Bike Trainer Guide 101

A bike trainer is a perfect addition to your home during any season. It used to be that people would only use a bike trainer during winter. However, with the recent advances to bike trainers, they have become quieter, more durable, and more “smart” compatible. More and more people have begun to use their bike trainers throughout the year as a result. If the weather outside is horrible, or if you don’t want to deal with traffic, using your indoor bike trainer would be ideal for getting in your workout. Having an indoor bike gives you the freedom to ride any time of day without being limited by outdoor conditions.

What Are Bike Trainers And Stands?

What is a bike trainer? A trainer is a stand that holds your regular bicycle in place by the rear axle. It also has a spindle that presses against the rear tire to transfer resistance. When your bike is locked in place by the trainer stand, you don’t have to worry about balancing and can easily look away from your bicycle to watch kids running around, or watch an entertainment device. All you need to worry about is your feet continually pedaling. Many trainers are compatible with the typical 26-inch tires, as well as 29-inch tires, so a road bike or mountain bike alike can be used with a bike trainer. There are several different bike trainer variations, with three main styles of how they apply resistance to the wheel.

  • Wind Trainer: Your bike’s back wheel powers a fan designed to catch the wind as you pedal, to create resistance. The harder you pedal, the more the resistance progressively increases. With indoor cycling, you can get quite hot due to the lack of wind. A benefit of wind trainers is the fan is directing a breeze towards you, producing a cooling effect. It is typically the least expensive of the three and is an excellent entry-level choice for a beginner cyclist. They are light-weight, portable, and great for endurance training. One of the cons of the bicycle trainer is the noise level. Because you are powering the bike with a fan, it can tend to be a bit noisy. Another drawback is very few adjustments are possible to the gears, which means when you are pedaling hard, you could max out the amount of resistance. All in all, though, this is an excellent bike trainer stand for indoor training and your cycling workout.
  • Magnetic Trainer: Magnetic trainers use magnets to place a fixed resistance on the spindle. This means that your pedaling does not automatically get harder as your cadence increases. If you want to increase the resistance, manually shift the gears on your bike, or use the adjusting settings on your trainer. A few of the newer models will use spring-loaded magnets to help create progressive resistance. The magnetic trainer iss relatively quiet and inexpensive, and the resistance on the bicycle can be changed to simulate anything from smooth roads and hills to a steep incline. Some of its drawbacks are you have to manually adjust the resistance settings, with some of the more basic models even requiring you to dismount from the bike to change any settings. Magnetic trainers are the middle ground when it comes to pricing and ease for a stationary bike.
  • Fluid Trainer: With a fluid trainer, there is fluid inside a drum that gets attached to the spindle that the rear wheel rests on to create resistance. Out of all of the trainer stands, you can apply the most resistance pedaling on a fluid trainer. It is also the quietest out of the three trainer stands. This can be especially helpful if you don’t have the luxury of a separate exercise room, and your trainer stand is in the central area of the house. The resistance level in a fluid trainer goes up exponentially the harder you pedal. Another benefit is the fluid bike trainer does not require adjustments with multiple rides. The fluid bike trainer is popular with avid cyclists for its road-like feel, as well as the power and accuracy of its ride simulations. One of its potential downsides is that it is more expensive than the other two bike trainer options. It also can get hot with extended use, which may shorten the lifespan of the bike trainer.

Another option for a trainer stand is a roller. It is different from the above trainer stands, due to it not being locked onto the rear axle of your bicycle. The tire's resistance causes the rear tire to wear down quicker than it would if you were just cycling outdoors. Many riders will use an old tire only on the trainer, and then switch out for their newer tire when riding outside, but this can be a pain always to be changing the tires if you frequently switch from riding indoors and outdoors. Luckily, there is a new style of trainer that gives you another option. A roller trainer stand has a cassette attached to the stand that your bike is locked into to provide the resistance. It uses three drums, one under your front wheel and two under your rear wheel, that your bicycle wheels rest on while you’re cycling. The centrifugal force of the wheels rotating is what keeps you balanced, much like on the actual road.

The rollers come in various sizes and shapes, determining how much resistance is on the back wheel. The smaller the drum, the higher resistance is possible. Some rollers also offer the option to increase resistance through magnets on one of the drums' side. It can be challenging at first to stay upright with wheels from both your bike and the trainer stand. With focus and practice, though, you will be able to balance on the rollers in no time. Rollers allow you the freedom to glide forward and back with your riding, as well as side to side. This helps you feel the same way you would riding on the road. This type of bike trainer does require constant focus, though, so you don’t fall off. This can be a good or bad thing, depending on how focused you like to be during your indoor cycling versus distracted by other things to make the time fly by.

A final option for a trainer stand is a stationary bike. These bikes can only be ridden in place, and your regular bicycle cannot be attached and detached at random. You will have your outdoor bike, and then your indoor stationary bike. A stationary bike can be a great option since it saves your regular outdoor bike from the stresses on your frame and the rear wheel that occur with a bike trainer. The downside is that you need to have two separate bikes, your regular bike for outdoor cycling and your indoor stationary bike. 

As you can see, there are several different options for indoor trainer stands. Some key points to keep in mind and test out when looking for a bike trainer are:

  • Ride Performance: Some trainers feel smoother and more durable than others.

  • Adjustability: Do you want to switch out between indoor and outdoor bike rides frequently? How often will you need to be adjusting your bicycle for various situations?

  • Ease Of Use: Can you get your bike on and off the trainer stand easily?

  • Storage: How portable and compact is the bike trainer? This will be especially important if you don’t have a dedicated exercise room and need to put the trainer stand away after every use or travel with it.

  • Noise: How much noise does the bike trainer produce, and will it disturb you or others, based on your workout set up?

