The Short Answer is:
The ability to change gears on a bike trainer depends on the type of trainer you are using. If you are using a "dumb" trainer, which does not have electronic resistance control, then you can change gears just as you would when riding outside. However, if you are using a "smart" trainer, which does have electronic resistance control, then the resistance will be adjusted automatically based on the workout you are doing, and changing gears will not have any effect on the resistance.
If you’re an avid cyclist, you may be wondering if you can change gears on a bike trainer. The short answer is yes, you can change gears on a bike trainer, whether you’re using a classic trainer or a smart trainer in resistance mode.
In fact, changing gears on a bike trainer is an important skill to have, as it allows you to adjust the resistance and simulate different terrain. In this article, we’ll explore the topic, “Can You Change Gears on a Bike Trainer”.
Table of Contents
Understanding Gear Shifting on Traditional Bikes
Understanding gear shifting on traditional bikes requires a bit of time and thought to learn how to shift properly and efficiently. The basic principle is that you have to be pedaling for the bike to shift.
The chain needs to be moving forward for the derailleurs to do their job, so it is important to anticipate the terrain and shift right before you start climbing, not halfway up when you’re slowing rapidly and applying pressure to the pedals.
The rear cassette has the opposite logic of the front chainrings in that the smallest ring is the hardest and the biggest is the easiest. You should climb in one of your biggest rings and descend in one of your smallest.
One mistake beginners tend to make is overshifting. In the beginning, you should focus on shifting one gear at a time and making sure it is a clean shift before shifting again.
To shift gears, you need to use the shifters on your handlebars. Depending on the type of bike you have, your shifters may look a little different.
For most mountain and hybrid-style bikes with flat bars, you shift the gears by using set paddles that you operate with your thumb. On road bikes, the shifters are built into the brake levers.
There are many different types of gear-shifting mechanisms, including twist-grip shifters, downtube shifters, bar-end shifters, trigger shifters, and integrated road gear shifters and brake levers. All of the above gear mechanisms will be operated with your hands.
It is important to practice shifting gears in a safe and controlled environment, such as a backyard or parking lot, to allow yourself some time and space to make mistakes and learn.
Here is an example of how you might shift gears while out on a bike ride: at the start, you are currently in the middle ring and one of the middle cogs.
Then, let’s say you’re coming up to a steep hill climb. You will shift to the small chainring up front. If that gear isn’t easy enough, then you will shift the rear derailleur to a big cog.
Gearing on Bike Trainers: Exploring the Differences
When it comes to indoor cycling, the gearing on a bike trainer can make a big difference in the quality of your workout. Unlike riding outdoors, where you can adjust your gears to match the terrain, indoor cycling requires you to adjust the resistance on your trainer to simulate different levels of difficulty.
This means that the gearing on your bike trainer can affect how challenging your workout feels, as well as how closely it matches the feel of riding outdoors.
One key difference between gearing on a bike trainer and gearing on a regular bike is that trainers typically have a limited range of resistance. This means that you may need to adjust your bike’s gearing to get the most out of your workout.
For example, if your trainer has a maximum resistance that feels too easy, you may need to shift to a harder gear on your bike to increase the resistance. Conversely, if your trainer’s minimum resistance feels too hard, you may need to shift to an easier gear to decrease the resistance.
Another factor to consider when it comes to gearing on bike trainers is the type of trainer you’re using. Different types of trainers, such as direct drive trainers and wheel-on trainers, can have different levels of resistance and require different gearing to achieve the same level of difficulty.
For example, a direct drive trainer may require a harder gear than a wheel-on trainer to achieve the same level of resistance.
The gearing on your bike trainer will depend on a variety of factors, including the type of trainer you’re using, the level of resistance you’re looking for, and your personal preferences.
By experimenting with different gears and resistance levels, you can find the right combination to create a challenging and effective indoor cycling workout.
Resistance mode is a feature found in some bike trainers that allows the rider to manually adjust the resistance of the trainer. When in resistance mode, the rider has to shift gears and/or adjust their cadence to meet the power target, just as they would if they were riding outdoors.
This is different from the ERG mode, which automatically controls the resistance of the trainer to match the power target set by the rider.
Resistance mode is also different from slope mode, which adjusts the resistance of the trainer to simulate changes in gradient but does not necessarily maintain a constant power output.
While resistance mode can be useful for riders who want more control over their training, it requires more effort and attention than ERG mode, which can be helpful for longer, steady-state efforts.
ERG mode is a setting in training platforms such as Zwift, TrainerRoad, and Wahoo SYSTM that fixes your power output by automatically adjusting the resistance on your smart trainer.
