Indoor Bicycle Trainer Buyers Guide

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indoortrainerguide

Winter has arrived and for most of us, that means the small amount of time we had in the early evening to squeeze in a ride has vanished. Not only is it darker earlier, but winter storms, rain, snow, and sleet will keep a lot of us off the roads this winter. Cyclists are then faced with two options. Either enjoy the “off-season”, losing all the fitness they’ve built up over the summer, or turn to an indoor trainer.

This guide will help you decide on which trainer will best fit your needs.

A couple of key factors you should be concerned with when selecting a trainer:

First, noise level. Even though some indoor trainers are advertised or reviewed as quiet, they all make noise. If you can, try out whichever indoor trainer you’re considering at your local bike shop if possible before purchasing. Your level of tolerable noise may be quite different than the next persons. Remember, a loud trainer may be more hassle than it’s worth and you may end up not wanting to spend much time on it.

Second, how does the trainer feel? The goal is to feel like you’re riding on the road as much as possible. If a trainer doesn’t feel like riding on the road, reminding you of how great it is to cycle, will you use it very much? Chances are no.

As appealing as low cost trainers may be, you should keep those two points in mind when setting out to purchase a trainer. Trainer nirvana is had when you find a trainer that fits your budget, is bearable decibel wise, and reminds you of how great it is to ride your bike. All while helping you stay fit and ready for the upcoming season.

There are generally three types of trainers – wind, magnetic, and fluid. Let’s go over some of their features and drawbacks.

wind

Wind
The wind trainer is generally the least expensive of the three types of trainers. It’s both an effective and economical way to get started indoors. The downside though is that they’re also typically the loudest. With wind trainers the resistance comes from a flywheel fan that spins up as you spin the cranks. The harder you pedal, the more resistance you’ll feel. It’ll get you spinning indoors, but with limited resistance options. Though high on the value scale, the noise keeps us from recommending this type of trainer. Unless of course, it’s this or not riding, in which case, we say go for it.

mag

Magnetic
The Mag trainer is the next step up from the wind trainer. Much quieter than a wind trainer, magnetic trainers get their resistance from magnets instead of a fan working against the wind. Mag trainers are considered linear in their resistance level. Meaning the resistance is steady and you could get on one and pedal up to 35-40mph without any change in resistance. Though, some well-engineered mag trainers will give you a varied workout by having some sort of ability to change the resistance, either a dial near the rear or a remote adjustment dial that can be fitted to your handlebar.

Magnetic Bicycling Indoor Trainers we’ve reviewed -
Blackburn Trakstand Mag Pro Review
Minoura VFS G Pro Review

fluid

Fluid
Fluid trainers are considered the quietest of the three types, but are the most expensive as well. Fluid trainers are considered progressive resistance, the faster you go, the higher the resistance becomes. It’s great for interval workouts because of this. A fluid trainer uses a synthetic silicone liquid that is resistant to heat, so that it’s viscosity is consistent throughout the lifetime of the trainer. Combined with a beefy flywheel, the fluid trainer also recreates the most realistic road feel of all three types.

Fluid Bicycling Indoor Trainers we’ve reviewed -
Elite Fluid Primo Pro Review
Blackburn Trakstand Fluid Pro Review

rollers
Ahem… There’s also rollers.
Rollers are great for working on balance and will help greatly with your bike handling skills, but the major drawback is that the most rollers do not offer any resistance. You could buy an aftermarket resistance unit, Cycleops offers one, but unlike the other types, your bike is not stationary and this type of indoor trainer is tricky to use for most.

Hopefully this quick guide offered some assistance and consumer knowledge to you. No matter which type you buy, the most important thing is to use your trainer. The trainer is a very useful tool in these winter months to help maintain your fitness and help you hit the road spinning when spring comes around.

Here are a two videos we did with Karl of Silicon Valley Cycling Center on a range of Indoor Trainers you may want to consider…

Trainers Part 1/2
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Trainers Part 2/2
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As always, you can also check out fellow RoadBikeReview Community Member’s Trainer Reviews –
RoadBikeReview User Posted Trainer Reviews

About the author: Thien Dinh

Thien Dinh gained most his cycling knowledge the old fashioned way, by immersing himself in the sport. From 2007 to early 2013, Thien served as RoadBikeReview Site Manager, riding daily while putting various cycling products through its paces. A native of California, Thien also enjoys tinkering with photography and discovering new music.


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  • Scott says:

    Great information on the indoor trainers. I like the fact that you can ride your summer bike in the winter on one of these. I don’t have one of those yet. I use a gold’s gym 390R indoor bike. It’s a great indoor bike to get you through the winter months. However, it didn’t come with a power supply so I was putting lots of batteries in it. I went to radio shack and put together a power supply that fixed the problem. I created a blog that showed how I hooked this supply up. The blog is http://unofficialgoldsgym390rbikepowersupply.blogspot.com/

  • Pete Colan says:

    Don’t dismiss rollers too quickly. Rollers are a terrific training system, because by their very nature they highly tune your riding skills. I teach hundreds how to ride rollers, and most are dialed in in about 10 minutes. Once they learn, most use rollers as often, or more often than trainers. Trainers are the best option for sprint/interval workouts, but rollers are best for endurance, and honing your form and technique.

    There are rumors that if you ride off the side, you’ll shoot forward thru the wall… nothing is farther from the truth. The only inertia on a stationary rolling bike is the wheels, which will stop instantly if you ride off the side. CycleOps and SportCrafters offers a very effective additional magnetic resistance device, and almost all other roller systems also offer additional resistance devices, but in many cases these devices are not necessary as the basic roller already offers meaningful resistance because it has three points of tire contact and distress. Rollers also don’t wear out tires, so you don’t have to have a special rear tire as you do on trainers.

    We have weekly winter workout spin sessions at our shop (Spin Zone Cycling), and of the 20-or so people that show up, 16 ride rollers.

  • Tony says:

    If you are willing to spend more to get a VERY realistic trainer workout then consider the Computrainer or the Tacx systems. These electronic virutal trainers offer varying resistance as you ride a virtual course that shows up on a TV or computer monitor. I have the computrainer and it offers the following features:
    1. Simulates rolling and wind resistance as a function of speed. It also simulates resistance encountered as you asend grades up to 15%. VERY realistic.
    2. Data logs and graphs multiple variables such as power output, speed, heart rate,% power applied by left and right legs, pedaling efficiency, cadence and others also.
    3. Allows you to ride video taped courses and speeds up or slows down the video according to your speed. This allows you to familiarize yourself with the many courses offered before you actually race there.
    4. You can build your own courses so if you want hill climbs followed by endurance or whatever, you can program any course you want.
    5. You can download GPS data and the system will build a replica course so you can ride your favorite courses at home when the weather is bad.

    This is only scratching the surface of what the system will do. I bring it up because virtual trainers take most of the monotony out of indoor cycling and they also proved a wealth of useful training data. There are also programs that allow you to race or train with others real time via the internet. A very significant jump over a “dumb” trainer for about the price of a decent road bike.

  • Brenda says:

    I super like it! Where can I buy one of these?

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