Indoor Trainer Review


With autumn closing in and the days getting shorter many in the northern hemisphere will using an indoor trainer.

With this in mind I thought about reviewing every model on the market.

But it didn’t take me long to think twice. These machines are the opposite of cycling as by definition they prevent you from going anywhere.

Why do you ride?
There is the fitness of course but this is often a means to an end, the form to compete in a race for example. Part of the fun of a training plan is the journey and the events along the way. Perhaps you like to escape daily life with a ride? You could be someone who likes to race others, to see rivals crack on a climb or to pass them in a sprint. Maybe it’s for the feeling of speed as you carve though some hairpins. Perhaps it’s for the social side, the ride to a café with some friends?

Thanks to the indoor trainer you lose all of this. There’s no contact with nature when you retreat indoors for a solo activity.

An indoor trainer offers almost no joyful moments. I even find the pedalling motion is different and artificial, partly because the flywheel doesn’t replicate the feeling and also thanks to the way the bike is anchored to ensure no lateral movement happens although there’s a model from Kurt Kinetic which tries to offer this.

In defence of the turbo
Now before you leave enraged comments these things have their uses. Those who work long hours find them invaluable and if you live in a place where winter means sleet and snow thanks to snow and ice you can use these instead of risking a cold or even a crash.

Better still they’re especially good for for intense work at targeted levels, whether it’s a time trial warm-up or a quasi-lab test at home with conditions that can be replicated time after time making them a much better test of fitness than a local climb. Similarly you’ll spot some pros doing a warm-down after a race on a turbo trainer. In times past riders would put on a long sleeve jersey and legwarmers and ride to the hotel but using a static trainer allows for a controlled effort rather than being stuck in traffic.

Tacx PowerBack
Finally some numbers to toy with. Dutch manufacturer Tacx have feature called PowerBack which takes your energy and feeds it back into the grid. Here’s the blurb.

PowerBack. This system converts the heat that is generated in the brake and released during the ride, into electricity that is then fed back into the power grid. This means that you are generating your own electricity

Sounds good and maybe a reason to let the domestic bank manager OK the purchase? Only let’s imagine you can do a pro 400W for an hour. Being generous we’ll ignore friction and other inefficiencies as you try to “beat Marianne Vos” in the spirit of the ad campaign.

It turns out that electricity costs €0.19 per KW/h in the Netherlands. If you can do 400W that’s 0.4KW then an hour’s riding equates to 40% of €0.19 or 7 cents per hour. Pedal at a more modest 250W and you’re raking in just under five cents an hour. Meanwhile you’re eating your way through a lot of food in order to generate this energy. At least they didn’t call it CashBack.

44 thoughts on “Indoor Trainer Review”

  1. i agree. i use the insideride’s patented e-motion system, which has its design rights limited to the Americas (am writing from USA). It is a fantastic way to keep in shape, limiting the boredom to a minimum if one has a modicum of creativity regarding indoor business. I understand Larry P (insideride’s principal) has ceded the rights to the rollers’ technology to Elite. The dynamics are the same, and given the generally horrendous winters we have here in New England, this device is a godsend that pays for itself.
    Now let’s see the rest of the review.

  2. Like you said great for intervals and if you live where it is flat, throw a couple of climbing blocks under the front wheel and you can kind of/sort of get your muscles used to climbing some.

  3. It has to be said that cycling on a turbo has to be the world’s most boring activity. Having said that, it’s a good opportunity to catch up on all those TV shows you missed.

        • Rollers are great. During winter I’ve used to meet with up to 5 mates twice a week for “shed roller 30min evening session”. It was good fun and time flew by. But I reckon once I’ve got the skills to ride rollers well, I get more “improvement” from my Kurt Kinetic Road Machine and Trainer Road software. Usually if I’m pressed for time, Kurt Kinetic & Trainer Road wins. I’m even going to keep it up during summer for a couple sessions a week just to keep improving.

    • Agreed, rollers are less soul-destroying than turbo. With rollers your mind has to work on staying balanced (slightly harder than on the road, as you don’t have your own forward inertia anymore, only the rotational inertia of the wheels), which makes them a little less boring.

      • Rollers! Only problem is that while watching old race footage on the rollers I tend to unconsiously drift and steer the bike to stay with them. This can cause a slightly problem when you’re doing 50 kph in the living room 😀

        • ps if you use a model with some resistance you normally do intervals up to about 400-450 watts. It’ll be very interesting w/ the advent of pedal power technology (Garmin Vector and others to follow am sure), you’ll eventually be able to see how different the pedal stroke on a turbo is vs reality. This should lead to some enhancement in the turbo market to make them more ‘life-life.’

