The Knowledge by Wahoo

Take It Inside: The Ins and Outs of Indoor Trainers

Episode Summary

"It's indoor training season in the northern hemisphere. This week coaches Neal Henderson and Mac Cassin dig into indoor training hardware. They look at the pros and cons of each design to help you choose the indoor trainer that fits your needs, priorities, and budget."

Episode Notes

"It's indoor training season in the northern hemisphere, time to take it inside. This week coaches Neal Henderson and Mac Cassin dig into indoor training hardware: from rollers to smart bikes and everything in between. They look at the pros and cons of each design to help you choose the indoor trainer that fits your needs, priorities, and budget. Curious about the difference between ERG mode and level mode? Want to know what makes a smart trainer so smart? Get your knowledge umbrella, because Mac and Neal are going to make it (t)rain."


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Episode Transcription

Neal Henderson  0:00  

Hello, and welcome to another episode of The Knowledge podcast by Wahoo. I'm Neal Henderson, head of Wahoo sports science.


Mac Cassin  0:06  

And I'm Matt Cassin senior sports scientist with Wahoo. Today's gonna be a little different. Because we're going to be talking about equipment, specifically trainers, j is going to be a little different, because we're going to be talking about equipment, specifically trainers. For those who are in the UK. No, we're not talking about sneakers. Instead, we're going to talk about stationery trainers for cycling indoors.


Neal Henderson  0:25  

Oh, and we're also going to talk about bikes that can replace your bike as a stationary trainer too.


Mac Cassin  0:30  

Okay, slow down. Neil, let's start at the beginning and then move to the present. Can we talk about the future? Data? I don't think we have enough time for that right now.


Neal Henderson  0:39  

All right, well, today, there are many different types of trainers that are available for you to use for doing your indoor cycling workout. We're going to break these down into the various types and categories and talk a little bit about some of the strengths and weaknesses of each of these types of training are to some degree, we're not going to be going into the absolute physics or the electronics, the electromagnetic resistance, all those kinds of things. We may mention those things very, very briefly, but we are definitely not going into the deep, dark engineering aspects of everything. Right?


Mac Cassin  1:10  

Yeah, that's for a different podcast for other more mechanically, engineering client posts.


Neal Henderson  1:15  



Mac Cassin  1:16  

So, Neal, I would argue that the best trainer out there is one that you can use


Neal Henderson  1:20  

The one you've got, and if it's working, there you go, that that is step number one. So with that in mind, if you don't have one currently, well, then here are some ideas for you to think about when you do get out and start looking to get a trainer for you to have to use.


Mac Cassin  1:38  

So there are various issues that you know, you want to think about when you're looking at a trainer, those range from the resistance, like what's the range of resistance that that trainer allows? How noisy is it, especially for those who live in apartments like myself, that is a very big factor, you know, comfort in a sense of, again, if it's rigid, and you're not enjoying spending time on it, you're probably not going to use it a lot? So that becomes an inefficient trainer, how easy it is to use, you know, maybe how portable it is stuff, stuff like that.


Neal Henderson  2:05  

You also have some things about are you moving? Or does it move easily, not just the portability side of it, but like when you're actually riding and pedaling. Does the trainer that you're on have any kind of movement, or do you have to maintain your balance?


Mac Cassin  2:20  

So that's a great segue into the first type, which is probably one of my favorite ones as a bit of bias there for attracting writers but rollers, which is pretty simple. It's you got three generally traditional rollers, you've got three drums with two on your back wheel and then some type of connecting cord between the front wheel and the back roller so that as you're pedaling, the front wheel moves and you have to there's some skill involved in writing those things,


Neal Henderson  2:42  

You're actually riding on top of the rollers. And the best way to think about rollers is each of those rollers is like a rolling pin from your kitchen in a way. And actually, old school rollers were wooden rollers, and then there's just basically a frame along the outside. So you have two rollers on the back wheel, some sort of like like Mac said, you know, I think of it as a large rubber band really big rubber band that goes from the front-rear roller all the way up to the front roller. And that allows both of your front and rear wheels on your bicycle to be rolling as you're pedaling. And you have to maintain your balance to go. One of the key things with that is the faster you go, the easier it is to balance. But there's also some penalty that you can achieve if you go off of the side of your rollers. And you actually do crash on rollers, right?


Mac Cassin  3:30  

Yes, you do. Shortly before I won my first national title on the track at collegiate racing. I was warming up in like the dead center of everyone and someone bumped into me and I fell off the rollers in front of everyone very loud. And a lot of people looking at me and that was definitely good for the ego. Got a big


Neal Henderson  3:45  

Adrenaline boost there before you started.


