Turbo trainer rear mechanism

Is your Turbo Trainer a Martini Mixer?

Your turbo trainer needs to help you build strength, not replicate the feel of the road.

No, I’m not advocating “liquid courage” for your interval workouts. I am, however, recommending simplicity and consistency in terms of your equipment.

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  • Your turbo trainer is your best friend for year-round workouts
  • Replicating “road feel” is an unnecessary characteristic for a trainer
  • Simplicity and repeatability is what you’re after
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I used to have a photography professor


who was extremely opinionated regarding equipment, especially for beginners. He insisted on no-nonsense cameras that had a conventional lens with a focusing ring and an aperture ring, and only “manual mode” for exposure. Cameras that did it all for you were reduced with a playful-yet-menacing sneer as “martini mixers.”

The same holds true in my opinion for a lot of cycling equipment.


K.I.S.S.: Keep It Simple for Strength

When the skies turn gray, and the temperatures plummet, cyclists intent on being competitive in the spring pull out their turbo trainers. Some of us have more enthusiasm for the practice then others.

I, for example, really enjoy my regular sessions. I even continue to supplement my training in the warm months using the turbo. Thanks to a complete periodization plan and pairing appropriate videos from the folks at The Sufferfest to workouts called for by the plan, I keep the momentum — and the improvements — building.

Cycling equipment companies recognize this motivation challenge, of course. And in an attempt to capitalize on cyclists discontent with grinding out the hours in their basements, have turned to unnecessary gimmicks, masked as advanced technology. This “road simulation” technology comes at a significance cost increase over a simple wind trainer.

(I can’t wait to get some “corrective” comment or email from a manufacturer, in response to this post.)


I remember my first turbo trainer.

Structurally, it was an over engineered affair. It required that I take my front wheel out of the fork, so that I could mount the entire bike to the structure. The front fork was held to a truss using the quick release skewer. There was a large knob that connected to a threaded bolt that a fixed the bottom bracket to the trainer. And the rear wheel set in a cradle flanked by four small turbofans.


[callout icon=”hb-moon-bike”]At the risk of sounding like a true retro-grouch, some things needn’t be improved upon. Especially when the “improvements” actually create new difficulties.[/callout]


Where the device failed miserably in terms of logistics, it was superb in terms of actually doing what any turbo trainer should do: support the bike while allowing for rear wheel resistance.


I should add, that despite being a cyclist since the mid-1980s, I have never really gotten the hang of rollers. Hats off to those of you who have, especially those of you who are using rollers to supplement your turbo training. I believe this is the alchemists gold standard for indoor training. Turbo training to work on strengths and threshold/anaerobic endurance, and rollers to help create a supple pedal stroke.

The next trainer I purchased was essentially the same thing without all of the extra supportive hardware. It was the precursor of the predominant current design we’re all familiar with, only it was really wimpy: if I hammered on it, it creaked and crept along on the floor. In exchange for having to remove the front wheel like my first trainer, I simply put a chuck underneath it. It was liberating to simply put the rear axle in between a couple twisty things that held it against a smooth metal cylinder attached to a pair of fans, lift the front wheel and put a grooved plastic support beneath, hop on, and suffer.

This was the late ‘80s. And at the risk of sounding like a true retro-grouch, some things needn’t be improved upon. Especially when the “improvements” actually create new difficulties.

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Then came “innovation”

Since then,  there have been all kinds of new so-called “innovation’s” to help alleviate the monotony and boredom associated with indoor training. For example, variable resistance, magnets, and my personal favorite, fluid.

“Simulating road feel,” is what most of these new characteristics are supposed to add to your interval training. But the reality is, simulating the feeling of being on the road is of no consequence when what you are attempting to do this is give your muscles a consistent  resistance workout.

For example, take a typical interval set: four minutes in zone four, followed by one minute recovery in zone one. Repeat four times, then ride for three minutes of rest. With such a workout, if you are using a magnet trainer, for a fluid trainer, you experience a definite lag as you change power zones. Supposedly, this is a benefit because it “simulates riding on the road.” In reality, what it actually does is it skews your data. Wrapping up and ramping down is of no value for your muscles, and it simply adds “curves” to your power files, if you are using a power meter with appropriate software.

The real challenge comes when you are trying to do baseline testing. This is especially noticeable if you are using a fluid trainer. You don’t have to be a forensic scientist to know that if you are doing regular testing, you want to eliminate the fluctuation in as many variables as possible. A fluid trainer changes its resistance in response to speed, torque, and temperature. That not only means you’re going to get different results if you first test in the winter, and then in early spring, no matter if you are using your trainer indoors or outdoors. It also means, that the resistance, being variable, will change on you in the midst of your test!

My recommendation

A well-built wind trainer. And here is how I go about utilizing it.

  1. Attach your bike to the wind trainer. Virtually every wind trainer now connects to the bike at the rear axle.
  2. Inflate your tires to their maximum recommended pressure. This is the only time I ever recommend inflating tire to the maximum recommended pressure. There is never a time when you need to inflate a road race tire to its maximum when you’re actually writing it out on the road.
  3. If your trainer uses some sort of “crank down” mechanism to apply a roller to the rear wheel, take note of how much pressure you apply. For example, if you turn the crank six full turns to apply the roller, always turn it six full times. What you are going for, is enough pressure to prevent slippage when going hard. For example, during Sprint intervals. Or perhaps, when getting out of the saddle, in a big year, simulating hillclimbing.

By following these simple practices every time you use an equally simple wind trainer, all the variables are eliminated.

Oh, and by the way, you save money. If you compare the costs of a wind trainer to an over-engineered fluid trainer recently, you’ll see what I mean.


[icon_box icon=”hb-moon-bike” icon_position=”left” align=”left”] Question: What kind of traininer are you using? If you’ve tried other types in the past, tell us what works for you, and what doesn’t.[/icon_box]
Sam Lowe

I've been a road cyclist with a penchant for speed ever since my first-ever paycheck holiday. I blew the whole wad on a turquoise Schwinn Tempo with then-new Shimano 105 indexed shifting way back in 1985. I've been a voracious consumer of racing-oriented information ever since. Training, nutrition, bike fit, racing techniques, and all manner of "kit." Between nearly 30 years of riding, racing, and reading about racing, I'm ready to help you get ready to race.

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