Indoor Trainer vs Stationary Bike (ex: Peloton)

Mostly during the winter months, but even all year round, we sell indoor trainers and stationary bikes.  When the weather is foul, it is nice to be able to still get your ride or workout in even if it is indoors.  Some people even prefer riding indoors for a variety of reasons.  I thought for this blog I would run through the pros and cons of each set up to help you when considering your options.

First up, stationary bikes.  Stationary bikes–like the Peloton, CycleOps Phantom, Forza, Wattbike, etc–are great machines to get a workout done indoors.  Depending on the particular model of stationary bike you purchase, you’ll get various features.  At the most basic, though, you’ll get a bike that will be adjustable for a variety of rider sizes that has adjustable resistance, as well.  The resistance may be as simple as a brake pad against the flywheel and as complicated as automatic electronic adjustable resistance to mimic terrain provided by a software program (Zwift, Trainerroad, etc).  As I see it these are the biggest pros to a stationary bike:

  • adjustable for different rider sizes, so one bike can work for multiple people
  • a dedicated bike for training indoors makes it simple to always have it ready to go at a moment’s notice
  • A heavy flywheel for realistic road feel, makes for a good workout
  • You don’t need to own a bicycle to use a stationary bike

But a stationary bike does have its drawbacks:

  • Heavy and bulky.  That heavy flywheel also makes for a machine that is difficult to move around, and it takes up a lot of space
  • Not portable.  You cannot easily take it with you to use elsewhere
  • Costly.  Stationary trainers start in the $600 range for a very basic one and can run several thousand for a high end one.  Not necessarily prohibitive over the lifespan of the machine and what you will get out of it, but there is a larger investment up front
  • Not all can be made to work with third party software easily.
  • Limited adjustability, depending on the machine; some have better adjustments than others, but some are difficult to make fit exactly right

A stationary bike, then, can be an excellent piece of equipment if you have the space, want something to work for multiple people easily, and can afford the up-front cost.

On to trainers.  Trainers are also capable of providing a great indoor workout, but they too have the pros and cons.  Again, depending on the trainer purchased, you can expect a variety of features: bare bones allows you pedal indoors; the high end allows you to interact with terrain provided by a software program.  The pros:

  • Lightweight and portable.  Trainers can usually fold up so you can put them away somewhere when not in use, or take them with you to use elsewhere
  • Relatively inexpensive.  Trainers start at just over $100.  Of course, you can spend $1,000+ if you want the best with all the greatest features (often worth it!)
  • Most can work with third party software easily, even if resistance isn’t adjusted automatically
  • You can use the same bike indoors and outdoors – if you already have a bike, it’s easy to set it up to ride indoors
  • Spot-on fit, since you use the bike that already fits you properly

Here are some of the cons:

  • Each user, unless they are the same size, will need their own bike to fit on it comfortably.
  • Unless you have a dedicated trainer bike, you have to set it up each time you use it (but a dedicated trainer bike may defeat the purpose of going this route)
  • Entry level trainers have small flywheels, so less realistic road feel.  Trainers with larger flywheels start to approach the cost of an entry level stationary bike
  • If you don’t already own a bike, you’ll need to purchase one to utilize it.

Personally, I’m a fan of a trainer set up.  I’ve been using trainers for years, and I eventually even dedicated a bike specifically to the trainer.  But I can remove the bike and easily fold up and put away the trainer when needed.  I like having my bike that is set up correctly for me and how I ride as the bike I use on the trainer.  I also use third-party software for riding and training, and there are not a lot of quality options for using them with stationary bikes, but there are quite a myriad of options when using trainers.  However, circumstances differ for each person, so what works best for me may not work best for you.  Hopefully, this post can help you assess your options and make an informed decision.