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Bike Trainer Types: A Complete Guide To Different Indoor Cycling Options

Bike Trainer Types

As a person with an indoor training preference, I know from experience that choosing the right bike trainer type can make or break your training sessions. When it comes to the sheer amount of bike trainer types and variants within the already broad category of indoor bike trainers, we could go on for hours on end, comparing the minute differences. The content you’re about to read was made specifically to alleviate the stress of thinking you’ve wasted your time on the wrong indoor bike trainer or, worse yet, making an expensive mistake when building your home gym.

If you’re new to this topic, here’s a quick rundown about what a bike trainer is.

What Is A Bike Trainer

A bike trainer is a workout device that allows you to mount a bike on it and simulate riding the outdoor bicycle indoors or in a specific unmoving spot. It used to be more of a professional use tool for cyclers who wanted to experience their bike’s drivetrain indoors, but with the rise of useful apps such as Zwift, TrainerRoad, Ruby, RGT cycling etc. bike trainers are becoming a great accessory for training even for the casual rider, looking to stay fit during downtime. There are many variants when it comes to bike trainer types.

Smart Bike Trainer

Smart Bike Trainer

Smart bike trainers are turbo trainers able to connect to indoor bike training apps. You can use indoor training apps to control the trainers’ resistance, replicate hills, headwinds and drafting effects inside a virtual world.

List of the currently most popular training apps:

  • Zwift
  •  RGT Cycling
  • TrainerRoad
  • Ruby
  • Wahoo SYSTM
  • Rouvy
  • Bkool
  • FulGaz

These apps applied to a smart trainer can guide you through intensive workouts while adjusting resistance automatically to keep you in the training zone. This adjustment is known as ERG.

Another thing that a non-smart trainer can’t use are bike simulators and ANT + fe c. A bike simulator is like an interactive video game involving quite a workout, sort of reminiscent of the Nintendo power pad or a Wii FIt, but for smart trainers. Ant + Fe c is a two-way communication between the trainer displays and the smart trainers. This allows for detailed user workout data as well as an ability to simulate a workout in real time using smart devices or the trainer display.

With the incredible advancements made in wireless technology, connecting a smart trainer is so easy that even the least tech-savvy people will have the ability to use it to its full potential. It could make for a realistic ride feel depending on what smart indoor trainer you pick and how well you set your training area.

Resistance Bike Trainer

A resistance bike trainer is a trainer that has a level of difficulty you receive when spinning pedals. It is meant to simulate riding your bicycle on the ground.

There are three types of resistance trainer bikes:

Roller Bike Trainer (Rollers)

Roller Bike Trainer

Roller bike trainers represent one of the earliest indoor bike trainers as well as the most popular ones on the current market, and for a good reason.

The roller is quite simple. You have three rollers. The rear wheel spins when you spin, which prompts the rear and middle rollers to spin. The middle and front rollers are connected via rubber band, which also prompts the front roller to turn.

Rollers differ in a lot of ways compared to the rest. You can visit our blog post bike rollers vs trainers for more information.


  • Best For Maintaining Or Improving Form: Rollers increase your range of motion and flexibility.
  • Effortless Setup: The setup of roller trainers does not require screws or disassembly. Just plop it on the ground, and you’re done.
  • Prices For Everyone: There are more casual variants that come cheap as well as more professional ones that don’t.
  • Compatibility: Most rollers are generally compatible with most bicycles – mountain bike or road bike, it doesn’t really matter.
  • Doesn’t Wear Tires As Roughly As Other Trainer Types: Despite that, we’d still recommend using spares, but if you’re on a budget, it’s not that bad.


  • Does Not Have Smart Or Turbo Trainer Options: Forget about third-party apps, rollers don’t support any smart capabilities.
  • It Takes Practice: It takes practice not to slide off or injure yourself during cycling on the roller, so safety gear is recommended.

Wheel-On Bike Trainer

Wheel-on bike trainers are most common in today’s use. These trainers are usually small and portable, requiring only the rear wheel for their operations.

Wheel-on trainers have three variants:

Wind Bike Trainer

Wind bike trainer is the most budget variant of the three different wheel-on trainer types. A wind trainer uses fans to create resistance. The faster you pedal, the higher the resistance is going to get.

  • Affordable: It is definitely the most affordable wheel-on trainer variant on the market, though not as affordable as roller trainers.
  • Resistance Increases With Pedaling Speed: Wind trainers offer great resistance for the price that is sure to keep any casual cycler looking to tone up satisfied.
  • Small & Portable: A general benefit of having a wheel-on trainer is the usual lightness and portability some types and models can offer, and the wind trainer is no exception.
  • Noise: Often proclaimed as the loudest of the trainer bikes, the wind trainer could be a problem if you live in a highly regulated apartment complex.
  • Lack Of Adjustability: Outside of the aforementioned resistance increase during pedaling, there are no other customizable traits.
  • Not Very Accurate: While it is more accurate than a roller for example, it is one of the weakest when it comes to accuracy when compared to the more advanced trainers out there.
  • Does Not Have Smart Trainer Capabilities: There are no wind trainers that can play along and change resistance with the use of applications.
  • Does Not Correct Poor Pedaling Form: Since the wind trainer keeps you balanced in the way a stationary bike would, it does not help you correct your cycling form.

Magnetic Bike Trainer

Magnetic bike trainers are great middle-of-the-road trainers which offer a great variety of features. The magnetic trainers function using magnets and sometimes a flywheel to create resistance while you’re pedaling.

  • Decently Affordable: It is not much more expensive than a wind trainer, and is a solid overall option with great capabilities.
  • Decently Quiet: While much quieter than wind trainers, they are not nearly as quiet as fluid trainers.
  • Small & Portable: Just like with any other wheel-on trainer, the usual lightness and portability they offer are great, and the magnetic trainers are no exception. It is slightly heavier than a wind trainer.
  • Compatibility Options For Virtual Training Or Apps: This is a great advantage to have and could greatly improve your riding experience. Apps can give you detailed information on your progress and can change resistance by themselves based on trainer app outdoor cycling simulations.
  • Adjustability: It has freedom with adjustable resistance and feel settings during cycling.
If it’s not a smart or turbo trainer, you might need a remote or to change the resistance manually by getting off your bicycle.

  • Linear Resistance Increase: Unlike the other wheel-on trainers, the magnetic trainer has a linear resistance increase, which doesn’t have a natural curve like outdoor cycling does.
  • Does Not Correct Poor Pedaling Form: Much like all the wheel-on trainers, there is little in the way of stopping you from riding poorly, so it’s just not comparable to outdoor cycling.

Fluid Bike Trainer

Fluid bike trainers are usually looked at as the best wheel-on trainers. They use an impeller which moves through the fluid. Utilizing the natural fluid resistance, the harder you pedal, the harder it gets for the impeller to move through the fluid. An interesting piece of information is that despite the name, fluid trainers do have magnets within the fluid resistance module.

  • Adjustability: Fluid trainers have the greatest amount of adjustability among the wheel-on trainers. You can easily change resistance and feel settings, or let them change gradually as you ride.
  • Realistic Road Feel: Fluid trainer is the indoor trainer most closely resembling an outdoor riding experience.
  • Impossible To Overpower: Regardless of the intensity of training, fluid trainers can hold up against the hardest trainer workouts.
  • Extremely Quiet: Definitely the best option for a quiet ride, or at least as quiet as it can get on a bicycle. Fluid trainers come close to making zero noise.
  • Small & Portable: The fluid trainer is as small and portable as any other wheel-on trainer, but with the added fluid, so it is slightly heavier than the magnet and wind trainer.
  • Compatibility Options For Virtual Training Or Apps: Virtual training apps are great for simulating the outdoors when a snowstorm is preventing you from riding outside, and the apps that collect your training data and show you ways of improvement can speed up your muscle gains or weight loss.
  • Price: It’s at a higher price than the other wheel-on trainers. However, considering all it offers – it’s absolutely worth the money.
  • Leakage Potential: If you’re moving the trainer from place to place, be careful not to hit the fluid resistance unit on the trainer because you can damage it, leading to leaks.
  • Does Not Correct Poor Pedaling Form: As close as it may be to riding outdoors, it will not help you attain your cycling form when you finally get to go outside because of the lack of balance and form requirements when using the trainer.
Fluid Vs Magnetic Bike Trainer
Fluid Vs Magnetic Bike Trainer

Whether they’re mountain bikes, road bikes or carbon fiber bikes, professional cyclists and marathon cyclists will most likely be using either direct drive bike trainers or fluid trainers when riding their bikes indoors. They offer the most realistic riding feel and can most certainly hold up against an athlete when it comes to the bike trainer’s resistance.

