Monday, July 18, 2016

Training - Why Should You Get A Better Fan?

In 2015 and this year I trained basically 100% indoors, going outdoors only for races or a few event rides (the latter in 2015 only). My last regular outdoor training ride was around Christmas 2014 when we had unseasonably warm temperatures here in northeastern US.

Indoor Training Advantages

I've always trained indoors throughout the year, in the winter to avoid the cold/chill, but even in the summer, usually to escape the heat/humidity outside. This has been the case for about 25-30 years. Training indoors is great for a number of reasons, like road safety, no scheduling problems if you encounter a mechanical, immediate parts/tools availability for said mechanical, immediate water/food availability, etc. For about 10 years I trained inside the bike shop so I really had any and every part available if something happened. I've done outside rides only to puncture at a critical time, like on a ride where I gave myself virtually no time cushion to pick up Junior from daycare. Although I rode harder than I thought possible it was an irresponsible way to motivate myself.

Indoor Training Challenges

Training indoors is tough for a number of reasons. The absolutely most significant thing with indoor training is that it's simply harder than riding outside. No one can really pinpoint exactly why but this post offers some possible suggestions. Basically it suggests that not being able to coast, not being able to rock the bike, and less external stimuli as factors that make indoor training harder than training outside.

However the main one most people cite when talking about training indoors is boredom. Nowadays, with all the tech available, there's quite a bit of distraction available to combat this problem. I find that watching bike DVDs, using Zwift, and listening to music make time fly on the trainer.

A dominant Race Across America rider, Lon Haldeman, defined the anti-thesis of a bored indoor rider. He would ride rollers in the dark to condition himself to riding through a dark night in the middle of nowhere. Although I don't turn out the lights and I generally don't ride rollers, I still find myself regularly reverting to riding with my eyes closed, particularly when pushing hard. I count pedal revolutions, focus on maintaining a consistent pedal stroke, and open my eyes to do a time/effort check.

Another indoor challenge is learning and conditioning to ride out of the saddle. Due to the nature of trainers and rollers it's hard to rock the bike out of the saddle (Kinetic Rock N Roll notwithstanding). For me this is significant since I simply cannot sprint effectively without being out of the saddle. I admit that I'm in the final stages of doing a very low buck DIY Rock N Roll using a converted CycleOps Fluid trainer frame (yikes, I started that three years ago?). If that works out I'll post about it, otherwise it was all just an exercise in experimentation for me.

Direct drive trainers tackle the problem of tire slippage. It's significant when making huge efforts. I'm not quite strong enough to regularly slip tires on my trainer/s but there are riders significantly stronger than me that probably have major tire slippage. Such a trainer replaces your whole rear wheel - ultimately you end up putting your bike's chain on the trainer's cassette. By eliminating the tire-roller interface a direct drive trainer makes the system virtually slip-free.

Direct Drive trainer (approximately $660), picture from the CycleOps site.

A "smart" trainer is the ultimate for indoor training. "Smart" trainers use software inputs to adjust resistance, so, for example, if you're using a program like Zwift and you're on an uphill, a smart trainer will increase resistance. In order to make it up the hill you'll have to shift into lower gears. With a regular trainer you have to shift into higher gears in order to increase resistance. Smart trainers should engage you a bit more, due to the fact that you'll need to shift gears to react to virtual terrain changes.

Smart direct drive trainer, not available yet, est. MSRP $1200.
Picture from CycleOps site.

A long time ago I got to use a smart trainer, something called a VeloDyne. It was really engaging, really motivating. It was a bit hard as it didn't coast well, making the downhills the hardest part of any route. There was also not much in terms of "courses". I think the 1984 Olympic RR was one of the courses, I think also Morgul-Bismark of Coors Classic fame, but one could not import a course, nor could one make their own. I might have a picture of it from my shop days but I don't know at this point. I did have an adventure delivering one though.

For all the indoor training I do I haven't been able to justify purchasing a smart trainer or a rocking one. Zwift started to change my mind on direct drive and active trainers, but at the moment buying such a trainer is simply out of the question.

Indoor Training Cooling

Finally indoor training is hard because it's hard to cool off.

