Friday, February 4, 2011

Cycling Indoors: the Kurt Kinetic Trainer

Last month I asked for advice about bicycle trainers, but after reading all the comments decided not to get one after all. It was the promise of horrific boredom that dissuaded me: I didn't want to get a trainer and then end up never using it. But several blizzards and several yards of snow later, I once again found myself climbing the walls and thinking that any way to be on my roadbike would surely do. My birthday is coming up, and so I asked the Co-Habitant to get me a trainer as an early gift - requesting that he do all the obsessive gadget research himself, and just present me with it as soon as possible.

He was suspicious at first. "You want a trainer. For your birthday? Are you sure that's a sufficiently ...romantic gift?"

"It's a fine gift. Totally romantic. Just get it for me, please."

And so, since last week I have been the owner of a Kurt Kinetic Road Machine Fluid Trainer. The 2010 model was on sale at the Wheelworks in Somerville, MA (they had four left as of last week), and the opportunity was ceased. It is lime green and in no way blends in with any normal household decor. It is a good thing we have a "bohemian" apartment where pretty much anything goes, including a bike plugged into a neon contraption in the middle of the bedroom.

To set up the trainer, you have to attach the rear wheel of the bicycle using a special skewer, so that the tire rests firmly against the mechanism which provides resistance. I would describe the set-up process as somewhat tricky: You have to align the wheel just right and tighten everything just so.

As you pedal, the resistance from the trainer is similar to the resistance you feel when cycling on the road. Beyond that, I admit that I have no idea how it works, and am not particularly curious as long as it does the job. Some prefer to put a block or a riser under the front wheel, but I feel fine without it.

To me, using the trainer emulates the cycling experience realistically insofar that I am on an actual bike, and that the sensation of pedaling really does feel like being on the road. What's different, is that the bicycle doesn't lean, as would have been natural on the road, and - oh yes - that I am in my bedroom, staring at a wall and going absolutely nowhere. After the first time I used the trainer, it became clear that I needed visual stimuli - music alone was not sufficient to counteract the mind-numbing effect of looking at nothing.

So I rigged up this "tower" using two wooden chairs (don't worry, they are very stable), which allowed me to place my laptop at eye level.

Thank goodness for Netflix and enormous earphones. The trainer is fairly quiet to begin with (the sound it makes is a sort of low hum - not high pitched or annoying), and if I had a TV rather than a tiny laptop, I don't think earphones would even be necessary. But the nice thing about using them, is that they drown out the sound of the trainer entirely, making it easier to get absorbed in the film and put my legs on autopilot.

It took me a couple of days on the trainer to learn how to pace myself. I guess on the road, there are factors that control my speed - traffic lights, obstacles, turns, and even just fear. With these factors gone, I had to keep forcing myself to slow down, so as not to get exhausted immediately. Watching a movie helps, because my pedaling starts to sync up with the highs and lows of the film - slowing down during the quiet parts and speeding up during the exciting parts. At the moment, I am able to keep going for 40 minutes at a time before needing to stop, but I am hoping to make it an hour by next week.

I don't want to give the impression that the trainer is anything other than what it is - a device that allows you to pedal your own bicycle as it remains stationary. The experience does not even begin to compare to "real" roadcycling, which to me is much more about exploration than about exercise. But if I approach it from the other end, and start with the given of wanting indoor exercise that emulates cycling, this trainer pretty much fits the bill. Having never tried others I can't compare, but the Kurt Kinetic trainer does everything I imagined a trainer doing, and it is quieter than I had hoped.

I think I have to face it that something in me has changed over the past year, and I now feel that my body "needs" strenuous exercise. I never thought that would happen to me, and I don't understand human physiology well enough to know how that works. All I know is, that I've been on a roadbike every day for the past week and I am feeling a little more like myself again. It's indoors, it's stationary and it's not real cycling - but I'll take it.

52 comments:

  1. I ride rollers in the winter in Michigan, often cause I'm bored and couped up. These add a bit of scary fun to the workout, since it all can get very boring.

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  2. i finally had to set up mine in the basement and I think it had to do with that last post with all the trainer discussion! thanks!

    One thing to watch out for is that the rear tire will get VERY worn and flattened, and you may want to get a cheap tire for that wheel while it is in the trainer. i have on one that has lost all its treading that i wouldn't ride outside.

    curious that you find that you SPEED UP while watching tv shows! i had the opposite reaction (maybe i'm just lazy), and ended up getting one of the Sufferfest videos which is very nice to look at, and reminds me to work my ass off! I might have to throw on some tv show next time to see if I can still concentrate on either.

