Turbo Trainers Buyers Guide + Video

Cycling is one of the best forms of exercise out there.

Easy to master and needing just a bike and helmet, almost everyone can hop on two wheels and get a cardio workout, as well as enjoying their surroundings.

As everyone in the UK will be aware, riding in the rain, snow, driving wind, heavy traffic or on ice isn’t particularly pleasant, meaning many of our bikes end up going into storage in around September and not seeing the light of day until the following spring.

But it doesn’t need to be this way! If you’re a keen cyclist, then you may already be aware of turbo trainers. Here’s our comprehensive guide to how they work, how to use them and a selection of the best ones for all kinds of rider.

What is a Turbo Trainer?

Turbo trainers are static devices that work against (or even replace) your bike’s back wheel and support the entire weight of both bike and rider, providing a platform that allows the back wheels to be turned without the bike going anywhere. You can also change the amount of resistance the turbo trainer offers to simulate hills or varying terrain, which means you can still enjoy the same workout offered by the a bike ride without having to travel an inch!

How do turbo trainers work?

Turbo trainers use a variety of mechanisms to offer resistance as you pedal:

Magnetic turbo trainers

Magnetic turbo trainers use the force provided by two magnets pushing against each other to generate resistance. Your bike’s back wheel sits against a roller, which contains a magnet. There’s also a magnetic in a magnetic unit that sits next to the roller. This allows the rider to increase or decrease the space between the two magnets, making it harder or easier to turn the wheel and simulating hills.

Fluid turbo trainers

Fluid turbo trainers use a propeller inside a fluid-filled chamber that then connect to your bike’s rear axle or wheel. The turning propeller is met with resistance from the fluid, but the variance is resistance is controlled by changing the bike’s gears.

Air

Similar to fluid turbo trainers, expect using a fan that spins in the air to generate air resistance, air or fan turbo trainers are also effective when it comes to simulating a real bike ride. However, the fans can be extremely noisy, so be prepared to deal with the drone or plug some headphones in!

Direct drive turbo trainers

Some of the latest turbo trainers take your back wheel out of the equation altogether and connect directly to the rear drop outs or rear axle of your bike. You’ll need to fit a cassette to the turbo trainer, but once you’re set up the benefits become apparent. You won’t need to worry about wearing our your tyres or having to buy turbo trainer tyres, plus the whole experience will be a lot quieter as there’s no back wheel to turn.

Smart turbo trainers

If you’re used to the GPS bike computers, power meters and heart monitors that use technology to improve each ride, then you’ll be pleased to hear that there are plenty of smart turbo trainer on the market. As well as providing resistance, they can also connect to smart devices using Bluetooth and in some cases Wi-Fi and NFC, so you can feed data into your regular performance tracking apps and study the numbers to see areas of improvement.

Certain smart turbo trainers can also be paired with virtual reality apps like Zwift. By setting up your turbo trainer in front of a screen and connecting to an app like Zwift, you can follow a virtual route on the screen ahead, complete with hills, corners and other challenging terrain that you’d find on a real world ride. Staring at the wall ahead can get boring, especially if you’re training for hours on end, so an interactive experience can mimic a real-life ride a little closer and keep you entertained as you pedal.

Bike rollers

Although turbo trainer do a great job of emulating an outdoor training ride, some riders swear by the natural feel of both wheels moving along a surface to get the most out of each training ride. If you’re looking for something a lot more simple than the latest direct drive smart turbo trainer, then a set of rollers is a good choice.

Rollers turn against your wheels as you cycle, keeping you in place just like a turbo trainer, but allowing both wheels to move for a more natural ride. Models like the Tacx T1100 Galaxia use rollers that move forward as you accelerate and back as you decelerate, so it’ll feel like you’re actually on the road rather than stuck in the house.

Can I use a turbo trainer with any bike?

