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As a triathlete or endurance cyclist there will come a time when you’ll ride your bike indoors. I know, half the fun of being on a bike is going outside to enjoy the fresh air and beautiful views. However, sometimes Mother Nature or everyday life has other ideas. Riding indoors can be safer and more comfortable during cold winters, hot summers, rain or wind. Sometimes your child’s soccer game or a last minute work meeting trumps the group ride. Or maybe you live in an area where roads are too busy or not maintained well.
A bike trainer is going to solve all of these problems and is one of the best investments you can make as an athlete. Choosing a bike trainer can seem daunting because there are so many options. Let’s start with the basics of traditional and smart trainers.
Traditional Trainers Are Not Dumb.
I don’t like to insult my gear so what many people call a dumb trainer, I will refer to as a traditional trainer. It does exactly what you need: allows you to ride your bike inside. They are easy to set up and don’t take up a lot of space. You can adjust resistance by shifting gears as you would on the road. You can use a Heart Rate Monitor or Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) to manage your workouts and there’s always the option to add on a power meter if you choose.
This is a great cost-conscious option. Wind trainers are the cheapest, but they are loud. I purchased a fluid trainer almost 10 years ago. It cost less than my Garmin watch and it is still serving me well. I have trained for all of my triathlons from Sprint to Ironman as well as a 200 mile single day ride with my traditional trainer, a heart rate monitor and RPE. I like personal contact so I started organizing rides with friends or athletes from Team B*REAL on zoom for the most fun group rides around.
Is it Smart to Upgrade?
If you can do all that with a traditional bike trainer, why bother upgrading to a smart trainer? As with anything, there are bells and whistles that can make things easier or more enjoyable. The resistance on a smart trainer is adjusted electronically and usually there is a power meter built-in that measures force and speed. You can connect to apps like Wahoo, Zwift or BKool that simulate riding on real courses around the world and allow you to compete against other riders.
Not surprisingly, a smart trainer is more expensive and you will likely end up paying ongoing membership fees. Many athletes say it’s worth it as the feedback and entertainment factors increase motivation and accountability. Some athletes I’ve coached with say it’s like being in your own video game.
There Are No Wrong Choices.
Now that you know the basics, let me complicate the thought process by sharing that there are several other indoor bike options. You can ride your own bike on direct drive trainers or rollers. You can ride with home bike systems like Peleton or the MYX Bike. You can even go to the gym and take a spin class.
Ultimately, there is no wrong choice. Take some time to think about your budget, your goals, your lifestyle and what motivates you. Use this to determine which option will work best for you. When you stick to your schedule and maintain your riding fitness, you’ll be smashing your goals on the road.