In ERG mode, the trainer regulates resistance so that you’re consistently outputting a predefined amount of power.
This means that if you set your power output to 200W, the trainer will adjust the resistance to maintain that output, regardless of your cadence or gear selection.
ERG mode is useful for structured workouts, as it allows you to focus on hitting specific power targets without worrying about shifting gears or adjusting resistance manually.
However, ERG mode may not be suitable for all workouts. For low-cadence workouts, it can be easy for the resistance to spike so high as to lock the pedals, making it difficult to maintain a smooth pedal stroke.
Additionally, some riders may find ERG mode to be too restrictive, as it can limit their ability to vary their power output and cadence.
ERG mode is a useful tool for structured workouts, but it may not be the best choice for all riders or all types of workouts. It is important to experiment with different modes and find the one that works best for your training goals and preferences.
Types of Bike Trainers
There are several types of bike trainers available on the market, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. The three main types of bike trainers are:
1. Wheel-On Trainers
These trainers are also known as smart trainers and are typically the cheapest and lightest option. They are called wheel-on trainers because they require you to attach your bike’s rear wheel to the trainer, which then applies resistance to the wheel as you pedal.
Wheel-on trainers can cause wear on your tires, but you can use specific trainer tires to mitigate this issue. The power measurement of wheel-on trainers is generally less accurate, and the ride feel is often not as good as direct-drive trainers. They are also the noisiest type of indoor trainer.
2. Direct-Drive Trainers
Direct-drive trainers require you to remove the rear wheel of your bike and connect your bike to the trainer via a standard cassette. These trainers are heavier and more expensive than wheel-on trainers, but their prices are becoming more competitive.
Direct-drive trainers offer a more realistic riding experience compared to wheel-on trainers, and they are considered the best turbo trainers for performance.
They have an in-built power meter and provide a more accurate power measurement and a better ride-feel than wheel-on trainers. Direct-drive trainers are also quieter and can provide resistance up to around 2000 watts.
3. Smart Trainers
Smart trainers are a category of trainers that can connect to various training apps and platforms, such as Zwift or Rouvy, to provide a more interactive and immersive indoor cycling experience. Both wheel-on and direct-drive trainers can be smart trainers, depending on their connectivity capabilities.
Smart trainers offer variable resistance when riding in virtual platforms, allowing you to simulate different terrains and training scenarios. They are a popular choice for cyclists looking to make their indoor training sessions more engaging and effective.
Changing Gears on Different Types of Bike Trainers
Different types of bike trainers have different methods of changing gears. Here’s a breakdown of how to change gears on wheel-on, direct-drive, and smart trainers:
- The rear wheel of your bike stays on and is set up against a roller.
- Changing gears on a wheel-on trainer is the same as changing gears on a regular bike.
- However, wheel-on trainers can cause wear on your tires, and their power measurement is generally less accurate than direct-drive trainers.
- Direct-drive trainers require you to remove the rear wheel and connect your bike to the trainer via a standard cassette.
- Direct-drive trainers offer a more realistic riding experience compared to wheel-on trainers, and they are ultimately the best turbo trainers for performance.
- Changing gears on a direct-drive trainer is the same as changing gears on a regular bike.
- Smart trainers can be either wheel-on or direct-drive.
- Most smart trainers and apps will automatically search for and connect to each other with the click of a button, so in practice, it’s usually very simple.
- Changing gears on a smart trainer is the same as changing gears on a regular bike.
- Smart trainers have an in-built power meter, which provides accurate power measurement.
- Smart trainers can also offer variable resistance when riding in virtual platforms like Zwift or Rouvy.
Changing gears on a wheel-on, direct-drive, or smart trainer is the same as changing gears on a regular bike.
However, direct-drive trainers offer a more realistic riding experience and are the best turbo trainers for performance, while smart trainers have an in-built power meter and can offer variable resistance when riding in virtual platforms.
Benefits of Simulated Gear Shifting
When using a bike trainer, it is possible to change gears to simulate different riding conditions and to make the workout more challenging. Some of the benefits of simulated gear shifting are:
- Better Simulation of Real-World Riding: Riding in gears that simulate what you would use outside can provide a more realistic training experience.
- Improved Hill Training: Indoor trainers are good for resistance and can help with practicing for hills, distance, and speed.
- Smoother Shifting: When using an indoor trainer, it is best to shift a few gears in order to create the least amount of impact change to the flywheel speed. This can make the shift smoother.
- Realistic Shifting Experience: Some smart trainers and smart indoor bikes offer virtual shifting that not only matches gear ratios but also uses haptic technology to simulate the feel of shifting your outside bike.
- Improved Steering Simulation: Some indoor trainers offer steering simulation accessories that can provide a more realistic riding experience by allowing you to steer the bike.
