As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases. We also earn commissions from other affiliate programs through our links at no extra cost to you.
Want to know how to choose a bike trainer so that your fitness or training routine isn’t interrupted during bad weather spells outdoors? Well we’ve got you covered with a detailed bike trainer buying guide that covers the different types available and which ones are best under certain circumstances.
A bike trainer attaches to the back wheel of your bike and provides resistance to it with a mechanism that makes contact with the tyre. The tyre can be the bike’s own tyre or a trainer tyre that replaces the actual tyre. A direct drive trainer doesn’t need a back wheel at all, however, but instead attaches directly to the bike’s rear casings. There is another way to pedal your bike indoors and that is with a bike roller instead of a trainer. While its works completely differently, we will cover that option here as well.
Before we get into the types of turbo trainers or bike trainers, you should know that these are recommended only if you already have an outdoor cycle and prefer biking outdoors as much as you can. Trainers come in handy when you can’t go outdoors because of the weather. They are also very popular among pro cyclists who have to train in the off season and need to warm up before a race. However, if you don’t have a cycle because of where you live but you like biking for fitness, you should maybe consider getting a spin bike or indoor cycle instead. It is an indoor exercise bike that most closely mimics the feel of outdoor biking.
That said, many biking enthusiasts will choose to keep an outdoor bike along with a trainer for year round fitness and training. So let’s get on with helping you choose a bike trainer so that you don’t waste anytime with your routine.
Types of Bike Trainers
Wind Bike Trainer
This old-style type of trainer has a fan that is powered by your bike’s back wheel while you pedal. The fan provides increasing resistance as you pedal harder. On basic models, that’s the only way to increase resistance, while more advanced models come with gears, so you can manually change resistance by shifting gears.
This simple mechanism also makes it the noisiest of the bunch. If you want to listen to music or watch something while using it, you’ll need to use earbuds connected to a device and even then, some users may not like the background whirring sound. Forget about watching TV that’s mounted on a wall in front of you. It’s best placed in your basement or garage so as not to disturb anyone else.
However, a wind trainer is usually the least expensive type of trainer and it is a good choice for endurance training. It is very lightweight and portable, so you can easily take it with you for warm ups before races. Currently, there is just one wind trainer on the market that’s a good option and that’s the CycleOps Wind Trainer.
Magnetic Bike Trainer
This type of trainer uses either a magnetic flywheel to provide resistance or spring-loaded magnets. The former kind gives you fixed resistance that you control by either a selector switch/slider or by changing gears. The latter gives you automatic progressive resistance that becomes higher the faster you pedal. The latter is more realistic if you want to closely mimic outdoor biking. Some new models let you adjust resistance with a remote control or allow for automatic progressive resistance with the use of a software app that can be connected to the trainer.
Magnetic trainers are quite silent and you can even talk over the sound, making it a good option for apartments or homes where the gym room is not isolated.
Magnetic trainers run the gamut in price and the cheaper models tend to breakdown quickly if you use the higher resistance levels for long periods of time. However, you can get a reasonably priced one that is durable if you look in the moderate to high price range. Ensure that if you select a manual adjust resistance model, the range of resistance offered is large. If this is what interests you, we have chosen our favorite magnetic trainers currently on the market.
Fluid Bike Trainer
A fluid bike trainer is the best kind there is. It uses a hydraulic fluid with centrifugal force to create progressive resistance. Therefore, you’ll have a greater challenge the faster you pedal. These trainers are usually high powered, so you can even stand and sprint suddenly and the change in resistance will be smooth and the trainer won’t struggle to keep up with you.
You’ll get the best road-feel with this trainer and there is no need for manual adjustments. Some models have a combination of fluid and magnetic mechanics to allow for more control. Pro cyclists prefer this type because of the accurate simulations that you can get for hill climbs, sprints and flat terrain when you adjust the resistance electronically. You also get more features on these types of trainers.
