Indoor Trainer Buyer’s Guide

Indoor Trainer Buyer's Guide

Indoor Trainer Buyer’s Guide: Everything You Need to Know

It is now fall and the days are growing shorter and colder.  Soon the snow will fly and those of us in the Northern Hemisphere will retreat indoors to spin away the long winter months on our indoor trainer reliving this season’s glories and dreaming of the next.

In order to get the most from your indoor training, you need the trainer that is right for you.  Interactive or not interactive?  Wheel on or direct drive?  How do you want to control resistance?  The Indoor Trainer Buyer’s Guide is here to help with everything you need to know to choose the trainer that is right for you.


Interactive trainers are all the rage right now with every major trainer manufacturer having at least one in their lineups wih some having multiple to cover all price points.  Interactive trainers can be controlled by first and third party software such as Zwift and TrainerRoad by connecting to your computer or smart phone.  The software will control the resistance of the unit allowing you to simulate riding outdoors or complete specific workouts while hitting all your power targets.  Interactive trainers sit at the top end of the price range of trainers due to the technology used in them.

The most popular interactive trainer is the Wahoo Kickr while other good options include the top of the range Tacx Neo and the more affordable CycleOps Magnus.Tacx Neo


Smart trainers use trainer mounted sensors to broadcast ride information like speed and power to head units or smart phones via Bluetooth or Ant+.  Smart trainers are a good choice for those wishing to train with power indoors but don’t own a power meter.  Many companies offer sensor upgrades as aftermarket items for pre-existing units.

Options in this category include the Kinetic Rock and Roll Smart and the Elite Turbo Muin Smart B+.Kinetic Rock and Roll Smart

Direct Drive

Direct Drive trainers require the user to remove the rear wheel from their bike and attach it to the trainer using the bike’s dropouts.  Direct drive trainers require a cassette but eliminate issues such as tire wear and tire slipping.  They also offer a more stable platform and a quieter ride.  Direct drive trainers tend to be more expensive than their wheel on siblings.

Many direct drive trainers are also interactive trainers, such as the Tacx Flux and the Elite Drivo, while some direct drive trainers, like the Lemond Revolution, are not interactive.Lemond Revolution


The resistance for fluid trainers is created by a propeller rotating inside a fluid chamber.  The amount of resistance increases as the speed of the propeller increases meaning that the rider can control the resistance of the unit by shifting gears.  Fluid trainers generally offer smoother resistance than mag trainers.  They are the most popular category of trainers due to their reasonable prices and quality performance.

The CycleOps Fluid2 is an extremely popular fluid trainer as well as the Kinetic Road Machine.CycleOps Fluid2


Mag trainers use magnets to create resistance which can be controlled by the rider through a handle bar mounted trigger.  Mag trainers come in at the lower end of the price scale with units available for under $100.

Options in this category include the Elite Qubo Mag, CycleOps Mag Trainer, and Tacx Satori.Elite Qubo Power Mag


The cheapest category of trainers are wind trainers which use a propeller in the open air to create resistance.  The amount of resistance increases as speed increases similar to a fluid trainer.  Wind trainers have a reputation for being very noisy.

Wind trainers are not very popular and there are few options on the market.  One option is the CycleOps Wind Trainer.CycleOps Wind Trainer


A classic choice for indoor training, rollers are a set of drums that the wheels of the bike run on.  The bike is not mounted to the rollers in anyway meaning the bike and rider is free to move around.  This means that the rider has to concentrate on remaining upright and their is a learning curve to using rollers.  Many argue that rollers offer the most realistic ride experience but they are limiting in what you can do on them.  Prices can range from cheap to expensive.

Elite has brought modern technology to this classic with the Quick Motion rollers while companies like Kinetic keep it simple with their Z-Rollers.Kinetic Z-Rollers

Apps and Software

There are many options on the market for apps and software to enhance your indoor training experience that work with both interactive and non-interactive trainers.  The two most popular options at the moment are Zwift and TrainerRoad but there are many other options including first-party software from trainer manufactures which are normally included with their trainers (a welcome subscription at least).Zwift

If you need help deciding between Zwift and TrainerRoad check out this post for the pros and cons of each program.


A classic for indoor training, there are many companies still offering videos featuring structured workouts for you to ride along with including The Sufferfest and Spinnervals.  All though surpassed by interactive trainers and software, they are still a classic standby for on trainer entertainment when Netflix just isn’t cutting it.The Sufferfest

Hopefully this Indoor Trainer Buyer’s Guide was helpful in choosing the trainer that is right for you this winter.  For more help getting the most out of your indoor training, check out some of these handy posts:

TrainerRoad Review

5 Tips for Surviving the Trainer

Do As You’re Told – The Sufferfest (Review)

Nine Hammers Review – The Sufferfest (Review)

The Rookie – The Sufferfest (Review)

Elements of Sytle – The Sufferfest (Review)