As much fun as it is to get outside for a ride, sometimes that’s just not feasible. Especially during the winter months, a good indoor trainer is necessary for serious cyclists to maintain their fitness. In addition, a good portable bike trainer is a great way to get in an on-site warmup on race day.
These days, bike trainers are more connected than ever. With Bluetooth connectivity and ANT+, you can connect your trainer to smartphones, computers, and GPS devices. This lets you measure your heart rate and power output, program resistance, and even simulate rides down to the terrain style, incline, and (in some cases) wind resistance. For more information on bike trainers, check out our buyer’s guide and FAQ at the end of this article. For a close comparison of price and features, see our helpful comparison chart.
We sought out the best bike trainers in a variety of styles and features and found you the best bike trainers of 2023. Feel free to scroll through to see all of our recommended buys, or jump to the category you’re looking for:
The Best Bike Trainers of 2023
Bike Trainer Comparison Chart
Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose a Bike Trainer
Types of Resistance
There are three main types of trainers: roller trainers, wheel-on trainers, and direct-drive trainers.
Roller trainers are the OGs of the trainer world. Basically a set of three rollers within a frame, your bike sits right on top with nothing to connect it.
As you ride, the two back rollers that contact your rear wheel spin. They attach to the front roller that sits under your front tire so that it spins along with your back tire. This not only gives you a solid workout but also forces you to work on your balance and bike control while you train.
It takes some practice to get used to — we recommend setting it up next to a wall, so you can brace your hand against it while you get used to the balance. It’s the simplest, least expensive, and most portable option, and it’s a great way to get a better feel for your bike. However, it’s not recommended for people who want to just put their heads down and grind.
Wheel-on trainers are trainers on which you mount your bike via the rear wheel pin. The rear tire meets the roller hub, which provides resistance.
Wheel-on trainers are more stable than rollers. They also provide a varying amount of resistance, so you can adjust your difficulty to suit your training style. These come in A-style frames, and most models can be folded for easy transport and storage.
Direct-drive trainers are the most stable kind of trainers. The bike’s rear wheel is removed and the bike connects to a rear-wheel cassette that is attached directly to the trainer (hence the name direct drive). They offer a more realistic ride than wheel-on and roller trainers.
Many direct-drive trainers are smart and have built-in power meters, can mimic inclines, and can connect with devices and apps. In some cases, they even mimic different types of roads like gravel and cobblestone roads. These are often the most expensive trainers, but the benefits outweigh the cost for those who can afford them.
Bluetooth & Training Apps
Many trainers — particularly direct-drive trainers — sport Bluetooth and ANT+ capability to work out with apps like Zwift, Sufferfest, and Strava. These apps will do everything from tracking your ride stats like power output, distance, and cadence, to allowing you to participate in virtual group rides and races.
They can even let you ride real routes around the world from your garage, mimicking the distance, inclines, and, in some cases, even the texture of the road. Many apps also will put your virtual ride on screen, letting you see the views that you’d be seeing if you were out on your ride. Which is much better than staring at the tile floor in your kitchen for hours on end.
Realistic Road Feel
Road feel tends to increase as you go up the price ladder. Rollers are the most basic, providing little resistance as you ride. A few models will add some resistance as you sprint, but the power will be limited. The realism on rollers comes from you having to balance and control your bike to keep it on the rollers while you ride.
Wheel-on trainers offer more resistance to provide more resistance, letting you mimic sprints and, to an extent, inclines. While the balance that you get from rollers isn’t there, the added power for resistance is a huge plus for cyclists looking to increase their fitness.
Direct-drive trainers go the distance when it comes to simulating the feel of riding on a road. Smart trainers will connect with apps to put you on predetermined routes, allowing the trainer to automatically adjust the resistance and incline to mimic sprints and hills.
Some companies, like Tacx, go the extra mile by adding Road Feel, which automatically recreates the feel of riding on different roads during your ride. Depending on where your training app takes you, Tacx’s trainers can simulate concrete plates, cobblestones, brick, dirt, gravel, and even ice.
The best trainer in the world is useless if your bike won’t fit. Roller trainers are the most versatile, as they only have to consider the distance between the front and back tires.
