Transform bike into stationary bike: Ultimate guide
Riding outdoors is not always possible: weather conditions can be dangerous or unappealing, lack of time for a proper outdoor ride, or if you are back from an injury it is best to ride indoors. If you already have a bike, you probably wonder how to turn your bike into a stationary bike.
I will detail how you can turn your bike into a stationary bike by showing different solutions and their pros and cons. I will give you an idea of the price of each solution and some recommendations to help you choose depending on your cycling goal.
Can you turn your bike into a stationary bike?
You can turn any bike into a stationary bike by using a bike trainer or rollers. There are different types of bike trainers that will allow you to ride indoors. Some of them can even be combined with an indoor cycling app to make riding indoors more realistic and entertaining.
How to turn your bike into a stationary bike
To turn your bike into a stationary bike, you can buy either a dumb trainer, a smart trainer, or rollers. I will review each of these options and explain which one may suit you. No bullshit review here, I have tested all three types of products throughout my cycling journey.
“Dumb” or “classic” trainer
Dumb trainers generally cost between $50 and $300.
A dumb trainer is a bike stand with a stable frame where you clamp your bike from the back wheel skewer to hold the bike securely in place. A roller is then pressed against the back wheel to offer some resistance when pedaling.
To change the resistance when pedaling, you are supposed to rely on your bike gears. However, some dumb trainers offer a couple of resistance settings that can either be controlled manually by pressing a button on a remote control or before hopping onto the bike. But dumb trainers cannot adjust the resistance in a smart way and this is why they are called ‘dumb’.
There are two types of dumb trainer technology: fluid and magnetic trainers. Magnetic trainers are cheaper and most commonly available, but fluid trainers are less noisy and more comfortable to ride.
Dumb (or classic) trainers are best for:
- Occasional indoor riders
- Leisurely or beginner cyclists
- People who are not interested in performance metrics
- People who just want to hop on the bike and ride
- People with a small budget
Which dumb trainer do I recommend:
A good choice of classic trainer is Saris Fluid2 Indoor Bike Trainer. Saris is a solid brand that has been making bike trainers for numerous years. Saris fluid trainers offer a progressive resistance that adapts to the speed of pedaling, giving it a little bit of a road feel.
– Simplest solution
– Perfect for occasional cyclists
– Manual adjustable resistance
– Affordable solution ~$200
This is probably the easiest solution to turn a bike into a stationary bike. It’s affordable, easy to install, and doesn’t take much space.
Smart trainers generally cost between $200 et $1300.
There is a wide range of prices for smart trainers as there are different technologies available and important differences in terms of performance.
A smart trainer is a bike trainer where the resistance can be controlled by an indoor cycling app (like Zwift, Wahoo SYSTM, Wahoo RGT, TrainerRoad, …). This means that the resistance you feel when riding will adapt to the workout or the riding environment in the app. If you are riding a hill, the resistance will adjust automatically to simulate its gradient.
Smart trainers measure the power your produce when riding and are able to simulate accurately the gradient. Some will be limited to a slope of 6-7% and some trainers can simulate up to 25%. This is one of the main reasons for the price range of smart trainers.
There are two types of smart trainers: wheel-on and direct-drive trainers.
- Wheel-on smart trainers
Wheel-on smart trainers consist of a frame on which you clamp your bike. The back wheel is then pressed against a roller, similar to dumb trainers. The only difference is that the trainer can be controlled by an app to adjust its resistance. Wheel-on smart trainers require to be calibrated very frequently to have accurate power values.
- Direct-drive smart trainers
Direct-drive smart trainers are more and more popular. It used to be the higher end of the market, but you can now find much more affordable trainers with direct drive.
With direct-drive trainers, you need to remove the rear wheel of the bike, and then you simply connect your bike to the trainer’s cassette. This solution is the most efficient, and the least noisy of them all. Calibration is needed about once a week for most direct-drive trainers, except for the Tacx Neo and Wahoo Kickr’s recent generations (that calibrates automatically).
