Fixtures that allow one to ride inside have been around for over 100 years. From the early days of cycling, the only indoor riding device was rollers, essentially a bike treadmill where one could pedal freely, if narrowly, in place. The main drawback of rollers came from the lack of pedaling resistance, so workouts were limited.
The RacerMate changed all that. This indoor trainer debuted in the 1970s and acted as a stand to lock the bicycle in place, then a progressive resistance device was affixed to the rear wheel. This let people finally pound out the watts at home, turning basements into pain caves. The resistance was essentially generated by fan blades. Later, magnets, fluid, and flywheels were added as resistance-generating contraptions, all evolving into the CompuTrainer, also by RacerMate, which used a computer to adjust resistance.
Today, nearly all these options can still be found. All work well, the difference being that the price increase usually matches an increase in precision, adjustability, and electronic integration. Rollers are still around, both with and without resistance. Basic trainers are often smaller, easily portable, and don’t depend on electricity or a fast internet connection. Smart trainers can be synced with virtual worlds, simulations of real-world rides, massive multi-player training platforms, remote classes, and more. Names like BKool, Kinomap, Peloton (there’s an app), Rouvy, SYSTM (formerly Sufferest), TrainerRoad, and Zwift all offer connected experiences.
Saris is one of the longstanding trainer companies. They make rollers, basic trainers, and several grades of smart trainers. The M2 Smart Trainer is an economical way to get into the virtual training world, while the H3 Smart Trainer goes direct-drive and smooths out the ride with a 20lbs flywheel. Saris doesn’t stop with trainers. Saris also has the MP1 Nfinity, an indoor platform that provides side-to-side and front-to-back movement, which improves the riding feel for a more realistic indoor training experience.
Tacx has been building trainers since 1957, and thanks to Garmin’s recent purchase of the company, Tacx is back in the game. Tacx currently makes rollers, standard trainers, and smart trainers. Tacx’s Boost is a solid trainer for beginners and seasoned vets alike. It features ten levels of magnetic resistance with a 3.5lb flywheel smoothing out the ride. Their Flux series are direct drive smart trainers, which sync with Tacx’s proprietary training software as well as all other platforms.
Wahoo, the newest kid on the block, has always been about software integration. Naturally, all their KICKR trainers are smart. They currently have two wheel-on designs, the SNAP and the ROLLR, and two direct-drive designs, CORE and KICKR. Their features ascend in that order as well. The question is how much room you have, what kind of ride feel you want, and what level of commitment you have to your indoor training.