When you work hard you generate excess heat energy. Your body tries to get rid of that heat energy, mainly by expanding blood vessels near the skin surface (so you get flushed, your veins pop, etc) and by sweating. Sweat gets rid of heat through evaporation. When sweat evaporates it must absorb heat energy - if the sweat doesn't evaporate then it won't do much good in removing heat.

For sweat to evaporate it needs two things - air and some dryness. If your sweat has no air volume around it then it can't evaporate. For example if you wrapped yourself in Saran Wrap you'd be mighty hot after a short time. On the other hand if you were in an indoor stadium or concert hall, you'd have a lot of air volume. When I had the shop with 20 foot ceilings and a 70'x25' floor foot print, I had a gazillion feet of air volume (okay, it was 20x70x25 so 35,000 cubic feet of air). With smaller areas you need to move air around so that you're introducing new air to your trainer area. A powerful fan works well for this, allowing you to move air around quickly.

Sweat can't evaporate if it's too humid. If you're in 99% humidity air then the air is basically saturated. Your sweat won't really evaporate and therefore it won't really cool you down. You'll feel like you're taking a hot shower. Air conditioning helps, since it dries the air. A dehumidifier is good also, although it heats the air while it dries it, making it a bit touch and go if the house is already warm. In the shop example above I had 35,000 of air conditioned goodness so even in the middle of a heat wave it was downright pleasant to ride indoors for an hour or two at a time. We even had "group indoor rides" with maybe 6 or 8 riders, without any problems with too much humidity.

Remember, air volume and humidity.

Indoor Training Set Ups

When I see someone else's trainer set up I always look at a number of things usually obvious by the picture.

1. Fan, like its size/velocity.
2. Air Volume, like how much air volume appears to be there.
3. Air temperature, like does it look like the rider is on a trainer in their garage with the door open during a snow storm?

Those three factors - air velocity, air volume, and air temperature - really affect how you'll feel on the trainer.

There's a fourth factor but it's hard to guess at, although it's often related to air volume. The mystery factor is air humidity. I'll put it in the list below.

4. Humidity

If I see central AC vents or a window AC unit or a cold/wintry background then I'm guessing the humidity is under control. If I see a dehumidifier, if I see five towels draped over the bike and nearby furniture and a puddle of water under the bike then I'm guessing the humidity is a bit out of control.

The other day (okay, the other month) I saw a picture of the local hero pro on his trainer It looks like a home decor ad, if you ask me, because it looks so neat and tidy:

Note the fan on the floor.
Photo courtesy Benjamin Wolfe (Jelly Belly Cycling Team p/b Maxxis)

(Let me put in this disclaimer right away. In my world 200 watts is a hard effort. 450 watts is basically a max 60 second effort. For someone like Ben he does 450w average for a long time, like an hour at the beginning of a long day of racing. This is based on the fact that he posted that it took 450w avg for an hour just to make the second laughing group at some stage in the Tour of CA this year. What I mean is that my recommendations may not hold water if you're a super human and don't generate much heat cranking out 400 watts. Maybe you don't even break a sweat at 400w.)


When I saw Ben's picture above I subconsciously went down my list. I'll skip #1 for now and start with #2, Air Volume. It looks fine - there's so much ceiling above him that someone could take this very stylish picture.

#3 Air temperature I'm guessing is okay since it's June and the windows are closed. This could be an indicator of air conditioning.

#4 Humidity... related to air conditioning, air conditioning would make humidity a non-issue.

The only thing left is #1, air velocity. He's using what appears to be the ubiquitous Lasko 20" box fan. Set on the floor it blows cooler air up at his head/upper torso, ideal for cooling off a working rider. It's a decent fan for moving air around - I should know, I think we have four in the house. We use one dinky little window type AC unit to cool our 1500 sf house. The box fans help move the air around so we don't have one icy cold room with the rest of the house sweltering in heat; instead we have one chilly room and an otherwise comfortably dry and cool house. Other than the low thrumming of fans in the background and the somewhat MacGyver looking fans set up around the house the system works well.

The ubiquitous Lasko box fan is rated at "up to" 2500 CFM, or 2500 cubic feet per minute. That's on high. I thought I read somewhere that low is 800-1000 CFM (I think when I worked at a place that sold such fans) but I can't verify that.

