Living in the Bay Area we are spared the usual indignities of winter—snow, slush, and freezing weather—and that allows us to cycle year-round. Unless you don’t abide rain. Our weather is so hospitable for riding that when it does rain we set aside the bike knowing that in a day or two it’ll be back to dry weather and we can ride again. In places such as the Pacific Northwest this isn’t an option—it rains so much that waiting for a dry day could take weeks. Climate change is making California even drier, so that’s even more riding days! That’s a good thing, right?
What if you want to bike but the weather outside is frightful? You could get some good raingear and head out into the storm. Even if you stay dry—more accurately, less wet—your bike is going to get soaked and require more maintenance to stay in running order. Braving the elements comes with the price of your time or a shop’s time to work on your bike. (Or you could do what I do, which is to let things rust and deal with it all later, later being when things stop working.)
The other option is to ride indoors—it could be a spin class or riding your own trainer. The obvious advantage of a trainer is that you can do it at home; the disadvantage is the upfront cost of the trainer, which these days can run in the thousands of dollars.
I have a long history—more accurately, an un-history—with stationary bike trainers. Way back in the day I had a Racermate. You probably have never heard of it. Racermate had the distinction of producing the first computerized stationary trainer back in the ‘90s, the Computrainer. But I didn’t have a Computrainer—I had a Racemate Windtrainer, which was their prior product, in the late ‘80s. This was one of the first, if not the first windtrainer. What made it so fantastic was that prior to the Racermate we rode rollers, which have very little resistance, and took skill to ride so that you didn’t fall off the rollers every five seconds. With the Racermate your fork was locked securely in a stand so no skill was required to stay upright. It had rotary fans driven by the rear wheel of your bike. As you went ‘faster’, the resistance increased proportional to wind speed and it felt like real life. Except it wasn’t. You didn’t even have a screen image you could stare at and fool yourself into thinking you were actually riding. Riding a trainer back in those days was a form of mental torture: it was brain cell destroying to ride on it for any length of time. I was bored no matter how many artificial carrots I dangled—“I’m getting stronger!”, “Wow, I’m not getting drenched outside!”, etc. Consequently I didn’t use it much except in desperation. Instead I got used to riding outside in the rain. Think about that: riding in the rain with all that entails—raingear, extra sweating, possibly getting soaked anyway, rusting bicycle, changing a flat in the rain—was more pleasurable than riding an indoor stationary bike. That’s how unpleasant it was.
Decades later in a moment of insanity I purchased another trainer, a Kurt Kinetic. The sales pitch was it was a fluid trainer—resistance blades moving in oil rather than air—and so was a lot less noisy, I’m not sure what I was thinking but whatever it was it soon dissipated when I mounted up my bike and tried to ride it: the same old feeling. It quickly got relegated to the storage room and has only been pulled out for rehabbing knee injuries. To this day I still prefer to ride in the rain. Unfortunately the enjoyment and satisfaction—if it can be called that—of doing my own bike maintenance has faded. So the extra bike maintenance induced by riding in the rain has become just another irksome task I prefer to postpone, hence rusting bikes.
The good news is that the world of trainers has evolved dramatically since the good old days. We now have ‘smart’ trainers along with Internet training websites. Smart trainers send data on speed and power to a training app site so that you move along a simulated route and you can race against other users. Conversely training sites can send resistance information to your trainer to simulate wind or ascending. (The Computrainer was the first stationary bike to do this however they didn’t innovate fast enough and got passed by the competition.)
Zwift is the app getting the most buzz but there are plenty of others including Rouvy, Trainerroad, Sufferfest, BKool, RGT. However the one that may finally get me indoors and prevent my bikes from turning into rust buckets is Fulgaz. My impressions of Fulgaz in the next post. To be continued…