Ok, we’ll admit it. There’s times when it’s just too horrific to go outside. Then we looked at the weather app, saw a number with a minus sign in front of it, and put it all away again.
Instead we pulled out the old bike trainer, and enjoyed a hard, pulse-pounding, and warm workout in the basement. Sure, it was a lot less exciting than we would have hoped, but at least we still have all our digits…so that’s got to count for something, right?
Bicycle trainers are a great way to keep fit and get in a ride when the weather just won’t cooperate, or even when time is short. Sometimes if we have a lot of general life commitments, we’ll just keep the bike set up in the trainer, making it easy to sneak in a quick 15 or 20 minutes of indoor training when we can.
When it comes to picking a bike trainer, you have plenty of choices, and sometimes figuring out the differences between then can be tricky. So we went through our assortment and broke it down for you.
Bicycle trainers are kind of like a treadmill for your bike—except that you’re the one doing all the work (there’s no motor moving anything except your legs). They consist of a frame and a resistance unit. Bike trainers either have a frame that clamps on to the wheel skewer (a specially one is usually provided) and places your rear tire on the resistance unit, or a frame that requires you to remove the rear wheel and clamp the frame direction on to the trainer.
Bike trainers are usually defined by the type of resistance unit it offers.
Fluid resistance bike trainers are some of the most popular and “realistic” trainers out there. They feature “progressive resistance”, so as you crank up the cadence on the pedals, the resistance on the trainer increases, giving you a pretty “road feel” as you ride. Is it exactly like riding outside? Not quite, but the feel is pretty good.
Fluid resistance bike trainers also have the advantage of being very quiet, so they’re good if you have thin walls or live in an apartment building.
Magnetic Resistance bike trainers use powerful magnets to increase the resistance. Unlike fluid resistance bike trainers, which increases resistance in response to your cadence, these trainers usually require you to preset the level of resistance you want. Some units also come with a remote that can attach to your handlebars to let you control resistance while riding.
Magnetic bike trainers are usually less expensive than fluid trainers, making them a good choice if you’re trying to get in some time on the bike trainer, and are on a budget.
The resistance on these bike trainers comes from a built in fan—kind of like an old rowing machine. These also have progressive resistance like a fluid trainer, so as you increase your cadence, the resistance increases. Wind resistance trainers usually have a smoother progression in resistance than fluid bike trainers, and with fewer moving parts. The down side though is that wind resistance trainers are incredibly loud. Like, unbelievably loud. But, if you want a smooth, progressive, lightweight bike trainer, these are the way to go.
Wind bike trainers are usually the most advanced out there, with interactive features, built in power meters, and other high tech features.
Ah yes, that old school favorite. Rollers are a bit different from bike trainers. With a bike trainer, the rear wheel is either clamped into the trainer, or removed all together and the frame clamped directly to the trainer. With rollers, you’re on your own. Rollers have three drums that spin as you pedal, creating an inertia effect that keeps the bike upright.
Rollers can take some getting used to (the first time you ride one, we recommend setting it up next to a wall to help you get started. And make sure a close friend is filming…), but once you’ve got the hang of it, they produce an excellent workout. Some rollers come with resistance, and some do not. Some also have a parabolic roller shape, which helps you stay centered while riding without drifting to the sides (and risking falling off).
The main benefit of rollers is that they are excellent for helping you work on your cadence and form. Since rollers reward a smooth, steady, high style of pedaling, they help you hone your technique—which can pay huge benefits out on the road.
Here are a few things might want to consider purchasing to go along with your bike trainer
Riser block: raises your front wheel to be on level with the rear
Mat: Helps keep the trainer from moving around and catches any sweat drips
Nashbar Reader Rack: This holds a tablet, book, or eBook on your handlebars…you know, in case you get bored