The 5 best indoor trainers on a budget

As a seasoned cyclist, I can say that an indoor bike trainer is a great investment. I can enhance my cycling skills and build my endurance regardless of the weather outside.

I highly recommend getting into indoor cycling and investing in a bike trainer not only for those avid cyclists like me but also for those who want to start an exercise program to get fit.

Cycling is a low-impact exercise so it is good for beginners, and even safe for pregnant women, but still challenging enough for those who want to take their work out to the next level.

Being an aerobic exercise, it can help you lose weight and rid of that pesky belly fat and improve your overall wellbeing.

Still not convinced? Read on to learn the other benefits of indoor bike trainers.

Why you should get an indoor trainer?

So far I’ve mentioned that you can ride regardless of the weather, and indoor cycling can help you lose weight. 

Apart from that, here are some other benefits you can get with a trainer.

  • You can work out any time you want. 

Yes, riding outdoors is preferable, at least for me. But even if the weather is fine, sometimes cycling outside is not possible with your hectic schedule.

If all you have is 40 minutes to squeeze in your workout routine, preparing your gears for outdoor biking will eat up a significant amount of your time already leaving no time for the actual workout.

Hitting the gym for other types of exercise can also be time-consuming.

With an indoor trainer, you can work out in whatever time you want in the comfort and safety of your own home. 

  •  Efficient training

When you want to get the max workout in a little time, indoor cycling is best since you are in a controlled environment. When cycling outdoors, other factors such as traffic and terrain can affect your training. In indoor cycling, you can control every bit of your routine.

  • It takes up a small space

Unlike a stationary bike or other exercise equipment, an indoor trainer takes up a relatively small space. Some models can be folded and tucked away under the bed when not in use.

What kind of trainer should I get?

Well, it depends. But first, you have to be familiar with the different types of trainers and see which one will work with your needs.

Here are the different types of trainers and their pros and cons.

Wheel-on and wheel-off/direct drive trainer

If we were to categorize indoor trainers depending on how you attach your bike, then there are two types: wheel-on, and wheel-off trainers.

Typically, a wheel-on trainer lets you attach the rear end of your bike by means of a clamp. The rear wheel is pressed against a roller which is attached to a flywheel and resistance unit. I will discuss more on the types of resistance later.

Because the wheel is in direct contact with the roller, expect some wear and tear on your tire. I recommend you use a trainer-specific tire. This type of tire has a smoother texture to lessen the friction between the tire and the roller. This type of tire is not for use on the road.

On a direct drive trainer, on the other hand, you need to remove the rear wheel of your bike. Then you must set the chain of your bike onto the cassette on the trainer and secure the dropouts on the axle of the trainer.

One advantage of the direct drive trainer is that you don’t have to worry about wearing out your tire.

On the downside, this type of trainer is usually more expensive as most models also have added features like built-in motion and speed sensors and smart capability (more on this later).

Types of indoor trainers according to resistance

Earlier I have mentioned that the roller of a trainer is attached to a resistance unit which provides the “road feel” while you are pedaling.

There are three main types of indoor bike trainers according to the type of resistance it provides: wind, magnetic, and fluid trainer.

Wheel-off or direct drive trainer

A wind trainer has a fan blade (which is also its flywheel) which creates a progressive resistance as you pedal. This means, that the faster you pedal, the more resistance you will feel. However, this type of trainer is also the noisiest.

In a magnetic trainer, the repelling force of magnets (with similar poles) is used to create resistance. It is a bit quieter compared to the wind type and the resistance can be adjusted.

A fluid trainer has an impeller that sits inside a container filled with viscous fluid. Just like the wind trainer, the faster you pedal, the more resistance you create.

This type of trainer is quietest. One disadvantage is the possibility of fluid leakage, so make sure you get yours from a trustworthy brand.

A wind trainer is moderately priced. However, there are some magnetic trainers that are less expensive than a wind trainer. Because of the noise factor, you might want to get a magnetic trainer considering that there is not much difference in the price.

Fluid (wheel-on) trainers tend to be pricier than their magnetic counterparts.

Smart vs. non-smart trainers

A smart bike trainer has built-in motion sensors and wireless capability to communicate with devices like smartphones, tablets, or computers.

This is the best choice when you want to take advantage of bike virtual training apps like Zwift because the sensors give out more accurate readings.

Most direct-drive trainers are smart trainers. But there are also some wheel-on trainers that are smart trainers which can either have fluid or magnetic resistance.

However, wheel-on smart trainers usually have one-way communication from the sensor to the bike computer or device. This means your bike computer or app can read the data from the sensors. But the app has no way to control the resistance on the roller.

Most wheel-on trainers do not have built-in sensors and wireless capability so most of them are classified as basic or non-smart trainers.

Rollers

Rollers are the pre-cursor to the bike trainers. It is the first piece of equipment that allowed using a bike indoors. In that sense, they can also be considered trainers.

The difference between a trainer as we know it now and a roller is that with the latter, you don’t have to attach your bike at all. The bike just sits atop three cylinders.

