Giant Factory Off-Road Team XC racer Reto Indergand looks at three different types of cycling trainers

Reto Indergand is a professional cross-country racer for the Giant Factory Off-Road Team. The 28-year-old Swiss rider was looking forward to racing the 2020 UCI World Cup as a first-year rider on the team this year, but things changed when the season got put on hold with the global pandemic. Like most of us, Reto has been on lockdown at home, but that hasn’t stopped him from training. Here’s his take on the various indoor riding setups he has been experimenting with over the past few weeks.

Reto with three different types of trainers: a smart trainer, classic trainer and rollers (left to right). 

If you’re like me, you’ve been doing a lot more training inside recently. I’ve tried many different types of trainers and I’m here to give you the pros and cons of each to help you find your ultimate indoor training setup. I am going to look at the three main types of trainers: rollers, classic trainers and smart trainers.

ROLLERS

Rollers can be great for small spaces because they are light and easy to set up and put away. Most professional racers use them for these same reasons to warm up before a race. It’s easy for mechanics to transport them to a warm-up area. Rollers also provide an advantage for riders looking to develop their balance skills while they ride because the bike is not fixed to the trainer. You must control the bike to remain upright and centered on the rollers. They also work with nearly any bike because they do not require any attachment.

But rollers also have some downsides. They can be difficult for new riders and require some skills to be able to ride them. So they may not be the best choice for someone who is just starting an indoor training program. Rollers can also be noisy and cause tire wear from the contact on the cylinders. It is recommended to use trainer-specific tires—they are quieter and will keep you from wearing out your good race tires. Another thing to be aware of is that during hard efforts it’s possible to slip on the cylinders. So they are best used for steady workouts instead of hard intervals or similar high intensity training. Rollers also lack adjustable resistance, another reason they are better for steady riding.

Classic trainers are stable and secure, making them a good choice when you want your hands free for multi-tasking. 

CLASSIC TRAINERS

Classic trainers are what most people are familiar with when they think about indoor trainers. They attach to the rear of the bike and have a cylinder that presses against the rear tire. This makes it easy for anyone to jump on and start riding without needing to worry about controlling the bike at the same time. Nearly all bikes with quick release rear wheel mounts can be attached to a classic trainer quickly and easily. These trainers usually feature some kind of adjustment to the resistance that the user can change to control their workouts. All of these things make classic trainers a popular choice for those just getting into indoor training.

Trainers that attach to your bike may require special hardware. Be sure your bike and quick release are compatible with any trainer you purchase. 

On the downside, classic trainers can be heavy and cumbersome to move around. So they are not ideal if you frequently change your training area. And while bikes with quick release rear wheels are simple to fit, some bikes with through axles may not work—you should check to ensure compatibility before buying. Also, like rollers, classic trainers can be noisy and cause tire wear. And as with rollers, trainer-specific rear tires are recommended. Some classic trainers have a direct drive to remove some of these issues; more about those below.

Smart trainers bring a whole new element to indoor training and are ideal for online platforms like Zwift. Just remember you'll need a nearby power source. 

SMART TRAINERS

Smart trainers are the newest form of indoor trainer and have become very popular with riders who like to use Zwift or similar programs. These trainers come with the ability to read your power output and, when paired with a computer and training software, can adjust automatically to help you reach your training goals. For example, a rider using Zwift with a smart trainer will feel increased resistance as their route takes them up a hill, and the trainer will automatically decrease the resistance once the rider is heading downhill. This can help many riders overcome the monotony of riding in a stationary position by providing more of a sensation of real riding.

Smart trainers can also be paired with training programs to follow a predesigned workout plan. You try to reach different levels of effort, which is measured in watts that determine how much pedaling force you are putting out. Many smart trainers are direct drive, which means rather than mounting the bike with the rear wheel spinning on rollers the rear wheel is removed and a cassette is mounted directly to a trainer that is driven by your bike’s chain. This helps reduce noise and eliminates any slipping issues.

With all of these great features, smart trainers do have some downsides. First, they require power—so your training area must be near an electrical outlet. They are also more expensive than other options and may not be the best choice for someone who is only training indoors occasionally or isn’t sure they’ll be committed to training on a regular basis. Direct drive also requires the rider to purchase a second cassette or remove their cassette from their wheel every time they use the trainer. Riders should also ensure compatibility with their axle type before purchasing a direct drive trainer. And unlike rollers, smart trainers do not help you practice your bike handling and balance while you train.

CONCLUSION

As you can see, there are many options to consider for riders looking to train indoors. It is important to note that any indoor training can be strenuous and without the natural wind blowing on you from moving, it is easy to overheat and become dehydrated. I recommend all riders training indoors use a fan to help stay cool and drink more water than they normally would when riding outdoors. Indoor trainers can really help riders who have full schedules and struggle to find time for training. Especially with classic or smart trainers, you can get a workout in while watching a movie, reading a book, or even working from home. So if you’re just getting started with indoor riding, or trying to decide what type of trainer to buy, I hope this helps in your quest for the ideal setup!

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