Best Portable Exercise Bikes of 2019 - Compact, Foldable, Storable Bike Trainers
We’ve researched and evaluated the best roller, magnetic, fluid, wind and direct-drive bike trainers for the past two years. At the conclusion of our evaluations this past year, we’ve found the Kinetic Road Machine fluid trainer to be the best overall bike trainer because of its low noise levels, lifetime warranty and its great resistance levels. The Kinetic Road Machine can also be upgraded to connect to your smart device to track your workouts.
Editor's Note: Another top performer in the bike trainers market is the CycleOps brand. During our next update of this site, we’ll take a closer look at this brand and provide you with more products to choose from.
Kinetic Road Machine
The Kinetic Road Machine is a leakproof, self-contained fluid bicycle trainer that has low noise levels, more than adequate resistance, and a lifetime warranty. It can also upgrade to connect to your smart device.
Bike Lane Pro
The Bike Lane Pro indoor bike magnetic trainer, with its five resistance levels, is easy on the wallets of cyclists who want to try training indoors.
While on the pricier side of bike trainers, the Wahoo KICKR direct-drive trainer gives you a sturdy, more realistic ride during your training sessions, and without wearing out your tire.
Our pick for the best overall bike trainer is the Kinetic Road Machine fluid trainer. This sturdy indoor bicycle trainer is 100 percent leakproof and carries a lifetime warranty, which is nearly unheard of in the bike trainer market.
The Road Machine can fit most 22-inch and 29-inch wheels, although it may not work best with 700c.
We were particularly impressed with the smoothness of the resistance, lending a road-like feel to your workouts, and the fact that you can purchase add-ons like a heavier flywheel and the Kinetic inRide Watt Meter. The heavier flywheel allows you to push yourself harder with a smoother increase, and the inRide Watt Meter allows you to connect to your smart device to track and evaluate your training efforts.
Another plus is that this bicycle trainer includes an axle skewer so you don’t have to purchase one separately. Unfortunately, it does not include a riser for your front tire. As with any friction resistance trainers, fluid bike trainers have contact with your rear tire. While this a good way to add resistance, it can be hard on your tire, wearing it out quickly. Using a separate smooth tire for indoor training can make riding on the Kinetic Road Machine more enjoyable, especially if you would otherwise be using the knobby tire from your mountain bike.
The Bike Lane Pro is our best value pick because of its tire compatibility, stability and affordable pricing. This is a perfect bike trainer for cyclists who are curious about trying indoor training without making a significant investment.
This indoor bicycle trainer can accommodate 26-inch, 27-inch, 28-inch and 700c wheels. Although it can hold mountain bikes, you may want to change the tire for a road tire to save your knobby tire from wear and to have a smoother ride while training. Because this trainer uses quick-release connections to attach your bike to it, multiple riders can take turns using it throughout the day without difficult assembly. The Bike Lane Pro comes with a riser block to level out your bike, and a wired resistance controller can attach to your handlebars to shift between seven levels of training resistance.
Magnetic bike trainers are one of the loudest styles of trainers, so don’t expect the Bike Lane Pro to be whisper-quiet at higher speeds. Weighing only 22.55 pounds and folding up for a lower profile, the Bike Lane Pro is easy to store or to take with you on your travels.
Direct-drive bike trainers are unique in that they require you to remove your rear tire to connect to the trainer. The Wahoo KICKR is our pick for best direct-drive bike trainer because of its high-quality construction, smoothness and compatibility with smart device cycling training apps.
While direct-drive bike trainers can be expensive compared with fluid and magnetic-style trainers, the difference you experience with direct drive is streets ahead of its competition. The KICKR has a 11-speed cassette installed standard, so if you have a specialty 8/9/10 speed cassette on your current bike, you’ll need to purchase a corresponding part to use your settings correctly.
You can connect to the KICKR app or other third-party apps like Zwift and TrainerRoad to record your workouts and track your progress. The connectivity of this trainer includes iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch devices, along with Mac Book and Windows PCs. Select Android devices are also supported.
The realistic road feel of this direct-drive trainer is largely due to the lack of a friction point of your tire and the trainer. Unlike roller, magnetic and fluid trainers, the energy you expend pedaling with the KICKR goes into your workout for a more efficient training session.
Best for Beginners
The CycleOps Wind is a reasonably priced bike trainer that is easy to use. There are three types of bike trainers – wind or fan, magnetic and fluid. The CycleOps trainer is a wind trainer, which means its roller is driven by fan blades.
Wind trainers are the least expensive type, and they are also the noisiest. At 20 mph, the CycleOps’ noise level is 84 to 86 decibels, which means you’ll need headphones if you want to listen to music as you ride.
This bike trainer fits both road and mountain bike frames and has a simple, compact design. It’s good for beginners because it is sturdy and inexpensive, and it has a quick-release skewer to help you release your bike wheel after a ride. It also has three settings for rear dropout spacing, and its resistance rollers accommodate multiple wheel sizes. The CycleOps Wind is compatible with CycleOps VirtualTraining software. CycleOps backs it with a lifetime warranty.
