17th March 2018

Turbo Torture Chamber

Turbo Torture Chamber

Day 329 – 18th March 2018

Time to start training

Last week I officially signed up to do the Tour de Yorkshire on 6th May. Its long route is 80 miles mostly in the beautiful but hideously hilly Yorkshire Dales with around 8,000 feet of climbing. So it’s about time I got on with some training…

This winter has been pretty terrible in terms of weather for cycling. It has felt longer, wetter, colder and darker than any I can remember but maybe that’s because my 18 miles of commuting is longer than it has ever been. This means it’s been hard to commute let alone train outside.

When the beast from the east brought days upon days of March snow and freezing weather there was only one thing for it… create a Turbo Torture Chamber!

Turbo training fun

I’ve owned a cheap magnetic turbo trainer for about 8 years but I’m sad to say that prior to 2018 it’s been out of the box no more than 3 times and that has never gone particularly well. My last effort about 3 winters ago actually led to an exploding tyre and inner tube! I was stupidly not aware you were supposed to use different tyres for turbo training on a roller!

For those of you not familiar with turbo trainers, they are basically a machine which allows you to turn your normal bike in to a stationary exercise bike. They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and range from £50 magnetic roller trainers (like I have) up to £1,500 top of the range, direct drive/fluid, smart, power meter trainers.

Before this winter I’d never really seen the point of turbo—ing through the winter in some sweaty corner of your house/attic/garage/shed. I assumed it was just for the serious athletes and those that raced. Either that or weird people that would rather lock themselves indoors than be out in the fresh air and seeing/meeting other people.

When you have a cheap trainer, like mine, that sounds like a jet engine, feels nothing like riding on the road and you are relying on a speedo and an HRM (heart rate monitor) to monitor progress it is easy to get bored and frustrated very quickly. The whole idea of training through the winter indoors to benefit fitness and spring/summer cycling has often been a flash in the pan ambition for me but the reality has fast become dull and I’ve ultimately failed those other three winters.

When the snow started coming I knew I was going to lose at least a week of being out on the road and that’s when I set up my TURBO TORTURE CHAMBER (TTC)! I call it this because no one in their right mind would purely do turbo training for fun, I don’t think so anyway. Turbo training is about serious fitness building and getting some decent miles in when the weather turns against you.

TTC Essentials

Any experienced turbo training cyclist will tell you that the number one essential to kit out your TTC is a massive fan!  Cycling hard is a sweaty exercise and on the road wind and air resistance minimise sweat, indoors this doesn’t exist.  If you try turbo training without a fan you will end up drowning in a swimming pool of your own sweat, not pleasant.

The second most important thing is entertainment, I generally use an iPad and stick a box set on or catch up on TV but I am now seriously thinking about getting a TV set up to go above the fan!  Turbo training is extremely boring so having something to take your mind off it is crucial.

The last essential I’m going to list is fuel… although this sounds obvious I always seem to need more fluid and energy when doing a turbo >30 minutes compared to an equivalent road ride.  So make sure you have gels, drinks, maybe a banana or energy bar if you are going to do an hour or more.

Time for an TT upgrade!

After a week on my own magnetic turbo where I managed 6 sessions (30-50 mins long) I managed to borrow a decent turbo from a good mate at work. Massive thanks to Greg Knell for lending me his Tacx Neo. This is one of those top of the range smart (meaning resistance controlled by software over Bluetooth), direct drive turbos. The thing itself looked epic but I was sceptical as to whether it could live up to its 4 figure price tag…

I could not have been more wrong! This thing was a joy to ride. It feels like you are riding a proper bike. The resistance makes you feel like you are actually climbing a hill and it can even mimic the feel of cobbles and cattle grates… both a painful joy to ride over when you are an overweight 90kg beast like myself. But the thing that makes it extra special is linking it up with some of the new turbo trainer software/games….

Training Gamification


I have to admit I never ever thought I’d be a zwifter! For those of you unfamiliar it is basically a virtual world of people riding turbo trainers around the world. Sounds crazy right! The thought of building an avatar and riding in groups or competitions or cycling round virtual London or Zwift’s original Watopia just sounds bizarre. But the beauty of Zwift is how well it’s been built and gamified to make turbo training a bit of fun.

I’ve had a few spins around London and up some volcano or other and I really enjoyed it. But I think where Zwift would get very interesting and competitive is riding with friends and challenging each other on the climbs and sprints. Pro cycling teams are actually using Zwift to scout for new talent and have recruited directly through Zwift competitions.


When my free trial with Zwift ended I shifted to TrainerRoad. TR is a more serious training tool. It has a massive suite of power and interval based workouts to choose from and is scientifically proven to improve your cycling if you stick to one of its dedicated training programmes.

I’ve chosen an 8 week power building plan which includes 5 rides per week and will take me all the way up to the Tour de Yorkshire.

Watt on earth is Power?!

To get going on TR I needed to establish my current level of fitness which would help tailor my training workouts. This assessment is done via an FTP test, FTP is functional threshold power. I had heard a lot about power in cycling but never fully understood it. After reading up a little I think I’m starting to get it.

I did a 20 minute FTP test, which takes an hour, 2 weeks ago. After a warm up you have to go as hard as you can for 20 mins. My first test came out as 220 watts. I had no idea what this meant and if it was any good. It doesn’t really matter but I had to check it out. Apparently in cycling the strength of a cyclist is measured in watts per kilo, because I’m heavy mine was around 2.5w/kg, I was still none the wiser. Anyway, it turns out that 2.5 is in the range for the lowest level of amateur cycling.

After a couple of weeks of turbo training I tried another test, the 8 minute FTP version, which also strangely takes one hour.  My power had increased to 233 watts, a 6% increase which I was pleased with.

Pros of Turbo Training

  • SAFE – it’s quite difficult to have an accident but not impossible…
  • Weather resistant
  • Structured training
  • Entertainment – TV/films/music

Cons of Turbo Training

  • No scenery
  • No friends (unless you can crack Zwift)
  • Most turbos don’t simulate real cycling
  • Very easy to get bored


Before February 2018 if you had asked me about turbo training I would have said it’s the most boring, frustrating, unnatural thing you could do with a bike.  Within 3 weeks I’m completely converted; not to the point that I want to stay in the garage instead of going out on the roads on a beautiful day.  But I have managed to do 4-6 turbo training session per week and have managed multiple 60+ minute sessions.  I love TrainerRoad and would probably use Zwift if it wasn’t quite as expensive.

So turbo training critic (such as my dad) I challenge you to give it a proper go one winter.  If you put a bit of time and effort in to building a decent turbo torture chamber it can actually be quite fun and very rewarding training.  Anyone agree or am I mad…?


  • Dave Murtagh says:

    Good read Dan and your spot on with your description of the magnetic trainer which I used many years ago and felt like comiting suicide during every session. Keep it up.

    • Dan Whitlam says:

      Thanks Dave. Hope you are well mate. There is no way I’m going back to that old turbo. It truly feels like torture. I managed 2 hours on the smart trainer this morning and it was actually quite pleasant

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