In the early days of indoor trainers, being on a turbo for more than 90 minutes was a badge of honor; sessions lasting multiple hours were not normal (in more ways than one!). However with the advent of smart trainers and e-game functionality, suddenly people are spending longer and longer riding indoors and in some cases only training indoors.
The convenience of a turbo trainer almost always means more quality training. Without having to worry about weather or daylight constraints, riders have more time available to train—and sessions can be executed in the way prescribed without the interruption of traffic, lights, hills or other causes for a pause in intervals. The other benefits of riding on a trainer include the capacity for non-stop pedaling, the opportunity to hold race position, the chance to work the whole pedal stroke, and even heat tolerance training. “If you want to be strong on the bike: ride hills and ride the trainer” is an axiom many coaches live by.
Unfortunately, however, the convenience of the trainer means that more people are avoiding outdoor rides altogether and choosing to sweat it out indoors. Physiologically, as long as every ride doesn’t become a competition with others around you, there is no issue with this approach; but when you choose to take your workouts back outside, you may run into problems.
Riders sometimes find themselves only heading outdoors in the race season, having hibernated indoors and not honed the necessary skills to ride their bike at the speeds their new improved power gives them. Simple skills like holding their line can be lost, along with quality cornering skills and the ability to descend at speed.
If you think handling skills are only important in group ride or peloton scenarios, think again. Daniela Ryf took minutes out of rivals in the descent in the Ironman World Championships in Nice this year. That win had something to do with her peak power outputs, her time to exhaustion and interval work—but was made possible by her ability to handle a bike.
For those of you racing in the shorter, draft-legal events, bike handling skills will not only mean easier, faster bike splits but rested legs for the run. Either you will be able to stay with the pack, or you will be able to chuck athletes who don’t have the skills out the back of the peloton. Your bike skills can be the difference in your run time, not your bike power.
By all means, spend your time on your turbo this winter, but do not fall into the trap of neglecting your bike handling skills altogether by only training indoors. All the power in the world won’t help if you can’t corner, brake going downhill, or do a dead turn. Aside from the odd person falling off their turbo trainer or struggling on rollers and ending up on the floor, the lack of handling skills is the big danger we face if we choose to continue this trend of riding more time indoors than out. Balance is key.
Philip Hatzis is the founder and head coach of Tri Training Harder, a UK based coaching company with a base in Portugal. This article originally appeared on Trainingpeaks.com.