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Types of Indoor Bike Trainers (Comparison)

Indoor bike trainers were initially popular in winter as cyclists could not ride their bikes due to the excessively cold and bad weather. Sometimes it would even be too hot to ride outside in the summer. However, over the years indoor bike trainers have developed and offer a lot more to its users. So if you are looking for something to maintain your cycling fitness or just to workout at home, there’s a very good chance that indoor bike trainers have exactly what you need.

Types of Bike Trainers

A typical indoor bike trainer is capable of providing a good and effective workout. However, more expensive models will provide better performance and come with more exciting features and advanced technology. The price range for trainers can be anywhere from two hundred dollars to even thousands of dollars. There are three types of Bike Trainers that you can choose from:

Wheel-on Trainers:

Wheel-on trainers

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This was the first type of available bike trainer. As the name suggests, you will place the rear wheel of your bike on this trainer. The trainer connects to the rear wheels’ axle and grabs on to it tightly. Now, the wheel is pushed against a roller which is in charge of controlling the resistance. Wheel-on trainers are quite compact in size and they are also the most affordable bike trainers out there. A quick tip for using a wheel-on trainer is that you should consider replacing the rear wheel of your road bike with a trainer wheel. As the roller applies the friction on the tire, your road-style rear wheel might get damaged. Also, a lot of wheel-on trainers can be folded to allow for easy storage and most high-end models can be synced with mobile apps.

Direct-drive Trainers:

Direct-drive Trainers

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For direct-drive trainers, you have to detach the rear wheel and attach the drivetrain of your bike to the resistance system of the trainer. This type of bike trainer provides very efficient power transfer and also offers a more realistic cycling experience. The fact that you have to take off the rear wheel means that this trainer will save you from spending money on an extra trainer tire. Also, another advantage to the direct-drive over the wheel-on trainers, is that it completely eradicates the chance of your tire slipping on the trainer when you ride very fast. Direct-drive trainers usually have more features and are generally more expensive than wheel-on trainers.

Roller Trainers:

Roller Trainers

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These are known as traditional indoor bike trainers. These trainers consist of three rollers where you can place your bike. These rollers when you pedal on your bike and generate resistance for your exercise. Cycling with this trainer is not very easy, you have to make sure that you maintain your stability on the bike. On the bright side, this will take your balancing and bike controlling skills to a whole new level. It will also help you develop your form, your pedaling efficiency, and give you a more natural cycling experience. However, you should keep in mind that it does not offer a large range of resistance levels.

Bike Simulator:

Bike Simulator

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Bike Simulators are the most premium bike trainers available. This is an individual exercise bike that provides the most practical cycling experience. Therefore, it also saves you the trouble of setting up your own bike on it. You can just hop onto the bike simulator and start cycling. It does not make a sound while in use and therefore is completely whisper quiet. It is built with strong materials, providing a very comfortable platform and also wireless app connectivity. Also, it comes with adjustable ergonomics and therefore can be used by you and your whole family. Another amazing benefit of using a bike simulator is that your precious road bike can always be ready on standby for your outdoor activities as it will not be required by your bike simulator. As they provide much more features and convenience, they also come with a higher price tag.

Smart Trainers:

Smart Trainers

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These indoor bike trainers are basically any of the above-mentioned types of trainers with the exception that they offer more digital connectivity. In today’s digital world, wireless connectivity to trainer apps is a distinctive feature. These smart trainers completely depend on software systems and come with built-in sensors that can change the resistance according to your workout. You will also enjoy statistical data of your workouts that will not only inform you of performance gaps but also help you improve on it. On top of all that smart trainers also provide a lot of entertainment and interactive gamification features that will allow you to have fun while also getting a productive workout.