Wheel-on and direct-drive trainers are more limited in their compatibilities, so make sure that your bike will fit within a trainer’s parameters if you’re thinking about buying it. And if it doesn’t fit and you really like that trainer, check the company’s website to see if there are any adapters available that will make it compatible.
One of the biggest issues that people have with bike trainers is the noise they generate, especially if you live with someone or work out in a space that shares walls with neighbors. By far the loudest are wheel-on trainers that use fans to provide wind resistance.
Those fans can create a racket that you need to shout over to be heard. You’ll find these in gyms more often than in homes for this reason.
Fluid and magnetic wheel-on trainers can cause a ruckus as well, but the better ones incorporate sound-dampers to lower the noise. Some of the better ones will put out decibels in the mid-50s at 20 mph, which is roughly the sound of indoor conversation.
Rollers are generally quieter than wheel-on, but you still have the tires moving on the rollers, which can get loud.
The least noisy are direct-drive motors. They’re more built-up, with bigger, enclosed consoles that usually sport sound-damping methods to ensure that the machine itself won’t make any noise. More importantly, there’s no sound from the wheels moving against rollers, as the bike’s drivetrain is attached directly to the trainer itself.
If you don’t want to spend the money on a direct-drive trainer, you can get a trainer tire to use when you ride indoors. Trainer tires are designed specifically for use with a roller, built with softer compounds than standard road tires, so they grip the roller better.
The smoother tread also minimizes the noise coming from the tire when you train. Trainer tires work for outdoor road riding, but the road wear will eventually cut the tire’s lifespan short.
If you tend to alternate between indoor and outdoor riding, having a separate wheel with a trainer tire on it will make it a lot easier to switch between indoor and outdoor training.
Weight & Storage Size
Storage and portability of your trainer are huge considerations if you don’t have a dedicated space for your trainer. Many companies don’t specifically list their trainer’s weights, but most wheel-on and direct-drive trainers tip the scales at roughly 50 pounds.
Roller trainers are by far the easiest to transport. Basically a frame with three aluminum rollers in it, they tend to weigh around 20 pounds and are easy to carry around. This makes it especially handy if you want to take it with you for a quick on-site warmup on race day.
When looking at a wheel-on trainer, look for one with a collapsible frame. This minimizes the space it’ll take up in a closet or your garage. The same goes for direct-drive trainers. Our favorites have stability arms that will fold into the body, as well as a carrying handle so you can pack it into your office when you’re done with it.
Ease of Setup
When it comes to setup, the more complicated your trainer, the more setting up is involved. Rollers are by far the easiest since it’s basically a treadmill for your bike. Just put your bike on the rollers, hop on the bike, and get pedaling.
The most complicated part of using a roller is getting the timing and balance right. This may take a few attempts, but most cyclists catch on quickly after the first few times.
Wheel-on rollers take a bit more work, but you can still set your bike up in a few minutes. Simply adjust the clamps to fit your bike’s rear hub and lock it in. Then adjust the roller so that it meets the rear wheel. After that, you’re ready to (not) roll.
Direct-drive systems take a little more work. This is because you have to remove the rear wheel and attach the bike to the trainer’s cassette. This takes a bit of familiarity with bike mechanics. Also, smart trainers require an initial setup to connect with apps and devices on their first use.
Traditionally, the fewer moving parts that a machine has, the fewer things can go wrong. The same holds true with trainers.
Thanks to their simple design and construction, they can last for years without any issue. Just make sure you don’t accidentally drive over it when pulling into your garage.
With wheel-on trainers, heat buildup can be an issue. Many units have cooling features that minimize failure due to heat buildup over time.
The sturdy aluminum frames are practically bombproof. Some companies are so confident in their frames that they’ll offer unconditional lifetime warranties.
Direct-drive trainers are the most complex, which means more things can go wrong. The build quality is generally the same as with wheel-on trainers. The issues that pop up with these tend to be in a machine’s smart features. A smart sensor going out or Bluetooth not connecting are common complaints.
Most trainers are built to last, so it’s hard to go wrong when choosing a type. Try to buy one from a reputable, well-known company.
Many trainers have a good warranty and/or replacement policy, so look online to see what’s covered. Also, be sure to check out any online bike trainer reviews for durability issues.