Recomendations for good indoor bike trainers?
January 25, 2006 3:40 PM   Subscribe

I want to purchase a bike trainer so I can ride indoors during the winter months. What sorts of things should I look for?

What's the difference between a magnetic and fluid trainer? Are there certain brands that are better-built than others? Do I need one that has a remote control cable to switch resistance, or is that unecessary? I want to go into the shop well-informed so as not to get sold something I don't want or need. Any recommendations?
posted by 40 Watt to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I've always found fluid to be the best. Wind trainers are quite loud. There resistance changing switches, but you should also use the derailluers as well because you want to get good at technique as well as get strong. I've always used Cycleops, myself.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:49 PM on January 25, 2006

I've really appreciated my rim-drive Minoura - there's nothing against the tire, so no tire wear.

You can feel the difference between magnetic and fluid when you're getting up to speed - there is some little truth to the "choppiness" accusation aimed at magnetics - but when you get up to speed, they both feel fine.

Personally, I don't miss having the remote control cable. Set the resistance high and use your shifters.
posted by Wolfdog at 3:52 PM on January 25, 2006

I've heard horrible things about the Cycleops units leaking oil.

I have a Kinetic Road Machine and it's excellent.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 4:03 PM on January 25, 2006

Magnetic trainers are cheaper and can have adjustable maximum resistance. Fluid trainers are more expensive but quieter. They also typically have a higher resistance, which will make doing higher cadence work virtually impossible. Additionally, they are heavier, and if you live in a cold climate, you might not want to store them in an unheated garage. So, I unreservedly recommend going with a magnetic trainer!

Having the ability to adjust the maximum resistance is good if you're doing power work. Note that the resistance is, with all trainers, adjustable while you ride by changing your gears.

There are also wind trainers, I think they're cheapest of all, but also the noisiest.

Finally, no matter what you get, you should invest in an additional cheap tire. Better that than wearing out your good ones.
posted by Elpoca at 4:03 PM on January 25, 2006

I have a tire-drive Minoura. It does wear the tire so I just put a crappy one on. I don't have the one with the remote - like Ironmouth says, I just use the gears. I've had it for a few years and it's been great, and is only noisy whilst I'm getting up to speed.
posted by forallmankind at 4:09 PM on January 25, 2006

whoops: didn't check the link - it's the MAG-850.
posted by forallmankind at 4:13 PM on January 25, 2006

Blackburn mag trainer here. It's noisy and notchy. If I had it to do over again (I'm unlikely to wear it out any time soon) I'd buy a fluid trainer with a handlebar mounted control. Quiet, and for a few bucks the added versatility of adjustable resistance is worth it. Oh yeah, use a beater tire.

Oh yeah, and with all that said it has to be really brutally ugly out - like 33 degrees and raining - before I head to the basement. A large fan is a must, as is a towel. Sweat is really corrosive and will destroy your headset and even take the paint off your top tube, so you might want to protect them.

A block to place under your front wheel is a good idea. I've used a few paperback books and even a length of old 2x4 in the past, but a plastic block designed just for this purpose is a good idea as it levels the bike and will prevent you from riding downhill and placing lots of pressure on the parts. Keep your rides short. I meet people that tell me of their 3 hour trainer sessions but I think they are batshit insane. Go hard for 45 minutes.
posted by fixedgear at 4:26 PM on January 25, 2006

have you considered rollers. they are a little scary at first, but you learn to spin smooth circles. if you want a better workout, go with a trainer. if you want to be a better cyclist, get rollers.
posted by probablysteve at 4:42 PM on January 25, 2006

I had a Cateye mag/fan trainer (now discontinued, but still available, I think). This mounted to both the BB and the front fork; I put together a beater fixed-gear that I used exclusively on the trainer.

This worked really well, obviated any concerns over corroding my good bike, and since I always left it set up, didn't create any psychological resistance to getting on it ("Oh, I'd have to set my bike up...think I'll just sit down until the urge to exercise passes"). Not a cheap option, and requires a fair amount of space.

Although this was tire-driven, I never had a problem with burning through my tire.
posted by adamrice at 5:25 PM on January 25, 2006

Rollers are far less boring than a regular trainer and not really all that difficult. Just put them into a doorway until you get comfortable with them. Some folks build a platform next to the side to aid in getting on and off. It makes mounting and dismounting a cinch.

Regular trainers are borrrrrrrrrrriiiiiiiinnnnnnnngggggg! The rollers force you to concentrate enough on what you are doing to diminish the tedium. Lose your concentration and over you go. You can get rollers with a fan which adds resistance and blows air on you. You will probably need regular fan blowing on you anyway if you are getting any kind of workout. As probablysteve said it will make you a better cyclist by improving your spin. Perfect circles.

The other way to kill the tedium of trainers might be to get one of the computer add-ons which allow you to simulate a regular ride. The on-screen display shows you pedaling through the mountains say and adjusts your speed on screen to your pedaling speed. I have never tried it but some people like them.

