The Time of the Turbo Trainer – Everything You Need To Know

At this current time, turbo trainers and training programmes are definitely getting a boost in use, but if you are new to them or have been thinking about getting one but not really sure where to start, then this guide is for you.

Turbo trainers are incredible pieces of equipment to ensure you are still able to keep fit while indoors and even allow you to get involved in some races if that’s your thing.

So we wanted to break it down to make it easy to understand how it all works because it can seem like a lot of daunting tech to delve into.

The Turbos

First, we will look at the different varieties of trainers out there. They fit into two main types:

‘Dumb’ trainers

Basically can’t connect to computer alone but can if you buy speed and cadence sensors.

These trainers generally use magnets to increase the resistance as you are riding, and normally require you to leave the rear wheel on when using the trainer. It is recommended to buy a specific tyre that is made for indoor training as these are thicker and more robust than racing slicks. 

To be able to pair this type of trainer with one of the training apps like Zwift, you will need either a power metre on your bike, or a separate speed and cadence sensor for the program to be able to replicate your output in the app you choose.

Pros: Cheap, relatively easy to assemble.

Cons: Noisy, not as true to real-life riding.

Smart trainers 

Fix in place of the rear wheel and off you go

These types of trainer are generally direct drive, meaning you take your rear wheel off and attach in place of the wheel to give a more true-to-life feel. The resistance of these are much more lifelike when of gradients, for example on Zwift. They are perfect if you live in a flat / apartment as most models are almost silent apart from the noise of the chain.

These also have power metres inbuilt so you are able to pair with training apps, such as Zwift or The Sufferfest, as listed below without needing to purchase anything extra.

Pros: Quiet, more life-like feel

Cons: More expensive

Finally there is a third type –
The Full Bike

Make it 'appen: Using the Wattbike and Zwift to reach your goals

Brands such as Wahoo Kickr bike, and WattBike offer the full bike incorporating a trainer into the machine – so more like what you would see in a gym. These are great as you don’t need to attach your bike to the trainer and it’s good to go from the box.

Pros: No need to attach your own bike

Cons: Large to store when not in use, expensive

The programs you can use: 

Zwift:
This platform offers racing, training session and community rides all day, every day. 

What Zwift says:

“Zwift blends the fun of video games with the intensity of serious training, helping you get faster. Level up in the virtual worlds of Zwift with a community that motivates you every minute. Choose from training plans, group rides, races, and more. You’ll get fitter and stronger.”

There are more than 1000 structured workouts as well as six worlds to ride in; Watopia, Richmond, London, Innsbruck, New York and Yorkshire.

You are able to create your own meet ups on Zwift as well as joining other set group rides hosted by professionals riders. There are a lot of these happening at the moment so you just need to download the Zwift Companion app to sign up for the events.

Zwift has also recently hosted a month of rides specifically for women, and also have women-specific races and events so worth noting if you’re female and feel a little intimidated mixing it with all the males.

In-game features also include being able to upgrade bikes, wheels, kit and also unlock special courses depending on how much you ride in Zwift.

Zwift costs £12.99 per month.

The Sufferfest: 
This platform offers a more holistic approach to training, incorporating four elements; cycling, yoga, mental toughness and strength and conditioning training. 

What The Sufferfest say: 

“Comprehensive training for cyclists and triathletes designed by world-class coaches combine yoga, mind and strength training to reach your true potential. Where other apps just guess, our comprehensive approach gives you everything you need to be faster. And so much more.”

So rather than just concentrating on cycling, The Sufferfest offers video tutorials in each of the other areas to help boost all-around physical and mental strength. 

The Sufferfest costs around £12 per month

TrainerRoad:

TrainerRoad says: 

“Use science-based planning, training and analysis tools to increase your performance with cycling’s most effective training system.”

One of the original training plan systems and is a more of a dedicated training plan rather than the social aspect of say, Zwift.

RGT Cycling: 

This programme offers real world routes in graphic form so you are able to ride your favourite climbs such as Sa Calobra,, Mont Ventoux, and Canary Wharf.

What RGT says: “Spearheading the virtual fitness revolution RGT Cycling has a unique set of features such as Magic Roads which enable users to ride any road, anytime, anywhere With a focus on helping riders get fitter, faster and stronger.”

RGT Cycling also hosts social rides and races.

Around £12 a month – currently free.

FulGaz

This platform offers riders the ability to ride your climb with real-world footage of routes and climbs such as Rocacorba in Girona, Cap Formentor in Mallorca and Lake Como in Italy.

What FulGaz say: “Featuring videos of up to 4k resolution, see every details as you ride in hundreds of great locations.”

FulGaz costs £9.99 a month.

How to connect the trainer to the program, such as Zwift?

Load up your program such as Zwift and you will be prompted to connect your trainer (if you have a smart trainer) or your speed and cadence sensors.

They will either connect via Bluetooth or USB Ant stick – this is a UBS that enables your trainer or sensors to connect to your computer.

Once connected, your power (if using a smart trainer), speed and cadence will show up in your program of choice. Off you go to enjoy the delights (and extreme sweating) of indoor training.

Other accessories you might need: 

Fan. This is almost as essential as the bike. It can get unbelievably hot doing efforts indoors. Also, the increase in heat can raise your heart rate making the workout seem even more hard work.

Towel. goes without saying really but you will need a towel to help mop up your efforts training.

