Bike trainer reviews 2019

Bike trainer reviews 2019 DEFAULT

A turbo trainer is perfect for following structured workouts at home on your own bike.

One of the greatest benefits of the best turbo trainers is that you can stick to your session without worrying about the weather. All you need is a powerful fan to stop you from overheating.

They use ANT+ and Bluetooth to track power, speed and cadence  when riding a bike at home, and some also pair with apps which control them in order to immerse you in a virtual reality cycling world. Our page on indoor cycling apps compared: Zwift vs TrainerRoad vs The Sufferfest directly looks at the differences between the most popular ones.

Turbo trainers are also a great option if you're recovering from an injury or lack confidence out on the road.

There are two categories: standard and smart, with the smart variety becoming increasingly popular as the tech improves, prices come down and more models become available.

The basic difference between standard and smart turbo trainers is that the smart ones are capable of connecting to computers, tablets and smartphones to help you get the most of your workout.

Turbo trainers are easy to fold up and store once you've finished your session, but if you're looking for a more permanent indoor set up then our guide to the best exercise and best smart bikes should help you decide what sort is right for you.

Our pick of the best turbo trainers

We've taken a detailed look at the top-selling smart trainers below, using Zwift as the virtual testing ground. We've also taken into account their user-friendliness, functionality, features, and price for an overall score.

We recognise that the top smart turbo trainers are a big investment, so if you are on a tight budget you'll be pleased to hear it's still possible to get a cheap Zwift setup . Scroll further down to read our verdict on some budget-friendly turbo trainers which you can use to get many of the benefits of the smart type.

If you are totally new to turbo training, our beginner's guide to indoor cycling has everything you need to get you up and running.

Bikes attach to turbos in two ways: with the 'wheel-on' type your bike is fixed to an A-shaped frame and its rear wheel drives a roller; with the 'direct drive' type you remove your bike's rear wheel and attach it directly via its dropouts to the turbo. Our wheel-on vs direct drive turbo trainers page weighs up the pros and cons of both.

The best direct drive turbo trainers

Wahoo Kickr smart turbo trainer

Best smart turbo trainer for features and usablity

Specifications

User friendly easy connectivity: ANT+, Bluetooth Smart

Smart Max Resistance: 2,200W

Max gradient simulation: 20%

Flywheel: Electromagnetic

Compatibility: Shimano/SRAM 10/11 speed

Thru-axle compatible: included

Weight: 21.5kg

Reasons to buy

+Feature-packed system+Stable base when riding+Easy to set-up+Folds away+Comes with Shimano 105 cassette

Reasons to avoid

-Needs power socket

The Wahoo Kickr was already a hit with us at the Cycling Weekly office and the winner of last year’s smart trainer grouptest, but it had some limitations in terms of outright performance and ride quality. Since then, Wahoo has given the Kickr a spruce-up and brings a number of key upgrades without increasing the price, making it one of the go to options as a first-rate turbo trainer.

However, what has increased is the weight of the flywheel to 7.25kg / 16lb, in turn, raises the overall weight to nearly 22kg / 49lb. Thankfully the ergonomics of the Wahoo Kickr and its well-positioned weight still make it one of the easiest to move around and store when space is tight.

The Elite Drivo II is lighter but the unit is so much larger we found it hard to put away and the weight isn’t distributed as well as the Kickr’s. You even get a Shimano 105 cassette, a big improvement on the cluster provided last time around.

Set-up is as easy as plug and play: compatibility with Zwift is very good. Readings, however, didn’t seem as stable as with the likes of the Tacx Neo; we didn’t experience any dropouts as we had on the previous version, the numbers did seem a little more erratic than with the Elite and read a little higher than we expected. The cadence sensor also seemed to read about 5rpm high, over counting in our head for a minute.

The Wahoo Kickr still remains one of the best on the market in terms of road feel and has sharpened that up with a bigger flywheel for better control and ride feel. As with any turbo, noise should be factored in and the Wahoo Kickr has improved again – although you can’t silence the drivetrain.

Other updates include a better overall wattage output, which increases to 2,200w. Gradients stop at 20%, slightly down on its rivals too.

Overall though, it is a great piece of kit and with the plus points far outweighing everything else.

Tacx Neo 2 Smart turbo trainer

Best smart turbo trainer realistic resistance without the noise

Specifications

Connectivity: ANT+, Bluetooth Smart

Smart Max Resistance: 2,200W

Max gradient simulation: 25%

Flywheel: Electromagnetic

Compatibility: Campagnolo/Shimano/SRAM 8-12 speed

Thru-axle compatible: with adapter supplied

Weight: 21.5kg / 47.39lb

Reasons to buy

+Rapid and realistic resistance adjustment+Quiet when running +Very stable under effort+Can function without a power supply

Reasons to avoid

-Hard to transport as no handle

The Neo 2T is the long-awaited sequel to the original Tacx Neo, possibly the longest-serving stalwart of the smart trainer scene - and possibly best loved, too. Superficially it’s difficult to tell the Neo 2T apart from the older version, only a splash of Tacx blue across the underside signifying the revamp.

It is inside where the updates are significant, making it one of our favourite turbo trainers. Tacx has worked hard to make the Neo 2T more usable with a redesigned motor producing more power, equating to an improved ride. It’s also much quieter than the previous version thanks to a redesign of the magnets, which has significantly reduced both noise and vibration. Even under heavy sprint loads we barely managed to get the decibel reading to move over 50dB, lower than a quiet conversation.

It has one of the largest footprints but the ability to fold it neatly away still makes it suitable for those of us who can’t have a dedicated training space at home. It’s also easy to fold and set up quickly but it, like some of the other trainers, lacks any sort of handle so manoeuvring it around can be a bit awkward. It has lost weight compared to the original but still weighs in at just over 21kg /47.39lb.

That wide footprint does have an advantage in that the Neo 2T is incredibly stable during heavy training efforts. You really can sprint to the max and it stays rock solid. Tacx has even built-in some flex to the main drive unit, allowing it to follow natural cycling movements, which goes some way to keep it feeling planted no matter what.

(Image credit: Riccardo Urnato Fotografo srl)

Elite Drivo II smart turbo trainer

Best lightweight smart turbo trainer

Specifications

Connectivity: ANT+, Bluetooth

Smart Max Resistance: 2,300W

Max gradient simulation: 24%

Flywheel: Electromagnetic

Compatibility: Shimano/SRAM 9/10/11

Thru-axle compatible: included

Reasons to buy

+Weight relatively low (helpful when setting up)+Accuracy of data+Stability when in use.+Quick-changing resistance

Reasons to avoid

-Size of system requires-Requires some assembling

The latest Elite Drivo II was designed to improve on everything the original Drivo was. That meant better road feel, better response to terrain change in apps like Zwift and improved power accuracy.