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  3. No-no, overall I slow down when watching them. But more importantly, my speed varies with the tempo of the action - which is nice, as it creates natural periods of high intensity vs rest. I imagine this only works if you get really absorbed in what you're watching!

    I am definitely changing the tires soon, hopefully this weekend.

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  4. I'll confess up front that I can't recall ever having ridden an indoor trainer, but I feel that anything that maintains your condition will improve yor experience when you are out riding in 'real' conditions. When one struggles to climb or go a distance, it can be discouraging. I am older and was off a regular cycling routine for years. When I first got back on the bike, a lot of the joy was gone because i had to work hard to do what use to feel like nothing. Last weekend, I had occasion to do a ride with a bit of climbing, and finally started to feel like I was in decent shape again. It brought back wonderful memories of riding when I was a kid ... That sort of magic that sometimes happens when we ride. I don't think I would have experienced this had my legs been leaden and my lungs on fire. So, if it maintains or even improves some aspects of your riding, it's a good thing.

    When I used to live in New England, I did cross country skiing during winter and used some sort of indoor training device (don't recall the name) during non-snow months. One reason I enjoy this blog is that it brings back memories of New England. But I ramble ...

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  5. This brings up a different but related topic for me... distance. I have just started bicycling after a hiatus of about 20-30 years and would not say I am in great shape. I have been cycling for about 3-4 months now, as time and the weather allow. I do like the idea that it is exercise but agree with you that, for me, it is exploration that is the most exciting thing about cycling. I ride by places I have driven by hundreds of times and see things have never seen before! I am not the photographer you are but I do like to take the opportunity to take a few pics sometimes. Now, I am working on distance. You mentioned being able to ride on your trainer for 40 minutes and are going for an hour. That, of course, does not translate into real cycling time but I wonder if you had a formula for building up distance when you started riding again several years ago, or did you just hop on and ride for 20 miles the first day out?

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  6. How can you stay fresh while pedaling?

    Living far north in the 80´s I bought a set of rollers to pass me over winter, but found that I sweated like a pig. Luckily the city XC ski tracks passed behind my house so I could go for the woods for relief. Nothing like that in the Boston area?

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  7. Our household has a decent history of atypical birthday and Christmas presents: bike work stands, titanium cooking pots, flatbed trailers

    It's the thought that counts.

    You know I have heard that there are trainer DVD's that simulate things like climbing the Tourmalet or winding your way through the Dolomites ... Or perhaps if you need something a little more exciting, maybe loop a YouTube clip of the car chase scene from The French Connection?

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  8. When I made my morning stop here today I thought I was hallucinating!

    I get how you feel about exercise. Same here. I feel crazed and sluggish all at once due to this weather.

    P

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  9. Does this thing can power your laptop ?

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  10. With regard to feeling that your body has changed and now "needs" to strenuously exercise, I can completely relate to that. Since I have become a "year-round" cyclist... even a few days off the bike makes me feel more tense and lethargic. A contradiction to be sure, but no less the way it is.

    Certainly I am climbing the walls, as well... I rode on Monday, but the roads have not been what I would consider sufficiently passable since; and the river paths are a mess. I am hoping that after this next storm on Sat. that Monday I will be able to get back on again.

    For years I have been debating with myself on weather or not I should get a trainer... but with such limited space in my apartment, I think that the Musician would frown on it. BUT, my birthday is coming up (as well), and this could be a good time to suggest the idea ;)

    You have mentioned your limited space in past posts, how are you resolving that? Just setting up when you ride it and taking it down after?

    (one small grammatical nit-pick: by ceased did you mean seized?)

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  11. So you'll be watching a lot of movies! Do you have any recommendations?

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  12. I agree - the trainer can be kind of mind numbing, but I set up the Netflix too - I'm a big fan of the Office...something about that theme music really gets me going. That is, until my downstairs neighbours complained about the noise. Not really sure what to do now. I've tried putting rugs and blankets underneath, but nothing really seems to help. I have not been able to ride all week because of it, and yes, going totally crazy.
    Another thing I know some people do is all get together at someone's house and ride their trainers together, kind of like a trainer party. I guess that probably makes it a little more interesting too.

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  13. i see you're using toe clips now. will this continue when you're back on the road?

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  14. My husband gave me rollers for Christmas; sadly neither of us has yet figured out how to stay upright on them!

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  15. i would recommend you get a special trainer tire for the back. you can get tires that are entirely made of nylon. they don't spit rubber all over your floors and walls (my wife loves that!) and they don't get hot like regular rubber tires. plus you won't be needing to buy a new one every couple months.

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  16. I too got one not too long ago, for a few reasons.

