A bicycle trainer is a piece of equipment that lets you work-out indoors, converting your outdoor bike into a stationary one. It helps you stay fit during the long winter months or any other time the weather does not permit riding outside.
But that’s not all. Bike trainers can be a great way to get an effective workout within a short period of time, which is great for those among us who struggle to ride often due to other commitments. You can take most external factors out of the picture, such as traffic and road conditions. This makes trainer workouts especially good for structured training such as high intensity interval sessions. They also make great stands and can be a valuable tool when performing simple tasks such as indexing your gears or adjusting your bike fit. They are also really good value since you can use virtually any bike rather than having to buy a stationary one, which not only take up more space but also cost more (and you can’t ride them outside, of course).
The main components of a trainer are the frame, a clamp to hold everything in place and a roller to apply resistance to the rear wheel. The frame keeps the bike stable as the roller applies resistance depending on the type of trainer. The method of applying this resistance is the key differentiator of different types of trainers. The most common ones are: –
Don’t worry, well explain each type in detail and also link to the ones we recommend:
Type of Indoor Bike Trainers
Trainers that rely on wind resistance will have a fan attached to the roller area. As you spin, the resistance progressively increases but it is rather limited beyond a point. They are usually the cheapest trainers you can buy, which is good. What isn’t good is that they don’t like being pushed hard (a really good trainer may be able to mitigate this) and will sound like a jet turbine if you do. That makes these a good budget buy for someone who is starting out but probably not the best if you are a powerful rider. Also, the noise will make your neighbors hate you. Our pick: The CycleOps Wind Trainer
Magnetic trainers are very popular for a number of reasons. They work by using a magnetic flywheel connected to the roller to apply resistance. They may also provide adjustable resistance by using multiple magnets. Good ones usually come with a handlebar mounted remote for changing resistance. So on the plus side, the resistance is adjustable and has a higher upper limit in comparison to wind resistance trainers. The downside is that there is an upper limit and they don’t like being pushed close to it. Magnetic trainers are also quieter when compared to wind trainers, but then so is the Hoover Dam. Our picks: The Tacx Blue Twist and The Minoura LiveRide Mag.
As the name suggests, these trainers use fluid for providing resistance, usually in combination with a magnetic flywheel. The fluid helps provide linear, progressive resistance and therefore offers a very road-like riding feel. There is also plenty of resistance on tap, which should be sufficient for even the most powerful riders. Thanks again to the fluid, they are nearly silent in operation at normal speeds. These trainers are usually the most expensive, but not by much. Our picks: The Elite Qubo Power Fluid and The CycleOps Fluid2 Winter Training Kit
Resistance method aside, there are a couple of other trainers that are of note and should definitely be considered as they offer unique advantages: –
Direct drive trainers differ from other stationary trainers in one key aspect, which is that they require the rear wheel to be removed from the bike. The frame is then mounted directly on the trainer, which usually has a separate cassette (rear cog set) attached to it.
This offers a couple of key advantages: –
a) Using trainers that apply resistance to the rear wheel can mean that the rear tire wears out faster than usual. Trainer-specific tires do exist but you’d have to then go through the hassle of changing them or setting aside a spare wheel. With these you simply pop the rear wheel and set the bike up for use.
b) These trainers usually have a more robust construction and because the bike is directly mounted at the frame, they are very stable even when performing sprint-type workouts. They are also very quiet as they usually use fluid for resistance.
Direct drive trainers offer the most realistic road feel as resistance progression can be more closely controlled thanks to no roller rubbing against the tire. Our pick: The CycleOps Silencer.
These are a type of non-static indoor trainer that is possibly as old as the bicycle itself and are a particular favorite of ours. They are also unique in comparison to any other type of indoor trainer since they actually require you to balance while pedaling. This engages your core muscles, improves your stability and co-ordination.
Resistance is limited as its provided by the drums/bearings. Therefore, these are suited for working on cadence/high RPM workouts rather than power. Some of them may have an option to add an additional resistance unit later.
Rollers are a great investment towards becoming a better rider as they not only improve your balance and co-ordination but also force you to develop a smooth and efficient pedal stroke. It also takes a good deal of mental fortitude to be able to ride rollers for extended periods of time. Lose your focus or surge in a jerky manner and you’ll find yourself going all over the place.
There is definitely a learning curve with these, but we think it is absolutely worth it and cannot recommend Rollers highly enough. They should be called ballers because that’s how you feel when you learn to ride them. Our picks: Nashbar’s Parabolic Rollers and Tacx Galaxia.
This new breed of home trainers combine elements of gaming/virtual reality, fitness and exercise data to give you the most engaging workout possible. The following video will quickly explain what this is all about: –
Not all software will provide the same functionality as Zwift but the basic idea remains the same. One or more sensors on your bike communicate your effort to a computer and the software provides you with interactive visuals. The sensors vary from basic ones the measure your speed and cadence to power meters that use strain gauges to measure actual power output. Any of the trainers we’ve talked about up until now can be made to work with this sort of set-up. At a minimum, you will need: –
- A Speed/cadence sensor.
- A computer that’s capable of running your choice of software.
- A USB dongle for the sensor to interface with your computer.
These are all relatively inexpensive.
To get the full experience though, you’d want to take a look at purpose-built smart trainers. If you want the very best, consider the likes of the Tacx Neo. These have in-built sensors for speed and power data and can actually change the resistance you feel based on what you’re looking at the screen. For example, when you’re uphill on the screen, the trainer will ramp up the resistance to simulate a climb.
Add the ability to chat and ride with others using the same program over the Internet and you have a social, engaging cycling experience without leaving the comfort of home.
Getting a bike trainer represents an additional commitment to becoming fitter regardless of the conditions outside. If used the right way, this investment will result in improving your performance in every way and will let you take your riding to the next level.
Just keep the following in mind and you’ll thank us later: –
- Get a fan to blow air at you while working out. You’ll soon realize that you get way too hot much too fast on the trainer as compared to when riding outdoors. This is due to the lack of wind cooling you down as you ride along. Getting a fan will mean you’ll be more comfortable and as a result ride longer and put out more power.
- Stay hydrated. For the same reason as above, you’ll be losing a lot of fluid and so it’s a good idea to keep drinking water. Adding a second bottle cage to your bike will help.