The turbo trainer was originally a rudimentary torture device dating from the Middle Ages. Historians believe it was used by Flemish sheriffs to punish misbehaving townsfolk, and was a popular alternative to flogging.
Early turbo trainers are quite clearly visible in the background of some of Bruegel’s lesser known paintings (see above).
At some point after the invention of the bicycle, the two contraptions of physical discomfort were combined and thence was born what we know today as the turbo (or ‘home’) trainer. Its form has changed subtly over the years and the mechanics refined over time, but the general principle has remained the same – a bicycle is locked into the frame with the back wheel pressed against a roller that applies resistance. The effect of this is a soul-destroying dissolution of the will to live within the participating cyclist.
Older models produced constant but uneven noises – a heavy whirring noise, peppered with clicks, creaks and squeaks. It’s not easy focusing on those intervals when you can’t even hear yourself count down the seconds.
More recent designs have become more devious however, operating almost in complete silence. Instead of the consolatory whirring produced by intense effort, now that intense effort produces… nothing at all.
And herein lies the rub. Sitting on a turbo trainer draws into relief the idea that cycling itself is a fruitless, purposeless pursuit. When going for a training ride you don’t actually travel anywhere in effect – you start at home, do a big loop, and then arrive at your destination, which is back home again. All that effort to go in a circle? You may as well have sat at home all along!
Turbo training is just a lesson in futility – pointing out that you spend your time cycling in circles, that professional teams are never going to be knocking at your door, and all your friends and work colleagues think you’re weird.
Needless to say, these are all things I hardly need to be reminded of.