Towel for your bike. These are also another recommended item as these triangular towels that attach over the top of your top tube and handlebars to ensure the salty sweat doesn’t drip onto your frame.

Mat. Make sure you put your bike on a mat unless you want sweat stains all over the carpet or laminate! 

What our Ribble ambassadors use to train on:

Ash Beech – who rides a custom colour Ribble SL

Wondering what the lights are for? YouTube filming!! Check out Ash’s channel here

He said: “Zwift is my indoor training platform of choice, primarily because of the unique stimulus of the races. I have never lacked the motivation to complete a race and in fact push myself beyond expectations, everytime. For me, indoors, nothing else comes close right now.
I use the Wahoo Kickr for 2 main reasons over anything else: incredibly quiet so when I live stream my Zwift races online, I chat with those tuning-in. Secondly it replicates upto 20% grades, where my previous trainers have only been 10%; the more realistic the pain when virtually mountain slaying, the better.”

James Ward – who rides an Endurance SL, CGR AL and R872

“Even though most people are turning to the turbo in lockdown, I personally prefer to try and keep training outdoors where possible, however close to home that may be. 

“On the rare occasion I do have to step foot inside the pain cave I have a Kickr Core and my trusty R872 setup with a little Ipad so I can hop on Zwift. I’m a big fan of ERG mode on the smart turbo as it means you absolutely have to hit the numbers as long as you turn the pedals – proper leg burning stuff.”

Katie Kookaburra  – who rides a CGR Ti and an Endurance SL

Not quite Katie’s usual set up but she’s certainly not complaining!

“I absolutely love indoor training, and have had both my CGR Ti and Endurance SL on my Wahoo Kickr to make sure I get my training sessions in. 

“I like the Kickr because it’s so quiet and keeps me able to riding steeper grades as my favourite outdoor type of riding is anything with an incline. 

“I really love the social aspect of Zwift and being able to race too. It’s such a great community of people and it really is great to keep you motivated when the weather is bad outside, or we aren’t able to get outside.”

I’m running group training sessions if any of you want to join! Running on the 7 / 14/ 21 April 7pm BST. Sign up on the Zwift companion app.

Cameron Jeffers – rides an Endurance SL Disc and soon to race on an Endurance SL R Disc

When he’s not doing crazy challenges like this… Cam turns indoors to Zwift

Cycling indoors, on a stationary trainer goes against every reason I ever wanted to go out on a bike for. You’re in one place, you’ve got nothing to look at, nothing to entertain you. You’re just pedalling. 

However, over recent years, more and more companies have tried to innovate in ways to make indoor training appear more appealing, entertaining and exciting, one prime example of this is, Zwift. 

When it comes to set up, there is a huge spectrum. The cheapest, most budget-friendly option is connecting to your smartphone or iPad via bluetooth to a speed and cadence sensor on your bicycle which is mounted on either a turbo trainer or a pair of rollers. Using Zwift’s algorithms, they calculate your power based on the speed and cadence you’re currently riding at, though the accuracy is fairly low, it will get you rolling in the virtual world.

For more reliable and accurate power sources, these come at a little more of a premium. Personally, I use a Wahoo Kickr Smart trainer. This has a power meter built in which, via Ant+, connects to my computer which is running the software. The Wahoo Kickr is a ‘wheel off’ trainer, which essentially means that your rear dropout clamps into the trainer and it replaces your back wheel. This also gives the most realistic feel to riding a bicycle outdoors. Wahoo’s trainers also are responsive to the virtual climbs in the game, so when the gradient increases, so does the resistance… It’s a pretty cool feature.

As mentioned, you wouldn’t believe how much you sweat when you haven’t got the breeze of the outdoors against you. Personally, I use the Wahoo Headwind which can be set to be controlled automatically against your heart rate. The higher your heart rate, the stronger the Headwind blows, again, simulating being outside. 

Finally, my favourite thing about training indoors is definitely Zwift Racing. There’s nothing better than a bit of competitive spirit and I guarantee you won’t push yourself as hard in training as you would do when there’s a victory on the line! These races are around 20-40 minutes in length and more often than not, end in a big sprint finish.

However you chose to set up, indoor training doesn’t have to replace your love of the outdoors, think of it as a complimentary aid to your training, you might even find you push yourself harder with the set training sessions or race events! Give it a go and let us know how you get on in the comments section below.


Read how the Endurance SLe has helped to keep one 69 year old’s passion for cycling alive here


2 Comments
  1. Hi just been reading your very interesting article, can you help please I have a static solidwheel spinning bike and want to know how I can turn this into something that I can sign up to Zwift and use.
    My two road bikes only use Cat Eye wireless cycle computers so I need to know what what budget friendly speed and or cadence sensors should I buy to get on-line as it were?
    Or do I need to buy a Garmin to use on the spinning bike then I can use it on my road bikes, but they are quite expensive and at this time with little or no money coming in is difficult.
    Why I want todo this if possible is that the other day out on my bike doing my daily exercise some anti cyclist tried to push me off my bike as they wanted to walk in the centre of the road ass no cars around, so if I can train inside that would eliminate the current situation and make my wife happier knowing where I am when I go out for one or two hours at a time.

    Regards,

    Phil

  2. I assume, given you posted this article, that our carbon framed bikes (specifically in my case the Endurance SL Disc) is tested and guaranteed for use on an indoor trainer?

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