A Pain Cave For The Winter

As the nights draw in and the weather takes a turn for the worse, thoughts inevitably turn to keeping up bike training over the winter. “How will I keep fit? Shall I just run and hope to keep the bike legs? Will I actually be able to stand more than 10 minutes on a turbo trainer?” and the biggest question of all – “How can I get my indoor cycles on Strava?”

Never fear, here’s everything (hopefully) you wanted to know about indoor training over the winter and how to get a great set up for less than you may think.

First things first, let’s get the question of if you do need to keep bike training over the winter out of the way.

Yes. Done. On to the next.

Actually, just to flesh this out – cycling generally uses more energy efficient slow twitch muscle fibres for hours of constant, steady work. Running shorter distances in comparison will train and improve fast twitch, so running over the winter won’t do a lot to help your bike fitness. Obviously you should run anyway as part of your triathlon base fitness training but you still need to keep the cycling going in whatever way you can.

So, onto how to do it. We can’t do this article without mentioning the Z word. Zwift. Everyone’s at it. You see people riding around London or ‘Watopia’ on their virtual rides on Strava and wonder what it’s all about. In simple terms, Zwift is an online cycling platform that allows anyone to cycle on virtual rides using their own bike on a trainer. But Zwift needs to know how hard you’re pedalling, and preferably a bit more too to be as accurate as possible. There are loads of videos and articles out there about Zwift but here’s a sample to give you a background.

Since the beta ended it’s currently £8 a month but you can cancel and restart any time so it can be used only over winter if you like.

Now onto the equipment required. The absolute ideal setup would be a Wattbike. Not used a Wattbike? Try one they’re brilliant. This will send all the data to a PC/Mac and job done. But they’re quite expensive, and this article is focused more on doing it at a reasonable price. So here are the essentials.

1, 2 and 3: A PC or Mac with easily accessible keyboard and mouse. iPads and iPhones are now supported for Bluetooth but this article is about the more popular ANT+ method. The PC or Mac needs to be fairly powerful with the graphics card being the most important bit. Obviously you’ll want the monitor where you can see it.

4. A fan aimed directly at your head. Hugely underappreciated but will be the difference between you giving up after 10 minutes because ‘it shouldn’t be this hard’ or being able to stick it out. Open roads give you a ~20 MPH breeze at all times. Inside with no moving air you very quickly bake and your sweat is unable to evaporate to cool you down, raising your body temperature and making exercise very hard work very quickly.

5. Your clip on aero bars if you have some. Being able to train for hours in the position you’ll want to be for hours on an IM or middle distance will be of huge benefit. It also provides some welcome relief to change position now and again. Also, it’s pretty comfy!

6. A sweat catcher. You will sweat. A lot. Even with the fan on, when doing hard efforts you can create quite a puddle underneath the bike which can in some circumstances damage bearings etc.

Now the data equipment. The options here are a smart turbo trainer which sends data directly to your PC and Zwift, or a normal trainer / rollers with a speed and cadence sensor. The above shows

1. An older style magnet based speed and cadence sensor. This picks up the magnet attached to your wheel (2) and then knows how fast your wheel is spinning. From checking GPS when outside, it knows how far you travel for each revolution so it can work out your speed. Another magnet attaches behind the pedal to count every pedal stroke and knows your cadence (pedalling RPM) from this. The newer type is accelerometer based and straps around the crank and rear wheel hub. These are also fine.

3 and 4. Optional power meter. The one pictured is the Garmin Vector 2S single-sided pedal based power meter. It has very accurate gauges inside the left pedal which can tell exactly how hard the pedal is being pressed. From combining this with your cadence it can work out how much power you are putting out. As Zwift’s end goal is to work out how much power you are putting out, giving it the data directly is best. Otherwise it has to guess the power from knowing which trainer you have and looking up how much power it should take to do a certain speed as reported by the speed sensor. Power meters are very expensive but as prices come down they move into the realm of being affordable and make a great training investment. Power is purely objective so that time when you average 15 MPH instead of 18 doesn’t matter if you see you were still averaging 200 watts and it was just a head wind slowing you down.

(not shown). Optional heart rate monitor. The Garmin heart rate straps are ideal and it’s great to see your heart rate during training for many reasons.

On a budget

If you already have a PC / laptop here’s a quick and relatively cheap way to get into it

Trainer – a Zwift supported dumb trainer. The list of equipment they support is here https://zwift.com/get-started. A particularly good bargain right now is the Elite elastogel for £99 at Wiggle http://www.wiggle.co.uk/elite-crono-fluid-elastogel-trainer/. The elastogel is soft so you don’t even need a separate trainer wheel and can just clip or unclip your bike whenever you want with no modification required

ANT+ speed and cadence sensor. £45 at Amazon https://www.amazon.co.uk/Garmin-Bike-Speed-Cadence-Sensor/dp/B00JM6DKUA/

USB ANT+ stick for computer. £10 at Amazon https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00LIIMHP4

And that’s it! Obviously the heart rate monitor, power meter or smart trainer, etc will make the data more accurate.

Any questions? Leave a comment and I’ll try to answer.

Darren Mansell