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Indoor Bike Trainer Buyer's Guide

What is a trainer for a bike?

In this guide, we break down some of the most important info about bike trainer stands so you can decide which kind you want to use to reach your cycling goals.

A bike trainer is a machine that can be attached to a bicycle so riders can pedal indoors. They are considerably more compact and often less expensive than the larger indoor stationary cycling machines you’d find at the gym. They’re easy to move around, fun to use, and they’re great for a wide variety of cyclists. Keep reading to learn more!

Why use a bike trainer stand?

Trainer stands are used by casual riders, motivated enthusiasts, and pro athletes alike. You don’t have to be an elite cyclist to enjoy the advantages of a trainer.

Bike trainer stands are perfect for:

Riders who want to avoid the gym and get in a great workout at home

Forget the membership fees and crowded spaces, bike trainers allow you to break a sweat at home whenever you feel like it. You can even set your trainer up in front of the TV and bust out a good ride while watching a movie.

Riders who want to keep on pedaling throughout the winter

Riding bikes helps us stay fit and happy, but the darker, colder days of the offseason are when it’s the most important to stay active. Instead of hanging up your bike all winter, keep the momentum going and you’ll be better for it, both physically and mentally.

Riders who want to use virtual cycling apps like Zwift

Some bike trainers allow you to connect to virtual cycling apps like Zwift so you can record your ride data and compete against others. You can try to beat your best times or race your buddies and other riders online, making the whole ride from home situation way more fun.

Riders who want to train more efficiently

If you’re serious about training, indoor bike trainers are the best way to get the most out of your workouts. When you don’t have to worry about roads, traffic, or weather, you can really dial in your training regimen by doing speed intervals and climbing simulations. If you want to take your workouts to the next level, using a trainer is a must.

What are the different types of bike trainers?

There are many different styles, and while there are exceptions, most usually attach to your rear axle. Many trainer stands work by letting your rear tire spin on a roller, and other trainers take the place of your rear wheel completely! Check out the different types below and see which one will work best for your goals.

Wahoo KICKR bike trainer direct drive

Direct Drive

Direct drive trainers are the most efficient, accurate, and the highest quality. They take the place of your rear wheel and use their own cassettes so you are directly engaging with the system. These trainers will often have advanced features like app connectivity, natural-feeling balance, and more realistic ride quality.

Wahoo KICKR SNAP bike trainer friction

Friction

Friction trainers apply resistance to your rear tire and therefore allow you to keep your rear wheel on. These types of trainers are usually simpler, less expensive, and more portable, but they often don’t have the same features that make direct drive systems feel so realistic.

Saris roller trainer

Rollers

Rollers are the cheapest way to go and they’re great for riders who want something affordable and super simple that doesn’t require any complicated set up. Just pop your bike on and ride, but although it may sound simple, this style requires the most technique and balance.

Rider on trainer using Zwift

What are Smart Trainers?

Smart trainers are any system that remotely connects to an app and can adjust resistance along with that app. 

If you want to race against your friends on Zwift or experience an ultra-realistic ride quality that closely mimics real terrain, smart trainers are the way to go.

What are the best indoor bike trainers?

We think indoor trainers are perfect for tons of riders. There's plenty out there to choose from, but here are some of our favorites:

Shop All Indoor Bike Trainers

Wahoo KICKR SNAP Smart Trainer

Wahoo KICKR SNAP Smart Trainer

  • Style: Friction
  • Why you'll love it: Besides being an affordable yet top-notch smart trainer, the Wahoo KICKR SNAP allows slight side-to-side movement which helps make the ride quality feel more natural.
  • Price: $499.99
Wahoo KICKR CLIMB Indoor Grade Simulator

Wahoo KICKR CLIMB Indoor Grade Simulator

  • Style: Smart Trainer
  • Why you'll love it: The Wahoo KICKR CLIMB attaches to your front axle and raises the front end of you bike for a killer uphill workout indoors. A great option for the most realistic ride.
  • Price: $599.99
Wahoo KICKR CORE Smart Trainer

