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Turbo Bike Trainer vs Stationary Bike (Comparison)

For a multitude of reasons, you could find yourself stuck at home. Maybe it’s too cold or rainy outside, maybe you have to stay home to look after the kids, or maybe you are in lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, that doesn’t mean that you have to give up cycling. Whether you’re a professional cyclist or just looking to stay active, both turbo bike trainers and stationary bikes are great options to choose from. They provide a low impact calorie-burning workout to improve health, stamina, and lower-body endurance. Regardless, there are differences between them. In this article, we compare the two in detail, and hopefully, this will help you decide which one to purchase.

Pros and Cons of Turbo Bike Trainers and Stationary Bikes

Pros:

Turbo bike trainerStationary bike
Provides a more realistic road cycling feelDifferent types of stationary bikes for different needs/preferences
More portable and less storage space requiredProduces almost zero noise
Use your own bike in your preferred position, so no adjustments neededLittle to no maintenance required throughout its lifetime
Some can connect to Zwift or Sufferfest for a complete outdoor experienceSome can connect to fitness or VR apps using bluetooth
Usually more affordableNo setup required, just hop on and start pedaling

Cons:

Turbo bike trainerStationary bike
You need to own an actual bike to use itRequires a large space and harder to move due to weight
Unless you leave a bike attached, setup is needed before every useInitial installation can be quite difficult for some people
Some cause wear and tear on the rear wheelTypically more expensive

Turbo Bike Trainers

Turbo bike trainers or indoor bike trainers are designed to be the perfect replacement for outdoor cycling when you are stuck indoors for any reason. A bike trainer simulates the experience of riding outside as much as possible. They can only be used with your actual road/mountain bike unless we’re talking about a high-end bike simulator. There are different variations of bike trainers. The most common ones are described below.

1. Wheel-On Trainers

As the name suggests, a wheel-on bike trainer is used while leaving the rear wheel on your bike. This is the most common kind of bike trainer and usually has lower prices. A wheel-on trainer is a small foldable and portable unit with clamps that attach to the skewer/axle of the rear wheel. The tire rests against a roller which is linked to a flywheel with wind, magnetic, or fluid resistance. One downside is that the rear tire is likely to face some wear and tear.

Wheel-on trainer

Image: Wheel-on trainer

2. Direct-Drive Trainers

For direct-drive trainers, you do have to detach the rear wheel and attach the dropouts of the bike with the trainer. Such a trainer usually comes with its own cassette to wrap the chain around. Direct-drive trainers also have a flywheel and the same forms of resistance as wheel-on trainers, but they are larger and typically have more connectivity features. They provide a smoother, more consistent ride that feels closer to the real thing. However, they are also more expensive.

Direct-drive trainer

Image: Direct-drive trainer

3. Roller Trainers

Roller trainers are the simplest type of indoor bike trainers. They simply utilize a set of rollers on which you will place your bike and start pedaling. They can be thought of as treadmills for bikes. There are no attachment points and hence, require some practice to use without falling over. Although, this attribute may be preferable since road cycling is also a constant balancing act. Rollers are, however, not stable enough for high effort cycling and also have fewer features.

Roller trainer

Image: Roller trainer

Stationary Bikes

Stationary bikes or exercise bikes are one of the most recognizable and preferred workout equipment for boosting cardiovascular health and improving overall fitness. These machines are quite easy to use and suitable for nearly anyone. This is because different types of features are suitable for different needs. The 3 main categories of stationary bikes are discussed below.

1. Spin Bikes

A spin bike simulates an outdoor bike the most out of all stationary bikes. The handlebars, pedals, and seating position/adjustment are very similar to a road bike. You have to stay hunched over since the handles are lower and farther away from the seat. They feature heavy flywheels for smooth and realistic riding experience. Spin bikes are popularly used for high-intensity interval training, notably in spin classes. Out of the 3 exercise bike types, spin bikes are normally the cheapest and have the least number of features.

Spin bike

Image: Spin bike

2. Recumbent Stationary Bikes

These stationary bikes are the most structurally different from outdoor bikes. Recumbent bikes have a large reclined seat with back support and handle on either side of the seat. There are no traditional handlebars and the pedals are out in front of the body. This design is used to provide a high level of comfort to the user. As a result, recumbent bikes are suitable for seniors, people with back problems, and those recovering from injury. They also take up the most space due to the large length.

Recumbent bike

Image: Recumbent bike

3. Upright Stationary Bikes

Upright bikes are the most numerous type of stationary bike. Users have the body in an upright position with the pedals below the hips and the handlebars higher than the seat. So, an upright is sort of midway between a spin bike and a recumbent bike. They are more suitable for moderate cardio workouts and for those who are new to cycling.

