HOW TO CHOOSE INDOOR BICYCLE TRAINERS – BUYERS GUIDE

Shaun George BOTS Guides

Your love for cycling shouldn’t be dampened by poor weather conditions or a lack of time. Wouldn’t it be great if you could train, warm-up or even compete with fellow cyclists around the world from the comfort of your house? Well, it’s possible with an indoor cycling trainer. You can keep cycling for hundreds of kilometers, even if it’s raining cats and dogs outside your house. What’s cooler is that you can train for upcoming races or events regardless of the weather conditions or the time of day outside.

A bicycle trainer is basically a piece of equipment that makes it possible for you to ride your bicycle from a stationary position. Very much like a treadmill, the trainer allows you to cycle in a fixed place. But unlike a treadmill, a trainer is not entirely a separate piece of equipment. Instead, it’s a device that attaches to a regular bicycle so that you can ride your bike in a stationary position while also being able to use it again whenever you like, outdoors.

DO I REALLY NEED A TRAINER?

This is a question that we really cannot answer because each rider has their own requirements and expectations out of a trainer. Budget is another very important consideration for a first-time buyer. But perhaps the most important consideration for a buyer would actually be intended usage and future goals. Other considerations would include time availability and surrounding weather conditions. Say it’s monsoon time,  riding outdoors wouldn’t be the most pleasurable activity to partake in. If you live in particularly cold regions then it would be a good idea to look at getting an indoor trainer for morning rides.

An indoor trainer is also a great idea for riders on a time constraint. That would be office goers or just people with packed daily schedules. Riding on your trainer will save you a considerable amount of time each day and will help you stay motivated to ride as you don’t have to miss a day regardless of the weather conditions and time availability at hand. 

Professional cyclists also use trainers to warm-up and cool-down before and after rides. They also use smart trainers at home to improve speed, efficiency, and endurance. 

So you can weigh out your requirements and opt for a trainer if it suits your budget and makes sense for long term cycling ambitions.

5 PRIMARY TYPES OF RESISTANCE UNITS

1.WIND

Your bike’s rear-wheel drives a fan that provides resistance. As you pedal harder, the resistance progressively increases. Most of the wind-based trainers in the market are available at a fairly reasonable price point. They’re also quite lightweight which makes them easy to move around alone.

However, there usually isn’t much adjustability on offer for variable resistances. The fan also can get quite noisy which may not be ideal for home-usage.

2. MAGNETIC/WHEEL-ON

These types of machines use opposing magnets to provide resistance. The flywheel is filled with magnets – due to centrifugal forces, these magnets get closer together and begin to attract. This ends up creating greater resistance for the rider.

The price of magnetic-based machines is dependent on how your trainer adjusts resistance. Certain lower-cost models require the rider to manually change the resistance once you’re off the machine. The more expensive options have a lever that adjusts the resistance.

It must be noted that even Magnetic Trainers can be smart or “semi-smart”. Basically what makes a trainer “smart” is its connectivity features and its ability to automatically communicate with third-party apps. At a minimum look at a magnetic trainer with at least Bluetooth and ANT+. One of the best smart magnetic trainers out there is the Wahoo Kickr Snap.

3.ROLLERS

These trainers are also available in two types. Ones with a stand in the front and ones with rollers in the front as well. This type of trainer gives you the most realistic feel as there is a direct drive from your rear wheel to the roller. The models with

a roller for the front wheel requires a good sense of balance. It’s usually used by the professionals.  You need to maintain a consistent cadence to have an enjoyable experience on the trainer. Roller trainers do also come in very basic variants as well. It’s a simple set up that is great for a warmup before a race. Not the most ideal setup for training or long-duration workouts as resistance cannot be adjusted.

4.FLUID

These trainers have some form of a liquid (usually Silicon) within the trainer housing providing resistance. The fluid drag can simulate multiple scenarios and that’s why fluid trainers are becoming a common choice among pro endurance riders. It’s fairly accurate and realistic to use. 

The fluid inside contributes to a bulk of the gross weight of the trainer. Due to internal fluid friction, it also tends to heat up with heavy usage. Fluid trainers are also more expensive than wind and roller trainers.

