A Comprehensive Guide to Bicycle Trainer Resistance

Cycling has always been quick to embrace new trends and technologies. While indoor training isn’t new, the rise of virtual training platforms, combined with the recognition of the efficiency of indoor cycling and the desire to ride all year round, have led to an ever-increasing demand for sophisticated indoor bicycle trainers. Central to the performance, the road feel, the comfort and – let’s face it – the price of these trainers is the type of resistance they employ. In this blog post, we’ll dive headfirst into the various types of resistance mechanisms used by indoor bicycle trainers, ranging from the most basic to the most cutting-edge.

Where it all began

The most basic forms of resistance used in indoor bicycle trainers are magnets or hydraulic fluid. These forms of resistance were used by some of the very first indoor trainers and they’re still used today on some of the most low-cost offerings. 

The main benefit of magnetic trainers is their affordability. Due to having limited moving parts, they’re also extremely reliable; you could drive a tank over a basic magnetic trainer and it’d likely still provide you with a good workout. On the flip side, they tend to be less dynamic, with a dead or sluggish feel that, if we’re being honest, doesn’t get close to the experience of riding outside.

Trainers utilizing hydraulic fluid are a step up in terms of a more realistic pedaling experience. They’re also quite a bit quieter than magnetic trainers, although both are likely to annoy any neighbours if you live in an apartment. 

Unfortunately, fluid trainers are more prone to failure due to overheating, making them less durable in the long run. So, the choice between magnetic and hydraulic fluid resistance is often a trade-off between cost and performance.

The new age of trainers

As technology advances, smart trainers have become the go-to choice for cycling enthusiasts seeking a more immersive training experience. Smart trainers typically incorporate either electromagnetic or fluid resistance.

Fluid resistance is the most cost-effective option in smart trainers; however, these trainers maintain the same potential for overheating issues, which often limits their lifespan.

Electromagnetic resistance has become the standard for most smart trainers and smart bikes; chances are that the brands you’re most familiar with lean on this form of resistance. Compared to other forms of resistance, it offers a more precise and responsive experience, which is essential when you want to race your friends over the Volcano Circuit on Zwift.

Electromagnetic trainers usually feature a weighted flywheel, which is intended to mimic the inertia of outdoor riding to provide a more realistic road feel. The downside is that this technology comes at a higher price, while the large, heavy flywheels can make these bikes and trainers much harder to move and store. 

What’s less discussed is that, in reality, it’s logistically impossible to use a flywheel large and heavy enough to accurately simulate a realistic road feel. Unless you’ve got an enormous training room and a friend who owns a crane or a forklift, that is! This also means that trainers using a combination of electromagnetic resistance with a flywheel are unable to recruit quite the same muscles you use when riding your trusty carbon stead outside on the roads, so the training effect is less than 100% efficient.

So, clearly, trainers have improved in road feel, accuracy, responsiveness and connectivity over the years. Riding the latest electromagnetic trainers is unrecognizably better than hammering the pedals on one of those old wheel-on fluid trainers. But what’s the next step? How can riders get an even better road feel and responsiveness to improve their riding and make their indoor training even more efficient?

Setting themselves apart in the market are the TrueBike and TrueTrainer, which boast TrueForce Technology. This second-generation force-generating tech ditches the flywheel and instead uses a powerful motor and smart robotics to provide a unique and innovative resistance mechanism. This eliminates the common issues associated with traditional resistance methods, creating a more authentic riding experience, so you’ll recruit precisely the same muscles climbing the Alpe du Zwift as you would tackling the Alpe d’Huez.

Which resistance type is right for you?

The indoor cycling industry is growing up fast and riders are the real winners. There’s now a wide and diverse range of trainer resistances available, giving you options according to your budget and preferences. 

Whether opting for the simplicity of basic resistance, the interactivity of smart trainers, or the revolutionary real-world road feel of TrueForce Technology, you can now tailor your indoor cycling experience to match your cycling wants and training needs. 

Learn more about the science behind TrueForce Technology here.