I’ll say it: there are a LOT of good fluid trainers out there. We sell a few brands and are often asked, “Which one should I buy?” As with bikes, it depends on the person and the budget, but here are a few things that I’ve learned and experienced.
Blackburn Fluid 2
This is the least expensive fluid trainer we sell, but it has a lot of stuff going for it. The frame is incredibly stiff and sturdy. It has adjustable-height legs, which have two benefits: One is that it’s easy to adjust the trainer for an uneven floor; the other is that you can adjust the overall height of the trainer for different size tires/wheels and/or you can set the rear tire very close to the ground so that a block under the front wheel is unnecessary. The resistance unit on the Fluid 2 has a distinct feel compared to the others. It has almost zero flywheel effect, so no there’s coasting if you stop pedaling. Instead, you stop. Ryan likened it to riding a cyclocross bike on the grass as opposed to a road bike on smooth pavement. It’s not bad, but it is a bit different. Like all Blackburn products, it’s covered by a lifetime warranty. Very nice.
This trainer is technically known as the “fluid squared,” but that’s a bit tough to type. This is one of the legendary fluid trainers. The frame is stiff. It has very nice adjustments for an uneven floor. It’s very easy to load and unload your bike from the trainer with the bolt-action mounting system. The resistance unit is very good and has a nice freewheel action. It’s worth noting that CycleOps fluid trainers had a reputation for leaking. The resistance unit was redesigned around five years ago (if memory serves) and I haven’t seen or heard of a leaking CycleOps trainer since. This is one of the standards and is a real workhorse.
Kurt Kinetic Road Machine
Another workhorse, this trainer has two main selling points: realistic road feel by virtue of a heavy flywheel on its resistance unit and a leakproof fluid unit. The latter was a bigger deal when fluid trainers tended to leak. I’ve put many miles on Road Machines over the years and find that it’s a terrific trainer. If there is a weak spot with this guy, it’s the mechanism used to adjust the tension of the resistance unit. The threads can strip with extended use. The good news is that Kurt replaces the offending parts without fail, so it’s not much of a weak spot. This trainer also lacks adjustments to compensate for uneven floors, but that’s nothing a scrap of wood or cardboard won’t fix.
CycleOps Jet Fluid Pro
A newer model from CycleOps, the Jet Fluid Pro has all of the features of the Fluid Squared plus a few more. Notable is the fact that this trainer can actually handle a 29er rear tire while the others require the installation of a smaller road tire on the rim. Frankly, I don’t think this is a big deal in someone’s home, but it sure is handy in a bike shop. The method used to snug the resistance unit against the tire is a new and interesting design and is very handy if you need to swap bikes in and out of the trainer on a regular basis. If you’re a one bike/one trainer person, it won’t matter much at all. Still, this is a nice trainer.
Which one should you get? It’s all in what you want. The Blackburn is the least expensive of the lot and will serve you well. The Fluid Squared and the Road Machine are, as noted, tried and trued designs. They have slightly different pros and cons, but on the whole they’re just really good trainers. The Jet Fluid Pro is very impressive and would be an excellent choice if you need to swap bikes in and out of the trainer on a regular basis.
With any of these, all you need are a fan, some water and a stack of movies (or downloads) to help pass the time.