Mac Cassin  3:48  

Yeah, probably that part probably didn't hurt. Yeah, so for those rollers, they're nice because they're really simple. They're great for track because those you don't know the track is fixed gear. So there's you've got one gear if your pedals are moving your back wheels moving and rollers are nice because you can literally just take your bike as is get on the rollers ride and then as soon as you need to be done, you just you're off and ready to go.


Neal Henderson  4:08  

Rollers generally are fairly light, you can get different sets that maybe are a little bit heavier and the size of the drums or the rollers do affect how much resistance you get. So a smaller drum actually gives you more resistance, whereas a larger drum size gives you a little bit less resistance. And then just like when you're outside shifting through your gears will affect the resistance based on the actual speed of your wheels.


Mac Cassin  4:31  

Yeah, and so this actually then comes into one of the limitations with rollers in that for general rollers, there's no like smart resistance you can there are different add ons, you can get to rollers and some have magnetic resistance. We'll talk more about flywheels later but generally, resistance is sort of the limiting factor for rollers like Neil was saying the faster you go, the better bounce you have, which means going really easy can be somewhat difficult. And then there's also just a limit of again how much resistance you can get out of them like the rollers I have they really anything above 400 Watts you have to be going Pelin real fast in a pretty big,


Neal Henderson  5:02  

Very big gear definitely. I think one of the cool things about rollers is they have been around for a long time. So there are pictures of major Taylor in the late 1800s Riding rollers getting ready for track races and on the Velodrome and so to me, rollers are absolutely the classic. And I think if you are a cyclist, you should learn how to ride rollers because will also improve your balance over time. As well as just your pedal stroke a little bit, it'll smooth things out, you may learn a little bit about how you pedal when you ride rollers that you might not feel as much when you're on some of these other trainers that we talked about.


Mac Cassin  5:37  

Yeah, and the one thing again, as the skills improve on rollers, one limitation is getting out of the saddle can be quite difficult because you need to be careful about where your center of gravity is over the wheels because you can slip backward or forwards if you shift your weight too much. So you know they can be they're comfortable because they allow you to kind of move back and forth you have free movement. But getting out of the saddle can be tricky.


Neal Henderson  5:58  

Definitely. And it is a skill. You know, some people learn by putting their rollers in a doorway. So you have the door jams on either side of you. I know some folks who set them against a wall and then put a couch on the other side. So they come and pull the couch away from the wall and put the rollers in between. That's a nice safe way. Personally, I got my first set of rollers when I was in undergrad after I broke my arm. And I couldn't train outside. And I didn't have enough money to buy some of these other kind of trainers rollers were the cheapest things that I could get out of our sporting goods store for I think 40 bucks. And I learned to ride the rollers with a broken arm do as I say not as I do.


Mac Cassin  6:34  

Yeah, we'll probably have to edit that part out. We can't be giving people bad ideas now.


Neal Henderson  6:37  

Yeah, I'm full of bad ideas. Sorry about that. I've tried it. I've tried what doesn't work so that you don't have to do things like that.


Mac Cassin  6:44  

So it's pretty obvious that we're a bit biased towards rollers. But we can move on now to the next, I guess you know, the kind of the opposite of that would be a stationary bike like basically what you'd see it a spin class, right, that's its own standalone thing, it's its own bike with its own pedals, it's, you're not taking that out onto the road, because chances are it doesn't have two wheels,


Neal Henderson  7:02  

correct. If if you're taking it on the road, it's probably in the back of the truck to move it from one place to another. Generally, stationary bikes are pretty heavy. So the mobility is a little bit more tricky. Often they might have little wheels to help you move it around in your space and home or wherever it is. But it's still not very easy to move. They tend as I mentioned to be fairly heavy, but that that gives them sturdiness and a feel that you know you can do like sprint efforts and things like that on a stationary bike and feel like you're not flexing your many $1,000 carbon fiber bike or any of those kinds of things when you're on a stationary bike.


Mac Cassin  7:39  

Yeah, there's that inherent stability there. It's generally speaking, when people have these they set them up in some part of either there, my sister has one in her living room, like they just become a portion of you know, the home decor,


Neal Henderson  7:52  

or art and furniture and exercise equipment, multiple purposes for a stationary bike, for sure, we see.


