Which Indoor Bike Trainer or Exercise Bike is Right for Me?

With all the different types of indoor bikes available, you probably have some questions about the difference between indoor bike trainers, bike rollers, smart bikes, exercise bikes, & spin bikes

Luckily, we've got your answers!

First things first, the world of indoor biking can largely be broken down into two large categories:

  • Indoor Bike Trainers & Rollers
  • Exercise Bikes & Spin Bikes

Indoor bike trainers & rollers aim to allow you to ride the outdoor bike you already own, but indoors, in a way that feels like an outdoor bike ride.

Most indoor trainers allow you to brake and shift on your bike as you would on a regular bike ride. Some indoor bike trainers even emulate hills or different riding surfaces.

There are 5 types of indoor bike trainers:

The 5 Types of Bike Rollers & Indoor Bike Trainers

Bike Rollers

Rollers are exactly what they sound like: a platform with rolling cylinders upon which your regular bike can sit.

They're inexpensive and very easy to set up.

Because there's nothing "holding" your regular bike into place, your bike can move laterally on the rollers. As such, rollers are great for working on your cycling form and handling skills.

Rollers can also help you develop a more consistent pedal stroke. The use of rollers helps riders to improve their technique, so that they wobble less and ride in an even straighter line.

This helps riders increase their efficiency on their bike.

Wheel-On Trainers

Unlike rollers, wheel-on trainers are less about handling & stability and more about endurance & power.

Wheel-on trainers allow your back tire to encounter varying of resistance for an easier or harder workout. Resistance is either "magnetic" or "fluid." 

Magnetic trainers come at a friendly price point and most will have a resistance control lever that can be mounted on your bike handlebars.

Fluid trainers cost a bit more, but give a more "real-life" feel. They offer progressive resistance that responds to you as you shift your gears on your bike, and often have a quieter flywheel compared to magnetic trainers.

If you opt for a wheel-on trainer, we recommend installing a special "trainer tire" on the back wheel of your bike (so as not to wear out your regular tires). 

Direct-Drive Trainers

Direct-drive bike trainers allow you to remove your back wheel altogether and directly connect the drivetrain of your bike to the trainer.

Direct-drive trainers use a heavy flywheel to be able to simulate momentum and inertia, which provides a realistic simulation of starting from a dead-stop or building up speed and then coasting down the road.

Direct-drive trainers allow the rider to switch from indoor to outdoor riding more conveniently, since there is no need to worry about tire wear or replacing their existing tire with a trainer tire.

Direct-drive trainers feel more realistic than wheel-on trainers and have many maintenance and installation benefits over wheel-on trainers, but they tend to be a bit more expensive.

Smart Trainers

Smart trainers are a sub-category of both wheel-on and direct-drive bike trainers.

So, what makes an indoor bike trainer a "smart trainer"? Their compatibility with amazing training apps and software that can take your indoor riding to the next level!

Smart trainers can connect with mobile devices or laptops to run apps like Zwift that can simulate outdoor riding, while the smart trainer itself provides automatic adjustments to the resistance to make these simulations as realistic as possible.

With the proper hardware—like a Wahoo Kickr Climb Indoor Grade Simulator— smart trainers can even move the bike up and down to simulate various inclines, and some smart trainers can even replicate a variety of riding surfaces!

Smart Bikes

The best of the best in the indoor riding world!

Smart bikes are the only category of indoor bike trainer that don't require you to attach your own bike to the trainer. Why? Because they can be adjusted to take on the proportions of just about any bike!

This makes smart bikes excellent for somebody who likes to keep their regular bike always available as their daily commuter, or for a family who wants to have one indoor trainer that can quickly serve multiple riders.

Smart bikes create the most immersive indoor riding experience and are very customizable to provide the rider with the closest-to-their-very-own bike fit.

They also provide unique features such as realistic virtual shifting, real-time physical grade changes (both ascents and descents!) and built in digital LED displays.