Let’s be honest, there are times when indoor cycling on a “smart trainer” or a “dumb trainer” is necessary for one reason or another. Regardless of the reasons for choosing to include indoor cycling as part of your training program, the best wheel-on fluid bike trainer should be easy to use, suitable for your fitness level, and most importantly, designed to simulate as closely as possible bike riding on the open road.
An indoor bicycle trainer can be a very efficient machine in that it can provide you a high-quality indoor cycling workout and fitness results that you can not achieve from doing similar cycling sessions riding outdoors. There are various successful brands of indoor bike trainers on the market today that offer a wide range of different kinds of models, from the simple conventional bicycle trainers that do the basics and nothing more to sophisticated bike trainers that nearly duplicate the natural feel of cycling a bicycle outdoors.
But with so many options out on the market, what is the best indoor bike trainer for beginners according to budget?
That is a very personal question and a very individual choice. Because there are so many amazing features and functions that as soon as you start focusing at a few it can quickly become difficult to decide between these you want and the ones you need. What are your cycling goals and how do you plan to use it is what should guide your decision on which model indoor bike trainer to buy.
Whichever indoor bicycle trainer model you decide to buy, you should want to get the best fluid wheel-on bike trainer for beginners that you can find, or the best wheel-off smart trainer for an advanced cyclist that provides you all the latest in bike trainer technology.
This very brief list is based on a comprehensive review of what I believe are some of the most selling, popular, and top-rated fluid wheel-on bike trainers available on the market today, that you need to know about if you are planning on buying an indoor bike trainer for beginners. So you can feel confident picking the one that is most suitable for your cycling needs, preferences and affordable within your budget.
The Best Value Indoor Bike Trainer
Elite Tuno Power Fluid Bicycle Trainer
Of all top competitors within the indoor cycling trainers industry, namely CycleOps, Kurt Kinetic, Tacx, Trek, Blackburn Design and Minoura, Elite offers substantially lower prices for all their classic wheel-on bike trainer models. From their current lineup, Elite Tuno Power Fluid model is certainly a good contender for the best budget wheel-on bike trainer for beginners.
While Elite Tuno is a great fluid bike trainer for the price, it is not a trainer that effectively achieves a gradual and consistent resistance unit power curve experienced, for example, by a cyclist riding on a Kinetic Rock n Roll, but it comes close. This is not to say, however, that the road feel sensation is poor on this model and you should not buy it. In truth, both bicycle trainers are just different enough to be similar, but you and your legs will immediately notice the numerous benefits of using the Elite Tuno fluid bicycle trainer in your cycling life.
The Elite Tuno bike trainer is an ideal choice for those cyclists who just want to stay in shape while staying indoors and/or who do not want to spend a ridiculous amount of money on buying a high-cost trainer. Or perhaps, for those who just want an easily portable fluid-type whee-on “dumb trainer” to take it out to races and the like to warm-up before a race and/or cool-down afterward.
The Elite Tuno bicycle trainer features a fluid-type resistance mechanism in which resistance is created by the rotational movement of the impeller against the resistance fluid-liquid contained in a hermetically sealed chamber. The trainer resistance unit provides progressive resistance. In other words, the greater the force applied by the cyclist riding, the greater the resistance force opposed to it.
The stand is made of a robust metal frame encased in a formed body of high-density plastic. It is sturdy enough to withstand the most intense cycling sessions. Furthermore, it comes with a convenient one-sided hand-lever that enables a fast and easy way to attach and release the bicycle to and from the trainer. Once you lock the bike to the trainer, it is held firmly and securely in place and cannot be loosened accidentally by movements during riding.
An important feature of the Elite trainer’s roller is that its surface is covered with an elastomer, which provides a better tire grip, less tire wear, and reduces the noise produced by the tire-contact roller. Such a design of the roller is advantageous as it effectively prevents slippage of the bicycle tire against the roller and helps to provide a more realistic ride feel during the use of the trainer. The resistance unit is very versatile in that it can accommodate rear wheel sizes from 24 to 29-inch in diameter.
