It was the winter of 1987 and I was riding a “turbo trainer” in my dorm room which was in the basement. They could hear me 3 flights up. The noise didn’t bother people, from what I was told it just sounded like a vacuum cleaner. The bike trainers of that year kept the rear tire on and took the front tire off. The rear wheel spun a small smooth cylinder that was attached to a couple of “rat cage” fans that created the resistance.
I don’t remember when exactly, but it was after college that I got a set of Kreitler rollers. They had the medium-sized red drums and were a beast. You could get a good workout, but had to be mentally focused the whole time so you didn’t ride off and crash in your own living room. For some reason crashing in your own living room seems to bring its own heavy shame no matter the reason.
Fast forward to the early Covid days of 2020 and my wife bought me an indoor trainer from Aldi. Yes, Aldi. The supermarket. It was less than $50 and had magnetic resistance. That is a serious step up from rat cage fans. It was a lot quieter than those fans as well. I was really quite surprised overall with the quality of resistance and the noise level wasn’t bad.
The drawback was the dynamic of the magnetic resistance and the static bike. Combined it glued my butt to the seat. I do not know how to explain it, but it was almost impossible for me to ride out of the saddle. Shift to a bigger gear, smaller gear, it not only didn’t feel natural, it was like an invisible force holding me down.
In order to rectify that I did what any good cyclist would do…I spent more money. I am on a budget, so I purchased a wheel-on Kurt Kinetic Rock-N-Roll Control. It is a big green heavy blob of workout torture device. Despite the struggles I’m getting ready to recount I really like it. The movement makes it more comfortable and most of the time the movement is minimal. It is only not minimal when I want more movement… like when I am climbing out of the saddle and swing the bike back and forth.
But enough about that. My main tale here is about the wheel-on portion of the trainer. When I got the trainer, I put my bike on it with my regular road wheel. In no time at all my road when had polished the section of roller where the tire made contact. A polished roller led to slippage.
Slippage is the bane of wheel-on trainers. You pedal harder and you hear the shriek of the rubber against the spindle. You know that the effort going into the pedals is less than the effort showing up on the screen. You find yourself dropping off the back of your TTT group knowing that you will be riding alone the rest of the race. What to do?
Well, clearly the problem was the highly polished area on the spindle. It was so smooth and slick nothing would stick to it. If it was a pancake griddle it would have been the world’s best non-stick surface. So…I roughed it up a little.
No, I didn’t take it down a dark alley and beat it with a hammer. I got a sheetrock sanding block and roughed up the surface a bit. You did read that right. I took sandpaper and scratched up the surface of the spindle roller. Which after a few rides smoothed out once more. Why stop now? I sanded it again.
Before long I noticed the tire had an incredibly smooth flat spot. The tire is polishing the roller and the roller is also polishing the tire… solution? Yes, dear reader… I sanded the tire.
OMG… did I really do that?
It took me a while to understand the error of my ways and I began reading about “training tires.” These are tires made specifically for wheel-on trainers. As luck would have it, pretty much everywhere I looked was out of inventory. My local bike shop (LBS) was out. Online dealers were out. After days, weeks, and months of searching and making phone calls…okay…maybe 30 minutes or so, I found a different LBS that had the Vittoria trainer tire on hand.
The Vittoria tire is bright red, which matched the speckled paint job on my 30-year-old steel bike. The tire is also ribbed for your training pleasure. The feel of the tread compound seemed much harder than my road tire and I guess that would make sense. Rolling against that darn spindle smoothed out the road tire in no time. That wasn’t going to happen with this rubber.
Something else did happen though. I got off the bike after the first ride on the Vittoria and lo and behold! There was a silver smooth streak down the middle tread rib. WTHeck? I deduced that it was probably fine metal dust from my days of sanding the roller spindle. I got a rag and some water to clean it off.
It. Didn’t. Clean. Off.
WTHeck! I tried various cleaners, rags, and brushes, but the smooth, slick metallic stripe would not come off the tire. I don’t know how I even got the idea, but my wife had a bottle of that blue liquid that barbers clean their brushes in. I uncapped it and took a whiff… it smelled like powerful stuff (I think there is acetone in there). I dabbed a bit on a rag and presto the silver came right off the tire. I also took the time to clean the roller.
Ahhhh. Life on my trainer was good. No squeaking, no wheel slippage. Until there was. WTHeck! The stripe was back. The smoothness was back. The slippage was back. Clearly, cleaning the tire and roller once was not enough so I cleaned them again (maybe a third time as well).
I cannot believe it myself, but the story does not stop there. Pretty soon I was having slippage again, but this time without the silver streak. There was no more sanded metal coming off the roller onto the tire. The problem was that the tire itself seemed to be disintegrating. The center of the tire developed an uneven rough texture similar to – I dunno – scrambled eggs? I tightened the spindle more, a full rotation more than the instructions said and yet… I still had slippage.
Mona Me! Aye Carumba! What is the world coming to? Will dogs and cats live together? What will happen in the next season of TWD? It was really just too much for my brain to process.
In reality my brain processed it. The stuff I used to clean the tire was clearly not good for the tire and was causing it to disintegrate when combined with the heat and resistance of the roller.
My solution? I went to the Kurt Kinetic website and checked inventory over and over until they had tires in stock… and I ordered one. I also got two new water bottle cages to replace my 30+-year-old cages. Instead of being ribbed like the Vittoria trainer tire, the Kurt Tire has a mottled top layer of rubber. It feels softer to the touch than the Vittoria, but harder than the road tire.
It’s now been a week since I put the bright green Kinetic tire on and it just works! I’ve ridden several courses where I used to have substantial slippage and I’ve had none. Not a squeak. That switchback at the start of the hilly KOM in Watopia? Not a sound or slip. The Alpe? I used to be a squeaky mouse going up that thing, but no more! The KOM on Sand and Sequoias? Everything was just hunky-dory.
Folks: if you get a wheel-on trainer, buy the darn tire that goes with it. Don’t be that guy who later says, “OMG, did I really do at?”