The most googled turbo trainer questions (and answers!)
Brrrrrr. With hands getting chillier by the day, thoughts turn to sweating over a dirty floor in a gym or in a shed at the bottom of your garden. Yes, it’s turbo time. Or, at least it will be very, very soon.
The best turbo trainers are from Garmin (Tacx) and Wahoo Fitness with the NEO and KICKR ranges respectively. These are super-smart beasts that can do everything you ever dreamed of, maybe even make you faster. However, they are typically around £1000/$1000, albeit there are excellent deals around Black Friday (ie now for a week or so). However you don’t have to spend that much, you can get a highly smart turbo trainer that is more than competent for half those prices. Again, it’s Garmin (Tacx) and Wahoo Fitness that lead the way.
Table of Contents (Click to Expand)
Is a turbo trainer bad for your bike?
A: Yes, it can be.
If you do not properly engage the rear wheel on the skewer/mounting mechanism then all sorts of havoc can break loose. That’s probably relatively obvious however less obvious damage can come on a carbon-framed bike where you put down huge efforts whilst off the saddle. When you next do that, glance back at the rear of your bike (chainstays, the flat bit above the derailleur). You will see a LOT of frame flexing happening. This can cause the layers of carbon on the frame to delaminate ie to become detached from each other. You probably won’t see a crack however you may well start to hear noises coming from around your bottom bracket when in normal use.
Is it okay to leave the bike in the trainer?
In some ways, this might make it less easy to steal if someone breaks into your shed but it just makes it easier for you to get started on your next session.
For the trainers where you have your regular wheels compressed in contact with some kind of roller, you might want to disengage the roller from the tyre between uses. Wahoo Rollr would be an exception.
There is no need to loosen the compression on the skewer/axle.
Is a turbo trainer good for weight loss?
A: Yes & No.
Obviously, it’s the exercise that makes you lose weight rather than the machinery. Two of the key benefits of an indoor trainer are that you can precisely control effort levels and that you don’t waste time stopping at traffic lights. Thus an hour on a turbo can enable you to have more effective training minutes than cycling on the road. So, in that sense, it’s better for weight loss. You still have to do the work.
Do turbo trainers ruin your road tyres?
A: Yes. They absolutely do wear out more quickly on the trainers where they are in contact with a roller of your smart trainer. Trainer types that first require you to remove your bike’s road wheel cannot wear out the tyre!
Can you use normal tyres on a turbo trainer?
A: Yes you can but do you really want to more quickly wear out your special tyres? Get a dedicated trainer tyre.
How long should you use a turbo trainer?
A: It depends on your motivations and goals. Right now I find indoor training tedious and I can’t bring myself to Zwift, even on the new maps. I also find it less comfortable than riding on the road. I just can’t do 3-hour rides on a turbo trainer; an hour or two, maybe. But if you can pootle away for 5 hours at your prescribed effort level whilst binge-watching a box set then absolutely yes, DO go for it.
Is turbo training better than training on the road?
A: Define ‘better’. Turbo training certainly can be more efficient and effective.
Do you need to change gears on a smart trainer?
A: Sometimes, though it depends on the mode you use. If you use the smart modes then you will generally find that changing gears makes no difference as the trainer will compensate each gear change with a resistance change. That said, it’s best to keep your chain in as straight a line as possible, this will be quieter and very slightly more mechanically efficient. So, in that sense, change gears to make that happen.
Are some gears easier than others?
A: Further to the previous question & answer, the answer to this question is surely, “No, all gears should be the same”. That answer is given in the sense that the resistance should be the same and so the effort should be the same regardless of the gear.
My experience of this is that the ‘fastest’ gears are easier to pedal at any given wattage on my KICKR.
How do you set up a smart turbo trainer?
This varies between different types, brands and models.
A wheel-on type turbo trainer where you keep your road wheel on your bike may require nothing other than a riser under the front wheel to make the bike level once you have clamped the turbo trainer to either side of your rear axle/spindle. Some brands require a proprietary skewer.
A wheel-off type turbo trainer requires you to physically remove your rear wheel and use the cassette that is already part of the bike. The front-wheel may or may not need rising to make the bike level.
Typically you will then pair an app, sports watch or bike computer to the smart turbo trainer using ANT+ or more likely a version of ANT+ called FE-C (Fitness Equipment control). FE-C lets the watch or bike computer control the resistance applied by the trainer and this can be programmatically varied throughout your workout in many clever ways.
There may be other tasks like calibrating, levelling and even your rear derailleur might need slightly adjusting if the cassette on the trainer is not exactly the same as the one on your bike’s road wheel.
How often do you need to service a turbo trainer?
You should never have to service your turbo trainer.
Can you use a mountain bike on a turbo trainer?
For the wheel-on type trainer, you will probably need some form of adapter if your MTB wheel is differently sized from your road bike wheel.
Can you use a bike trainer without quick release?
Yes, many modern smart trainers support thru-axles (142/148 ).
Is a turbo trainer good for weight loss on thighs?
No, not especially so. It’s hard to lose fat in a specific part of your body although it is straightforward to target the growth of specific muscle.
If you expend more calories than you consume you will, for sure, lose fat on your thighs.
What is erg mode on a smart trainer?
There are 4 ways of using bike trainers, the last 3 are ‘smart’
- Just pedal and go. You manually adjust resistance and/or gears
- Use ‘Erg’ mode with fixed gear, fixed cadence and fixed wattage/effort. You vary cadence, it varies resistance to match the fixed wattage/effort level.
- Smart or Structured workouts. Whatever is controlling your SMART trainer varies the resistance/wattage according to a pre-built structured workout
- The workout can come from an online plan or from your coach.
- You might want to apply a scale factor to the plan
- You might instead be racing a course with its gradient or a performance factor
- Game mode. Just doing what you would do normally outside…but inside…against electronic people on a faraway island that doesn’t exist. Zwift!
What are the most Accurate Indoor Trainers?
If you are interested in the most accurate turbo trainers then take a quick look at this short post where I highlight all the most accurate trainers.
Q: What do I Need for Zwift?
You’ll need a fan, a PC/MAC/AppleTV/Tablet, a bike and a trainer. An old trainer just needs a cheap speed sensor attached to your bike whereas the SMART Turbo trainers can change resistance in line with changes to grade on Zwift. A more comprehensive list, including optional items, would be this
- Turbo trainer or rollers
- Cadence sensor and speed sensor with ANT+ &/or Bluetooth
- Windows PC, Mac, Apple TV, iPad/iPhone or Android tablet/smartphone
- An ANT+ and/or Bluetooth receiver for the data by the sensors
- Heart rate sensor
- Power meter
- Smartphone (Runs Zwift Companion app eg for making a turn)
- Trainer mat
Q: What are the problems with cheaper trainers?
A: Nothing, they all do Zwift and all will help with your training. I had a detailed answer for this but even the cheap ones are fine for most people. As the price goes up, so do the number, quality or flexibility of the features and, generally, the features are equally available on each brand. I used to have a super cheap trainer and I was ‘better’ then than I am now with my fancy top-end Kickr.
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