What is a Direct-Drive Trainer and why is it good for cycling?

As cyclists, we like the idea of riding all year long, but the shorter, colder winter days can make that challenging. Trainers, rollers and indoor cycles can be the perfect solution.  These tools can help a cyclists stay in riding shape throughout the winter.

One sub-set of trainers is the direct-drive trainer.  At the heart of any direct drive trainer is the frame and resistance unit, but how it connects to your bike is the first thing that is different. A Direct Drive Trainer replaces your rear wheel. Remove your bike’s rear wheel, place the bike on the trainer and tighten the quick release skewers.  It is very simple to put your bike on and take your bike off the trainer.

Direct Drive vs. Tradition Trainers

With traditional trainers, on the other hand, it is recommended that you put on a special trainer tire.  This is because trainers will wear a tire differently than the road.   Switching between riding on the trainer and on the road can be a hassle and expensive.  You either need to change your tire or have a spare wheel.


The Kickr from Wahoo Fitness

The Wahoo Kickr is Erik’s most popular direct drive trainer and offers distinct advantages over traditional rear wheel trainers.

Aside from the attachment method, Direct Drive Trainers FEEL different than traditional trainers. Many cyclists say that pedaling, especially off the start, feels much more like riding on pavement on a Direct Drive Trainer.  Each model takes a  slightly different approach to resistance, but the heavy fly wheel inside the housing is why riding on this style of trainers can feel so similar to road riding.

Direct Drive Trainers are heavier than tradition trainers, which makes them very stable.  If you are a rider who like to go to the point of blackout on your intervals, then there really is no better option than direct drive.

Direct Drive vs. Indoor Cycles

To many cyclists, Indoor cycles such as the Pro Form and models from CycleOps are the best option for indoor training.  Like the Direct Drive Trainer, Indoor cycles have a flywheel.  They have many features such as power measurement, the ability to virtually ride courses, and vary intensity.  And of course, no mounting or adjusting your bike is needed.  Indoor cycles are ready to ride whenever you are.

But Indoor cycles are expensive and out of the price range for many riders.  Plus they don’t fold down like a trainer.  They require their own dedicated space which makes them impractical for some.  And they are heavy and awkward to move.

Direct Drive trainers offer a lot of options and realism over standard rear wheel trainers, but at a fraction of the cost of an Indoor Cycle. The most full featured option of direct drive trainers (Wahoo Kickr) costs half of what a similarly featured indoor cycle does.

The Models

The Cycleops Silencer is a magnetic resistance, and super quiet meaning you won't disturb the rest of the house with your killer workouts.

The Cycleops Silencer is a magnetic resistance, and super quiet meaning you won’t disturb the rest of the house with your killer workouts.

The Silencer from CycleOps features a magnetic resistance unit starts at $659 and is built with the same rugged reliability and life time warranty that CycleOps products are known for.

Resistance is adjustable with an included remote and offers 5 different resistance levels in addition to the normal gear shifting on your bike.

Compatibility is limited to SRAM and Shimano drive-trains and will accept 9/10/11 speed cassettes. The $729 version includes a 10-speed Shimano cassette.

Weight of the Silencer is 39 lbs, and is optimized for 700c wheels without the need to add a riser block. Mountain bikers will want to add one to level the bike.

The Elite Turbo Muin is a favorite among Erik's staff who really like to push hard in their workouts.

The Elite Turbo Muin is a favorite among Erik’s staff who really like to push hard in their workouts.

The Turbo Muin by Elite has a fluid resistance unit, and is a great option for riders who like to get the absolute most from their trainer workouts. It’s max wattage is the highest of these three at a leg-crushing 2500 watts at 90 RPM, making it ideal for strong riders looking for high-intensity workouts.

Resistance on a fluid unit such as the Turbo Muin is what we refer to as progressive, meaning it gradually increases with speed. The result is that by working through your gears and increasing wheel speed, the resistance gets harder. This resistance curve is designed to copy the feel of riding on the road.

Compatibility like the CycleOps comes out of the box as SRAM/Shimano 9/10/11-speed but an option is available for Campagnolo freehub bodies as an aftermarket piece.

Weight is similar to the Silencer at 39 lbs as well, though one thing that differentiates the Turbo Muin is the ability to fold the frame for storage.

The Kickr from Wahoo offers a great deal of options to get the most out of your training this winter.

The Kickr from Wahoo offers a great deal of options to get the most out of your training this winter.

Wahoo Kickr lists for $1098.99, making it the most expensive option Erik’s offers in this category, but with good reason. The Kickr measures power and can be connected with a Bluetooth 4.0 or ANT+ connection meaning you can control the unit with an iPad, iPhone or other device as well as track power data with compatible computers like the Garmin Edge line.

Resistance is variable through the app, Bluetooth compatible computers or even a connected PC computer by using an ANT+ dongle. It is also compatible with a whole host of third party options such as Strava, Trainer Road and more, as well as Wahoo’s own app.

Compatibility like the previous models is optimized for Shimano and SRAM 9-11 speed cassetes and comes with a 10 speed cassette. Like the Turbo Muin, it can be adapted to fit Campagnolo 11 speed. Like all direct drive trainers, it does well with mountain or road bikes in a variety of wheel sizes.

The weight is an impressive 45 lbs for the Kickr, but since the legs also fold away and it includes a carrying handle, moving it is not difficult.

Is a Direct Drive Trainer right for you?

Direct Drive Trainers provide a more “real-road” feel than traditional trainers.  They don’t require adjusting your bike other than removing the rear wheel meaning you can easily keep your bike ready to ride outdoor.  This makes Direct Drive Trainers a good option not only for the off-season, but are also for conditions early and late in the year that making getting out on the road or trail tough.

ERIK’S offers a wide variety of Direct Drive Trainers to help you meet your goals.  Roll by your local ERIK’S to check one out!

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