Friday, January 9, 2009

Winter Trainer Blues

I woke up this morning at 5:30 a.m. to ride to work. The trouble was: 15 degrees, dark as coal and the bridge “walkway” connecting me to work was a sheet of ice. A randonneur is often faced with making difficult decisions. Decisions that the average person wouldn't even consider for a minute. It actually took me a fairly long time to convince myself that it would be OK to avoid riding down a busy state highway with an iced-over shoulder as tractor trailers careen through the darkness because cyclists DO actually die out there. Once the argument was over, I grabbed my water bottle and headed for the trainer.

I generally don’t mind riding on my trainer. I picked up a nice CycleOps Fluid 2 two years ago that’s quiet, responsive and sturdy. My old road bike is dedicated to winter riding and trainer work so I don’t blow through my fancy handmade-in-Germany tires quite so fast. My favorite trainer companion is a book called Workouts in a Binder by Hobson and Friel. The author, Dirk Friel is the son of Joe Friel, famed author of The Cyclist’s Training Bible, who follows the same general periodization philosophy that his father outlines in his work. The workouts are varied and keep me focused on counting the seconds and watching my heart rate so the time goes by pretty quickly.

There is a DVD in the Spinervals series called “The Hardcore 100” that also has my attention. I’ve never really found training videos appealing, but could I ride an indoor century? That seems like a challenge. Almost as difficult in some ways as an outdoor century once seemed, but for different reasons. There’s something so confining and claustrophobic about riding on the trainer. That may be what bugs so many roadies about moving indoors. On the other hand, what a feat of endurance to stay on the stationary bike for 5-1/2 hours!

I realize that part of why I don't mind the trainer so much is that my set-up is nicer than the average rider’s. My wife is a dance teacher and a mere 30 feet from my back door is a 600-sq. foot dance studio with a plush sound system, windows onto the great outdoors and an average temperature that generally hovers around 58 degrees between dance classes. In this environment, it’s easy to let my mind wander off into the greener pastures of spring. 

Things I like about the trainer:

  • ride in all weather conditions at all hours of the day and night
  • isolate training more precisely
  • build strength and endurance more quickly as there is less “resting”
  • takes less time out of a busy day
  • no cars or dogs!

Things I hate about the trainer:

  • I’m not riding on the road
Even under optimal conditions, indoor riding is a poor substitute for the real deal. I ache to get out and feel the road beneath my wheels and the wind whistling through the air holes on my helmet. I compulsively check the weather sites to determine where the thin slivers of opportunity might be. I develop complex childcare plans to take advantage of warm and/or dry spells. 

That said, I know that time on the trainer in January and February will bear fruit in May and June. It is more or less impossible for an (employed) endurance cyclist to get in enough time on the road during the Hudson Valley’s cold, dark and snowy winters to build an optimal base no matter how hard core he or she might be. The trainer provides a convenient way to build base miles when it is too dangerous or simply impossible to ride outdoors.

Finally, there is also the possibility for surprise. Last week, I worked out so hard on the trainer I flatted. Well, honestly, it may have been a sliver of glass picked up on a recent road ride that finally worked its way into my inner tube, but I like to think that maybe, just maybe, I was working so hard that my tire just couldn’t take it anymore. While changing the flat, I closed my eyes and pictured myself on the side of the road cursing the trucks zooming by and suddenly, it was June, I could almost smell the honeysuckle.


  1. Excellent essay on the benefits of the indoor trainer, George. Thanks for posting this. I feel the same way!

    Keep the pedals turnin,

    David Rowe

  2. That's why you should go visit your favorite sister in California with the rest of the west coast weather wimps! He, he, el.

  3. Greetings, George, I'm going to include this item in a round-up of rando blog posts for American Randonneur. Thanks, Mike Dayton