    The first time I used it, my tire was underinflated and it was slipping, and burning rubber. I was intelnsely watching a marathon of the show Damages. I started smelling rubber and looked down, there was tiny bits of white rubber all on the floor, I immediately got off, not only was it all over the floor but a stripe up the wall and a rooster tail up my back. I had to laugh because it was really funny.

    After inflating my tire and adding more resistance, no more slipping, and no more burning rubber, not sure I would use these tires outside again, but I will keep it on that bike for now as long as it's on the trainer.

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  17. Hmm then those michelins are too nice. Maybe I should pick up some cheap 700c.

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  18. Since you ended up with a Kurt Kinetic, I expect your Cohabitant is a aware of their Rock-n-Roll Trainer, which does let the bike lean back and forth. If you like to go up hills out of the saddle, it is a more realistic experience. I happen to be friends with the inventor.

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  19. Arevee - I would love to live somewhere rural, where I could just walk out of my house and do XC ski laps around some lake in the winter...

    Jim - The trainer is actually more strenuous than cycling outdoors, because on the trainer you are always pedaling and are going faster overall. I think I am the wrong person to ask about building up to long rides on the road, because endurance is my strong point (as opposed to skill!). I did start going for 25+ mile rides almost right away when I began cycling, but I don't think that's representative. It's fine to start with 6 mile rides, then build up to 10 miles, then 15, then 20, and so on. Everyone is different.

    Anon 10:46 - The toe clips are only for the trainer; it feels better when my feet are firmly attached, and I think I am pretty safe from falling. In real conditions I use Power Grips, and will continue to use them.

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  20. Put a towel on the top tube. Sweat corrosion appears on trainer bikes at the cable clips or brazed cable guides and in a row of drip points on the underside of the top tube. It's always easy to spot a trainer bike. Towels are easy.

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  21. I deliberated over getting a trainer this winter, but ultimately decided against it. I was too concerned that I wouldn't use it enough to justify it. After all, I like to spend what limited time I have at home on working on all my bike projects so that I can ride them all come spring!

    But I can totally identify with how the body becomes accustomed to--and craves--an exercise regimen. I also don't know how this works physiologically, but it seems that the body tries to maintain the state that it's in-- a form of homeostasis. Four years ago I weighed 40 lbs heavier than now, and my only exercise was walking to and from the T. I also used to feel hungry all the time. I spent four years working that weight off, mostly through cycling, but also through other forms of workout and a change to my food preferences. Now, I find it next to effortless to maintain the state I'm in. I do have to work, but my body doesn't consider it "work", but more like routine activity. The body just tries to maintain itself by being more active. I don't know if that makes any sense, but I feel like the body simply directs itself toward maintaining the state it's in.... kind of like inertia.

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  22. for a moment i had a vision of an omafiets on a trainer. i giggled.

    i'm naturally sedentary. while i have always enjoyed bicycling once some minutes, hours, or days into a ride, getting started has always been hard. overcoming yet another bout of depression through exercise almost 20 years ago formed in me the realization that i needed a way to force myself to move regularly. that i, like you, need strenuous exercise. trainer wouldn't cut it: it's optional. but going places isn't so optional. that's when i decided i would never own a car.

    that was in boston, winter of '92-93. i biked right through, and it was a doozy like now. i rode an MTB with drop bars. i've never looked back, and have never again felt more than situationally depressed.

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  23. Colin - How nice, tell him "thank you" for me : )

    I've heard of the Rock-n-Roll trainer, but it seemed like too much for what I needed. I am very happy with the road machine and don't really feel like I am missing anything.

    todd said...
    "for a moment i had a vision of an omafiets on a trainer..."


    I admit, I considered it : )

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  24. What you have there is a dream setup for winter time body toning! Congrats!! :)

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  25. Velouria, as your cycling skills improve over time, you might consider rollers. I absolutely cannot stand regular trainers...way too boring.
    Rollers most closely simulate real riding, and they even have "floating rollers" now which can rock back and forth when you stand up and crank. Those are quite a bit more expensive though. You can easily find a good set of regular used rollers for $100...
    And as a bonus, rollers improve your bike handling skills! Theres a slew of drills, techniques, and tricks you can learn on them, all of which will make you a very competent and CONFIDENT rider. And I find it hard to be even a little bored on them.
    As with anything, i'm sure they aren't for everyone, but you'll never know until you at least give them a shot...

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  26. This might be an '11 model, I'd have to look at the box. If we get another trainer in the future, it will be the Kurt Rock & Roll one, I think that it's very clever and is advertised to decrease rear triangle stress (which would be an issue if I climbed on the bike). Kurt also has a lifetime warranty on their trainers.