Upright bike

Image: Upright bike

How to pick between the two

Now you have a clear idea of what a turbo bike trainer and a stationary bike actually is. In this section, we have discussed the main factors to consider before buying, and also about what sets the two kinds of equipment apart.

1. User Requirement/Preference

The decision of choosing between a turbo bike trainer and a stationary bike is mainly dependent on your needs. Both will give you a low impact and high-quality cardio workout, but they each have a different feel to them. First, we need to consider whether you own a bike. If not, then a stationary bike might be the right option, since with a bike trainer you’ll have to buy a bike as well. However, if you are planning to get a bike or already own one, then the answer is not that simple.

Using a turbo bike trainer means you might have to work out in the garage which could be cold. Unless you are fine with bringing your cycle indoors. The best argument for bike trainers is that they deliver a pretty accurate feel of riding outside. The resistance is felt at the rear wheels which are similar to that of a road/mountain bike. While on a stationary bike, the resistance is felt at the pedals. Stationary bikes have different types suited to the different needs of people. Ultimately, it depends on which one you prefer using.

2. Resistance

A stationary bike uses either friction-based or magnetic resistance. In friction resistance a brake pad is used which can eventually wear down, needing replacement. A magnetic resistance system uses magnets to resist the rotation of the flywheel. This makes it quieter and longer-lasting. Turbo bike trainers have either wind, magnetic or fluid resistance. A fan spins as you pedal and generates progressively higher levels of resistance at higher speeds. Fluid resistance works in the same way as wind resistance but uses a propeller inside a liquid. This system provides the smoothest and most lifelike resistance. Magnetic resistance works just like that in stationary bikes.

3. Ease-of-use and Setup

The initial setup of a stationary bike can be time-consuming and quite hard for those who struggle with tools. However, you only need to do that once. Every time you work out, all you have to do is get on the bike and start pedaling. Conversely, a turbo bike trainer takes minutes, if not seconds to setup. The catch is that you will need to set it up every time you exercise. It can be even more annoying for direct-drive trainers, where you have to remove the rear wheel from your bike.

4. Space and Portability

You will need a large dedicated space of at least 5ft by 3ft or more to keep a stationary bike. Even though most have transport wheels, they are also quite heavy and difficult to move around the house. In comparison, a turbo bike trainer is pretty small and many can be folded for even more convenience. You will only need space for your bike when you are actually cycling.

Turbo trainer and stationary bike

Image: Turbo trainer and stationary bike side-by-side

5. Data Monitoring and Connectivity

Both bike trainers and stationary bikes will almost always have at least a simple console for displaying basic data. A stationary bike usually also has pulse sensors and gives readouts for distance, time, calories, speed, and heart rate. Bike trainers show a slightly different set of data, namely speed, power, cadence, etc. The reason is that cyclists typically deal with this type of data. You can also use your bike’s console with a bike trainer.

Bluetooth or internet connectivity can be found in both types of equipment. However, this is obviously found in more expensive machines. With a stationary bike, you can sync with fitness apps on your phone/tablet. A turbo bike trainer can connect to apps such as Zwift, Sufferfest, Rouvy, etc. These are software that provides a virtual reality experience and lets you interact with riders around the globe. Some bike trainers automatically control the resistance according to the route and incline of the map chosen.

6. Price

The price can vary within a huge range for both types of equipment. Nevertheless, stationary bikes are generally more expensive than indoor bike trainers. A stationary bike can cost anywhere from $150 to over $3000, while bike trainer prices range from under $100 to upwards of $1000. The higher the price, the better the quality and the more features it has. There’s nothing to do if you are on a budget, but it might be worth it to wait and save up for a good quality machine. This can actually save you money in the long run due to fewer breakdowns and replacements.

Conclusion

To wrap it up, both stationary bikes and turbo bike trainers are excellent for cardio workouts and keeping fit. If you don’t own a bike, or you are not really an avid cyclist, or you have other problems such as back pain, then we recommend getting a stationary bike. If you are a cycling enthusiast/athlete who has to stay home due to bad weather or to take care of your kids, then a turbo bike trainer is the right choice for you. We hope you enjoyed the article. Thank you for reading.

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Dion Lewis
My name is Dion Lewis.

I’ve been cycling from my childhood. When I was in high school, I started racing in our local competitions.

At my college life, I took a part time job in a bicycle shop and I learned how to repair and maintain bicycles professionally.

Though I love racing, mountain biking is another thing I do frequently. My friends, neighbors, and colleagues treat me as an avid rider and take my suggestions while they plan for a new bike or a bike gear.

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