best bike trainer

The Best Bike Trainer for Your Living Room

“Embrace the suck” was coined during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Since then, the military phrase has gone mainstream. The phrase is a variation on the rebuke, “Suck it up!” – which, incidentally, is also how many men say hello.

So maybe it’s 12 degrees Fahrenheit and falling. Maybe it’s 7:09 a.m. and the local YMCA is still slumbering. Whatever the reason, you’re inside. Your legs demand to be stretched, and your only recourse is the best bicycle trainer.

So embrace the suck. If you must cycle inside, then do it right. Stationary exercise bikes, however, cannot mimic the frame geometry and body position of a real bicycle. They eat up valuable real estate. They cost around $1,000. So if you train for competition, or you simply want to escape the honks of traffic congestion, then your best bet is a bicycle trainer.

A bicycle trainer mounts to the rear wheel of a bike and allows you to pedal in place. Many models attach to the rear axle as well.

The Most Popular Types of Bike Trainers:

Wind Bicycle Trainers

A wind trainer generates resistance by converting wheel revolutions to spinning fan blades. The faster you pedal, the faster the blades spin, and the faster the neighbors come knocking on your door, demanding that you turn off your vacuum cleaner.

Rim-driven Bicycle Trainers

These are best suited for two types of cyclists: those who regularly switch between indoor and outdoor rides, and those who ride knobby-tire mountain bikes. Otherwise, since rims cost more than tires, most cyclists prefer tire-driven trainers.

Magnetic Bicycle Trainers

This sort uses opposing magnets to create an electromagnetic field when you pedal. Most magnetic bicycle trainers have intermittent levels of resistance, and they make about as much noise as a ceiling fan.

Fluid Bicycle Trainers

Fluid trainers deliver a smooth pedaling experience, speed-sensitive resistance, and near-silent operation. They are also the most expensive.

One quick note: Don’t train in a walk-in closet. All trainers convert mechanical energy to heat, so you’ll create a human toaster oven.

Kurt Kinetic Road Machine Indoor Bicycle Trainer

This trainer is all things to all people. Have a 22-inch BMX bike? A 29er Mountain Bike with flip-off skewers? An ancient road bike with 700c skinny tires and rusty, nutted axles? A newer cheap road bike? The Kurt Kinetic bicycle trainer will accommodate everything except a tandem bicycle. Is it cheap? Not in the slightest. But if you’re shopping for a lifelong cycling companion, you can stop here.

The Kinetic is a fluid-resistance bicycle trainer. The manufacturer promises that the chamber will never leak. It will never break. And if it does, Kurt says, the trainer comes with an unconditional lifetime warranty.

Unfortunately, the Kurt Kinetic trainer is one of the few trainers you might have to take out a loan to finance. It’s worth every penny.

Why? Because it feels like you’re riding on pavement. Thanks to a 6.25-pound flywheel, you feel momentum as you cruise and coast. And unlike cheaper trainers, the Kinetic can handle high-intensity sprints. You can stand up. You can yank on the handlebars. (Caution: If you weigh more than 250 pounds, those two previous statements may not apply).

Long-time users have one time-tested recommendation: Get a cheap set of winter training tires for the Kurt Kinetic. Otherwise, your precious set of Bontragers will soon develop a ruinous bald patch down the centerline. Plus, smooth training tires are quieter.

P.S. If you want the ultimate Kurt Kinetic trainer, purchase the Kinetic Rock and Roll 2.0 Trainer. You can lean, swerve and rock. Kurt says you’ll develop better core muscles and balance from maintain proper form, something that static trainers can’t do.

FDW Magnet Steel Indoor Bicycle Trainer

Some people would spend $130 on a Specialized Phenom Expert racing saddle. You would laugh at those sorts of people. And so, the Magnet Steel Trainer is for you. Although it only weighs 20 pounds, it does the job.

The stand is constructed of steel protected by enamel paint. It folds small enough to fit into a large backpack. For the mechanically inclined, the initial assembly takes less than 10 minutes.

However, this trainer is manufactured in China, and therefore the assembly instructions require a degree in engineering to understand. Some users also complain that the trainer, once assembled, vibrates on flat ground. Placing a yoga mat or furniture felt pads underneath the plastic end caps helps dampen the buzz. Or you can turn up the volume on your television.

