Indoor Bike Trainer Buying Guide

by Katherine A. Roccasecca 

Indoor Bike Trainer Buying GuideEven if it never gets bitterly cold with 18 inches of snow on the roads where you live and train, there are still plenty reasons to get an indoor bike trainer.

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.

Fluid Trainers

Fluid indoor bike trainers are a good buyThis buying guide would be very short and yet still be accurate for most people if we just wrote, "Get a fluid trainer," and left it at that.

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.

Fluid TrainersPrice
CycleOps Basic Fluid (Yellow)Wheel$199.99
CycleOps Fluid2Wheel$299.99
Kinetic Road MachineWheel$339.00
Elite Tuno Power FluidWheel$359.99
Kinetic Road Machine | SmartWheel$369.00
Kinetic Rock and Roll | SmartWheel$549.00
Progressive Magnetic TrainersPrice
CycleOps MagnetoWheel$260.99

Wind and Magnetic Trainers

A Magnetic indoor trainer can save you some moneyIf 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.

Wind TrainersPrice
CycleOps WindWheel$152.99
Magnetic TrainersPrice
CycleOps Basic Mag (Yellow)Wheel$129.99
CycleOps Mag+Wheel$179.99
Elite Novo ForceWheel$219.99
Kinetic MagneticWheel$289.00

Electronic Trainers

elite-rampa-electronicIf you are very serious about your training, need to do a lot of your training indoors, and have the money, then an electronic trainer is the trainer for you.

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.

Electronic TrainersMSRP
Tacx VortexWheel$549.99
CycleOps MagnusWheel$599.99
Kinetic Rock and Roll | Smart ControlWheel$749.00
Elite DiretoDirect$899.99
Tacx FLUX Smart Interactive TrainerDirect$899.99
CycleOps HammerDirect$1199.99
Elite DrivoDirect$1349.99
Tacx NEODirect$1599.99

Smart Trainers

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?

Trainer Mat

sunlite-trainer-matYou 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

Sweat Guard

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

Riser

Use a riser block with your indoor trainerA 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

Tire

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

Skewer

Trainer SkewerMany 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.

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Katherine is our Content Champion. She has done triathlons in the past, and now focuses on cycling and mountain biking. She loves weird multi-sport events that don't involve running, like aquabike and bikeathlon.

Latest posts by Katherine (see all)

  • Nicholas "Tri-Clyde" Sikes

    I am a HUGE (pun intended) of the Cycleops Jet Fluid Pro. I debated a LONG time and spent a month convincing my wife that the money was worth it and I was right. It is half the noise level of my old trainer and the ride is nice and smooth. Now if only I could convince her that I need a 60" TV to put in front of the trainer...

    I have a friend with the Powerbeam Pro w/Joule. I am super jealous since he can train on the exact course he will race on. Or just ride through Europe just for the fun of it...

    You didn't mention in the article that the Cycleops Pro series can actually take a 29r Mtn bike. They are not only for road bikers anymore.