For every experienced cyclist, riding indoors can never compare to the excitement and fulfillment that comes with navigating those narrow terrains and pedaling up hills. However, when you’re facing the winter frost, riding outdoors becomes an unpleasant option. So, to maintain your training or exercise regime, you may have to find an indoor riding option. Instead of going for the costly, cumbersome exercise bikes
that may not even give you the real-life riding experience, you can purchase a bike trainer to imitate your cycling indoors.
Whether you’re training for an early-season championship or just trying to maintain your regular cycling routine, an indoor bike trainer will get you going regardless of the weather conditions. There are numerous types of bike trainers out there, and finding the right model may not be a piece of cake. Some smart trainers even allow users to simulate a virtual racing environment.
A good bike trainer should be foldable and storable under your bed or in a closet, without occupying much space. Once you’ve fixed your bike – whether it’s a mountain bike
or a cruise bike – to the trainer, the rear wheel will be raised off the ground and allowed to freely interact with the trainer’s resistance mechanism. You’re then set to begin your ride as you monitor the mileage you regularly cover. Of course, with some models, you can adjust the resistance levels as you wish and have a road-like cycling experience.
It’s important to note that a trainer can wear out your wheels faster than the road. To alleviate this problem, it’s a good idea to purchase an extra smooth tire specifically for riding on your trainer. Additionally, you need a trainer with a quick-release bike wheel, a common feature with road bikes
. Some models come with a quick-release skewer for connecting the back wheel to the trainer. For high-end mountain bikes, you may need a trainer with a thru axle for wheel attachment.
Having said that, it’s time to go through the various features to look for when shopping for a bike trainer, and then you can jump straight to our individual picks.
A typical bike trainer seems to have all the basic mechanisms, but don’t be too quick to buy that. There’s a lot that goes into the design and construction of a bike trainer to ensure it’s steady and efficient. There are many cheap bike trainers out there but most of them aren’t built for quality service. The prices may be tempting but a cheap bike trainer probably won’t live up to your expectations. The lowest bike trainer in our price range costs about $55 and offers a great value for your money. High-end models with connectivity and better road-like feel will cost as much as $350, offering value and great quality.
So, which bike trainer is right for you? There’s a wide range of choices when it comes to indoor bike trainers. Fluid and magnetic bike trainers have fairly simple mechanisms with a handlebar-mounted remote for varying the resistance. Other models can comply with your computer or track power to offer downloadable workout data.
Here are the critical features to look for:
- Compatibility – Axle-attachment standards and bike trainer widths change every other year. You should be sure to check if the trainer you want to purchase offers various attachment options like thru-axle adapters or different freehub options for direct attachment trainers.
- Storage – Some bike trainers come with folding legs for easier storage, and even some rollers can fold in half. Consider your available storage space and consider models that will fit without requiring extra space.
- Noise – Almost every trainer generates some form of noise and vibrations which can irritate people around you. If you live in a building with shared walls, ceilings, or floors, pay attention to the noise level produced by your machine.
- Stability – Cases of trainer crashes are rare, but that doesn’t mean they never happen. If you’re going to stretch your efforts in a bid to beat your PB, you’ll need a stable trainer in order to avoid accidents. In general, the broader the base, the better the stability. Some models even incorporate a leveling feature for uneven floors.
Construction and Design
Bike trainers come in different designs and styles. Pick a model based on your residence – whether an apartment or a home. Also consider your focus – some models excel at increasing resistance tolerance while others really pump up your pace. Here are the common types of bike trainers:
- Wind Bike Trainers – These trainers are quite durable and are often lightweight and less expensive. As you press the pedal, it triggers the trainer fan to spin. The fan scoops the air, and thus progressively generates resistance as you cycle. The notable downside to this model is that it generates significant noise and may not be appropriate for an apartment dweller.
- Magnetic Bike Trainers – A magnetic bike trainer has a magnetic flywheel that creates resistance as you ride. Some models have fixed resistance, requiring you to manually change gears to adjust difficult levels while other models offer progressive resistance. For an extensive, uninterrupted ride, consider models with a toggle switch or handle bar for adjusting resistance as you ride.
- Fluid Bike Trainers – These trainers have a reputation for mimicking the best road-like feel as you ride. It comes with simulating inclines, and you can adjust resistance electronically as you ride. The construction incorporates a shell connected to a flywheel housing an impeller and fluid. The impeller turns and heats up the fluid, hence adding resistance to the pedals. These bikes are relatively quieter than the magnetic and wind models.
- Bike Rollers – Bike rollers differ significantly from other bike trainer designs. The machine has three rolling drums and your bike rolls on top of these cylinders by rotating them. Since the machines are lengthier, they are less portable – hence rather inconvenient to travel with. You’ll basically use your core muscles to balance on the rollers as opposed to having your bike secured in one position. They are therefore perfect if you want a killer core. Note that this model is restricted to advanced riders but offers the best real-road riding experience.
Performance and Ease of Use
When choosing the right bike trainer, focus on your end goal. Do you want to strengthen your core, increase resistance, or enjoy a road-like riding experience? Decide on your targeted result and pick a model which best suits your style.
Smart trainers create different workout regimes. They can be either be magnetic, fluid, or direct-drive. They can link directly to your smartphone, tablet, or desktop computer, enabling you to use an app to adjust resistance levels. You can also use smart trainer apps to track and store your workout stats to help you plan and achieve your goals. If you choose to incorporate virtual reality software, you can ride on an interactive course and simulate real-life riding on different terrains.
Consider also whether or not you need an articulating attachment. This feature allows you to stand up and lean your bike side to side, the same way you would when riding on the road. This can be helpful for maintaining core strength, or for a more accurate simulation of a road-like ride.
Finally, having a direct-to-frame attachment through the rear dropouts can be a useful feature on your bike trainer. The trainer typically replaces your bike’s rear wheel to provide a crisper and more efficient link between the bike and the trainer. You’ll no longer rely on friction to generate resistance, which by extension saves the tire life. Be sure to check if the direct attachment trainer will work with your axle standard or drivetrain before you make a purchase.
We looked at brands that are known for their durable athletic machines and equipment. We compared the price of each machine against customer satisfaction and how realistic a ride each trainer offers. We've focused both on budget models and high-end models so that beginners and more advanced cyclists both have a great option to choose from. With that insight, it’s time to dive into our top picks and grab yourself a model that suits your needs.
Look for high-quality construction so you won't have to deal with unexpected breakdowns or technical difficulties when you're trying to get a ride on your bike trainer. Long-time cyclists swear by higher-end trainers because of the road-like feel they provide, so consider how much that matters to you. Hopefully, you found the best bike trainer you’ve been looking for. These brands have a wide range of options for you.