Turbo Time: Getting Set Up

There is sometimes a fine line between want and need. Getting set up with a turbo trainer involves a fair number of decisions on what you want and what you need.

This can be a tricky process because what you need to turbo is very subjective. What you need depends on your aims, your experience and your personality.

In writing this, I am aiming predominantly at those who are just getting started with turbo training. Buying a turbo and various gadgets to go with it is a bit like buying a bike; there is a huge range of choice and a huge range of prices. It is really not hard to spend well over £1000 on a turbo trainer. It is also not necessarily necessary to spend anywhere near that much.

I spoke to someone recently who has a room in their house dedicated to turbo training. This room includes a top of the range turbo (well over £1000), a tv screen the size of a wall with surround sound, and built in fans on every angle. It should be said that this is a pro cyclist. This individual uses the turbo year round and regularly completes 4-5 hour sessions on it.Their career depends on effective training.

This is not where most people are at. That said, if you can afford it, and not offend your immediate family with it, and that’s what makes you happy, well why not.

I have used a turbo trainer for a number of years and as I have said before, I have something of a love / hate relationship with it. I am about a million miles from a pro cyclist, although I have a good bit of experience in racing time trials. I have used the turbo for focused training for a specific purpose. I have also used the turbo to allow me to ride just a bit stronger in the spring.

This is my view of what you need in order to get started with turbo training. Some of the items listed are essential (a turbo trainer and a bike to put on it) and some are optional. If you really want to use a turbo, you need to make it easy to do so. If doing a 60 minute turbo session also involves half an hour to get the thing set up each time and half an hour to clear it away again, you are highly unlikely to regularly find the time.

The Essentials

You are going to need these things to be able to train on a turbo.

A turbo trainer

Pretty obvious, you need a turbo trainer of some sort. There is an enormous range of turbos available and this can be a bewildering choice. I am going to go into more detail on this subject in another post very soon as it is a big topic to cover. For now my advice would be to think about how much you want to spend. If you are buying new, you have options to spend anywhere from £100 to £1200. It is also well worth checking gumtree and ebay for second hand turbos.

A bike to put on the turbo trainer

Again, pretty obvious, you are going to need a bike to put on the turbo. I am very lucky to own several bikes. This allows me to keep my time trial bike on the turbo through the winter (if I am honest, my time trial bike has in fact been on the turbo since my children were born). For me, this is fantastic as I know the turbo is ready to go as soon as I decide to train. All I need to do is pump up the tyres if has been a while. This also means that my road bike is still ready to go. If you only have one bike and you also ride that bike outdoors through the winter, see if you can get a ‘turbo wheel’ to make the transition easier.

A turbo tyre or wheel

If you are using a traditional turbo trainer (as opposed to a direct drive turbo) then your back tyre sits on a roller. The roller generates resistance as it turns. This creates heat and causes wear and tear to the tyre. It is therefore not a good idea to use the same tyre on the road as is unlikely to grip the road well after it has been on the turbo. You can buy special turbo trainer tyres which are designed to be more hard wearing. Personally, I have never bothered with them. I change the tyres on my road bike each spring as I do a fair amount of miles and I think that good tyres are well worth the money. I keep the old ones and use them on the turbo. Since they are already worn and not going back on the road, the extra wear and tear really doesn’t matter. If my back tyre keeps going down between training sessions then I know that the wear and tear has gone too far and it is time to change to the other reject from my road bike. This system has always worked for me.

In fact, in my turbo set up I use an old wheel (fitted with the old worn tyre) on the turbo. This is a wheel with very worn rims which would no longer be safe on the road. However, since you do not need to brake when riding on a turbo, and the wheel is not going to collapse under me on a descent, it does just fine. The big advantage of this is that I simply have to change the back wheel over if I want to take the bike out on the road. No messing about with tyre levers.

Something to prop the front wheel on

Attaching your bike to a turbo trainer raises the back end of your bike slightly. This means that you will feel like your nose is pointing towards the ground, unless you raise the front wheel accordingly. You can buy front wheel riser blocks which do just this. They are usually slightly shaped so your front wheel fits neatly into them. At the risk of showing my age, the yellow pages used to be pretty effective at this job. Really, anything about an inch and a half thick will do. My somewhat cynical husband suggests using a stack of biographies by your cycling heroes who have since been discredited as dopers.

WHAT has happened to the yellow pages?!

Somewhere to train

Where you choose to put your turbo depends on your home and your family. Ideally, you should set up your turbo somewhere it can stay permanently (or at least for as long as you are planning to use it). For me, this is the garage. As a cycling couple, Mr Mummysgoneacycle and I have side-by-side turbos in the garage (very romantic, I know). A major consideration in deciding where to put your turbo is the fact that turbo trainers can be very noisy. If you have a partner who is not a cyclist, they may well object to tripping over a sweaty cyclist on a noisy turbo ignoring them whenever they want to make a cup of tea.

If you have very young children who use a baby monitor, making sure that your monitor works between their bedroom and where you are turboing makes it easier to find the time.

A fan (or two)

Training on a turbo is very hot work. Even in a garage in December when it is -6 outside, I wear shorts and t-shirt and always have a fan running by the time I have done a warm up. Moving air is moving air – it doesn’t need to be fancy.