    Rollers are a neat acrobatic toy, but I am not sure that we'd welcome the added (and pointless) injury risk and the decreased exercise capacity all in the name of excitement on the bike. I guess if you can't use a normal trainer, rollers are better than sitting on the couch. But then so is the "invisible/air bike" exercise.

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  27. I think I can say with some confidence that I would be injured within minutes if I were to attempt rollers : ) Also, I am just not looking to learn a new skill right now. I want to get on the bike, pedal for an hour, and then get off the bike - all without incident. Don't really see myself needing the climbing version of this trainer either, simply because the one I have feels pretty good. I am impressed with the Kurt lifetime warranty.

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  28. MDI...

    "added and pointless" injury risk? I think riding a bike on the street is 100 times more dangerous than being on a trainer of any sort.

    My point was that I think it could be of help to someone in gaining skills confidence in a controlled environment. If people let fear determine what they do, we wouldn't have anybody riding bikes! ..or skydiving, or bungee jumping..

    As for beginning on rollers, you can start in a doorway, or lay two mattresses on either side of you. If you take precaution, there's really no serious threat of injury. And you can buy rollers with internal flywheels, or easily rig them with an external setup and you've got all the resistance you need :)

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  29. I think you both have a point, but consider that there are different goals and motivating factors in exercising. Let's take it as a starting point that I have 1 hour a day or so to devote to indoor cycling. What would I rather do with that hour - (a)practice my balancing skills, or (b)engage in high intensity pedaling? If my goal is to get back into shape, then if follows that (b) is the priority.

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  30. There aren't any fluid resistance rollers from what I know. Flywheel alone provides resistance only during the acceleration cycle, obviously.

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  31. A few years ago we had a snowpocalypse here in Portland OR. The first time I tried to ride my bicycle I fell (and landed knee first--OW!) and so decided I'd just take the bus until it all melted.

    It ended up being over a week before the ground was totally clear. And let me tell you, I WENT NUTS. I could not believe how relieved I was to be back on the bike.

    How did I live car-free for five years without a bicycle?! (In the suburbs, no less, where it takes approximately forever to get anywhere because the bus system is awful). What the hell?!

    So I can totally sympathize. I never thought I would be so happy to exercise, but it's amazing how much riding a bicycle is good for my mental health. I do wonder if it would do the job to ride it indoors, or if the "get form one place to another" is intrinsic to my enjoyment.

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  32. MDI...

    trutrainer.com

    They aren't your granddad's rollers

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  33. Rollers are like riding on a icey 2X4 - but fun, and keep you on edge. I made platforms from wood for my feet to start off from, also the door-way is a good idea. I have been riding on mine (Kreitler's) for over 20 years and have never fallen or been hurt. With practice you can even ride no hands.

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  34. *Disclaimer* I am not trying to convince one way or the other. I have read the previous comments. I relate with this post, and think my comment will be relevant...

    I have had two trainers since last summer. One is stationary, and the other is a set of rollers. I've been afraid to try the rollers since I've had them, but just last week, after watching some special roller educational videos on youtube, I gave it a go. It took at least two sessions of keeping myself propped up against the dryer with one hand while I pedaled before I got comfortable enough to let go. Yes, I'm very cautious and take my time. Anyway, now I am more comfortable and sturdy, so ride normally with both hands on the bars. It takes a lot of concentration and constant adjustments to stay balanced. Afterward I still feel I got a sufficient workout for my style of riding, and feel rejuvenized (and happy for being on the bike!). I have more confidence after learning them. I feel I am a more complete cyclist too. I really don't enjoy indoor cycling, but I do enjoy the rollers more than the stationary trainer now that I'm used to them. They enhance the experience of being indoors on a bike. I am definitely doing more than pedaling, and that is a good feeling. I feel more of a sense of accomplishment from them.

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  35. I don't know if you would consider this odd V, but sometimes I watch J's riding videos on http://nodirectionknown.com/blog/ while I pedal on my lifecycle when I can't ride outside. She has several videos with nice scenery.

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  36. Wow, thanks! Did not know about her blog before.

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  37. Sometimes it is good to live in Texas and remain ignorant about such things. I first saw a trainer in action last weekend. I think one of the students from Illinois brought it along with him.

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  38. "and I now feel that my body "needs" strenuous exercise"

    I know exactly what you mean! Except in my case I've always been that way (I'm the kid that was doing sit-ups in front of the TV while watching Saturday morning cartoons...). I get achy and then irritable if I don't get sufficient exercise everyday. My husband is the complete opposite and is beginning to adopt his Dad's motto of "whenever I feel the urge to exercise, I lay down until it goes away".