The Elite Tuno includes its quick-release skewer for the rear wheel which ensures a much more secure hold of the bicycle to the trainer. Although the Elite Tuno indoor trainer is of fluid-type, and generally considered as a “silent” model, as with all other types of conventional wheel-on fluid bike trainers, there will be little noise generated by the rotation of the rear wheel when used at a high intensity (high revolutions).
The total amount of noise generated by a wheel-on fluid bike trainer during its use, is always going to be dependent on many factors of which four key ones are: 1) the bike itself, especially the tire and chain/gear set; 2) the wheel speed though; 3) the surface on which the trainer is installed; 4) the size of the room in which the trainer is used.
Of course, there are several solutions that I have found helpful and could be applied with the aim to reduce the amount of noise generated during the training. One option to soften the noise is to pick up an exercise/trainer mat and place it under the trainer during use. The mat significantly reduces the noise level produced by the cycling trainer and eliminates much of the vibration. It also has the added benefit of protecting your carpet/floor from scratches, flying sweat and tire residue or other damage that might occur!.
Another solution is to replace the standard road bike tire with a special (“smooth-tread trainer-tire”) one. The lack of tread protrusion from the tire surface will greatly reduce the noise level produced from the tire contact roller. Further, when using such a tire, it provides a better grip performance and greatly improves the overall performance of the resistance mechanism. This type of tire is typically made of harder rubber compound which is capable of withstanding the heat and stress created by the tire contact with the roller, which is an awesome side benefit as well.
Other than being a mid-level trainer and exceptionally simple to use, the Tuno model is a solid budget fluid wheel-on cycling trainer that offers a good value for the price and has decent performance for the beginner cyclist needs.
The Strengths I Like…
- It is relatively inexpensive compared to other types of fluid bike trainers.
- The lighter weight ( 20.4 lbs / 9.3 kg) and compact storage size makes it easy to move from one location to another.
- It comes with Elite training mat and riser block.
- It is foldable so that it takes up little space when not in use in the home.
- It is created by a reliable company that you can trust.
- It takes a matter of only seconds to attach and release the bicycle to and from the trainer.
- As a conventional, non-smart trainer, it is fully compatible with the most popular simulation platforms like Zwift, TrainerRoad or Sufferfest.
The Weaknesses I Don’t Like…
- The clamp handle and knob for adjusting the rear tire tension on the roller are made of hard plastic and doesn’t provide a proper grip for better tightening and loosening.
- It does not provide enough stability when you pedaling hard during out of the saddle climbing or sprints.
- The resistance unit requires some time, usually about 10-15 minutes to warm up and produce a steady resistance. Some fluid bike trainers like the Kinetic Road Machine do this action faster but cost much more.
- Although the elastomer element helps reduce the noise, when pedaling at high speeds it will inevitably make noise. So for people who are sensitive to noise, having easily irritable neighbors or family members, the Elite Tuno model is simply not a good choice for them.
The Best Quiet Indoor Bicycle Trainer
Cascade Fluid Pro Bike Trainer
Cascade Fluid Pro Bike Trainer is another reliable top contender in my list of best fluid wheel-on indoor bike trainers for beginners on a budget. Although the company is not one of the leading bike trainer brands on the market, the Cascade is a well-known and respected name in the realm of indoor cycling trainer industry – especially involved in sponsoring several college and university teams across the USA!
The Cascade’s fluid resistant mechanism is engineered to provide up to about 900 watts of smooth progressive resistance based on the speed. In other words, the fluid trainer increases its resistance as speed increases. Its drive unit features a thermally sealed fluid chamber as a further guarantee against any possible leakage of fluid therefrom.
Generally speaking, when it comes to ‘real’ road feel on the fluid-type resistance trainers, the weight of the flywheel is one of the key components of any trainer. The size and the weight of the flywheel can make the difference between a ride that is simply good, and one that is great for the cyclist during the use of the trainer.