Smart trainers are best for:
- People who want to improve their cycling performance and fitness level
- People who want to follow a workout or training program
- People who get easily bored riding indoors
- People who want to benefit from indoor cycling apps (social aspect, workouts, racing, etc)
Which smart trainer do I recommend:
A great choice of smart trainer is Zwift Hub. It is a direct drive trainer that is about $200 cheaper than the equivalent trainer it can offer. It can simulate a gradient up to 16% and let you push up to 1800W. If you manage to max out its performance I am very impressed 🙂
– Smart resistance controlled by an app
– More commitment to cycling thanks to gamification
– The greatest potential to increase fitness level
– Higher priced, yet reasonable for such features
– A great and cheapest alternative to a Peloton bike
This is personally my preferred solution to transform a bike into a stationary bike, but I understand this solution can be expensive for some people.
Rollers generally cost between $150 and $350.
Rollers are very different from bike trainers, as they allow you to ride indoors but the bike is not clamped to the rollers. This means when using rollers you must keep your balance as if you were riding outdoors. It consists of 3 cylindrical drums which are connected with a belt. The bike is placed on top of the drums and while you pedal the drums rotate.
Rollers can be difficult to use, especially the first couple of times you try. If you are interested in using rollers, I recommend you place them in a doorway to avoid falling off (see how I did in the picture below).
Rollers are best for:
- People who want to improve their pedaling technique
- People who want to engage their core and keep a good cycling form while riding indoor
- People who like a bit of a challenge
- People who have a good balance
Which roller do I recommend:
Tacx Antares rollers are in my opinion a good choice if you wish to give it a try with rollers. You can buy them here on Amazon. Of course, you can find more high-tech rollers with resistance control and aluminum material, but these are also much more expensive and are a choice for someone who is already fond of rollers and want to upgrade their riding experience.
– Cheapest solution ~$160
– Technically hard to handle
– Easiest installation
– Cycling feeling closest to outdoor cycling
– Lacking resistance settings
Comment on DIY solutions
You will find online many people building their own rollers with DIY tutorials. I would not advise going this route. Indeed rollers from indoor cycling manufacturers have a particular curved shape and a specific coating to ensure the stability of the bike. They also use high-quality bearings for the smoothest experience.
Rollers are already technical enough to use with well-manufactured ones. Going the DIY route you will end up spending a lot of time making something with potential flaws, eventually letting it in a closet… That’s at least my personal experience. This is why I highly recommend sticking with rollers already available such as the Tacx Antares.
What to consider before buying a bike trainer
- For best results, you should always use slick tires on a wheel-on trainer (dumb or smart). Hybrid bike tires can be ok but in general, if the tire is not slick, it might end up slipping on the roller and not getting enough friction to work accurately. Especially if you are riding with an app that requires power acquisition. You can simply buy a trainer tire to avoid any issues.
- Except with rollers, a bike trainer should come with a quick-release trainer skewer. So be careful if you are buying a second-hand trainer as this skewer is really essential. I wrote a dedicated article here.
If your bike has a thru-axle, you can still fit it on a bike trainer as long as you buy an adapter.
- You can find below a guide I wrote to help you get prepared to work out indoors with 15 things you need to have to ride indoors. Some are quite essential like an ANT+ dongle and a fan. Have a read and you will see:
15 things you need with a smart trainer (and won’t regret)
The go-to solution to turn your bike into a stationary bike is to buy a dumb trainer. This is fine for occasional riders but if you intend to ride for a long period of time, or very frequently, you will get bored on a dumb trainer. A dumb trainer may wear your tire faster than outside. So think of checking your tires more frequently.
If your goal is training and performance, then a smart trainer is the answer; to use in combination with an indoor cycling app. This will allow you to follow structured workouts, ride with other people if you wish for motivation and tips, and participate in events where you have to challenge yourself.
If you care about road feel and cycling form, then rollers are the best. They are also extremely durable while being light and easy to move and transport. It just takes a bit of time to get used to riding them. They also happen to be the cheapest solution.