Today, the whirr of a hard-working turbo trainer is a common sound in the homes of cyclists across the world. If you’re new to this realm of training, or you want to know more about different types of turbo trainer, then you’re in the right place.
While taking elemental punishment is a well established path to cycling excellence, heading out on the bike isn’t always practical. Using an indoor trainer means you can keep up the miles without risking bike or limb in the slush of heavy rains or unpredictability of icy roads.
Like most areas of modern cycling, the indoor trainer is now replete with technological advances, giving today’s cyclist a sometimes bewildering range of options to suit how they train.
With different mechanisms of resistance, LED feedback, speed and cadence sensors, and wireless connectivity to online race simulations, there’s never been a better time to hop on a stationary bike.
Choosing a turbo trainer means balancing your budget with the varying advantages of different mechanisms and the sort of experience you’re looking for. So below, we take a look at the different types of trainers, their main advantages, and some of the best on offer.
Magnetic resistance trainers are among the most popular and prolific entry-level units. They work using a magnet to control the level of resistance of the fly wheel, which is spun by your back tyre. The rear wheel is typically secured to the turbo trainer using your rear skewer.
Magnetic trainers, even at the bottom end of the price ladder, often come with a remote control unit you can attach to your handlebars and adjust as required.
Small, portable, simple. The Elite is a great value option, offering a handlebar mounted remote adjuster to move between five levels of resistance.
Perfect for a race warm-up or for those just getting into turbo training.
This excellent value bundle includes a travel block to help you find the most comfortable position for training, a sweat net to protect your bicycle and prevent corrosion or rust, and 550ml Elite branded water bottle. Everything you need to get started.
The Blue Matic has a magnetic brake with permanent-magnets. You set the resistance selecting one of the ten different positions on the handlebar resistance lever. During your training session the resistance increases as you cycle faster or switch to a heavier setting.
A little more expensive but offering a more road-like feel, fluid turbo trainers use a complex system whereby a rotor spins in an oil bath to produce resistance.
They’re generally quieter than magnetic turbo trainers and offer a realistic experience, with the fluid moving to simulate the behaviour of your bike on the road.
Fluid resistance trainers generally don’t allow you to adjust the level of resistance with a remote unit. Instead, the resistance builds progressively depending on how hard you pedal. However, they are often more powerful than magnetic trainers, so if you’re pumping out big watts, then a fluid trainer is the way to go (unless you upgrade to direct drive – below).
Many of these models can be folded down for storage when not in use.
Strong, durable, and quiet, the CycleOps 2 offers a wide resistance curve with PowerTuned technology that closely simulates real-world forces.
Offering incredible value for a fluid trainer, the LifeLine TT-02 provides a stiff and stable platform, allowing you to put down the power with confidence.
Direct drive units allow for a highly realistic cycle experience, and are the choice of serious cyclists looking to improve technique and power.
Unlike most magnetic and fluid turbo trainers, where your rear wheel is in contact with the turbo trainer, with direct drive your bike is directly mounted to the trainer.
Direct drive turbo trainers are some of the quietest units available too, making almost no noise as you crank out the virtual miles. Most (not all!) units are smart enabled, communicating using ANT+ and/or Bluetooth, allowing you to hook them up to virtual reality training programs or other devices, such as your Garmin / Wahoo / Polar / Lezyne bike computer.
A huge advance in turbo traiing tech, the Neo simulates road feel in a highly realistic way, and set a new standard for the indoor trainer. It’s Smart enable, allowing it to communicate using ANT+ and Bluetooth. It’s also immensely powerful, and has LED lights showing your level of power.
The choice of many pro teams, the Drivo is interactive and features a 24-point power measuring system with a +/- 1% accuracy, for each pedal stroke. The integrated power measurement system determines the watts expressed as precisely as scientific measuring devices. Drivo combines all the advantages of a professional training tool with an easy and intuitive system.
Unlike wheel-on or direct drive trainers, roller trainers use cylindrical drums connected by a belt drive, which are spun by your bike wheels. Many cyclists enjoy the feeling of rollers, which provide more lateral movement and, for many, a realistic experience.
They can, however, take a bit of getting used to, and finding your balance can take some time. They also have a much bigger footprint that the alternative.
But if you’re interested in high cadence sessions or tempo training, they can be a revelation.
A simple yet incredibly effective trainer at an exceptional price. This roller trainer is ideal for perfecting your technique and balance, while it can be easily folded away for storage.
The Elite Arion Smart Rollers give you interactive connectivity with online racing and training platforms in a roller. The electronically controlled resistance can be wirelessly adjusted by platforms like Zwift and TrainerRoad, giving you a real world cycling experience in your own home.
Smart turbo trainers offer internet connectivity, allowing you to participate in online cycling races using platforms like Zwift, TrainerRoad, and many more. Any of the above styles of trainers, magnetic, fluid, rollers, can come Smart enabled, while there are ways of turning dumb trainers into Smart units by bolting on a few sensors and gadgets.
However, one thing a truly Smart trainer will give you that others will not is instant and automatic feedback, so your trainer mimics the environment on screen. Head up a steep mountain climb on Zwift, and your Smart trainer will ratchet up the resistance in response, making for an immersive and integrated experience.
We go into much more detail in the following articles. Until then, here’s a few of our recommendations, starting with pocket-friendly options, all the way to top pro-level trainers.
Despite its low price, the Tacx Vortex is a fully fledged Smart trainer, providing feedback from your onscreen ride and automatically adjusting the resistance. Capable of a maximum resistance of 950 watts, and capable of mirroring gradients of 7%, this is the ideal training tool for those pushing themselves for success next season.
The Tacx Bushido offers power cyclists a way to test their limits and push their parameters.
Offering a resistance unit capable of generating 1400 watts and simulating climbs of 15%, your power levels will soar after a few intense sessions.
Fully smart enabled with live feedback and precision sensors, the Bushido offers a lot for its mid-range price.
Wahoo’s now famous Kickr Smart Turbo Trainer offers the latest in turbo performance, capable of intense resistance and complete data analysis. Alongside speed, distance, and power meters, the KICKR also features an RPM cadence sensor for ultimate data gathering. Connect wirelessly to your chosen online trining platform and enjoy a sophisticated feedback and interaction, alongside real-word feel and a complete training experience.