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Turbo Trainer Guide

Turbo Trainer Guide

How do turbo trainers work?

Most turbo trainers work by fixing to your bike frame with a clamp around the quick release skewer of your rear wheel. This puts your bike into a position where the rear tyre will sit on the turbo trainer’s roller drum. As you begin to pedal, your rear wheel spins and the roller drum turns. Others work using a Direct Drive set-up where the rear wheel is removed and the frame mounted directly to the trainer.

Types of resistance

Magnetic resistance

Magnetic

Wind resistance

Wind/Fan

Fluid resistance

Fluid

Electromagnetic resistance

Electromagnetic

Magnetic turbo trainers are the most common. They use a spinning metal disc which spins relative to magnetic discs to generate drag.

Most will have multiple pre-set resistance settings you can choose to make the ride harder.

You change resistance either by manually changing the setting on the turbo trainer or with the use of a remote positioned on your handlebar.

A great value choice if you’re looking for your first turbo trainer.

When you pedal, the fan spins creating air resistance. Resistance is smooth and progressive for a life-like experience.

Fluid turbo trainers offer very smooth, lifelike resistance by spinning a thick fluid within a sealed chamber.

Fluid trainers offer progressive resistance, so the harder you pedal, the harder the resistance becomes, just like real-road riding conditions.

Electromagnetic turbo trainers are becoming more popular.

Just like magnetic turbo trainers, these use a magnetic field to generate drag on a metal disc. However, resistance can be changed wirelessly for use with apps and devices.

These turbo trainers give you the greatest level of control over the exact resistance you want.

  • Multiple resistance settings to challenge yourself
  • Max resistance settings can be very high
  • Within budget for many
  • Low budget
  • Smooth progressive resistance

 

  • Quietest resistance offering. Perfect to keep the family happy
  • Very smooth progressive resistance for a lifelike feel.
  • Refined resistance control
  • Use with apps and devices
  • Can generate very high resistance levels
  • Automatic resistance opens up versatile training sessions

Magnetic resistance

Magnetic

Magnetic turbo trainers are the most common. They use a spinning metal disc which spins relative to magnetic discs to generate drag.

Most will have multiple pre-set resistance settings you can choose to make the ride harder.

You change resistance either by manually changing the setting on the turbo trainer or with the use of a remote positioned on your handlebar.

  • Multiple resistance settings to challenge yourself
  • Max resistance settings can be very high
  • Within budget for many
Wind resistance

Wind/Fan

A great value choice if you’re looking for your first turbo trainer.

When you pedal, the fan spins creating air resistance. Resistance is smooth and progressive for a life-like experience.

  • Low budget
  • Smooth progressive resistance
Fluid resistance

Fluid

 

Fluid turbo trainers offer very smooth, lifelike resistance by spinning a thick fluid within a sealed chamber.

Fluid trainers offer progressive resistance, so the harder you pedal, the harder the resistance becomes, just like real-road riding conditions.

  • Quietest resistance offering. Perfect to keep the family happy
  • Very smooth progressive resistance for a lifelike feel.
Electromagnetic resistance

Electromagnetic

Electromagnetic turbo trainers are becoming more popular.

Just like magnetic turbo trainers, these use a magnetic field to generate drag on a metal disc. However, resistance can be changed wirelessly for use with apps and devices.

These turbo trainers give you the greatest level of control over the exact resistance you want.

  • Refined resistance control
  • Use with apps and devices
  • Can generate very high resistance levels
  • Automatic resistance opens up versatile training sessions

Wheel-on or Direct drive?

Wheel-on Trainers

Normally, your bike is attached to the turbo trainer at the rear skewer, and most turbo trainers include a sturdier skewer which you’ll need to use to secure your bike.

Once your bike is attached, the rear tyre presses against a roller on the turbo trainer. As you pedal, the tyre turns and spins this roller (which is attached to the resistance unit).

This is the case for most turbo trainers except for direct drive turbo trainers. Wheel-on trainers are primarily designed for bikes with a quick release skewer.

Direct Drive Trainers

Many companies now offer a direct drive turbo trainer as their top-end model. Direct drive turbo trainers have a cassette attached to them. To fit your bike to the trainer, you remove your rear wheel and bolt it straight to the trainer.

The benefit of this design is that there is no extra wear to your back tyre, as well as no chance of the wheel slipping. Direct Drive trainers are best for those with a bolt through rear axle. The Axle for your bike is most probably unique to that bike and a compatible axle will be needed in addition to the trainer. To measure your axle we have this handy guide

A deeper look into Direct Drive Trainers

Direct drive turbo trainers work in a different way to a traditional turbo trainer. Your bike is attached to the drive unit via the cassette, so you do away with the rear wheel entirely. This does mean it takes a bit longer to setup than a traditional turbo, but you get some useful benefits in return.

