Staring at the basement wall for endless hours, pedal stroke after pedal stroke of high cadence, low cadence, hard efforts, steady efforts and everything in between, just to keep time from seemingly standing still. Sound familiar Ah, the joys of trying to stay fit during the cold months. The monotony of riding an indoor trainer for too many hours over the winter has undoubtedly ended a number of riders’ seasons early due to premature burnout, and possibly even a few promising careers.
Over the past couple of years things have changed substantially with trainer technology and the software that’s available for them. The days of indoor trainer boredom are a thing of the past, and you can now virtually ride with people from all over the world, even draft off them, ride any stretch of road, and have your trainer actually increase or decrease resistance based on the terrain you’re riding on.
APPS, SOFTWARE AND SMART VS. DUMB
All indoor trainers used to be “dumb.” Dumb, as in not connected to anything other than your bicycle. No wires, no electronic tension control, and no communication with your computer or smartphone. Resistance is controlled by fluid, magnets or wind; whereas “smart” trainers, on the other hand, have electronically controlled resistance that can automatically adjust to the terrain of the course you’re virtually riding on. So if the app or software you’re using goes from a descent into a climb, the resistance changes to simulate a real-world experience while also providing real-time power info. This technology isn’t exactly new; CompuTrainer has been doing it for years. What is new is the fact that there are more trainer brands in the mix that come in at different price ranges, and many of them are able to work with open-source software to allow a vast number of user experiences. Even if you’re not ready to drop the money on a smart trainer, it’s still possible to get much of the same experience out of the apps/software as you would with a smart trainer by using a cadence and speed sensor on your bike, which can also provide a virtual power measurement on many of the apps. Keep in mind, though, that if your sensors are ANT+ you will need an ANT+ dongle for either your phone or desktop computer.
When it comes to apps and software to add a level of excitement, or to improve the level of structure in your training, there is a vast number of options out there. If you want to virtually rub elbows in a paceline with Joe from Budapest, Hungary, while in your living room back in Akron, Ohio, then Zwift might be your style. If you want to test yourself on a famous European climb and see where you stack up on the without leaving the basement, then Bkool Simulator could be your speed. And then there are plenty who simply want to structure the perfect interval session in the privacy and warmth of their garage; in that case, TrainerRoad has the features they need. There’s literally something for everyone these days. We could fill this entire magazine with trainers and apps if we tried to cover each one out there, so instead of that, we handpicked some of our favorites on the market.
After spending a few indoor sessions on the BKool Pro trainer, we became big fans of the unit for a few reasons: 1) It does an impressive job smoothing the resistance changes when going from a climb to a descent and vice versa using their Simulator software. 2) At $771, the price is right for a smart trainer with its range of features. 3) And finally, it’s one of the lighter and more easily transportable smart trainers on the market. The trainer features arms that fold down towards the resistance unit to keep it compact when not in use, in addition to allowing compatibility with mountain and road bikes. Telescopic leg stabilizers widen the stance for a stable platform when riding and, again, allow it to stay compact when not in use. A one-year premium membership of the Simulator software is also included.
FEEDBACK SPORTS OMNIUM
This is a brand-new trainer to hit the market and comes in with an entirely different focus than just about anything else out there. We have yet to get one in the office, but from what we saw at Interbike, it’s the most portable trainer we’ve ever come across, weighing just over 13 pounds. It folds up small enough to fit in a plane’s overhead compartment, and it comes with a travel bag, making it ideal for the cyclist on the road. Rather than the rear wheel locking in like a standard trainer, the fork is what gets mounted, while the rear wheel rolls on dual 4-inch aluminum drums in the back. This is not a smart trainer and doesn’t focus on connectability.
KURT KINETIC ROCK AND ROLL
Kurt Kinetic has been making fantastic trainers for years, but they’ve taken things up to another level more recently by making the Rock and Roll dumb trainers something much closer to a smart trainer, without the need for a power cord. Kinetic inRide is their solution to providing all the training metrics one might need, such as heart rate, speed, calories, distance and a power reading derived from the power curve at a given speed. The app-based technology is currently available for the iPhone and is in beta for Android. As far as the trainer itself goes, the Rock and Roll is quite unique in the fact that it allows you the ability to get out of the saddle and move the bike side to side in a realistic way. The extra-wide footprint gives added stability for out-of-the-saddle efforts.
The PowerSync is just one of the many trainers in CycleOp’s line that includes wind, magnetic, fluid and electronic resistance units. While the line begins with their basic Wind Trainer for $169.99, it’s the PowerSync smart trainer that has the ability to fully utilize their VirtualTraining software, in addition to most other third-party apps/software thanks to its Bluetooth and ANT+ connectability. The power measurement uses the same technology that’s in a PowerTap hub, giving accuracy within a claimed 5 percent. Just as with a traditional trainer, the PowerSync has foldable legs, so when not in use it can lay relatively flat.