A towel

See above. Turbo training is hot work.

A waterbottle

Take plenty of water with you when you go to turbo. It is incredibly annoying to have to stop a session and go back in the house for more water. Bear in mind that you are likely to need more water for an hour on the turbo than you would need for an hour on the road.

The Sort Of Essentials

There is absolutely no reason why you cannot train on a turbo without these things. However, for me they are the things which make me more likely to get out and train on it.

A TV set up with your entertainment of choice

There are many who will advise you not to have ‘distractions’ when you are training on the turbo. You should be 100% focused on your session and the reactions of your body. It is not that I disagree with this philosophy, it is just that I really don’t think that I would ever make it out to turbo without some form of entertainment while I am there. While training on the turbo is very effective, it can also be very dull. No scenery to watch, no route choices to make, just the unchanging walls around you.

My brother lives in in a country with a long, tough winter. He resorted to the turbo for much of his training for the Etape Du Tour some years ago. This was in a very limited space. This is the photo he sent me of his view while turboing.

Just imagine it. Hour after hour of turning your legs and staring at a white wall. Could you do it? I definitely could not.

There is now a huge range of electronic training aids for turbo training. This is something of a topic in itself and I will cover it in a future post. Take a look at The Sufferfest, Zwift and Trainer Road to get an idea.

My entertainment of choice has always been dvd box sets. We have a tv and dvd player permanently set up in the garage. I have had plenty of days where I really can’t be bothered to go out and train. What gets me out on those days is sometimes the thought of a episode of whatever series I am watching right now. These are some of the programmes which have got me out of the door in recent years:

  • House
  • Life on Mars
  • Ashes to Ashes
  • ER (I have been training to ER for a couple of years now and am still only on series 7. I am not actually sure I will ever get to the end of it!)

If you are planning longer sessions, pick your favourite film. Ideally something motivating. My film of choice is Chasing Legends. I have lost count of how many times I have watched it. I have even used the soundtrack for warm ups on the turbo before races. I have become a bit like Pavlov’s dog – I hear the music from the film and instantly pedal harder.

One word of warning with dvd players in garages – they don’t always seem to like the cold. We have had a number of (admittedly very cheap) dvd players die on us through the winter. Also, make sure the remote has batteries and is in easy reach before you start a session.

Some form of computer type gadget

You can train by perceived effort alone so you do not necessarily need any form of computer or gadget in order to train on a turbo. Again, this comes down to what motivates you to get on the turbo and train. Personally, I like to see the numbers. Seeing an improvement in those numbers over time is one more thing that gets me on the turbo.

If you usually use a cycle computer then most models have some form of rear wheel pick up on the market. This allows your computer to record your virtual speed and distance. What data you ‘need’ comes down to personal aims and preferences. I have found a heart rate monitor to be the most useful piece of kit for turboing. For years I struggled with heart rate monitors as I found that the combination of chest straps, sports bras and my body shape made most monitors useless for me. My husband, who has witnessed several of them thrown across the garage in disgust, will testify to this.

A year ago I got a Garmin Vivoactive HR watch and this has been the best bit of kit I own, other than my bikes. More on this in a future post. In short, heart rate is measured through a a sensor on the wrist which I have found to be totally reliable and this is my everyday watch which also records all my cycling. I also have a turbo with a power meter which I find helpful although not essential now I have a reliable heart rate monitor.

A means of recording your training

I like to keep records of my training. My rationale for this is that I can look back and see what training I was doing and how that affected my cycling. I can then make training decisions based on this data. In reality, I think I mainly do it out of habit and because I am the kind of person who likes to file things and add data to a spreadsheet.

I have a spreadsheet which contains all my cycling and running over the past fifteen years. In the garage I have a folder of paper which I jot down sessions once I have finished them. This is also very handy for making a note of where I am up to on my current boxset tv series. Depending on how high tech you have gone with your turbo, computer gadget and software, you may well have all the data you could ever require electronically stored as you go.

What works for me

The ‘Added Extras’

I have never personally found the need for any of these things although I sometimes like to browse all the incredible things I could buy if I was that way inclined…

A rubber training mat is designed to protect your floor and to reduce the noise caused by your turbo (do not underestimate how noisy a turbo can be!). This might be useful if you are training in the house. If you are in a garage like me then the floor really doesn’t need to be protected and the noise is only affecting me.

You can also get a clamp to attach your tablet to your handlebars, a sweat cover to avoid you having to wipe your bike after a session if you are a particularly sweaty person, or a sweat cover which also holds your phone.

Basically, you can go as wild as your budget will allow if that’s what gets you motivated to actually use the essentials.

My Final Advice

If you are just getting started on a turbo, don’t go too mad. Stick with the basics and give it a go. If turbo training works for you then that is the time to start upgrading. Remember too that if you buy something second hand, use it a handful of times and then decide it is not for you, you can simply sell it on, often for exactly what you paid for it in the first place. Ebay and Gumtree are well worth checking.

In the words of Graeme Obree:

‘Be wary of articles and the like telling you to buy this or that product or to train in a particular way. Often the commercial benefit to the seller is greater than any likely return to the seller.’

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