Of course, with quality and good features comes a higher price tag, as these trainers are generally more expensive than magnetic and wind. If you’re serious about training indoors or setting challenging fitness goals for yourself, this is really the only option to consider. One downside with fluid trainers is that while they’re the most durable of the three, they can become hot with heavy use and that leads to a shorter lifespan on the hydraulic parts. If this is the kind you want, we have the best rated fluid trainers for you in every price bracket.
Direct Drive Bike Trainer
while the above trainers use a spinning fan or roller to engage with your bike’s rear wheel tyre or trainer tyre, a direct-drive trainer doesn’t use the bike wheel at all. You remove the wheel and wind the chain around the trainer’s cassette. The problem with the former is that the friction generated by contact with the tyre wears it out pretty quickly. While you can buy a trainer tyre to use just for indoor use, that’s an additional cost and effort to change tyres each time.
Direct drive turbo trainers usually have large flywheels, which helps make pedalling really smooth. The noise is kept low as the parts that make up the trainer’s resistance unit are encased.
Once you get the initial hang of removing the rear wheel and attaching the rear dropouts to the trainer, it can be done quite quickly. However, you may need to decide based on whether you can keep your bike attached to the trainer in one spot for an extended period of time. If you think you’ll frequently switch from indoor to outdoor cycling or you don’t have enough space to keep the set up in place, then a standard kind of trainer is probably better.
The other problem with direct-attachment trainers is that some models may not work with all axle standards, although newer models come with optional adaptor hubs.
If this is the kind of trainer that interests you then take a look at our picks for best direct drive trainers.
While this is not a separate category of bike trainers, smart trainers are becoming very popular. They include electronics that wirelessly control the resistance and measure your power output using ANT+ or Bluetooth, so you’ll get precise fitness and training routines and can use virtual racing programs. See which ones we consider the best smart trainers right now.
While all the above were bike trainers, this is called a bike roller. They both let you ride your bike indoors but a trainer is easier to use unless you have experience with a roller. A trainer attaches to the bike rear axle and keeps it upright, so you don’t need to balance at all. On a roller, there is nothing to prevent your bike from tipping over, so it is up to you to balance yourself. This means you exercise your core muscles as well and you improve your form and technique.
A roller consists of two free-spinning rods at the back and one in the front. You set your bike onto the roller so that the rear wheel rests between the two back rods and the front wheel on top of the front rod. You’ll need something to hold on to on the side as you start pedaling and gain momentum. Once you start moving, you can let go and ride like you normally would but still work to keep your balance. Take a look at our top picks for bike rollers.
Should I Choose a Bike Trainer or Roller?
While fans of the bike roller say that you get a more accurate road feel with it, a fluid trainer can be just as good. A trainer is compact and most can be folded away for storage. All rollers can be folded. You can do powerful workouts and standing sprints on a trainer but it is more difficult to do it on a roller. A trainer is also best if you like watching TV, as you don’t have to concentrate on keeping your balance.
The reason you may want to choose a roller is if you’re in training and want to smooth out a choppy pedalling action. However, if you need to focus purely on fitness, go with a trainer.
Can’t decide between the two? There’s a hybrid called Minoura FG-540 Hybrid Roller that will give you the benefits of both!
So, what turbo trainer should I buy? The answer depends on your budget and what exactly you need one for. Wind and magnetic trainers tend to be less expensive and are good enough for most fitness needs. If you’re training for a race, then invest in a good fluid trainer. A bike roller is what you need to ensure ideal cadence. A smart bike trainer keeps your workouts interesting if you’re the kind that finds indoor cycling too boring.
We hope that you now know how to choose a bike trainer. Now hit us up in the comments if you have your own insight!
Stationary Bike Trainer: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jenumfamily/5365523384/ [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/]
Magnetic Bike Trainer: https://www.flickr.com/photos/bekathwia/4326694802/ [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/]
Fluid Bike Trainer: https://www.flickr.com/photos/22404965@N08/4250057554/ [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/]
Direct Drive Trainer: https://www.flickr.com/photos/glorycycles/21676309391/ [https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/]
Bike Roller: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/8d/Indoor_trainer.JPG [By Keanu @ no:wp (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons]