My Smart Trainer Story

My Smart Trainer Story

"With social distancing in place and many restrictions on activities outside the home, the long leisurely bike rides seem more out of reach. Group rides (which I much prefer for long distances, for both safety and company) are off the table."

Living in a northern climate, spring is usually the time of year when local triathletes happily move outside for long runs and rides. Over the winter many of us continue to run outside, but biking is more difficult. Fat biking and mountain biking are good options, but they can’t replace the long rides.

For this reason, many of the triathletes I know use trainers over the winter months and beyond, and more and more are moving to smart trainers. I saw more Zwift rides on Strava this year than ever before.

I will admit that I have been skeptical of indoor training for both running and biking. I hate treadmills and will instead run outside in almost any weather. For biking I have made every effort to get outside over the winter months (thank you studded tires and fat bike rentals), always knowing that April and snow-less roads were not far away. I love group runs & rides and getting out with friends to explore. I have proudly said that I would never use a smart trainer or programs like Zwift, because I prefer the outdoors and the company of real people. Instead of a trainer I chose to invest my training budget in all-weather cycling and running gear.

Keep in mind that I’m also not a strong biker. I bike for fun – numbers (watts, cadence, etc) provided by a smart trainer seemed a waste to me. My goal in the bike portion of any triathlon is basically to finish without a flat tire.

Well, enter spring 2020. With social distancing in place and many restrictions on activities outside the home, the long leisurely bike rides seem more out of reach. Group rides (which I much prefer for long distances, for both safety and company) are off the table. If I have a mechanical issue that I can’t resolve (which is all of them), and I’m far from home, no one will be able to come get me without breaking social isolation/distancing rules. Also, in some areas, going more than a few kilometers from your house is forbidden.

So, wanting to get on my tri bike and extend my rides beyond the comfy loops near my house, I gave in and joined the dark side (a.k.a. – bought a smart trainer). Here is my experience to date.

Stage One: Rationalization

I basically laid that out above. I had no desire for a smart trainer, nor any jealousy of Zwift or other group riding platforms, until mid-March 2020, when I started seeing virtual group rides going ahead on these platforms when they could not go on anywhere else. FOMO was kicking in. The pandemic made me do it.

Stage Two: Financial Rationalization

I am extremely lucky and am still employed and able to work from home. But I did not budget for a smart trainer. They are not cheap. However, I had some travel planned (and budgeted for) that was cancelled. This freed up some spending money and a very unexpected, very generous and very early birthday gift (my birthday is in July) bridged the gap.


Tri Sirena Reflective Triathlon Gear


Stage Three: Research

Stage three took a day and consisted of me messaging our amazing local bike shops to see what they had and the prices, and then google research on the most affordable options. What won out in the end: a wireless trainer. I don’t have a dedicated pain cave, and I have several children who like to trip over things, so being able to move the trainer around with minimal pain and suffering – and even ride outside on the deck or in the yard - seems like the best option.

Stage Four: Pick up and Set up

With the social distancing restrictions in place, I could not go to the bike shops to chat and browse (alas, one of my favourite things) or to get in-person tutorials on the trainers. Instead I had a very helpful bike shop owner answer my numerous questions on my “chosen” trainer over messenger and arrange payment and pickup within social distancing rules. Once I got it home, I had to set it up myself, since my partner (and resident bike fixer) is in law enforcement and away for 5-7 day stretches for pandemic response. So – thanks to YouTube – I think (hope?) I have my bike on correctly.

Stage Five: Virtual Riding

I did it – I signed up for Zwift. And it is FUN! Completed Ironman VR2 40km ride as one of my first official Zwift rides. With people (well, avatars). Loved it. The lack of steering freaked me out – I kept thinking I was going to knock others off their bikes – but I’m still learning.

Stage Six: Acceptance

I am officially a fan. The day after I set up the trainer there was a mid-April snow storm. But I could still ride my tri bike! I took this as a sign from mother nature that I had made the right decision. We are all adapting to new realities, and I am lucky enough to have access to this new-to-me training option.

Stage Seven: Lessons Learned

Training inside can be fun, and a great way to virtually connect with other triathletes. And the power and cadence readings? I never missed them before, but having all this information is new to me and is proving to be really interesting. I may actually even improve on the bike.

Verdict: The smart trainer is officially a good social isolation coping mechanism. And it is so, so, so much better than puzzles.

(But despite the smart trainer success I can assure you that I’m not fully converted to indoor training – I vow to continue to hate treadmills.)

Anyone want to set up a Zwift group ride? Just send me a message 😊


Written By: Erin Toole, Tri Sirena Siren Luminary
Follow Erin on Instagram @erin.em.tee

How are you and your family coping with the world pandemic right now? Let us know in the comments below!

This blog was created for informational purposes only. It's content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website or online.

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