In the cold, dark winter months the motivation to jump on your training bicycle and get out on the roads can be hard. However, the purchase of a turbo trainer means that you can maintain your winter bike training without even leaving your home.
There are several different types of turbo trainer, however all work on essentially the same premise. You replace the rear wheel of your bicycle with a training wheel which then sits the turbo trainer and runs against a roller when the pedals are turning, converting it into a stationary exercise bike.
The roller in the turbo trainer provides resistance to the cyclist and this is generated in 3 common ways. The cheapest form of trainer will utilise a fan to generate air resistance, however in doing so they also generate a lot of noise. A magnetic training is more expensive but less noisy, however a fluid trainer is much quieter again but the cost is commensurate. Popular manufacturers of turbo trainers include Tacx and Cycleops.
The advantages of turbo training are numerous. Firstly it is very convenient and doesn't require the level of preparation that a winter bicycle ride does in terms of dressing meaning that more of the bike training session is actually spent training and secondly the environment within which the training takes place is controlled making it possible to carry out very accurate interval training without having to worry about punctures, gradients, traffic or the weather.
Some downsides to turbo training do exist however and they are most notably boredom and keeping cool. As the bicycle trainer is set up in your house an hour or so on the bike can become tedious to say the least. This is a common problem that even professional cyclists acknowledge. However, there are easy ways to combat the boredom. The most obvious is to reduce the length of the workout by employing effective interval training methods. It is thought that as little as 30 minutes of intense interval training can be potentially beneficial as several hours in the saddle just riding, especially when trying to improve power and top end speed. However, if you are looking for a longer workout to increase endurance then a decent mp3 player playlist is essential. Some cyclists watch DVDs and with the most expensive bike trainers such as the Tacx Fortius it is actually possible to connect the trainer to a laptop and ride "virtual" race stages. You too could cycle the Col de Tourmalet from your front room!
The second major problem with turbo training is the fact that as the bike is stationary, there is no airflow over the body. When this is combined with the natural warmth of training indoors, it possible to overheat very quickly. To combat this, many cyclists store their bicycle trainer in a garage or outbuilding where it is naturally cooler or alternatively they have 1 or 2 large fans set up in order to provide some airflow. You may also wish to ensure that you remain fully hydrated during your ride. More information on how to do this can be found in this article:
Whilst these downsides are obvious they are relatively easily overcome and when compared to battling traffic, rain and wind in freezing conditions can be endured with relatively minimal fuss. The key to a successful cycling race season is maintaining a fitness base over the winter. Advances in turbo trainer technology and the widespread adoption of shorter, interval based training methods means that this is now possible in a relatively comfortable environment. Any budding cyclist should investigate investing in a turbo trainer.