Your guide to turbo trainers

Resistance trainer/turbo trainer: vital training aid, ultimate cycling torture... or both?

Cycleops Fluid 2

None of us really want to get on the turbo, but when the rain’s lashing down on a dark winter Wednesday it suddenly seems a lot less of a chore. Keeping your base fitness level high during the cold months will jumpstart your training when the sun reappears, and you can even take your turbo along to the first time trial to give yourself a structured warm-up. There’s a wide range of features and prices, but the right trainer for you is out there somewhere. Here’s what to look for…


Frame: This will normally be made of tubular or rectangular section steel, though lighter weight turbos often use aluminium. It should be sturdy enough to support you and your bike without feeling unsteady. A larger footprint will make the turbo more stable, as will a heavier frame. If your trainer is going to spend most of its time folded up, check how small a package it makes when folded – some are better than others.

Resistance unit: This can be a wind fan, a metal disc rotating in a magnetic field, or a fan revolving in an oil bath. Different units have different properties and each turbo feels slightly different to ride. The resistance unit will get hot over an extended training session, so don’t touch it after a long stint!

Some turbos enable you to change the resistance working against the roller to simulate flats and climbs

Adjustable resistance: Some turbos enable you to change the resistance working against the roller to simulate flats and climbs. Don’t forget, however, that your bike has adjustable resistance built in, in the form of as many as 30 gears. Too easy? Drop a cog or increase your cadence.

Wheel mount: The bike is attached to the turbo via the rear QR skewer – the turbo will come with its own skewer to replace the one on your bike. You should always use this as it will be more secure. The unit will have a screw or cam locking system where two cups hold the skewer firmly in place. Some are easier to use than others.

Control unit: The more expensive the turbo, the more complicated this will be. Simple adjustable resistance units will have a fitting to attach to the bars, while pricier electronic trainers will give you a read-out of power, speed and heart rate. VR trainers use a computer as the control centre and display.

Flywheel: The momentum of the flywheel works against the resistance unit to smooth out the dead points of your pedal stroke. The heavier the flywheel, the smoother the ride. Some flywheels incorporate a fan to cool the resistance unit in use.

Roller: The roller will be engaged against the tyre by a screw, cam or footplate mechanism. If you’re going to use more than one bike on the turbo, choose a system that’s easy to adjust.

The essentials

The more you pay for a turbo the smoother you

can expect the ride to be. This smoothness will be

dependent on the type of resistance and the

rotating mass.

Standard magnetic turbos have a small flywheel and a set resistance. They’re simple and functional, but the ride experience isn’t great. The next stepup is controllable resistance. Normally, a bar-mounted lever is included, though in some cases the control is on the resistanceunit. Expensive electronic turbos use electromagnets, and control them dynamically.

Fluid units use a fan revolving in an oil bath to create the resistance. They’re normally very smooth, but more expensive than an equivalent magnetic unit. Resistance can be controlled using valves that restrict the flow of oil.

Wind resistance is the original working method of turbo trainers. It’s a cheap but noisy solution. Wind turbo trainers are less common nowadays, though some fluid/mag units incorporate a fan to cool the resistance module, which gets hot in use.Tacx have pioneered a new electronic system used on their Cosmos and Fortius units which uses a motor brake. It can power the rear wheel to simulate dowhnill sections, and provide up to 1000 watts or resistance.

Construction/portability: You may be looking for a turbo to chuck in the car and warm up on before a race. You may want one to sit in your shed throughout a winter of heavy

use. Before buying, it’s worth checking how the

unit is constructed. Some have a fairly lighweight

chassis (of aluminium or thin steel), while others

are very solidly built indeed.

Wheel adjustment: All these turbos will handle a 700c or 26in wheel without much drama. If you’re doing any kind of

fitness testing on your turbo (eg RAMP tests)

you’ll need to make sure that the resistance is

consistent over a number of tests. The best way to

do this is to work the turbo up to a certain speed

and then time how long it takes to stop. By

adjusting the tyre contact and resistance you can

calibrate for repeated testing.

Noise: All turbos are quite noisy, especially if you use a

heavy treaded tyre or you’re on a wooden floor.

You can buy special turbo tyres that are

completely slick and made of harder rubber if

you’re planning to spend all winter indoors…

Which to buy?

There are many makes of turbo trainer on the market; here’s a selection of different types. The Riva Mag 1 is a decent budget model, with the kind of compromises you would expect – a poorer ride experience and less robust construction. Even so, it’s a good entry level unit. The CycleOps and the Minoura approach approximately the same price point with different intentions: the CycleOps to give maximum ride and build quality; the Minoura maximum adjustability and portability. Both are valid, and one will probably suit you more than the other. The Tacx is great if you’re a data freak who needs to see the numbers going down to prove you’re getting fitter!


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