Bike trainers are the most effective tool for increasing your fitness and strength on a bike in the least amount of time possible. Being that are no external factors to overcome while riding (e.g. wind, hills, etc.) it’s easy to gauge progress, particularly when using a heart-rate monitor and/or a power-meter.
Regardless, they’re especially convenient if you’re running short on time, need to do a very specific workout, and/or if the weather is less than ideal.
While any bike trainer can provide a good workout to any cyclist, some trainers are more appropriate than others in respect to the rider. In general, there are four types of bike trainers: Wind, Magnetic, Fluid, and Rollers. Of the four, cost is the biggest differentiator. However, each style has its pros and cons. Furthermore, ride quality and price can vary significantly. Allow me to elaborate on each:
Wind Bike Trainer
Wind trainers generate resistance via a fan and are generally the least expensive option. With wind, as a cyclist pedals harder or fast, the resistance will increase. However, such trainers are quite loud. So, if noise doesn’t concern you, this would be a good trainer type to consider.
Wind trainers range from $150 to $300, but can fetch as much as $630 for the likes of the LeMond Revolution 1.1 (Kurt Kinetic Cyclone shown below).
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Magnetic Bike Trainer
Magnetic (Mag) trainers generate resistance via magnetic force and are the most popular option. Though, the force they generate is fixed, meaning their resistance stays the same no matter how hard or fast you pedal. However, varying levels of resistance can be achieved by use of an attached cable, which can adjust the level of resistance. Overall, these trainers are best for steady-state efforts.
Mag trainers start around $150 (Elite Volare Mag Speed shown below).
Fluid Bike Trainer
Fluid bike trainers generate resistance via a magnetic flywheel with fluid resistance chambers. In other words, they provide a progressive feel that is the most similar to what you’d experience riding outdoors. Therefore, when you shift gears or pedal harder or faster, the resistance will increase correspondingly. Fluid trainers also offer the most resistance of any trainer.
Fluid trainers range from $230 to $500 (CycleOps Fluid 2 shown below).
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Rollers offer an entirely different riding experience and can help improve your pedal stroke and bike handling skills. Instead of attaching your bike to a trainer, you set your bike atop three cylinders. While no forward motion can be made, you can actually move from side to side. While that might sound a bit scarey, it’s the best trainer for perfecting your pedal stroke and keeping you mentally engaged. Resistance either comes in the form of shifting one’s gears or a resistance band attached between the front two cylinders.
Rollers start around $200.
If the goal is to ride more, any type of trainer will do. With the exception of rollers, it’s a wise decision to buy a front wheel riser block. That will keep your bike level and make for a more enjoyable riding experience.
Other than that, here are a few things to ask yourself before buying:
- What’s the functionality of the trainer?
- Is set-up easy? Is it easy to store? Is it portable?
- How much are you willing to spend?
- Ride quality and durability correspond with an increase in price.
- How loud is the trainer?
- Does it have the potential to disturb others in earshot?
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