Saturday, November 21, 2009

Story - Trainers

Over the years I've used many trainers. I've also become, since 1983, a pretty dedicated trainer user.

I first got a trainer back in 1983, eager to do some workouts like Davis Phinney. See, he won the 1983 US Pro Championships in Baltimore, and I happened to be watching TV when they showed the four man break, led by Phinny and Bauer, win the race. The other two guys - a Belgian and a Peugeot rider - escape me for now.

Or not. The Belgian's name was Ferdi Van Den Haute. And the other is one Allan Peiper, but I gave him no chance, because that's what the commentators were saying. And yes, he was a Peugeot rider. Ferdi seemed like he was just sitting in, and I thought maybe he was just really smart.

In the end, it became apparent that the US heat, hotter and more humid than European temps, wreaked havoc on the Euro dogs. Phinney launched way, way out there, per normal for him, with Bauer on his wheel, and they drag raced to the line.

Phinney won the sprint.

Phinney also promoted a new fangled indoor training device called the Racer Mate. I got the original Racer Mate a bit late, like many years later, but I got the Racer Mate 2 when it was still pretty new.

And, when I got it in my first year of racing, it came with a training schedule.


Since this was new information, I devoured it. Then, when I finished reading it over, I read it again. And again.

This is what it said:
1. For endurance work, ride as hard as possible for 20 minutes, trying to maintain a 60 rpm cadence. Do only once.
2. For speed work, ride as hard as possible for 1 minute, trying to maintain a 120 rpm cadence. Repeat as necessary up to 10 or so times.
3. Make the above efforts a maximum of two times a week, in whatever combination (i.e. just two hard days). Don't do these efforts on consecutive days.

Upon re-reading it, oh, say, 50 or 60 times, while I was supposed to be paying attention in class, I found that, indeed, there were no other training tips.

Oh, there was one motivating picture: one of Phinney, on the trainer, with TWO resistance fans in place. See, he's so strong he needed twice the resistance.

(I calculated that if I was going 30 mph with one fan, then he'd be going 30x2 or 60 mph... obviously I had some work to do to turn pro...)

So, like a good boy, I tried to go as hard as possible for 20 minutes. I suffered a thousand deaths, trying to reach that "tunnel vision" state in vain. I'd ride for at least 19 minutes and 57 seconds and look up and see that I hadn't even covered a full minute.

I quickly gave up trying to do 20 hard minutes.

It seemed like the sprints ought to be easier. But they weren't, of course. 40 seconds into each effort I was struggling to turn the pedals over, trying to maintain a 2-per-second cadence. Embarrassingly I had to shift into the small ring to complete even one 60 second effort. 42x15, not a very big gear.

One night, panicked and desperate, I decided I'd do everything possible to complete a 20 minute effort. See, I had a race coming up, and I really needed to prove to myself that I could ride "hard".

I started in my biggest gear (a 53x15) and started rolling, careful not to exceed about 65 rpm. My legs quickly started burning, sweat started running down my face, and in the cool, dark basement, I started building up such a heat that, at times, steam literally rose from my body.

Once I got past the 10 minute hump, the 20 minutes seemed almost attainable. At 15 minutes of effort I knew I could do it, and I sprinted like mad at the end to finish off the 20 minutes.


My confidence secure, I had to get showered and get to sleep.

See, my upcoming race, the one causing me worry and nervousness and agitation, was the next morning at 9 AM, and it was a 2 hour drive away.

Now, when I think back at such folly, it seems absolutely ludicrous that I felt the need to do a maximal 20 minute effort literally 10 hours before a race. But at 15 years old, nervous and unsure of myself, it was the best thing I could have done.

The next morning, at a deserted airfield in Rhode Island, I finished my first race.

Every time I felt like I'd give up, I realized that it felt just like minute 1 of the 20 minute effort. When things were impossible, they felt more like minute 2. But then when things eased, it was like I'd never even started riding hard.

And heck, if I could do 19 more minutes after dying a thousand deaths, staying on the wheel in front of me for another lap seemed like a cakewalk.

Anyway, this started my long-time trainer habit. I admit that for many years, until rear wheel mount trainers came in vogue, I skipped the trainer. The smell of the basement still evokes memories of cold, dank sweat, of feeling unheated winter air on sweat-soaked skin. I couldn't handle it for a long time, preferring instead to go out and ride properly dressed in the elements.

But, as I became a bit more comfortable with things, suffering outside seemed less useful. The trainer got relegated to simply "being saved" because, as a good boy, I didn't throw out things as soon as I thought they'd be useless. I'd save them forever until they were truly useless, then throw it away.

I justify enjoying the trainer use by telling myself that it takes less time to dress for a trainer ride, or that if I have a mechanical I have my whole workbench 8 feet away from me, or if I have to go to the bathroom I just have to unclip and go upstairs.

The reality, though, is that I enjoy the predictability of a trainer ride.



71 or 72 degrees.

Stability, usually.

And the bike stays clean.

I don't like change too much, and a trainer ride doesn't change much, year after year. It's just the soreness the day after that changes from ride to ride.

Anyway, when rear wheel mount trainers (originally the Blackburn) came out, it saved the bike from the "destroy your headset in 30 days or less, guaranteed" fork mount trainers. My Racer Mate 2 got shoved aside, and I started using the new fangled, folding, lightweight, adjustable resistance, and, ultimately, much quieter trainers.

But the one problem with all those trainers back then was that you'd wobble back and forth on the trainer. Since no one could predict exactly what kind of skewer the end user would have on their bike, the skewer-holding-ends didn't fit any skewer well.

I weeble-wobbled my way through many training sessions until one day I saw the CycleOps trainer, with this insanely beefy looking frame.

