What To Look For
Bike trainers bring the outside in, allowing the competitive and recreational cyclist to train year-round regardless of weather conditions. As models on the market vary in features and cost, it's important to know going into your search how you'll be using your bike trainer. If you are a competitive athlete and need more advanced features like power meters and sync with a computer, your needs will differ from the recreational athlete who is more interested in logging some miles when the weather doesn't lend to riding outside.
The biggest mistake you can make when shopping for a bike trainer is not getting one that suits your ultimate goals. Consider the purpose of your trainer and what you need it to do for your training program. If you already have a bike computer, you may not need a computer trainer that offers the same features as your bike computer already measures. Contrarily, if you simply need a way to get some miles indoors, the more robust computer-based trainers are more than you need. Be sure to demo a trainer before you buy as well. They all have different feels and you'll find one that suits your pedal stroke and riding needs.
Where To Buy
Your local bike shop is an excellent resource for bike trainers. Bring your bike and take a couple of different trainers for a test spin. As most shops have an experienced sales staff of fellow cyclists, you'll have an immediate resource for finding the best bike trainer to suit your riding demands. They'll be able to point you to popular models and help you sort out the differences between them and how they relate to your cycling training plan for the year.
Bike trainers retail from the low $100 range for a basic magnetic trainer all the way up to the $1,000 level for high-end, computer-based trainers with built-in power meters as of February 2010. A good resource for price comparison is the Internet, as it allows you to price shop once you've decided on a model. In a pinch, you can shop your local classified ads to find a deal on a bike trainer.
Don't forget that trainers vary in type. The three most common types of bike trainers are magnetic/fluid, computer and rollers. Magnetic/fluid trainers are good for tight areas, with the magnetic versions costing less than identical models in a fluid version. Computer trainers are designed to be hooked up to computers and measure things like power output, cadence, pedal stroke efficiency and more. Rollers are minimal resistance trainers and simulate real riding the most. They are rollers installed on a platform and a favorite of track cyclists for warming up at high cadences.
Rollers often have front fork stabilizers available and are a sound accessory purchase if you're new to rollers. Perhaps the trickiest style of bike trainer to get used to, rollers are a great bike trainer accessory in and of themselves. Track cyclists find them imperative for high-cadence warm-ups and training sessions when weather doesn't permit riding outdoors on a velodrome.
If you're on a budget, check for used trainers once the weather in your area turns nice, then again in the fall at the end of the season.