Pros: Well-built and well-designed, sells for a reasonable price
Cons: Resistance set by dial on flywheel, Large footprint, more difficult to disassemble
Oh, wow. I just looked outside, and snowflakes are swirling on the breeze (if you call a steady 25-MPH wind a "breeze"). That means one thing: when I get home tonight, I gotta haul the road bikes up to the attic and set up the trainers. "Did you say 'trainers'?" you ask. Yes, I said "trainers." We have two - a Blackburn Trackstand Basic (nominally belonging to the Ms) and a Minoura MAG 850R I use. Though a couple of my co-workers may intend to ride their bicycles to work year-round, we just aren't that hard-core. Even in Texas, we generally took off the coldest part of the winter (mid-January, usually) from cycling. But with the mercury plunging below the zero mark (Fahrenheit, that is) here on the prairie, it's off to the trainers we go. Since we have the two sitting side by side in the attic, now's as good a time as any to compare them - side by side, in fact.
Setup and Teardown
Initial setup for both trainers is fairly simple: the hardest thing I found was reading the directions on the Minoura, which appeared to have been translated to English by someone whose second language was German. The Blackburn directions are much more straightforward, partially because it's a simpler unit. Both trainers are rather heavy (twenty to twenty-five pounds), since rolling resistance is provided by magnets weighing almost two pounds. Both units are built to fold flat for storage over the summer or to free up limited space in the off-season. Its short, individual front legs make the Minoura significantly easier to fold than the Blackburn, which has a large, one-piece horseshoe-shaped front leg.
If you're concerned about such things, the Minoura comes in a striking metal-flake blue finish with white, black, and silver accents; it's constructed of curved flat "chromoly." The Blackburn is a more utilitarian black tubular chromoly alloy with white lettering and a splash of red on the logo. If you're not concerned about such things, they still look as I described them.
Both Blackburn and Minoura ship a spare quick-release skewer so that you don't ding up the existing rear skewer on your bicycle and to make sure that you have a skewer that fits the spindles. Just loosen the rear quick-release lever on your bike and slide out the existing skewer, then slip in the one that came with the trainer. Both heads on the supplied skewers are long and cylindrical, which is a great deal different from the short knurled knob opposite the lever on my Trek. This allows the skewer to fit into cupped ends of the spindles that will hold the bike in the frame.
Mating Bike to Trainer
The Minoura has small cranks with which you adjust the spacing on the spindles that fit over the ends of that skewer - don't forget that it's important to center the tire on the flywheel. Blackburn doesn't have those fancy cranks, just large knobs on the outboard ends, each with a second "lock" wheel at the frame. My experience with the Minoura is that, although it looks as though it should be easier to use, its cranks and spindles don't turn well and it's actually easier to set a bike on the Blackburn. Either way, it's a bit of a balancing act that might be easier if you had someone to hold the bicycle.
Since the rear wheel must make solid contact with the flywheel for a trainer to do its job, ease of making contact is critical. Minoura 850 trainers are designed to allow you to step on a foot pedal, which raises the flywheel to contact the tire - a very simple and efficient arrangement. There is, of course a little adjustment needed the first time you install the bike, and you'll want to check it fairly frequently. You can raise and release the flywheel with your foot at any time. The flywheel on the Blackburn must be cranked into place by hand, meaning you'll need to crawl around on the floor a bit. Any time you want to tighten or loosen the flywheel, it's the same process. Both stands are capable of accepting road, hybrid, or mountain bikes, though anything smaller than a 24-inch wheel is surely out of the question for the Minoura, and the Blackburn accepts only 26-inch and 700C wheels. Note that both stands will raise the rear of the frame a bit more than an inch above normal height.
Both trainers are very stable and can be ridden as-is as long as placed on a non-skid floor. For comfort, though, you'll want to add a riser block to hold the front wheel. Not only does this provide extra stability, it also raises the front of your bike to a more nearly level position - so you don't feel like you're riding downhill constantly. Both Blackburn and Minoura sell molded plastic riser blocks (as do other manufacturers like CycleOps and Kurt), but neither ships one with the trainer. We bought one of each - I prefer the Blackburn's versatility and height (see bottom of page), though it's more expensive.
Setup and riding position are pretty much the same for these two trainers - for any tire-drive magnetic or (I assume) fluid trainer. It's once you climb on and start spinning that things get different.
The Blackburn Trackstand has three resistance levels, which are chosen by twisting a dial on the flywheel's axle. This clearly means that you cannot change the resistance level while riding unless you are double-jointed and have verrrry long arms. The Minoura 850R, on the other hand, has seven resistance levels controlled by a remote shifter. This rotating knob, with the seven settings marked, is connected to the flywheel by a cable and has a clamp arrangement similar to clamps for mounting cyclometers to the handlebars. The cable is very long, since it is designed for use with either a conventional bicycles or a tandem. One problem I've noted is that the clamp is too small to fit on my top tube, so it must be clamped to the handlebars (a pain if you already have a cyclometer mounted). It doesn't fit well on padded handlebar tape, either.
Both trainers are far quieter than an air-resistance trainer or rollers, though you may find yourself wishing for the breeze that air trainers create after riding in place for just a few minutes. The two are of approximately equal noise levels, though the Blackburn runs at a lower pitch than the Minoura. Both are tire-drive models, which are noisier than the rim-drive models but less expensive.
Using either trainer is easy if you're planning only on getting in some seat time. But if you want a more varied workout, you may want to spring for a model with a remote resistance adjustment like the Minoura 850R.
More Trainers from Blackburn
Blackburn markets only three trainers. The Trackstand Magnetic is their most basic, followed by the Trackstand Fluid with fluid resistance and the top-of-the-line Trackstand Ultra, which uses a centrifugal clutch on the flywheel. The magnetic and fluid trainers use the same tubular chromoly steel frames (black for magnetic, blue for fluid); the Ultra has a three-legged design similar to that of the Minoura and is constructed of aluminum.
The Blackburn is Better For...
The features that make the Blackburn Trackstand Basic stand out are:
• it has a broad footprint and is less likely to rock (even slightly) than the Minoura
• it's very basic, with no dangling parts (the remote) to get broken
• setup and mounting the bike are very simple with well-written instructions
• runs at a lower pitch and perhaps lower volume than the Minoura 850
• excellent fit of parts, especially the spindle arrangement
• it's less expensive by about twenty dollars
The Blackburn's "Deficiencies" Are...
• only three resistance levels
• dial adjustment of the resistance instead of remote
• flywheel position must be adjusted by hand instead of Minoura's foot pedal system
• cannot be used with wheels smaller than 26 inches (e.g. 650C)
The bottom line?
The Blackburn Trackstand Basic is an excellent entry-level trainer; very well designed and built. People who merely want to maintain seat time without a regimen of varied training to simulate real conditions will be quite happy with this magnetic trainer. It's more of a trainer designed for people who ride for exercise and enjoyment than a trainer for people who ride for competition.
More on the Minoura MAG 850 R
The skinny on Minoura's and Blackburn's riser blocks.