Three best bike trainers
Cycling is one of the best forms of all-round exercise, so a bike trainer is an ideal solution when the weather turns bad. It's also great in the home office or gym. You may not have time in your busy schedule to do the road miles, but there's nothing to stop you from jumping on the bike trainer for half an hour.
There's a great selection of machines available, with something to suit more or less every budget. We've put together the following bike trainer buying guide to help you sort through the options and choose the model that suits you best. We've also picked a few favorites that highlight the performance and value on offer.
Considerations when choosing bike trainers
Bike trainer types
All bike trainers provide some kind of resistance as you pedal. There are three ways this is achieved: wind, magnets, and fluid. Regardless of the type, some models offer variable resistance via a knob on the unit itself or a lever that mounts on the handlebars. You can adjust it to your preference.
Wind resistance: You drive a fan that spins in the opposite direction. It's a durable mechanism, if noisy. It can also be a bit harsh and feel more like an exercise bike than real outdoor cycling. This is the simplest and therefore cheapest bike trainer, costing from $60 to $150.
Magnetic resistance: You pedal to overcome the drag produced by a flywheel and magnets. The flywheel effect gives a more road-like feel. It's smoother and quieter than a wind trainer, but the prices are similar at $60 to $150.
Fluid resistance: An impeller running in thick oil provides drag. There's also a flywheel, which may incorporate fan blades to cool the fluid casing and prevent overheating to ensure performance is consistent. Fluid bike trainers provide the most realistic cycling feel but can be expensive. Prices start at around $250 and can go over $500.
Bike trainer features
Programs: High-end smart bike trainers offer interactive programs that mimic road circuits. They increase or decrease resistance as you climb hills or descend. Linked to a TV screen, these can provide a surprisingly realistic experience -- everything but the wind in your hair! Some apps even allow multiplayer modes, so you can race against friends in another town, state, or even country.
Stability and rigidity: These are vital. Cheap bike trainers often use small diameter tube, which doesn't give confidence in balance or durability. Good models have thick tube, a wide spread of ground contact, and rubber feet to stop them from sliding. There could be a weight limit listed, but it often isn't.
Stance: The main disadvantage of using a bike trainer is that in raising the rear wheel off the floor, it changes the bike's stance. This is corrected by using a riser ring for the front wheel. It isn't expensive, but it's frustrating that few bike trainers include one.
Attachment: Bike attachment is usually via standard skewer, either the one on your bike or one supplied with the bike trainer. However, not all factory-supplied skewers fit all bikes. It's usually only a problem with cheap bike trainers, but it's worth checking.
Mat: A bike trainer mat is something you might want to add. This keeps the trainer from sliding around, reduces the noise transmitted through your floor, and protects laminate or wood surfaces.
Q. Can I use my mountain bike with a trainer?
A. The wheel size shouldn't be a problem, but you need to check. Some off-road bikes have 29-inch wheels, which might exceed the maximum of a particular model. The other issue is the knobbly tread running against the friction wheel. It's noisy and can make for an uncomfortable ride. Most manufacturers recommend changing to a slick or training tire. The cost is $15 to $20, plus a few bucks more for fitting if you don't want to do it yourself.
Q. Which is better: a resistance trainer or rollers?
A. You could argue that rollers give a slightly more realistic ride because the bike isn't supported. As soon as you stop, you need to put your feet down. However, rollers are very basic and don't offer the feedback or flexibility of trainers. If you're looking for something that simulates riding uphill, you need the latter. Trainers also have the advantage that you can sit there and have a brief rest and a drink without toppling over!
Bike trainers we recommend
Best of the best: CycleOps Fluid2 Indoor Trainer
Our take: Superbly built model offers great stability and super-smooth ride.
What we like: Excellent fluid unit with cooling fan for consistent performance. Takes wide range of bikes. Very quiet. Compatible with leading apps.
What we dislike: Resistance not adjustable. Poor assembly instructions.
Best bang for your buck: Sportneer Bike Trainer Stand
Our take: Well-made stand offers good flexibility for the cost-conscious cyclist.
What we like: Ready to go out of the box. Six resistance settings can be adjusted at the handlebar. Quick and easy to attach and release bike.
What we dislike: Loud. Only takes 26- to 28-inch wheels. Large riders may have stability issues.
Choice 3: Kinetic Road Machine 2.0 Fluid Trainer
Our take: Versatile, high-quality machine from a market leader.
What we like: Robust construction. Arrives fully assembled. Fits virtually all bikes. Performance/feedback can be enhanced with accessories (at extra cost).
What we dislike: Expensive. Not noisy, but it isn't as quiet as suggested.
Bob Beacham is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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