There’s a few different cycling-related activities you can do in the off-season, but in this article I’ll be focusing on the best indoor bicycle trainers to ride this winter.
“Mag” trainer means there is a magnetic resistance unit that makes for a smooth and quiet operation while cycling. Previous to the mag design, the resistance came from a system of air fans but didn’t allow for adjustability and they were very loud! Most mag trainers these days feature a remote control unit that mounts to your handlebars so in addition to changing gears on your bike, you can change the amount of resistance and simulate a hill or headwind. Most mag trainers connect to your bike via the rear wheel axle skewer with no tools or disassembly required; very easy. Be sure to purchase a “front wheel block” with your trainer or you could simply make your own with some wood blocks or old phone books. The front wheel should be raised off the floor the same distance as the rear wheel is raised by the trainer (usually just a few inches) and thereby leveling it. Almost all mag trainers just connect to your bike at the rear wheel and fold down for easy storage.
Mag trainers make for a stable platform, perfect for short or prolonged and intense workouts. Getting a moderate 30-minute workout is probably the minimum you want to plan for but if you’re ready for an hour or more with some harder intervals thrown it, the mag trainer will work great.
Rollers are a stationary bicycle training device where you literally ride balanced on top of a set of three rollers, both wheels spinning as you pedal and you are not attached to anything. There are usually two rollers that your front bicycle wheel sits between, holding the bike from going fore or aft off the trainer. There is usually a single roller sitting under your bicycle’s rear wheel and a band connects the rear roller to the front and gets both of your wheels spinning as you pedal. It’s a precarious position to get started but as soon as you create a little speed, staying balanced isn’t that hard. Rollers are a bigger unit than a mag trainer because they must cover the distance between the front and rear wheels of your bicycle and they almost always are hinged in the middle so they fold up for easy storage.
Rollers provide the opportunity to work on pedaling the bike smoother with better balance and finesse. If your main objective is to improve your smooth pedaling motion, gain more leg speed or rpm’s (cadence) when you ride, rollers work great. If you want to stay interested when you pedal indoors and avoid boredom, rollers are the way to go. If you want to ride longer amounts of time or at great intensity, I would suggest against rollers and instead use a mag trainer. To get going, set up close to a side wall or large chair so you have a solid object to help hold you up and begin pedaling. For safety sake, don’t be anywhere near sharp or glass objects like a glass-top coffee table. Also be sure to leave some open room in front of you in case you slip off to the side. You don’t need to be scared but speaking from experience, you should be prepared!
How to Pick Your Trainer
I grew up and spent most of my bicycle racing career in Baltimore where the winter temps never really got too cold to stop cycling. But even with my decent bike handling skills, I was always nervous about coming into contact with ice while out on my road bike. So in the winter I mostly rode off-road when outdoors and pedaled my road bike indoors on rollers or a mag trainer.
It’s always better when riding indoors to use a familiar and specific setup because your body and position is more stationary than riding outdoors. If you have fine-tuned your fit on your personal bike, it will benefit you to use that same bike when training indoors. You’re likely to spend more time sitting when training indoors and less time out of the saddle, moving around and altering your position so it’s even more important to have the correct saddle height, saddle fore and aft position and handlebar position. Riding in the wrong position without much variable movement can cause injury so please protect yourself by having a good fit. Your fit is subject to change with the season if you don’t keep up with your stretching and staying as flexible in the winter as you are in the summer. Find a good bike fit specialist in your area and make that investment!
I’ve had lots of different indoor bicycle training equipment over the years and I think my fondness with riding my bike indoors is because I’ve always had a purpose and always make it fun. I almost always include some hard efforts when on a trainer and I always like to use as many enhancing distractors as possible. I almost always use my heart rate monitor on a trainer so I can get the most out of my workouts. If you’re using a cycle computer (will need a rear wheel monitor to use with a mag trainer), power meter, or heart rate monitor, try to have a plan to maximize results before you start. I almost always have a small air fan in front of me to help cool me down as my workout heats up. I’m always prepared with a small towel as I start to sweat and I always clean off the salt after my workout (salt and bike parts don’t mix!). I’m very fond of my Spinervals videos and if I’m not watching videos, I have my favorite high-energy music playlist cranked up. I always have a water bottle ready and after my ride, I’m sure to refuel with good food and lots of water.
Always riding medium-hard won’t get you any faster and also makes for a very boring workout. Mix up your rides and make it interesting so the time just flies by. I love the free workout log and coaching resource from Training Peaks and try to approach every training session with purpose. I hope you have a great winter and you’re ready beyond your goals when your bike season begins!
Roger is the general manager at THE RACERY and is celebrating his 36th year working in the bicycle business. Roger raced mountain bikes for 17 years including 9 of those years as a professional. Now his focus is racing cross country skis but still puts many miles on his many bicycles including his historical 19.5 hour road bike ride from Madison, WI to Minneapolis, MN (301 miles) two summers ago.