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Where the mind wanders while riding the turbo

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Autumn and winter provide plenty of excuses not to head outside and instead jump on the turbo trainer for an hour or so. Time on the turbo can be strange though – a five-minute max effort can feel more like sprinting for a finish line that never arrives, our minds wander along previously unseen avenues and thoughts run away with themselves. Here’s some idea of the kind of fat we find ourselves chewing during the time in the shed.


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Nice bricks

Many of us place our turbo in the garage, giving rise to the nickname for such places – the ‘pain cave’. Once ensconced within our cave and deep into an effort, the thousand-yard stare soon focuses on the wall, concentrating on the structure, going deeper and deeper until our attention is completely immersed in the construction of the common household brick. Where did this come from? Who made it? What’s holding it all together? Why is it that a fairly modest pile of them in London can set me back half-a-million quid? What am I doing with my life…?


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Ooh, aah, just a little bit.

Unlike regular cycling, where the laws of physics require you to make hundreds of micro-adjustments to your position to stay upright, riding on the turbo is a much more static experience. Soon enough, you might find out that you’re not as comfy as you could be.

Turbo time provides you with plenty of opportunities to find the most comfortable and efficient position on the bike, whether that’s by raising or lowering the saddle, tilting the angle or adjusting the setback.

What’s that smell?

Unless you have a direct mount turbo trainer, one where you remove the rear wheel and sit your bike directly onto the machine, your rear tyre will be in contact with a metal or plastic drum. This offers resistance against which you pedal, but it also has the nasty side effect of destroying the tyre. When you’re really going for it, as well as finding little pieces of rubber sticking to your legs you might notice a strange smell. Sure, it’s cool to know you can produce enough power to burn rubber, but soon enough that tyre is going to die a loud and spectacular death.


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It’s better, therefore, to invest in a dedicated ‘training tyre’. These are much tougher than regular tyres and will last a lot, lot longer. Don’t forget to switch back to your regular tyre before you get back on the road though – training tyres offer about as much grip as a banana skin.

Joffrey Baratheon really is a right so-and-so

You’d think the folks behind Netflix were all turbo fans, what with every episode of their most popular shows being the ideal length to while away an hour in the cave. With little to distract you from the chicanery of the second Baratheon king, or the sheer bravura of young Jesse Pinkman and his nemesis/saviour Walter White, you might even be tempted to sit on for another episode.

The virtual world is a strange place

It wasn’t too many years ago that turbo training was a truly miserable endeavour. In fact, that’s where the ‘pain cave’ moniker came from – few entered with a smile. But with the march of innovation, a whole new experience is now offered by the likes of Zwift, VirtuGO and others – you can immerse yourself in virtual worlds and race others from around the globe. It could even be described as ‘fun’.

All you need is a ‘smart’ trainer that can transmit your power and adjust the resistance against which you ride, an internet connection and a computer or phone screen decent enough to handle the graphics. And some good legs to keep up.

Scoffed at by many of the old school when it first arrived on the scene, its value was more than proven by Australian rider Matt Hayman’s remarkable comeback win in the 2016 Paris-Roubaix. He’d broken a bone in his right arm in late February but clocked up more than 1,000 miles on Zwift and returned six weeks on to take an astonishing and emotional victory.

120rpm really is fast!

If you don’t have, or don’t want to use, virtual training aids, then a simple way to train is by doing cadence drills. All you need is a cadence sensor, a fairly low-cost investment at £20 or so, and a way to display the output. For this you can use a compatible bike computer or even your phone – there are a number of apps that you can download to display cadence. Most sensors transmit using ANT+ and Bluetooth technology.

Starting out at a painfully slow 60rpm, try increasing the cadence by 10rpm every five minutes until you’re up to 110rpm. Then hold that for six minutes. It’s tough, but it’s a great workout.


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Try hitting 120rpm or higher and you’ll really learn the meaning of the word ‘spinning’!

That’s a nice bike

Riding in your shed or garage, surrounded by your prized possessions, your mind might wander to the old ‘how secure is all this?’ question. Unfortunately, bikes make the ne’er-do-wells of this world go crazy, so double check you’re insured should your steeds tempt them. If you’re not adequately covered, we know some people who can help you out.

What am I doing?

During most workouts you’ll be questioning the wisdom of this whole game. While it’s raining and miserable outside, you’ll soon come to the realisation that it can’t possibly be this bad everywhere. Another hour on the turbo and you might convince yourself that a mid-winter trip to southern Spain, the Canary Islands or maybe even a lesser known cycling destination is just what you need. Grab your phone, get your mates involved, sort the flights and travel insurance, and go!


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Words by John Sanderson

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