Mac Cassin  7:59  

And so one of the nice things about stationary bikes is you know, it's not you're not bringing, say your dirty bike inside, that's a big plus you don't the maintenance on it is usually significantly simpler than even just a regular bike that just lives on a trainer, a lot of them are super easily adjustable for handlebar height, seat height, that sort of thing. So they can be shared pretty easily. As long as you get some sharpies out or something and Mark everyone's respective satellites and setbacks, you can have two people who have very different fits, use the same single bike,


Unknown Speaker  8:27  

Exactly, just being able to make that adjustment and jump on and go is is a pretty nice selling feature of stationary bikes. And as you know, there are newer versions that are, you know, what we consider a smart bike that we'll get into a little bit more, but you know, it'll have all the bells and whistles and more, which is pretty awesome.


Mac Cassin  8:44  

Yeah, so the simplest stationary bikes are generally going to have a decently heavy flywheel with some sort of adjustable brake on it, that'll increase resistance, or if you release, it will decrease resistance, some of them will calculate power off of that as you get to more expensive fancier ones, they'll actually directly measure your power and display that. And then as Neil was saying, you can get to the what we call smart ones, which will control the resistance for you. So regardless of how fast you're pedaling, the resistance will be set by some app.


Neal Henderson  9:12  

Yep. Let's move into what a lot of people then consider the classic trainers and you know, the wheel on trainer is is the kind of trainer that most people are fairly familiar with, maybe they first got started with and this is one where you keep your rear wheel on. And there's some sort of clamping mechanism typically on the rear axle and you have the resistance of that rear wheel against some sort of a metal drum back there and then some additional resistance coming off of that.


Mac Cassin  9:43  

Yeah, so that resistance can range from magnetic resistance is really popular and that's adjusted by moving gently there'll be a little lever that can move the magnets closer or further away to change resistance. Some of them will have just essentially a big fan on them. So you're using air resistance We'll have that same fan, but it's encapsulated in a thing with a bunch of fluid in it. And then again, you get the smart trainers. And there are a few different ways that those work. But again, those are ones where the resistance can be set by an app. And it's not dependent on you shifting or pedaling faster pedaling slower.


Unknown Speaker  10:15  

Exactly. So we along do range from fairly basic and fairly inexpensive, up to, you know, fairly expensive and smart capable. They are the easiest, though. And it is kind of nice if you have people riding the same trainer at different times. Because again, there's only one attachment for one bike at a time here, but that you have different gears, there's an advantage of having a wheel on trainer that you don't have to worry about different cassette sizes, the number of gears jumps between, etc. The next level next kind of trainer we talked about has some limitations.


Mac Cassin  10:46  

So yeah, so like Nina was saying it's you can have two people with their own bikes and one trainer and when one person's riding, they'll put their bike on when they're done, they take it off. The next person comes puts their bike on so you don't and you can have completely different components on those two different bikes it really frees up that that aspect of it. Some things you do want to keep in mind when you're using a wheel on a trainer is that you are putting more stress on your wheel like the wheel that you would be riding outside and generally they do sell special turbo or trainer wheels or sorry, tires. That will you know, you won't have to be a tire that you would normally use outside because you've put a couple of 100 miles on the turbo with it.


Neal Henderson  11:26  

Yeah, I think one of the worst things I had happened with the wheel on the trainer was actually getting a flat during a hard effort and having to stop and you know, changing a flat because you know, burned basically had the tire prior to high pressure or too much resistance going on and kaboom blew the tube might have been a faulty tube may have been poor installation, they've been a few different things.


Mac Cassin  11:47  

Yeah, so from an ease of use standpoint, they're right up there with rollers in that you can just take your existing bike as is put it on be good to go. You do want to be careful about putting a wheel with like, a tire with a bunch of dirt on it because you can you're just gonna cause unnecessary wear.


Neal Henderson  12:04  

Yep. And a knobby tire will definitely be louder. Otherwise, they're fairly quiet in most cases.


Mac Cassin  12:09  

Yeah. And from a portability standpoint, again, they're, they're pretty minimalist, so they are very portable. So like, for me warming up for time trials or any race. This is the exact type of when it wasn't tracked when it was on the road. This is the type of trainer that I use because I can just put my bike as it's going to be raced on, get some effort in, take it off, good to go.


Neal Henderson  12:28  

Easy on easy off. Sometimes you do have to change the rear skew, though, depending on what kind of skiers you use for it to be locked in there properly.


Mac Cassin  12:35  

Yeah, you should always read the manufacturer stuff and not do what I did, which was just destroying a number of regular skiers, because I was too lazy to change out.


Neal Henderson  12:44  

Yeah, if it comes with a special skewer, definitely use it.


Mac Cassin  12:47  

And one last thing there. And this applies to the next type of trainer we're talking about as well as just some manufacturers will void your frame's warranty, if you put it on to a trainer that's generally going away now because bikes are made better. And if it does break on a trainer, that's a manufacturing issue and not a user issue. But that is just something to be aware of.


