Cycling – an effective and beneficial exercise that helps increase strength, endurance and decrease body fat.Even with decades of experience in outdoor cycling, I still love the excitement of getting back on my road bike almost every time I find a spare few hours to go out for a ride. However, truth be told the cold mornings or wet and windy nights don’t exactly provide me with the enthusiasm to leave the house. This is where my indoor bike trainer comes in really handy when I want to keep to my riding schedule. Otherwise known as turbo trainers, these neat pieces of equipment are a great investment and have certainly evolved since the very early models, but which do you choose to buy?

Before we get in to that let’s quickly cover what a bike trainer is for our visitors who are just starting to look in to purchasing one of these tools.

Road Cycling

Taking to the road!

What is a bike trainer?

Put simply, bike trainers are devices that enable you to ride your outdoor road bike (or mountain bike), indoors. If you haven’t seen one of these in action then it’s understandable to be confused with how they work. After all, it’s not as if you’re going to be riding around the dining room table and up and down the hallway! Instead, indoor turbo trainers are designed to keep your bike in a stationary position whilst you cycle, and although you may not benefit from the scenery that an outdoor bike ride can give you, there are many other benefits that turbos (as you may see them referred to) can provide.

How do indoor bike trainers work?

Turbos are A-frame’s that clamp to your bike’s rear wheel around the quick release skewer, with the tyre sitting on rollers. These rollers then (ahem!) roll as you pedal with resistance provided depending on the type of indoor bike trainer that you buy. These include wind (or air), fluid, magnetic and direct drive bike trainers.

These 4 types of bike trainers provide different resistance methods and varying results, each with their own pros and cons.

Which bike trainer is best for you?

This isn’t exactly a straightforward answer, and I discuss this in much more detail on the relevant buying guides for each bike trainer type, though here’s a brief overview of some of the key considerations.

Wind turbo trainers
Wind or air technology turbos can be pretty loud, though they offer a great amount of control over their resistance. Like you might have seen if you’ve ever used an air rowing machine, air bike trainers have propellers that spin which then creates the resistance when pedaling.

Fluid turbo trainers
Fluid turbos are pretty good for creating a realistic feel, though can also be quite noisy. However, their performance is good which often outweighs the noise factor. These work by driving a propeller situated in a fluid compartment, powered by the turning of your wheel when you pedal. Compared to magnetic turbos, fluid bike machines can provide a more balanced resistance.

Magnetic turbo trainers
One of the more cost effective machines is the magnetic cycle trainer which clamps your back wheel. A magnetic force then creates the resistance as set by a mounted switch on the handlebar of the bike, making it easy to increase or decrease resistance as desired. They’re pretty simple in operation but useful nonetheless.

Direct drive turbo trainers
You’ll struggle to find an indoor trainer brand that doesn’t have a direct drive turbo trainer in its range. Over the past few years since their introduction to the market they’ve certainly increased in popularity. Whereas other bike trainer types rely on friction to the back wheel to provide resistance, direct drive turbos do away with the back wheel entirely. In doing so the bike is then fitted to a drive unit via the chain, offering a number of benefits.

Why use a turbo trainer?

There will be many cyclists out there that wouldn’t see turbo trainers as useful tools, but there will also be plenty that can really see the benefits and uses that they offer. Ok, so some might find them a bit boring to use but once you have the mindset that bike trainers have a lot more to offer than you might think, then purchasing one might become a lot more obvious. I’ve always found them useful for a number of reasons, especially since the newer innovations and features of more recent bike trainer models have been introduced.

No matter which mindset you’re in regarding indoor turbos, it’s hard to argue with the fitness benefits. For me, the winter is a killer when it comes to getting out and about on my bike (not to mention the danger aspects of dark nights and slippy wet conditions), so being able to maintain my fitness with effective bike trainer workouts when it’s raining, icy or windy outdoors is a big tick in the box from me.

Turbo trainers are great when the weather can be unpredictable, but they’re also highly beneficial for effective training sessions in addition to your outdoor cycling. They’re not just useful as a backup to road cycling, but also as a way to focus on specific fitness areas and workout schedules.