This is the first smart turbo we’ve used that requires some self-assembly. It isn’t that complicated and a wrench and an Allen key are supplied. You don’t get a cassette but you do get thru-axle compatibility.

Once the legs are in place you have yourself a big unit: set up side-by-side with a Saris H3, Wahoo Kickr or even Tacx Neo there’s no denying the Drivo II is portly.

There’s the added issue of the retractable legs that don’t sit flush with the unit when the arms are folded in. You can’t leave the legs out if you want to move the Drivo II as it won’t fit through the door! The upside is this makes for a wide footprint, and combine with the low center of gravity make it very stable. Even during big efforts the Drivo remains planted.

Pairing with Zwift was simple but we did discover that unless ‘erg’ mode was switched off during a training session on Zwift resistance could become unmanageable and you quickly grind to a halt.

Just riding Watopia we were very impressed with how fast and refined the Drivo II changed gradient: it can go from zero to 24% gradient in three seconds. And 24% is a whole 4% more than the Wahoo Kickr and is the highest output on the market despite the smaller flywheel – 6kg / 13.2lb compared to the Wahoo’s 7.25kg / 16lb.

The Drivo II claims to be one of the quietest but it does fall short of its competitors, such as the Wahoo. Accuracy is said to be the best on the market at +/- 0.5%, the Drivo II factory calibrated and never needing a zero offset.

Elite Direto smart turbo trainer

Best smart turbo trainer for performance without frills

Specifications

Connectivity: ANT+, Bluetooth

Smart Max Resistance: 2,300W

Max gradient simulation: 24%

Flywheel: Electromagnetic

Compatibility: Shimano/SRAM 9/10/11

Thru-axle compatible: included

Reasons to buy

+Reasonably priced+Accuracy of data+Stability of unit when using+Reliability when using (no connection issues)

Reasons to avoid

-Large size to move around-Not the quietest system -Weight of moving the turbo trainer around. 

The Elite Direto is the mid-market option from the Italian accessory brand, and has quickly become the weapon of choice for pro teams and amateurs alike.

With virtual cycling and indoor training growing in popularity, Elite has cemented its position in the cycling world by embedding the Direto in every corner. Having been used as a warm-up tool for the likes of Mark Cavendish, the Elite Direto was also used to launch the Zwift Kiss Super League earlier this year.

It’s also certified by Zwift, making it the perfect entry to the world of online virtual training, arguably making it the best turbo trainer for professional and well tuned riders.

With gradient simulation up to 14% and a max wattage of 1,400, the Elite Direto stacks up well against the Flux, which allows up to 1,500w but only reaches a 10% max gradient.

While the Drivo II reaches a whopping 2,300w and gradients of 24%, the Elite Direto is more than capable of handling anything your training software will throw at you.

One of the most important aspects of any device measuring power is its accuracy and also its consistency, ensuring you get the most out of your training.

The Elite Direto measures your watts with an accuracy of +/- 2%, which is less than the more expensive Elite Drivo II but more than the Tacx Flux S at less than 3%.

The down sides with this great smart turbo trainer is it's in-use hum, audibled from another room, its weight making it not the easiest system to pull out/ put away, and overall size means it does require its own corner even when not in use. 

Tacx Flux Smart turbo trainer

Best smart trainer for features for a wallet friendly price

Specifications

Connectivity: ANT+, Bluetooth

Smart Max Resistance: 1,500w

Max gradient simulation: 10%

Flywheel: Electromagnetic

Compatibility: Shimano/SRAM 8/9/10/11

Weight: 21.3kg

Reasons to buy

+Realistic ride feel+Very stable and quiet+Simple connectivity with third party devices/software

Reasons to avoid

-Non-folding design-Needs external power

The Flux is Tacx's direct drive trainer that comes at a more wallet-friendly price, making it an ideal turbo trainer for anyone watching their wallets. Out of the box the Flux is simple to set up and the easy to use smartphone app enables control of the smooth, powered resistance unit.

The trainer is capable of delivering up to 1,500 watts of resistance for sprint sessions and can consistently hold up to 850 watts for a minute and up to 450 watts for a 20 minute period. Whlist these figures are lower than some other smart trainers on the market, it should be sufficient for most riders.

The Flux can be adjusted to apply resistances equal to a 10% climb which is good for most hill training but lacks the 25% capability of the Neo for true mountain goat wannabees. It doesn’t feel quite so natural and ‘bike-like’ as the Neo or Wahoo Kickr due to the lack of motor-driven freewheeling capability, but is certainly better than most high-end wheel-driven trainers.

Elite Suito smart turbo trainer

Best smart turbo trainer on a budget

Specifications

Connectivity: ANT+, Bluetooth

Smart Max Resistance: 1,900w

Max gradient simulation: 15%

Compatibility: Shimano/SRAM 9/10/11

Weight: 14.5kg

Reasons to buy

+Easy to set up+Competitively priced+Smooth pedal feel

Reasons to avoid

-Not as accurate as top models

Elite's Suito isn't as accurate or as powerful as the top end models, but can rival most of their features at a much more accessible price point making it a terrific turbo trainer for many riders. It is a sturdy and robust turbo trainer which combines realistic ride quality with ample resistance, without creating a racket.

The legs come with adjustable supports, so you can cater for a wonky floor or patio. Extended, they create a solid base, which we found in testing was reassuring even during full-pelt sprints. They can also be tucked away, meaning the Suito inhabits minimal floor space.

With a power meter accuracy of +/- 2.5% the Suito's margin of error is wider than the most advanced trainers, like the Drivo II which can boast power meter accuracy of +/- 0.5%. But the Suito does come at a significantly cheaper price.