Simulated gear shifting can provide a more realistic and effective training experience for an indoor trainer.
However, it is important to note that ERG mode, which automatically adjusts the resistance to match your cadence, is an optional setting used by smart trainers and smart indoor bikes that can also be beneficial for training.
Training with Resistance and Cadence
When using a smart trainer, you can shift gears depending on the mode you are riding in. Smart trainers often use two modes: resistance mode and ERG mode.
In resistance mode, the trainer simulates the feeling of riding on the road, and you can change gears to adjust the resistance. In ERG mode, the trainer sets the resistance for you, and you do not need to change gears to adjust the resistance.
If you are using a wheel-on or direct drive trainer, you can also change gears while riding. However, it is recommended to maintain your gearing once you have set it, as changing gears may confuse your smart trainer and affect the accuracy of your power readings.
Training with resistance and cadence can help you improve your cycling performance. By adjusting the resistance and cadence of your smart trainer, you can simulate different riding conditions and work on specific aspects of your fitness.
For example, riding at a high resistance and low cadence can help you build strength while riding at a low resistance and high cadence can help you improve your pedaling efficiency.
Changing gears on a bike trainer is possible and can be useful for adjusting the resistance and simulating different riding conditions.
However, it is important to maintain your gearing once you have set it to avoid confusing your smart trainer and affecting the accuracy of your power readings.
Tips for an Effective Indoor Training Experience
If you’re using a bike trainer for indoor cycling, here are some tips to make your experience more effective:
1. Properly set up your bike on the trainer: Make sure your bike is securely fastened to the trainer and that the trainer is level. Use a front wheel stabilizing block if necessary.
2. Find the right training space: Choose an area, ideally inside or at least sheltered, where you can set up your bike and trainer. Some people go all-out and turn their garage into a “pain cave” dedicated to hours of indoor cycling, but you don’t need to go that far if you’re just getting started.
3. Use a fan: Set up a fan or two to keep you cool and comfortable during your workout.
4. Have a goal: Set a specific goal for your workout, such as a target power output or interval duration. This will help keep you motivated and focused.
5. Keep it interesting: Do something to keep your workout interesting, such as listening to music, watching a movie, or using an indoor cycling app like Zwift.
6. Use ERG mode strategically: If your trainer has an ERG mode, use it strategically to help you maintain a consistent power output during your workout.
7. Dress appropriately: Dress lightly, as you will likely generate a lot of heat during your workout. Shorts and a sleeveless base layer are all you need.
8. Protect your space and equipment: If indoor cycling is going to be a substantial component of your training time, create a dedicated space where you can leave the trainer and associated equipment set up between rides. This will save you time and make your experience more enjoyable.
Frequently Asked Questions Related to the Topic:
Can you change gear on Zwift?
Yes, you can change gears on Zwift when you are free riding or racing, as your smart trainer will change resistance to match the terrain. Changing gears is highly recommended if you want to conquer inclines on Zwift.
However, during an ERG-based workout, it is recommended to find a gear you like and “set it and forget it” as the smart-controlled trainer will adjust the resistance automatically.
While there is no clear “right” gearing for ERG mode, it is suggested to ride in gears that simulate what you would ride outside.
Do you use gears on a turbo trainer?
Yes, you use gears on a turbo trainer. The gear choice matters and should simulate what you would ride outside. If you are using a smart trainer in ERG mode for workouts, you do not have to shift gears to change the resistance, as the app will do it for you.
However, if you are using the turbo trainer to simulate riding up hills, you should change gears just like you would outside.
The mode used in apps like Zwift is called slope mode, and it will adjust the resistance based on the gradient of the virtual terrain.
In general, for flat and fast road riding, you should use higher gearing and faster flywheel speed, while for hilly road and/or off-road riding, you should use lower gearing and slower flywheel speed.
Can you change resistance on bike trainer?
It depends on the type of bike trainer. Fluid trainers, for example, do not have adjustable resistance, so the resistance cannot be changed. However, some smart trainers have the ability to automatically change resistance to meet workout portions.
Conclusion on Can You Change Gears on a Bike Trainer
In conclusion, it is possible to change gears on a bike trainer, whether it is a wheel-on or direct drive trainer. However, the ability to change gears depends on the type of trainer being used and the purpose of the training session.
When using a smart trainer, it is recommended to change gears just like you would outside, especially if you are using it to simulate riding up hills.
In general, changing gears on a bike is important to manage your cadence and speed, and it is better to ride at a more efficient cadence by shifting into an easier gear when pedaling too slowly. It is also important to practice shifting and experiment with different gears to find what works best for you.