You can watch the following video to know more about the different types of indoor bike trainers that you can buy:

Types of Resistance

There are various types of resistance systems available on indoor bike trainers today. They differ from one another in terms of their operation, sound, and quality. So you can choose the type of resistance system that suits you and your riding style the most. Before all the technological advancements were introduced, the type of resistance system played a far more important role as everyone is chasing the new technical features these days. However, you should not dismiss this factor and definitely pay more attention to it as it can determine your overall indoor cycling quality. The different types of resistance systems are:

  • Fluid Resistance: These types of resistance systems use a hydraulic material to adjust the resistance level. So if you pedal very fast, the hydraulic fluid will raise the resistance level and vice versa. This is available in most wheel-on bike trainers. There is, however, one downside to this resistance system and that is if you pedal too fast, there is a chance that the fluid will overheat or even leak out of the trainer. So you should keep that in mind.
  • Magnetic Resistance: I am quite sure most of us are aware of magnetic resistance systems. It consists of opposing magnets. As these magnets get closer together or move further apart, the resistance level increases or decreases accordingly. The affordable trainers will require you to adjust the magnetic resistance manually, but with more expensive machines you can adjust it with a dial or even digitally.
  • Wind Resistance: Bike trainers with wind resistance systems mostly come with a fan. When you pedal on your bike, you will power the fan and that is what produces the resistance. The faster you pedal, the more the resistance will be and vice versa. Although trainers with wind resistance systems are cheaper, they can be quite noisy due to the fan and they also don’t offer a high resistance range. So if you are looking for a bike trainer that will offer quiet operation and a lot of flexibility, then these trainers are not for you.

Major Factors for Indoor Bike Trainers

Major Factors for Indoor Bike Trainers

Now that you know about the different types of indoor bike trainers and resistance systems they are available with, let’s talk about some of the important factors or features that you should consider before buying a new trainer.

Durability

You should go for a bike trainer that is of high quality and durability. Sure you can spend a bit less on the trainer and save some money. However, that might cost you in the long run in the form of maintenance and replacement. For example, with low-quality bike trainers, the fluid seal is the first thing that gets distorted and the fluid leaks out. So even if you have to spend a little more at the time of purchase, it will actually save you a lot of time and money in the long run. Buying a high-quality trainer from a well-known brand will ensure its performance and serve you well for years to come with almost little to no maintenance. So before you make your final purchase, choose a bike trainer that will be highly durable.

Bike Compatibility

This is one of the first things that you should check before you buy a bike trainer. Although most road and triathlon bicycles are compatible with indoor trainers, it never hurts to double-check. Some road bikes come with some fancy exterior features, mostly at the rear end and as a result, your bike frame might not fit the trainer. Also, some manufacturers, especially that of carbon fiber bike frames do not provide a warranty if it gets damaged while using a bike trainer. Even though it is quite a rare case, you should definitely pay attention to that, especially if your bike is very expensive or too heavy, so that you do not do anything that you may regret later.

Noise

Bike Trainers that are equipped with wind resistance systems are very noisy. If you live with your family or have neighbors nearby, it is a better option to go for magnetic, fluid, or roller resistance systems but these will cost more than a wind trainer. However, if you plan to exercise on your own in a place where noise is not really an issue, then a wind resistance trainer will be just fine and also a cheaper option.

Technology Features

The number of technology features available for bike trainers is absolutely endless. If you are purchasing a smart trainer, you should get one with smart sensors installed on it. This will allow you to get all your performance metrics including your speed, distance, calories, cadence and so much more. Also, you should choose a trainer that is compatible with trainer apps such as Zwift, TrainerRoad, The Sufferfest, and Rouvy. These apps will provide you with instructional videos, interactive training, fitness programs, and also allow you to make your own workout routine. But perhaps the most amazing feature of all is that, with such apps, you will be able to ride along with your friends virtually and in real-time.

Price

Now that we have talked about all the important factors of bike trainers, let’s just get a brief overview of the price points. As we have mentioned already, wheel-on trainers without any smart features are available at the most reasonable price point. So if you don’t want to spend too much and just want to get one for a casual workout, then this is the best choice. However, if you are looking for something a bit more challenging and with some additional smart features then a direct-drive trainer is a very good option. With that being said, it will come at approximately twice the price of a wheel-on trainer. Bike simulators are the most expensive of all and they come with a lot more smart features and will not require you to use your bike.

Conclusion

As there are so many options to choose from, you should definitely conduct thorough research before buying one and make sure that it will meet your cycling requirements. Trust us when we say that investing in a good bike trainer will be absolutely worth it. Not only will it help you maintain your cycling performance but it will also improve your overall fitness. We hope you enjoyed reading this article and that we could help you in making such an important decision. Thank you for taking the time to read our article. Take care and stay safe!

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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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