Which Bike Trainer To Choose To Stay Fit?

February 5, 2012

This is a guest post by Dr. Ron Fritzke.

He’s been a while in getting here, but it looks like Old Man Winter has finally arrived for most of the country. The folks in the Pacific Northwest have been hammered with rain and snow for the last few months, but for the rest of us the weather’s been warm and dry up until now.

Warm enough to keep our outdoor fitness programs going far past when we’d normally retreat to our indoor treadmills and ellipticals…or maybe even riding our bikes in the living room??

In case you haven’t been aware of it, there are some great options for turning your everyday bicycle into an indoor cardio machine. These machines are relatively small bike stands to which you attach the rear wheel of your bicycle. There are various ways in which they resist your pedaling, which is the subject of the rest of this article.

Bike Trainers Can Be Broken Down Into Three Styles

Without getting too technical, indoor cycling trainers align themselves into three basic groups. The membership into each one is determined by the way in which the trainer creates the workload that will have your legs burning and your lungs puffing.

As is the case with just about any product, the three styles have their strengths and their weaknesses…

1 - Wind Trainers: Simple, Loud…And Cheap Too!

Let’s get it started at the bottom of the bike trainer food chain; the wind trainers. Not too long ago, wind trainers resembled glorified squirrel cages that were spun around by the rear wheel of your bike. These contraptions were relatively fragile (the squirrel cages easily got bent when bumped during transport), and in the spirit of all wind trainers…exceedingly loud.

But lately a few of the top notch bike trainer companies have taken on the wind trainer world and now make products that feature cast iron fan impellers which move a lot of air… and can withstand just about any assault, short of a powerful locomotive or a speeding bullet.

A few advantages of wind trainers…
Simple machines that have few breakable parts.
The least expensive of the three types of trainers.
Lightest category of indoor bike trainer, for more comfortable transport from closet to living room and back.

A few disadvantages of wind trainers…
These are the loudest trainers, with pedaling at speeds exceeding about 17 mph setting off near hurricane level roars.
For hardcore cyclists, wind trainers may not supply enough resistance necessary for extremely intense interval sessions.

2 - Magnetic Trainers Are Coming Up In The World

In much the same way that companies concerned about quality have transformed the wind trainer world, magnetic trainers (mag trainers) have benefited from a focus on reliability by companies like Cycle Ops. The Cycle Ops Magneto trainer is an excellent example.

When I was riding the Magneto side by side with the top-level fluid trainers, the Magneto was as quiet as any of them, and was able to generate more resistance than I’d ever be able to use.

A few advantages of mag trainers…
Never have the possibility of leaking, like some fluid trainers might.
High-level mag trainers are engineered to provide a progressively more difficult ride as you pedal faster.

A few disadvantages of mag trainers…
Early model mag trainers and current cheaply-made mag trainers aren’t constructed well enough to hold up to years of use.
Lower-level mag trainers don’t increase their resistance level exponentially, as would normally happen out on the road while riding your bike. Because of this, high-intensity interval workouts aren’t performed well on many mag trainers.

3 - Fluid Trainers Rule The World…Sorta

It used to be that there were fluid trainers at the top of the bike trainer heap, and then there were all of the other trainers trailing a bit behind. Not so anymore…the high-level mag trainers are stealing some of the thunder.

Fluid trainers generate their workload by spinning an impeller through a fluid-filled chamber. As you can imagine, that takes quite a bit of work (think motorboat speeding around a lake…pushed by a V-8 engine). Because there is a nearly limitless amount of resistance generated by fluid trainers, even cyclists with legs of steel won’t be able to overpower them.

Historically, fluid trainers had an Achilles heel…after a while they would develop leaks. But not too long ago, the Kurt Kinetic company patented a design that turned the fluid trainer world on it’s head.

Without getting too technical, the Kinetic by Kurt Road Machine features a completely sealed fluid-filled chamber enclosing the impeller. The impeller spins because it contains powerful magnets that are paired with the magnets in a flywheel (spun by your rear tire) outside of the chamber. The ‘innards’ spin in tandem with the outer flywheel without the need for seals or O-rings.

Ingenious! And with that, the Road Machine catapulted to the top of the bike trainer pile.

A few advantages of fluid trainers…
These are typically the quietest of the bike trainers.
Fluid trainers provide nearly limitless resistance to satisfy any cyclist.

A few disadvantages of fluid trainers…
These are the most expensive of the trainers.
Fluid trainers weigh more than the other types, making lugging them around the house a bit of a chore.
Cheaply-made made fluid trainers still can develop leaks in their seals and O-rings.
Stay In Shape Now To Get A Head Start On Spring

Wouldn’t it be nice to come out of the winter with a head start? So much of the time we find ourselves having to get back in shape every year when April or May rolls around. But with a well-thought-out winter fitness program, you’ll eliminate the need to go through the sore muscles and breathlessness of having gotten ‘soft’ over the winter.

You may not have been aware of how your everyday bicycle can be transformed into an indoor exercise tool. Now you know a bit about the different types of bike trainers…give them a ‘look-see’ and emerge from winter triumphant!

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