WAHOO FITNESS KICKR SNAP
The KICKR SNAP is one of only two trainers in the Wahoo line. The original direct-mount KICKR helped shape the smart trainer market as we now know it, thanks to its open-source connectivity that allows numerous third-party apps and software to control it. The SNAP has many of the same features, just in a traditional design that uses a roller on the rear tire, and it comes at a lower price point of $699.99. Just like the higher-end version, the SNAP features dual ANT+ and Bluetooth Smart connectability, allowing it to be used with third-party apps and software, ranging from the gaming-type computer based Zwift to TrainerRoad’s phone app. Another feature that will be coming soon is the ability to do any ride outdoors with the new Wahoo ELEMNT GPS computer and then simulate the exact ride on the KICKR in the comfort of your own home.
TACX NEO SMART
Tacx took the standard trainer design and tossed it out the window when creating the NEO Smart. Using a directdrive design, the bike mounts onto the trainer at the rear dropouts (minus the rear wheel) and delivers a stable platform without the worry of tire wear or slippage. In terms of functionality, the NEO Smart is the quietest trainer we’ve used and can also be used as a “dumb” trainer without being plugged in, an option that most other smart trainers don’t have. Extreme-training ranges are also next level on the NEO, such as realistically simulating up to a 25-percent slope and resistance up to 2200 watts, just in case you can put out more power than a professional sprinter or want to simulate climbing out of Hawaii’s Waipio Valley. The NEO is compatible with the most popular apps and software, such as Bkool, TrainerRoad and Zwift, in addition to Tacx’s own robust software package.
APPS AND SOFTWARE
If you enjoy watching GoPro cycling videos, then FulGaz could be your ticket to indoor training fulfillment. The iOS app features videos shot from the bike in such places as Antelope Island in Utah all the way to portions of Vuelta a Espana stages. You get the feel that you’re actually riding, since the video gives a more realistic experience than 3D gaming software. If using a KICKR trainer, the app adjusts the resistance based on the terrain and controls the speed of the video depending on how fast, or slow, you’re going. It can also be used as a great tool for time-trialing, since you have the ability to adjust aerodynamic drag to get a closer feel for what a given effort level might be in your time-trial position. Videos can be streamed or downloaded; with the latter, it’s what we recommend, since even with a decent Internet connection we had loading issues when streaming. A monthly subscription costs $7.99.
Even though Bkool makes hardware, they also offer their comprehensive software that is compatible with a number of other trainers. This is one of the most advanced programs we’ve tried, and allows for a vast number of experiences that range from 3D with real-time weather simulation, streaming videos from their library or your own, and the ability to create your own route. There’s even a velodrome mode where you can compete in the keirin or pursuit (if using a Bkool trainer). If virtual group rides are your style, then Bkool offers that as well, with multi-player hosting where you can even voice chat if you so desire. Bkool offers two memberships: Basic, which is free and offers limited route options and no 3D features, or Premium for $12 a month that gives you unlimited access. Available as a desktop software for PC and Mac, in addition to an app for iOS and Android.
Even though they’ve only been around a short time, Zwift has done an amazing job in making themselves a household name by turning trainer time into a fun, motivating experience through their interactive gaming software. Rather than just making the Zwift experience about grinding out some intervals, it provides a group-ride experience with up to thousands of concurrent riders from all over the world. There are virtual Strava KOMs and sprints on each course to spice things up, and the rider avatar and his/her clothing and bike are completely customizable with a number of brands at your fingertips. After a year in beta testing, Zwift is now available through a monthly subscription fee of $10. It’s compatible with a number of smart and dumb trainers. Zwift is available as a desktop software for PC and Mac.
If focused intervals and tailor- made training is more your style than virtual group rides and KOMs, then TrainerRoad is a must-have. The app and desktop software gives you the choice between hundreds of pre- built workouts tailored around your Functional Threshold Power (FTP). If you don’t have a smart trainer or power meter, then TrainerRoad’s VirtualPower can calculate your power as long as you have a speed sensor and one of the 32 trainer brands they support (that’s nearly all the brands on the market). When using the desktop version, you have the option of streaming a movie while still viewing the workout profile at the bottom of the screen, or you can sync your workout with a video from The Sufferfest, Spinervals or a number of other third-party cycling videos. A TrainerRoad subscription costs $12 a month and is available as a desktop software for PC and Mac and an iOS app.
Tacx has one of the most robust offerings out there and includes both app and desktop software. Tacx and other ANT+ smart trainers are compatible with the desktop software that features 3D (Virtual Reality as Tacx calls it) and simple power/heart rate-based training programs. On top of that, the Advanced software allows a few other cool options, such as multi-player riding/racing format (10- rider max), videos that are shot from the bike, and Google GPS routes (you can create your own route based off previous rides). Each of these options comes with an additional fee on top of the Advanced software cost. The tablet and phone apps offer more limited features than the desktop version, but if all you’re looking for are the training essentials of power/heart rate-based training and don’t care about racing others or 3D imagery, then the free app might deliver the experience you’re looking for. Some videos are available through the app as well, but those come with a fee. Available as a desktop software for PC, in addition to an app for iOS and Android.