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.
Rogue Trail says
Peter Wimberg says
Smart bikes are a great training tool! I also have the Stages SB20 and use Rouvy.
Smart trainers are far more affordable now than 5 years ago and there are more options. Are use the Whoo Kickr Snap and bought that nearly 6 years ago at $600 and it’s still going strong after 12,000 Zwift miles. Of course, on sale the Snap is about $300 now. I ride outside as much as possible so it doesn’t get as used as much as some, but it’s a worthy investment. Though most of my miles are outside I wouldn’t want to be without it.
I have a Kurt Kinetic “dumb trainer” currently. In the 60s and 70s I had one that turned fans that blew air thru a tube to cool my face and chest. When it is too cold or wet outside, I have an iPad in front of the handlebars and watch a cyclocross or replay of the TdF, Giro, etc. When the weather is OK in winter, I ride my 2004 Santa Cruz Blur because the weight makes it less susceptible to cross winds and the wide knobbies give better traction in the leaves and sticks that winter brings. My summer bike, now on the trainer is a 2004 Litespeed Vortex. At 80, I don’t know how much more I will be able to ride and medication limits my heart rate, so need to go “all out” because that is about 125 BPM.
I definitely vote *yes* to smart trainers. Whatever can help with motivation is a boon. Those folks who watch movies or read a book while training indoors are not really getting a workout, they are just kidding themselves because their legs are moving. My first was the Tacx Excel, nearly 20 years ago, and because it had pre-set training routes built in or ones that you design yourself, I found it not only got me through cold or bad weather periods, but I also used it to check on my fitness progress in summer on occasion.! later, at my wife’s urging (because I thought it was too gimmicky) I upgraded to the Tacx Fortius, which connected the bike’s resistance to actual videos of all my favorite climbs in Europe – the Alps, Pyrenees and Dolomites. Hah, once I was due to go on a trip including a mountain I had never climbed before, The Madonna del Ghissalo, but it was on my training video and I rode it many times. By the time I got there, I knew every bend and crack in the road !!
A big thumbs up to smart trainers – get the best your budget can afford.
not really agree with your idea that watching something on the TV is wasting time.. its just your opinion not a fact. have being riding indoors for a wile and every time i do my training i have something on TV. i can do laps around you so yes it works!
David L says
I’ll just say if you think you can train better or harder by yourself than with others you are mistaken. Unless you’re just a naturally gifted athlete then maybe so. I second all the positive comment above for smart trainers. I regularly ride 2 – 3 hrs. sometimes longer on my Wahoo KickR Core. No way could I ride like that on my Kurt Kenetic old dumb trainer. Granted it is a winter time tool I use during the short weekday daylight hrs. and when weather is too bad to get out on weekend. I don’t like riding in the dark, to many dangers.
After using and wearing out dumb trainer over the past 40 yrs I bought a smart trainer. I have been using the Tacx software as I prefer the great selection of real on road videos, no cartoons for me. I have the route running on my tablet and something with action like a hockey game on TV. Biggest decision is where I want to ride (virtually that is).
Joe M says
I’ve always been a fan of exertainment. Had an early ‘smart’ or at least interactive trainer. Think it was a Tacx Grand Excel. Compared to today it was pretty crude and expensive. But it made the indoor season a bit more bearable. It died a few seasons later. Replaced it with a CycleOps fluid trainer an early pre-Saris leaky version. Downloaded Sufferfest videos. Remember those? Added the Trainer Road overlays a few seasons later. Became a Zwift beta tester too. Preferred Sufferfest so dropped Zwift. Then everything went online. As I got older needed more recovery days after a Sufferfest pounding. .Picked up a Concept 2 erg (rower). Started liking the rowing sessions better. Second replacement CycleOps sprung a leak. Gave up indoor bike for a few years About four years ago wife gifted me a Kickr and Zwift subscription. Total game changer. Chasing my fat cartoon over imaginary worlds made it bearable.
Not a fan of smart trainers, including those with video or ‘group ride’ ride options. It’s still just lipstick on indoor riding- which I deeply and truly hate. I do ride a standard trainer in winter when I can’t get outdoors, and in better weather for certain structured workouts (hard to do uninterrupted 20-30+min TT rides on my local roads). But ~1hr on a trainer (any trainer) is about all my psyche can take. In winter I much prefer to recharge the mind (and body) by cross-training.
I am currently using a Kurt Kinetic dumb trainer with Zwift. The Zwift experience is definitely a step up from just putting in time or watching videos while indoor training. I’m thinking of upgrading to a smart trainer and looking for tangible reasons to make the change. One person here said they can spend more time on the smart trainer. Why would that be?
I should add that Zwift has built-in power curve for my Kurt fluid trainer, so I have power numbers. But don’t have feedback from the trainer whether the road is going up or down. And don’t have instant feedback from Zwift for changes in speed and cadence. These things seem to make it a little more challenging to ride and keep pace with others, but it might just be my perception that a smart trainer would be a bunch better. Your thoughts? thanks