Neal Henderson  13:07  

Yep, yep. Check your specs on your equipment. So the next kind of trainer is the opposite of a wheel on it's a wheel off trainer where you remove your rear wheel and you then place your chain over basically a new a different cassette that is on that trainer. And you're saving tire wear and tear, you may have a little bit more accurate power range from that because you don't have that tire to roll or type of interface that can vary. And in a lot of cases you have very minimal kind of slippage, and issues along with that. And if you flat, the same thing, it doesn't matter if you flat your phone while you're riding a rear wheel off the trainer. No problem, you can just keep going.


Mac Cassin  13:49  

Yeah, so with that, as Neil saying this slippage when you get a wheel-on trainer, you can if you're doing a really short, sharp effort, the wheel can just spin more than the drum. And this is really not an issue with the wheel off trainers. It is nice because you can save equipment because you're not going to be doing as much where so you can have just a single cassette that lives on there. It is a bit limited if you have two different people who want to use it, but they have said one person has 10 speed, the other has 11 speed, and a third person has 12 speed because they're fancy, then you would need to theoretically change out the cassette each time.


Neal Henderson  14:20  

Definitely. And I think you know, I've seen an evolution over time. And you know, I'm old school and I've been doing this indoor training thing for quite some time and for many, many years, you know computrainer was the standard that was a wheel-on trainer. And when Wahoo launched the kicker in 2013. It really did change things and I went from using computrainers in a studio setting to going into all kickers there and honestly that the feeling of the resistance was a bit better again with a wheel off trainer especially when you add those smart trainer components, the electronics and things like that it really He kind of changed the way we rode indoors and made it a much better experience.


Mac Cassin  15:05  

Yeah, and so with all these types of trainers, you know, rollers offer you the most movement, these other the stationary bike, the wheel on and the wheel off trainers, the standard versions of all those are going to have pretty limited movement of the bike, you're not going to be able to what we would call move the bike naturally underneath you when you're out riding. If you're riding properly, like when you're out of the saddle, the bike should be moving under you and you should be fairly stationary for obviously if your bike is hooked into something, you need to be moving over the bike that is stationary and there are some, you know, extra add ons you can get with different trainers that allow movement there like rocker plates you can put on underneath the trainer that allows back and forth movement. Some trainers, like the kicker have feet on the edges that allow a bit more rotation there. And that can really just become more than anything can come down to a comfort issue. If it makes the trainer more comfortable, you're more likely to ride it, therefore it's an improvement.


Neal Henderson  15:58  

Definitely. And yeah, but there are aspects of being able to have more of a simulation of going uphill and downhill with something like a kicker climb or the kicker bike some of those options where you have just that little bit of variation. You know, old school, we used to put a book, you know, a phone book, actually under the front wheel to simulate going uphill on our old wheel on trainers back in the early days.


Mac Cassin  16:18  

So speaking of simulating going uphill, that gets into the type of resistance. So we've talked about you know, these different flywheels and wind resistance, magnetic resistance, Neil, if you were to simulate climbing indoors now, what aspect of a trainer resistance would you look for?


Neal Henderson  16:33  

Yep, I'd be looking for what we would consider a low inertia trainer. And what this is generally is a lighter flywheel or lighter virtual flywheel through the electronics and electromagnet setup.


Mac Cassin  16:47  

And so by low inertia, what we mean here is, you know, when you spin a flywheel up, if you stop, it'll keep spinning, you can think about it as if you're riding on a downhill, you have inertia, and you're going to keep going, if you're going uphill, you have very low inertia. And if you stop pedaling, you will slow down and eventually probably tip over.


Neal Henderson  17:04  

And the two primary things there is the mass that's moving and the speed at which that mass is moving. So if you have a very heavy flywheel that's a lot of mass, if it's moving very fast, then you have a lot of inertia. If you have a fairly light flywheel and it's not moving as quickly, then you're going to have a low inertia situation. And so climbing tends to feel like when we go outside, it's actually more of low inertia because we're actually not moving quickly going fast. Well, most of us, I mean, ProTour riders a little different they go, they go fast up hills. But for most of us, climbing is very much a low inertia situation. Whereas when we ride on the flat, where we're going faster, then we have a bit more of that high inertia field.


Mac Cassin  17:48  

And this is for those of you who might have a power meter and right outside, and you might think that it's a lot harder to hold a given power on a climb compared to on the flat, you'd think Well, it's the same power, there's no difference here. But because of that inertia component and how your own inertia is going and assisting you with the pedal stroke, it is a bit different physiologically in terms of that power output, like what's actually what your legs are doing, there's less of an impact when you're going fast on a flat because if you don't make it over that dead spot, you're still moving forward if as soon as you back off the power at all, with low inertia, like going uphill, you start to slow down.


