- by David Halfpenny
- Published: 19 April 2013
A good static trainer is “the first piece of equipment I would have saved from a fire”, according to world hour record setter and multi-time world champion, Graeme Obree. He further adds that “reaching your full potential will be almost impossible without it.” Most experts would agree that the best training for riding a bike is actually riding a bike, but sometimes it’s too hard to get outdoors and train in the way you want to train. This is where trainers come into the picture, but there are so many trainers out there at so many different price points that it’s hard to pick one that won’t be gathering dust a month after you’ve bought it.
When it comes to trainers, the most common questions on cycling forums seem to be about road feel and noise. It’s well documented that wind trainers are loud, magnetic trainers can be loud, and fluid trainers tend to be quieter, at least quieter than the fan you should have in your “torture chamber” to keep your body heat regulated while you train (in which case you don’t have the wind evaporating sweat from you on a trainer, and if you over-heat your performance is going to suffer).
As for road feel, most people seem to agree that fluid trainers are the way to go. Road feel in a trainer refers to the non-linear response of the trainer to the effort you put in on the bike. When you’re on the road, wind resistance will slow you down at a greater rate the faster you go, which means that the faster you go, the harder it is to go faster. Fluid trainers, as the name suggests, use fluid to provide resistance, and this fluid gives you this non-linear resistance change (compared to magnetic resistance trainers where the resistance usually increases linearly).
So, if you want a quiet trainer with good road feel, a fluid trainer is the trainer you want, which brings us to the purpose of this review: the Gistitalia Ride Fluid Trainer. Gistitalia are, as the name suggests, an Italian company who manufacture and distribute a range of fitness products, but they’re not a company I had heard of before. As such, I had to let the product speak for itself, since I had no reputation to go on.
The trainer arrived boxed in a fairly simple white box with a drawing of a woman riding a bike on a trainer. There is Italian and English on the box, but only really enough to let you know what’s inside of it; there’s no hype or gloss. When you open it you’re presented with the trainer stand, a box containing the fluid resistance unit, an instruction manual, a quick release skewer, and some bits to put it all together. The manual that comes with the trainer is in a number of languages, one of which resembles English, but by following the diagrams it was easy to assemble the trainer and in under 10 minutes I had the bike mounted and was ready to ride.
Before I talk about how it performs, let me give you my initial impression of the trainer: cheap. The trainer stand, which is the bulk of the package, doesn’t look very spectacular at all. The magnetic trainer I’ve been using for a few seasons looks like it was worth the price I paid for it, and many other fluid trainers on the market also look like machines that will help you get fit with their sleekness or colour scheme or electronic add-ons. The Gistitalia trainer looked like the type of cheap trainer you’d buy for $50 from a department store or supermarket because you thought you’d try a trainer out but didn’t want to drop big money on it.
This impression, however, lasts only as long as it takes to get the frame out of the box and have a close look at it. While the format of the trainer is very simple, there is no mistaking the quality of the build. All of the welds are solid, uniform, well ground and polished. The metal parts of the stand are well machined and the bolts, springs and adjusting screws are well fitted and tidy. There are no sharp edges, dodgy paint jobs or misalignments. Everything that’s meant to move moves, and everything else doesn’t. It’s a very solid and elegant piece of industrial design and it looks like it’s going to last a lifetime. The trainer is simply built, but it’s very well made simplicity.
The fluid resistance unit is, once again, extremely well made. Every surface has been finished carefully and it feels sturdy in the hand. The only fragile looking part of the whole setup is the resistance adjustment lever, but it seems that this is meant to be a consumable. The frame and fluid unit have a lifetime warranty, but the other parts of the trainer, the ones that actually come into human or ground contact, are available as spare parts quite cheaply. This isn’t to say that these parts are cheap, they don’t feel it, but they’re the parts that will wear out first and it’s quite easy to see, when you examine the trainer, how simple it would be to swap the parts out for new ones when you need to. It really speaks to the longevity of the trainer; you won’t be throwing this one out because one part of it doesn’t work anymore.
So I was quickly impressed by the trainer, but I was yet to ride it, so I jumped on the bike and I settled in for a training session. I decided to leave the resistance set at the “zero” level, with no tension on the cable at all. I did this because many of the top end fluid trainers don’t have resistance adjustment, so I wanted to see if this trainer could give me a real workout just by changing the gears for resistance, much like the other trainers do.
I had read that fluid trainers take some time to warm up and that certainly seemed the case here. With my mag trainer, the resistance is instant and I either have to put it on the lowest resistance setting while my legs warm up, or spin in an easy gear for a while. The fluid trainer starts off feeling like it’s not there at all (with the fan going, you can’t hear it) and the fluid inside the unit warms up as your legs do. I was pedaling with a constant cadence (plus or minus a couple of rpms) and it took about 8 – 10 minutes before I really began to notice that there was a resistance there. I upped the cadence a bit and it felt like I was riding on a good flat road that went on forever. I kept the cadence at that level for a while and didn’t feel any change in resistance at all, much like my mag trainer. Unlike my mag trainer, however, when you increase the speed, there was definitely a noticeable change in resistance.
