When the days get shorter and the weather closes in, you can drag yourself down to the busy local gym, bravely face nature wrapped in countless layers or simply pop on Zwift, drop the bike into the turbo trainer and take a spin within the comfort of your own home.
Turbo trainers allow you to ride your bike in any location, while stationary, making them a popular choice for recovery rides, pre-race warm-ups and winter training alike. Most trainers feature some level of adjustable resistance, helping to simulate “true” cycling when conditions prevent you from venturing outdoors. As such, they provide a perfect solution for those who wish to train, aboard their own bike, without the hassle and danger associated with riding in poor conditions, the dark or simply within a tight time frame.
Turbo trainers explained
As with most areas of cycling, there are a vast number of options available when it comes to turbo trainers, with various features affecting both the price point and its suitability for your individual needs. Before purchasing a trainer you should consider where it will be stored and whether it will be regularly transported, this is due to differences in weight and packability between trainers. Asides practicality, the trainer's method of resistance should also be taken into account. This can be broken down into a few key categories; magnetic, fluid, direct drive and smart.
Magnetic Turbo Trainers
As the name suggests, a magnetic field is used to control the trainer’s resistance. Many magnetic turbo trainers will have a handlebar mounted lever that controls the strength of the magnetic field and in turn the trainer's resistance levels.
Fluid Turbo Trainers
Fluid trainers generate resistance through a propeller that turns within an oil chamber, resulting in a quieter and smoother ride than a magnetic trainer. Resistance is usually altered by changing gears on the bike itself, however resistance does also fluctuate relative to the amount of power put through the pedals.
Direct Drive Turbo Trainers
Unlike the previous variations, direct drive trainers replace your bike's rear wheel. While this can mean purchasing a second cassette, it does eradicate the hassle of swapping out specific trainer tyres and skewers (more on these later). The setup tends to be more stable, allowing you to get out of the saddle and confidently lay down some power. By eliminating the tyre-trainer interface the direct drive system is the quietest option available, particularly important for those living in apartments as that droning sound can really travel. These trainers generally sit within the mid to high price point. It may be worth noting direct drive trainers are generally larger than traditional designs, often suiting those with a space dedicated to their training.
Smart Turbo Trainers
Smart trainers have the capability to connect with your smartphone via Bluetooth, FE-C or ANT , allowing you access to specific apps, namely Strava and Zwift, that help create the most realistic indoor ride possible whilst displaying real time performance data. They can use magnetic, fluid or direct drive resistance, with higher specification models automatically adjusting to simulate the climbs and descents of your virtual reality route. Value wise, smart trainers sit across the board, with the method of resistance, connectivity, and number of features impacting the price. It's worth noting that a smart trainer often isn't the best choice for race warmups as they can be reasonably heavy and some models require plugging into the mains to function.
Which turbo trainer is right for you?
Here are a few trainers that, depending on your intended use, make for ideal training companions. However, if none of the below suit, between the advice given within this article and the detailed product descriptions on our website you should now be in a strong position to choose the correct trainer for your individual needs.
Beginner - Cycleops Fluid 2 Turbo Trainer
We have chosen the Cycleops Fluid 2 Turbo Trainer as a great introduction to the world of indoor training due to its quiet, smooth ride and competitive price point. This trainer features a balanced flywheel to increase rear wheel stability and replicate real world cycling, helping make the transition from road to trainer seamless. Additionally, the resistance adjusts itself relative to your effort, leaving you with nothing to worry about other than shifting through the bike's gears. This trainer also falls into the quietest category, great if you’re unsure whether your cohabitants will be as keen on your new activity as you are!
Race Day - Tacx T2650 Blue Matic Folding Magnetic Turbo Trainer
With 10 levels of resistance, adjusted via a handlebar mounted lever, and a wide stable frame, the Tacx Blue Matic is an ideal choice for pre race warmups. The trainer can fold flat without tools and weighs a manageable 8.4kg, making it easy to transport between events. The trainer does not require plugging in, while any additional noise from the magnetic drive won’t be audible within a busy race environment.
The ultimate training partner - Wahoo KICKR Smart Turbo Trainer
For riders that wish for their indoor training to be as effective and stimulating as possible Wahoo have made the magnetic, direct drive smart KICKR Trainer. Using a carbon drive belt to provide the smoothest riding experience possible, creating realistic feeling accelerations and decelerations when sprinting or tackling gruelling climbs, this trainer brings your outdoor riding into the comfort of your home.
For those that truly wish to immerse themselves, this trainer is also compatible with the Wahoo KICKR CLIMB, a device that physically adjusts the bike's position relative to gradients on the virtual route. With its capability to replicate a 20% gradient and handle 2000 watts of power, this trainer is ideal for any serious cyclist craving challenges far greater than their local loop can offer.
As previously touched upon, depending on the variety of trainer used, there are various accessories available to enhance your experience. For non-direct drive trainers it is important to use a turbo trainer tyre. These tyres are much harder wearing, prolonging the life of your expensive road tyres and greatly reducing the noise levels.
If you are running a trainer tyre yet feel the noise is still too intrusive, a turbo trainer floor mat will be a good addition to your setup. The anti-slip, waterproof finish protects surfaces from sweat and energy drinks, while the thick material further reduces noise and helps dampen vibrations.
A turbo trainer specific skewer may also be necessary depending on the shape of your factory skewers, these are designed to fit tightly into the trainer, increasing stability and power transfer. For those who regularly alternate between their trainer and the road, a cheap secondary wheel, fitted with a cassette, trainer tyre and skewer can save a lot of time and hassle. Additionally, a riser block can be used to raise the front wheel, levelling the bike in the trainer.
With the recent increase in disc brake bikes with bolt thru-axles comes another factor to consider, as these will be unlikely to fit into a trainer without a specific bolt thru-axle adapter. Mountain bikes, particularly 29” wheeled variants should also be fine to use in a trainer, but will require a slick tyre.
The following playlist provides some useful techniques and structured workouts to help get you started. Unlike riding out on the road, there isn’t normally a breeze inside, so consider setting up a fan before undertaking any intense sessions.
If you want to take your indoor workout to the next level, Zwift is a fantastic platform for making your rides more challenging, immersive and most importantly, fun. Follow the link to read our guide to using the platform.