Source: bike shops, catalogs
Warranty: 5 years
RBR advertiser: no
How obtained: sample from company
Tested: 18 hours
I’m always in search of the perfect indoor trainer, defined as stable and with easily adjustable resistance. The bike should be simple to attach and the trainer’s frame should be durable so sweat and hard use don’t degrade it. Finally — and this is by far the most important quality — the trainer’s “feel” should closely approximate riding on the road.
I’ve never found a trainer that embodies all these qualities. The Blackburn TrakStand Ultra does a great job on all counts, but one.
Unfortunately, it’s the most important.
But first let’s see where this trainer performs well.
It’s easy to install the bike. A handy lever on the right side cranks quickly for the correct attachment pressure. A rear-hub skewer is supplied so you won’t gouge the one from your fancy wheels.
You can adjust the height of the rear wheel by turning knobs on the trainer’s legs. This makes it possible to position the tire very close to the floor and dispense with a leveling block under the front wheel. One caution: Be sure the rear tire clears the floor when your weight is on the bike. Otherwise you could put a nasty black stripe on the carpet as you experience unexpected pedaling resistance and the unique smell of burning fibers.
It’s easy to adjust the roller’s pressure on the rear tire using a large knob. A properly inflated tire doesn’t squeak or slip on the roller. It’s not necessary to crank the roller down too hard to avoid slippage. However, a tire ridden on the road may have collected grime and grit that impairs its traction. Clean thetire and roller before use with soap and water or rubbing alcohol. If you have a dedicated trainer bike, Continental makes a special yellow tire called the UltraSport Hometrainer, designed to run cooler and wear longer than regular road tires.
The Ultra’s frame is quite stable. I sprinted out of the saddle without disquieting rocking or creaking. It’s also one of the quietest trainers I’ve ever tested.
The Ultra differs from most trainers that use fans, fluid or magnets for resistance. It has ball bearings in grooves that are pushed outward and upward against the flywheel by the centrifugal force of the spinning roller. The flywheel then pushes against a clutch that increases resistance the faster you pedal. Blackburn calls this technology “CentriForce.” Resistance is supposed to increase not only due to wheel speed but also acceleration. So in theory a hard sprint will produce great resistance to work against, but easing off the power will quickly lessen the load.
The Ultra’s resistance can be changed by shifting the three ball bearings to different slots in the roller or by adding three more bearings. Using all six makes 3,000 watts of resistance possible, according to Blackburn. I didn’t test this feature since my hardest sprint effort fell about 2,000 watts short.
The standard resistance setting will be more than enough for most recreational riders. To keep a steady cadence of 95 rpm in a 53×12-tooth gear required around 350 watts, according to my PowerTap. That’s plenty hard enough for most of us. If you’re a budding Boonen, changing the ball bearings for more resistance requires taking the unit apart. It’s not difficult but you’ll need about 10 minutes.
Now the Bad News
The resistance of my test Ultra is noticeably inconsistent. Sometimes the resistance will increase abruptly with no change in pedaling cadence or gear. I’ve also noticed that the resistance tends to decrease in a given gear as a workout continues. This isn’t due to my warmed-up muscles becoming more efficient. A power meter on the bike shows me that fewer watts are required to turn, say, a 53×17-tooth gear at 45 minutes into the workout compared to earlier.
In a recent workout I was doing three-minute repeats at about 300 watts. After about two minutes the resistance decreased until the same gear and cadence produced only about 180 watts. This variable resistance made riding at a steady wattage difficult and frustrating.
Blackburn spokesperson Sean Coffey told me, in an e-mail, that the unit provided for my testing is a prototype. He says the company hasn’t received any complaints about inconsistent resistance even when the Ultra is used in commercial workout centers.
I like this trainer except for the significant resistance problem. If Blackburn has solved it in the TrakStand Ultras currently for sale, they have a winner. I would suggest trying it before buying it.