1
The flywheel is moved to a central position

This offers a more lifelike feel compared to a traditional turbo where the flywheel is placed behind the rear wheel.

2
Precision performance metrics

Most direct drive turbos are compatible with a range of power meters, sensors, apps and devices to let you track your performance data. With no rear wheel, there is no tyre slippage or roller drum tension to cause inconsistencies in your data.

3
Quiet operation

Direct drive turbos are much quieter than a standard turbo trainer as there is no roller or tyre friction to create noise.

4
No tyre wear

No rear wheel means no tyre. You don’t have to make that choice between wearing down your racing tyres or wrapping a spare onto your wheel to protect them.


Bolt-thru axle compatibility

For bikes that use a bolt-thru rear axle, a compatible axle must be purchased to fit your trainer. These are brand specific to the trainer, the thread pitch and diameter must be the same type used on your bike. Click here to identify your pitch thread


What is a smart turbo trainer?

Smart turbos have transformed mind-numbing training sessions into a fun, interactive riding experience. They are the new big thing in the indoor cycle training market.

These turbos use electromagnetic resistance and can be synced wirelessly with ANT+ and/or Bluetooth Smart to your 3rd party training apps on mobile or home devices, along with any existing power meters and sensors.

This connectivity can greatly enhance your training regime and open up fun virtual training apps to keep you motivated.

Zwift, BKOOL and other training apps can automatically change the resistance of your turbo trainer opening up the possibility of sprint training, intervals and even simulate climbs of up to 20% gradients.

Riding on Zwift

You can also use apps to pre-load a set training plan to follow or plug-in GPS data and ride famous cycling routes from around world while viewing the route on your computer or smart T.V.

With Direct Drive Smart turbo trainers the cassette is fitted to the trainer. Most will buy a duplicate cassette, with the same speed and ratio's to permanently fix to the trainer. This should mean no derailleur adjustment is needed. Please also check that the freehub body on the trainer is compatible with yours. For example, Shimano, SRAM or Campagnolo

Riding in Zwift

Zwift virtual training app

Zwift logo


Zwift is powerful training app where you can challenge yourself against other real-world riders to a race in a 3D virtual environment. Zwift distinguishes itself from other training apps by offering a video game-like experience with immersive virtual worlds for you to ride in. As well as structured workouts, Zwift gives you the opportunity to join group rides with other riders of a similar ability and even compete in online races. It’s a great way to mix up your training and have a bit of fun.

Your power is measured by the watts you produce, which is then used to move you forward through the 3D environment. Speed is also adjusted by your height, weight and even the road gradient for added realism. You can learn with our Zwift guide

Zwift is compatible with a wide range of turbo trainers, indoor bikes and rollers with ANT+ or BLE enabled. Read our Zwift Compatibility guide for more information.


What do I need for a truly smart experience?

The smart turbo

The majority of trainers are designed to be used with 700c wheels, with some also fitting mountain bike wheel sizes. The rise of disc brakes and thru-axles has also meant that most manufacturers now sell adaptors so you can use bikes with this specification on their trainers.

If exact power measurement is important to you check the specification of your chosen turbo to see whether it measures watts directly from the unit or it estimates the figure using the trainer software. Direct measurement offers much lower +/- accuracy figures. If you already own a power meter, look for a trainer that can sync with other power measurement devices. That way the power figures you ride to out on the open road will be the same inside on the turbo.

Zwift Smart Turbo

Getting connected

As we mentioned, smart trainers are sold with access to accompanying software. It’s a good idea to see if this software is available on your chosen device. The same goes if you’re looking at riding with third party systems like Zwift or TrainerRoad.

Both Zwift and TrainerRoad tracks all your activity data - like distance, elevation, and calories - then imports it into Strava for the world to see, so you can climb up the leader boards, win KOMs and beat yesterday’s sprint time, just like in “real life”.

An ANT+ dongle or a Bluetooth connection is the most common way of linking a turbo to your device so we’d recommend reading the fine print to see if your chosen turbo comes with one or whether you’ll need to purchase one separately.

Riding on Zwift

Accessories

We find that beaming your virtual riding to a large screen and plugging in some headphones takes the immersion dial to 11. Once hooked don’t be surprised if you find yourself squeezing in sessions before work or after dinner.

If this is the case, accessories like fans, training mats, sweat guards and front-wheel riser blocks can make things a tad comfier when you’re putting yourself through a big session.

Zwift training

What accessories are available?

Training mat

Training mat

A training mat will protect your floor from marks and damage, as well as sweat. These mats help prevent you skidding around when you’re really powering through and they will soak up some noise.

Sweat towel

Sweat towel

Indoor cycle training will make you sweat. These small towels will cover your top tube to prevent damage and corrosion.

Riser blocks

Riser blocks

With a standard turbo trainer, your rear wheel will be slightly raised, giving the feeling of descending. A riser block will lift your front wheel for a more realistic cycling position.

Popular Turbo Trainers