Tricks of the Trade for CompuTrainer Rides

By this time of the season, most of you are probably thinking, “I don’t want to do another CompuTrainer workout”. Unfortunately, the reality is that we have at least another month and quite possibly two during which most of us will be relegated to riding indoors or not at all. Over the years, we have had lots of questions about why things are the way they are during indoor rides, and oftentimes the answer is something simple that has just slipped through the cracks. Other questions persist because certain elements of CompuTrainer function are counterintuitive to normal riding. Our objective here is to bring those items out in the open so that everyone can get the most of their indoor workouts. First, I offer a few points of background information simply to establish context. There are essentially five options you have when riding a VQ CompuTrainer, two manual modes and three connected to the computer. The two manual modes are PROGRAM and ERGO modes. Computer-controlled workouts include Courses, Multi-rider Workouts and ERG Videos. A brief description of each follows:

  • PROGRAM: variable resistance settings that can also be controlled with rider gearing
  • ERGO: programmable, constant resistance regardless of gearing or pedaling cadence
  • Courses: outdoor road ride simulations, anything you can do outdoors you can do here
  • Multi-rider Workouts: ERGO-style resistance built into a programmed workout
  • ERG Videos: Multi-rider Workouts connected or running alongside video display

Another important point that everyone understands is that the CompuTrainer has to be calibrated each time you ride to ensure that the power numbers you see on the screen are accurate. Being on time for workouts is important because effective calibration requires at least 10 minutes for the system to stabilize. As you begin riding, the rubber of the tire and tube, the air inside the tube and all of the internal mechanical components of the load generator heat up. If you have ever jumped on the bike and calibrated right away and then recalibrated after a few minutes, you may have noticed the drop in calibration value. This drop results from the change in temperature of all the components, however these changes have stabilized after 10 minutes of riding in most cases. As noted above, the gearing of the bike does not affect power output in ERGO mode or its variants, Multi-rider and ERG Video. The reason behind the often cited “53x19” gearing is twofold. First, the function of ERGO mode is such that speed is a combination of gearing and cadence. We have established that, in this gear, a given speed equates with a given cadence, so riders without cadence meters on their bikes still have cadence reference points. Second, at normal pedaling cadences of 85-95 rpms, this gear will generate enough wheel speed to effectively cool the load generator. You may ask, “won’t a bigger gear result in even more speed and better cooling?” Actually, when the wheel speed becomes too high, we tend to see a decay in accuracy of power. So you are better off sticking to the 18-22 mph range for the most part. With these givens in mind, here are some responses to common mistakes we see as well as tricks to make challenging workouts a little easier:

  • Be sure to push “SET” (F3) after calibration. Even if you’ve spun your wheel up and found a calibration number between 2.0 and 3.0, you’re not actually calibrated until you push SET.
  • When doing SE work, the drop in cadence results in a drop in wheel speed. Shift to a harder gear in order to keep wheel speed in the appropriate range at low cadence.
  • Under high loads, such as during VO2 intervals and sprints in ERG Videos, the sudden change in resistance can result in “bogging down”. To avoid this, anticipate changes by increasing your cadence so that when the load comes on, you only bog down into a normal cadence.
  • If the above problem is persistent and you are not able to increase cadence, take an opportunity when load is low to shift to a harder gear. Although this is counterintuitive, it will result in higher wheel speed for a given cadence and allow you to roll through segments of high tension more easily.
  • Adjust your resistance with caution. Not all workouts are a perfect fit for every person. You may have an energy system that is stronger or weaker than the “norm” that the workout was built around. If you are struggling to complete efforts, don’t be ashamed to drop the power to a level that allows you to complete each effort. If you feel the workout is too easy, feel free to increase the power. However, a good rule of thumb is to never increase it if you will have to decrease it later. Give yourself some time to see how you respond to a set of intervals before increasing the load prematurely.