I’m lucky here in Australia to be able to ride outdoors year-round, but each summer I’m reminded that the main winter sport for my cousins from the Northern Hemisphere is not cyclocross or snow-shoeing, but the solitary abuse of the home trainer in their lonely basements, garages and – for those lucky enough to live in London – bedrooms. So it’s odd that home trainer riding – the most painful and perverse part of most cyclists’ training regimes – should go so neglected by cycling media and commentary, as well as by riders themselves… Why it’s not a sport of the Winter Olympics, for example, mystifies me.
When the weather’s bad, or when you have some specific workout to do, the home trainer becomes your second bike, and if you’re going to be dedicating that much time and suffering to it, why not get yourself a good one?
This year I’m lucky. JetBlack Products – a home-grown Australian bicycle products supplier and manufacturer – are sponsoring the Subaru-MarathonMTB.com team, so in addition to the beautiful Valor Wheels I’ve had on my bike for the last six months, I’ve finally got my hands on a direct drive trainer that makes indoor cycling, if not a pleasure, somewhat less of a pain. And Sydney seems to have had me in mind when, the day after the JetBlack Whisperdrive‘s arrival, a huge low pressure system lumbered up and squatted over the city, dropping a month’s worth of rain on my town in about 24 hours. Here’s my first impressions of a ride that took me nowhere.
First of all the Whisperdrive is pretty easy to set up, but not so much as your typical fluid mag trainer. To explain, if you’re setting up the Whisperdrive, it helps to know what a freehub body is.
You’ll also need a spare cassette for the kind of bike you’ll be using most on the trainer. The Whisperdrive ships with a standard Shimano/SRAM freehub body, so if you’re running Campag or a XX1 setup, you’ll need to buy the appropriate freehub or driver and install it. I have no doubt that if purchasing the Whisperdrive from a shop they’ll help you sort all of this out without any problem whatsoever.
So, once Mike had finished putting on a spare road cassette (from my training wheels, seeing I’ve had race wheels on my road bike since my last race) and put the right spacer on the quick release, we were ready to go. All in all, it took a few minutes to set up, and although we were using our roadies this day, it would take just as little time to put on either of my mountain bikes, including my duallie, which runs a 12×142.
Thru Axle 12×142 compatible
The Whisperdrive is perfect for mountain bikers like the Subaru-MarathonMTB.com team because it is the only direct drive trainer currently on the market that will take a Thru Axle 12×142 – exactly what we’re running in the dual-suspension Bianchi Methanol FS bikes, along with Shimano 1×11. The upshot is that we can take this trainer to any race and get a the perfect warmup, then just throw the back wheel in when we’re finished and off we go. No stress and no fuss.
The Whisperdrive is of course also compatible with QR135mm, and QR130mm.
The trainer has a remote dial that attaches easily to the handlebars with seven different resistance levels, which JetBlack say go up to 1200 watts – more than enough for me! The resistance dial had me in new territory: I’ve been used to a fluid mag trainer, where resistance increases the harder you pedal, so I’ve always simply managed my efforts by changing gears.
The first thing to notice is that the Whisperdrive lives up to its name – the thing is incredibly quiet, so much so that I was tempted to carry it upstairs and set myself up in front of the TV. The reason so many home trainers are relegated to the garage is not, as you might think, because they’re dirty or take up space. It’s because nobody who lives with a cyclist can tolerate the apocalyptic rumbling of a threshold effort on wooden floorboards.
In my household at least, there’s hope the Whisperdrive will get me out of the man cave and into the loungeroom.
My first training session seemed pretty well-designed to take the Whisperdrive through its paces.
First up were some single leg drills. I’ve done these many times on my fluid mag trainer and found that the elastomer roller would occasionally stall as my leg moved through the dead spot and into another pedal stroke (i.e. from nil power to most power), causing the tyre to slip. The pedal stroke needs some work, it’s true, but there’s absolutely no such problem on the direct drive system, and my pedalling felt smoother and the drills more effective as a result.
Next came some high-cadence sprints (look out 150rpm!) and the machine itself was rock solid, no matter how much I bounced and thrashed around. Sprint efforts at high resistance, or those that generate a lot of movement like my low-resistance intervals are very difficult on a traditional trainer, particularly if you’re out of the saddle – the tyre can slip if you apply much power. The general stability of the Whisperdrive is vastly superior and it means that, for the first time, sprints can become viable part of my indoor training regimen. Woot.
The main part of my training set today were a series of threshold efforts. I quickly worked out how to manage resistance using the bar-mounted dial by combining some quick dialling with gear changes. I did the whole session in my small chainring, and flicked through four or five of my easiest cogs on the back while clicking the resistance setting from about 6 during an interval, to 3 for recovery. Whenever I needed to put in a bit more effort or alter my cadence to find a comfortable rhythm I could make very fine tweaks with the resistance dial – a much smoother workout compared with my old trainer, where the only way to change resistance was to jump to another gear.
This worked extremely well and for once I was spared the mindbending changes in resistance that occur in fluid trainers as the fluid warms up. Your world shrinks to the size of a pinhead during intervals, and there’s nothing more demoralising in this tiny nightmare realm than change: doing three efforts at a very comfortable cadence but having to lift that cadence on the fourth – or click down a gear and reduce it – because your trainer’s resistance is plummeting as the session progresses. I felt very lucky to be spared today.
Another quick advantage of the direct drive Whisperdrive is the real-road feel. From a long ‘freewheel’ effect that gives you guiltless recovery (‘it’s just like I’m descending’) to the fact that the bike is a natural height off the ground (‘how nice not to feel like I’m mounting a horse when I get on’). There’s no front wheel chock for the Whisperdrive because your bike is level, and the front end of the bike feels much more natural when it’s not locked straight in one place. Overall, the ride on the Whisperdrive is realistic and more enjoyable than the ride on my old fluid mag.
JetBlack Cycling App
You’re granted free access to the JetBlack Cycling App when you buy a Whisperdrive, and far from many of the empty ‘value-add’ apps that are little more than marketing props we see so often in all industries, this app really does have something to offer.
It’s a well-thought-out menu of workouts that you can pair (via ANT+ or Bluetooth LE – check compatibility first) with your heartrate monitor, cadence and speed sensors, and even your power meter to give live feedback on your ride. The app on my Samsung S4 paired easily with my Quarq powermeter and my Magellan heartrate monitor: a thrilling and rare triumph of woman over technology. There are sensible recovery and fitness tests, fitness tracker, and accurate and correct heartrate and power zone calculations. You’re regaled with some highly motivational music and commentary during your workouts, which, best of all, have names like ‘Anaerobic Madness’, ‘Reaching the Peak’, and my personal favourite: ‘Tempo Glory’. Who could resist.
The app is available free with many JetBlack home trainers and for purchase for Android and iPhone from their respective stores.
Get yourself a good home trainer and ride out the bad weather and anaerobic efforts in style.