Indoor Bike Trainer Buying Guide 2018-2019 Season

  2018-10-13 at 16:20 pm

Buying Guide - Indoor Bike Trainers - 2018/19 Season

Summer has come and gone and the time has come to bring your riding indoors. Here at Racks For Cars we stock a large variety of indoor bike trainers, from brands including Wahoo, Kinetic, and CycleOps, to assist you in improving your fitness over the long, cold, winter.

Indoor Bike Trainer Brands - Wahoo, Kinetic, CycleOps

Purchasing an indoor bike trainer can be a confusing experience. You will read and hear about wattage, resistance types, flywheel weights, direct drive vs wheel on etc. What you don't often hear is why those features matter and what they mean for you. This buying guide will help you navigate the features and find the best bike trainer for you!

When helping customers pick out an indoor trainer I like to speak with them about their training goals, the type of riding they wish to do, or the type of experience they would like when riding indoors. Of course some background knowledge of the different features are a must so we will start there. First I will discuss some of the main bike trainer features and then I will discuss which type or model of trainer will be most beneficial for you.

Important Trainer Features

There are many features associated with indoor bike trainers but I am going to focus on what I find are the 6 main features: type of resistance, direct drive vs wheel on, flywheel weight, maximum simulated incline, maximum wattage, and app connectivity.

Types of Resistance

There are 4 main types of resistance on indoor bike trainers: Electromagnetic, Fluid, Magnetic, and Wind. Electromagnetic resistance trainers need to be plugged in as electric current in the resistor is increased or decreased to obtain the desired resistance level on the trainer. The resistance level is typically controlled via an app or automatically when using apps such as Zwift. Fluid resistance trainers provide resistance via a series of fans moving through a fluid. This fluid is non-Newtonian meaning as the fans move faster through the fluid the fluid becomes thicker and increases the resistance. The harder you pedal the harder it will feel just like on the road. Magnetic resistance trainers use a manual toggle which moves the magnet closer to or further away from the flywheel to increase or decrease the resistance. This type of resistance is common on spin bikes found at the gym. Wind resistance trainers have a fan attached to the roller unit. The faster you pedal the more wind resistance you create making it harder to pedal.

Direct Drive vs. Wheel On

Indoor bike trainers primarily consist of direct drive or wheel on trainers. When using a direct drive trainer you will remove your rear wheel from your bike and attach the bike directly to the trainer. Most direct drive trainers include a cassette while on some models the cassette is sold separately. The benefit of direct drive trainers is that they are quieter, the power is more accurate, they have the best road feel, and they can provide higher levels of resistance. You will also not experience tire wear because your wheel is not attached to the bike. Wheel on bike trainers are used by clamping your rear wheel into the trainer (with the proper trainer skewer or thru axle) and then tightening the roller against your tire. Wheel on trainers are still pretty quiet, the power is a little less accurate, the road feel is good, and the level resistance is a lower than a direct drive trainer. Since your tire makes contact to a roller it may cause unwanted wear on the tire. To prevent this you can purchase a trainer tire which is thicker and more suitable for use on a trainer.

Direct Drive versus Wheel On Trainers

Flywheel Weight

Indoor bike trainers use flywheels to replicate inertia. When pedalling a bike you apply force to the pedals through the 12 o'clock and 5 o'clock positions. On a indoor trainer the inertia in the flywheel assists to maintain wheel speed during the moment at the top and bottom of the pedal stroke when you are not applying force to the pedals. Trainers with heavier flywheels will have more inertia and therefore be more realistic to the type of inertia experienced when riding outdoors. As a result trainers with heavier flywheels create a more road like feel. The heavier the trainers flywheel the more difficult it is to accelerate. In this situation the heavier flywheel is being used to replicate the weight of the bike and rider and how much force is require to start moving the bike. When using a trainer with a heavier flywheel you will also experience longer spin up times and longer coast down times when doing interval training. 

