Monday, June 6, 2011

REVIEW: Blackburn Trakstand Mag 3 Bike Trainer

Today I want to give you guys the review of my bike trainer. 

Product: Blackburn Trakstand Mag 3 Bike Trainer 
** This is a previous model, not the current **

- Magnetic Resistance with three settings
- Redesigned boxed steel frame
- Compact and lightweight
- Dual Adjuster cones for compatibility with 700c and 26" wheels
- Tapered cones fit cavity-style dropouts butter

MSRP: $150-160 (depends on current or previous model)
Retail: $100-120

In all, I like the Blackburn Trakstand Mag 3 Trainer.  It's extremely easy to use, portable, and a great tool for having on either bad weather days or even for stretching out and relaxing my legs after a hard workout.  On the flip side, the magnet resistance chamber does heat up during use which makes me question the lifetime of the product as well as it's usefulness for extended rides, the available resistance combined with the 14 gears on my bike does not reach high enough for my range of ability, and the unit does make plenty of noise.  Given all of this, however, for the price I paid, I'm happy I purchased it.

Now, in order to understand the perspective from which I make this review, 
I need to let you know a bit about why and where I purchased the trainer.

Why did I purchase the trainer?
I purchased the Blackburn Trakstand Mag 3 Trainer a couple months ago because I felt my training lacked in cycling.  I was running quite often, swimming multiple times a week, but slacking on cycling which is most likely my weak point in triathlons at the moment.  It was too cold to go outdoors with my bike and the stationary bikes at the gym just weren't suiting me.  I began looking for a trainer because I figured having one in my own apartment would give me less of an excuse to avoid cycling.

I had also read a few articles while researching various trainers concerning their overall benefit.  It seems that some of the greatest cyclists are on their trainers for 95% of their training.  Custom-designed workouts available in any room or area of your choosing; in the basement, your living room, at your kid's soccer game, etc.  With plenty of work to do on the bike, I thought a trainer would be extremely useful.

Where did I purchase the trainer?
Given that my finances are rather limited, I quickly ruled out purchasing a new retail trainer.  I purchased this one on craigslist for $30.  The trainer was originally purchased by consumer reports for a review, then purchased by one of their employees for his personal use, and finally I bought it from him.  The trainer also came with Blackburn's Track Block II which elevates and stabilizes the front wheel.

Online, I've found the Blackburn Trakstand Mag 3 Trainer retailing for $99.99 and the Track Block II for $14.  Without including tax and shipping, I thought $30 was a great deal.

So let's get to it.

What do I think of the Trakstand Mag 3 Trainer?

How have I used the trainer?
I have used the trainer for anywhere from 10 minute warm up rides to 2 hour workout rides

The Pros...

1.  Ease of use.  Set the trainer on the floor.  Place the rear wheel of your bike inbetween the lock settings.  Screw one side in until the bike tire is lined up with the resistance bar.  Screw the other lock setting in to lock the rear wheel in place.  Set the safety locks.  Place the resistance bar in contact with the tire.  Set your desired resistance.  Hop on your bike and ride.  It's that simple; no quirky settings or adjustments.  As long as your bike has a 700c or 26" wheel, the trainer is ready to rock 'n roll.

2.  Safety.  The frame of the trainer is quite steady.  The front ground bar is extended to keep the frame and you from tilting and it does a great job.  The holders for your back tire also come with safety locks (screw locks that you screw in to keep the holder from shifting and releasing your bike mid-ride).  However, I've ridden 1:40 minutes without the safety locks in place and never felt a budge.  So the holders are quite safe all on their own.  But lock them anyways to be sure. 

3. Workout.  The trainer offers you a decent workout.  I haven't had a ride that I didn't get off the bike with some amount of sweat.

4.  Fine Tune Your Riding.  While on the road, you are probably busy paying attention to traffic, avoiding pot holes (for those of us still exiting winter), and your own speed and workout intensity.  While on any trainer, you can avoid both traffic and road conditions and spend a lot more of your attention on your speed, your cadence, power, and your position on the bike.  I personally focus a lot on my position (tilting my hips forward) and my cadence.  I am positive that my trainer rides will help my road riding come race day!

5. Convenience.  What happens when you're running late and you don't have time to get that bike ride in before dinner?  What if it's raining ALL WEEK?  Pull out the trainer and ride whenever you'd like - morning, day, or night.  Rain or shine.  Summer or winter.  Just like a treadmill for runners, the trainer is the convenient way to ride any time.

6. Great Customer Service.  After I purchased the trainer I both emailed and called Blackburn to ask about the rear wheel skewer; I wasn't sure if there was a specific type that was required.  Turns out it's any generic quick release skewer (picked it up at my local bike shop for $10), but over the phone, they were more helpful and happy to answer my questions.  I also received a very pleasant email in response to my questions.  

The Cons...

1. Track Block Should Be Included.  The Trakstand Mag 3 trainer raises your rear wheel an inch or two off of the ground and is not height adjustable, so unless you prefer to be tilted forward, you need to purchase a track stand (or find items to prop your front wheel up on to ride level).  While my purchase came with the stand, I feel it would be annoying to purchase this trainer alone and THEN realize you need the stand.

2. Resistance Levels.  The Trakstand Mag 3 has three settings; think of them as "low," "medium," and "high."  Given that this is the Blackburn base model, I fully expect this to be their entry level trainer, or in other words, a trainer geared towards beginner cyclists, recreational enthusiasts, or low intensity intermediate cyclists.  While I still consider myself a beginner cyclist, the only resistance level I use is "high."  My bike has two front gears (46 & 36 teeth) and a 7-speed rear cassette and it is always set to the high front gear and shifts between the top four rear gears.  Therefore of 42 combinations (14 speeds and 3 resistance levels), I only use 4; the top 10%. 

