free trial, then USD$14.99/month
Best for: Social riders
Zwift combines indoor training with the fun and competitiveness of video gaming. Choose from over 1000 structured workouts, join your friends on a group ride or even race in the land of Wattopia. Each time you ride, you'll accumulate XP which allows you to access new kit and upgrades.
As the training platform of choice for the UCI, Zwift allows you to ride on all the recent UCI World Road Championship courses including Harrogate as well as the Ride London course. With so many professional teams using it for targeted sessions, you might even find yourself riding with the likes of Geraint Thomas or Hannah Barnes.
Cost: 14-day free trial, then USD $14.99/month
Best for: Tailored training plans
One of the oldest names in the game, Sufferfest started out offering inspirational race footage cut with punishing intervals. Video is still at the heart of the platform with the addition of dramatic music to add some urgency to your efforts.
Sufferfest is the only app to let you train with Four-Dimensional Power® which they claim is a far more effective way to tailor your workouts and assess your progress than FTP.
Cost: USD $19.95/month, 30 day money-back guarantee
Best for: Riders who want a straightforward app that helps them to get faster
Compared to Zwift and Sufferfest, Trainer Road feels like quite a stripped-down option. There are no videos or gaming elements. What you do get is tailored training that's flexible enough to fit around your lifestyle, plus comprehensive yet easy-to-digest analytics.
Trainer Road boasts great integration with power meters, but if you don't have one you can still take advantage of power-based workouts using their VirtualPower™.
Cost: 14-day free trial, then USD $10/month for you plus two other members of your household
Best for: Households with multiple cyclists
Ride a variety of courses across the world thanks to their augmented reality which places animated 3D riders on a real road. Routes include such classics as the Passo Stelvio, Passo Sella, Passo Gavia, IM Kona, Puerto de Ventana and the Galibier.
There's plenty of features to keep you interested. You can create your own sessions, pull a daily workout from TrainingPeaks, or join the growing community with events, challenges, group rides, and races.