Bicycles were meant to be ridden outdoors. True statement – but what does a cyclist do to stay in shape during the winter when there’s snow on the ground? Especially if you have an early spring event and won’t have the necessary miles under your belt. The answer is ‘ride the trainer’. I have ridden a lot of different ones and they have come a long way over the past few years so here’s a quick rundown on some of what’s available.
Wind Trainers use a fan attached to a flywheel to give resistance. The faster your rear wheel goes the greater the resistance becomes. These are the least expensive option and very durable. Generally, the most portable making them ideal to carry with you to events for a pre-ride warm up. Wind trainers also generate noise as a byproduct of resistance. They are by far the noisiest option (can mimic an indoor hurricane) and don’t simulate road feel very well. Hard pedaling can max out resistance so are best for easy to moderate efforts where you won’t create enemies from the howling wind.
Magnetic Trainers use a series of repelling magnets spinning on a flywheel to create resistance. Commonly referred to as a ‘mag trainer’. Resistance is adjustable by moving a lever either mounted on the handlebars or on the unit itself and can range from easy spinning to out of saddle climbing. They are relatively quiet and inexpensive but not as durable as other types. A mag trainer would be a good choice if you are on a budget and won’t be logging thousands of miles indoors.
Fluid Trainers have become the staple of the indoor training world. They are quieter than either a mag or wind trainer and develop their resistance from an impeller turning inside a sealed chamber of silicone (fluid). A fluid trainer’s resistance increases as your wheel speed increases making it have a very ‘road-like’ feel and is the same every time you ride it. This is important if you track your performance. Early fluid trainers had an issue with leakage but today that is a non-issue from the better brands.
Smart Trainers are an enhancement of the three basic types of trainers but they transmit information on your workout either through ANT+ or Bluetooth to your cycle computer, phone or laptop. The data transmitted is usually a combination of speed (from the spinning roller), power (either a built-in power meter or estimate based off speed) and sometimes cadence (sensing the microsecond transition between left and right leg). If you already have these sensors on your bike you may not need a smart trainer although it is a cheap way to train by power without laying out a thousand dollars for an on-bike power meter.
Interactive Trainers are more than smart trainers. They bring virtual reality to indoor training by adjusting resistance to mimic real-life terrain. Controlled by the manufacturer’s app or online programs such as Zwift the boredom factor goes way down and quality and quantity of training can go way up. A ride on your trainer can now involve competing with others around the globe and posting segments to Strava. The cost is getting better than in the past but is significantly more than a good fluid trainer. It may be worth it if it means starting next season stronger than last year.
Rollers are awesome, crazy or dangerous depending on who you ask. They consist of three rollers which you balance your bike on while you ride. The bike is not attached to the trainer as in other types thus making it possible (and likely at first) for you to fall off. Just search youtube for ‘roller crashes’ to see what I am talking about. The benefits of rollers are increased balance and pedal stroke smoothness. Here is a video of me showing off on rollers. roller-ride
My recommendation: Ride the bike! If you can’t or don’t want to go outdoors get a trainer. Buy the best you can afford as you will be more likely to use it. I use a Wahoo Kickr Snap and rollers. With the Kickr I am less bored so my workouts are longer and more intense. The rollers force me to be smooth and not get lazy in my form. If you prefer to work out in a group setting join a cycling studio such as the Rider’s Roost using your own bike. I am not a fan of spinning classes for cyclists as the riding position and heavy flywheel do little to mimic an outdoor ride but any riding is better than none so stay active this winter and be ready to hit the road next spring.