We’ve sold a lot of Blackburn trainers over the years, and we thought we knew the low-down on trainer performance, no matter what the brand is. It turns out, everything we thought we knew is wrong. Well not wrong, exactly, but things aren’t quite what they seem. According to Blackburn engineers Michael J. McColligan and Niko A. Henderson, trainers are a little more complicated than just, “Buy the most expensive trainer you can for the most realistic road feel possible.”
It turns out that there is no such thing as an accurate or “realistic” resistance curve, at least not how we think of it. Resistance you encounter on the road is affected by many, constantly changing variables—hills, cross-winds, cornering are a few, and when you factor in the different aerodynamic resistance riders encounter based on their frontal area, it makes sense that one trainer can’t possibly provide a truly accurate “real-world” riding experience. The best that engineers can do is to attempt to create a resistance profile that matches the average rider under average riding conditions. That doesn’t mean that trainers are a hoax, however, in fact, just the opposite is true. By matching the different trainers characteristics to riding styles, we can fine-tune our training regimens to our specific needs.
If you’ve been reading this far, here comes the pay-off. Both fluid and magnetic trainers can provide a “realistic riding experience,” you just have to identify your experience. If you mostly ride flat roads at a higher speed/cadence, especially in a pack—which translates to a more constant speed with few accelerations/decelerations, then the relatively linear resistance-curve of a magnetic trainer will provide a feel close to your real rides. This is because magnetic-resistance trainers tend to be more accurate in the lower end of their resistance-curve. Conversely, if your riding is filled with climbs, intervals, and head winds, then a fluid-resistance trainer will feel more like the real thing to you. Fluid units tend to be more accurate in the middle of their resistance-curve. McColligan and Henderson’s extensive testing found that “fluid-resistance units generally model middle- and (to some extent) high-end power output more accurately, and are more responsive to changes in rider input. Magnetic units are generally more accurate at the lower-end of the resistance curve, and tend to be more responsive to relatively small changes in rider input.”
Hopefully that helps you decide on which trainer is best for you. All trainers have their distinct resistance-curves, and some allow adjustability as well. It’s shaping up to be a long, cold, wet or snowy winter, so invest in a trainer to keep your fitness up and you’ll be the lion roaring next March.