Neal Henderson  18:20  

Yep. And I think this is an area where there's definitely a future for additional research to look at actually how we pedal in these different situations. And it's not like one pedal stroke to the next. But it's actually within each pedal stroke, what that impulse of force being delivered to the pedal is. And so what that is is how high that peak of force is and how long it's maintained. The area under the curve of that is actually your net power delivered. But you could do that if you have a low force being applied over a longer period of time, which you may be getting when you're climbing because gravity is our resistance in that situation. And it's fairly consistent and we have a little bit lower cadence. When we're climbing generally compared to then when we're on a flatter road, we might be at a higher cadence. And the resistance that we're overcoming predominantly is aerodynamic resistance. And potentially the impulse may actually have a higher peak force but be expressed over a shorter period of time. And so the power is equal that area under the curve could be equal between that flat any climbing situation. But exactly how we're producing that power could be different. And once we start to get some of this additional kind of within, you know, if we get 50, let's just say 100 measurements per second during a pedal stroke, we may be able to see a little bit more of that in the future. So I'm excited to see how that affects what we see as a difference between flattened indoors and then the simulations of both of those situations indoors and being able to match up the feeling of the kind of ride and training that we're doing to that kind of resistance,


Mac Cassin  19:55  

so that there was a lot to take in in two minutes. I'll add that as he was talking about this flywheel impacting that low inertia, what you can do with smart trainers is, if you want to simulate climbing more is be in your smaller gear relatively because the speed of that flywheel will be lower. So again, you can be seeing the same power if you're on your 5311 versus your 3928, you can see the same, say 200 watts. But when you're in the 3928, it is a bit different, a bit more challenging.


Neal Henderson  20:24  

And that's specifically using ERG mode on a smart trainer correct for that low inertia. So we have to have ERG mode, which is part of the aspects of smart trainers that are controlling that that resistance from an electronic or electromagnetic sense. And so ERG mode is one where we can give a set resistance, or the trainer will give you a set resistance based on an app or some other information that it's getting, and make those adjustments automatically. So you just stay in one gear, and it's going to give you that set resistance, say for 200 Watts, and you could be in your small gear 3928 on a road bike on the trainer, and it's going to give you 200 Watts and if you shift up to a 5311, the wheel speed is going to be a lot higher, but then it's just going to adjust the resistance with the smart trainer. To give it the same power, though it may feel different because of that inertia difference of the speed of the flywheel moving around.


Mac Cassin  21:20  

Yeah, and so just as a little trainer tip for if you are writing a trainer in ERG mode, this is something I do ERG mode is nice because you don't have to shift but just pedal and breathe right pedal in brief, I do find that it's a lot smoother, it can be more, you know, you can get more out of a workout if you have varying cadences when you do shift because the way I think about it is when you're in ERG mode, the trainer is trying to add resistance and keep the flywheel at the same speed. So if you're going to pedal faster in the same gear, the flywheel speed is going to increase. So the resistance is given by the trainer needs to decrease. And so it takes you to know, a second for all the math and changes to happen. So,


Neal Henderson  21:55  

or maybe even five in 10 seconds. In some cases.


Mac Cassin  21:57  

Yeah. So if you want it to smooth out like shift just like you would if you're riding outside, you don't have to do it, I find it makes the ride significantly better,


Neal Henderson  22:06  

little more enjoyable. Well, another way that you can simulate riding outdoors is using what we call more of a level mode or course mode if you're on a smart trainer.


Mac Cassin  22:14  

And it's essentially how a normal trainer works, right? Like you, you dictate what the resistance is by shifting


Neal Henderson  22:20  

kind of almost makes a smart trainer more like a kind of a static trainer. You know, I don't like calling dumb, you know, trainers, dumb trainers, there's a lot of people who call them you know, dumb trainers, if they don't have all the electronics and they're not dumb. You know, they're just, they're just not dynamic and electronically controlled.


Mac Cassin  22:36  

But Neil, if we have smart trainers, then what would it be other than dumb trainers, not smart trainers? intellectually challenged trainers know that there is


Neal Henderson  22:46  

not a challenge. They just don't have the same stuff that the smart trainers have and it's not their fault.


Mac Cassin  22:51  

Okay, I guess I'll let that slide. Well, that's it for another episode of the knowledge podcast by Wahoo. We hope you got some useful knowledge out of this equipment-focused episode. Thank you for listening and we will catch you next time.