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Using A Bike Trainer For Winter Cardio

In many parts of the country, keeping good cardio conditioning throughout the cold winter months can be a real challenge.  Long gone are the summer days when riding along in the warm air resulted in a 'cyclist's high'.  In the dead of winter a rider who ventures out the door will more likely suffer from a 'frostbite low'.

But with all of the recent advancements in the indoor bike trainer world, it isn't too difficult to put your bike to good use in the  living room or den, keeping your heart and lungs going strong.

There Are Basically Three Types Of Trainers

It's easiest to categorize bike trainers into three groups.  There are fluid trainers, magnetic (mag) trainers, and finally wind trainers.  Each has advantages and disadvantages...which we'll cover in the remainder of this article.

Fluid Trainers - The Strong Silent Type

How much noise a bike trainer produces as well as how much resistance it can provide are two of the key ingredients that a cyclist should consider when deciding which trainer will suit them best.  Fluid trainers excel in both categories.

Fluid trainers are the quietest of the three types.

Additionally, fluid trainers like the Kurt Kinetic Road Machine provide resistance that increases exponentially.  If you were looking at a graph plotting speed vs. resistance, you'd see an ever increasing slope; until the resistance level would be increasing almost vertically.

Because a fluid trainer can produce such a high workload, it's the trainer of choice for riders wanting to do an interval-style workout.  While the other types of trainers may be sufficient during steady state riding, the fluid trainer stands alone in its ability to provide resistance at the upper limits of any cyclist's abilities.

Mag Trainers Have Cleaned Up Their Act

Not too long ago, you'd be hard pressed to find a satisfied mag trainer owner.  There were reports of mag trainers leaning to one side, mag trainers clanking their way to the junkyard, as well as reports of mag trainer owners throwing their units across the room in anger.

But the current generation of mag trainers made by companies like Kinetic, CycleOps, Blackburn, and Minoura hold up well and may be completely adequate for a lot of cyclists trying to keep their cardio edge during the winter.

Mag trainers produce resistance by spinning repelling magnets past each other. 

As with all bike trainers, some diversity of resistance can be achieved merely by shifting gears on the bike.  But in addition to that strategy, mag trainer resistance can be changed by changing the configuration of the magnets in the trainer itself.  In simpler units the cyclist has to dismount and make an adjustment on the trainer, while in more complex units a lever is put on the bike's handlebars so that the change can be made 'on the fly'.

A recent development in the mag trainer world is the

Cycleops Magneto trainer.  Using centrifugal force, the magnet configuration changes automatically the faster the trainer spins...changing the level of resistance automatically.  CycleOps calls this 'progressive resistance' and makes it clear that the Magneto is the first and only mag trainer that can change resistance levels without the rider having to be involved.

Wind Trainers May Be Enough

Wind trainers are the simplest, least expensive, most trouble-free trainers... so why isn't everyone buying one?

It might be because they're also the noisiest and the weakest. 

If you're looking to be elected to president of your apartment complex's governing board, don't do very many workouts on a wind trainer.  These rascals have been compared to a living room hurricane when the rider puts the 'pedals to the metal'.  So if you or your neighbors are noise sensitive, this may not be the style for you.

Additionally, the ability to produce high levels of resistance isn't the strong suit of wind trainers.  This is the style of trainer for a rider who's not extremely powerful and who will likely be doing their workouts at a constant, steady-state intensity.

No Excuses Anymore

If you've been skipping cardio workouts because it's just too miserable outside, an appropriate indoor bike trainer may be just what you need.  There are a boatload of different models and styles, making it likely that there's a trainer that suits your riding style to a tea.

About the author: Ron Fritzke is a cycling product reviewer with a passion for ‘all things cycling’. A former 2:17 marathoner, he now directs his competitive efforts toward racing his bike…and looking for good cycling products.

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