Ask a Mechanic | Understanding Wind, Magnetic, and Fluid Trainers

Cedar asks: “What is the difference between wind, magnetic, and fluid trainers? Can you help me understand the pros and cons of each?”

Thanks for the question Cedar. With winter quickly approaching, it’s time to get set up with the right indoor training equipment to fit both your style and budget. With the plethora of options, understanding what trainer you need can be difficult. There are three different types of trainers, and they are:

Wind trainers are the cheapest and most basic of trainer options out there. They rely on wind to create resistance, and the faster you pedal, the harder the resistance.

The pros of wind trainers are that they are incredibly simple to set up, feature very few moving parts, and are the cheapest options on the market.

The biggest con of a wind trainer is noise. Because they rely on wind resistance to function, they are loud. Though this problem can be alleviated with headphones, it should be a consideration. Another con of wind trainers is the lack of adjustability. Because the only way to increase resistance is by pedaling faster, workouts cannot be as custom or accurate as those done with a fluid trainer.

Magnetic trainers are the “middle-of-the-road” option in terms of both price and features. These trainers utilize a magnet and sometimes a flywheel to create resistance. The pros of magnetic trainers are that they offer more adjustability than wind trainers, are still relatively cheap, and are much quieter than wind trainers.

A chief complaint about magnetic trainers is that the resistance curve is very linear, meaning that it doesn’t feel very “realistic”, something that may be important for those needing to spend lots of time on their trainer. If you buy a basic magnetic trainer, you should note that resistance is likely adjusted via dismounting from you bike and manually adjusting it. This can, however, be avoided by purchasing a magnetic trainer with a remote.

Finally, there are fluid trainers. These types of trainers utilize an impeller that sits in a fluid bath. The more effort you exert and the faster you pedal, the more difficult it becomes for the impeller to move through the fluid.

The pros of fluid trainers are that they give you a realistic road feel, exponential resistance based upon rider input, and put out almost no noise. Whereas both wind and magnetic trainers have a maximum amount of effort or speed that they can withstand, fluid trainers offer exponential resistance. For those looking to spend a large amount of time aboard their trainer in prep for race season, the lack of noise produced by fluid trainers will be worth its weight in gold. Riders needing specific Zones during training sessions and custom workouts will benefit most from a fluid trainer. The handoff with fluid trainers is price, but for serious cyclists, fluid trainers are a must.

With winter and the holidays fast approaching, go to Art’ for all your cycling needs. Thanks for watching!