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Indoor Trainer Tips: How to Slug Out Winter Doldrums

When temperatures dip into the negatives, and cockles freeze upon the mere mention of riding outdoors, even the most diehard cyclist finds him or herself bound to the trainer. And while riding indoors is perceived as a daunting task, your option is to either ride the trainer or ride slow in next season’s races.

Hours of riding a stationary trainer can’t compensate for the bike handling, balance, and proprioception skills that you gain from riding outside. However, trainer sessions build mental fortitude and tolerance for less than optimal conditions. And let’s be honest, when was the last time that a race went 100% your way? Although there aren’t many tips and tricks that’ll make your sessions as exciting as the feel of a cool breeze running through your helmet vents, the few tips that exist may make your indoor sessions more tolerable.

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Tire Selection:

Although there are several types of trainers available — magnetic, wind, fluid — they all function in a similar manner. Essentially, they create resistance so that you’re not just spinning your wheels. To this end, tire choice is critical. Trainer rollers are constructed from smooth, machined aluminum. To obtain consistent resistance, and a smooth feel, I recommend using a treadless tire. Because of the friction of the roller, though, a wear pattern will quickly emerge. For this reason, it’s best to either use a tire that’s on its last legs, or buy a trainer-specific tire. A trainer tire, such as the Vittoria Zaffiro Pro Home Trainer, is constructed with a long-life rubber compound that effectively dissipates heat. If you have a spare rear training wheel, use it for your trainer. Ultimately, it’ll spare you from frustration and the waste of time that comes with constantly changing tires when the weather breaks for a day.

Fans and Ventilation Systems:

Even if you have a wind trainer, the fan isn’t aimed at you. And while it’s nice to not have wind blowing at your face while you ride for once, over-heating indoors can cause dehydration and cramping. A small, portable fan does the trick, and I recommend pointing it slightly upward to keep fresh air circulating.

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Movie Watching and Music:

If you think that you’re going to get through months of indoor training without watching a single movie, you’re probably of Belgian descent. I’m sure that even Merckx enjoyed a good film every now and then. The biggest issue with movie watching is the sound, though. The quietest of trainers still produce a whirr loud enough to drown out low timber dialogue. And unless you’re one of the lucky few without neighbors, turning the sound up to the maximum isn’t an option. For this reason, using headphones is paramount. And while my headphones only reach about four feet, I found an adapter that extends them to ten. The sound quality is slightly decreased, but at least I can hear all of the dialogue. I prefer ear buds, as over-the-ear headphones gather sweat more easily. For music, I use an iPod Mini, and I leave it on an adjacent table surface to keep it safe from sweat.

Hydration Techniques:

One of the often forgotten aspects of indoor training is hydration. Indoor heating systems dry the air out, and humidity indoors is often lower than outside. For this reason, moisture evaporates more quickly, and you won’t readily realize that you’re sweating. Drink about a bottle per hour and be sure to add a small amount of electrolyte mix to your bottles. Though you may not feel like you need it, it’ll keep cramping at bay.

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Sweat Control:

Now that you’re hydrated, you’ll be dripping once you start your intervals. You need to keep salty, corrosive sweat off of your bike and floor. Luckily, the solution is easy enough — get a mat for your trainer. This rubber accessory is easy to wipe clean after a session, and it’ll prevent your floor from being soaked in sweat. Using a simple accessory, like the Blackburn Sweat Net, keeps sweat off of your frame. I recommend keeping several towels draped over your handlebars to wipe sweat away. Personally, I buy bundles of white bar mops. Not only are they inexpensive, but they’re white and easy to keep fresh with hot water and bleach.

Noise Dissipation:

The final piece of the puzzle is noise. Even the priciest trainers aren’t completely silent. And while basement riders needn’t worry about noise, apartment and loft dwellers often deal with less-than-soundproof flooring and walls. Using a trainer mat helps to alleviate some of the noise, and placing your trainer close to a wall or support column helps minimize vibration. However, I’ve found that the best policy is to make your neighbors aware of your indoor predicament, and find times to train when they won’t be around. This is easier said than done, though, especially if you have hardwood floors and you live on the second floor.

Sure, we’ve all heard legends of “that guy” who’s perfectly happy sitting on a trainer for hours-on-end without any source of entertainment. However, I encourage you to not be that guy. Trust me, you’ll get weird looks. Watch a movie, play a videogame, read, sing, hydrate, pay your damn taxes — multitasking helps the minutes tick by faster. And when your teammates are moaning and groaning about missing base miles, you’ll just smile to yourself.

Photos: Ian Matteson