The unit includes a heavyweight flywheel that is designed to mimic the inertia and momentum of the actual bicycle riding conditions. Its heavier flywheel can maintain greater rotational momentum and provide greater pedal resistance. The advantage of the heavier (7lbs/3.18kg) flywheel the Cascade Fluid Pro has technically over all of the other trainers with a lighter flywheel is that it provides smoother and better simulation and thus creates a more realistic feel and experience for the cyclist.
Cascade’s Fluid Pro Trainer features a heavy-duty steel frame construction that provides a wide stance (footprint open 61cm x 58cm 24″ x 23″) that has non-slip rubber feet which stabilize the trainer firmly rooted on the floor (or another surface) during its use. As you would expect, now attaching and releasing the bike to and from the trainer is quick and easy, due to the use of the “Quick-Connect” system design of the Cascade.
The Cascade Fluid Pro is designed to accommodate bikes with wheels from 24″ to 29″ in diameter. With the Cascade Fluid Pro trainer, the only noise that you will hear during its use emanates simply from the rotation of the rear wheel (and especially the spokes whip against the air).
Overall, the Cascade is a great fluid wheel-on budget option for beginners that cannot be overlooked. Its performance is similar and/or better than many bigger and more expensive competitors available on the market.
The Strengths I Like…
- It has a weighted flywheel and a fully-sealed resistance unit which eliminates the fluid leakage from the resistance mechanism.
- The foldable design allows it to be folded easily for convenient storage when not in use.
- It is relatively quiet compared to many other fluid turbo trainers in this price range.
- It includes a riser block for the front wheel with three different height positions for use, so you do not have to purchase it.
- The stability that Cascade provides when the bike is attached is amazing, that is what distinguishes the good ones from the not-so-good wheel-on trainer models.
- Excellent customer support!.
- Lifetime warranty!.
The Weaknesses I Don’t Like…
- The trainer is not as light as it seems. The claimed weight for the whole unit is 17.6 kg, so it can be a challenge, especially if you plan on transporting it frequently from one location to another. Of course, its weight is a big plus as that makes it way more stable when you are using it.
- The folding legs do not have a lock-out system, this can be a finger pincher if you are not careful when carrying it from one location to another.
The Best Brand Recognition
CycleOps Fluid 2 Bike Trainer
Whether you are a casual cyclist or a seasoned professional, there is no doubt that you have heard of American brand Saris/CycleOps, which is known for manufacturing some of the most realistic indoor bike trainers available on the market.
In 2001, CycleOps released on the market their first classic progressive resistance fluid bike trainer, which made the indoor cycling workout much more entertaining and as realistic as possible. In 2007 almost six years after its original conception, CycleOps have revised and adjusted the fluid resistance drive unit from its previous an equivalent unit to provide riders with a more stable and continuous power curve resistance.
Well, that is just history. Today, CycleOps Fluid 2 Bike Trainer still stands out as one of the most popular and recognizable classic indoor bike trainer models ever produced. Moreover, it remains one of the best selling fluid indoor bicycle trainers in the U.S to date.
The CycleOps Fluid 2 is completely different from the other two options in this list in that it uses CycleOps’s advanced power band technology. The technology can provide a self-adjusting and progressive range of resistance according to the pedal force effort applied by the cyclist.
The CycleOps claims that the trainer can offer over 750+ watts of resistance. To put this into perspective, record-breaking Tour de France cyclist Lance Armstrong could maintain 705 +watts continuously for one hour from what I have heard. This means that for the large majority of us even a 750+ watts would be more than enough unless you are Fabian Cancellara.
It should be noted, however, like any other fluid resistance type units, the resistance offered by the CycleOps Fluid 2 trainer is almost non-existent for the first 15 to 20 minutes of pedaling. Once the fluid in the resistance unit warms up to a steady operating temperature (becomes less viscous), the trainer will react properly and you will find that the resistance becomes progressively more challenging.