  • Price: How much is in your budget?

There are many different options for indoor cycling, based on your experience and intensity of cycling. Make sure you choose a bike trainer that will fit your needs, be easy and fun to use, and last for a long time.

What Is The Best Smart Trainer Bike And App?

 A smart bike can be any combination of the trainer stands mentioned above. The main thing that sets it apart is its digital connectivity. A smart trainer is an intelligent machine that connects to training apps that monitor your cycling and provide data feedback and management. These training apps allow you to adjust your resistance automatically and change your routes. It also gives you the freedom to connect online with people you otherwise would not be able to cycle with and to have a strong sense of community when biking indoors, when it could otherwise be boring and lonely. Smart apps also allow you to choose your route, so you can cycle virtually in exotic locations that you wouldn’t be able to experience otherwise. A smart trainer stand runs anywhere from $600 to over $1,500, plus the cost of the actual bike.

Some of the best apps that connect to a smart bike are apps like Zwift, Sufferfest, Peloton, and Tacx.

  • Zwift: Zwift is a recent training app that intermediate and advanced cyclists alike love. Zwift is only $10 a month and offers an incredible interactive gaming-style experience. You can compete and race other cyclists from around the world who happen to be riding the same virtual route at the same time as you. There are also interval training or free ride options, making it appealing to all types of audiences. It is recommended that you use this app with CycleOps, Wahoo Kickr, and Tacx Neo Smart trainer stands since they are the most compatible with this app. 

  • Sufferfest: Sufferfest can stream over 1,000 workouts, with workout options for strength and yoga workouts as well. It is a very well-rounded app and is perfect if you want to get in a tough workout, and less about virtually riding with multiple people. Sufferfest also offers the option to download the workout videos, so you can access them offline. A monthly subscription is only $14.99. Sufferfest is compatible with most trainer stands, just like the Zwift app is.

  • Peloton: Peloton offers virtual live classes and rides. It is $40 a month, which makes it significantly more expensive than the other options, but it can be well worth it. With Peloton, your riding is streamed to live instructors, so they can see what you are doing and offer coaching advice right then and there. This is an excellent option if you want to be involved in a cycling class, but don’t want to leave the comfort of your house. One downside of the Peloton app is it is only compatible with Peloton trainer stands. It cannot integrate with other bike trainer brands the way Zwift and Sufferfest can.

  • Tacx: While it is not quite as fancy as the other, newer apps, Tacx is a very reliable training app. It has a simple interface that allows you to enter in locations of rides, much like Zwift. You can also enter GPS coordinates, which is perfect if you are training for a specific trail. One of the most significant benefits of Tacx is that there is no subscription cost, and it is entirely free. The Tacx app is best integrated with CycleOps, Wahoo Kickr, and Tacx Neo Smart trainer stands.

What Are The Best Bike Trainer Brands?

Because many different kinds of trainers stand on the market, what product is best for you depends on your needs. You will want to look at how smooth the performance is, how easy it is to use, how durable it is, and if it fits your biking needs, both with the level of cycling you plan on doing and space, you have to do it in.

  • CycleOps: The CycleOps Fluid2 Trainer is moderately priced and is created by one of the leading bike trainer manufacturers in the world. This particular kind of CycleOps is a fluid trainer, which means that it uses fluid inside a drum to create resistance when you are pedaling. It creates a “road-like” experience and is very quiet.
  • Wahoo Kickr: While it is one of the more expensive smart trainers, the Wahoo Kickr bike is well worth the extra expense. These direct drive trainers are excellent because the Kickr bike removes the pressure and the wear and tear on your back tire. All you need to do is remove the rear wheel, hook your bike chain to the trainer, and voila, you are ready to cycle. The Kickr smart trainers can easily be connected to various training apps so you can have the best experience while cycling and be continually monitoring yourself so you can reach your goals.
  • Tacx Neo Smart: The Tacx Neo Smart Trainer is probably one of the quietest of the trainer stands. It can work without being plugged in and has a stable platform. It accurately simulates descents and ascents to help you get the most out of your ride. This bike trainer can be somewhat larger than the Wahoo Kickr, but it does have slightly more accuracy in the power measurements. The Tacx Neo Smart can also be pretty expensive, but that is due to its smart capability, which makes it worth the extra money when you get to have a better experience during your workouts.
  • Peloton: The Peloton is a stationary bike, and probably one of the fanciest options. It is also one of the highest quality bike trainers available. They use carbon fiber for the frame, which helps the bike be stiff and more responsive than most stationary bikes and lasts a long time. This bike is extremely quiet, and because you don’t have to attach your bike to it and worry about attaching and detaching the rear wheel, the set up is practically nonexistent, since you just need to hop on the bike and begin pedaling. Because there is not an actual bike attached, the Peloton stationary bike can be smaller than the other trainer stands. This can be useful if you don’t have a lot of space to put your bike trainer. There is a large screen attached to the bike, which allows a coach to see you and train you through the Peloton live virtual classes. A Peloton stationary bike is around $2,200, plus the cost of the Peloton training app and classes, which are $40 a month. A Peloton trainer is the most expensive option of the trainer stands since it also can’t double as your outside bike, as well as you can only use Peloton equipment and apps. However, with the high price tag, you are getting your money’s worth in regards to the quality of the bike trainer and its appliances.

As you can see, there are several different options for a bike trainer in your home. You will want to test out the bike trainer before purchasing it so that you can feel for yourself, the smoothness of the ride, the amount of resistance, and how loud it is. Having a trainer stand is well worth the cost since it gives you the freedom to cycle in your home at any time and in any season and weather condition. Biking doesn’t have to be lonely or rely on the weather. With a trainer stand, you can bike whenever you want, and with smart training apps, you can bike with anyone and anywhere that you desire.