Maximum Wattage

Watts is a measurement of the power you are producing. It is how much energy is needed to make things move. When riding on a indoor trainer you are producing power as you pedal. The amount of power you produce depends on the amount of resistance being applied. You will see Maximum Wattage stated on almost every trainer. This is essentially the maximum amount of resistance that the trainer can apply or simulate measured as a power output.

Maximum Simulated Incline

Each bike trainer will often state its maximum simulated incline. This does not mean that the bike trainer tilts to that level of incline, unless of course you are using a Wahoo trainer along with the Wahoo Kickr Climb which literally does increase or decrease the incline of your bike, but rather it has to do with the resistance level you would undergo when riding at that percentage of incline. The maximum simulated incline will vary based on the weight of the trainers flywheel (which simulates inertia) and its maximum wattage (the level of resistance it can apply or simulate).

App compatibility

Many trainers are compatible with apps either made by the trainer manufacturer or by 3rd party developers. Apps work in one of two ways, on smart trainers the app can read data such as speed, cadence, and power and on some models of trainers the app is able to read the same data while also controlling the resistance level of the trainer. Apps such as Zwift allow you to ride virtual routes and the resistance level of your trainer will change based on the route you are riding provided that your trainer is compatible. We will discuss in more detail later which trainers are compatible with each app. Most indoor trainers will connect via Bluetooth or Ant+. Some trainers are capable of using both connection protocols for better app compatibility.

What does this mean for you?

Knowing the above features and why they matter will help you in deciding which trainer to choose. However, just comparing the many features of each trainer can be confusing. When choosing an indoor bike trainer I find it is best to do so based on what your training goals are or what type of riding you wish to do indoors. The type of trainer you purchase will depend on whether you want to just pop your bike on the trainer and ride, want some data during and after your ride, or you want a completely interactive riding experience. We will discuss below which trainers are best for each type of use.

Trainers which offer an Interactive Riding Experience

If you want to get the most out of your indoor ride it is smart to choose an indoor bike trainer which can interact with various apps. These types of trainers not only spit out data about your ride to the apps but the apps can communicate with your trainer to change the resistance during your ride. Trainers such as the Wahoo Kickr, Wahoo Kickr Core, and Wahoo Kickr Snap or the Kinetic Rock and Roll | Control and Kinetic Road Machine | Control can interact with apps such as Zwift, Rouvy, and TrainerRoad and allow you to ride virtual routes, join group rides, and use training programs. These apps can control the resistance level of the trainers mentioned earlier, so if you are riding an uphill route the trainer will increase the resistance accordingly. This offers the most fun experience when riding indoors and will help you to keep in shape and meet your training goals.

Zwift Interactive Training

Trainers which provide you Data while you Ride

There are many bikes trainers which will allow you to view data such as power, speed, and cadence while you ride and will save the data for viewing after the ride. These trainers can still be used with apps such as Zwift, Rouvy, and TrainerRoad but will simply communicate to the app. The app is unable to communicate with the trainer in order to change the resistance being applied. When using trainers such as the Kinetic Rock and Roll| Smart 2 and Road Machine | Smart 2 with an app such as Zwift, for example, the trainer will communicate your speed and power output to Zwift. Since Zwift cannot control the resistance of the trainer you will simply slow down in Zwift if you are riding an uphill route and you will have to work harder to reach the power output required to maintain speed going up the hill.

Trainers which just let you Ride

Don't care about data? Just want to ride? A non-smart indoor bike trainer allows you to do just that. Trainers such as the Kinetic Road Machine 2.0 or CycleOps Fluid 2 are not able to communicate with apps so you simply just mount your bike onto the trainer and ride. Gearing up and down or increasing or decreasing your cadence is used to make your workout harder or easier.

Still not sure which trainer to choose?

Sometimes you just need some extra advice! If you are not sure which indoor bike trainer is best for you give us a call or drop by either of our Edmonton, Alberta store locations. We would be happy to help you find the best trainer for your needs.

By Dustin