by Katherine A. Roccasecca
Once we have convinced you that you need one, this indoor bike trainer buying guide will help you pick the one that's right for you.
- Fewer hours of daylight means fewer safe hours to ride outdoors.
- Yes, you get extra tough-guy/gal points for riding outdoors in the cold or rain, but even the toughest tough-guys and tough-gals get sick of spending 30 minutes dressing up and dressing down for every ride.
- After a long season of racing, your family may be looking forward to spending some time with you this winter. Long endurance-building rides out on the road are unlikely to make them happy, but watching a movie together might!
- If you're a parent, you need to do your share of kid duty. Be careful combining watching the kids with riding the trainer, though. The trainer and your bike have lots of places to pinch little fingers. Make sure your kids are either old enough that this is absolutely not an issue or they are safely asleep in their crib.
- An indoor bike trainer is an any-time-of-year must-have tool if you ever break a collarbone or have foot surgery. Your doc will approve of you getting back on a trainer long before s/he will approve of you going out on the road.
So, you know you need an indoor bike trainer. Which one should you get?
Which Indoor Bike Trainer to Buy
First, a quick word about rear wheel trainers vs. direct drive: Trainers listed below as "Wheel" mount the entire bike by the rear skewer, and the rear tire makes contact with the roller. To use a "Direct" drive trainer, remove your bike's rear wheel and position the chain on the trainer's cassette. Direct drive trainers can be a little quieter and have the advantage of not wearing out your tire.
Truth is, the actual best trainer for you comes down to price, noise, and road-like feel. Fluid trainers are typically mid-priced, are among the quietest, and have progressive resistance—it gets harder as you pedal faster and/or shift up—just like on the road.
Any trainer in this category will provide you with years of trouble-free training.
The Kinetic Rock and Roll is a fluid trainer with a unique frame that allows the bike to move side to side as it does on the road to help you improve your core strength.
The CycleOps Magneto is listed here because, unlike the magnetic resistance trainers listed in the next section, it has progressive magnetic resistance.
|CycleOps Basic Fluid (Yellow)||Wheel||$199.99|
|Kinetic Road Machine||Wheel||$339.00|
|Elite Tuno Power Fluid||Wheel||$359.99|
|Kinetic Road Machine | Smart||Wheel||$369.00|
|Kinetic Rock and Roll | Smart||Wheel||$549.00|
|Progressive Magnetic Trainers||Price|
Wind and Magnetic Trainers
If you have a tight budget, there are magnetic and wind trainers available. Wind trainers have good road-like feel with progressive resistance but are very, very noisy. Magnetic trainers can be as quiet as fluid trainers; however, the resistance is liner and not progressive. It can be adjusted on the unit itself or with a shifter mounted on your handlebars.
|CycleOps Basic Mag (Yellow)||Wheel||$129.99|
|Elite Novo Force||Wheel||$219.99|
These trainers require you to do the exact workout you say you are going to do—no slacking off. You can create your workout or follow an already created workout or video.
|Kinetic Rock and Roll | Smart Control||Wheel||$749.00|
|Tacx FLUX Smart Interactive Trainer||Direct||$899.99|
There are a lot of power training options out there for smart trainers: Zwift, CycleOps VirtualTraining, Elite Real Training, Kinetic Fit, TrainerRoad, and more.
But what is a smart trainer?
The smartest smart trainers are the ones that adjust the resistance automatically based on a workout you have selected or programmed into your computer. These trainers are listed above in the Electronic Trainers section.
There are other trainers which are have "smart" in he name, but you don't need to worry about them being smarter than you. They simply are wired up to tell you how much power you are generating without the need for a separate power meter. They do this based on known values in their power curve. You follow a power-based workout by adjusting your gear and cadence to produce the desired power.
If you have a power meter, you can use these training programs with a "not-smart" trainer. Some programs will even work without any power measurement—check the program you are interested in for compatibility information—they may use virtual power based on speed and cadence.
Indoor Bike Trainer Accessories
What more do you need beyond the trainer and your bike?
You will almost certainly want a trainer mat. Just to be blunt here: You're going to sweat. Your sweat is going to run down the bike, over the drivetrain, and onto the floor. Unless you want salty, greasy stains on the floor, get a trainer mat. After your workout, wipe it down, roll it up, and put it away. The mat will also protect your floor from possible scratches and help dampen the noise just a little. Buy Now
As long as we're talking about sweat, consider a bike sweat guard. It attaches to your handlebars and seatpost to prevent salt-cicles on your headset and bike frame. Buy Now
A riser of some sort is required for your front tire. Most indoor trainers (excluding the direct drive trainers) hold your rear wheel up off the ground. Leaving your front wheel down will be awkward and uncomfortable, especially if you're watching a TV screen. A phone book just doesn't seem safe, not to mention, "Who has a phone book, anyway?" Get a purpose-built riser. Buy Now
The indoor bike trainer will create a lot of wear on your tire. The friction itself, plus the heat, will drastically shorten the life of your tire. If you have an old tire you don't care about, it will do for awhile. Trainer-specific tires are designed to withstand the stresses caused by the trainer and will last a long time, worry-free. Buy Now
Many bikes these days have fancy lightweight, aerodynamic skewers. Those skewers are great for racing, but do not fit safely and securely into the trainer. You may have an old-school skewer lying around, but if not, pick up a proper trainer skewer. Buy Now
If your bike has a thru axle, you'll have a also have an issue making it impossible to mount your bike on the trainer. Fortunately, trainer thru axles exist! Buy Now
More Odds and Ends
Collect a few more things from around the house and you'll be ready to go.
Food and water don't have to fit in your pockets while you're on the trainer. Go ahead and set up a small table next to your bike. Make sure there's room for the TV and DVD remotes, your phone, and the baby monitor (if applicable).
Unless you are setting your indoor bike trainer up in an unheated garage, you will need a fan to keep you cool. You'll want a towel or two as well. Remember all the sweat I mentioned above?
Now you should be ready for a winter full of crushing your training goals. We look forward to seeing a stronger, faster you in the spring! (We don't have to race against you, right?)
Prices current as of October 2017.
Need some tips to keep your indoor ride interesting? Get some ideas from our Break through Bike Trainer Boredom article.
Need replacement parts for your CycleOps trainer? Find them in our list of CycleOps Bike Trainer Replacement Parts.