This is a product review of a super-portable bike trainer that really works. Its called an Omnium bike trainer. It folds up small, can fit in a carry-on bag (although you’ll probably want to check it), and can go just about anywhere. Mine has been around the globe and goes with me every time I take a bike. Here’s a quick review– and why you should get one soon.
Reason #1 to Get One: Your Pre-Race Warmup
A good warmup can make the difference between a good race and an awful race. As most races are early in the morning (usually the time of day when we are not yet used to going super-hard), a warmup also can’t be a last minute afterthought. I find that I really need to take my time with it. I may feel ready to go after 10-15 minutes of warming up but I know that my body really needs more to perform optimally in the morning. After all, if it’s a big race, I’ve trained too long and worked too hard for it all to go down the drain because I didn’t take a few extra minutes to properly warm up.
I believe that a good warmup should begin at least 30-45 minutes before you leave your hotel room. After you leave, of course, you can go set up in transition and get ready for your start. That’s the time to get in a quick jog for 15-20 minutes to get everything primed, restore muscle tension, and fine-tune your body for the demands you will be putting on it. But you should be already warmed up by that point. And to do that, you need to begin before you leave the hotel. And that is where a portable bike trainer really shines.
I usually set up my bike the night before. When I get up in my morning fog, I hop on the trainer and just pedal circles. At this point, watts don’t matter– I usually don’t crack over 50 watts. Slowly, as my body starts to wake up, I’ll raise the effort just a little into zone 2 but take breaks and go back into zone 1 whenever the mood strikes me. I’m not a morning person so it takes forever for me to get into the groove. After a bit more back-and-forth between zones, I’ll finally “wake up” and then keep it squarely in zone 2. If you don’t have a power meter, this is easy-moderate effort– the kind of effort most of us would use on a serious 80-mile ride. I try to shoot for at least 15 minutes in zone 2 with an occasional push to FTP for a minute or so. This kind of push isn’t intended as a workout, of course, but just a little spike to prime the different energy systems. Similarly, a few 10-second bursts (mini-sprints) are also a good idea. By the time I’m done, I’m fully awake and ready to go. Just a little bit of last-minute priming after setting up my transition spot and I should be ready to put down my best effort.
One other advantage to having the Omnium is that it doesn’t chew your tires apart like a typical magnetic trainer. These other kinds of trainers have a single narrow drum that you have to press against your rear tire. If you’ve ever put a bike into a Computrainer, for instance, you’ll know that the pressure needed for good resistance deforms your tire quite a bit. This wears out your tire pretty rapidly– particularly the thinner race tires that we use in races. The Omnium uses much wider drums and distributes the weight evenly between two of them. This equates to a lot less tire wear. This saves your money but also reduces your chances of flatting out on the bike course.
Reason #2 to Get One: Training in Weird Places
I’ll be the first to admit it: I’m a chicken when it comes to riding my bike in unfamiliar places. Maybe I got lost one too many times as a kid? Maybe I’ve had too many nightmares of getting lost in bad neighborhoods and being attacked? Or maybe (and sensibly) I just don’t like riding on unfamiliar roads without a guide.
Let’s face it. When you travel to unfamiliar places, venturing out on a bicycle can be a bit challenging. If you get lost, you may not know the language to ask for directions back to your hotel. Or that really popular bike route may have some unexpected stretches of bad roads or heavy traffic that you wouldn’t otherwise know about. Having your own bike trainer when you are traveling solves all of these problems. Instead of taking risks, just hop on your trainer and ride in the comfort of your hotel room. Problem solved!
Reason #3 to Get One: Hotel Bikes Suck
If you fly into a new city and stay at a new hotel, chances are that it will have a gym with an exercise bike. And chances are that that bike will suck. It may be a recumbent or have a really cushy seat. That may be perfect if you’re just getting started– but if you have put in a ton of cycling, it won’t be the bike for you. It also won’t have the right pedals, so you’ll have to ride in your running shoes– and all that pushing down will not be good for your quads before a race. Plus they often fill up before early morning races so you may not get one even if you wanted to use one. Save yourself the frustration and bring your own trainer.
Reason #4 to Get One: Best Customer Service in the World
Recently, I was getting ready for a business trip. I wouldn’t be able to run (long story) so instead I was bringing my bike and my Omnium trainer so I could work out in my hotel room. But I was going to be doing some hard interval efforts and my Omnium wouldn’t let me go above about 250 watts. So I contacted the company. Turns out that they sell a low-resistance track model– either mine had a defect or I was sent the track model by accident. They told me that they would send out a replacement roller set (called a “sled”)– I didn’t have to send mine back or jump through a bump of hoops to prove when I bought it. I explained that I was going out of town for my business trip and they sent it by Federal Express to my hotel so it would be waiting for me when I checked in!