Because the bike is not held in place, you must also balance your bike. For that, it requires a greater deal of concentration compared to using a trainer. Some cyclists prefer to train using a bike roller because of this.

Most rollers do not have adjustable resistance and only a very few models have a smart capability.

Indoor trainers on a budget

There are relatively affordable choices for indoor bike trainers under $500 to suit your needs. The ones presented here are based on my research and personal experience.

Best budget magnetic indoor trainer

Sportneer Magnetic Bike Trainer Stand

Sportneer Magnetic Bike Trainer Stand

This is the best bike trainer stand for you if:

  • You are just starting out in indoor training and want a trainer that “does the job.”

It does have six resistance settings that would be enough for the novice or average cyclist. But professional cyclists might find it inadequate.

  • You want to spend under a hundred dollars for the trainer.

At $89.99, this entry-level bike trainer is one of the cheapest trainers you can find.

  • You live in a single-detached home so noise from the trainer is not much of a concern.

Though it advertises “with noise reduction”, still expect some noise since this is a magnetic trainer.

You can, however, try to reduce the noise if it is bothering you by using a trainer-specific tire, and using a mat under the trainer to dampen the vibration from the bike and trainer.

Don’t forget to read our previous article for more tips on reducing trainer vibration.

Budget fluid indoor trainer

Conquer Fluid Bike Trainer

It is true that in general, a fluid indoor trainer is more expensive than a basic wind and magnetic home cycle trainer, but there are brands that offer decent products at a lower price.

Conquer Fluid Bike Trainer sells for $129.95 and is comparable to higher-priced fluid trainers out there.

It is quieter than a magnetic trainer so you might want to consider this if you live in an apartment.

It is best for those who want a little more challenge for their training since it has progressive resistance.

Smart fluid trainer (wheel-on)

If you want to monitor your power output, speed, and cadence, as well as take advantage of training apps, then a smart trainer is the way to go.

Kinetic Road Machine Smart Bike Trainer with fluid resistance is an affordable smart trainer at $290.90.

Kinetic Road Machine Smart Bike Trainer

It has a built-in InRide sensor technology that can connect to most devices via Bluetooth.

It comes with a free one-month Kinetic Fit App subscription. But it is also compatible with third-party bike training apps including Zwift, Trainer Road, and Rouvy.

Smart magnetic trainer (wheel-on)

Tacx Satori

Tacx Satori has both Bluetooth and ANT+ for wireless communication. It is compatible with Zwift and other training apps.

At $328, Tacx Satori is a fairly good deal for a smart trainer.

It also has a foldable frame for easy storage when not in use.

Smart direct drive trainer

Direct drive trainers are the priciest of all the trainers. For most brands, the price starts at over a thousand dollars, excluding the cassette and other accessories that you might need.

If you really want a direct drive trainer but want to save a few hundred dollars, then consider Elite Direto. This direct-drive trainer is only a little under $800.

It boasts an accurate power meter, which is very important for professional and serious cyclists.

For wireless communication, it has both ANT+ and Bluetooth. It is compatible with Zwift, Trainer Road, and other third-party training apps.

This is also an interactive trainer. Not only can it send sensor data to your device, but its resistance can also be controlled automatically through the training app that you are using.

Training accessories

Aside from the trainer itself, you must also invest in other accessories to make your indoor cycling as comfortable as possible.

  • Fan/s — Fans are a must for your indoor training sessions to simulate the ride outside. Besides, you will run the risk of overheating if you don’t use a fan while working out.
  • Trainer-specific tire (if using a wheel-on trainer) — Yes, you will spend for this upfront. But you will save money in the long run because you won’t have to ruin your bike tires. It also helps in lessening the noise from your trainer.
  • A mat — This will help in dampening the vibration from your trainer and will also protect your floors.
  • Appropriate clothing — Make sure you wear a sweat-wicking top, padded cycling shorts, and a pair of bike shoes for a comfortable indoor cycling session. For details on what to wear, check out our previous article.
  • Water bottle –Keep a water bottle nearby to prevent dehydration while working out.
  • If you opt for a direct drive trainer, then it is wise to get a subscription for a training app so that you can maximize the capability of your trainer. ( You may also want to use a training app for your non-smart trainer. Here’s how.)
  • Speed sensors/power meter (if not built-in) and bike computer — it will help your training if you can monitor your speed and power. You can buy a speed sensor separately. To read the output, you also need a basic bike computer. Or just use a training app installed on your phone.

Summary

A bike trainer is a good investment for those who want to get serious about indoor cycling.

When choosing an indoor trainer, you need to familiarize yourself with the different types to see which one will fit your lifestyle, goals, and preference.

Are you willing to put up with the noise for a lower-priced trainer? Then a magnetic trainer will probably suit you. Do you want to be able to keep track of your training and see if you are improving? Then you might want to get a trainer with smart capability.

You also have to know how much you are willing to spend on your trainer. Remember that you will also need to buy some accessories as well, so keep that in mind when determining your budget.

Adam Johnson

As a middle-aged, 40 something cyclist, my riding goals have changed over the years. A lover of all things retro, and an avid flat bar cyclist, I continue to live in the glory days of past triathlon glories.

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