Cycling can be a fun, effective way to explore the outdoors while also mixing in a hearty dose of cardiovascular training. Like other outdoor-minded activities, though, your progress and enthusiasm for hitting the road or trail depend greatly on the weather conditions. Think about it, would you rather explore your neighborhood or a new mountain under clear skies or slushy overcast?
To keep your training enjoyment from going into hibernation when the forecasts don't align, you can partake in indoor cycling to get your fix, but "indoor cycling" doesn't mean you need to spend a fortune on a dedicated indoor exercise bike to go along with your tried and trusted roadster. Thankfully, you can train from the same saddle you've grown to love with the help of an indoor bike trainer. These devices allow you to clip your normal road or mountain bike into set clips, providing resistance to your back tire that closely resembles that on-road vibe.
There are a number of indoor trainer styles to choose from, each with its own cassette full of perks and downfalls. Before we bomb into the best indoor bike trainers available today, it helps to understand these style differences, as well as a few key features to consider before making a purchase.
BEST OVERALL INDOOR BIKE TRAINERGarmin Tacx Neo 2T Read More
BEST UPGRADE INDOOR BIKE TRAINERWahoo Fitness Kickr Smart Trainer Read More
BEST BUDGET INDOOR BIKE TRAINERSportneer Fluid Indoor Bike Trainer Read More
BEST INDOOR BIKE TRAINER FOR BEGINNERSWahoo Fitness Kickr Snap Smart Trainer Read More
BEST WHEEL-ON INDOOR BIKE TRAINERGarmin Tacx Flow Trainer Read More
The Different Types of Indoor Bike Trainers
If you're brand new to indoor cycling, this can be a great place to start. Wheel-on trainers, also known as magnetic or fluid trainers, easily attach to the rear wheel of your bike without any disassembly or major parts swapping. The resistance is achieved by pedaling across the back flywheel, either powered by magnets or fluids to achieve that on-road feel. If you do ride often, I'd consider swapping for a smooth road tire for these devices, as the constant friction between rubber and flywheel can leave your lugged wheels a little worn down. Also, it should be noted that those with thru-axle setups may need a conversion kit to achieve that locked-in feel. Thankfully, though, most wheel-on trainers come with this accessory.
Direct Drive Trainers
This style of indoor trainer removes the rear wheel and instead features its own cassette unit to achieve in-training resistance. While more expensive than the wheel-on options out there, these indoor trainers earn their respect from the more natural cycling experience. Plus, for mountain bike enthusiasts, you don't run the risk of burning through your knobby tires. Connecting to these devices does require some basic knowledge of your setup, though (you need to know which gear cassette is right for your derailleur). Additionally, some might find the task of removing the rear wheel to be a bit of a mechanical challenge.
Think of these as the treadmill of the indoor bike sector. Resembling a set frame with multiple pinwheels, these devices can be excellent for more experienced riders, or those aiming to target their balance and pedal strike in their circuits. There's no locked-in feeling, so your security is entirely dependent on your stance and riding skills. Plus, starting and stopping atop these structures can be a bit of a learning curve. I'd recommend rollers only for those that are confident in their capabilities, as well as those that have ample floor space to house these bulkier silhouettes.
The term "smart trainer" refers to any indoor bike trainer that uses Bluetooth, ANT+, or WiFi to connect your training performance to a companion app or service to help you maintain set resistance levels or power output. These trainers can run off independent battery packs or plug into a wall, depending on the brand. The nice thing about smart trainers is that it takes the need for in-training changes out of the picture, allowing you to more easily focus on your progress and less on altering your resistance levels. Think of these as a set program you'd experience on a treadmill or exercise bike. There are both wheel-on and direct-drive smart trainers available, but most tend to come in the direct-drive option for easier resistance variances.
What to Consider When Choosing an Indoor Bike Trainer
Naturally, if you're opting for an indoor bike trainer, you want to ensure your bike is compatible with the device itself. This means ensuring you have the right tires and thru-axle converters for wheel-on trainers, as well as the right cassette for direct-drive trainers. It should be noted, too, that not all brands offer the same freehub models that may be featured on your bike, which can limit your options as well.
You'll also want to consider just how many bikes you plan to use with your indoor trainer. If you have multiple riders in your family each with their own setup, changing out frames atop a direct drive system can take some time and effort, and thus, less time in the saddle. For those wanting to easily swap bikes in and out of training to suit your needs or others, I'd recommend opting for a wheel-on trainer — or a roller setup, if you're more experienced.
Indoor cycling should be done on flat flooring, but if you're pedaling toward progress in, say, a concrete basement, your floors may not be the most level. Look for trainers that offer adjustable feet to ensure your setup is ready for the miles ahead. In addition, you also need to consider how stable the device is while you're in the saddle itself. Whether opting for a wheel-on or direct-drive model, make sure the base has enough rigidity and durability to keep you upright without any wobbling or jostling.
You'll be putting your whole bodyweight across your indoor trainer, whether standing high in the saddle or sitting down for a brief cooldown between circuits. To ensure your training setup doesn't come crashing down, look for trainers featuring durable materials that can withstand your bike's weight as well as your bodyweight. Many of the trainers featured in this roundup are constructed from high-quality metal to give your next ride that added sense of durability.
