QUESTION: Are smart bike trainers worth it? They are all pretty expensive, but you can get a regular trainer dirt cheap, especially used. – Patrick M
RBR REPLIES: As a cyclist who has ridden both rollers and regular trainers as far back as the late 80s and who found them so terrible and mind-numbingly boring that I’d rather not ride at all than ride on them again, I would say that smart trainers are definitely worth the money. They are worlds apart when it comes to making training on an indoor bike bearable. I’d go so far as to even say that using a smart trainer is actually fun.
In fact, I would argue that having previous experience riding on a traditional trainer might be the biggest reason why some riders wouldn’t consider buying a smart trainer and why they think that apps like Zwift or TrainerRoad are ridiculous and stupid. If you’ve only experienced a “dumb” trainer, it’s hard to imagine that using and app and seeing and controlling your wattage would make it much better.
I started out with a Wahoo KICKR smart trainer and liked it so much that I ended up buying a dedicated Stages SB20 smart bike. With a smart bike, I wouldn’t have to put my bike on the trainer and take it back off all the time. The adjustable fit of the smart bike made it possible for my wife to use it too, since she didn’t even own a bike that would fit on a smart trainer.
Zwift is probably the most popular smart trainer app, with the highest number of other users and the most options. You can just free ride around the Zwift worlds along with other riders, you can do group rides and races, and you can complete structured workouts and even entire training plans. If you find that you’re not liking a particular app, try a different one and it might make all the difference in the world for you. I personally kept coming back to Zwift because I enjoy the online racing, which helps me push myself harder than when I’m just doing structured workouts alone.
One final tip is to make sure you that also plan for enough money in your budget to spend on at least one high quality fan if you’re going to start riding on a smart trainer, and possibly even multiple fans. We covered some of the top fans that other cyclists have recommended. It’s incredible how much heat and sweat you can generate riding in place with no wind, which you generate automatically riding outside, so you’ll definitely need a fan.