The 8 Best Bike Trainers
Training In All Conditions
The full-sized trainers work just like your bicycle does up to a point.
The fan increases resistance progressively the harder you work, as the blades push back against the air in direct proportion to the power you provide.
Hitting the road on your bike isn't always an option. Often, the weather refuses to cooperate, pouring down rain, blowing impossible winds, covering the roads with snow and ice, etc. If it was your only means of transportation, you'd probably brave the elements nine times out of ten to get yourself to work, or school, or to see the person you love. Other times, when you're just looking to get a ride in, to get your heart rate up perhaps in preparation for a long bike journey or race, you'd be out of luck.
Fortunately, the bike trainer exists for you to get all the benefits of a long, difficult ride with none of the environmental risks like weather, bad roads, and worse drivers. The trainers themselves fall into one of two major categories, after which there are subcategories based on their mechanisms of resistance. The two major categories are trainer stands, and full-sized trainers. The former is much smaller, built to work in conjunction with the bicycle you already have, while the latter is much larger, as it could likewise be considered a stationary bike complete with pedals, gears, a seat–the whole works.
The full-sized trainers work just like your bicycle does up to a point. Instead of having wheels that roll along the ground to meet resistance, these machines use either large fans or heavy flywheels, both of which you turn as you pedal. The fan increases resistance progressively the harder you work, as the blades push back against the air in direct proportion to the power you provide. The heavy flywheel provides resistance simply from its weight, the movement of which gets harder or easier depending on the gear you select.
The trainer stands on our list support your bike with indelible power of the triangle, locking the back wheel's axle into a kind of metal hammock to keep it balanced. They provide resistance in one of three ways. Some use little fans that work in the same progressive manner as described above. Others use a magnetic system that has a fixed resistance similar to the flywheel, to which you can make minor adjustments by changing gears, or major adjustments by manipulating the trainer itself.
A slightly newer form of resistance exists solely in these smaller trainers on our list, and it's fast becoming the most popular system among riders. This system uses fluid to create resistance, much the same way that a high-end rowing machine actually uses a chamber of water to give you the experience of rowing under weigh. Instead of feeling like you're riding in water, however, the progressive resistance of the fluid systems gets the most respect from riders looking for something to give them the feel of the road.
Balancing Your Options
Making a decision from among the highly rated bike trainers on our list is going to start with that major division we talked about above, and that will, in part, come down to the amount of space you have to dedicate to your training. If you have a glut of space, the full-sized trainers provide the incredible benefit of being able to simply hop on and train whenever the mood strikes you. You won't have to go through the process of hooking up your bike and then having to unhook it when you want to take it out.
In fact, using the same bike you take on the road for your indoor training has its perks.
If your space is more limited, you might not have the luxury of keeping a full-sized trainer anywhere, which is far from the end of the world. In fact, using the same bike you take on the road for your indoor training has its perks. For example, training on a full-sized machine is likely to give you a slightly different sitting position than you're used to, a different feel for the handlebars, and different sensitivity in the gears. Using the same bike to train that you take out on the road or into races will ensure that you have nothing but the feel of your machine in your bones, which could mean the difference between placing first or fourteenth.
Once you've decided which major category suits you and your space the best, you'll have to pick a resistance method. As we went over above, fan and fluid resistance will provide you with a progressive feeling of resistance that more closely resembles the road itself.
Fluid is by far, according to riders everywhere, the closest approximation to the feel of the road, but its popularity has created a number of players whose fluid systems aren't as nice as the top tier. If there's a difference of more than $100 between fluid systems, you can bet that the feel of the resistance is one of the major sacrifices in the cheaper model.
Training For Danger
It doesn't seem to matter that we've had bicycles on the road for more than a century; drivers don't seem to want to see us. The US Department of Transportation reports that about 2 percent of all traffic collisions in the country involve bicyclists, resulting in over 800 fatalities in 2015. Even if the weather's nice, if you live in town or city without a lot of dedicated bike lanes, it might be a good idea to do more of your training indoors.
The trainer has long been a solution to the problem of dangerous roads and inclement weather. Bike racers have used homemade trainers of one kind or another since the 1880s. These were often vertically situated devices that looked more like stationary unicycles with handles than anything we'd recognize as a bike today. By the 1890s, however, full-sized frames built with stationary moorings that more directly mimicked the racing position gained popularity among riders.
Other riders and inventors of the time put together sets of wooden rollers that rotated beneath the tires of the same bike they used on the road. These were the precursors to the smaller trainers on our list, and they were much more difficult to operate, since the rider had to balance the bike as he went along.