By Henry Phillips
on 2.20.14
Photo by Henry Phillips

Cyclists often choose to seriously pursue the sport because of the freedom, or the speed, or the ability to cover vast swathes of ground in a relatively short time. Some cyclists even take it a step further and get into racing for these same reasons. It’s usually at that point when Mother Nature presents an unfortunate catch-22: you got into cycling to enjoy the thrill of outdoor riding, but if you want to ride competitively you’ll likely have to find a way to ride indoors during the colder, snowier months when roads are less hospitable to narrow tires and lycra.

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This is where the stationary trainer (often dubbed the “turbo trainer” as a relic of the confused ‘70s) or rollers come in. Both trainers and rollers have their respective pros and cons. Rollers are great for their compact quietness, ability to improve pedaling technique and worry-free race warmup, but because they rely on gyroscopic force rather than a direct attachment to the bike they’re nearly useless for interval training and extended efforts when riders just want to zone out. Trainers tend to be loud, heavy, tire-eating things that clamp on to the back wheel and are just the ticket for intervals or hours spent spinning in front of a movie. We were intrigued then when Indiana-based SportCrafters introduced their “best of both worlds” Omnium Trainer ($449). We decided to give it a thorough testing during the harshest days of a particularly bad winter.

The most immediate aspect of the Omnium is its size, or lack thereof. The whole thing weighs just shy of 14 pounds (compared to about 30 pounds for our favorite trainer, the Kinetic Road Machine) and folds into a box about the size of two shoeboxes laid end-to-end; carrying it from GP headquarters back home for a test was easy, even with a cyclist’s upper body strength. Once unboxed, a quick glance at the instruction manual confirmed claims about how easy this thing was to set up — after a scant three steps we were ready to throw a bike on the fork-mount and go for a spin.

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In most respects the Omnium performs like a traditional turbo trainer. A fixed fork removes problems with balancing, mounting/dismounting, or dealing with the rear wheel during setup, and any concerns about the back wheel coming off the narrow rear rollers were quickly dispelled. Another seemingly minor upside to the rear roller setup is the lack of the oft-forgotten trainer skewer for the rear wheel. After feeling slightly clunky during the first several minutes of our warmup, the Omnium came into its own. The noise level fell somewhere between a trainer and rollers; the ARC Technology progressive magnetic resistance felt natural and stood up to big interval efforts better than any set of rollers we’ve ridden. A significant lack of inertia once it spun up to speed (since it doesn’t have a big flywheel) constantly reminded us we weren’t on a traditional trainer and had the two-fold roller-esque effect of forcing us to avoid coasting and focus on smoothing our pedal stroke. Relative to a stationary trainer, the tires stayed generally intact; still, though SportCrafters says plenty about using race tires on the Omnium without worry, get a tire made for trainers or use one you don’t care much about. We found a not-so-small flat spot on our not-so-cheap tire.

Overall the Omnium was seriously impressive. It takes the compactness, ease of use and noise level from rollers and combines it with the stability, resistance and mindlessness of a trainer. Its price point falls above many basic (but very good) trainers and rollers but well below the advanced direct-drive setups from companies like WaHoo and Cyclops. That makes the Omnium perfect for riders in need of a top-tier trainer for race warm-up or painless home use — especially in a “cozy” New York apartment.

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