5.DIRECT DRIVE/SMART TRAINERS

Smart trainers are the ultimate indoor trainers as they also offer statistical rider input and output data that a rider can access via their mobile devices or laptops to analyze their performance. It’s a good way to receive riding feedback for improvement further down the line. These trainers also have a ton of adjustability options for all rider requirements. 

Direct drive trainers have more to offer than “normal” wheel-on trainers. The advanced technique brings more accuracy, makes the trainer generally more powerful and simulates a more realistic bike feeling. A rear tire will deform and slowly deflate while you train, which will influence your performance during training. An additional advantage of a trainer set-up without a rear tire is that this will make your training much more silent. And because most direct drive trainers are equipped with a built-in power meter, your workout will even get more professional.

They aim at stimulating an outdoor ride with realistic experiences, visuals, and resistances. These feature Bluetooth or/and ANT+ compatibility so you can capture more data and also pair external devices such as heart rate monitors for minute details. All these additional features will cost you plenty but might give you the motivation to get into some serious training.

Things to look out for

  1. Ride Feel
  2. Adjustable Resistance
  3. Sensor pairing options
  4. Ease of Use
  5. Budget

1. ACCURACY

It cannot be argued that one of the most useful and most beneficial parameters a trainer can provide you with is power figures. Manufacturers pride themselves on power accuracy. You will see their power accuracy claims printed in large bold font on the front of the box – if it’s a good number of course.

Smart trainer power accuracy is one of the most important things to look for when purchasing a smart trainer. You will see it as a +/-x% number (x – variabe). Most “good” trainers these days fall within the +/-0.5% – +/-5% range.

Accurate power figures are especially important if you use third-party software such as Zwift or Trainer Road. In virtual riding, speed is calculated based on watts/kg. Apps like Zwift also include factors such as weather, road surface, etc. to calculate a more realistic speed. But the two main metrics you have control over is watts and your weight.

2. RIDE FEEL

Did you know that you could experience a very realistic ride feel and experience through a trainer? That’s right, fluid and direct drive trainers are especially good at real-feel simulation.

We generally suggest that riders choose bike trainers that simulate real conditions and elevations as they translate better when training or using interactive apps such as Zwift or TrainerRoad. If you plan to churn out some serious Watts on your trainer, be prepared to spend a little more on a rig that is capable of taking hours of abuse.

3. RESISTANCE

Adjustability is great to have on a trainer. Most trainers these days have a lot of resistance adjustability options – even the more basic ones.

This refers to the number of watts the trainer can use to push against your legs, which is most noticeable when climbing or sprinting. Resistance changes based on rider weight and speed – this works particularly well when using trainer software such as Zwift or Trainer Road.

You don’t really need to look for a very number here. It really depends on the kind of rider that you are. If you’re particularly good at sprinting or are a powerful rider then a maximum resistance wattage upwards of 1200 Watts is good enough.

Credits – Bike Exchange

4. CONNECTIVITY

Since most training softwares and programs are going online it’s worth staying connected. You may want to pair your sensors up to your bike trainer. As you know, tracking and recording performance statistics is important to the long-term success of any athlete. Whether it’s your speed, cadence, or power. It’s a good idea to stay future proof.

Look out for trainers that are “smart” and/or have speed,cadence and power tracking capabilities. If not, you may need to pair your own sensors to the trainer – which should allow for Bluetooth and ANT+ connection at least.

5. EASE OF USE

This is too much of a worry. Most trainers these days are plug and play – there’s no wasted time involved. Direct drive trainers are the most convenient as they are easier and quicker to set up (if you already have a cassette installed on the trainer).

Direct drive trainers are also fairly easy to set up but it would require you to have a rear trainer wheel with a trainer tire – or else you will have to switch tires and wheel every time.

6. BUDGET

Trainers are available in a broad range of prices. There’s something for everyone’s budgets. While it’s easy to let this single factor drive your entire decision-making process, remember that you’re making an investment in a piece of important tech that you want to last.

It’ll add up to your expenses considerably if you’re going through trainers every couple of years. Cheaper options are often tempting but may not last as long. If you’re planning on upgrading soon, make sure that the trainer can fit your new ride.

CLASSIC VS SMART TRAINER

There are essentially two main types of trainers – (don’t confuse this with types of resistance) 1) Classic Trainers 2) Smart Trainers

1. Classic Trainers – Classic/”dumb” trainers are those that do not have the ability to communicate with third-party apps or other smart devices.