An internal magnet generates progressive resistance as you pedal. There are five preset resistance levels. You can change them from the handlebars.

And one more thing: The Magnet Steel Trainer does not include a front riser. Therefore, the bike always tilts forward, since the rear wheel is 3-4 inches higher than the front. This increases the pressure on your wrists and may cause discomfort. Purchase a wheel riser, which aligns the elevation of both wheels.

CycleOps PowerBeam Pro ANT+

First kids were smart. Then phones. Then kitchen appliances. Now, in the latest evolution of “smart” gadgetry, the CycleOps PowerBeam Pro ANT+ trainer pairs a state-of-the-art bicycle trainer with the best of virtual biking.

The trainer itself is a testament to simplicity. It weighs less than 25 pounds and features an all-aluminum frame made in Madison, Wisconsin. You can customize both the roller tension and the side-to-side leveling. The PowerBeam features a lifetime warranty and works with all mainstream tire sizes like 700c, 26-inch, 29-inch, and 650b.

But what makes this unit special – and incredibly expensive – is its ANT+ computing power. The trainer displays performance metrics –distance, watts, heart rate, cadence, etc. – on all ANT+ cycling computers (not included). The Mini ANT+ USB stick (included) allows you control the trainer from your computer. You can design your own hill workouts! Best of all, you can combine the USB Stick with, say, the CycleOps Virtual Training app to create your own virtual training route videos downloaded and displayed on your computer or tablet with a USB Port.

To be honest,  you can’t do better than the CycleOps PowerBeam Pro ANT+ resistance trainer.

Nashbar Parabolic Rollers

The Nashbar Parabolic Rollers prioritize speed over strength. Unlike magnetic or fluid bicycle trainers, both of which increase resistance as you increase speed, a roller trainer only provides resistance if you switch to a higher gear. If you have a fixie or a seven-speed bicycle, therefore, the Nashbar is not for you. Also, the Nashbar is unsuitable for high-intensity interval training like hill workouts.

However, the rollers make for a brutal core workout. You’re forced to maintain your balance, which recruits your abdominal, lower back and upper leg muscles. Riding the rollers helps you develop a silky smooth cadence and flawless pedal stroke. Unlike a regular trainer, you can’t “zone out” on rollers. Even the Nashbar, which uses parabolic-shaped rollers to keep the rear tire on the spinning drums, won’t be able to save you. You’ll hit the deck in your living room and yell out unmentionable things within earshot of your neighbors.

No bike disassembly is required to use. You simply place the bike on the rollers, make any necessary adjustments to the drums, and off you go. For this reason, rollers are often used to train mere minutes before a single track race.

If you want the best of both worlds, purchase a front fork stand for your rollers. Once you remove the front wheel and mount the fork to the bipod, you’ll have the same stability to a regular resistance trainer.

RAD Cycle MAG Trainer

Perhaps, for you, cycling is not a sport. It is a mere chore. It is your concession to health, and it is the only reason you have a 34-inch waistline and not those numbers in reverse order. For you, there is the RAD Cycle MAG trainer.

It’s quiet.
It’s effortless.
It lets you focus on TV while you shred the calories.

The RAD Cycle Portable Trainer is a lightweight magnetic resistance trainer weighing in at 17 pounds. It is one of the smallest trainers on the list, something so small you could take it to a hotel. You increase resistance by adjusting a friction knob against the rear wheel or up shifting on your transmission. It is stable, robust, and backed by a manufacturer’s warranty.

Unfortunately, with regular hybrid or mountain bike tires, the MAG trainer is about as loud as a vacuum cleaner. If you don’t like the sound of a beehive in your ear, then swap out the rear tire for a tread-less exercise tire. The noise will subside to a dull roar.

Oh, and one more thing: Many magnetic bicycle trainers interfere with nearby wireless headphones and WiFi networks, so you can’t stream Netflix shows while you cycle.

* * *

There is no “one” best bicycle trainer. If you race competitively, you’ll want the CycleOps ProBeam. If you commute to work, get the FDW. And if you want to annoy all your roommates by disabling their WiFi networks, get the RAD Cycle MAG trainer.