When it gets cold, dark, and icy outside, many cyclists choose to keep improving their fitness throughout the winter indoors with a bike trainer. But if you’re looking to buy one right now, you might run into a few road blocks.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many bike companies are experiencing significant shortages, due to soaring demand. And even though winter has nearly arrived, this new zeal for riding hasn’t pulled the brakes yet—everyone’s just gone inside, with many performing their rides indoors on Zwift using smart trainers.
Since April, Zwift has seen a 263-percent increase in new subscribers compared to last year. The number of Zwift users at any given time is displayed in the program, and the record high of this number is available in the companion app. At the start of 2020, the highest this number had reached was just over 16,000.
“That number now stands at 35,000, and you’ll see daily peaks well in excess of 20,000 Zwifters most days now,” Chris Snook, senior public relations manager at Zwift, said.
With so many riders getting in on the Zwift action, it’s been significantly more difficult to get a trainer. According to a Wahoo representative, the company saw trainer sales increase 300 percent in April, compared to the same time last year, and the rate at which people are buying them hasn’t gone down since—hence, a trainer shortage that rivals the bike shortage. It’s awesome for the industry, but annoying for anyone who’s trying to buy one now in time for winter.
It’s hard to say how long this shortage will last. Companies like Wahoo are doing their best to keep up, but it’s hard to predict exactly how long these products will be in such high demand; it could very well last for the rest of the winter, or longer.
But if you’re determined to ride indoors this season, read on for some buying advice.
🧐 Know Exactly What You’re Looking For
Before picking out your bike trainer (or just adding the least-expensive one you can find to your cart), do some research to figure out which type will work best for you. Although there are many variations of each, most trainers come in two basic styles.
Direct-drive trainers attach to the rear dropouts, replacing your wheel and providing a direct connection to the resistance unit. These trainers are easily identified because they require a cassette. They are typically the most expensive, but also the most accurate, and feature the highest levels of resistance.
Friction trainers are usually available for about half the cost of direct drive trainers. These feature a small roller that sits against the rear wheel and utilize either magnetic or fluid resistance. They tend to be lighter and more portable than direct-drive trainers, but are noisier and less accurate. Check out our guide to choosing an indoor trainer for more details, options, and purchasing considerations.
Most newer models of trainers are “smart” trainers, which means they can communicate wirelessly with a training app or a virtual riding world like Zwift—and automatically adjust resistance. You can still Zwift with a non-connected trainer, but you’ll need to purchase extra items, like a speed sensor and a power meter.
👀 Where to Search
1. Check Online Retailers—Not the Manufacturer’s Site
If your heart is set on a certain trainer, but it’s sold out on the manufacturer’s website, you can sometimes still find it at online retail sites like Competitive Cyclist, Nashbar, REI, Backcountry, and even Amazon. (Though Amazon has a lot of off-brand trainers that we haven’t tested and can’t vouch for, so do your research before purchasing!)
2. Peruse The Pro’s Closet
One great online resale resource to keep tabs on is The Pro’s Closet, which isn’t just for used bikes. The Pro’s Closet also sells older models, returned units, and warehouse overstock of high-end cycling equipment, like bike trainers, for discounted prices. Keep an eye on their website for the best deals.
3. Shop Local Resale
There are lots of used trainers for sale on Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, eBay, and even Play It Again Sports. In addition to newer products, this is where you’ll often find some seriously old models for sale. If you’re not too picky about your setup and looking for a non-smart trainer, an older used model could potentially get the job done for the lowest price. But when buying used items online, it’s best to test it out before paying up, if that’s an option: Bring your bike to set it up and test the functionality, compatibility, and stability of the bike trainer before taking it home.
4. Check Your LBS and Other Sporting Goods Stores
Your local bike shop might have a few bike trainers in stock, or call around to ask if shops in neighboring areas have any on their shelves or waiting in the back. Other brick-and-mortar sports equipment retailers are worth calling too, like Dick’s Sporting Goods, Dunhams, or REI. Once, we even bought a trainer at our local Aldi (for $28!), so get creative and keep your eyes open—you might get lucky.
🚲 If All Else Fails...
Instead of a trainer, consider using rollers this winter; there are many in stock right now, and there are some very affordable options. Rollers are the most basic style—you simply set your bike on top and go. They and also require the most technique to use since the bike isn’t held in place, but rather perched atop three rollers and require the rider to carefully balance while pedaling. Resistance can range from almost nothing up to as much as any direct-drive trainer.
Though the learning curve can be a bit intimidating, riding rollers can help you maintain a stronger core for better balance, a smoother pedal stroke, and better handling skills come spring.
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