When I see these fans in front of trainers or treadmills I wonder how the person can possibly stay cool. Okay, in the winter, in an unheated basement, it's sort of reasonable since you may not need much air velocity at all. But when it's even sort of warm you really need a lot of air flow to evaporate your sweat to cool you down. If there's no evaporation happening then there's really no cooling off happening either. That's why a super humid 95 degrees can be so much tougher than a very dry 105 degrees.

My set up isn't quite as neat at the one above, as evidenced by the picture below. However there is one key element in my set up: a very strong fan.

You might be able to find the fan on the floor amongst all the clutter.
It's a 20" Hamilton high velocity fan.

Air volume is sort of low because the bike room is in our basement. Worse, in order to keep the cats out of all sorts of human-inaccessible nooks and crannies, we have to keep the door shut to the bike room half of the basement. For the trainer room and the bike "shop" room I have two small rooms for air volume. Two wall mounted vent grilles allow air to travel between the bike half of the basement and the regular half. I have two fans permanently pushing air around the bike room and out of one of the vent grills so I'm guessing that the air probably gets cycled once daily at most.

Not only that, because of all sorts of reasons I can't leave the door at the top of the stairs to the basement itself open except for late at night so there's very little air flow into for most of the day - it's whatever seeps around the door along with about a 5"x5" cat door (we removed the flap so it's always open). Therefore the basement air itself doesn't get "refreshed" very frequently. At night in warmer weather I use one of our Lasko box fans to push air into the basement, allowing the hotter air down there to travel up the ceiling into the first floor.

Very low air volume cat door in our door to the basement stairs.
This doesn't bode well for air exchange between the main house and the basement.

In the winter the furnace naturally creates circulation, heated air rising to the first floor, cooler air sinking into the basement. It ends up the basement is pretty warm in the winter so it works out.

For air temperature the bike room is fine in the winter, typically 45-65 degrees F. In warmer weather it gets a bit hot, like 75-80 degrees F.

Humidity is all over the board. In the winter it's about 35-45%, ideal for indoor training. Sweat evaporates quickly and the room doesn't feel like a sauna. In the summer about 70-80%; that's not that great, I get sweat running down my face, I have to use a towel to keep my eyes clear, and, probably most significantly, I'm simply aware of sweating. I run a dehumidifier in a different part of the basement so the temperature may go up as much as 10-15 degrees F, but with judicious basement-door-opening I can keep the basement at about the 70 deg F mark.

Air temperature, air humidity, that's sort of based on your trainer room environment, your house. You need to take into account what you have, what you don't have, and figure out how to fill in the gaps.

Air Velocity

For me, for air velocity, I'm all set. The 20" Hamilton, model SFC1-500B, is rated at 3900 CFM on low, so at its lowest setting it moves about 150% the volume of the ubiquitous Lasko box fan on high. The Hamilton pushes 4700 CFM at medium and a hurricane-like 6100 CFM on high.

To give you an idea of how powerful the fan is, during a particularly bad storm I had water come into the basement (this was in our old house, leak was due to a crack in an add-on foundation area which we eventually found and fixed). Initially it looked like some water had just seeped into the basement, simply wetting the floor. It looked like I'd spilled a bucket of water down there. I set up the fan on high to "dry" the floor, pointing the fan at the wet floor to maximize air movement and therefore evaporation in that area. I also ran a dehumidifier on a counter top down there to dry the air. This set up my trifecta of air velocity, air volume, and air humidity. I hoped to check in a couple hours later to a nice and dry basement.

Unfortunately when I came back to check up on my "drying project" I found that the water level had risen unexpectedly. We had a few inches of water in the basement, with the shallow bit about 1" just near the fan - apparently our basement floor wasn't very level. I was worried that the fan would get shorted out, sitting in a puddle of water. But to my great surprise I found, in front of the fan, a miniature wave an inch or so high about 3 feet away from the fan. The fan was blowing so hard the water couldn't approach any closer. The floor in front was bone dry and it's where I staged the wet/dry vac to start cleaning things up.

So I have a very powerful fan for my trainer.

As a side note I've had the fan for maybe 12 or 14 years now, if not longer. I use it regularly. In some situations I'll move the fan to move air around in other parts of the house, like the wet basement (when we lived there) or, when we get hit with debilitating heat waves, I'll set it up to blow air around in the main part of the house. It's a solid, durable, reliable fan.

