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How to Choose an Indoor Bike Trainer
Bike trainers and indoor bikes are a great way for training when you are unable to get outside, due to bad weather or lack of time. There are multiple models to choose from, ranging from classic rollers to sophisticated virtual reality systems.
Technological evolution has affected indoor cycling devices, by improving designs and materials and, above all, incorporating connectivity. In this article, we are going to analyse the types of home trainers and look at the key points for choosing the most suitable for your needs. At the end, we will also give you some tips on how to use them.
Types of Hometrainers
There is a wide variety of options and models to suit all budgets and needs. We are going to order them chronologically, by their date of appearance, explaining the most important features of each one.
We start with the traditional roller or balance roller. These are the simplest indoor trainers, in terms of construction. They consist of three cylinders on a metal or plastic frame and a belt for the joint rotation of the cylinders. However, they are the most complex when it comes to pedalling and it takes practice to learn how to ride on a roller, as the bike is not fixed at any point, so pedalling requires greater concentration. The simplest rollers offer no resistance as this is achieved with the bike's own gears. But more recent models incorporate resistance and other smart technology into their designs. Training on a roller requires using your core, not only your legs, so at a muscular level, its benefits are more similar to real cycling. In addition, the roller can be used with both MTB and road bikes and the bike frame does not suffer as it does not have to be attached to the roller. If you decide to use a roller, check out our video on How to train with a roller.
The second and most popular type is the friction trainer, also known as the bike resistance or wheel-on trainer. They are very simple to use, as you only need to attach the trainer to the rear axle of your bike and raise the front wheel on a block so that it is level. A small wheel presses against the rear wheel to create resistance, which is adjustable. The resistance is achieved either by:
Friction tensor, on the most simple designs
There are also hybrid models that combine magnetic and fluid resistance.
The friction trainer allows a more intense and powerful workout than the roller and this is the most economically priced type of home trainer. Friction trainers can be used with both road and mountain bikes, although special tyres are highly recommended, to reduce noise and increase durability, as normal tyres wear out quickly and knobby tyres, especially MTB tyres, are particularly noisy.
An important aspect to consider is the compatibility of your skewers with the device . The most modern models usually include adapters for use with all hub systems, from quick releases to thru axles with Boost measurements. But they do not always come as standard and they may need to be ordered separately. Specialised shops will advise on this.
Also known as a wheel-off trainer, this is the most recent design, which requires removing the rear wheel and connecting the trainer directly to the bike transmission. There is no friction with the tyre, which is beneficial in two ways: the noise produced is minimal compared to other systems and there is no tyre wear. Direct drive trainers feature a larger flywheel, making it more powerful with greater resistance and able to simulate steeper gradients with large percentages of elevation gain, resulting in a more realistic pedalling sensation. Before assembling your bike, you have to check that the free hub body is compatible with your cassette as this has to be the same type and with the same number of speeds. Bear in mind that not all trainers include the cassette and adapters.
The huge popularity of spinning in gyms led to an evolution in classic stationary bikes, which originally were unable to offer a realistic cycling sensation, and the product offer increased dramatically, resulting in excellent quality static bikes with great adjustment capacity that adapt to the measurements of each cyclist. But the real revolution came with smart bikes, which incorporate connectivity with all kinds of sensors and virtual cycling simulators. These bikes provide the rider with very realistic sensations and no assembly is required in order to start pedalling and the noise level is extremely low in comparison. The only drawback is the space they occupy, but if you have the room, they are an excellent choice for all levels of cycling exercise or virtual spinning sessions.
Interactive or intelligent models can be found in all these types of indoor trainers and bikes. They feature ANT+ and Bluetooth sensors to connect them to virtual simulators, such as Bkool or Zwift, to name the most widespread, which open the window to an infinite virtual world. These types of home trainers have revolutionised this activity, turning tedious cycling sessions into addictive experiences that are much more than just an alternative for when you can't ride outdoors. Without leaving home, they allow the rider to:
Enjoy routes with real or virtual images from around the world.
Compete with other cyclists in real time.
Plan, schedule and control training sessions at any level.
The most complete models even recreate whole environments such as the Wahoo model shown in the following illustration. In addition to controlling the resistance according to the profile of the route, it simulates the incline of the bike depending on the slope with the Wahoo Kickr Climb device. And the Oreka O2 trainer achieves even more realistic cycling sensations, by emulating a large treadmill for riding your bike, as if we were outdoors, with connection to the most widespread virtual simulators. However, the space required and the high price, limit this product to professionals and very demanding cyclists.
Wahoo Kickrr System
Which Trainer to Chose?
We have seen the different types of trainers and their main features. When it comes to choosing the right one for you, there are a number of factors to take into account. Here is a guide to help you make the right choice.
This is a determining factor, as it can severely limit the hours of use. You may be limited to specific times, depending on your neighbours or people sharing the house. Unless you choose the quietest systems, which are direct drive trainers and smart bikes, it will be difficult to use any of the other systems without disturbing others.
If you have a problem of space, it is advisable to choose a folding trainer, which can be stored after use. Friction Trainers are the least bulky when folded. In these situations, you will probably have to rule out a smart bike, non-folding trainer or models such as the Oreka O2.
For regular training, we recommend the trainer is intelligent or, at least with an option for connecting sensors that connect it to a virtual simulator. In these cases, there will be no automatic control of the resistance, which you will have to vary yourself, but the simulator will record the values of these sensors and allow you to control your training and performance. Elite, for example, offers the option of connecting some of its non-intelligent trainers using the Misuro B+ device.
Frequency of Use
To ensure a satisfactory experience, choose according to the planned frequency and intensity of use of the trainer, as well as your cycling profile.
For sporadic or undemanding use, the most economical friction trainers may meet your needs. But for intense training, with planned sessions of series and intervals or with high resistance, you will require a high quality trainer with sufficient power to be able to emulate these conditions. And, if the trainer is an important part of a demanding training plan, we recommend opting for a smart trainer, preferably a direct drive or smart bike.
This is always a determining factor when deciding which trainer to purchase, although the investment should be consistent with the use you plan to give to the trainer. As a guideline, let's take a look at the types of trainers you will find in each price range.
From 100€ to 199€, you can find high quality home trainers, such as the Elite Arion roller or the Elite Novo Force Elastogel, with a wheel-on system and one of the best selling models in all categories.
From 200€ to 299€, there is a wide range of excellent quality trainers with magnetic, fluid or mixed resistance and the option to connect to virtual simulators. Most of them cannot yet be considered smart trainers, as they do not offer automatic resistance management and other advanced features, although they do allow you to monitor performance and plan training sessions. But right at the top end of this range is the Tacx Flow Smart, which, with an RRP of €299, is at the top end smart trainers with 800W of power and compatibility with the main simulators.
From 300€, you can find smart trainers with a wide variety of features and power ratings. The one you choose will depend on the intensity of your workouts, as the maximum gradient they can simulate will depend on this. In this range, we cannot fail to mention the Zycle Zpro, heir to the legacy of Bkool trainers, a Spanish brand that revolutionised indoor cycling, with its excellent simulator and the first affordable smart trainer for most amateur cyclists.
From 500€, you can find direct-drive trainers. Their power rating and other technical and quality details are the reason for the difference in price. The top-of-the-range models are over €1000, which is also the price of the first smart bikes. In this price range features include highly realistic cycling sensations, a level of performance for high quality training and a very low level of noise, making it worthwhile for the most demanding enthusiasts.