How Not to Warm up on a Turbo

For several years, I’ve had a turbo trainer quietly rusting away in the garage / shed. It’s one of those things that as a cyclist you feel you ought to buy – even if you’re not quite sure of the point. (I mean everyone spends hours on the turbo during winter don’t they? )


It’s a bit like shaving the legs, you can’t consider yourself a real cyclist unless you whip out the razor – even if the reasons for silky smooth legs are as unconvincing as strapping yourself to a glorified hamster wheel.

I’ve always felt a bit guilty for warming up for hill climbs by just riding aimlessly around in circles by the start. Everyone else seems to warm up on a turbo, looking very professional and knocking out some scientific warm up routine. It’s strange, I guess I’m quite good at hill climbs, but I always assume everyone else knows what they are doing much more than me.

Anyway, I was warming for a race recently, when I felt I really ought to get out that old rusty turbo and at least look like a proper cyclist – Logically, warming up on a turbo  must be better than going up and down some road, hoping I don’t get lost (it did happen once) or puncturing 15 minutes before start. And anyway, everyone else seems to do it so they must be right.

The problem was that this 10 year old, barely used turbo really has seen a lot better days. For a start I couldn’t get it going. You fasten your bike to the skewers but the wheel stayed stubbornly two inches above the wheel. Even I could work out this wasn’t going to be a great warm up. Some kind soul took pity at my hopeless fiddling and offered to help with setting up turbo, but he didn’t realise what he had let himself in for. This wasn’t a standard working turbo, it was a rusty non-working variety. In desperation at a rapidly approaching start time, I had to take off the bike, and gave the turbo a good kick (see: confessions of an amateur bike mechanic. These rules can also be applied to turbos)

Well, the proverbial and physical kick did the turbo a world of good. I could now get on said turbo and start my super professional warm up. For the first two minutes – everything was fine. I wasn’t even dying of boredom like you usually do after five minutes on a turbo. But, my optimism was soon misplaced. Suddenly the turbo ceased to have any resistance, merely spinning effortlessly, then it became so much resistance it was stuck. Like this – on off – nothing in between like it was supposed to be.

So more taking off bike from turbo, unclipping and kicking said turbo. But, this time even the kick of desperation couldn’t alter the fact this was a lame duck turbo – resolutely refusing to help me warm up.

This was not good preparation; so far my main warm up for the race  was kicking a rusting metal frame. Even I know this is not the ideal way to prepare for a three minute uphill sprint. Furthermore, I looked in horror at my fairly expensive tubular which was now as smooth as a silk tie. 2 minutes use on a turbo had burnt off enough rubber to remove all markings on the tyre – I’m only surprised I didn’t smell the burning rubber. I guess, probably distracted by the weird noises. Good job I didn’t do a proper warm up on the turbo, I would be down to the inner tube.

By the time of all this messing around with turbo and changing wheels, I’d pretty much reached my start time anyway. So I left turbo in car park – kind of hoping someone would come along and steal it during the race. But, I had to get ready for race without any warmup.

Now, when I’m so disorganised that I have no time for a warm up, I always remember what an averagely good tester once told me  – ‘you don’t have to do a warm up for time trial, as long as you ride on power.’

This does sound suspiciously like nonsense. I’ve certainly not heard of any professional start a time trial without any warm up based on the theory that he was riding on ‘power’ (I mean how do you ride without power?) But, it is still a psychological crumb to hold onto when your warm up has gone pair shaped.

By the way, during my 20 minute kick around with my turbo I was enviously watching another chap warm up on his rollers. That looked perfect – no need to worry about burning through your expensive tyres. No need to worry about set up. Just unfold and well ride like a proper bicycle. It all seemed so easy. So that was it I’m going to buy a set of rollers, and all my warm up troubles will be over. Why spend £200 on an 85 gram saddle, when you spend the hour before your race kicking an antique turbo because it doesn’t work?

I think in 2009, I had a good turbo session where I did 7 hard intervals at 99% of max heart rate. But, apart from that all my experiences of turbos have been relatively bad.  I love Graeme Obree, he’s the greatest. But, I did feel a bit sheepish when he said in his training manual, the best training tip is to buy a really good turbo and use it to the exclusion of all else. I knew this was one training tip, I was never going to follow.

Anyway, I now have a set of rollers, so this warm up story is set to continue…

3 Responses to How Not to Warm up on a Turbo

  1. Jenson October 6, 2012 at 2:58 pm #

    I’m considering buying a turbo trainer for the winter, but I am worried I’ll get bored very quickly and it will end up rusting away unused in my garage! :-)

  2. pj October 3, 2012 at 6:37 pm #

    i sold my turbo earlier this year.

    haven’t regretted it for one second.

    • tejvan October 8, 2012 at 7:25 am #

      Well, we do cycle to enjoy it. :)

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