They will not be able to measure parameters such as power without external sensors. As a result of this, they will also not be able to automatically increase or decrease resistance when being used with trainer software.

2. Smart Trainers – The main feature of Smart trainers is that they adjust the level of resistance automatically. With a classic trainer, you have to do this manually.

When it comes to connectivity options, a smart trainer measures your power and connects to your favorite cycling app for a sophisticated and accurately simulated cycling experience.

WHEEL-ON VS DIRECT DRIVE TRAINERS : WHICH IS BETTER?

This is a question that often pops up in the heads of potential trainer owners. With the vast variety of trainers available these days, it can be quite tough to choose between the two.

One of the most obvious ways to tell them apart is simply looking out for a roller drum at the back or a large disc/flywheel. If you see a roller, it’s a wheel-on trainer, if you see a large flywheel, it’s a direct drive trainer.

On a wheel-drive trainer, you fix your rear wheel in the trainer by resting it against a roller and attaching the quick-release on two attachment points on either side.

For a direct drive trainer, you remove your rear wheel and mount your bike directly on the cassette mounted on the trainer. You place the trainer between the dropouts of your bike and clamp it with a quick release or a thru-axle. 

WHICH IS BETTER?

Wheel-on trainers are great for beginner riders who are looking at purchasing their first trainer and don’t want to spend too much. They’re significantly cheaper than direct-drive trainers and as a result are also slightly less accurate. Wheel-on trainers are also a lot more convenient to use in tight spaces as the tend to occupy less space.

If you want all the bells and whistles that an indoor trainer has to offer then a direct drive trainer is your best bet. They offer everything and more for the average rider to benefit from. They’re more accurate, more realistic and quieter than other types of trainer. They even have the ability to connect with third-party apps and can automatically adjust resistance.

Direct-Drive trainersWheel-Drive trainers
More realistic
Self-adjust resistance via apps
More accurate
Responds faster
Higher resistance capabilities
Relatively silent
Built-in power meter
More affordable
Weight less
Easy to mount your bike

WHICH TYPE OF TRAINER IS BEST FOR ME?

Smart trainers are your best bet these days as you can keep all your ride data on your devices or even share them on social media and compete with friends. Smart trainers also have a plethora of adjustability options and can be adjusted on the fly. However, smart trainers can be quite expensive and may not be worth the money for riders not looking to get too serious into the statistical data and just want a basic trainer.  

In that case, wind and roller trainers are the most economical options for a beginner. They’re also fairly accurate and realistic.

Go through the different types of trainers above and see what kind of trainer suits your requirements best. According to that and your budget, you can lock in onto a trainer. Don’t limit your budget onto a trainer that’s much cheaper than others in the market as it probably indicates that the manufacturer has cut corners in product development and overall quality which is never a good thing. 

Wahoo, Kinetic and CycleOps are some of the best trainer manufacturers in the game these days. You don’t have to spend too much for a decent trainer these days. Most basic trainers these days do the job just fine. Additional features and adjustability will cost more.

MAINTENENCE

Since trainers spend most of their time inside houses or enclosed spaces there’s not much maintenance required to keep them running healthy. It’s unlikely that you’ll ever need a major overhaul of any kind on your trainer. It is worth noting that direct-drive and wind trainers are the least likely to develop any sort of maintenance-related issues – this is simply down to the resistance units they feature.

Although there are a few basic things you can do to ensure your trainer lasts as long as realistically possible. 

  • Clean the roller- Keep the interface surface clear of any debris. It’ll function smoother this way.
  • Lubrication- Lubricate the tensioner and tensioner mechanism.
  • Tighten frame bolts- Occasionally tighten the frame bolts after weeks of heavy usage.
  • Storage- Store the trainer in a cool and dry area away from direct sunlight when not in use.

SUMMARY

For some, a trainer can be a big-time and money saver. Riding your bike indoors means it’s undergoing less wear and tear as it isn’t exposed to the elements and pollutants that can wear out your drivetrain pretty fast. It’s also a great way to train for an upcoming race or event. Go over the list above to see what kind of trainer is best for your requirements and usage pattern. There are a bunch of pocket-friendly options out there too for riders who are just starting out.

Being able to save a ton of time getting ready for a ride and being able to ride even if the weather outside is far from ideal, is a big enough reason for most riders to invest in one. What are you waiting for?

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