A bike trainer is a device that holds your current bike in place, allowing you to use it as a stationary bike. Unlike stationary exercise bikes, trainers are compact, lightweight, easier to manoeuvre and suitable for small spaces.
The bike trainers use fluid, wind, magnets or a flywheel to create variable resistance and simulate riding outside. Smart bicycle trainers have special tech features for even a more engaging workout.
Why Might an Indoor Bike Trainer Be for You?
An indoor bike trainer might be good for anyone who loves riding a bike. Although most bicycle riders prefer riding outside, riding indoors can be a helpful alternative in some cases which leads to the question: Are indoor bike trainers worth it?
The answer is yes, they are when the weather gets bad or if you’ve had an injury. You can find it very convenient if you must train for an event or try to maintain a regular exercise schedule to improve your sedentary lifestyle.
While an outside ride can take longer due to traffic, lights, stops, mechanicals, and other interruptions, an indoor trainer eliminates that issue. Since all you need is to hop on your bike and ride, you don’t have to worry about rides accidentally running longer than expected. It also leads to an effective and efficient workout.
For example, if you only have an hour to ride, you can make the most out of it: warm up, work out, cool down. You won’t waste your time getting to a good road.
Types of Indoor Bike Trainers
Since you’ll come across a wide range of indoor bike trainers using different technologies that impact the quality of the workout, here’s the general breakdown to help you out with your shopping.
Classic vs Smart Bike Trainers
Classic trainers have been around for ages: they’re simple and affordable, doing a good job at making you sweat. Classic options offer resistance when pedalling, but you can’t control them with an app or software. A classic bicycle trainer might be all you need if looking for an option that will provide a simple ride with no distractions.
On the other side, the smart alternative is becoming much more popular these days. And for a good reason: these trainers have changed the indoor riding game entirely. They simulate real-life road riding by changing resistance.
Smart bicycle trainers support ERG mode, allowing you to hold a prescribed wattage. This mode might be proper for you if you opt for structured workouts where you need to maintain a level of effort but don’t trust yourself to hold that effort. As long as you pedal, the trainer will keep the same intensity.
If online virtual routes with friends or power-based training sessions sound interesting, the smart trainer for indoor bike is the best option for you.
Wheel-On vs Direct-Drive Bike Trainers
Wheel-on trainers were the only type of trainer available until a few years ago. As their name implies, you mount your bike’s rear wheel on them, and it pushes against a roller to create resistance. Mounting is as easy as getting your bike on and off.
Wheel-on trainers work best as a classic option, as getting an accurate power reading takes more time, and the accuracy is lower. Another concern is the type of tire you’re using. You should use a tire designed for trainers with high-heat resistance because these trainers rely on friction between the tire and the unit to provide resistance. Or you can use old tires that aren’t road-worthy anymore.
To use direct drive trainers, you must take the rear wheel off your bike and replace it with the trainer’s resistance unit. Not only does it provide a smooth and realistic feel, but you also don’t need a trainer-specific tire. This training type allows you to engage more directly and don’t have to dread a tire slip if pedalling faster. The result is much less wear and tear on your gear while a more realistic riding feel.
Fluid vs. Magnetic/Electromagnetic Resistance
On a fluid resistance trainer, you simply pedal faster if you want to feel more resistance. The faster you pedal, the harder you work, and the more intense the sweat. While fluid trainers have the smoothest ride feel, they usually don’t give you the option to add or reduce resistance, as smart trainers do. They’re also the quietest of all.
Trainers for indoor use using magnetic or electromagnetic resistance usually include an option to increase or decrease resistance. Since you can manage the resistance level, they give you more flexibility in your training.
Different Flywheel Weights
Simply said, the heavier the flywheel, the more realistic the ride. A trainer with a lighter flywheel feels like riding with your brakes rubbing and will slow you down if you stop pedalling.
Other Things to Consider
Now that you’ve learned the different types of indoor bike trainers, you must have a general idea of the type you need. Once you decide on the type, it comes down to the details. Even within the same category, different models serve various purposes. These are some of the most important factors to consider.
First things first, you need to check if your bike fits. Although most indoor cycle trainers are compatible with several bike styles and tire sizes, it won’t hurt to check. What you need to know is your bike type: is it a mountain or road? Also, the wheel size and the type of skewer: is it a thru-axle or a quick-release skewer? And even if your bike isn’t compatible with a bike trainer you like, you can get adapters or cassettes to make it fit.
Noise may not be the biggest issue if you live alone in a house. But if you have roommates or family or live in a second-floor apartment with neighbours below you, you’ll need a quieter design. Direct-drive trainers are generally the most silent ones, while roller trainers are the loudest. Some smart trainers come with settings for silent mode.
While smart trainers are more expensive than traditional trainers, if you get bored of indoor workouts easily, it may be worth it. They connect to apps, such as Zwift or The Sufferfest, allowing you to set your bike to a specific program or terrain. What you get is adjusted resistance to simulate the actual road conditions. The app allows you to connect with other riders and ride your bikes together.