Do not take the tedium factor lightly unless you are a person of high discipline. It is the reason most people give it up.
posted by caddis at 6:20 PM on January 25, 2006

Caddis, probablysteve-

I actually considered rollers for a brief moment before I decided 1) I don't have room in my Chicago walk-up for a set of rollers 2) I'm more in it for the fitness and not necessarily for the cycling technique (although that's important) and 3) I'm rather intimidated by the thought of rollers in the first place. But thanks for those viewpoints. I'm pretty committed to getting some excercise, tedium or no, and it'll just help keep me motivated until spring and I can get outdoors.

Thanks to the rest of you for all the input. Any other ideas from anyone else, keep 'em coming. I'm not sold either way so far between mag and fluid, although the generally higher price of fluid trainers that I've seen is pushing me closer to mag at this point.
posted by 40 Watt at 6:58 PM on January 25, 2006

40 watt, do reconsider the rollers - A roller setup will probably take just a little more room than a bike on a trainer. Picture. I picked up some rollers recently and wish I'd done so sooner - they're that good.

I personally find the rollers better fitness because you're using your upper body to stabilize the bike. Put it this way - I was sore(in a good way) in all the usual cycling places after my first workout on rollers. It is extremely similar to riding on the road. And as an added bonus, your technique, especially spinning, WILL improve.

With respects to 3) I'll be entering my third year of road riding this year so I'm not all that experienced; I picked the rollers up within 5 minutes. Having parabolic ones help. And, oh yeah, the best advice was what the guy at the bike store said - "Don't look down". After that, its smooth sailing and a FANTASTIC workout.

Having said that, Costco has a Schwinn mag roller for $99.
posted by neilkod at 7:08 PM on January 25, 2006

The other way to kill the tedium of trainers might be to get one of the computer add-ons which allow you to simulate a regular ride. The on-screen display shows you pedaling through the mountains say and adjusts your speed on screen to your pedaling speed.

Caddis: what is this of which you speak?
posted by forallmankind at 7:16 PM on January 25, 2006

One option is a Computrainer. I have tried one and its a LOT of fun. There are even some guys here in SLC that group ride on networked computrainers during the winter.
posted by neilkod at 7:41 PM on January 25, 2006

Actually, rollers are what my buddy who is a killer rider uses. I will say this for them, when you are working hard on technique you are really challenging yourself more fitness wise. um gazing up thread, exactly what neilkod said. Especially the part about don't look down. Excellent life advice.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:07 PM on January 25, 2006

I think Computrainer is the most popular, and the Tacx i-Magic is another, but there are tons of similar programs out there, some of which are quite sophisticated in their simulation. A cheaper alternative to focus your workout and avoid boredom might be some spinning DVDs like the Spinervals or Carmichael Training ones.
posted by caddis at 8:09 PM on January 25, 2006

One very solid vote for a Cycleops Fluid2 trainer. I have tried mag, wind, and fluid, and fluid is far and away superior, IMO. I think those people that advocate rollers definitely have a point about technique, but if your primary purpose is to build speed and strength, I think a fluid trainer is hard to beat for the money.

I strongly disagree with the statement that you can't do high rpm work on a fluid trainer. Even in my large chainring, it's easy to spin at a very high rpm in a lower gear (53x23, for instance). Drop into a higher gear, and you instantly have fairly realistic resistance.

The Cycleops Fluid trainers have been rumored to have leakage problems. I investigated that thoroughly when I bought mine, and I think they have largely resolved those issues.

I would recommend you look for a combo package if you do go the fluid route - trainer, sweat mat, sweat absorbant "thong," rear wheel-mounted computer (if you don't have a HRM) and riser block. There are cheaper ways to accomplish some of those things, but the combo deals on eBay are pretty solid (like this one - eBay item number 7213313557).

Computrainer is great if you have the cash, but it doesn't came cheap.
posted by fearless_yakov at 8:32 PM on January 25, 2006

Regardless of whatever method you choose, I second the thong. And a fan. get a fan.
posted by neilkod at 8:47 PM on January 25, 2006

Cycleops fluid.. I'll never use anything else unless i can afford a computrainer some day ;)
posted by joshgray at 7:01 AM on January 26, 2006

i have tried a few different trainers and definitely prefer the Travel Trac Century Fluid Trainer from performance bike (which is actually having a good sale right now). i have the one with adjustable resistance but i have not touched that lever for a couple years. you can do high cadence or high resistance work easily on it, it is cheap and pretty quiet. i would second the recommendation of getting the tire block thing, it makes the ride much more comfortable.
and sixteenth the recommendation for using an old tire. i have an old wheel that i switch on my bike for trainer sessions, which i do about twice a week now but used to do almost everyday.
get some spinervals videos off ebay or something and Coach Troy will kick your butt and make the time fly.
posted by annoyance at 8:08 AM on January 26, 2006

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