To put this in perspective, the sled is about 80% of the trainer– the only part that it doesn’t include is the front fork mount. The Omnium is also a bulletproof trainer that is boxed carefully (this heavy packaging is probably more to protect things outside the box than what is inside the box). The air bill from Federal Express noted that it was 18 pounds. That estimate was probably a bit high but the package weight wasn’t insignificant. If you already own an Omnium (either a road or track version) but want both versions, SportCrafters will be happy to sell you a second sled for $199. All in all, their offer to send a replacement sled to my hotel by Federal Express was quite an amazing feat of customer service.
SportCrafters warranties their product pretty much forever. Short of running over it with a tank (or probably even if you did), they stand behind their product and will repair or replace it. But, as I mentioned, it’s solidly built and it’s unlikely you’ll ever need to take advantage of their warranty.
How To Use the Omnium Trainer
Using the Omnium Trainer is really simple and I’ve included pictures above that demonstrate the process. The picture at the top of this post shows the trainer all folded up. When you order yours, it will come out the box like this. Under the frame holding the silver rollers is the stand. First, you undo the quick release lever and unfold the trainer. Next, you pull out the two shiny silver tubes, flip them around, and screw them into two angled, recessed holes. Then you take off your front wheel and mount your front fork on the quick release that you opened to start this whole process and you’re ready to go. Well, there is one step that I didn’t show– you have to adjust the length of the trainer so that your rear wheel is evenly spaced between the two rollers. You do this by loosening the silver knob on the track under your downtime, pulling the sled shorter or longer as needed, and then retightening the silver knob. All in all, the process takes 3 minutes at most. So simple a caveman could do it.
While it looks precarious, it isn’t– the trainer is actually very stable. Also, while you might think that the rear wheel would easily roll off the narrow rollers on back, they won’t (provided that you are on relatively level ground). Really. I’ve done standing all out sprints– almost in an effort to make them slip– but they always stayed put on the rollers.
The rollers create quite a bit of resistance because they have tiny magnetic resistance units in them like a traditional magnetic trainer. In my hotel room, the trainer (not me) was easily able to create over 300 watts of resistance while I was in a moderate gear– I’m fully confident that it can create over 500 watts if I were pushing a bigger gear. Unless you’re a beast like Robert Förstemann, you shouldn’t have any trouble getting in a great workout on an Omnium.
Some reviews mention that the ride on the Omnium doesn’t replicate the road as well as a regular trainer. This is absolutely true– but the way that those other trainers typically simulate your momentum on the road is by using massively heavy flywheels. It also depends on what you mean by having a “road-like” feel. If you want to simulate riding on a level smooth road, you won’t get it on an Omnium trainer. But it does feel more like riding up a slight hill or into a mild headwind. I’ll admit that, if I walked into a cycling studio and had a choice between riding on a Kurt Kinetic Rock and Roll trainer and the Omnium, I’d probably opt for the Kinetic. But at 61 pounds, the Kinetic is never coming with me when I’m on the road. In fact, the Omnium trainer plus my bike, helmet, tools, shoes, floor pump, and bike bag all combined weigh only 58 pounds– and it has wheels to boot!
Use Case: My Business Trip to DC
My trip last week to Washington, DC was a perfect example of why the Omnium is a great trainer to have. While I appreciate having the Omnium most for warming up before races, I also use it on business trips. In an upcoming blog, I’ll write about how I travel with my bike but, for now, suffice it to say that I had a really hard business trip last week and, because of where I am in my training, I didn’t want to run and wanted to focus on my cycling.
On Tuesday, I drove from DC to State College, Pennsylvania and back (about 8 hours of driving). I got back to my hotel around 9:00 pm, ordered room service, and propped the door open so I could ride some hard one-minute intervals while my dinner was arriving. On another day, I managed to get out of my meetings early, so I rode down to Hains Point for a few hard six-minute intervals (it takes me six minutes to ride between the two stop signs on the lower half of Hains Point– I think it works out to a little bit more than 25 mph average). The other days had me working hard and busy through dinner, but I still managed a few half-hour zone 2 rides in my hotel room.
Apart from my one outdoor ride, my other three bike workouts while I was in DC wouldn’t have been possible without the Omnium trainer. When it was time to go, folding up the trainer took about a minute and packing my bike took about 15 minutes (I’m really fast at packing my bike as I’ve done it so many times).
If you’re interested in the Omnium trainer, you can get one by contacting them directly or by visiting their website at https://www.sportcrafters.com. They have a pretty big distribution network and you can also buy their products through some of the online bike retailers (e.g. Excel Sports).
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