An Introduction to Indoor Bicycle Trainers

by Dafna Reiner

Winter will be here soon with cold temperatures, ice on the roadways and short daylight. Fear not! You can turn to indoor riding with a bike trainer to keep your fitness up and your weight down. Bike trainers are tripod-like stands that allow you to pedal your own bike while remaining stationary.  At first glance the choices for indoor trainers seem daunting, this primer should help you to find a few that match your needs and budget. 

The first choice you need to make is a dichotomous one, between a “smart” and a “dumb” trainer. I had a dumb trainer for many years and it served me very well. A dumb trainer is a stand-alone machine that does not connect to a device; you simply attach your bike and pedal. You can attach almost any bike to a dumb trainer. The back wheel rests on a small roller and the bike is secured in place. To control the resistance of the trainer, you shift gears as you would when riding outdoors. With a dumb trainer it is up to you to keep yourself motivated. Reading or watching TV while riding may not give you the workout you want. What worked for me was following bike trainer videos that are available for free on YouTube. I especially liked Global Cycling Network’s excellent training videos. The drawbacks of these trainers are that they are noisy and cause increased wear on your back tire. A dumb trainer will run you about $250-$350. If this price is too steep, I suggest that you look on local Craigslist listings. There always seem to be several for sale. 

With the advancement of internet speed and device connectivity came smart bike trainers. Smart trainers connect to various platforms on the internet which provide a virtual and interactive riding experience. Last year, during the darkness of winter and Covid, I finally bought one for myself. After using it a couple of times all I could say was “why have I not done this years ago?”. Smart bike trainers come in two major categories, wheel-on and direct-drive models. The difference between them? About $500! In wheel-on models the back wheel remains on the bike (similar to dumb trainers). An entry-level one will cost you about $500. In direct-drive trainers the back wheel is taken off and the bike is attached to the trainer and uses a trainer-installed cassette. Direct-drive trainers are quieter, smoother and they save the rear tire from the extra wear

If you are a casual rider who expects to ride indoors 1-2 times per week for no more than one hour per session, then a dumb trainer should work just fine. If you are intent on maintaining or even building up your fitness and plan on multiple rides a week with some sessions lasting an hour or more, then I recommend you seriously consider a smart trainer. The virtual worlds and social nature of the smart trainers keep you motivated and engaged. Additionally, there are structured workouts, group rides and even races available to you. The various platforms do charge a monthly subscription fee. 

If you are interested in learning more, simply do an internet search for bike trainers. Also, our local Gettysburg Bicycle shop has a nice set-up where you can demo a trainer and see if you like it. Keep Riding!

Dafna Reiner is a HABPI board member who has cycled on three continents. She has lived and worked in the Gettysburg community for several years.