This thing was concrete to mud, steel to iron, carbon fiber to Saran Wrap, Cannondale to (name any Columbus SL frame). The latter, of course, applying strictly to the new oversize aluminum bikes that everyone said was "too stiff".

The CycleOps was solid.

The main reason was the insanely oversized (at the time) U-shaped main frame that held the bike in place. I don't know how the physics works but the tubes were twice the diameter of its competitors, and, man, it just did not give, not one iota.

The second reason was an ingenious one. If there are six billion skewer designs out there, why bother trying to make one axle holder fit them all? Instead, pick out a really beefy skewer, design the trainer to hold just that skewer, and include the skewer along with the trainer.

Man, why didn't I think of that one?

The first time we clamped a bike to a CycleOps, I was sold.

Shortly thereafter I had one in my living room.

Now, as solid as it is, it doesn't mean it's tip proof. In fact, it's so solid that it allows the whole trainer-bike-rider unit to tip as a whole.

One night, watching Bugno, in Polti colors, descending down some Giro mountain (1:30 on the clip, but you can't see it), I noticed that a rider on the screen cornering like he was on a motorcycle. He hung his whole body off the side of the bike, almost dragging his knee like a GP Moto guy.

Curious, and totally confident in the rock-solid grip of the CycleOps trainer, I leaned over the right side of the bike, trying to get my right shin a couple inches above and parallel to the floor.

Well, it got parallel all right, as I slammed it into the rug, the whole bike and trainer unit tipping over with me.

The thud shook the house, and a worried future-missus poked her head around the corner.

I couldn't unclip so had to have her help me free myself from the ever-loving bike and trainer.

So, although it holds rock solid, you can still tip it over.

I bought two CycleOps, a Fluid one and a now-obsolete e-Trainer.

The latter had power, had a computer-generated ghost rider on a screen, and you could do all sorts of various tests on it.

It also cost $800 I think.

A couple years after I bought it, maybe 5 or 7 years ago now, I was doing some maximal effort, trying to annihilate the ghost rider, when I started smelling smoke.

I looked down and saw smoke pouring out of the vents of the resistance unit. I unplugged everything to save the computer from any damage, and realized, after a brief check of the system, that it was dead.

The beefy frame was still good, so, like a good boy, I saved the whole unit. Because one day, you know, I'd get another resistance unit, and I'd be able to salvage the nice U frame.

Fast forward a lot of years.

The other day the missus asked me about a trainer for her. I had called CycleOps way back when the e-trainer died, and they told me they'd sent a "replacement cost" Fluid resistance unit to a local shop of my choice. I'd pay about half the price of a full unit, and I figured the shop would get a cut and everyone would be happy. I'd get a usable trainer, I'd recycle (heh) a nice U-shaped CycleOps stand, and the shop could get an add-on sale.

Unfortunately that was about when we were selling the house, I was working umpteen hours a week, and, frankly, the trainer unit never made it back to CycleOps.

Last week I called CycleOps and basically asked the same thing again. I sheepishly admitted that I'd raised an RMA forever ago without ever fulfilling it. The early hour Wisconsin (or is it Minnesota?) call center rep gently chastised me for making them do RMA work for nothing, but then got down to business.

Basically, if I could fit my Fluid unit into the e-Trainer's frame (verifying that, indeed, a new unit would fit the e-Trainer stand), then they could send me a Fluid resistance unit.

And this time they'd do it for free.

Well now.

A few days later the e-Trainer resistance unit was on the way.

Today the missus went to help paint a kitchen (what are daughters for, right?). I came home and did all the things the missus normally handles on Saturdays. I checked the mail (Netflix, The Saint, yay!), rolled up to the garage door, anticipating being able to park inside, in the missus's spot (mine is jammed full of bike stuff).

And then I saw the trapezoidal box leaned up against the house. Not a smaller, more squarish one.

Trapezoidal. You know what's scary? I Googled "trapezoidal" to make sure I was being accurate. I wasn't sure if it was the right term. That's scary.

Lo and behold. An entire Fluid trainer unit. Not just the resistance unit, everything. A U shaped stand, instructions, even a DVD.

Bella checking out the Race Day DVD. Bonus!

CycleOps rocks.

Wait, let me say that again.

CycleOps rocks.

Now I just need to get an Ant +Sport power crank so I can get the new Joule computer from them, and then I can get their Joule equipped indoor spin/power bike, and...

Oh, lookit the time. I gotta go.


Dennis said...

I'm glad to read that I'm not the only trainer fanatic. I know riding on the road is better than the trainer (especially with someone who needs bike handling skill improvements like me), however, the trainer allows me to get extra work-outs that otherwise I'd miss out on. In addition to all of the advantages you noted above, there's one big one for me. I'm actually typing this as I ride on my trainer. I have a swivel table with my keyboard and mouse that I move over my bike when I need to type, and I have everything positioned in front of my PC in my home office. I'm doing nice endurance riding (170W), reading blogs, catching up on work email, and getting it all done before the family wakes up. If it wasn't for these early AM trainer rides, I'd have to give up family time, fall behind at work, or (the most likely case) lose out on building endurance miles.

Aki said...

I tried doing computer stuff (Playstation and laptop) but found that trying to sit upright was difficult on my back. I'd much rather be hunched over the bike. I also found that with the Playstation that I just rode slower and slower through a "PS" session. I eventually decided that I'd separate the two. I wish I could ride and type, it'd save me a lot of time!

Of course if I had kids and such my attitude may be radically different.

Dennis said...

I have a good chunk of work that requires doing a bit of reading (email, blogs, forums) and then firing off a quick email response. While I'm reading, I have the hands on the bike and I'm in my normal position. I only swivel the table over for the short periods of typing, so I fortunately don't have to spend too much time in the less comfortable upright position. I guess my setup wouldn't work as well if the ratio of typing to reading changed.