More direct drive smart turbo trainers

Best non-direct drive turbo trainers

Best non-direct drive turbo trainers

While the price of direct-drive turbo trainers is coming down, you can pick up a wheel-on smart trainer or standard trainer for a lot less. Here's some of our favourite options:

(Image credit: Tacx)

Tacx Flow Smart Turbo Trainer

Best non-direct drive turbo trainer all round

Specifications

Connectivity: Bluetooth Smart open and ANT+ FE-C

Smart Max Resistance: 800W

Max gradient simulation: 6%

Flywheel: Electromagnetic

Width of rear fork: Race 130 mm, MTB 135 mm. Adapters for other widths available (5mm QR supplied)

Weight: 9.41kg (20.7lb)

Reasons to buy

+Easy to fold and move around+Lower priced than direct drive+Intuitive Tacx app+Sturdy build

Reasons to avoid

-Max gradient simulation quite low-Less accurate than direct drive

The Flow Smart from Tacx strikes a great balance between connectivity and budget, allowing you to link it up to platforms like Zwift, TrainerRoad etc and enjoy the auto-changing resistance without the big price tag.

The max power is 800 watts, and max incline is 6% which will be enough for most riders, although some stronger cyclists may well find they max it out during a full pelt sprint, or find it slightly wanting on a climb. 

The Flow Smart uses Bluetooth Smart open and ANT+ FE-C to transmit data and has a magnetic resistance unit and provides cadence, power and speed outputs.

As well as being very competitively priced, the Tacx Flow Smart is very portable. The compact flywheel, which weighs 1.6kg, keeps the overall weight down to 9.4kg, making it very easy to fold away or transport in the back of the car for a pre-race warmup to be used as a standalone turbo trainer.

Wahoo KICKR SNAP Smart Turbo Trainer

Best non-direct drive turbo trainer with KICKR features in a cheaper package

Specifications

Connectivity: Bluetooth Smart open and ANT+ FE-C

Smart Max Resistance: 1,500W

Max gradient simulation: 12%

Flywheel: Electromagnetic

Width of rear fork: 130mm and 135mm Quick Release and12x142 Thru-Axle with adapter(sold separately)

Weight: 17kg (37.5lb)

Reasons to buy

+Same functionality as the Kickr+Much lower price point+Open API allows use of third party software

Reasons to avoid

-Wheel-on means tyre wear-Slightly less accurate power measurement

The Kickr Snap might not feel as smooth as the top end direct drive options, but it still offers a max power output of 1,500 watts before the resistance wavers, which is pretty hefty for most riders and making it one of the best turbo trainers for a lot less.

It'll replicate climbs as steep as 12% which will be more than enough to provide a good workout. You can even combine with the rest of the Wahoo ecosystem, including the Kickr Climb for front wheel grade simulations and the Headwind Smart Fan.

The ANT+ and Bluetooth connectivity enables compatibility with third party apps for auto-resistance control, and read out of power, speed and distance without connecting any extra sensors.

We found the ride feel much more realistic than with many trainers, with the heavy freewheel providing plenty of inertia, and we didn’t find get any significant wheel slip either. There’s enough resistance for the most strenuous workouts too. The Snap also comes complete with a front wheel riser block, allowing you to level out the bike when it’s in the trainer.

Elite Qubo Power B+ Smart Turbo Trainer

Best non-direct drive turbo trainer for travelling

Specifications

Connectivity: Bluetooth and ANT+

Smart Max Resistance: 900W

Max gradient simulation: N/A

Flywheel: Electromagnetic

Width of rear fork: 130mm and 135mm Quick Release and12x142 Thru-Axle with adapter(sold separately)

Weight: 8.7kg (19.2lbs)

Reasons to buy

+Good ride feel+Quiet system when riding+Lightweight unit+Quite high resistance for type

Reasons to avoid

-Accuracy not as good as direct drive

The Elite Qubo is a magnetic turbo trainer which comes with eight levels of adjustable resistance. It's ANT+ and Bluetooth ready, and if the likes of Zwift, The Sufferfest and TrainerRoad aren't up your street you also get a 12-month free subscription to Elite's own My E-Training app.

Overall, it's an impressive turbo trainer for the money.

The Elite Qubo uses what's called Crono Compass system, where the rider's weight directly affects the power output, providing a more accurate ride feel. It makes a lot of sense.

The auto-controlled resistance can provide up to 900 watts of resistance and provide speed, power and cadence ride data.

The Qubo's red elastogel roller uses a polyurethane compounded that Elite developed that improves tyre adherence while reducing noise and limiting wear on the tyre.

It's one of the best non-direct drive turbo trainers that balances all the important features for a price point. It's weight and foldable capabilities, coupled with it's low noise levels mean it's a great option for travelling and setting up in a hotel room or guest room. 

(Image credit: Saris)

Saris Basic Mag Trainer

Best non-direct drive turbo trainer for road side warm up

Specifications

Connectivity: Bluetooth and ANT+ on Smart version

Smart Max Resistance: TBC

Max gradient simulation: N/A

Flywheel: Electromagnetic

Width of rear fork: 120mm, 130mm and 135mm Quick Release and 12x142 Thru-Axle with adapter (sold separately)

Weight: 8.7kg (19.2lbs)

Reasons to buy

+Simple to set up and use+Low priced+Linear resistance feel

Reasons to avoid

-No auto-controlled resistance

If you simply want a turbo trainer you can hook your bike up to and pedal away on, then Saris's Basic Mag turbo trainer should be on your list.

You can still use apps like Zwift alongside a speed/cadence sensor if you like, but you just won't get the variable resistance controlled by an app.

However, there are five adjustable levels of resistance to choose from and the linear magnetic resistance has a realistic feel so that the harder you pedal, the more the resistance ramps up.

Saris also makes a Smart Equipped version which has a built-in speed sensor so you can connect directly to your training app of choice, and even provides a one-month subscription to the Rouvy virtual training app, making it a great turbo trainer for anyone on a budget.

The super simple Saris is idea for just getting on and riding, a perfect road side warm up option. 

More non-direct drive turbo trainers

Here at Cycling Weekly we're lucky (or unlucky, depending on your love of indoor riding) to test lots of turbo trainers. Not all hit the top marks for inclusion in our best turbo trainers buyer guide, but we do feel that the Jet Black Z1 Fluid Pro turbo trainer deserves a special mention for only just missing the cut. 

The Jet has been around a while now and to be honest that's one of the biggest reasons why it's not included amongst the other great turbo trainers listed here. You don't get any data, and only by using your gears do you get a change in the resistance, but it's a perfect pay and play model that is great for getting your indoor training experience going.

What are the different types of turbo trainer?

What are the different types of turbo trainer?

Magnetic turbo trainers

The most basic turbo trainers, these use magnetic resistance to imitate the feel of the road, and are generally the cheapest due to their simplicity. There are, however, few smart versions of them. Usually supplied with a manual resistance changer, their smart capabilities aren't as varied as others and can't be programmed to replicate a certain gradient or power resistance.

