Indoor Cycling 101: Other Types of Indoor Cycling Trainers, Rollers, and Bikes

While direct drive trainers and wheel-on trainers are the most popular and well-known versions of indoor trainers for “cyclists,” there are also many other options that will help you pedal in your pain cave. In this post, we’ll go through all the other types of indoor trainers, tell you the benefits and drawbacks of each, and how to choose between one and the other.

Tax Neo — Direct Drive Trainer

Smart Bikes — A smart bike is a purpose-built indoor bike only meant for indoor riding. These contraptions are smooth and silent, and usually cost $2500–3500. A smart bike looks a bit like a future bicycle without wheels. Some versions look a bit like spin bikes (more on those below), with a heavier front flywheel rather than a rear flywheel.

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Some smart bikes can tilt up or down, to simulate riding up climbs or down descents, just like the Wahoo KICKR Climb or Elite Rizer. Smart bikes are virtually silent, super smooth, and ultra-comfortable. Instead of normal gearing with a derailleur, chain rings, and a cassette, a smart bike’s shifting is all virtual, which means that when you click the shifter, the smart bike changes the resistance virtually, rather than physically shifting a mechanical gear. This makes shifting super smooth and quieter than ever. You can also adjust your gearing preferences to fit exactly what you like. It’s an unparalleled experience. For the ultimate indoor training machine, go with an indoor smart bike.

Spin Bikes — Spin bikes are more basic versions of indoor smart bikes, but they are usually designed for the general population rather than experienced cyclists. Peloton bikes, for examples, feature wide and tall handlebars, with an upright riding position that is much more upright than the traditional road cycling position. This puts less strain on the arms and lower back, which is much better for beginner or recreational riders.

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While spin bikes are significantly cheaper than indoor smart bikes, they are much less capable. Most spin bikes do not include a power meter, and you’ll have to adjust the resistance manually, sometimes with a turn knob on the top tube.

Overall, spin bikes are generally used for spin bike classes, or guided group workouts, rather than individual rides, workouts, or virtual races. Spin bike classes are instructor-led classes that typically involve pumping music, motivating leaders, and effort-based (rather than power-based) interval training. These classes are completely different from the feel and workout you would get on an app like Zwift or TrainerDay.

That said, some spin bikes can connect to third-party apps such as Zwift, but most spin bikes are dumb trainers, in the way that they cannot connect to third-party apps or measure power on their own. Peloton bikes, for example, fall into this category, so you won’t be able to ride this bike on Zwift. For the higher-end spin bikes such as a Peloton, this is a big letdown because it really limits your training options on an expensive piece of indoor cycling equipment. A moderately priced Schwinn ic4 is an example of a spin bike that has a built in power meter although it should be noted that the accuracy is questionable on most spin bikes.

Rollers — Rollers are the final type of indoor cycling equipment, and these are exactly as they sound. Balance your bike on top of the three spinning drums (i.e. rollers), and start pedaling. You’ll have to practice, as riding on your bike on rollers comes with a steep learning curve. However, once you get the hang of it, roller-riding is a unique and engaging experience. 
When riding on rollers, it almost feels like you’re riding on the open road. This is because you have to balance on top of the rollers, and slightly steer to keep your bike going in a straight line. It is even more difficult to get out of the saddle — but once you get the hang of it, riding rollers is fun!


One of the biggest benefit of riding rollers is the realistic ride feel, which not only feels better but also trains your body in a more life-like way. All of your stabilizer muscles will be activated while riding on rollers since you’ll have to balance and keep riding in a straight line. These muscles can be lost or weakened with too much indoor trainer riding, so when you return to riding outside after a winter spent riding the indoor trainer, you can develop back problems, tightness, and pain. You’ll never need to worry about that if you ride on rollers every few days in the winter.

The best part is that most rollers are fairly cheap — you can often find a pair for less than $200. There are some higher-end options, and even smart rollers that measure power. These rollers are a bit clunky at the moment, and don’t measure power super accurately — but they are full to use. There are even some smart rollers that can adjust the gradient up to +/-7%. I’m not sure how that actually works, but I know that it does. For a fun, affordable, and engaging indoor training option, rollers are the #1 choice.

Written by Zach Nehr

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