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CYCLING PERFORMANCE TIPS

  Last updated:7/6/2012

Stationary Trainers


The following question summarizes nicely the reasons one might turn to a stationary trainer for the off season (or even for the regular riding season if you have a day job that means you need to get your "miles" after the sun sets).

Q. I am an older guy likes to keep fit, running, riding paddling, squash, etc. but bad weather always gets in the way. Have been looking at stationary training as an alternative. What stationary trainers could you recommend? My aim is buy an intermediate unit when I really understand what is suitable for me then I may purchase a higher quality unit. I have heard a lot of people complain about stationary training but with bad weather. I can't sit still and it wouldn't bother me to watch TV etc (a much as I hate it) and get a few k's on the legs during bad weather in doors riding session. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated - Andrew

A. There are basically 3 types of stationary trainers:

  1. Rollers - you use your own bike, which rides freely on top of the rollers, and thus you need to maintain your balance when you exercise. Thus you are training balance as well as your cardiovascular system.
  2. Fixed exercise unit - Your bike is fixed on a gadget that eliminates the need for balance. You can multitask and watch television or read while you get your cardiovascular training.
  3. Stationary bike - A distant third is a gym based stationary bike. It will not be the geometry of your bike, and thus likely to be less comfortable. But it is better than no cardiovascular training at all.
There are multiple choices in each group. You get to decide which works best for you. I think #2 is best for home use (less expensive than a full stationary bike unit) - as you can let your mind wander while cycling and not worry about falling over. But if you are hard core - go for #1.


I often get personal anecdotes or experiences re equipment purchases. As many of you ask me for recommendations, I thought it might be helpful to collect other readers' comments concerning stationary trainers. Feel free to send me yours, and I'll add them to this page.

I. I was injured in a cycling accident two weeks ago (skier's thumb) and am sporting a cast for three weeks. I can't ride on the road so took this time to research trainers. I've found a trainer that I think is light-years beyond anything on the market. It's the first trainer I've purchased and did so based on the reviews I read. They were accurate. It's an amazing device- totally quiet and smooth, and the harder you push the harder it pushes back. it's a homespun device- Corky Phillips is an inventor. He make the things in a machine shop next to his house! Nevertheless, the workmanship is superior, and the action of the trainer is actually like riding a bike! You can check it out at: http://www.1upusa.com/bike_trainer.html

II. Though I love getting out on the road for hours at a time, I've found there are two great reasons to use my stationary trainer.

  1. Sometimes I just don't have 3 hours to spare (plus prep time). An hour-long, hard set of anaerobic intervals provides excellent training with minimal preparation.
  2. Focused interval training. We have a great network of trails out here in Tulsa, but there's still some street crossings and other obstacles (other cyclists, runners, walkers, dogs, wildlife, occasional debris) that can break up interval training. A stationary trainer allows concentrated, unbroken efforts, and measurable increases. As I've added aerobic and anaerobic intervals to my training, I've increased my work segments by set amounts, and am better able to track my progress. And this interval training has made a noticeable difference in my road capabilities.

As for a trainer itself: I went with one recommended by several sites a couple of years ago: the CycleOps Fluid 2. It's relatively quiet compared to wind and magnetic trainers, the roller stays quite cool, and the resistance increases in a very realistic way. Solid construction, stable, and well worth the money. Doesn't seem to chew up my tires either (though I always make sure to keep my tires clean of debris and clean the roller as well, just in case). Prices range from $250-350. The only thing I didn't like was I had to purchase a riser block separately (though that was only about $20). The stationary trainer is now an integral part of my training routine, and not just a bad-weather substitute. I recently reviewed this trainer on my blog at http://rolling.xjiard.com (and provide perspectives on novice cycling) - Tony

Is there a training advantage to a trainer over riding on the road?

That is common gym club folklore. Is it true? Here are my thoughts:

Q. Is 1 hour on a trainer equal to 2 hours of riding on the road?

A. The answer is no if by “equal” you mean you are doing an equal amount of work (or burning an equal number of Calories per hour).

The amount of work you are doing on a bike (or a trainer) is expressed in watts (measured at the rear hub). A watt being defined as the amount of work per unit of time (1 watt = 0.01433 calories/minute). So if you are putting in an equivalent effort (work) on a trainer as you are on a bike on the road, the amount of work you are doing per minute (In watts measured at the rear hub) should be equivalent as well.

How do we usually measure effort (if we cannot measure watts directly)?

The work being done by the muscles is fueled by energy produced by muscle cell metabolism. This energy production requires oxygen - which is provided to the muscles by the heart, lungs, and circulatory system. For a set amount of work per minute, a specific amount of blood (and oxygen) has to be delivered to the muscle cells per minute. The amount of blood circulated is directly proportional to the heart rate. Thus if you are working harder, the heart rate will be proportionally higher to maintain that higher level of work.

Ergo, if your heart rate is equal on a trainer and on a bike, I think it is fair to say you are doing equal work in watts. And if you are maintaining an equal heart rate on a trainer for an hour or on a bike for an hour, the number of Calories you are expending per hour is equal as well.

There is no free lunch i.e extra training credit for using a trainer.




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