A quick comparison of my recent outdoor rides to my trainer rides shows that I am able to go 17% faster on the trainer (I average 18mph outdoors compared to 21mph on the trainer).  In order to gauge my personal level of fitness, see the "My Races" page above and view my race times.  For myself, I would prefer a trainer that had a higher resistance in order to give me more options for possible speed work, intervals, and such.  However, you may very well be happy with the given resistance levels.  It is up to your own level of fitness and training intensity. 

3. The Resistance Mechanism Heats Up.  I had read previous reviews of the Trakstand Mag 3 trainer and knew that others mentioned that the magnet casing and resistance mechanism heats up about an hour into use.  With no cooling system, that made sense.  In my own experience, I've noticed it being quite warm even 30 minutes into a workout.  I have not gotten off and checked it any earlier than that.  I've never seen a spark, so I seriously doubt there is any fire hazard, but the heat makes me curious as to the lifetime of the trainer.  Is it capable of running 1-2+ hour workouts on a consistent basis and holding up to the heat over time?  I can't be sure.  I have contacted Blackburn concerning this issue and have not heard back from them.  I will let you know as soon as I do. 

Most fluid models that I have looked at come with cooling mechanisms to counteract the heat generated. 

4. Noisy.  Another issue I was aware of before purchase was the noise.  I had heard that magnetic resistance trainers make a considerable amount of noise in comparison to fluid trainers.  After my very first ride, a simple warm up ride in order to make sure I had the unit set up right and that it all worked well, I asked my roommate whether the noise bothered him.  He thought the trainer's noise had been the grounds crew mowing the lawn.

I also began a training ride one evening about 7:20pm.  At 8:00pm I finally got off to answer the door.  My downstairs neighbor told me "there is a lot of noise coming into one of our bedrooms" and asked if we could stop.  Apparently they get up at 3:00am for work.  Both stories exemplify the fact that this magnetic trainer does make a decent amount of noise.  However, I've never used a fluid trainer or seen one in use to be able to say how much quieter they are in comparison.

What other trainers does Blackburn offer?
The Trakstand Mag 3 is the base model trainer from Blackburn.  They offer two higher level models. 

Tech Mag 6 (Price - $180)
- Adjustable height (no track stand required)
- Fast crank speed mounting
- Fits wheels size 700c, 650c, and 26"
- Six resistance settings (show comparison to mag 3)
- Handle bar mounted remote for changing resistance - "...features that world class athletes demand"
- "Ideal for enthusiasts looking to move their fitness to a higher level"

This trainer is height adjustable making it more portable (no need for a front wheel stand), and also fits 650c tires making it more universal.  The fast crank mounting allows you to set your bike up faster once you calibrate the setting the first time through.  The extra three resistance settings makes this trainer much more desirable at first.  However, if you look at the profile resistance graph below, at my speeds of 22 mph and below, there is only a marginal if any difference in power generation.  So unless I'm shooting for speeds of 25+ mph (that's what the elites do), there's very little change from the Mag 3 to the Mag 6.  I already use the level 3 resistance on the Mag 3, so the Mag 6 remote would be of little use as well.  If you had a 650c wheel, then this would be your base model. 

Tech Fluid
- Fluid resistance (compare to Mag trainers)
- Adjustable height (no track stand required)
- Fits wheels size 700c, 650c, and 26"

 This model offers the same portability, but the resistance is set by fluid instead of a magnet.  The fluid resistance also provides an exponential resistance curve as opposed to the much more linear curves of the magnets since moving fluid gets increasingly difficult as you increase the speed.  From what I am told, the fluid models are also much quieter than magnetic models. 

What other trainers are available?
I have talked with a few other bloggers concerning the trainers that they use and have gotten a variety of responses.  Overall, I will say that it seems very much up to your own personal preferences and desires from a trainer.  You may like one that others steer clear of or vice versa, but as long as you are happy with it, that is what counts.

Amanda @ 5 Miles Past Empty has a Cycle Ops Fluid II Trainer and absolutely loves it.  However, KC @ 140 Point 6 Miles... of Awesome tried the exact same trainer and did not like it at all.  She has a set of older, lower-end fluid trainers, one by Performance Bike and another by Nashbar, and swears by them both.

Then there's Colleen @ IRONDIVA who uses an older version of the CycleOps magnetic trainer and loves it. 

So for every cyclist or athlete out there, there are different trainer types and companies for us all.  My biggest piece of advice is to try a few out.  If you're strapped for cash, try out a few magnetic trainers.  See if you like the lower or higher number of resistances.  Maybe a remote resistance changer is important to you.  If you're not sure of fluid versus magnet versus wind, give each of them a try. 

** Please leave any questions or comments you have.
I'd be MORE than happy to add more detail to the review and answer your questions.

Make sure I have your email address so I can reply to you.

Stay fit.  Stay healthy.  Stay safe.  


Anonymous said...

I have a Kurt Kinetic Fluid that I love! Not too noisy and very sturdy. Only downfall is it is pretty heavy to transport.

Anonymous said...

What IM are you doing?

Glo Clendaniel said...

Thanks for this. I have been bitten by the IM bug after just doing 1 triathlon and running my first marathon. But both were exhillerating. I've got 2 more tri's this summer and I've been busy researching IM's and training programs for next year. Since I live in Alaska and the snow doesn't clear til late April, I will be doing a lot of indoor riding on a trainer, (and winter riding on my commuter bike but it's a different feel/posture/etc) I think I want to do the one in BC, Canada. Hello hill climbs! Which IM are you doing?