Indoor Trainers, Smart Trainers, Turbos ….. Confused???

Indoor Trainers, Smart Trainers, Turbos ….. Confused???

Turbo trainers are an easy and effective way of continuing to use your bike and maintain your cycling fitness when it’s not possible to get out on the road, for me a turbo trainer is so much more than that, it’s a way to get some serious training in when you are time sensitive and a means to put some real structure to your training….. so, which one do I choose I hear you say as there are so many to choose from? It really does depend on what you intend to use it for. Read on and hopefully ill shed some light on what to look for.

I have had many questions on this subject so for the purpose of this blog I will split the turbos in to 2 different types,

Resistance & Smart Trainers.

So, what’s the difference….

Resistance trainers work on the principal of resistance where your bike is held in place usually with the rear wheel in contact with the Turbo trainers fly wheel and magnetic brake with these you manually control the resistance applied by the turbo trainer to your bikes rear wheel usually by a handle bar mounted control. They are generally smaller so they can fold away easily, quieter and at a much more palatable price point and provide a great entry option into the world of indoor training/cycling. An alternative to this magnetic resistance turbo is one that uses a fluid resistance technology which means the harder you pedal the more resistance is applied meaning you don’t have to worry about changing the resistance on the turbo you just pedal. They report to be very smooth and a great feel. If you are an occasional user and are looking at an option to spin the legs when you can’t get on the bike or you have a spare hour to get a quick session in… then this could be the place to focus your attention. It all comes down to how much you are going to be using it. 

Point to note – it would be useful to buy a turbo specific tyre which are tougher as a turbo will chew through your normal road tyre in a matter of weeks. This can be a point to consider or buy a cheap wheel and fit a turbo specific tyre on it, so you are not constantly changing tyres. As let’s face it you’re not going to change your tyre every time you want to go on the Turbo.  

Looking for something a little more serious then you are moving into the realms of smart trainers.

In a nutshell a Smart Trainer is electrical (plugs in) and connects via Bluetooth to an array of software packages Wahoo, Tacx, Zwift, Trainer Road, Peloton etc (to name a few). These packages essentially control the trainer and guide you through power-based workouts; so, all you do is pedal.  The trainer will adjust the “resistance” depending on the training programme you have chosen, and all is specific to you as it is based on your own personal power (FTP). These software packages provide you with your own in-house training programmes at your fingertips. You can join the ever immersive world of Zwift and ride in a virtual world with friends, join virtual rides/competitions or use real world footage of some of the most famous climbs and let the smart trainer simulate the real world gradients on climbs such as the Tourmalet or Coll De Rates  for example. This gives you a real experience and feel of what it’s like to ride these famous climbs.

Smart trainers for me have revolutionised indoor cycling and training and I have personally seen big gains over the last 12 months whilst using a smart trainer to undertake a lot of my training on, I’m not saying it’s a substitute for riding your bike and putting the miles in but it does provide you a focused tailored session and for me an hour on the Turbo equates to at least 2 on the road as you simply have no where to hide you are on the pedals all the time.

There is a downside …. Smart trainers are more expensive than the normal resistance trainers, generally bulkier and most are direct drive meaning you need to remove the rear wheel off your bike to put them onto the trainer. That said If you are going to be using it regularly and/or as a training tool; then for me it is a no brainer. I would recommend the smart trainer route every day of the week

Now you have decided which one to go for there are many out there so for me the key points too keep in mind are the following which helped me drill down to the trainer which was best for me.

Price Point – value for money what do I get with this trainer rather than the others, compare them. 

Do you need it to be mobile/transportable/stable – I needed it to be mobile and easy to move as it isn’t set up permanently some of the trainers I was considering were larger and bulkier so whilst this may offer slightly more stability it didn’t work as it would be problematic to store and keep moving it.

Noise levels – some are quieter than others I could for example paid another £250 for a trainer that was a few dB quieter, this was not an important factor to me which meant I could possibly go for a cheaper option.

What do I want it to do – I wanted it as a training tool that was going to get a lot of use, I need it to be stable, robust and a smart trainer capable of handling massive power outputs …. Okay maybe I’m dreaming on the last point ha ha but joking aside a fair point to consider the range of resistance the turbo/smart trainer can operate at.

What I’m trying to get at is there are several smart trainers out there at a variety of costs just follow the above pointers and a clear few option will present themselves. 

For me and I have had many turbos through the years of all types, makes and models and as things have developed there are two stand outs in terms of Smart trainers that is – the Tacx (various models) and the Wahoo kickr (various models). I have tried both at length and they are both excellent bits of kit. If you are looking at investing in a smart trainer have a look at one of these and you won’t go far wrong. In terms of which one, simply compare them like for like and see which fits your circumstances and maybe see if there is a deal on.

For record after all the above my choice was the Wahoo Kickr 😊