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 The 3 Types of Indoor Cycling Trainers and What They Offer    
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Ron Fritzke


The 3 Types of Indoor Cycling Trainers...and What They Offer

There's no reason for avid cyclists to fall out of shape in winter.

By Ron Fritzke

"Whatever your cycling style, there's an indoor bike trainer to meet your needs. …"
I've found that staying in shape by riding my bike has a lot of advantages. As a former competitive runner, I'd always assumed that I could keep running as my chosen method to keep fit. But that was before an Achilles injury that never healed adequately knocked me out of my running shoes and onto the saddle of my bike.

Running is now out of the question, and biking has taken its place.

That is, until the snow starts to fly and the streets are too slippery to safely ride on. While it isn't my first choice (the freedom of riding outside is), my indoor trainer gets a good working over during the winter months.

I've spent untold hours researching and writing bike trainer reviews; coming to the conclusion that bicycle trainers can be broken down into three basic categories, each having something to offer cyclists with different styles of riding.
cycleops indoor bicycle trainer
Cycleops Indoor Bicycle Trainer

Simple Wind Trainers

Wind trainers consist of a roller that turns an impeller, which generates its resistance by moving air.
  • The simple design of a wind trainer makes it the least expensive of the three types.
  • Because there are fewer moving parts, wind trainers are the most reliable.
  • On the other hand, because wind trainers are creating a miniature hurricane, they can create a 'roaring' sound that makes the ride unpleasant for both the rider and anyone else in the room.
  • Unless you're willing to ride a wind trainer with a very large fan (more like an exercise bike), the little impeller is unable to move enough air to create large levels of resistance.
  • These trainers are suitable for casual cyclists who will be doing 'steady' rides, without hard intervals of intense pedaling.

Mag Trainers Are A Step Up

Satisfied Mag (magnetic) trainer owners used to be difficult to find. There were countless stories of mag trainers self-destructing. There were even incidents of the entire trainer 'listing' to one side, as well of tales of mag trainers being heaved across the room in frustration ("that'll teach that errant mag trainer!").

But the times have changed with regard to mag trainers. Two heavy-weights in the bike trainer world, CycleOps and Kurt Kinetic have entered the foray, and reliable mag trainers are now suitable for a lot of cyclists needing to get a workout in when the weather has turned foul. The Cycleops mag trainer is a good example of a quality product in this category.

  • Mag trainers create resistance via the 'eddy current' principle. In short, when a metal that conducts electricity (in this case, the aluminum flywheel) passes through a magnetic field, the shifting of the electrons cause a drag force between the conductor and the magnet. To the cyclist this translates into the resistance that makes the workout possible.

  • Mag trainers cost about one hundred dollars more than wind trainers.

  • While they aren't as noisy as wind trainers, they aren't as quiet as fluid trainers (more about those later), either.

  • Mag trainers are able to create enough of a workload to make hard interval workouts possible. As an aside, hard interval workouts are much more effective at burning calories than workouts that are performed at a steady level of intensity. This is particularly important for those who are seeking to lose (or even maintain) body weight.

Fluid Trainers For The Most Serious Cyclists

I guess fluid trainers could be reduced to being described as a wind trainer 'under water'. The rollers of a fluid trainer drive an impeller that spins through fluid, with silicone being the most effective liquid because of its thermo-neutral (doesn't get thinner when heated) properties.

But just as early-model mag trainers had their problems, fluid trainers of yesteryear suffered from a major weakness of their own.

They leaked.

Trying to keep the fluid from seeping out of the chamber at the point at which the impeller shaft came through the chamber wall was the big challenge. When subjected to the intense heat generated by the friction of the impeller moving through the fluid, the o-ring seals invariably failed...and the fluid slowly started leaking out of the chamber.

Kurt Kinetic Trainer
By riding a Kurt Kinetic trainer for years and after writing a thorough Kurt Kinetic Road Machine review, I became aware of the fact that this weakness has been largely eliminated with the Kinetic proprietary design. The folks at Kurt Kinetic maintained the integrity of the fluid filled chamber by not penetrating it with the shaft. Instead, they paired the impeller in the chamber with the flywheel outside of the chamber with six pairs of strong magnets. This magnetic coupling eliminated the Achilles heel of fluid trainers.

A video explaining the Kurt Kinetic fluid resistance technology.

The design is best understood by watching the video to the left.
  • Fluid trainers are the quietest of the three types.
  • The amount of resistance that fluid trainers provide is nearly limitless. This makes them ideal for high intensity interval style workouts.
  • Fluid trainers are the most costly of the trainers, with good quality fluid trainers starting at about three hundred dollars.

    Don't Get Fat All Winter, Ride Your Bike Indoors

    Whatever your cycling style, there's an indoor bike trainer to meet your needs. By keeping your regular workout schedule year-round, you'll be able to start the Spring at a good fitness level, and won't be spending the first month or two trying to regain the hard-earned fitness level you'd achieved over the previous Summer.

About Author

Ron Fritzke is a cycling product reviewer with a passion for 'all things cycling'. A former 2:17 marathoner, he now directs his competitive efforts toward racing his bike…and looking for good cycling products.

More Like This…

Indoor Cycling

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