A Complete Guide to Turbo Trainers and Bike Rollers
Everything you need to know to buy the right indoor bike trainer.
Over recent years, advances in sports science have shifted the focus in professional cycling training from long distance rides to shorter, high-quality sessions - static trainers are especially good for this and, thanks to new technology, they can be fun too.
Rollers are the simplest indoor cycling training aid on the market. There’s no faffing around with rear skews or changing tyres; simply climb on and start pedalling.
You're relying purely on balance to stay upright, so Rollers are great for improving technique and training core stability, and a favourite amongst professional cyclists for warming up before a race.
On the downside, they have a less ‘natural’ riding feel than turbo trainers and no mechanism for adjusting resistance, which makes interval training tricky.
There are four main types of turbo trainer which differ in the way they generate resistance.
Air Turbos use a plastic fan to generate resistance and, consequently, are inherently noisey. Typically costing between £100 and £200, these are an entry level turbo, but if you’re only thinking of doing the odd rainy day session, and aren’t bothered about making a racket, they might be the right choice for you.
A middle ground between Air and Fluid Resistance turbos in terms of both price point and performance. Most Magnetic Resistance turbos offer adjustable resistance, either on the unit itself or by way of a pull-cable that clips onto your handlebars.
Magnetic trainers work by applying friction to the rear wheel, so regular use will wear away the tyre.
Fluid trainers create resistance with an impeller turning in a thick, treacle-like solution. The harder you pedal, the harder it is to turn the impeller, so the resistance adjusts naturally as you move up through the gears. They tend to be quieter than Air and Magnetic trainers and have a more ‘road realistic’ feel to them, though this added performance comes at an extra cost.
Like Magnetic trainers, Fluid trainers apply friction directly to the rear wheel, and therefore will cause wear to the tyre.
The latest development in turbo technology, and the most expensive too. Direct Drive turbos require you to remove the rear wheel of your bike and fit a cassette to the turbo, so there’s no need to worry about tyre-wear, but they do take a bit of setting up. They’re incredibly quiet and offer the most ‘road realistic’ feel of any type of indoor cycling training aid.
Smart trainers have revolutionised the world of turbo training. Connecting to your smart phone, tablet or computer they allow you to access in-depth performance data and customisable training sessions with app-controlled resistance. Unsurprisingly, Smart trainers are some of the most expensive on the market. But thanks to offerings like the Kickr Power Trainer from Wahoo, ‘boring’ is no longer an excuse for skiping an indoor training session.
Cycle Surgery Buyer and Merchandiser Tom Crane picks three of his favourite turbo trainers.
"This is as good as it gets, the updated version is quieter and offers a more realistic experience when using software like Zwift, with quicker reactions to the terrain, up to 2000 watts resistance and the ability to replicate inclines up to 20 degrees."
"This is the baby brother of the Kickr and offers plenty of the same features, just without being direct drive and at a lower price point."
"The Kinetic Rock and Roll utilises a side to side movement to add realism when riding out of the saddle and will offer a better work out for your core than a normal trainer."
Trainer mats protect your floor from getting scratched and help to dampen sound. They’re also handy for catching sweat during those gut-busting interval training sessions.
A riser block sits under your front wheel, raising it level with the rear and stopping you from sliding forward in the saddle.