Another advantage of the fluid trainer over the magnetic one is how quiet it is. Depending on how much you use your trainer, this could be a pivotal advantage. Overpowering is one more advantage that the fluid trainer has. The fluid makes a huge difference as it becomes denser the faster and harder you cycle regardless of the setup.

Magnetic bike trainers definitely have the advantage when it comes to cost, making them a great budget option as well as a great entry-level trainer if you’re just starting out. They are lighter and also have an advantage when it comes to durability. If you’re moving around a lot, you are less likely to damage magnetic trainers than fluid trainers, which if damaged too many times have the potential to leak.

Magnetic trainers are great for a casual cyclist just starting out, while the fluid trainer is a great option for more advanced users or those looking to up their game.

Direct Drive Trainers

When it comes to modern bike trainers, direct drive trainers are leading the pack. Direct drive trainers are the most recent trainers and work quite simply. By taking the rear wheel off, the direct drive works as the rear itself. Direct drive has a motor inside and controls the chain of the bicycle with it.


  • Adjustability: When it comes to adjustability, direct drive trainers take the cake. They have an incredibly vast selection of difficulties and can even simulate different feeling roads for a greater effect.
  • Bicycle Compatibility: Unlike other trainers, the direct drive trainer is compatible with pretty much any bicycle on the market.
  • Extremely Quiet: Definitely one of the best options for a quiet ride, or at least as quiet as it can get on a bicycle.
  • Realistic Road Feel: Because of the direct connection direct drive trainers have with your bicycle, they can give realistic and detailed vibrations and resistance during cycling.
  • Higher Wattage: With a higher wattage, it is less likely that you’ll be able to overpower a direct drive trainer compared to others.
  • Saves Tire Life: This is the only trainer where no tires get spun during use, meaning that no tear happens, which is a great benefit.
  • Compatibility Options For Virtual Training Or Apps: Most direct drive trainers have greater compatibility with training apps than most trainers, which is great if you want to spice up your training. You can ride in simulated worlds and track your transformation, which is always a great advantage.


  • Expensive: It is usually the most expensive option which can be looked on as a con, but it is one of the indoor trainers most closely simulating outdoor cycling, making it well worth the price.
  • Portability: It is way heavier than wheel-on trainers, and is far less portable because its size makes it difficult for people who are constantly moving.
  • Setting Up: Unless you have a bicycle with one wheel off at all times, you will have to screw your tire off whenever you want to do indoor training.
  • Does Not Correct Poor Pedaling Form: If you’re looking for a trainer to correct your cycling, a direct trainer isn’t for you. 

Check out our best bike trainers or bike roller reviews to help you make your pick, or read our guide if you want to find out more about how to turn your bike into a stationary bike.

Frequently Asked Questions

Bike trainers are not bad for your bike. The chances of your aluminum or carbon fiber, and especially steel or titanium bicycle getting damaged by any of the different bike trainers available is quite improbable. At most, what you should take care of are the wheels. Do not use your main wheels on bike trainers because they’re bound to lose their grip fast. Use cheap alternatives for tire wear instead.

A magnetic resistance bike trainer works utilizing the principle of magnetism. Indoor cycling on these bikes uses magnets which move with the current and a flywheel which adjusts the resistance on the bike’s rear tire, providing an intense workout. This type of exercise bike is great for casual riders and there are even smart and turbo versions of it. 

A fluid bike trainer has a simple yet effective way of working. It has a cast aluminum shell filled with liquid, and is shaped in a way that dissipates heat and helps keep the fluid at an acceptable temperature. Fluid trainers deliver a more road-like resistance than other options, since it becomes harder to spin through the fluid the harder you pedal.

ERG mode is meant for smart trainers because it requires the use of trainer apps. The app, whether it’s Zwift, TrainerRoad or Wahoo SYSTM will take control of your power output by matching your resistance with your cadence. Power output equals torque (how hard you’re pressing your pedals) multiplied by cadence (how fast they’re turning).

Bike trainers are absolutely worth it. Regardless of which one you buy, you can rest assured that you’ll get a workout that will not be a waste of time. All bike trainers are tested and proven to be worth the price, and will help you lose weight, tone muscles and improve your health. Trainers can be a great alternative when you want to ride your bicycle, but you can’t go outside because of the weather.


In conclusion, all bike trainer types have their own benefits. When it comes to training sessions, fluid, direct drive or roller bikes are all great options with different benefits. If you’re casual and wish to be entertained when cycling indoors, a smart trainer is all you need. If you don’t want to be bogged down by tech, then a basic trainer is what you need. Just make sure to do the proper research.