For decades the home trainer has been a staple of maintaining or improving fitness for time-crunched or weather condition-crunched cyclists. Over the years the means of generating resistance, so you can build muscular and cardiovascular strength, has transitioned from fans to magnets to fluid configurations as time and technology have progressed.
The fluid trainer, characterized by a flywheel encased in a fluid container to generate resistance, provides a reasonable facsimile of riding outdoors with its progressive resistance – meaning the faster and harder you pedal, the more resistance is created. Fluid trainers are quiet, can create a leg-searing amount of resistance, and also are generally foldable and portable so you can tuck it out of the way when not in use. The portability is also a plus if you need a means to warm-up away from home at a race venue. Walk around the parking lot at a criterium or cyclocross race and the characteristic whirring sound of bikes on trainers is a ubiquitous sensation. And above all, these trainers are also just plain simple to use.
Classic fluid trainers have their limitations, however, as the trainer itself is an inert device that provides no metrics of your workout – particularly data such as power, cadence, and speed. There is also the matter of engagement and staving off boredom which sometimes no amount of watching videos or listening to music while you ride can alleviate.
Enter the world of interactive trainers.
In our own office as well as the cycling community in general, interactive trainers have been a game changer in not merely making indoor training palatable, but actually making indoor sessions enjoyable and engaging. Through the magic of sensors on the trainer plus ANT+ and/or Bluetooth wireless transmission of data, information about your workout can be monitored via compatible computers/laptops, smart phones, and handlebar-mounted bicycle computers. Not only that, this data transmission also opens you up to software such as Zwift, and the game-changing realm of cycling in a virtual world.
As opposed to smart trainers, which only feature a one-way transmission of data away from the trainer, interactive trainers are able to both send and receive data and commands which is the real benefit of their design. Gone are the days of watching a race video while sitting on a fluid trainer and simply imagining what it would feel like to climb the Koppenberg in a peloton of riders. Now with interactive trainers, used in conjunction with software such as Zwift, the resistance of your interactive trainer will be adjusted according to the terrain you negotiate in your virtual world. Now you will experience the burn in your legs as the road heads upwards. Now you can experience the benefit of drafting or the relief of heading downhill for a spell.
Interactive trainers typically use either a fluid or electro-magnetic system to generate resistance and can feature the classic rear wheel-mounted design or a direct drive system in which the rear wheel is removed and your bike’s chain engages with a cassette mounted on the trainer itself. The direct drive system is the ultimate in pedaling action as there’s absolutely no potential for slippage of a tire on the roller which ensures absolute peace of mind and concentration during huge, watt-heavy efforts.
The wealth of power, speed, cadence, and heart rate data that’s now at your fingertips (and filed away for study) combined with the engagement that comes with focusing on the virtual road ahead amongst other riders makes the time pass on interactive trainers like no other indoor system prior.