Depending on where you live, your rides outside may be numbered. As much as we may go in with the the intention to tackle winter riding with vigor, when it’s dark and cold it can be tough to bundle up and get out there. Riding inside is a great way to not only keep up your fitness level, but it’s a great opportunity to focus on specific aspects of your technique and push for some improvements. There are a lot of options out there when it comes to indoor bike trainers, so this guide will take you through the different options and some of the best of each category.
Types of Bike Trainers
A trainer is a stand that holds your bike in one place via the rear axle and has a spindle that is pressed against the tire transferring resistance. With your bike locked in place you can easily look away from the bike to an entertainment device as opposed to rollers (discussed below). Trainers come in three main kinds that are differentiated by how they apply resistance to the wheel.
– Fluid Trainer
A fluid trainer uses, you guessed it, fluid inside a drum that is attached to a spindle that the tire rests on to create resistance. Fluid trainers apply the most even resistance to the wheel while also being relatively quiet. The resistance level in a fluid trainer goes up in an exponential fashion the harder you pedal.
– Wind Trainer
Wind trainers use a fan that is designed to catch wind as it turns to create resistance. This is then attached to a spindle which rests on your rear wheel like that of a fluid trainer. Because the fan is cutting through the air to create resistance, they are loud. With stationary riding however, it can be quite hot due to the lack of wind across your body but wind trainers often direct the breeze toward you creating a bit of a cooling effect. The resistance level with wind trainers does go up the harder you pedal but not to the extent of fluid trainers.
– Magnetic Trainer
Magnetic trainers use magnets to place resistance on the spindle. Most magnetic trainers have an adjustment that allows you to vary the resistance level while riding. Magnetic trainers can vary widely in the amount of resistance they can give but a decent one will give you plenty of leg searing resistance.
One drawback to all of the trainers above is that the resistance is placed on the tire which causes the tire to wear down rather quickly. Many riders use old tires that are only ridden on a trainer, but if you’re frequently switching between riding inside and out, changing a tire all the time can get old. Fortunately there is a new style of trainer out there that doesn’t use a rear wheel. The trainer has a cassette that is attached to the stand that your bike is locked into which provides the resistance. Many cyclocross riders opt for this one as it eliminates the need for a trainer-only wheel to warm up on.
Another device for indoor riding is rollers. These use three drums, one under your front wheel and two under your rear which your wheels rest on and rotate while riding. The centrifugal force of the wheels rotating keeps you balanced much like riding down the road. Riding the rollers does take a bit of practice as it requires balance and focus to stay upright, but once you’ve adapted it’s quite easy and much more enjoyable than riding the trainer which requires pretty much no focus to ride.
Rollers come in a variety of sizes of drums which dictates how much resistance there is on the rear wheel. The smaller the drum, the higher the resistance. However, some rollers come with resistance that can be added, most often in the form of magnets on the side of one of the drums.
– Free Motion Rollers
By far the best indoor riding device are free motion rollers which are rollers that are attached to a stand which allows them to glide forward and back with your riding via bearings. Free motion rollers allow the bike to move not only side to side as you ride but also forward and back allowing you to get out of the saddle as well as making it feel like you are riding down the road. They also have variable resistance with a magnet attached to one of the drums.
A final option for indoor riding is a stationary bike. These bikes are made to only be ridden in place. If you ride inside a lot and don’t move your setup, this can be a good option provided you place a similar saddle and the same pedals on it as well as have the position the same as your normal bike. These can save your bike from the stresses placed on your frame by a trainer as well as running through tires on both a trainer and road bike. The down side is it’s a bike only to be ridden indoors.
The Best Indoor Bike Trainers
Fluid Trainer – Kinetic Rock and Roll Trainer
Kinetic is one of the most popular best sellers in the market, and with good reason. The cost upfront may seem daunting, but the high-quality and ease of use makes their trainers well worth the investment. The Rock and Roll trainer gives a more realistic ride than most others, making it unique, and it’s compatible with almost all bikes. It’s quiet, smooth, and features a fluid resistance unit. It also works with Bluetooth compatible smart phones, tablet, and laptops so you can use Kinetic Fit, Zwift or TrainerRoad.
Magnetic Trainer – Blackburn Tech Mag Race Trainer
The Blackburn Tech Mag Race Trainer is the perfect example of a great tool for the job at an affordable price. It’s small foldable design makes it easy to transport and store, and it has a surprisingly smooth road-like feel. The magnetic resistance system is controlled via a handlebar- mounted lever, making it quick and convenient. The adjustable legs also make it so you don’t really need to raise the front wheel. This trainer will work for both road and mountain bikes.
Rollers – Tacx Antares Rollers
The Tacx Antares Rollers are loved for the conical shape of the drums, ensuring your bike always remains in the middle of the roller (making it both easier to ride and safer). They also sell a support stand that clasps your front wheel, and can be a great toll to get used to the feeling of riding on rollers.
Budget Friendly Trainer – Conquer Portable Bike Trainer
For the casual cyclist looking to keep up a base over the winter, the Conquer Portable Bike Trainer gives you a lot of bang for you buck. It’s simple to set up and operate, and takes up very little space (perfect for apartment dwellers). The heavy duty frame and overall stability of the ride makes it a great option for beginners. It features magnetic resistance, and requires a bike with a rear quick release wheel.