Air Humidity

Drier air will help comfort on the trainer. You cool off by having sweat evaporate off your body, but if the air is too humid the sweat simply cannot evaporate quickly enough or at all. When I was a kid we didn't have air conditioning so if I got sick and it was hot and sticky out it'd be hard to cool me down. If I was running a high fever my parents would carefully dole out aspirin to reduce my fever. I knew if they were really worried, or if it was really sticky out, when they patted me down with a towel dipped in a water and rubbing alcohol solution. The slight bit of rubbing alcohol was there to evaporate quickly - it evaporates quicker than water. My dad, the chemist, knew that the rubbing alcohol mixed with water would cool me better than just plain cold water. Just to be clear you should NOT be dousing yourself with rubbing alcohol on the trainer. There are problems with rubbing alcohol that far outweigh the benefits of its cooling properties when on a trainer.

Nowadays, in our house, we have air conditioning in the main part of the house but not in the basement, so the ambient (trainer) humidity is typically 70% or higher in the summer. On the first floor it ranges from about 50% to maybe 60% if the AC is falling behind. Temperatures in the basement range up to about 80 to almost 90 deg F; upstairs it seems that we aim at keeping it at 76-78 deg F, and at 80-81 deg F we want the AC on.

During recent trainer rides, with trainer room ambient temps into the mid 70s deg F and humidity about the same, I've had to use medium speed on the powerful fan, and I've started rides with it on low. Normally I use just low speed and I don't turn the fan on until about 10-30 minutes into a ride.

When it's super humid in the basement (I don't have a % number to reference but I'm guessing at 85% or higher) the problem is that so little sweat evaporates that I have to move a lot of air past me. Even on high I find that the sweat drips off me before it can evaporate effectively. These are the worst rides, I have to focus on making sure I have ice cold water in my Podium Ice bottles. The thing is that if you can't cool off from sweating then you need something else. Ice cold water helps a bit, at least a bit more than luke warm water. It also helps to douse a towel in ice cold water and then rub it on my neck, sort of the rubbing alcohol hack without the rubbing alcohol.

The Open Secret To Training Indoors

So that's my secret to training indoors so much, the high velocity fan. It's not that much money, about $45-60. I know the box fans are much less, but for you, someone interested in riding a trainer or rollers, it's a small price to pay for the difference in comfort going those trainer sessions. Even frugal me bought one of them a long time ago, I simply couldn't do trainer rides with a regular box fan.


Laura Mullaly said...

Aki, I have been stuck inside on the trainer for the past few weeks.
I am fortunate to have the best training room! We use it year round. It's a sunroom that has 3 sides of all French doors.
I open a door in front and in back and 2 on the side of me. I have 2 box fans on a chair blowing at me, box fan lifted about 4 feet off the floor and 3 feet away and a ceiling fan.
I recently moved the taller box fan to a small table 2 feet tall and nearly right in my face.
That one change made a BIG difference.
I can never actually feel the air blowing at me; my mind is on other things; but I know they are doing the job!
Hunter Allen has always stressed the use of fans for indoor training.
I also train early in the morning to avoid the rising humidity and rising hot sun.

When I saw that photo of the indoor living room training...the first thing I thought was, I would be dying!
This past winter I once trained in the family room to watch a football game with the family, I had doors, and windows open and a fan blowing. One of the doors were a double French door to the sunroom, where more doors were open! Mr Mike was wrapped in a blanket with a hat on!

This winter I had to convince Mike to use fans to keep himself very cool to get a mireffectove training session. It worked.

I also don't really mind indoor training. The trainer allows for a focused work out. Holding certain watts while adjusting for road terrain, traffic etc can make the work out stressful or can cause an interval to be cut short.

I have not yet tried Zwift and the smart trainers. Maybe this winter!

Btw I have a Kinetic Rock n Roll I posted for sale if you are interested!

Cycling momma

stuart lynne said...

Big fan. Check.

Smart trainer. Check.

Zwift Racing... Check.

I hadn't used my Computrainer in about three years and had let my training slide to pitiful levels because I was running too many races in real life.

A one hour Zwift Race five days a week lets me do an hour of training at your FTP power level. Something about pinning even a virtual BIB number on your back that gets you motivated.

I even went as far as starting my own Zwift race series to get some suitable one hour races on Monday, Wednesday and Friday's because most of the others where bunched up on Tuesdays and Thursdays.