We’ve researched and evaluated the best roller, magnetic, fluid, wind and direct-drive bike trainers for the past two years. At the conclusion of our evaluations this past year, we’ve found the Kinetic Road Machine fluid trainer to be the best overall bike trainer because of its low noise levels, lifetime warranty and its great resistance levels. The Kinetic Road Machine can also be upgraded to connect to your smart device to track your workouts.
Kinetic Road Machine
The best overall bike trainer is the Kinetic Road Machine fluid trainer. This sturdy indoor bicycle trainer is 100 percent leakproof and carries a lifetime warranty, which is nearly unheard of in the bike trainer market.
The Road Machine can fit most 22-inch and 29-inch wheels, although it may not work best with 700c. We were particularly impressed with the smoothness of the resistance, lending a road-like feel to your workouts, and the fact that you can purchase add-ons like a heavier flywheel and the Kinetic inRide Watt Meter. The heavier flywheel allows you to push yourself harder with a smoother increase, and the inRide Watt Meter allows you to connect to your smart device to track and evaluate your training efforts. Another plus is that this bicycle trainer includes an axle skewer so you don’t have to purchase one separately. Unfortunately, it does not include a riser for your front tire. As with any friction resistance trainers, fluid bike trainers have contact with your rear tire. While this a good way to add resistance, it can be hard on your tire, wearing it out quickly. Using a separate smooth tire for indoor training can make riding on the Kinetic Road Machine more enjoyable, especially if you would otherwise be using the knobby tire from your mountain bike.
- Can upgrade with heavier flywheel and a smart device accessory.
- Can fit mountain bikes.
- Lifetime warranty.
- Not designed to handle 700c wheels.
- Resistance contact wears down tire.
- Front tire riser sold separately.
Bike Lane Pro
The Bike Lane Pro is our best value pick because of its tire compatibility, stability and affordable pricing. This is a perfect bike trainer for cyclists who are curious about trying indoor training without making a significant investment.
This indoor bicycle trainer can accommodate 26-inch, 27-inch, 28-inch and 700c wheels. Although it can hold mountain bikes, you may want to change the tire for a road tire to save your knobby tire from wear and to have a smoother ride while training. Because this trainer uses quick-release connections to attach your bike to it, multiple riders can take turns using it throughout the day without difficult assembly. The Bike Lane Pro comes with a riser block to level out your bike, and a wired resistance controller can attach to your handlebars to shift between seven levels of training resistance. Magnetic bike trainers are one of the loudest styles of trainers, so don’t expect the Bike Lane Pro to be whisper-quiet at higher speeds. Weighing only 22.55 pounds and folding up for a lower profile, the Bike Lane Pro is easy to store or to take with you on your travels.
- Fits 26-inch, 27-inch, 28-inch and 700c wheels.
- Quick-release connectors.
- Five magnetic resistance levels.
- Only a one-year warranty.
- Rear tire tread can wear out quickly depending on your riding frequency.
- Noise level can be annoying at higher speeds.
Direct-drive bike trainers are unique in that they require you to remove your rear tire to connect to the trainer. The Wahoo KICKR is our pick for best direct-drive bike trainer because of its high-quality construction, smoothness and compatibility with smart device cycling training apps.
While direct-drive bike trainers can be expensive compared with fluid and magnetic-style trainers, the difference you experience with direct drive is streets ahead of its competition. The KICKR has a 11-speed cassette installed standard, so if you have a specialty 8/9/10 speed cassette on your current bike, you’ll need to purchase a corresponding part to use your settings correctly. You can connect to the KICKR app or other third-party apps like Zwift and TrainerRoad to record your workouts and track your progress. The connectivity of this trainer includes iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch devices, along with Mac Book and Windows PCs. Select Android devices are also supported. The realistic road feel of this direct-drive trainer is largely due to the lack of a friction point of your tire and the trainer. Unlike roller, magnetic and fluid trainers, the energy you expend pedaling with the KICKR goes into your workout for a more efficient training session.
- Trainer’s cassette connects directly to your chain.
- Realistic road feel when pedaling.
- Works with Zwift and TrainerRoad apps.
- Expensive compared with magnetic and fluid trainers.
- Must plug into wall socket to power unit’s smart capabilities.
- Additional purchase of an 8/9/10 speed SRAM needed if your bicycle doesn’t have 11-speed spacing.
The CycleOps Wind is a reasonably priced bike trainer that is easy to use. There are three types of bike trainers – wind or fan, magnetic and fluid. The CycleOps trainer is a wind trainer, which means its roller is driven by fan blades.
Wind trainers are the least expensive type, and they are also the noisiest. At 20 mph, the CycleOps’ noise level is 84 to 86 decibels, which means you’ll need headphones if you want to listen to music as you ride. This bike trainer fits both road and mountain bike frames and has a simple, compact design. It’s good for beginners because it is sturdy and inexpensive, and it has a quick-release skewer to help you release your bike wheel after a ride. It also has three settings for rear dropout spacing, and its resistance rollers accommodate multiple wheel sizes. The CycleOps Wind is compatible with CycleOps VirtualTraining software. CycleOps backs it with a lifetime warranty.
- More affordable than many bike trainers
- Has a high noise level
Tacx Vortex Smart
The Tacx Vortex Smart Bike Trainer is compatible with many apps and software options, such as Zwift, Trainer Road, Bkool and the Tacx training apps. Syncing with these apps lets you adjust resistance, check your speed and view your cadence.