Wahoo KICKR CORE Smart Trainer

  • Style: Direct drive
  • Why you'll love it: The premium Wahoo KICKR CORE trainer is quiet, extra durable, and features built-in cadence measurement for riders who are serious about their training sessions.
  • Price: $899.99
Saris Fluid 2

Saris Fluid 2

  • Style: Friction
  • Why you'll love it: The Saris Fluid 2 trainer stand is lightweight, portable, and affordable. It's perfect for riders who want to train indoors without breaking the bank.
  • Price: $299.99
Saris Aluminum Roller

Saris Aluminum Roller

  • Style: Roller
  • Why you'll love it: The Saris Aluminum Roller is super simple yet highly efficient. It's ultra quiet and it'll improve your balance while you ride.
  • Price: $299.99
Tacx NEO 2T Smart

Tacx NEO 2T Smart

  • Style: Direct drive
  • Why you'll love it: The Tacx NEO 2T Smart trainer is as good as it gets. It has all the best features to challenge you and simulate real-riding scenarios. If you want the best, look no further.
  • Price: $1,399.99

What are the most important accessories for indoor cycling?

If you want the best indoor cycling experience possible, there are a few must-have accessories and helpful tips that will keep you comfortable and having fun.

rider on smart trainer with fan

Get a fan: Since you wont have the breeze drying off  some of your sweat as you ride, set up a fan or two pointed at your body to help simulate the natural air flow effects.

Grab a sweat guard: Even with a few fans going, indoor cycling is sweaty business, and you'll want to protect your frame and components from all that salt. Use a towel or a specially made sweat guard to keep your bike clean while you workout.

Use a floor mat: Aside from protecting against (you guessed it, sweat), putting a floor mat down will ensure your trainer doesn't slip or scratch your floor in any way.

Bike Trainer FAQs

How do bike trainers attach?

The vast majority of direct drive and friction trainers attach to your bike's rear axle. Direct drive trainers use their own cassettes and take the place of your rear wheel, while friction trainers add resistance directly to your rear tire. Roller trainers don't attach to your bike.

Can you turn a regular bike into an exercise bike?

With a bike trainer stand you can turn your own bicycle into an indoor exercise bike that's cheaper and more fun than a regular stationary bike.

Can you stand on a bike trainer?

Yes, as long as you attach your bike to the trainer correctly, it will hold up even when you're out of the saddle.

Is a bike trainer a good workout?

Absolutely. Because you have to pedal against the resistance of the trainer, riding indoors can even be more of a workout than riding outside. Trainers, just like the name suggests, are a huge part of many athletes' regimen.

How do I choose a bike trainer?

Read the section on trainer styles above that goes into more detail, but think about the features you want your trainer to have. For example, do you want something lightweight and simple like a regular trainer stand or roller, or do you want something a little heavier that offers more features? Are you serious about training to the point you want to replicate outdoor cycling as closely as possible, or do you just need something to help keep you moving in the offseason? Do you want to connect to virtual cycling apps? If you can answer some of these questions, you'll be able to find the right style for your goals in the Trainer Styles section above.

Are trainers bad for your bike?

No. Normal wear on your components is unavoidable as you ride your bike, but trainers are very low impact. If you have a friction trainer, you may want to use a trainer tire to prevent unnecessary wear on your regular road tire.

Do bike trainers fit all bikes?

Roller trainers will work with just about any bike as long as you can adjust the wheelbase accordingly, but for the other types of trainers you'll want to read the details of each specific model and cross reference that with your bike to ensure it will fit. Don't hesitate to give our team a call if you're not sure and we will gladly help you find a solution.

Can you put a mountain bike on a trainer?

Yes, many mountain bikes will work with the different types of bike trainers, but again, be sure to check out the specs of the specific model you're looking into before buying.