All about bike trainers for your months of winter riding.
Editor’s Note January 15, 2015; If you’re looking to kickstart you winter training, check out the MitoCanada Ultra Spin this January 17, 2015! a 5 hour spinathon here in Calgary at Eau Claire Market! Register here.
Welcome to winter. For a lot of folks in Canada and the northern states of the US, riding outdoors and getting in intense training sessions outdoors simply isn’t an option. But an old adage in racing goes, “Winners are made in January, not June”. So in order to get some good miles and some intense workout sessions in, the trainer is the only option if you’d like to keep in the comfort of your own home.
Come winter, the newcomer cyclist questions of “what type of bike should I buy?” gets replaced with “what sort of trainer should I buy?”. Its important to find the right trainer that fits your budget, provides the resistance you need, and will stand the test of time. So here’s a quick roundup of the basics for trainers meant to help guide the uninitiated.
There are actually quite a few other types of trainers out there now such as the LeMond Revolution, but I’m going to stick to the run of the mill, basic vanilla types of trainers where you mount your rear wheel to a flywheel to produce resistance when you pedal.
Essentially there are three main types
- Wind trainers- these use air resistance to create via a drag creating fan to create rolling resistance for the rider. Wind trainers are typically the cheapest, lightest trainers available. However, since they use wind resistance, they are also very noisy and max out their resistance at a relatively low level (unless you can somehow make the air around the trainer more dense). This makes them less than ideal if you’re packing a little more wattage, if you live in a shared dwelling (condo), or if you plan to watch something on Netflix while you ride. I’m not actually a huge fan of these trainers because they’re sort of like a 1990 Chevy Silverado, they’re cheap and gets the job done, but when you lay down the gas, you get more noise than power.
- Magnetic trainers, these clever little devices actually use magnetic resistance to provide the rolling resistance which allows them to be only slightly heavier than wind trainers, but significantly quieter. Magnetic trainers also provide the ability to adjust the amount of resistance on the trainer and they’ll often come with a little lever on your handlebars to adjust while you ride. These trainers are middle of the road in terms of price and area good option for riders getting into cycling who are looking for some good steady rides. You can’t really go wrong with a magnetic trainer from a reputable company such as CycleOps, Kurt Kinetic, or Tacx.
- Fluid trainers provide the most lifelike feel and since you’re pushing a fan moving through a gel type liquid, they can actually take a very significant amount of power and still provide resistance. I’ve never met a rider who has complained that their CylcOps Fluid2 or Kurt Kinetic couldn’t take the watts they gave it. Fluid trainers are a little louder than magnetic, which is a bit of a drawback, and they’re certainly heavier, but they provide great resistance and feel and they last forever. If you’re planning on spending a few hours a week on the trainer and don’t mind shelling out a couple bucks extra, this is my pick.
What fits the budget
I recognize that most people actually shop for this stuff by budget, especially in the offseason while you’re saving up for a new cyclocross bike, or the latest Garmin toy. So here are my picks based on price range
- $0-$150 – If this is your budget I’d actually direct you to kijiji or pinkbike since people are often selling used trainers on there. At under $150 you could probably pick up a decent magnetic trainer but you won’t really be able to be picky about brands.
- $150-$300 – At this price point I really recommend the CycleOps Mag+ Trainer with Adjuster. It’s a solid trainer that I’ve ridden a couple times and really liked. It’s easy to fold up and put into a closet, and at $250ish, you’re not going to find a better choice in my opinion.
- $300-$500 – In this range you’re really just looking at fluid trainers and I’ve got to say that in my opinion the CycleOps Fluid2 and Kurt Kinetic Road Machine set the standard. Kurt Kinetic actually used to manufacture trainers for CycleOps before they became their own brand, so these are actually two very similar units but each with its own little perk. The latch system to fix the bike to the Fluid2 is much better than the screw-latch system on the Kurt Kinetic Road Machine so here I’ll give a point to CycleOps. But Kurt actually uses a single piece casing system to contain the fluid for the Road Machine, meaning that short of dropping it off a building, it’ll never leak, so a point goes to Kurt. Its a bit of a toss up between the two, but I’d still go with the CycleOps unit.
You can shop around for trainers on the internet, but I’ll caution you. Trainers are heavy and bulky, and every dime you save on the MSRP by getting it off ebay, you’ll lose on shipping and brokerage. So hit up your local bike shop, try them out, and show a little love to the local guys.
A couple times a week on the trainer, even for sessions under an hour or so, are a great way to maintain fitness through the winter. If you’re looking for some programs to push you through your workouts because you’re all caught up on The Walking Dead or House of Cards, definitely checkout The Sufferfest series of videos… if you dare.