Indoor Riding – Setting up a Trainer

You’ve set up your training space and now you want to ride. Before you hop on and get going with your winter training, there are some important considerations to be made about your trainer setup that will make your indoor training experience more enjoyable and may even save you some money and headaches down the road.

For this post I’ll assume you already own a trainer and a bike to put on it. I won’t discuss too much about which trainer to get. That’s mostly personal preference though I will make an argument for certain types of trainers depending on which bike you use on your trainer. This question about which bike to put on the trainer is troubling for some. If you only have one bike, you really have no other choice but to use that one. If you have multiple bikes in your arsenal, you have some choice. Some prefer not to put their primary bike on the trainer, particularly if it’s carbon fibre and opt instead to put an aluminum or steel beater on the trainer. The reason being is that most trainers attach the bike into a fixed position. This means that unlike on the road, side to side forces from pedalling are absorbed entirely by the frame, namely the seat and chain stays. There are concerns about the effect this has on carbon fibre (and even to some degree aluminum). While any material will succumb to fatigue, steel is the most flexible and durable when it comes to handling twisting and torsional forces. It’s also the cheapest material should it break.

The Kurt Rock and Roll trainer allows the bike to rock back and forth reducing frame stress.
The Kurt Rock and Roll trainer allows the bike to rock back and forth reducing frame stress.

I am of the opinion, however, that you should use your primary bike on the trainer. The reason being that the trainer is a great time to familiarize yourself with the nuances of your bike without worrying about riding yourself off the road or swerving into traffic. More importantly, however, is fit. Chances are you spent a great deal of time fitting your primary bike correctly, you may have even spent some money getting it done. You probably didn’t go to the same lengths with your steel beater. Sure you can get the measurements and try to fit both bikes the same but there are likely subtle differences in geometry from one bike to the other and you’ll never get it 100% matched. In a previous post I discussed the importance of riding position and how even minor changes in position can affect power output. Why spend crucial training time riding in a position that will differ –even if only slightly– from your racing position.

If you’re worried about stress on the bike, keep in mind that bikes nowadays are often over-manfactured, particularly mass produced models, and the frame can handle the majority of stress from trainer riding –maybe avoid standing all out sprints. The other option is to invest in a trainer that allows the torsional forces to be absorbed by the trainer rather than the frame. The Kurt Kinetic Rock and Roll trainer, for example, has a pivot point which allows the bike to rock and back and forth and therefore reduce frame stress.

Once you’ve decided which bike to use on the trainer, you’ll want to get yourself a trainer tyre. Some folks prefer to use a dedicated wheel on the trainer, (i.e. thats the rim, spokes and hub assemblage) whereas others just replace the rubber with a special trainer tyre and use their normal wheels. While I strongly recommend a trainer tyre, if you take proper precautions you won’t need a whole different wheel. The rubber compound of the of trainer tyre is harder than a standard road tyre and therefore will not succumb to melting and wear as badly as a road tyre will. The steel roller of the resistance unit against the tyre generates an incredible amount of heat and you will start notice black goop building up on the roller if you use a standard tyre. In addition, rubber-dust will spray everywhere. This will happen with a trainer tyre but there will be much less mess in the end.

Once you have a tyre you need to set the trainer up so the bike fits comfortably on the trainer and will not come free while riding — when this happens it is not a pleasant experience. Some trainers come with their own skewers to replace the skewer in your wheel and I highly recommend using the provided skewers. Each trainer, too, has its own method of fixing the frame to the trainer and you’ll have to refer to the manual for how to do that. Whatever method your trainer uses, they typically all compress the skewer of the wheel which holds the bike in place. The amount of tension to place on the bike should be as minimal as possible. You shouldn’t have to force the mechanism into place nor should the bike wiggle freely when locked into the trainer.

Now that the bike is firmly locked into the trainer you can apply the resistance unit to the rear wheel. Typically this is done by turning a dial which tightens the steel roller against the tyre. The precise amount of pressure to apply varies but you want enough tension that the tyre doesn’t slip while riding. Don’t apply too much or you’ll find yourself having to work very hard to turn the pedals even in the lowest resistance setting. If you’re using Trainer Road with virtual power, you may have to do some research about how much tension and the optimal tire pressure to get the most accurate power reading. It is imperative that at the end of each session you relieve tension to prevent a flat spot on the rim and to prevent deformation of the rubber.

Sweat guard and riser block.

Beyond all that there are few additional accessories you should have in order to make the most of your sessions. The first is a sweat guard. It runs from the handlebars back to the seat post and protects the frame and components from sweat. You’ll find very quickly that all the bolts, which are typically made of steel, will start to show signs of corrosion, particularly the headset cap bolt, if you do not use a sweat guard. The second is a riser block for the front wheel. Some trainers come with these but most times you have to buy it separately. I used a stack of books for years but a dedicated riser block that stabilizes the front wheel is much more effective. I still keep a stack of books nearby to put under the block if I want to simulate climbing. Make sure that at the end of each session (or the beginning of each) you rotate the front tire so that the your body weight isn’t always on one spot on the wheel. This can lead to a flat spot on the rim and you will need to have it trued.


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