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I’d never understood the need for a turbo trainer. All my training had always been riding to work as fast as I could, whatever the weather, and my pre-race warm ups were simply riding to the start line. It seemed to work quite well for me, even last season, despite watching most of my contemporaries spinning away in the sign-on car park working up a sweat and getting ‘in the zone’. Why did I need to spend my days sitting staring into space when I could be actually riding my bike watching the real world go by?

Then I went to the Duo Normand. Given the hundreds of spectators wandering around the small village that the start/finish line was in, not to mention the associated traffic and crazy French parking, riding around the nearby lanes (and no doubt getting horribly lost in the process) wasn’t an option. So I borrowed a turbo trainer from a mate and we set up team HQ in the car park of the village veterinary clinic. Although I didn’t have a planned warm up (I’d never used a turbo before so just sat there spinning my legs trying to look as if I knew what I was doing), the benefit of such a contraption for a even a simple session to get the muscles going dawned on me, as did the potential as a training aid.

After my endurance-based training for my LEJOG ride in 2014, I tried to stick to my pledge of ‘quality over quantity’ last year and waste less energy and time churning out junk miles. Despite the fewer miles, I still finished the year feeling pretty jaded and with a less than impressed wife (although my son has now stopped thinking I’m a professional cyclist), so I thought that a turbo would help me further condense my training without the need to spend hours grinding it out in miserable weather all winter and serious money on flowers for the Mrs – win-win! So I popped down to my LBS to see what they had in stock, and not ten minutes later I was the proud-ish owner of a “I’ll give you a great deal because it’s ex display” ready-assembled Tacx Bushido Smart.

With nothing much in the box except the motor unit and a front wheel stand, all I had to do was attached the flat ended axle to my rear wheel and download the free Tacx app onto my iPad and away I’d go – or so I thought. No matter how hard I tried to pair the Bushido with the iPad app, it just wouldn’t connect. It turns out that the version of Bluetooth that the Bushido uses is a different version of Bluetooth that my iPad 2 uses, so I had to pop back to my LBS and buy an Ant+ dongle for another £40. A bit annoying. Anyway, dongle duly inserted, and it immediately paired via the app. Fortunately, connecting to my Garmin 510 was a doddle as it speaks Ant+, and whilst I’m still using my existing speed and cadence sensors to record those metrics, it was simply a case of searching for a power meter whilst pedalling on the Bushido and it connected up in seconds.

As the Bushido is a fluid trainer, the resistance automatically adjusts depending on the ‘slope’ you programme into it and as well as how hard you pedal, so the next thing was to try and calibrate the resistance on the motor unit. It seemed straight forward enough using the calibration option in the app, but I found that it resulted in such impossibly hard resistance that the only time I could turn the pedals was when my back wheel slipped on the motor unit fly wheel. A bit of googling later, it seems that this is a common problem with the Bushido and the accepted fix/bodge is to simply unscrew the resistance dial a full turn once it’s calibrated. Not really what you’d expect for a £300+ turbo, but it seems to have solved the problem.

Once finally all set up, it was relatively straightforward to control the Bushido using the iPad app. There are a number of pre-installed workouts that target various things like resistance, power, heart rate, as well as a short demonstration video of a real world ride. The videos are quite good fun, and the motor unit automatically adjusts the resistance depending on whether you’re ‘riding’ on the flat, up or down hill, and there’s a selection of various famous mountains, grand tour stages or classics race routes to buy. Again, a bit annoying that these cost £8.50 a pop to download as I would have thought they’d be a few thrown in for free for such an expensive bit of kit.

So I loaded up one the pre-programmed workouts and off I went (virtually speaking), spinning away in the garage staring out the window, watching the unsuspecting cat go about his business in a flower bed. Ten minutes later, not only had the cat long since wandered off in search of food, but I was mind numbingly bored and dripping in sweat. I must admit, living on a wind swept little rock in the middle of the English Channel I’ve always cursed the inevitable head wind you get when out on two wheels, but it does do a fantastic job of keeping you from overheating. So I requisitioned an old table top fan from the study, grabbed a towel, and uploaded a few techno beats onto my phone before heading back to the garage to finish my session, sweating marginally less than I was before.

I suspect it was probably me being a noob, but it took a while to get used to the automated  adjustment and just flicking through the gears to increase or decrease the resistance as well as the more rigid position of the bike when sprinting out of the saddle (bad form I know, but I’ve always tended to rock the bike from side to side quite a bit when doing so). Once I’d conquered that though, I can’t say I’ve encountered any problems. I did experience some wheel slippage when my tyre pressure was c.80psi and I was heading up a particularly (virtually) steep hill, but it does everything I need it to as well as having the added bonus of telling me exactly how much power I’m producing. The app displays all the data you’ll ever need (with the exception of heart rate – but half the time I probably don’t want to see that either), and the speed and cadence recorded by the motor unit are pretty much bang on with what my Garmin records from the existing sensors.

I haven’t bothered buying any videos yet, although the demo one does look quite good fun – they’re actual films that move in relation to the speed you’re riding at rather than the virtual reality ones you get on Zwift and other such platforms, and one of the classics routes does appeal to me (although I suspect that it may lose something in translation unless the motor unit can simulate riding over cobbles!). That said, I did look into Zwift as there was an offer of 3 months free usage for Strava Premium members, but apparently there isn’t an iPad app available yet (please feel free to correct me if I’m wrong!) and, as I’ve been banished to the garage to save ruining the study carpet, I haven’t bothered to try connecting everything up with my Mac.

So, is that me all set for 2016? Well, no. After a couple of sessions it quickly became apparent that far from improving the quality of my training, I was simply using the Bushido as a means of replicating my outside rides inside, which wasn’t really what I was hoping for. To be honest, I haven’t got the time to sit there and devise a proper training plan for the winter, so in order to get the best out of it (and me) the next thing on my shopping list had to be a professional coach. Nobody ever said going fast was cheap!