Let’s face it. We would all prefer to ride outdoors. However, depending on your climate, your schedule, or your neighborhood sometimes it just isn’t possible to always train outdoors on the road. So rather than miss a workout or put yourself in an unsafe environment, MCC athletes need to equip themselves with a stationary trainer for indoor or backyard training.

The principle of a trainer is simple. Your rear wheel locks into a mechanism that spins a drum that offers resistance against the turning wheel. You pedal and shift as you would on the road; your computer picks up the same kind of data; but you stay put, pedaling into nowhere.

The best trainers are smooth, quiet, and try to reproduce the same resistance as riding on the road. Your front wheel rests in a block that holds it in place and at the same level as the rear wheel. If you want more resistance, simply shift up into a harder gear.

Trainers come in several varieties: Magnetic trainers employ a magnetic flywheel to create resistance for the drum that contacts the wheel. Turbo trainers employ fans and air resistance. Fluid trainers are magnetic trainers whose internal mechanism is surrounded by resistance liquids sealed in drums. And some trainers have adjustable resistance via a handlebar control attached to the trainer by a cable. Having tried all of these, I prefer a simple fluid trainer. Fluid trainers are quieter and smoother. The cable on adjustable trainers is annoying when you want to transport the trainer to a race to use in warming up, which you will commonly do.

Some trainers, called “Smart Trainers,” connect to personal computers (see example below). They can give you video readouts of your cadence, speed, and power, all while simulating a video ride through the Alps or against your training partner connected to you over the Internet. Some of these high-tech trainers will be able to tell you if your right foot is spinning faster than your left foot. Way cool. But expensive. A more economical way to provide some welcome diversion when you ride a stationary trainer is to point it at a small TV/DVD and watch movies or race videos. It helps get you through long, cold winter nights on the trainer.

I sound as though I am apologizing for the trainer as a necessary evil. However, some athletes swear that their best training comes while doing hard intervals on a trainer. For example, if you are doing long time trial intervals or super hard power intervals, you do not have to worry about traffic, stop lights, or road surfaces when you do them on a trainer. Trainer workout have the advantage of a controlled environment with no distracting or dangerous variables, allowing for all your effort and concentration to be focused on the task you need to perform.

You might want to use an old rear wheel when you put your bike on a trainer. That way you save your good rims and rubber for the road. Some riders even dedicate an old bike as an indoor trainer bike in order to save the frame of their good bike from stress and to make going back and forth between trainer and road more convenient. Proper fit is still important on such an indoor setup. Your trainer bike fit should be identical to your road bike fit.

This Wahoo KICKR is an example of a “Smart Trainer” that connects directly to your cassette, so no rear wheel is needed. Resistance and power wattage can be controlled from your computer or mobile device.