Fluid trainers

A step up from the magnetic trainers, fluid models are much quieter and have a progressive resistance curve, meaning the faster you get, the harder it is to ride. These are where the majority of affordable smart trainers will be based as there is more room to integrate smart capabilities to fluid trainers, have a good ride and still hit a lower price point.

Direct drive trainers

Direct-drive turbo trainers take the bicycle's rear wheel out of the equation by attaching directly to the drivetrain, hence the name. As the drivetrain is directly linked to the turbo trainer, taking its power measurements from the cassette rather than the tyre, direct drive is the most accurate type.

These turbo trainers are usually electronic and have be plugged into the wall so that their motors can be powered and resistance can be automatically altered once an app is controlling it. 

By forgoing the need for the rear wheel, you don't have to buy new tires as regularly as you would with any of the other trainers.

Smart turbo trainer alternatives

Along with exercise bikes and smart bikes, there are also some smart interactive rollers available on the market.

Rollers are the perfect training tool for those who are a little more confident on their bike or riders looking to improve the efficiency of your pedal stroke.

Because you're actually riding your bike and moving around, rollers don't suffer the same issues with on-bike comfort as turbo trainers do, and the floating system absorbs abrupt movement that would otherwise send you flying over the edge.

The other benefit of rollers is the ease of bike mounting. The Elite Nero Interactive, pictured above, are one which of our favourites, providing up to 830 watts max resistance and a 7% grade. You can read about these and see more on our best rollers for indoor cycling page.

Why choose a smart turbo trainer?

For many people a standard magnetic wheel-on turbo trainer may do the trick, but going for a smart trainer will ensure a much more engaging training session.

Firstly, their smart functions mean that they can connect to a whole host of software like Zwift, TrainerRoad and Skuga. Apps like Zwift interact with your turbo trainer to measure your effort and apply it to a virtual avatar riding against other people over the internet - much better than staring at a garage wall.

Other apps like Skuga and Road Grand Tour enable you to recreate any real Strava ride you've done. For example, if you found the perfect training route but can't get out of the house, the trainer can realistically mimic every dip and climb. You can even replicate a ride in the Alps in your living room!

The other main benefit is that you can complete your session without being interrupted by traffic, stoplights, hills or corners. If you've planned anything from power-based steady-state intervals to sprint reps you ideally need a consistency of conditions that you can't always find on the open road. 

If you are concerned about motivation here are eight ways to make your turbo training sessions more enjoyable to keep you consistent with your indoor training.

Smart trainers also offer the chance to record more data, on either one of the best bike computers or one of the best smartwatches for cycling, than you may have thought even existed. If you like numbers this is the way to go!

Sours: https://www.cyclingweekly.com/group-tests/smart-turbo-trainers-buyers-guide-326710

If you are like us, a good bike ride can make your day.  Getting outside, exploring, and having some sun on your face are all part of what we define as a great ride.  One of the problems with cycling, though, is that when the weather gets bad, conditions can keep you off the road or trail.  That is where bike trainers come in.

Maybe it is raining or is too windy outside, or perhaps you need to avoid rush hour traffic or an unsafe dusk ride.  This is when you just mount your bike on to a bike trainer and get the exercise that you want, but at home.  In fact, if done correctly, workouts on a trainer can be some of the best workouts you get anywhere, and will help you stay on your tri training plan even when cold, rain, or darkness aren’t conducive to it.  If you have a plan for your 45 or 60 minutes of spinning, it can be just like going to a hard spin class.

Riding on a turbo trainer often gets a bad rap.  It can be boring, you don’t get the excitement of moving outdoors, and sometimes it is just nice to get out of the house.  But trainer workouts can be intense, and give you some of the best cardio work you get all year.  In fact, the NIH has found that after 12 weeks of high-intensity cycling training, a measurable improvement in overall cycling efficiency occurs in most cyclist.  Start your outdoor season off with a good indoor base, and you will be feeling good by the time you get to your first race.

The bottom line is that high-intensity interval bike training works, so if you are looking to get faster in your cycling, incorporating trainer workouts into your season is critical.

Bike Trainer Basics

Bike trainer spin class triathlon

Like a spin class in your own home.

A bike trainer is typically made up of a frame, a clamp with which the bike is held securely, a roller that is pressed up against the back wheel, and a mechanism (whichever sort it may be) that is used to provide resistance (the exception being a more expensive “direct-drive” version, described further below).  The bike you plan to use is mounted onto the trainer so you can experience a workout comparable to an outdoor ride, just in a highly-controlled environment.

The smart trainers, which are a higher-end version of the traditional bike trainers, are typically direct-drive (meaning you take your rear wheel off and just hook the bike right up to the trainer).  These require just a bit more research, so we put together an in-depth smart trainer buying guide.  Check it out.

Some people use bike trainers for practice before triathlons or other cycling races, whereas others tend to use it as a substitute for riding outside if the weather is unfavorable.  Either way, a bike trainer can provide a high quality workout, and in many cases providers the rider with a more difficult and challenging ride, than riding outdoors.

What to Look for in a Bike Trainer

Today, there are a lot of turbo trainers or bike trainers in the market, each more fancy, well equipped or expensive than the other. To decide which one is best for you, keep the following in mind:

  1. Budget / Price. This one is a no-brainer. You obviously need to purchase something that you can accommodate within your budget, no matter how appealing a $900 bike trainer might seem to be.  The quality of your workout will more be determined by how hard you work than how much you spent on the trainer.
  2. Potential resistance. The “resistance” is the amount of power output — wattage — you are able to trainer before it maxes out.  If you are a beginner to biking, perhaps a more entry level bike trainer would be best for you. If you are training for more serious races and need precision in your efforts levels, then a more advanced bike trainer with a power meter might be worth the extra investment.  Most of us can’t get up to 1,000 watts of power, but if you are one of those who can get that high, some of the budget trainers might not be a match for you.
  3. Noise factor. Wind resistance trainers may be cheap, but can be much noisier. Similarly, fluid trainers are relatively less noisy but are far more expensive.  If you are working out in an
    bike trainer review

    Direct-drive trainers tend to be quieter to operate.

    apartment with two roommates, or a home with a little one napping in the next room, you might need to opt for quiet.  If you have a nice workout room that is relatively secluded, your options might be more.  Many bike trainers are now advertised with a decibel reading, so you can compare one against another.  If you go the smart trainer route, they have gotten way quieter over the past couple years.  Expect a new smart trainer to clock in at 60 decibels or less.

