Best Bike Trainers Review

Why Use a Bike Trainer?

Biking outdoors is not always easy or possible. Inclement weather, bad traffic, construction and a busy schedule can make your ride less productive or even keep you from working out at all.  On such days, being able to exercise from home can allow you to stick to your healthy routine. However, owning bulky home-exercise equipment is not always ideal and, more importantly, it doesn't allow you to spend time with your bike. That's where bike trainers differ from exercise bikes.

Bike trainers are often foldable and storable, usually weighing between about 15 and 30 pounds, and most are small enough to store under a bed or in a closet when not in use. You attach your bike's frame and rear wheel to the trainer's frame, which lifts the back wheel off the ground so it can freely spin and interact with the trainer's roller. Bike trainers allow you to secure your bike to the machine so that they cannot fall over.

Riding on a trainer wears out your wheel faster than road riding does. For this reason, it is a good idea to have an extra smooth tire specifically for trainer riding. Most bike trainers are designed for a quick-release bike wheel, which is common in road bikes, and come with a special quick release skewer to help you connect the back wheel to the machine. Although less common, some machines also come with a thru axle, which is a typical wheel attachment for high-end mountain bikes.

We’ve looked into several of the best bike trainer brands to help you find the right machine for your needs. Kinetic bike trainers are possibly the most popular and varied machines on the market. Tracx's smart models have a reputation for including the most user-friendly software. CycleOps are known for being reliable and very sturdy.

Three of the top bike trainers now on the market are the Kinetic Road Machine,  the Minoura Roller-MoZ and the Wahoo KICKR. Learn more about healthy living with our articles here.

Bike Trainers: What Model Do I Want?

Your bike trainer needs will be different depending on whether you live in a home or an apartment. Similarly, the best bike trainer for you will depend on your focus; some types are better suited for increasing your distance, and others are designed to help you increase your resistance tolerance. There are six main indoor bike trainer types to accommodate you.

Wind Bike Trainers for Budget Rides

Along with being durable, wind trainers tend to be the least expensive and the most lightweight. They also tend to be more durable than magnetic trainers. Pressing on the pedal causes the fan on the trainer to spin. The amounts of air getting scooped into the fan generates progressive resistance while you bike.

This is not the ideal choice for someone living in an apartment or shared living space because the wind bike trainer tends to be the noisiest option.  It is also possible to exceed the maximum resistance available, which can be frustrating if you want to increase your resistance tolerance.

Magnetic Bike Trainers for Resistance

A magnetic bike trainer uses a magnetic flywheel to create resistance. Some have fixed resistance, which requires you to manually shift gears in order to increase difficulty levels. Others have progressive resistance.

Most fixed resistance models have toggle switches or handle-bar-mounted shifters, allowing you to increase resistance while you pedal. However, in order to increase resistance on some fixed resistance trainers you will have to dismount and manually change the setting, which can be frustrating when you want a long, uninterrupted ride. 

This type of trainer is less noisy than wind bike trainers, making this style more apartment-friendly. Magnetic trainers are often less durable than wind trainers. 

Fluid Bike Trainers for a Road-Like Feel

Fluid bike trainers have a reputation for having the best road-like feel, which includes simulating inclines. On the fancier models, you can adjust the resistance electronically while you’re biking.  Fluid bike trainers have a shell connected to the flywheel which houses an impeller and fluid. As the impeller turns, the liquid heats up and makes it harder to push the pedal. This design makes these trainers much quieter than magnetic or wind types.

In the past, fluid bike trainers had a potential for leaking when the fluid overheated, but as updated and improved machines keep coming, this issue is less likely.

Direct Drive Trainers for a Quiet Experience

Instead of attaching your back tire to the trainer, with direct drive trainers you remove back tire and directly connect the trainer to the bike frame and chain. Since there is less equipment between your bike and the device, more of your power goes directly into your workout and doesn't get lost in the friction between the two machines. This also makes the direct drive a quieter ride.

These tend to be the most expensive trainers on the market due to their complex build.

Smart Bike Trainers for Connectivity

Although these are not technically another model type, smart trainers create such a different work out experience that we chose to list them separately. These models can be magnetic, fluid or direct drive models; the differentiator is that they connect directly to your tablet or smartphone, giving you the ability to adjust resistance levels via app.

Smart trainers can track and store your stats and help you achieve goals through software and apps. Virtual reality software allows you to ride on interactive courses during your workout and simulates the feel of riding uphill.

The biggest downside to these machines is that certain models must be plugged into an outlet in order for the smart capabilities to work. Like most smart devices, sometimes buggy software can make the apps and programs unresponsive or delayed. This will all depend on the brand. Tracx has a reputation for having dependable smart software for its trainers.

Bike Rollers for Core Strengthening

The build of a bike roller differs greatly from the other trainers we have discussed. The machine typically has three rolling drums or cylinders. Your bike rides on top, rotating these cylinders as the front and rear tire spins. These machines tend to be longer than the average trainer and less easy to travel with.

Unlike the magnetic, fluid, wind and direct drive units, which securely hold your bike in place, the roller design forces you to use your core muscles to balance yourself. They also teach you to maintain an even pedal stroke so as to maintain a smooth ride. Since they do require so much balance and technique, bike rollers have the strongest road-like feel.

This balancing act is not beginner friendly. If your pedal stroke is not smooth the ride will be jerky and you may end up falling off or needing to stop and start frequently. Since your bike is elevated higher by riding atop the roller, mounting and dismounting is more difficult. High-end rollers are typically quieter than low-end rollers, but low-end rollers are typically louder than most trainers. It is also easier to max out resistance on these trainers.

Whether you want a bike trainer to avoid the weather or plan to use it as a warm up before a big ride, these devices can improve your cycling experience. The wide range of prices and features allows you to find the machine that is right for you.