How to Choose a Bike Trainer: a Beginner's Guide

Alex Godbout Simard
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Except for fat bike enthusiasts and those who will continue to ride for their commute, most cyclists will store their bikes when winter sets in.

For those who don't want to face the hazardous road conditions but maintain their hard-earned fitness gained during the summer, bikes will instead spend the winter on a cycling trainer.

That way, they will be ready when their owner will muster enough motivation to workout while dreaming of mild summer weather.

Revolution in the field of trainers 

Understandably, the prospect of spending time staring at the wall during a hard workout is not the most appealing prospect. Fortunately for us, technological advances in the bikes trainer industry have added a good amount of pleasure to these often-difficult sessions, both physically and mentally! 


This revolution was mainly triggered by a software called Zwift. The Zwift cycling simulation platform works on computers, tablets, and cellphones, and allows cyclists to propel their avatars in a virtual multiplayer game.

It is, therefore, possible, from the comfort of one's home, to ride or train with friends, no matter the weather or the location. Of course, this virtual experience will never replace the pleasure of riding outside, but it can certainly make the prospect of training in winter much more attractive. 

 
Trainers can also be very useful during the warmer seasons. Indoor training is often much more effective and structured than outdoor training where traffic and road signs can break the rhythm. Not to mention the time it takes to ride or drive to where the intervals will take place. 

If video games with friends are not your thing, or if your trainer cannot be connected to a smart device, there are also several free online videos that allow you to escape on the most beautiful roads of Europe or elsewhere. They are perfect for entertaining yourself during a training session!

Types of home cycling trainers: Which one should I get?

Let's take a step back and discuss the different types of home cycling trainers, and how they differ from each other. Excluding the various types of stationary bikes, there are two families of trainers: roller trainers and fixed trainers.

Both families include smart devices that can be connected to Zwift and traditional trainers that work simply by resistance. 

The Roller: A classic on the rise again!

According to some cyclists, the feeling of training on a roller is closest to the experience on the road. The freedom of movement coming from the fact that the bike is not anchored to the ground and that both wheels physically turn at the same speed gives a relatively close sensation of riding outside.

This freedom of movement makes time spent in the saddle more comfortable, since its following the natural movements of the body while pedaling.

 
On the other hand, learning to use rollers with confidence requires more patience and concentration than a trainer on which the bike is fixed. As on the road, it is possible to fall with your bike on a roller if you lose control, which is impossible with a fixed trainer that has been well installed. 


The popularity of rollers has been on the rise again in recent years. Some of them are equipped with power meters and variable resistance mechanisms, things that were reserved for fixed smart trainers.

This allows roller enthusiasts to accompany their friends on Zwift or follow a structured workout from Trainer Road. The best of both worlds! 

Pros: 

  • Superior rolling feel
  • Less difficult on posture and more comfortable than fixed bases
  • Smart models are now available 

Cons: 

  • Technique to master, requires more concentration at first 
  • Not ideal for maximum effort due to lack of stability

Shop Rollers Trainers

Fixed trainers: Easy to use and effective

There are two main types of fixed trainers on the market. The first type, called Wheel-On, works by driving the resistance unit with the rear tire and wheel.

Shop Wheel-On Trainers

The second type requires the removal of the rear wheel prior to installation on the trainer which is equipped with a cassette. It is then the chain that drives the resistance mechanism directly. That’s why they are called Direct-drive trainers.

Generally more expensive than the first type, direct-drive trainers are much quieter than the tire-driven trainer, since there is less friction between the bike and the unit.

Shop Direct-drive Trainers

Most direct-drive trainers also have a power meter that is much more accurate and has the added ability to be connected to a computer, making them the ideal choice for a very immersive Zwift experience.

However, you must ensure that your bike is compatible with the cassette that comes with the base, or simply remove the cassette from your wheel and install it directly.