  4. Durability.  If you are going to be riding long distance or doing intense workouts, don’t skimp on the bike trainer.  As can be said with many types of workout gear, sometimes spending a little more on quality at first results in spending less in the long run.  We have used some well-made trainers for several years with virtually no maintenance required.  In cycling circles, it is often noted that the first thing to go is the fluid seal, and you get a fluid leak from a traditional trainer (not a problem with smart trainers).  We haven’t had it happen to us, though, and have had good success with our Kinetic and CycleOps trainers.
  5. Compatibility with your Bike.  This is usually not going to be an issue with most road, tri, and even mountain bikes, but it is good to be sure that the trainer and your bike will work well together.  We would say that 90% of road and tri bikes will work well with the trainer — the only issue is if your frame design has some type of fancy feature, especially on rear-most part of your frame and the rear dropout area.  Note that some bike manufacturers say that you void the warranty if you break a carbon fiber frame while using a trainer.  We have used carbon fiber bikes on trainers for years with no problems — but it is something to keep in mind if you have an uber expensive bike, or if you are a much heavier-than-normal rider.  If you plan to use the trainer with any type of power meter, do a little checking to make sure they will work together.  They probably will, if both components have been made in the past 3 years.
  6. Technology.  For many years, a bike trainer was a pretty simple piece of equipment with a roller, a way to clamp in your bike, and not much else.  More and more, however, trainers and spinners are becoming “smart” much like everything else is (which we cover in our smart trainer review). That means you can buy trainers with a built-in powermeter, or that can integrate with streamed workouts from paid online services.  Getting this technology will double your price, but for the right person it could be worth it.  This review is primarily about the standalone, non-smart trainers (but of course they can be used with streaming videos, they just don’t integrate the same way) although we did include the Wahoo Kickr which is in the smart lineup.  The world of smart trainers is so involved that we decided not to clutter this piece with all of that info, but be sure to check out our article devoted to Smart Trainers and Apps.

All of these factors, including space to store the trainer, etc., play into your decision of buying a particular bike trainer.

4 Best Bike Trainers on the Market

Saris Fluid2 Trainer

$$ – moderately priced.  Find here. 

A durable, trusty basic trainer (not smart trainer).  The Fluid2 is bulletproof, lasts a long time, and does its job. What more could you want?

Saris, the new branding name for the old CycleOps, is one of the leading bike trainer manufacturers in the world, with trainers being best sellers in the United States as well as being acclaimed by critics. One of their best sellers is the Saris Fluid2 Indoor Trainer, a model that garnered CycleOps a lot of respect, recognition, and revenue over the years.  We can speak from experience, the Fluid 2 works and lasts a long time.

cycleops

The Saris Fluid2.

Though the price point may be a bit daunting at first, users claim that it is worth every penny you spend. This particular trainer features a state of the art fluid resistance mechanism that makes riding a bike on this trainer a very ‘road-like’ experience, and also allows for a lot less noise. For professional and avid cyclists, bike trainers are boring and fake because of how stationary and unrealistic the riding experience is. With this one, however, the trainer offers a road like an experience to make it far more real and a lot more interesting. This allows for better practice as well.

Buying this trainer as part of a kit will give you the climbing block for your front tire as well as a sweat mat to put under the bike.  The Saris works well with both road (or tri) and mountain bike designs, but by far the best setup is with a road bike outfitted with a slick or trainer rear tire.

It comes with a “smart-equipped” option, meaning that you have a speed sensor allowing you to connect to apps like Zwift and Rouvy.  Make no mistake, though, it is not a smart trainer.  But people have gotten many, many great years of quality training without going the full smart route.

The adjustable foot pads, the hydraulic fluid used in the resistance, and the well-made frame all contribute to an excellent riding experience.

The “smart-equipped” option is here, on Amazon.

The basic option is here on Amazon.

Wahoo KICKR SNAP

$$$ – A little more pricey, but with more features.  Find here.  

wahoo kick snap best

Wahoo KICKR Snap

A good trainer that starts to introduce some basic smart features.  Wahoo has been making the KICKR lineup for several years, and with the Snap model, they created a version that is a basic trainer with some entry-level smart features.  This allows someone to dabble in the smart trainer without shelling out as much as $1,000 or more.

The Snap is a tire-on trainer that is designed like the Saris Fluid 2, but with one very important difference:  It is wired to send a basic signal to be compatible with smart cycling app features.  While we prefer the direct-drive models if we have the budget for it, the wheel-on model is better than nothing when it comes to smart features.

You use an app on your phone, tablet, or computer to control the resistance on the trainer (On a basic non-smart trainer, the only way to change your resistance is to shift into a more difficult gear).  You will be able to adjust for more difficult or easier workouts.  You can also easily use the trainer in non-smart mode if you just want to hop on and get a good sweat while listening to music.

If you are someone who plans to do 200 hours of Zwift over the winter, with hard workouts, you may want to go the route of a true smart trainer.  Otherwise, this is a good way to dip your toe in the water of the smart-training app world, for not that much more than a basic dumb trainer.

If you have the budget, consider the Tacx Flux 2 (which we feature next), otherwise this can be a nice option.  Find here.

Tacx Flux 2

$$$$ – Expensive

More expensive, but worth it.  A true smart trainer.  If you are in the market for a true smart trainer, we like the Tacx Flux 2 of this year’s crop as a great overall value.

tacx flux 2 trainer

Tacx Flux 2

A smart trainer is a game-changer, allowing you to seamlessly integrate with apps like Zwift and Trainerroad, among others.  It is a true, interactive experience, allowing you to constantly see your power stats, cadence, and feeling increasing and decreasing resistance as the workout or course changes.  In the case of Zwift, you can ride with friends or groups as well.

Saving the most expensive for last, this trainer is specifically for those who can justify spending nearly a thousand dollars on a bike trainer.  It falls into the category of smart trainers, where the going price starts at $600 and can go all the way up to $1,500 or more.  Considering the features that it comes with, the price tag can be justified.  This is a direct-drive trainer with smart technology, a couple game changers in one if you have never used one.

