Thanks to interactive apps, the days of staring at a garage wall are gone; but how much do you need to spend to get the most out of turbo training?
The idea of a turbo being ‘smart’ will be an anathema to the traditionalist who views it as an instrument of torture that requires you to switch your brain off before getting on it, but with the rise of apps such as Zwift, Skuga and Strava, suddenly indoor training is becoming not only more sophisticated, but also more fun.
A smart turbo trainer pairs with other tech such as computers and smartphones to enable you to get more from your workout. Via ANT+ and Bluetooth as well as your home Wifi, two-way interaction with smartphones and computers allows a whole host of new possibilities.
Zwift, which has a downloadable app with a monthly subscription, is the leader in this field, letting you ride with other cyclists in a virtual environment. Combining training with gaming has already banished the old hatred of the turbo for the new generation of cyclists. But does this change in attitude towards turbo training mean you have to buy a turbo that costs more than some people spend on a bike?
“To get started on Zwift you don’t need a smart trainer — the minimum requirement is a speed and cadence sensor,” says Chris Snook of Zwift. “If you‘ve got a basic set of rollers or a basic turbo trainer you can get started on that. The thing you do lack is the automatic resistance adjustment towards the terrain you’re riding.”
Zwift has simulated gradients built into its courses so that if you hit a hill, a smart trainer will auto-adjust the resistance so that you need to pedal harder or change down. A ‘dumb’ trainer or rollers won’t auto-adjust — the user has to change the resistance manually, losing the virtual reality element by doing so.
Snook continues: “What can be difficult is if you’re on rollers [rather than a smart trainer] and you’re on a group ride, the game will suddenly require that you need to pull out 300 watts to get up a climb. That’s quite difficult to do on a set of rollers without any resistance. You’ve got to change up to increase the resistance instead of changing down as you would on a real hill.”
However, among the 30 per cent of non-smart trainer-using Zwifters there are some riders of note: “Lionel Sanders,
a triathlete who did a monster bike leg at Kona, uses rollers,” says Snook. “Obviously if you’re riding on your own it doesn’t matter that much because you’re pushing and hitting the zones you need to.
Former pro Dean Downing, now a coach with Trainsharp, says: “I hate turbo trainers but I did train a lot on a Wattbike during my racing career. Working as a coach, many of my clients work full-time and have families so they don’t want to go out at 8pm in the dark and cold.
“It ultimately comes down to personal preference,” says Downing. “One of my clients uses a Wahoo KICKR and Zwift, while another trains with a Stages power meter on a standard turbo. It’s about breaking the boredom down.”
Apps like Zwift have revolutionised indoor training sessions