Fortunately, wheel-on and direct-drive trainers are compatible with all types of bikes and axles, whether it's a mountain bike with a thru-axle or a road bike with a quick release. 

Fixed trainer with manual resistance: No frills workout session

Standard or manual resistance trainers are the least expensive options for getting started in the world of indoor training. They don't require electricity or a computer connection to work. Most magnetic resistance trainers have a lever that mounts on the handlebars to change the resistance of the unit

Fluid trainers’ resistance is fixed but will vary according to the speed at which the rider spins the rear wheel. So the faster you ‘’go’’, the more resistance you will feel. They are also quieter than magnet resistance trainers. 


Pros: 

  • Inexpensive for an effective workout
  • Simple construction, very durable
  • No electricity required to operate 


Cons: 

  • Magnetic tire trainers are noisier than direct drive options
  • No synchronization with Zwift or other interactive software 

Smart Trainers: Essential tool for the best Zwift experience

At the heart of the Zwift revolution, smart trainers communicate with a computer or another smart device the power in wats generated by the cyclist.

In turn, the cyclist's avatar is propelled in the virtual world at a speed that is proportional to the power generated and the current gradient or slope of the ‘’road’’.

The software will also automatically increase or decrease the trainer’s resistance to simulate the ascent or descent of a virtual hill. The steeper the hill, the stronger the resistance and vice versa.

To take the feeling of riding in a peloton even further, the resistance will decrease slightly when the avatar is virtually riding a few meters behind another cyclist in the game, simulating the drafting effect one can feel when riding outside.

The big difference in price between some models comes from the level of precision of the power meter. Some will have a tolerance variation of + or - 5% watts for the entry-level models and + or -1% variation for the best options available. Another price differentiator comes from the feeling of realism felt during the pedal stroke.

Generally, the heavier the flywheel, the more similar the pedaling sensation will be to that of an outdoor bike. 

Pro:

  • Immersive experience
  • Fully compatible with Zwift and other interactive software
  • Model without rear wheel called “Direct Drive” very quiet

Cons:

  • More expensive option
  • Requires a relatively new computer, tablet, or smartphone for an enjoyable Zwift experience. 

Comparison Chart: Features and Price


To help you navigate through the different models of trainers available at Cycling Avenue, here is a comparison chart highlighting the most important features as well as their price. 

Make and Model

Type

Zwift Ready?

Power Meter Accuracy

Price

Tacx Blue Matic T2650

Wheel-On, Manual resistance

NA

NA

$209.99

Tacx Boost

Wheel-On, Manual resistance

NA

NA

$389.99

Tacx Flow Smart T2240

Wheel-On, Smart

Yes

± 5%

$479.99

Tacx Flux 2 T2980

Direct-Drive, Smart

Yes

±2.5%

$1199.99

Tacx Neo 2T T2875 Trainer

Direct-Drive, Smart

Yes

±1%

$1819.99

Tacx Galaxia

Roller, Fixed resistance

NA

NA

 $399.99

Elite Suito-T Trainer

Direct-Drive, Smart

Yes

±2.5%

$1049.99

Elite Arion Mag Rollers

Roller, Manual resistance

NA

NA

$499.99

Saris Fluid2

Wheel-on, Fixed fluid resistance

NA

NA

$514.99

Saris M2

Wheel-on, Smart

Yes

± 5%

$744.99

Saris H3

Direct-Drive, Smart

Yes

± 2%

$1484.99

If you still have any questions regarding the different trainers we have on our website, please book a free video consultation with one of our in-house experts, that will happily answer all of your questions!

Book A Call With Our Experts

Further reading

Many of us continue indoor cycling during the long winter months. Some people spin in their living room, while others train in their garage. Some people even cycle in their unheated backyard shack.

For some, winter biking is unthinkable, completely insane and far too much of a hassle - but for others, it’s a lifestyle and a means of transportation. Of course, this is not a decision to be taken lightly. This type of commute in the winter requires a certain amount of preparation, as much mental as material.