The direct-drive feature is nice because it removes the variability of tire pressure on the overall power transfer, and it also allows you to not worry about using a trainer tire while riding.  You literally just pop the rear wheel off, and hook your chain directly in to the unit while mounting on the trainer.  The smart features are intended for those who plan to use the unit with an a third-party app like Zwift.  A trainer like the Flux will fit perfectly into your overall Zwift setup and you will be smart-riding all winter long.

We have ridden all of the smart trainers out there — CycleOps, Saris, Wahoo, Tacx, etc.  Even Peloton.  Of the bunch, the Tacx is probably the quietest, but the high-end Tacx is quite expensive at nearly $1,500.  This model, the Flux 2, doesn’t have quite as large a flywheel as its big brother, but it will be plenty of power and responsiveness for 99% of riders out there.  The power ability maxes out at 2,000 watts, more than enough for anyone.  Most cyclists have a hard time ever hitting 1,000 watts, even for a few seconds.  A power meter by itself would normally cost $600 or more to put on your bike if you did it standalone, so using a smart trainer hits many birds with one stone.  On a smart trainer, you track power and other key output stats on any number of apps you can pair with the trainer.

The Flux 2 comes with firmware that automatically and simply connects to the app — not technical expertise is needed. And if you need a recommendation on an app, we like Zwift, Sufferfest, and Trainerroad.

This is a substantial investment, but worth it.    Find the Flux 2 here.

Kinetic Rock and Roll Trainer

$$ – budget priced.   Find Here.

kinetic rock and roll trainer best

Kinetic trainers.

Basic and non-smart, but it will still make you sweat.  Kinetic makes one of the most popular and high-quality bike trainers in the entire world. They have been making trainers in their distinctive green color since 1999.  Of course, the design has improved steadily since then, but they remain a go-to brand for anyone who wants the tried-and-true.

Bike trainer veterans claim that Kinetic is worth the money and the steep upfront cost that might seem daunting at first. Almost all of their trainers are acclaimed to be brilliant pieces of technology. Amongst their trainers is the Rock and Roll bike trainer that is by far one of the most sold and appreciated ones in the bike trainer industry.

What makes it so different from all the others is that it gives a more realistic ride than most other non-smart, “wheel-on” trainers. Even though a bike trainer is meant to keep the bike stationary, it is not as realistic as real riding. With this trainer, the bike can be swayed left to right exactly the way you would in an outdoor riding experience. Apart from this unique feature, the fluid resistance unit is one of the best in the market, and it slows even beginners to control and adjust resistance according to their needs.

If you are at this price point, you may want to consider a couple hundred more bucks on something like a Tacx Flux 2 — an affordable (relatively) smart trainer.  See more on the Flux 2 below.  However, if you are in the market for a classic-style trainer, this is a good one.

Though it is a significantly large trainer and is rather pricey for a non-smart trainer, the feel of the bike ride and the exceptional fluid resistance mechanism make this a must have for enthusiasts.  Find it here.

Should I Get a Smart Trainer?

We did an entire piece on smart trainers, here.

One of the most common questions we are getting now is if people should get a smart trainer or a regular trainer.  Our answer is usually the same: Make sure you get a good quality trainer of some sort, because even a non-smart trainer will do wonders do your indoor and offseason training and fitness.  From there, think about how important the community is to you, as well as how much you are already planning to spend.

If you are already going to spend $500 or more, consider just moving up to the smart trainer functionality so you have that ability if you want it.  If you are someone who really values riding as part of a virtual group or an interactive class, you will want the smart technology.  Otherwise, we can tell you that we have been happy for years — actually for a decade — with our regular trainer workouts coupled with the right workout videos for inspiration.  Even though the videos might seem very “2000”, we are here to tell you that you can get one heck of a workout from them.

One important note – setting up a smart trainer is quite a bit more involved than a traditional trainer.  With a traditional trainer, you take it out of the box, stick your bike on the trainer, clamp it in, put your front wheel on a block, and go.  With a smart trainer, you are likely removing the wheel and maybe even the cartridge, putting a cartridge on the smart trainer, plugging everything in, and then syncing the trainer to whichever app you are using.  If you want something that is really easy to plug-and-play on a random rainy day, a traditional trainer might actually be more your speed.

For the record, besides the Tacx Flux 2 that we write about above, the other smart trainer we really love for the money is the Saris H3.  Check out our Saris H3 review, here.

Fluid vs. Magnetic Bike Trainers

fluid trainer bike

A fluid trainer actually houses fluid which creates the resistance.

There are two main types of trainer mechanics, fluid or magnetic.  This is the core of the trainer, and what provides the resistance for your workout.

In a fluid trainer, the “roller” on the trainer connects to an impeller that rotates through fluid, providing the resistance for your pedal stroke.  In a magnetic trainer, there is no fluid involved.  Rather, there is a magneto which you can manually adjust to the desired resistance level.

Fluid trainers are typically viewed as the better of the two, when it comes to traditional trainers.  It gives you a more road-like feel, and the fluid typically allows you to increase your workouts to a very intense level without maxing-out the resistance.  Today’s fluid trainers almost never leak, a problem in years long past.  Fluid trainers are also quieter.

Magnetic trainers are simpler, and because of that they are usually less expensive.  The downfall is that they often are limited in the range they can give you, creating less variance in your workout feel, and a higher likelihood that you could actually outgrow the resistance if you become a very good cyclist.  Note that most smart trainers are made with magnetic technology, but it is quite sophisticated and an entirely different category than basic magnetic trainers.

If you are buying a traditional bike trainer (not a wired, smart one), go with the fluid.

Other Trainer Accessories

bike trainer tire

A trainer tire can withstand the friction of a traditional trainer.

In addition to the trainer itself, you might want to consider a few other accessories.

  • Training videos. In our opinion, these are indispensable and the reason you get a trainer.  There are several series of Cycling DVDs out there that will help you get the most out of our workouts. Having a focused training session will turn your trainer session into a spin class.  Done right, these will be incredible workouts.  You can usually find ones that are anywhere from 30 minutes to more than 90 minutes long, and they can either be in DVD form or streamed to a device or TV.  We recommend having at least 5-6 to choose from, as your available time and desired intensity will vary from day to day.  Our favorites tend to be the Spinervals series.
  • Tire block. Many trainers will come with a front tire block, but some won’t, especially if you get one used.  A block is key, because without it the rear tire will sit much higher than the front.  If you have the option of a new trainer with a kit, always do the kit — that means it includes the block and other accessories.
  • A mat can be useful under your bike, especially if you are doing workouts that will cause you to sweat.  Most mats will run between $35 and $50, like these on Amazon.  The sweat, over time, can damage some floors if you don’t promptly wipe it up – and after an intense workout, trust us when we say wiping up a pool of sweat is not going to be top of mind.  Mats are not rocket science — just get one that will serve the purpose, and don’t overthink it.
  • Trainer tire.  The problem with using your bike on a trainer is that it can really wear out a tire.  The friction of a tire on the trainer creates a lot of heat,which reduces the life of the rubber on a typical road bike tire.  That is why we recommend using a trainer tire for about $35.   It can withstand the heat and friction created by a traditional bike trainer.
  • bike trainer wheel setup

    We like to have a spire rim, cassette, and tire at the ready for a fast swap when we want to go on the trainer.

