You have to keep riding in winter if you want to consolidate your summer fitness gains. Riding outdoors can be treacherous when it’s dark and icy, which is why indoor trainers are a boon to cyclists, especially those who want to use their own bikes rather than go to a gym.
Broadly speaking, there are two indoor options: trainers and rollers.
Trainers clamp the rear wheel of the bike to a frame and use a roller with a flywheel against the rear tire to provide resistance, usually magnetic, fluid or air. Some newer models like the CycleOps Silencer features so-called direct-drive designs, where you take off your rear wheel and mount the bike’s rear dropouts on the trainer, wrapping the chain around a cassette integrated into the unit.
Rollers consist of a frame and three plastic drums that you ride on, with no form of clamping. Riding rollers takes more skill than a turbo, but it can also be more fun, as well as getting closer to the actual feel of riding a bike – you can’t beat them for their skill-sharpening factor. Proponents of this design argue that it engages the core muscles whereas a standard trainer primarily works the legs.
Here’s our round-up of the best indoor trainers that have been tested by BikeRadar, Cycling Plus and Triathlon Plus, and all scored five stars out of five. Last updated October 2014.
Best enthusiast trainer: CycleOps Fluid 2 turbo trainer
CycleOps fluid 2 turbo trainer: Future Publishing
It’s not flashy but in terms of pure performance the evolved Fluid 2 is in a class of its own. Get it spinning in a big gear and it’ll deliver 1000 watts plus of pure leg blending pain. Its overall action makes it as close to enjoyable as you’ll get for sprints or extended spin sessions.
Read our full review of the CycleOps Fluid 2 turbo trainer here.
Best digital trainer: Elite Qubo wireless digital
Elite qubo wireless digital: elite qubo wireless digital Future Publishing
Featuring a build-in power meter, the Qubo requires plugging in, but it is simple to set up and the wireless bar-mounted computer doesn’t take long to master. Ride courses on Google Maps and more with the resistance automatically adjusted for you as you go. Also, you can set the power resistance as need for intervals, ensuring on-target workouts.
Read our full review of the Elite Qubo wireless digital trainer here.
Best budget trainer: Minoura B60-R
Minoura b60-r: minoura b60-r Jesse Wild/Future Publishing
Minoura’s entry-level remote resistance unit is smooth, quiet and torquey enough for any training session, making it a cracking cost-effective choice. The main things you’ll notice are the impressive smoothness and low noise levels, perfect for beasting yourself in a bedsit.
Rad our full review of the Minoura B60-R trainer here.
The ultimate trainer: Wahoo KICKR
The wahoo kickr: James Huang/Future Publishing
There are a few big “ifs” with this trainer — if you have the latest Mac technology, if you have this much money to spend on a trainer — but if those apply, then you will love the Wahoo Kickr. With Bluetooth Smart and ANT+ connectivity, you can control the resistance on the Wahoo in a number of ways, from the lab-like ergo setting that dials in the exact wattage, to third-party software like TrainerRoad that controls the resistance as you ride preset workouts or courses. Unlike some systems that lock you in to a given company’s software, Wahoo’s open platform design means the training options will just get better. The road feel is outstanding, and the unit folds up nicely for storage.
Click here to read our full review of the Wahoo Kickr power trainer.
The following turbo trainers have all been awarded at least four stars out of five in tests by BikeRadar, Cycling Plus and Triathlon Plus:
The following rollers have all been tested by BikeRadar, Cycling Plus and Triathlon Plus, and scored four or more stars out of five. Last updated October 2014.
Kreitler Kompact Hot Dog 3.0
Kreitler kompact hot dog 3.0 rollers: kreitler kompact hot dog 3.0 rollers Joseph Branston/Future Publishing
The Kreitler Kompact Hot Dog 3.0 rollers are an all-round cool piece of kit. The build quality is excellent and the bearings roll nicely, while still providing enough resistance for a decent aerobic workout. The rollers fold in half for storage.
Read our full review of the Kreitler Kompact Hot Dog 3.0 here.
SportsCrafters OverDrive Pro rollers
4 stars: 4 stars
SportsCrafters overdrive pro rollers : sportscrafters overdrive pro rollers
Smooth riding and repeatable resistance in a package that will keep rolling for a lifetime.
Click here to read our full review of the SportsCrafters OverDrive Pro rollers.
Elite Arion Mag Parabolic rollers
4 stars: 4 stars
Elite arion mag parabolic rollers: elite arion mag parabolic rollers
If you’re planning a range of specific power workouts over winter then these rollers with resistance offer the best of both world.
Click here to read our ful review of the Elite Arion Mag Parabolic rollers.
CycleOps alloy rollers
4 stars: 4 stars
CycleOps alloy rollers: cycleops alloy rollers
They look a bit basic but they’re fast to get rolling, easy to store and impressively smooth when you’re going flat out.
Click here to read our full review of the CycleOps alloy rollers
How to get the most out of your trainer
Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on setting up so that your bike doesn’t move and your tire doesn’t slip. If your budget allows, get a big, powerful fan to keep yourself cool, otherwise your power will drop as the workout progresses and your core temperature rises. It may feel harder as a result but you won’t be getting the full training benefit. Go into each session with a specific plan; just spinning along listlessly is a sure-fire recipe for boredom. For long sessions, look at setting up in front of the TV/DVD player, or at least have some motivational music in your ears.
Do ride through winter
Do vary your workouts
Do start each session with a specific plan
Do keep your tires pumped
Do consider investing in training software, DVDs or coaching
Don’t use your best race tires
Don’t be afraid of riding rollers
Don’t annoy the neighbors/partner/others
Key components of a trainer
Clamp and QR: The bike attaches to the trainer via a clamp, which screws over the rear wheel quick-release skewer with a couple of locknuts to keep it in place. Most turbos come with their own skewers, which you should use both for safety reasons and so as not to ruin your own.
Stand: These normally fold out to give a turbo stability. In theory, the wider the legs, the more stable it’ll be. Some have independent height adjustment for uneven surfaces, some lock into place, others just fold out. The feet are typically rubber tipped.
Resistance unit: Wind, magnetic or fluid: these are the main types of resistance. How they ride depends on how well they’re made and the quality of the flywheel, rather than the form of resistance. Wind trainers are generally loud, while magnetic and fluid units are quieter.
Flywheel: A heavy, well balanced flywheel is generally a good thing in a turbo. It helps smooth out the ride so you don’t feel you have to stomp on the pedals just to keep them going, giving you more of a sensation of riding on the road while you’re stuck indoors.