Whether you’re working against foul weather or dealing with limited time, a quality indoor cycling trainer is a tool that any serious cyclist should have. In addition to allowing you to make progress through the winter months, they make for highly efficient (and honest) sessions. What’s more, if you’re looking to get into interval training, an indoor cycling trainer ensures controlled, consistent conditions so that you can lay the hammer down without worrying about what’s happening on the road. All that is to say — with a bit of focus to your training, you’d be surprised at what it can do for your riding performance.
As such, investing in a trainer can pay huge dividends when it comes time for you to head back outside. But given the sea of options on the market, it can be a lot to take in if you’re a first-time buyer. With multiple trainer types and a fleet of available features, choosing the best model for your needs is not for the faint of heart. Lucky for you, we’ve done our homework so that you don’t have to. If you’re looking to maximize the benefits of your time spent on the bike, have a read to see what we’ve picked for the best indoor cycling trainers.
Personalizing Your Riding Experience
Types Of Indoor Trainers
Wheel-On: As the name suggests, with these types of trainers you leave your rear wheel on the bike. They make use of a roller drum connected to an external weighted flywheel in order to create resistance. Setting up a wheel-on trainer is as simple as connecting your bike’s rear skewer to the trainer’s mounting points. It’s worth noting that these types of trainers can wear down your tire through friction; if you’re planning on spending a significant amount of time indoors, invest in a trainer-specific tire. Wheel-on trainers are typically available at much lower price points than their direct driver counterparts.
Direct Drive: With direct-drive models, the trainer replaces the bike’s rear wheel, attaching at the rear dropouts. These types of trainers are mounted with a cassette that integrates directly with the bike’s drivetrain. Most direct-drive trainers come with a host of features such as a built-in power meter and smart connectivity in order to fully dial-in your indoor experience. While you’ll often pay a bit of a premium upfront, it’s worth the added expense. Direct drive trainers make for far more realistic riding because they eliminate the possibility for wheel slippage and other inaccuracies. And as you might guess, they save you wear on your bike’s rear wheel and tire.
Rollers: Rollers are not for the faint of heart; unlike wheel-on and direct-drive trainers, they require you to actively maintain your balance in order to keep your bike rubber-side down. That being said, their difficulty pays off when it comes to your riding, working your core and giving you better control on the bike in the process. Most of the time, rollers don’t come with an added resistance unit (they’re already enough of a challenge). Instead, they’re typically used for improving cadence and pedaling efficiency. Rollers are great in that they’re very portable training options — they don’t require an external power source and they fold up for easy storage.
Creating The Ultimate Pain Cave
Key Features To Consider
Smart Connectivity: These days, many trainers take advantage and Bluetooth and ANT+ compatibility in order to integrate with your mobile device. In practice, this means that you can create a much more engaging indoor experience. Rather than manually adjusting the resistance (or working against a fixed power curve), the on-screen training software communicates with the trainer in order to automatically control the workload. Be sure to check for compatibility when building out your system.
Resistance Type: If you’re looking at buying a wheel-on trainer, it’s worth considering the type of resistance. Though magnetic resistance models are typically cheaper than their wind and fluid counterparts, they require manual adjustment via an included remote in order to change the load. On the other hand, fluid resistance trainers come with a fixed power curve, meaning that as you pedal faster, they become harder to turn. That being said, you have no direct input control apart from shifting through your gears.
Max Resistance: For the vast majority of cyclists, max resistance won’t be a factor when deciding on a trainer. However, if you spend a lot of time out of the saddle working on your sprinting or climbing abilities, it’s a feature worth considering. Models capable of higher resistance levels will not only offer a far better workout; they’ll also stand up to large power outputs better over time.
Noise Level: With few exceptions, magnetic resistance wheel-on trainers are the loudest of the bunch, followed by fluid and direct drive models. While you can take steps to minimize the noise coming from your trainer — such as rubber mats and soundproof paneling — there’s only so much you can do. If you live in an apartment or share your space with someone else, trainer noise level should be your foremost concern.
Stability: If you want to make the most out of your time indoors, it pays to get a trainer with a stable base. Look for a wide platform with sturdy contact points. Come time to step out of the saddle for a tough climb or a finishing sprint, you’ll appreciate the peace of mind knowing your bike is firmly planted.
Blackburn Tech Mag 5 Kit
The Blackburn Tech Mag 5 Kit is great for first-time indoor riders and those that want the simplest setup possible. For starters, it comes with everything you need to get to training, including a trainer, a front-wheel block, a noise-dampening mat, and a rear skewer. What’s more its features a compact, foldable design that makes setup and tear-down a breeze. So even if you can’t dedicate an entire room to your setup, you can still get a quick indoor workout in without worry. And with its five magnetic resistance settings easily controllable through a handlebar remote, there’s ample training load for most riders.
Minoura R500 Rollers
This model from Minoura comes with 105mm diameter drums, ensuring a smooth, road-like feel and a more controlled turnover. But that’s not all — it also folds down for easy transport and storage, making it a great choice if you need to warm up before races. Should you want even more of a workout, there’s an optional magnetic resistance unit to ramp up the workload.