    Spare rim, cassette, and skewer (optional).  We often just mount it on an old, used rim and swap the whole wheel out each time we move the unit on or off the trainer.  This makes it easy to do a 5-minute change if you see that the weather is bad, or change your mind and decide to run outside.  It is much simpler (and cleaner) than the 10-15 minute process of putting the right tire on your rim.

  • Fan.  Nothing fancy here, a basic old room or office fan is all you need.  When you are riding in a static position indoors, without the breeze hitting your face, you will get hot faster, sweat more, and need some type of relief.  A good fan situated a few feet away can fit the bill.  Nothing fancy needed, just a simple one is fine.  You probably have a spare tucked away in your closet.
  • Towel.  For the same reason you need a fan, have a supply of small towels ready for your rides.  You will sweat, and a towel will help you stay dry.  I like to lay mine over the stem and headset bolts on my bike so the sweat does not corrode them.

Conclusion

With the options being so different from each other, definitely do your research and be sure that your purchase fits your needs.  The four we listed above are all ones that we would stand behind.

Note that demand for bike trainers exploded during 2020 due to the pandemic, and it might take a while for supply to catch back up.  Be patient and shop around — we do our best to keep any product links current.

A bike trainer, if used appropriately and regularly, can be worth every penny you spend.  After all, you are training on your exact bike, getting used to the saddle, angle, and all of its components, rather than having to get the feel for one bike in the summer and another in the winter.  If you are anything like us, you will get to the point where you crave some of your tough trainer workouts in the winter.

If You Found This Useful…..

Check out some of our other, recent cycling-related articles.

If you are Trying to Setup your Indoor Bike Trainer

We like this straightforward, no-salespitch video from South Shore Cycles in B.C., Canada

 

About the Author

Von Collins is an avid triathlete, cyclists, runner, and fitness enthusiast.  He is the author of the popular Your First Triathlon Guide, and several other fitness-related books.  Perpetually in training mode, he is constantly testing new gear and talking with other athletes about their observations.

Sours: https://completetri.com/indoor-bike-trainers/
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Best smart trainers 2021: top-rated turbo trainers

Training indoors used to have a fearsome reputation for being excruciatingly boring. The idea of spending time on a turbo trainer, self-flagellating yourself to heavy music while you stared numbingly at a wall, all in pursuit of some intangible fitness gains, seemed like a kind of madness.

However, thanks to the advent of smart turbo trainers and third-party interactive apps, training indoors has never been easier or, crucially, more fun.

If you’re looking to invest in an indoor training setup, then you’re in the right place. We’ve put the latest smart trainers through their paces to find out what’s really worth spending your money on.

What is a smart trainer?

Smart trainers are interactive turbo trainers that connect with apps such as Zwift, TrainerRoad, The Sufferfest and RGT Cycling to control the trainer’s resistance and replicate hills, headwinds and drafting effects inside virtual worlds.

These apps can also guide you through power-based interval workouts with the resistance automatically adjusting to keep you at the required power (known as ERG mode).

Today’s smart turbo trainers work by communicating with third-party apps on smartphones, tablets and computers using wireless ANT+ frequencies or Bluetooth.

It sounds complicated, but most of these trainers and apps will automatically search for and connect to each other, so in practice, it’s usually very simple.

Wheel-on or direct drive?

There are two main types of smart trainer: wheel-on and direct drive.

Wheel-on smart trainers

Wheel-on smart trainers function like classic, ‘dumb’ trainers – you clamp the rear axle into a support while your rear wheel rests on a roller drum. This drum is connected to a resistance unit that communicates with your chosen hardware and app to control the resistance you feel through the wheel.

These are typically the cheapest and lightest types of smart trainers, but they can cause wear on your tyres (though specific trainer tyres are available to mitigate this issue), their power measurement is generally less accurate and the ride feel often isn’t as good as direct-drive trainers.

Direct drive trainers

Direct drive trainers require you to remove the rear wheel and connect your bike to the trainer via a standard cassette. These are heavier and more expensive than wheel-on trainers, but prices are getting more competitive and they have a number of advantages.

Outside of the obvious one, a lack of wear on your lovely rear tyre, they also tend to be quieter and offer a more realistic, road-like ride feel. They are also usually much more feature-rich and accurate – in terms of power measurement – than wheel-on trainers.

Of course, price is always going to be a major consideration. So we’ve tested a range of options to suit as many budgets as possible, but there’s no denying these trainers aren’t cheap.

However, compared to a road bike groupset upgrade or even a new winter bike, they can offer good value if you want to be able to consistently and enjoyably train indoors.

Why should I train indoors rather than just ride outside?

This is a fair question and one that really has a very personal answer.

However, most of us will probably admit that we don’t enjoy getting wet, cold or dirty. Furthermore, if you live in a particularly busy part of the world, training indoors can be much safer – if you’re doing hard intervals to exhaustion or training in a time-trial position out on the open roads, you really need to be careful of traffic.

Training indoors can save you from all of that, and in a more positive light, training indoors can be extremely time-efficient. Virtual worlds such as Zwift are also so popular now that there are organised online group rides and races – there are even national championships and the UCI cycling esports world championships – so you can indulge your competitive urges to make it more fun.