        • I put bumpers on the sides (skate board wheels) that engage the rims and push me back in the other direction. There are some good UVids showing their use and application.
          I also jury rigged at home the “sled” that allows some back-forward motion and really makes getting up and driving hard in a sprint effective and real.

    • Agree, the Kickr is an awesome piece of technology that is without peer.

      You can download apps to ride any number of roads from all over the world and it has an inbuilt power meter. All you need is an iPhone or iPad to run it and you’re good to go.

  4. It’s kWh by the way. You won’t get kW/h if you multiply a power by an energy.
    I don’t know about NL, but in France the price for sold energy is different from the one you buy, it’s 2 to 3 times the cost. I guess it is or would be the same for cycling-produced energy. 3 times a negligible amount though…

    Just another word to say that, according to Fred Grappe, turbo trainers quality should be assessed according to how close the feel they provide is close to actual road riding (and from my personal experience with Elite and Tacx products, I tend to agree).

  5. As Aquarius notes, electricity consumption is measured in kW*hr. It’s a strange measure because it amounts to (kJoules/second)*hr so there are different measures of time being mixed but its ultimately a measure of energy rather than power.

  6. Only way to go is Kreitler 4.5″ Rollers with 5lb weights on either side and a headwind fan.

    About as close as you can get to being on the road when you are in the basement. Close your eyes and you will wake up quickly!

  7. I’m a sucker for these. Bought a cheap one and it didn’t feel right. Got some rollers and got bored. Got a virtual reality model and the software was bug city. Now I buy lights and thermal clothing.

  8. I have started using Trainer Road software a few month ago. I went for “free” one month trial and I have never turned back since and I went from monthly subscription to yearly one now. It works with many trainers and rollers. They pick up power, heart rate, speed and cadence data while you ride your trainer, turbo or rollers. They combine that data with workouts and training plans scaled to your specific fitness level. It connects ANT+ devices and you get instant feedback on your computer screen. It even has “minimize mode” where you can watch movie or workout instructions whilst still seeing your numbers & graph. Even if you don’t have a power meter, it can workout your power what you putting out from speed and power curve for given trainer (Kurt Kinetic Road machine is best for this, but they support many many others). There is something for everyone, 400+ workouts, different training plans etc. It is recommended to start with working out what is your FTP (pace sustainable for 1hour) during 8min or 20min tests and then all workouts are scaled specifically to that or you can adjust it as you go and watch your FTP going up over the time! It’s simply brilliant!!! There is 90seconds video on site how does it work.

  9. Modest 250W/hr – hahahaha.

    Fwiw – I’m on my 6th year of the Tacx Satori. Easily +20,000 kms and hasn’t missed a beat.
    Oddly, the Conti Hometrainer Tire is more durable than the Tacx one on this trainer…

    • Agreed about the “modest” 250 W. Not everyone if a first cat. amateur or a pro. 200 W average for one hour and a ~70 kg guy is already much more than the common cyclo-tourist would achieve.
      I’ve a Satori too at the moment. I like it, though it doesn’t feel like riding on the road. MY main concern is the controller’s screw that is totally rusty because of humidity and possibly because of sweat. An inox screw wouldn’t have impacted the price of the device significantly and would have made it all mode durable.

  10. My 5 year old Cyclops fluid trainer is a pain machine, pure and simple. Never will be mistaken for the road. However, with a Gen 1.0 PowerTap rear wheel I picked up on EBay it allows me to be my own Lab rat. I can do a couple brutally efficient 1 hour sessions mid-week while keeping my job and family life intact. Gain fitness and power during the week and then ride hard with the boys on weekends. To the purist the turbo is heretical. To me, it allows me to ride stronger and appreciate my out-door rides more.

    For entertainment, the DVR recorder is key and so are Sufferfest videos (great if you don’t want to structure a workout yourself plus it has great racing footage and sound track)

  11. “An indoor trainer offers almost no joyful moments. ”
    Getting off the damned thing at the end of a session is the most joyous moment possible.
    Sufferfest videos are well worth a run and stand up to multiple uses

  12. The indoor trainer was my way back to cycling after leg amputation. Without it, I’m not sure I’d have returned to competition, at least not successfully.

    With the right set up, they can be quite enjoyable, and used well they are highly effective for fitness development, or at minimum reducing fitness reduction when outdoor rides are hard to do due to time or environmental reasons, and of course for those of us in less than cycle friendly cities, they are also a very safe alternative to fighting the traffic, crummy cycling infrastructure and dodging the potholes and glass.

