Are you thinking about doing some indoor bike training, but confused about all the different options? This post explains what turbo trainers are, and what smart indoor trainers are. We aim to give you enough information to make a smart decision when you are choosing an indoor trainer.
What is a Turbo Trainer?
Turbo trainers are devices that enable you to do focused training sessions on your own bike, in the comfort of your own home. Basically, you mount your bike on them, and the trainer turns it into a stationary trainer that you can use indoors.
Turbo trainers are designed to be both portable and easy to store. With a turbo trainer, your fitness goals don’t have to be put on hold, regardless of conditions outside. In fact, in the focused privacy of your own home, you may get more fitness benefits from your bike during the winter than you do during the summer! They can also come in handy if you need to train more gently because of an injury, or if you are building your confidence before you try cycling out on public roads.
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The Two Kinds of Turbo Trainers
There are two kinds of turbo trainers: Friction trainers and Direct Drive trainers.
Friction Trainers – Turbo Trainers that Use Your Own Rear Wheel
Friction trainers do not require that you remove your rear wheel. Instead, they apply pressure of some kind to your rear wheel to provide the necessary resistance for a training effect.
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The resistance may be achieved by friction, magnetism, or fluid. As you can imagine, these all cause a lot of wear to your rear tire. However, they are cheaper, and do not require an extra cassette. You can read about several different kinds of these cheaper turbo trainers in the post below. Note that in that post, most of the trainers are not smart trainers.
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Direct Drive Turbo Trainers
With this kind on indoor trainer, you attach a direct-drive trainer to the rear dropouts of your bike. Your own rear wheel is not used, and your front tire is of course stationary, which means you have zero wear on your tires. Your bike is directly connected to the resistance unit. These trainers require a cassette.
The Tacx Neo Smart is an example of a direct drive trainer. It is expensive, but it is an excellent indoor trainer.
Direct drive trainers are the most expensive turbo trainers, but also by far the most accurate, and almost always offer the highest levels of resistance. They also offer a variable and always changing variety of resistance – whatever you choose. Plus, they save your tires, so in the long run, the higher cost could potentially be offset by your savings. Also, most of them are smart trainers. More about that below.
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This video shows what you can expect from a Tacx Neo Smart Trainer:
What is a Smart Turbo Trainer?
Smart turbo trainers do the same thing as regular turbo trainers. The difference is that a smart turbo trainer links up with other technology, such as computers and smart phones, to enable you to get much more from your workout.
Smart turbo trainers use ANT+ and Bluetooth to enable two-way interaction with smartphones and computers.
For example, you can set the resistance level on your smart trainer with your smart phone, or use an app like Zwift to mimic a bike ride that you see on your computer. There are many apps that you can use to enhance your training sessions on a smart turbo trainer. The Zwift app is the most popular, and is also the leader in VR (Virtual Reality) training.
This video show you some of the awesome range of possibilities that you can enjoy with a cycling app like Zwift.
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What Can You do with a Smart Turbo Trainer?
A smart turbo trainer is the key to a range of workouts with virtually no limits. On a smart turbo trainer, you can choose from long marathon rides, power-based time trials, or sprint reps.
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Five Reasons to Choose a Smart Turbo Trainer
Smart trainers offer numerous advantages that will help to make indoor bike training more fun and more challenging. In turn, this makes it more likely you will stick to your training plan and achieve your fitness goals.
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Reason #1 to Choose a Smart Indoor Trainer: Entertainment
You can connect your smart indoor trainer to all kinds of apps, such as Rouvy, Zwift, or TrainerRoad. Thanks to the app and your smart trainer, you actually feel like you are on a real bike ride. You will feel the changes in grade, exactly as they appear on your screen. Some of these apps even let you train with friends on your indoor trainers.
Reason #2 to Choose a Smart Indoor Trainer: Performance
Thanks to ERG mode, which most smart trainers have, you can set your target watts, and the trainer will make sure you stick to that target. With a basic trainer, it is much easier to slack off.
ERG mode is where the indoor trainer adjusts its resistance automatically, so as to help you hit a certain target power level without needing to shift. For example, you can do a workout on a percentage of your FTP. (Functional Threshold Power, that is, the highest average power you can sustain for an hour, measured in watts.) The trainer will ensure that you achieve the desired power output by adjusting the resistance, regardless of your cadence or your gear selection.
Reason #3 to Choose a Smart Indoor Trainer: Variety
Basic trainers have a set resistance curve, so every training session is exactly the same. With a smart trainer you get to work within a range of resistance, giving you more control of your cycling experience. The net result: you can ensure your training program offers variety, so that you do not get bored and quit.
Reason #4 to Choose a Smart Indoor Trainer: Power Measurement
Power measurement reports the amount of effort you expend, in watts. These reports are very important if you are looking to train hard and improve your performance and fitness. With a basic trainer, you need to add a power meter to the trainer. And these tend to be very expensive; plus, there is no guarantee your expensive power meter will work with a cheap trainer.
With a smart trainer, the power measurement is built in, and will measure all the power you put out during the ride.
Reason #5 to Choose a Smart Indoor Trainer: Staying Current
You can keep your smart trainer up to date by simply installing firmware updates. With a basic trainer, the only upgrade path is to buy a new one.
What is Maximum Resistance on a Smart Trainer?
You will notice that all smart trainers have a specified maximum resistance. This refers to the maximum amount of resistance they can generate (and therefore, how hard you have to pedal). This can range from 1,500 watts to over 3,500 watts.
In real life, 1,500 watts would be more than enough for most cyclists. And 2,000 watts should more than suffice for anyone except professional cyclists.
Bottom Line on Indoor Bike Trainers
All of the smart trainers in this post are excellent, and will enable you to build your fitness in your own home. While having some fun! We hope this post will help you choose the best one to meet your own needs.
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