    Have fun with that trainer! At least it may help keep stir crazies at bay.

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  39. Years ago my ex bought us a very expensive exercise bike thing, like you get in a fancy gym. God, how I hated and loathed that thing. The boredom was mind-numbing. I used to tape my favorite tv show and save it just to watch while I rode, and I still felt like I was going to develop a serious twitch from sheer mental understimulation. I don't think I'd particularly enjoy a trainer, either. I think it would make me not like cycling. Of course, I'm not in the middle of the snow right now, either.

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  40. snarkypup - It's possible that having expected the worst, I was bound to experience a pleasant surprise. But whatever the reason, the trainer is not nearly as bad as I feared on the boredom scale. If I watch a movie, I forget the trainer entirely and am only aware of the movie. Oh and I say this as someone who cannot stand those cycling machines at the gym. Of course, YMMV.

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  41. rollers are awesome. its scary and challenging - like relearning to ride a bike. it also teaches you the nuances of cadence/balance/effort from a totally different perspective.

    eventually its easy to watch TV/Movies while rolling because its easier to roll on rollers when you're focusing ahead and maintaing balance and cadence through feel.

    doing things like removing a water bottle and drinking and riding no handed takes practice but its those little challenges that are fun.

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  42. Didn't your trainer come with a block for the front wheel, to make the bike level?

    red

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  43. Hope your time on the trainer doesn't turn into a "Gerbil on the exercise wheel" kind of routine.
    Cycling outdoors is more fun most of the time. But then not everyone can live in San Diego.

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  44. ^ Anon: it does not come in the box. We were initially not going to get one, then decided to get one after all, and then reverted to thinking of perhaps not getting it. It's probably a personal preference kind of thing. For the upright trainer, it does not appear to be strictly necessary.

    If we had the Rock & Roll trainer, we'd probably get the swivel block, though. It's advertised to give a more realistic steering feedback when leaning.

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  45. Congrats on the trainer; that will make this ridiculous winter a little more interesting.

    I caved last year and got floating rollers. They are great and not too tricky once you get used to them. Highly recommended for inside-but-not-training in the depths of winter.

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  46. Your saddle will let you know whether you need the block. You can also use a phone book or something of similar thickness, since all the block does is level the bike.

    Have fun!

    red

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  47. Anybody know of a similar product from a European manufacturer - like Tacx, e.g.? This trainer here looks pretty robust to me, but I won't be in the U.S. for the next two years.

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  48. What? TV? Movies? Where is the suffering!!!??? You need one of our videos. Or maybe two. Drop me a line at david@thesufferfest.com and I'll set you up with a couple of copies - and maybe a few for your readers! Cheers, David, TheSufferfest.com

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  49. Sufferfest is definitely a great way to kill the boredom! I checked them out last week.I have a blu ray player that allows me to watch youtube videos, so i watched whatever Sufferfest vids were available. Another thing that i did was type in Vuelta Espana and clicked on "watch continuous" and i am able to get through well over an hour with clips from various stages and years of that race. Cool old skool stuff

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  50. I have ridden a trainer for years and though it is not the same, it is not sitting on the couch. It keeps me sane. I use a laptop with headphones so I can hear the show I am watching. I got an "extension" cord for my headphones so I can sit up and have more freedom of movement. H has also ridden a trainer for years, especially during his peak cycling years. When we are both going it gets rather loud in the house. :)

    I haven't read all the comments, so if this is repetitive, sorry...elevating the front tire helps a lot ~ they sell stands specifically for the purpose. Or you can use an old school big fat phonebook.

    Happy riding and may Spring come quickly!!

    Some posts:
    here
    here
    here

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  51. For the last two winters, I have ridden on a trainer and I am the last person to ever be described as fit. I strap my little granny bike into my secondhand trainer and pedal.

    For me, riding on a trainer gets me riding and keeps me sane until its warm enough for me to ride outdoors. I have asthma so it has to be decently warm for me to ride outdoors without dying. I watch movies, listen to music and I've even been known to prop a book up on my handlebars and read.

    I do find that not having to balance means I use less of my core muscles but I also have the advantage of being able to swing my arms, reach up and do other movements to help strengthen and use different muscles.

    Riding on the trainer is not nearly as much fun as riding outdoors but its something.

    Oh, and I stick a phonebook under the front wheel too to keep from putting too much weight on my hands.

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  52. You say, "I would describe the set-up process as somewhat tricky." I am considering getting a trainer, but I have extremely limited space and would have to pull it out and set it up every time I use it. Would that be insane and prevent me from using it?

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