Although the Fluid2 doesn’t come with the smart capabilities of higher-priced trainers, all it requires is a bike-mounted speed sensor to get you training on platforms like Zwift or TrainerRoad. As such, it makes for an excellent entry into the world of fluid resistance. Far quieter than the above options, it’s a good bet if you have any kind of noise constraints on your indoor workouts. Additionally, its fluid resistance unit features a large flywheel specifically optimized to mimic the feel of the road. Couple that with a roller that allows for 650b, 700c, 26″, 27″, and 29″ wheel sizes (up to a 2″ tire), and you have a versatile performer that doesn’t break the bank.
Tacx Flow Smart
Without a doubt one of the cheapest smart trainers you can buy, the Tacx Flow Smart comes with many of the features you’d expect in a top-of-the-line model at a much more affordable price point. For instance, it features wireless transmission of speed, cadence, and power for real-time integration with GPS units and online training apps. It also comes with an electric brake capable of providing smart resistance up to 800 watts — more than enough for even the toughest of threshold sessions and interval workouts. And if your training incorporates time out of the saddle, you’re in luck. The Flow Smart can simulate inclines up to 6% and it incorporates a wide base for added stability.
Feedback Sports Omnium Over-Drive
The Feedback Sports Omnium is easily the most portable trainer included on this list. So whether you’re one to train when you travel or you’re just making do with limited living space, it’s your best bet if you’re looking for a compact option that packs away in seconds. What’s more, because of its adaptable fork-mount design, it’s compatible with nearly any bike type — from lightweight roadies to fat-tired trail rippers. And thanks to its parabolic progressive resistance drum, it accurately simulates the rolling and wind resistance you’d encounter out on the tarmac.
Wahoo Kickr Snap
The class-leading Kickr Snap takes advantage of the trickle-down effect to bring you tried and true tech from Wahoo’s fleet of offerings. For example, when it’s connected to your mobile device, it automatically controls the resistance based on what’s happening on screen. So whether you’re cruising the flats or scaling 12% climbs, it makes for a seamless riding experience. Made with high-strength carbon steel with a wide stance, the Kicker Snap’s feet stay planted firmly on the floor so that you can train without worry.
Offering contactless resistance, hassle-free portability, and — best of all — complete silence, the 4iii Fliiiight is a great option that really bucks the indoor trainer trend. Unlike other wheel-on trainers, this one doesn’t make contact with your tire, saving your bike from unnecessary wear. What’s more, the Fliiiight’s intelligent resistance unit actively learns your pedal stroke and continuously modulates the load so that it feels like you’re riding with a flywheel — even though your wheel is spinning freely.
Kurt Kinetic R1 Direct Drive
Although it’s not the quietest direct drive trainer on the market, the R1 comes with some key features that make it a solid buy nonetheless. Take, for instance, its unique Rock and Roll technology. Honed over years of application in Kurt Kinetic’s wheel-on trainers, it allows the R1 to move back and forth, simulating your bike’s natural movement without the need for a rocker plate. And with a massive 14.4lb flywheel, a max slope of 20%, and a max resistance of 2,000 watts, this trainer isn’t just some marketing gimmick; it packs quite the punch when it comes to workout intensity.
With a pre-installed cassette and an included front-wheel riser block, the Elite Suito saves you some coin compared to the options towards the end of this list. But the best feature of this direct drive trainer has to be its hassle-free setup — simply pull it out of the box, unfold, and you’re ready to go. And because of its compact, folding design, it packs away for easy storage. Made from durable steel, it’s a sturdy offering that can stand up to the demands of consistent training. All in all, this is one trainer that’s incredibly competitive for its class.
If you’re on TrainerRoad, the Saris H3 is going to be your best bet — there’s really no better trainer option when it comes to accurate integration with the platform. And even if you do happen to be team Zwift, this direct driver trainer makes for a pretty compelling choice. Rated to only 59 decibels at 20mph, not only is it five times quieter than its predecessors; it’s also the quietest smart trainer Saris has ever built. It also comes with a 20lb flywheel for smooth, consistent resistance across its entire power curve. But the best part? It’s made right here in the USA from heartland cast and machined aluminum.
First introduced in 2012, Wahoo has been continuously refining its flagship smart trainer in order to bring riders the most immersive indoor experience possible. Now in its fifth iteration, the Kickr is truly one of the best trainers you can buy today. It’s incredibly accurate, with just +/- 1% of measured power variation. But that’s not all — it also comes with highly advanced resistance algorithms in order to provide for an incredibly realistic ride feel. Although the Wahoo Kickr is a competitive trainer in its own right, it’s important to think of it as part of a complete system. When paired with the KickrClimb and the KickrHeadwind, there’s really no better option.
If you want the quietest and most accurate trainer on the market, this is it. All you’ll hear when you’re pedaling away is the sound of your drivetrain and a slight hum. And with the introduction of the 2T to the series, Tacx has fitted some pretty powerful upgrades. For instance, its dynamic inertia compensates for weight, speed, and angle of inclination, tailoring the ride to your bike. It also comes with an innovative road feel feature, providing different vibrations based on the road surface encounter in-app. Top it off with a capacitive detection sensor that measures the exact position of your legs for pedal stroke analysis, and you have a trainer unrivaled in its ability to enhance your training capabilities.
The 10 Best Indoor Spin Bikes For Your Home
Sure, indoor cycling trainers are a great addition to any cyclist’s arsenal, but they’re not always the best option if you’re splitting time on your setup with others. If you’re looking for an even more dedicated option that’s also easily shared with the rest of the family, check out our guide to the best indoor spin bikes.