As I plugged away today on my time trial bike, the sound of my pedalling my only company, I had a few moments where I found my mind wandering. Fortunately, this didn’t end in disaster – I was attached to my turbo trainer.
A turbo trainer, or turbo for short, is, in my opinion, an essential tool for someone serious about preparing for an event that involves cycling. They vary wildly in price and design but the principle is the same across the board: you turn your mobile bike into a static exercise machine.
People cycle to get out on the road or trails. It’s brilliant. It’s fun, invigorating and, in my case, reminds me of being a kid jumping off low curbs and riding down steps. The turbo, on the other hand, can be boring, draining and, if you’re not mentally up for it that day, it’s a good way to make you think of every other place you’d rather be.
This doesn’t have to be the case, though. Like so much in life, it depends entirely on how you look at it. On the road, factors outside of your control come into play. Wind can push you along one minute and be like a wall against you the next. Road surfaces can make you feel like you’re flying effortlessly or like you’re cycling through treacle. Debris can pop your tyres or, worse, do that and also damage your wheels and make you crash. You’ve got hills, you’ve got traffic, you’ve got weather. All the variables combine to make your ride what it is and it’s truly addictive.
Sometimes, though, reducing these variables is where it’s at. This is where the turbo comes into its own. Interval sessions are a prime candidate; specific, varying efforts, along with precise timings, demand focus and control that are difficult to achieve on the road. The turbo allows you to focus on hitting these perfectly and this is the main reason it’s a brilliant training tool.
There’s also the fact that there is no freewheeling and you don’t miss a single pedal stroke. An easy hour on the turbo is more effective physical training than an easy hour on the road, because on the road you’ll freewheel at some point. Sure, on the turbo you miss the constant handling adjustments that make you a better bike handler and the miles you put in are virtual, but it all adds up. Plus, you’re pedalling the entire time. It’s also an attractive option when the weather is bad, especially in winter.
I look at the turbo as ‘quick fitness’. You can’t beat it for efficient, effective cycling training. I’ve learnt to love it and realising how much it helps your ‘real’ cycling could help you love it too.
Realising the value of controlled environments is important. Putting in ‘controlled miles’ boosts your training in any discipline. Running on an athletics track is the same; there’s just you, your effort and reliable, honest mileage. If you focus on the fact that they are very high-quality sessions, I think you’ll find they become a staple in your training.