From a ride standpoint, the Fluid 2’s light 2.75 lbs (1.250kg) flywheel provides a relatively small rotational momentum (inertia) during the pedaling session. In other words, it does not simulate accurately the momentum as compared to the heavier 7 lbs (3.18kg) flywheel of its competitor Cascade.
Besides having a high-quality internal build, another significant advantage of this trainer is that the well-designed frame with footprint dimensions (open: 22″ L, 31″ W, 16″ H) provides an exceptionally stable foundation without any hint of wobble even when sprinting. While the updated foldable CycleOps classic series frame is stronger, more durable, and tougher, it is also light in weight, 18 lbs to be exact.
Right out of the box, the Fluid 2 trainer is compatible with most bikes with a quick-release wheel in it with the most common rear dropout spacing -120mm, 130mm or 135mm – and fits 26″, 27″, and 700c wheels. Keep in mind, however, that CycleOps thru-axle adapter is needed for 142mm and 148mm thru-axle compatibility.
Furthermore, it features a newly improved CycleOps clutch knob system that ensures that the precise amount of pressure is applied against the tire-contact roller. Once it gets to that point, the hand-lever clicks and it does not tighten any further. Much better made than the tiny hard plastic knob on the Elite Tuno trainer.
While I would not call this trainer noisy, it is certainly not as quiet as some other models in CycleOps’s lineup. It produces 68 dB of noise at 20mph. You will probably find it quieter than your old air resistance turbo trainer if you are replacing anything 10 or 15 years old. The Fluid 2, however, simply can not compare with the capabilities of today’s high-end direct-drive smart trainers, which are designed to be quieter in operation.
The Strengths I Like…
- It very closely simulates the actual feeling experienced when riding outdoors, but it would never replace the road: the changes in the terrain under your wheels, the road vibrations/textures, the wind, and so on.
- Outstanding customer support!.
- Heavy-duty frame design.
- It can be paired with popular training software such as Zwift, TrainerRoad, etc.
- Once the quick release mechanism is installed, attaching and detaching the bike to and from the trainer is quick and convenient.
- Lifetime warranty, manufactured in the United States with the highest quality of components.
- The Fluid2’s fully-sealed resistance unit.
The Weaknesses I Don’t Like…
- It develops considerable noise, especially at high speeds of rotation, but is considered by many as one of the best fluid wheel-on bike trainers in its class.
- The CycleOps Fluid 2 Trainer is tough enough to handle any seated hard cycling workouts, but if you are the type of cyclist who prefers to stand on the pedals to put maximum force to simulate hill climbing, the level of resistance will be inadequate for this type of riding.
- It does not come with a front-wheel block.
No matter how willing you are to head outdoors during the colder (or hotter) months of the year, there will be times when the weather outdoors will not be so conducive to riding a bicycle in the real world. So investing in a good trainer would be a really wise decision, and over time, a much cheaper alternative to a costly gym membership.
I am sure there is one logical question that I know a lot of people will want some sort of concrete answer: Which one out of those three great fluid wheel-on indoor bicycle trainers for beginners is the best? Well, this question seems to be easy but is not that easy to answer because it depends on many factors.
It may be said that each of these fluid bike trainers has something unique to offer its users!. Whether that is the heavyweight of the flywheel (Cascade), the most advanced technology of the trainer resistance unit (CycleOps) or a great compromise of both (Elite). Each of the three cycling trainers presented above comes with something different, and each has different pros and cons, but on the whole, all are suitable for use by beginners.
For someone on a budget who is just starting, and who do not think to ride the bike indoors more than two or three times weekly, the Elite is enough. But for anyone else, who logs a few hundred/thousand miles per year (not that unusual) and plans to do serious cycling sessions indoors, the Cascade or the CycleOps is certainly a much better choice.
If you are interested in learning some more about these indoor cycling trainers before deciding on which one of the three you want, then I would recommend you to click on each of the links below. This will take you to the relevant review page of each trainer, where you can find more information and reviews on the CycleOps Fluid 2 Bike Trainer, the Cascade Fluid Pro Bike Trainer or even the Elite Tuno Power Fluid Bike Trainer.