In theory, turbo trainers are designed to be used with road bikes, but there’s no reason why a mountain bike can’t be hooked up too. The things to bear in mind when purchasing a turbo trainer are the frame and mounting systems and tyres.

If you’re thinking of buying a tyre-resistance turbo trainer, then you might need to put a specific turbo trainer tyre on your wheel. The roller will wear your tyre down over time (as would the road surface), so you may wish to invest in a slightly more durable turbo trainer tyre, plus it’ll be very noisy and bumpy if you try and use a mountain bike tyre! If you’re happy to use your regular rear tyre, then make sure it’s pumped up and as slick as possible, as this will reduce noise further.

Another key factor to consider is the weight and portability of your turbo trainer. Turbo trainers are great for a quick warm up ahead of an event or race, so if you’re competing, it may be worth getting a lighter, more portable turbo trainer that can be set up just before the start line.

Turbo trainer mats

One thing you’ll notice cycling indoors and in one spot is that your sweat doesn’t fly off onto the road behind you. If you’re working hard, then the floor underneath you can soon get soaked, so a mat is a good investment, especially if you’re riding on carpet. If you find that riding indoors is causing you to sweat more than you would out on the road, then a sweat guard can also be a useful investment.

The other big benefit of using a turbo trainer mat is the noise-absorbing qualities. Turbo trainers can get loud, so a mat underneath that frame reduce vibrations, especially on wooden floors.

Shop turbo trainer mats

Turbo trainer riser blocks

Lifting the back wheel of your bike onto a turbo trainer frame can result in the bike pitching downwards by a few centimetres, which can make it feel like you’re sliding forwards off your saddle or constantly pointing downhill. This can be solved by using a turbo trainer riser block, which sits under the front wheel and keeps the whole bike level. It’ll also create a barrier between the front wheel and the floor and stop it from moving as much, which can cause rubber marks on tiles or wood.

Shop turbo trainer riser blocks

Tablet mounts

Although great for fitness, riding in one spot can get boring after a while. As well as using apps like Zwift, you could jut watch some TV or a movie (remember, there’s no traffic to look out for when you’re doing 25mph in your conservatory!). Tablet mounts connect to your bike’s handlebars and hold your tablet in place, so you can fire up the cycling highlights, keep an eye on your outputs as you turn the pedals or tune into spinning workout videos

Shop tablet mounts

The best turbo trainers

Elite SuperCrono Force Smart Trainer

Proof that you can spend under £100 and still get a great turbo trainer, the SuperCrono Force uses a magnetic resistance system with 8 levels of manually-controlled resistance. The beauty with this value-for-money turbo trainer is that it’ll still connect to your smart device and provide output data, so you can get the professional cycling experience without breaking the bank. It’s also pretty light, so it’ll do nicely for a quick warm up before events.

Shop elite superCrono online

Tacx Flux 2

Tacx turbo trainers are one of the most recognisable names in the turbo trainer world and the latest version of their Flux family of trainers is an excellent direct drive turbo trainer for enthusiasts who err on the side of taking things seriously. Using a heavier flywheel and larger resistance unit than previous models, the Flux 2 can also connect to the Tacx desktop app and Zwift using ANT+ or Bluetooth so you can enjoy a smart training session.

Shop Tacx Flux 2

Elite Direto OTS

Serious riders will love the Elite Direto. Quiet, sturdy and designed with a much larger 2,200 watt-capable resistance wheel to offer climbs up to 14% incline that feel more realistic. This premium turbo trainer also records your wattage to within 2%, providing super-accurate training data that can be trusted. The Direto is also easy to connect to, both from a bike and smart device perspective. Once your bike and cassette are set up, you can jump straight into Zwift or Elite’s own e-training app (you get 12 months for free when you buy a Direto OTS).

Shop Elite Direto OTS

Remember, if you need any help or advice on choosing the right turbo trainer, just ask in-store and we’ll be able to help. You can also learn more about fitness and training by checking out our cycling blog articles.