    Some secrets to successful turbo-ing are:

    – use a model with a high inertia flywheel, crummy magnetic resistance units are awful to ride

    – high powered fan(s) for cooling (essential, every watt at the cranks ~= 4 watts of waste heat given off)

    – have a plan for what you are doing. There is some excellent software available now to aid with that. But even just doing without fancy aids, having a plan helps to break the session up into chunks and before you know it, a quality hour of training has gone by. There are hundreds of turbo ride session suggestions out there.

    – use whatever means of distraction helps you make up for the loss of outdoor sensations, be it earphones for music (there are some great training music podcasts or your favourite playlist), or video distraction of some kind (playing back old races is a favourite, and many famous races or stages of GTs are available on youtube), and things like a power meter or at least virtual power estimation can really help provide that extra level of feedback, give you something to target

    – there are various levels of virtual reality available, and the better units control the resistance load for you according to the plan set, but the quality of the hardware / software combos is variable. IMO there are only a couple that really demonstrate high end reliability/functionality and robustness

    – have the right attitude. If you hate it before starting, you’ll hate it. If you are prepared to learn how to use it wisely, and realise how much more hurt you can dish out to your mates on the weekend, well then you’ll begin to love the sessions

    – I’ve had pro clients that were quite prepared to do 4+ hour sessions, and in some cases they preferred it. Strange I know, but some love their turbo.

  13. I also think a review would be pretty hard work, as there are dozens and dozens of models to choose from, and there are even many classes of trainer with models ranging in price from ~ $100 to ~$20,000+:

    – dedicated ergobikes (there are many many models) and the features are wide and varied

    – rollers (of which there are dozens of brands, and some are quite innovative) and various forms of resistance control available

    – basic A-frame trainers of which there are magnetic resistance, fluid resistance, wind resistance and simple flywheel/rolling resisitance types, each with different means of adjusting resistance control

    – computer controlled A-frame trainers, which use an electro braked system to vary or control the resistance load, usually controlled by either a handlebar controller, or hooked to a computer, sometimes with graphical interfaces, and some with virtual reality video synchronisation

    – units where you remove your rear wheel and fit to their own cassette to drive the fluid, wind or electro braked resistance flywheel

    – power measurement units

  14. ” I even find the pedalling motion is different and artificial”

    YES, this! Almost everyone I tell that just looks at me weird. (Probably because they’re not into cycling as much as I am…)

  15. For the price of a decent trainer or roller you can get a whole set of Winter kit.

    There’s no substitute for long cold miles out in the elements through the winter.

    • For me it’s not the weather but the dark nights. The mid-week chaingang is finished. I don’t fancy riding the back country lanes in the pitch dark (quite reasonably my wife objects too) so an hour in the garage is a good alternative.

      Resistance rollers? The benefits of both systems?

  16. You’ll never be able to tell your grandchild about an epic turbo trainer ride but, you will about an outdoor ride in the middle of winter.

    • Correct! Fond memories of having to climb off and shoulder my bike last winter to pass snow drifts in the Peak District. With this in mind i’ve spent the morning preparing my winter bike for the long hard months ahead.

  17. Yes riding in the winter is cool(pun?). But I don’t want to hear or read your complaints about it. Get some rollers or a trainer, that is real dedication. Also, one 2 hour ride in the adverse weather doesn’t equal 1 hour everyday on the trainer.

  18. Can’t say the cold where I am particularly bothers me. Half decent budget pair of socks, gloves, some sort of ear warmers, a jacket, a decent pace and I’ve never felt uncomfortably cold but that’s only to around 0C and, more importantly, in the dry.

    In contrast, went out for 3 hours in the pouring rain the other day at considerably higher temperatures which gave me a renewed appreciation of the pros recent 7 hour exploits in the wet. Yes they have better gear but that only gets you so far.

    As I struggled to unlock my front door with no feeling in my hands I could see the benefit of an indoor trainer right then, crystal clear.

    Here’s hoping for a mostly dry winter…

  19. I live in Minnesota and so have come to love my trainer. Makes you strong and mean as a polecat. My best seasons are those in which I spent the most time on my trainer. Even in summer months, I spend 50% of my time on the trainer.

    I would be interested in theories as to why my watts are so much lower on trainer. I regularly do threshold workouts both in and outdoors and my indoor watts are typically -40 at same heartrate. The common explanation of difference in pedal stroke is not satisfying to me.

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