Best Smart Trainer
The Tacx Vortex Smart Bike Trainer is compatible with many apps and software options, such as Zwift, Trainer Road, Bkool and the Tacx training apps. Syncing with these apps lets you adjust resistance, check your speed and view your cadence.
To access these programs, the Tacx must be plugged in. You can, however, use it as a regular trainer if you want to train outside or don’t have access to a power outlet. It uses fluid resistance, which is both the most expensive and quietest type of bike trainer available. It measures 7.5 x 19.9 x 23.6 inches (length, width and height) and weighs 24.86 pounds. It also folds for easy storage.
This bike trainer has resistance up to 7 percent to simulate uphill riding, but it doesn’t have a downhill drive. It has an electric motor brake and is compatible with thru axles and quick-release skewers. Its cylinder can accommodate wheel sizes of 26, 27, 28 and 29 inches, as well as 700cc. Tacx includes a front wheel riser, and additional accessories are available. Warranty coverage varies by distributor.
How We Tested
We’ve researched and evaluated the best roller, magnetic, fluid, wind and direct-drivebike trainers for the past two years and found the features that make the best ride for your indoor training. Our reviewers dug into manufacturers’ websites and engineering documents, asked questions of expert riders on cycling forums, and evaluated the pros and cons of features on the various models we chose for our product lineup. From there, we compared and evaluated the top models of each style to reach our conclusions.
Types of Bike Trainers
Your indoor bike training needs will be different depending on your focus; some types are better suited for increasing your distance, and others are designed to help you increase your resistance tolerance. The five main indoor bike trainer styles are as follows:
Wind Bike Trainers
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 amount 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
A magnetic bike trainer uses a magnetic flywheel to create resistance. Some have fixed resistance, which requires you to manually shift gears 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, 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
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 that 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 is less of an issue.
Instead of attaching your axle and back tire to the trainer, direct-drive trainers require you remove your rear 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.
The build of a bike roller differs radically from the other trainers we have discussed. These machines typically have three rolling drums or cylinders your bike rides atop, rotating these cylinders as the front and rear tires spin. Generally, these machines tend to be longer than the average trainer. Fortunately, one of the best roller bike trainers, the Minoura MoZ-Roller, folds up and weighs only 12.7 pounds, making it more portable and easier to store.
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. It also teaches you to maintain an even pedal stroke to maintain a smooth ride. Since these machines require so much balance and technique, bike rollers have the strongest road-like feel.
Unfortunately, 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 are more difficult. High-end rollers are typically quieter than low-end rollers, but low-end rollers are typically louder than most other trainer resistance styles. It is also easier to max out resistance on these trainers, keeping you from pushing yourself further in your training.
Choosing the Right Bike Trainer
We reviewed bike trainers ranging in price from under $100 up to $1,200. While many people search for trainers priced below $100, you’re more likely to find a higher quality one with better features if you spend $200 to $300. Trainers with wind resistance are the least expensive, while trainers with fluid resistance are the most expensive.
Ride Feel & Resistance
Higher-end bike trainers give your exercise a more realistic road-like feel than basic models. Fluid and direct-drive bike trainers ride smoother than others, and the more road-like conditions make indoor training as close to outdoor riding as possible. If you’re looking for a simpler ride without changes in elevation or deliberate resistance adjustments, a less expensive wind resistance trainer is an option. But if you need a trainer for more intense off-season workouts, we advise investing in a product that creates a translatable experience. Part of that is choosing a trainer with a compatible resistance-adjusting style to the kind of rides you desire. If you want a simulated hilly workout, choose a trainer that can switch resistance levels quickly as opposed to one with manual resistance shifting.
Smart Device, App & Tracking Connectivity
Bike trainers that are compatible with training and smart devices help you take your workouts to the next level. It's a bonus if you can connect directly to your tablet or smartphone to control resistance via an app, on top of tracking and storing your stats through software and apps.
The biggest downside to some of these smart bike trainers is they must be plugged into an outlet for their features to work. Also, as with most smart devices, buggy software can sometimes make apps and programs unresponsive or delayed. This all depends on the brand. Tacx has a reputation for making dependable smart software for its trainers, and the Tacx Vortex is one of its best models with smart compatibility.
Bike trainers are often foldable and storable and usually weigh between 15 and 30 pounds. Most are small enough to store under a bed or in a closet when not in use. This is the clear advantage the best indoor bike trainers have over full-size exercise or spinning bikes, which take up a lot of room. We found the Bike Lane Pro to be lightweight and low profile, so it's easy to store.
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 on 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.
If you live in an apartment or any other noise-sensitive environment, a wind trainer is not the best choice. Magnetic trainers are also quite loud. Beyond annoying your neighbors, noise may affect the quality of your workout if you want to watch TV or interact with others while you pedal away. This is amplified in a small space, especially as indoor workouts last longer than a few minutes. One way to mitigate noise is to make sure you use the smoothest possible back tire for all but direct-drive trainers, as tire treads can cause extra noise. If you’re curious about a specific trainer’s noise emission, we found a lot of videos online for most products that demonstrate them in use.