Gears don't work - should I use a smart trainer?

I am currently using a 25 year old mountain bike with a Kinetic by Kurt Road Machine 2014 dumb trainer and a Wahoo bluetooth speed sensor to ride on Zwift. I am a 62 year old woman in decent shape but I am using Zwift for exercise and not any intensive training. This set up is great on the flat roads but because the gears on the mountain bike no longer work – I’m basically stuck in a low-middle gear – I can’t shift for more power on the hills. This makes for extremely slow rides up even low grade hills. (I tried cleaning out the shifting levers and lubing the derailleurs but when I shift the levers, though the levers move, the chain doesn’t respond at all. This is the extent of my mechanical abilities unfortunately.) I am trying to decide between three options in terms of expense and would appreciate your help in thinking through the pros and cons.

  1. Use the same bike but upgrade to a smart trainer. I’m assuming with a smart trainer, the gears don’t matter. Is that right?

  2. Stay with the dumb trainer but take the bike to a bike shop and have them fix the gears on the bike. I have another bike for real life so I will never use this bike outside anymore so the only reason to fix the gears is for use with Zwift.

  3. Stay with the dumb trainer but replace the mountain bike with a cheap used bike with gears that work.

I know there are a lot of unknowns here such as the cost of fixing the gears but I’m trying to decide which makes the most sense in the long run. I can get a power controller upgrade to my Kurt Kinetic for about $350 that is supposed to turn it into a smart trainer and am inclined to do that and not worry about my bike gears but I don’t know if I would still need gears on a smart trainer. I also don’t want to be stingy with my money if I am still not completely happy with the results.

What advice would you give me?

Good morning @Laurie_DeMott.

Even with a smart trainer you will still need gears.

So you have 2 options fix the Mountain bike or invest in a trainer bike.

This all depends on your financial situation. A good bike shop should be able to service your bike and get ready for Zwift.

Even a cheap used bike will need a service.

Sorry I’m not answering your questions, just giving you my input.

PS I have a 25 year old Mountain bike on my trainer, but I upgraded the whole drive train to road bike components.

That is helpful. Just knowing that I would need to be able to change gears even with a smart trainer helps me know where to start. Thanks.

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You are welcome.

Let us know if you have any questions.

Ride on!

Not if you’re using ERG mode … in this case you just leave the bike in a single gear and let the trainer adjust the resistance to the watts the workout is calling for.


I would only use ERG mode for workouts, right? In free riding, I would use gears?

Generally, yes. ERG mode is used when you, or a workout program, wants you to produce a specific power level.

That will only work in ERG mode. Free ride will still require gears.

Some ERG workouts will still require some shifting.

Since your “dumb” trainer does not change resistance according to the terrain in Zwift, it should feel the same whether you’re on the flats or on an incline. Going slower uphill is just a function of Zwift gravity.

I would look to get the bike shifting fixed anyway. It’s likely a simple problem. The limit screws may need adjusting. Or the cables and housing might need replacement. Both of those repairs are simple. If you happen to have an amateur bike mechanic friend nearby that might take that on for you.

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Thanks everyone. Because of your input, I stopped by my local bicycle place and will be getting the gears all fixed and maybe I’ll also think about a smart trainer in the future because I definitely think it will enhance the fun. That will be important come February when cabin fever has really set in.

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Hope they get you riding soon.

Let us know if you have more questions.