When I sprint on my mag trainer, I can hit some seriously whacky speeds, speeds that I would never be able to hit on the flat ground simply because I could never get my on-road cadence that high in those gears. While this is great for doing cadence drills, it’s not “real”. On the fluid trainer, you simply can’t get your cadence that high easily because the resistance of the fluid will increase the faster you go; the road feel I was talking about earlier. If you’re doing long consistent efforts, you won’t see a difference between mag trainers and fluid trainers, but if you’re doing intervals and changing your cadence and gearing to simulate climbing, pack surges, sprints and the like, you’ll really want to use a fluid trainer.
What the Gistitalia Ride Fluid has that many other similar trainers don’t have, is variable resistance. Variable resistance is quite common on mag trainers where it’s simple to implement and provides the higher end difficulty that comes naturally on fluid trainers. Variable resistance on fluid trainers is a bit rare and its absence is marketed as a “feature” on other trainers, rather than as something missing. I suspect it’s missing from fluid trainers because it’s quite hard to do right, particularly when you want to keep the fluid inside the resistance unit. Gistitalia seem to have gotten past any difficulties, however, and the variable resistance adds something interesting to the trainer.
According to the Ital-ish in the instruction manual, the variable resistance allows you to simulate hills of up to 5%. This is interesting from a training point of view since simulating climbing on a fluid trainer without variable resistance requires using a bigger gear that’s harder to turn over. There is a big difference between pushing a big gear and pushing a small gear, between using the chain rings for the purpose they were meant for and using them to simply provide resistance. It’s very nice to know that the road feel of the Gistitalia trainer can be maintained while also allowing for some hill training. Leave the resistance at “zero” and you have a normal fluid trainer. Ramp it up and you’re going up a ramp. As Eddy Merckx famously said, “Don’t buy upgrades; ride up grades”.
So I think I’ve done a fair job selling fluid trainers in this review, but what about the Gistitalia trainer itself? Is it better than other trainers? I simply don’t know. This was the first fluid trainer I used and I can see why people often prefer them to mag trainers. On paper, the Gistitalia Ride Fluid Trainer is a comparable product to most of the quality fluid trainers currently on the market. I had a look at a few others in the flesh and think that the Gistitalia product is better built, but I can’t speak to comparable performance. I did get a chance to try a Kurt Kinetic Road Machine for a session and didn’t see any real difference between the Kurt and the Gistitalia, but that’s a completely non-rigorous comparison and not something I would stake my life on. The Gistitalia is certainly not worse and the addition of the variable resistance, which the Kurt doesn’t have, may be of added value to some.
The Gistitalia Ride Fluid, while wonderful as it stands, needs just one more touch to make it a more useful machine. If you are after a trainer that does all that I mentioned above, the Gistitalia Ride Fluid is a complete package, go and get one. If, however, you’re a race tragic like me, then you’ll want to train with power. If you’re even more like me, you’ve got other things to spend your money on than a power meter. That’s where virtual power is a God send. Trainer Road is a subscription service that allows you to wirelessly connect your Garmin type devices to your laptop and then be guided through workouts on your trainer. For best results you use it with a power meter, but if you don’t have one, and you’re using the same trainer setup for all of your workouts (as I am), then you can use virtual power. Basically, you select the model of trainer you have at home from the list they supply and the system uses speed/power calibration curves to map your speed to output power. While it’s not going to be entirely accurate, it will be pretty repeatable between workouts, so you can get a good picture of how you’re improving.
The Gistitalia Ride Fluid is not on that list, but it can be. I contacted the Australian distributor, Velogear, and asked them about it. They did some research on Trainer Road, and they’re now trying to get some calibration curves done for this trainer. In the mean time they pointed me towards some workouts on their website designed by a former Australian Olympic cyclist who used the Gistitalia trainer in her workouts. I’m keen to get the power data, however, since I really want to use this trainer with Trainer Road. My mag trainer is supported there, but I really do prefer to train on the fluid trainer.
There are many fluid trainers on the market, so it’s hard for the consumer to pick a good one without some inside knowledge. Much like bikes, any trainer will do the job it’s meant to do, but a good trainer, like a good bike, will make you want to use it more. I have found the Gistitalia Ride Fluid to be such a trainer, and my mag trainer is now gathering dust in the corner. It’s well constructed, quite in operation and it gives you a good, consistent road feel. The lifetime warranty on the “big” parts attests to the manufacturer’s belief in the product’s quality, and the availability of affordable replacement parts for the wearable components means you’ll have a usable trainer for a long time to come. Add in the variable resistance, which is much more than just a novelty, and I think you’ve got a trainer that’s more than holds it’s own against its competitors.
The Gistitalia Ride Fluid Bicycle Trainer is available from Velogear Australia for $289 and they also provide Australian warranty service and spare parts.
1. Obree, G., “The Obree Way – A training manual for cyclists”, 2012