To access these programs, the Tacx must be plugged in. You can, however, use it as a regular trainer if you want to train outside or don’t have access to a power outlet. It uses fluid resistance, which is both the most expensive and quietest type of bike trainer available. It measures 7.5 x 19.9 x 23.6 inches (length, width and height) and weighs 24.86 pounds. It also folds for easy storage. This bike trainer has resistance up to 7 percent to simulate uphill riding, but it doesn’t have a downhill drive. It has an electric motor brake and is compatible with thru axles and quick-release skewers. Its cylinder can accommodate wheel sizes of 26, 27, 28 and 29 inches, as well as 700cc. Tacx includes a front wheel riser, and additional accessories are available. Warranty coverage varies by distributor.
- Compatible with many apps and software options
- Must be plugged in to access smart capabilities
Picking the Right Bike Trainer for You
Your indoor bike training needs will be different depending on your focus; some types are better suited for increasing your distance, and others are designed to help you increase your resistance tolerance. The five main indoor bike trainer styles are as follows:
Wind Bike Trainers
Along with being durable, wind trainers tend to be the least expensive and the most lightweight. They also tend to be more durable than magnetic trainers. Pressing on the pedal causes the fan on the trainer to spin. The amount of air getting scooped into the fan generates progressive resistance while you bike.
This is not the ideal choice for someone living in an apartment or shared living space because the wind bike trainer tends to be the noisiest option. It is also possible to exceed the maximum resistance available, which can be frustrating if you want to increase your resistance tolerance.
Magnetic Bike Trainers
A magnetic bike trainer uses a magnetic flywheel to create resistance. Some have fixed resistance, which requires you to manually shift gears to increase difficulty levels. Others have progressive resistance.
Most fixed-resistance models have toggle switches or handle-bar-mounted shifters, allowing you to increase resistance while you pedal. However, to increase resistance on some fixed-resistance trainers, you will have to dismount and manually change the setting, which can be frustrating when you want a long, uninterrupted ride.
This type of trainer is less noisy than wind bike trainers, making this style more apartment-friendly. Magnetic trainers are often less durable than wind trainers.
Fluid Bike Trainers
Fluid bike trainers have a reputation for having the best road-like feel, which includes simulating inclines. On the fancier models, you can adjust the resistance electronically while you’re biking. Fluid bike trainers have a shell connected to the flywheel that houses an impeller and fluid. As the impeller turns, the liquid heats up and makes it harder to push the pedal. This design makes these trainers much quieter than magnetic or wind types.
In the past, fluid bike trainers had a potential for leaking when the fluid overheated, but as updated and improved machines keep coming, this is less of an issue.
Instead of attaching your axle and back tire to the trainer, direct-drive trainers require you remove your rear tire and directly connect the trainer to the bike frame and chain. Since there is less equipment between your bike and the device, more of your power goes directly into your workout and doesn’t get lost in the friction between the two machines. This also makes the direct drive a quieter ride. These tend to be the most expensive trainers on the market due to their complex build.
The build of a bike roller differs radically from the other trainers we have discussed. These machines typically have three rolling drums or cylinders your bike rides atop, rotating these cylinders as the front and rear tires spin. Generally, these machines tend to be longer than the average trainer. Fortunately, one of the best roller bike trainers, the Minoura MoZ-Roller, folds up and weighs only 12.7 pounds, making it more portable and easier to store.
Unlike the magnetic, fluid, wind and direct-drive units, which securely hold your bike in place, the roller design forces you to use your core muscles to balance yourself. It also teaches you to maintain an even pedal stroke to maintain a smooth ride. Since these machines require so much balance and technique, bike rollers have the strongest road-like feel.
Unfortunately, this balancing act is not beginner-friendly. If your pedal stroke is not smooth, the ride will be jerky and you may end up falling off or needing to stop and start frequently. Since your bike is elevated higher by riding atop the roller, mounting and dismounting are more difficult. High-end rollers are typically quieter than low-end rollers, but low-end rollers are typically louder than most other trainer resistance styles. It is also easier to max out resistance on these trainers, keeping you from pushing yourself further in your training.
The Best Bicycle Trainers: What Else Should I Look For?
Once you’ve decided on the style of resistance you want, the next step is to consider other features that could assist you in your training goals.
Smart Device, App and Tracking Connectivity
Bike trainers that are compatible with training and smart devices help you take your workouts to the next level. The ability to connect directly to your tablet or smartphone, giving you control over the resistance levels via app, is a bonus — on top of tracking and storing your stats through software and apps.
The biggest downside to some of the devices is that certain models must be plugged into an outlet for the smart capabilities to work. Like most smart devices, sometimes buggy software can make the apps and programs unresponsive or delayed. This will all depend on the brand. Tacx has a reputation for having dependable smart software for its trainers, and the Tacx Vortex is one of their best models with smart compatibility.
Bike trainers are often foldable and storable, usually weighing between 15 and 30 pounds, and most are small enough to store under a bed or in a closet when not in use. This is the clear advantage the best indoor bike trainers have over full-sized exercise or spinning bikes that take up a lot of room in your home. We found the Bike Lane Pro to be lightweight and low profile, making it easier to store.
Riding on a trainer wears out your wheel faster than road riding does. For this reason, it is a good idea to have an extra smooth tire specifically for trainer riding. Most bike trainers are designed for a quick-release bike wheel, which is common in road bikes, and come with a special quick release skewer to help you connect the back wheel to the machine. Although less common, some machines also come with a thru axle, which is a typical wheel attachment for high-end mountain bikes.
We reviewed bike trainers ranging in price from under $130 to $1,200. While many people search for trainers priced below $100, you’re more likely to find one with the quality and features you’re seeking if you spend $200 to $300. Trainers with wind resistance are the least expensive, while trainers with fluid resistance cost the most.