Home > Training

Triathlon training 101: What to look for in an indoor bike trainer

What are the different options when it comes to finding an indoor trainer

If you’re a Canadian triathlete, indoor bike training is very much a part of your life. In years past you might have been able to get a lot of your training at an indoor studio doing spin classes, but that might not be an option over the next few months as Canada deals with the second wave of the Coronavirus COVID-19.

So that means you might need to look for an indoor trainer of some sort to maintain your bike fitness over the winter. Finding a trainer might be a tough task right now, though, as stores across the country are reporting they’re sold out of most models.

Here are some tips to help you figure out what to look for:

Cycling App or Simply Cycling?

Recent advancements in virtual cycling apps have made riding trainers—once a purely maintenance form of training—a fun, gamified experience. Indoor riding platforms like Zwift have made riding indoors a social experience as you find yourself riding along with hundreds of other athletes along the different courses. There are even races and organized sessions you can jump into. During a pandemic, these online platforms offer the opportunity to safely train “together” with others, making them the perfect solution for a socially distanced winter.

Related: Nail your home training set up this winter

Trainers can be classified into two subtypes. Trainers which measure your watt output (known as “smart trainers”) and those which don’t. Smart trainers, which are much easier to connect with training apps, will cost significantly more than their non-smart counterparts, making basic trainers a more appealing option for cyclists looking to keep their budget lower.

There are some advanced stationary bikes on the market (Peloton, for example), too, but we’ll address those in another story – today we’ll focus on trainers that you can use your own bike with. This is often seen as an advantage because you’re training on the bike you’ll be using for your outdoor riding and racing throughout the warmer months.

Direct-drive trainers

Tacx Neo 2 T

Almost all direct-drive trainers are smart trainers. If the convenience of getting your bike on and off your trainer is your main goal (and cost isn’t an issue) look into direct-drive trainers. To use them, you simply remove your rear wheel and place the bike on the trainer’s cassette. Some direct-drive trainers, such as the Elite Suito, come with a cassette included, but others will require you to purchase your own.

Direct-drive trainers generally give riders the most accurate measurements and will work at the highest levels of resistance. That being said, they can also be the heaviest trainers and take up the most space. If you’re looking for something portable, these might not be the best trainers for you.

Friction trainers

Using either fluid or magnetic resistance, friction trainers place a roller against the rear wheel and create resistance. There are smart higher-end friction trainers available, but they also come with a higher price point than standard friction trainers.

Related: 6 Tips to get the most out of indoor riding programs

When buying a friction trainer it’s important to make sure the trainer will be compatible with your bike. The trainer grabs onto your bike at the rear axel and most require a special trainer skewer or thru axel adaptor.

These trainers are very portable but may be a bit noisier than direct drive trainers. Make sure they will fit unfolded in the space you plan on setting them up in. If you’re not buying a smart trainer, you’ll need a cadence and speed sensor to connect to any training programs.


Rollers are the original indoor training option. A few rollers (such as the Elite Nero) are smart, but most rollers aren’t and won’t really work for very well for training apps. Training apps aren’t for everyone though, and if you’re just looking to improve your stability, exercise while watching TV or follow a timed interval workout, these may be for you.

Look for rollers with a parabolic drum to keep you centred in the middle of the rollers. Another feature to keep an eye out for when looking at rollers is a forward-backward motion, seen on trainers such as the Tacx Galaxia. The slight movement will give you more of a “road feel” and will absorb some forward motion when you accelerate, making them great for sprints.

Parts of this story appeared on the Canadian Cycling Magazine website.