Though it’s enjoyable to be out on the road, using bike trainers is a fantastic way to carry out turbo trainer workouts without the unexpected interruptions that road cycling can bring (traffic, junctions and such). Furthermore I often find it easier to fit in a training session on my bicycle trainer due to a fairly busy family life. Rather than getting ready and leaving the house for an hour or more some nights, a quick 30 minute session on the turbo is easy to do in the morning or evening and really helps maintain overall fitness levels. This is an added benefit for those that race as it allows you to keep your training focused when racing during the winter.

You might also have seen turbo trainers on the tv, or at events if you’re an avid cyclist and enjoy watching races in person. They’re highly common these days as a method for riders to warm-up before the event, and being pretty lightweight and small in size, they’re easy to transport should you take part in race days yourself.

Whether you want to do steady sessions to maintain fitness or conduct intense interval workouts to build top-end power, turbo trainers are ideal. I talk a lot more about the benefits of these machines and some tips and workout ideas so feel free to browse around.

Should I buy a turbo or roller trainer?

So you’ve decided pull out your purse but which of the static trainers might you choose? Turbo trainers and roller trainers both offer some great benefits, but in general you can think of rollers as a more realistic ride, which improves your bike handling and cadence, whereas turbo training machines are better for high intensity interval training (HIIT) with greater resistance.

Both differ in how they operate which might dictate the type you prefer, but also the varying prices of turbos and rollers may sway your decision one way or the other. Turbo trainers in particular can range in price greatly, depending on the resistance type and features available on the machine. These includes things like smart trainers and power meters.

Smart trainers
As the name suggests, these machines are pretty smart! Apps such as Zwift take advantage of virtual reality to provide a 3D world populated by other cyclists. You may hear or read some cyclists claiming that turbo trainers are a bit boring and can’t compare to real outdoor cycling, though the addition of VR technology has certainly changed the game and given a whole new level of excitement to these great tools.

Power meters
More expensive turbos have power meters built in to the machine, whereas some of the less expensive models have ways of estimating the power that you produce when using them. Power meters are really useful as they allow you to measure and structure your turbo workouts and schedules.

How to decide which is the best turbo trainer for you

As with any form of popular equipment, turbo trainers have evolved greatly over the years with new features, mechanics and technology introduced all of the time. I’ve mentioned a few of these above, and discuss in more detail the features and details of the various types of bike trainers in my other guides, but choosing the best bike trainer for each individual cycling enthusiast will depend on a number of factors.

The types of workouts
Maybe you want a way of keeping fit, losing weight and dread the thought of going outdoors at the first sign of a raindrop. Or you’re possibly after a turbo trainer to warm-up before races. No matter to what extent you plan on using a cycling trainer, there will be one that meets your needs. You’ll want to consider other factors too, such as finding the quietest turbo trainer if you’re worried about annoying the neighbors! After all, some turbos can product a lot of noise, which doesn’t always go down well if the kids are asleep, or the neighbors are just the other side of the wall.

The budget you have in mind
As you might have guessed already when reading about the different types of cycle trainers and their features, price can vary greatly. If you have a budget in mind, spending some time reading reviews before you purchase can pay dividends down the line. You don’t always get the best features on just the most expensive machines. Some less expensive rollers and turbos have a lot of the bells and whistles at a fraction of the price.

The features you’d most benefit from
If you’re interested in turbos for a method of keeping fit and enjoy the thought of cycling then some features might not interest you too much and an entry level turbo will suffice. However, additional tools and apps such as virtual reality and power meters might be a necessity for more experienced cyclists and competitors that rely on bike training machines for a key part of their training schedules. Also consider other aspects that might seem less obvious, such as folding bike trainers for this with limited space.

Where to go from here

Throughout this website I try to cover as many bases as possible so that you can make an informed choice and also gather a few tips when using your turbo trainer. Please feel free to join in the conversation by commenting on any of my articles or buying guides. I’d love to hear the thoughts of fellow cycling enthusiasts along with any tips you might also like to share!