How to Choose Indoor Bike Trainers

Indoor bike trainer

Bicycling doesn’t need to be a seasonal activity. If the weather outside is lousy or the days are short, you can still keep your fitness level up by working out on an indoor bike trainer. Trainers are popular for pre-bike-event warmup sessions, too.

This article gives a quick overview of your choices.

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Types of Bike Trainers

REI offers several types of indoor bike trainers. All can provide a good workout, but higher-priced models offer more precision and with more options. Many trainers are also compatible with 29-inch tires, so more mountain bikers can also get in on the benefits.

Each type of trainer has its pros and cons:

Wind trainer closeup

Wind: Your bike’s back wheel powers a fan that provides resistance. As you pedal harder, the resistance progressively increases.

  • Pros: Usually the least expensive option and a good entry-level choice. Most are lightweight, portable and suitable for endurance training.
  • Cons: Fans are noisy. Few or no adjustments are possible. Hard pedaling can max out the amount of resistance.
Magnetic trainer closeup

Magnetic: These use a magnetic flywheel to create fixed resistance, which means your pedaling does not get harder as your cadence increases. To increase resistance, you need to either shift gears on your bike or use the adjustment settings on the trainer. A few models, though, use spring-loaded magnets to help create progressive resistance.  

  • Pros: Relatively quiet and inexpensive. Resistance can be adjusted to simulate easy roads, hills or intervals; some have adjust-on-the-fly capabilities using a remote control.
  • Cons: Resistance settings may be manually adjusted; basic models require you to dismount the bike to adjust the settings.
Fluid trainer closeup

Fluid: A substance within the trainer, usually silicon, offers increasing resistance as you pedal faster. Fluid trainers have become a popular choice with cyclists because of their road-like feel, power and accurate ride simulations (flats, hills, sprints, etc.).  

  • Pros: Better mimics a road-like feel than do wind or magnetic trainers. Multiple ride simulations require no adjustments. Quiet to use.
  • Cons: Usually more expensive than wind or magnetic trainers. With heavy use, they can get hot which may shorten their lifespan.
Roller trainer

Rollers: This is a more challenging option because you must balance your bike atop 3 cylinders—2 on the back wheel, 1 on the front—while pedaling. It’s popular mostly with pro riders and serious enthusiasts.

  • Pros: Works your pedal stroke better than other trainers; realistically simulates the road riding experience.
  • Cons: Requires good balance and a smooth pedaling cadence to use comfortably. Inexperienced riders could fall off until getting the hang of it.
Flywheel bike trainer

Flywheel: More than just a trainer, these indoor bicycles (with heavy-duty flywheel) offer power feedback and integrated data management for the ultimate training experience.

  • Pros: The most realistic flywheel-type trainer. Most models have micro-adjustments to fit any rider; interactive features make it easy to simulate a specific ride or race. Lots of downloadable data, too.
  • Cons: Expensive when compared to other trainers. Heavy and not portable.

Interactive Trainers

Trainers with interactive features offer the ultimate training experience. Imagine pedaling up the Alpe d’Huez while monitoring your heart-rate and pedaling power. These trainers—typically fluid, magnetic or flywheel models—feature Bluetooth and/or ANT+ compatibility so you capture and share workout data (power output, heart rate, cadence, etc.) to your mobile device or computer. You’ll pay more for this feature, but it could give you a motivation you need to train regularly.

Trainer Accessories

Front tire block/ring: Lets you level your bike for a more natural riding position. Stackable models allow you use 2 blocks to simulate a hill climbing position.

Trainer mat: Placed under your bike, this catches sweat drips as you ride and can help reduce noise levels.

Sweat net or thong: Protects your bike frame and components from the corrosive effects of your sweat as you ride.

Tires: Trainers contribute to rear tire wear, so frequent users might consider switching out to dedicated a trainer tire (some are designed just for this purpose) or a regular road slick.  

Shopping Tips

Bike trainer

Compare trainers by what’s most important to you. Key points:

  • Ride performance: Some trainers feel smoother and stronger than others.
  • Adjustability: Do you wish to vary your workouts? Or just hop on and spin?
  • Ease of use: Can you get your bike on and off the trainer without much fuss?
  • Storage: How portable is it? Many models fold up for storage.
  • Noise: Wind trainers are the noisiest, but it may not matter if you have a separate training room.
  • Price: How much are you willing to spend?

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How to Use

For most wind, magnetic and fluid models, all you need to do is replace your bike's rear axle skewer with the provided one. Lift the bike into place, turn the clamp tight against the skewer, then clamp the fly wheel against the tire. Once you’ve done it a few times, it takes less than a minute to set up.

As always, be sure to read the owner’s manual for specific instructions.



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