Monthly Archives: March 2008

The unbearable suckiness of trainers

During the winter, you have few choices:

  • You can focus your training on keeping the couch from floating away, and watch much of your fitness vanish.
  • You can ride in the cold, rain, wind, and snow
  • You can do another sport
  • Or you can ride inside

Riding inside is the choice of many, and it’s been a common choice for me, with my bike mounted on a Kurt Kinetic trainer. Some people say that riding on a trainer is tiring. Some people say it’s tedious. I think that is unfair. Riding on a trainer is not tiring, not tedious, but an experience that sucks the soul right out of you. Even with music, a book, or a DVD, 40 minutes is about all I can take. Even WiiSports did not lessen the suckitude. 

Plus, there’s the hassle of getting the bike on the trainer, tightening the tension adjustment, and putting up with the noise. The one thing that I hate is the NOISE! NOISE! NOISE! NOISE!

Another indoor option is rollers. Rollers are pricier than trainers for a given quality level (or, perhaps, cheap rollers suck more than cheap trainers), have a reputation for being hard to ride and easy to ride off of, and being difficult to stand or sprint on successfully.

So, I thought about rollers, but for $350 plus $150 bucks for the resistance unit seems a lot considering the limitations. That’s for the Kreitler rollers, and yes, there are cheaper ones, but word is that they don’t work very well.

Last year at the Seattle bike expo, we saw a few riders demoing a new style of suspended rollers from InsideRide. And this year, I got around to ordering a set of their E-Motion rollers. Despite the price, which is in the $800 range, but just how much is too much to get your soul back?

First up was a bit of delayed gratification, as there was a 6-week backlog for the rollers. And then, due to their being shipped on FedEx (who are congenitally unable to understand the realities of home delivery) they got a nice tour on of the Puget Sound area on a truck for a few days before my generous wife picked them up for me.

Here’s what you get when you open the box.

Their unique features are:

  • Inline skate wheel bumpers on the ends of the front roller (keep you from riding off the sides)
  • Roller bars in front of and in back of the rear rollers (keep you from riding off the front on back)
  • Rollers suspended in the main frame on rubber bungee cords

Perhaps that “keep you from” should really be “reduce the incidence of…”

You adjust the distance between the front and back rollers to fit on your bike (using the included wrench), and you’re set. They include a good set of instructions on how you should start, which worked well for me, except for the part of not clipping in. I did a couple of sessions in tennis shoes on top of my SPD-SLs, and thought that I had enough to worry about already without keeping my feet on the pedals.

As of now, I’ve probably ridden 3 hours on the rollers, It’s definitely a lot more like riding outside – the bike moves around a lot, and you need to pay more attention. It feels really weird at first, but as the instructions note, that goes away after a while. And while it is possible to stand up in a normal way, it feels really weird to have the bike oscillate forwards and backwards when you sit back down. You still have the “endless 2% hill” feeling because of the constant resistance – I had no idea how much I look forward to small undulations – but overall it’s pretty good. And quiet enough that I can keep the TV volume down, a big benefit since the guest room is underneath our bedroom and I sometimes like to ride early on the weekends.

My tip – it’s a lot easier to start if you have a horizontal surface on which to put your hand. You can start with slowly supporting yourself, and then slowly lift your hand. I found that easier than a doorway, though there are times when you’d like to have support on both sides.

So, what are the cons? Here’s my list:

  • Price. Unless you’re riding a bike in the $3K range, they’re probably more than you want to spend.
  • Resistance range. The resistance unit goes up really high, but even on zero, there’s a fair bit of resistance. You can reduce that by removing the belt to the resistance unit – which I did accidentally one time – but it would be nice if zero really meant zero. And I’d like the lowest to be a little lower, because riding at low intensities – such as a recovery ride – are going to have you riding fairly slowly, which gives you less stability.
  • The resistance adjustment is possible to hit with your cleats, and you may end up riding on 1 when you really want to be riding on 0.
  • The rollers are big and non-foldable. However, the back roller bumper is perfectly positioned to hold the unit upright when you lean it against a wall, and I happen to have a perfect slot in which to store them – as soon as I clean all the junk out of it.
  • There is no first aid kit. I have some scratches on my left forearm from falling into a shelf, and bruise on my right shoulder from a tip over. Both happened when I was stopping – no issues while I was riding.

Over time, I hope to be able to work up to this, without too much of this.

Ff you can afford them, they’re great. If you want another opinion, go read Fatty’s review.

Faster #7 – Heart Rate Monitors

Lots of the cool guys have heart rate monitors. Should you get one?

I’m going to assume that you are doing a set of structured workouts.

So, if you’re doing that, you need to set your training zones. You can do that by taking a percentage that you determine use 220-age or one of the other formulas, and then train based on that.

But there are a few problems with that. First of all, none of the formulas to determine max hr are of much use, as there are wide variances of maximum heart rate across the population.

But even if that formula does work for you, it’s a poor way to set ranges.

Basically, one of your goals is to push your anaerobic threshold to a higher percentage of your maximum heart rate. To do this, you may need to work out near your anaerobic threshold.

The problem is that that threshold is a moving target. A range set based on a maximum will likely be too high when you are untrained, and too low when you are well trained.

The right way to set ranges is to use a field test, like the Carmichael one. That will gve you better ranges, and a good way to track your progress over time.

The other big benefit of heart rate monitors is to get you to slow down. Most riders spend too much time working out right around their anaerobic threshold, which is bad.


Heart rate monitors are a great tool. Unfortunately, they can be a bit pricey, especially the ones that can upload your data to a computer.


Faster #6 – Cadence drills

To travel at a given speed, you need to put out a given amount of power. You can either do that by pedalling slowly and putting a lot of pressure on the pedals, or by pedalling faster and putting less pressure on the pedals.

Since the more pressure you put on the pedals, the faster your legs get tired, it’s preferable to pedal faster. Within reason.

First of all, there is a limit to how fast you can comfortably pedal. And second, spinning generally stresses your aerobic system more, so you can run out of breath more easily.

So high cadence isn’t somewhere you always want to go, but it’s a useful tool to have in your arsenal. And if you can ride smoothly at a high cadence, you will be able to ride smoothly at a lower cadence, which is a good thing.

You may have come across suggestions to aim for riding at 90 RPM. I’m going to make a different suggestion. If you are willing to work at it now and then, you can expand your RPM range all the way up to 120 RPM, and beyond.

To make good progress, you need to do focused drills that will work on your speed. Here’s the one that I like to do:

  1. Start at a comfortable cadence and a middle amount of pressure
  2. Over 30 seconds, gradually increase your cadence until you reach the point where your stroke becomes jerky or you start bouncing
  3. Back off the cadence slightly until you are smooth again
  4. Continue for 30 seconds
  5. Slow back down to your original cadence

Repeat this a couple of times, and you’re done for the day. The next time you get back to it, extend step 4 to a minute, and then ultimately aim for 2 minutes. You are retraining your neuromusclar system, and it will take a bit of time to do so, but over time you’ll smooth out again. Initially you will be a bit inefficient at this, so you might get out of breath. You can deal with this by going into a slightly easier gear, and over time it will get easier.

On normal rides, spend some time at a higher-than-normal cadence, but don’t try to push up your whole limits.

You don’t need a computer that supports cadence to do this, but it does help. With doing these now and then, I pushed my top cadence from 105 RPM up to 120 RPM, and on a ride last year I held 145 RPM for about a minute while pulling at the front of a paceline on a slightly downhill.

Rating: Good stuff. Will make you faster, but most importantly, will make you smoother and impress you’re riding buddies.