How We Tested
Over the course of multiple weeks, I cycled through a number of the indoor bike trainers featured below. Attention was given to how easily each trainer was set up, how compatible it was with my bike frame and how many training opportunities each device offered in terms of digital programs or virtual races. I also made note of how easily each trainer packed into a corner of my basement, because let's face it, having a full setup with your bike and trainer always at the ready might be nice for midday workouts, but can be a bit of a burden when trying to navigate through your daily chores and activities.
Now let's hop in the saddle and get right into the best indoor bike trainers available today.
Garmin Tacx Neo ST
When combined with the companion Tacx Training app, it's hard to differentiate between on-road circuits and indoor training atop the Garmin Tacx Neo ST. I also really enjoyed how this bike trainer is capable of working off its own power source, allowing for more versatile setups across my home (although, admittedly, it does help to have an outlet nearby for peak performance).
The motor is also capable of generating up to 2,200 watts for higher resistance, meaning there's plenty of room to tackle even the most challenging workouts. While the cost might be high for some, and the Tacx Neo 2T only supports certain cassette models, this is one direct drive trainer that’s sure to give you that on-road feel and performance wherever your training takes you.
Wahoo Fitness Kickr Smart Trainer
There’s a reason Wahoo has remained one of the top indoor trainers for years, and the latest iteration helps carry that narrative boasting over 2,200 watts of resistance accurate within 1 percent for power precision. I really liked the feel of the high-inertia flywheel this trainer brings to the table, and the steel construction ensures your setup stays put as you push through those grueling intervals.
The Wahoo Kickr was also one of the quietest indoor bike trainers I tested, and through the brand’s additional accessories like a front wheel climbing simulator, smart fan that matches its speed to your output and others, you’re easily able to create the perfect cycling station that almost makes you want to forego outdoor cycling entirely.
Sportneer Fluid Indoor Bike Trainer
Not a diehard cyclist but still want to get your miles in when the weather turns for worse? Across my many circuits and workouts, I thoroughly enjoyed the Fluid Indoor Bike Trainer from Sportneer thanks to its quick and simple setup, as well as its convenient sub-$200 price tag.
And for those that only cycle indoors from time to time, I found this trainer to be one of the easiest to store. The legs fold nicely into the base, creating a compact frame that can comfortably live in a closet or basement corner on non-training days. I will say, however, that this isn’t the most stable indoor bike trainer, as the stainless steel is lighter than other options, leading to a little give from time to time as you transition from sitting to standing positions.
Wahoo Fitness Kickr Snap Smart Trainer
For novice riders, I cannot recommend the wheel-on option enough when it comes to indoor bike trainers. The Kickr Snap from Wahoo Fitness is easy to set up, and the device is plenty capable of providing your workouts with enough juice. I also appreciated how compatible this device was with Zwift, creating a welcome riding experience that took all the worries of having the proper resistance and settings out of question.
The Kickr Snap also comes with a quick-release skewer to make matching up your bike to the set knobs a breeze, although I might recommend purchasing a different adapter for those riding atop thru-axle cycles. Plus, there’s no off switch on this indoor trainer, meaning you’ll need to fully unplug the device if you want to power down for the evening.
Garmin Tacx Flow
I chose the Tacx Flow as my go-to for wheel-on indoor bike trainers thanks to the silhouette’s easy setup, simple storage capabilities and profound compatibility with popular training apps like Zwift, Strava, TrainerRoad and others. Setting up the Tacx Flow was easy thanks to the simple set toggles, and I also appreciated the roomy front block that made finding the ideal tire placement better than others on this list.
It should be noted, though, that you will need to calibrate this wheel-on trainer from time to time if you want to maintain its accuracy. Plus, I did begin to notice a louder hum when pushing through more intense circuits, which made multitasking more difficult during training. Still, however, for ease of use and smart capabilities, you cannot go wrong with this premium trainer.
Kinetic RS Power
This trainer caught my attention way back in April, and after riding atop it for a few sessions, it’s clear that my interest was warranted. I appreciated the simple setup baked into the RS Power Bike Trainer, which is available with or without an 11-speed cassette. Plus, the battery-powered mechanism means I could transport this trainer easily throughout my house for varied workout atmospheres without the need for an available wall outlet.
Are there more accurate direct drive trainers out there? Yes. Are there more powerful direct drive trainers on the market? Yes. Still, if you’re searching for a quality indoor system that’s capable of keeping your training pace all year, this is the one you ought to consider.
Garmin Tacx Galaxia
For working on balance and giving all the cycling power to the athlete, I really like the Tacx Galaxia setup from Garmin. This device boasts conical, easy-to-roll drums that can make finding the perfect pace much easier. Plus, the frame can be adjusted to fit most bike styles, although those with longer cycles may find it difficult to achieve proper setup.
The Tacx Galaxia also folds up for easier storage, making setup and cleanup much easier. Just be mindful, though, that with a roller indoor bike trainer, you won’t experience the varying resistances that you’d feel under tire — you’re the power source with this premium setup.
Wireless and wonderful, this all-new direct drive trainer can be the digital ticket you need to unlock your best cycling circuits yet. The Zwift Hub is the brand’s first experience with hardware to go along with its impressive in-app experience, and I believe the silhouette provides plenty of potential.
You can choose to order the Zwift Hub with or without a cassette, making the initial setup as tedious as you need and nothing more. While the silhouette is more rigid — a plus for stability but a downfall for storage — there’s plenty to unlock when you pair this device to the namesake app. Plus, at less than $500, this latest trainer is plenty affordable when compared to other high-end direct drive trainers on the market today