Best smart trainers in 2021, as rated by our expert testers

  • Elite Suito: £649.99
  • Saris H3: £849.99 / $999.99
  • Tacx Neo 2T: £1,199.99 / $1,399.99 / AU$1,899.99
  • Wahoo Kickr: £999.99 / $1,199.99 / €1,199.99 / AU$1,699.99
  • Wahoo Kickr Core: £699.99 / $899.99 / €799.99 / AU$1,199.99
  • Elite Direto XR: £824.99 / $949.99 / €849.99 / AU$TBC
  • Saris M2: £425 / $500
  • Tacx Flux S: £549 / $749 / €599 / AU$1,000

Elite Suito

Simon Bromley/Immediate Media

  • Type: Direct drive
  • Maximum power: 1,900 watts
  • Maximum simulated gradient: 15%
  • Weight: 14.5kg
  • Flywheel: 3.5kg
  • Cassette included: Yes
  • Noise: 73dB
  • Price: £649.99 / $799 / €669 / AU$999 as tested

The Suito is Elite’s new, more competitively priced direct-drive smart trainer. It comes ready to use straight out of the box, so there’s minimal fuss involved in setting it up and getting riding. It’s a great plug-and-play solution.

It comes with an 11-speed Shimano 105 cassette installed, and there are adaptors for 142mm thru-axles and a front wheel riser block included in the box, all of which is especially noteworthy at this price point.

Ride quality is very good, especially considering it doesn’t have the largest flywheel out there, and we were impressed by its stability when really cranking things up.

It can simulate gradients of up to 15 per cent and has a maximum power of 1,900 watts, so really strong riders might find this unit a little under-specced, but for most people, this will be more than they’ll ever need.

Saris H3

Simon Bromley

  • Type: Direct drive
  • Maximum power: 2,000 watts
  • Maximum simulated gradient: 20%
  • Weight: 21.3kg
  • Flywheel: 9kg
  • Cassette included: No
  • Noise: 61dB
  • Price: £849.99 / $999.99 as tested

The H3 sits at the top of Saris’s smart trainer range and builds on the popular H2. Reducing the noise levels was one of Saris’s top priorities and it’s certainly achieved good things with the H3 – at just 61dB at 20mph (measured on an iPhone app), it’s very quiet indeed.

Ride feel is good, with the stout 9kg flywheel contributing to a very realistic experience. At 21.3kg, it’s also a very solid platform, and while this does make it quite hard to move around, Saris has at least included a handle in the design, which makes things considerably easier.

The H3 is capable of 2,000 watts of power and 20 per cent gradients. Power figures were within the claimed +/- 2 per cent accuracy, which should be more than enough for most riders. At £849.99 it’s also competitively priced, so there’s a lot to like.

Tacx Neo 2T

Simon Bromley/Immediate Media

  • Type: Direct drive
  • Maximum power: 2,200 watts
  • Maximum simulated gradient: 25%
  • Weight: 21.5kg
  • Flywheel weight: Virtual
  • Cassette included: No
  • Noise: 61dB
  • Price: £1,199.99 / $1,399.99 / AU$1,899.99 as tested

The Neo 2T is Tacx’s top of the range smart trainer, and it’s priced accordingly. It looks like a spaceship and its spec and performance are pretty futuristic.

The Neo 2T uses an arrangement of magnets to create a virtual flywheel, and this offers fantastic ride feel, along with the ability to change the level of inertia depending on the virtual terrain. Tacx also claims the Neo 2T power measurement is accurate to +/- 1 per cent, which is up there with the best.

At this price, it’s a little disappointing that a cassette isn’t included, but that’s only a minor nitpick. Overall, the Neo 2T is about as good as it gets in terms of performance.

When you consider that it can be used without a power source (making it useful for pre-race warm-ups) and that it’s also one of the quietest trainers available, you have a very compelling package. The only real problem is whether you can afford it or not.

Wahoo Kickr Smart (2020)

Simon Bromley / Immediate Media

  • Type: Direct drive
  • Maximum power: 2,200 watts
  • Maximum simulated gradient: 20%
  • Weight: 21.5kg
  • Flywheel: 7.25kg
  • Cassette included: Yes
  • Noise: 61dB
  • Price: £999.99 / $1,199.99 / €1,199.99 / AU$1,699.99 as tested

The Kickr is Wahoo’s top of the range model. It offers a fantastic ride feel, thanks to its relatively large 7.25kg flywheel, and it’s also wonderfully quiet.

Setting the unit up is very easy, with Wahoo including a cassette and a generously sized power cable, so you shouldn’t need extension leads. Once the bike’s installed, it offers a very solid platform for sprints up to 2,200 watts and gradients up to 20 per cent – these aren’t the highest maximums, but they should be plenty for most of us.

Power accuracy has increased over the 2019 version, up from +/- 2 per cent for the previous model to just +/- 1 per cent, and the trainer is now able to automatically calibrate itself without a traditional spin down.

Wahoo also amended the trainer’s supporting feet over the previous design too, to allow for five degrees of lateral tilt and help give a more realistic ride feel.

The Kickr doesn’t have any absurd headline features or specs, and it doesn’t come cheap, but it does everything brilliantly and without fuss. Our tester called it “the gold standard of smart trainers”.

Wahoo Kickr Core

Simon Bromley/Immediate Media

  • Type: Direct drive
  • Maximum power: 1,800 watts
  • Maximum simulated gradient: 16%
  • Weight: 18kg
  • Flywheel: 5.4kg
  • Cassette included: No
  • Noise: 70dB
  • Price: £699.99 / $899.99 / €799.99 / AU$1,199.99 as tested

Though it sits in the middle of Wahoo’s Kickr range, the Kickr Core is its cheapest direct-drive trainer.

Claimed power accuracy is +/- 2 per cent, which is as good as Wahoo’s higher-end Kickr model, and our tester was very impressed by its ride feel, despite its smaller flywheel.

Setup is also easy, with the unit’s legs simply needing to be bolted on. There’s no cassette included though, so you’ll have to remember to factor that in.

If you’re happy with the maximum power and gradient figures of 1,800 watts and 16 per cent, then the Kickr Core is a great option at a competitive price.

Elite Direto XR

Simon Bromley / Immediate Media

  • Type: Direct drive
  • Maximum power: 2,300 watts
  • Maximum simulated gradient: 24%
  • Weight: 15.8kg
  • Flywheel: 5.1kg
  • Cassette included: Yes
  • Price: £824.99 / $949.99 / €849.99 / AU$TBC as tested

Priced between the cheaper Suito and top-of-the-range Drivo II, the Direto XR is an update to Elite’s Direto X direct-drive smart trainer, getting a heavier flywheel, an increase to the maximum simulated gradient and a higher maximum power.

The trainer comes with absolutely everything you need out of the box, including an 11-speed cassette. We wish the legs had a quick-release mechanism for folding them away, but the unit’s (relatively) low 15.8kg weight makes it less of a chore to move around than others.

In testing, we found the trainer to be pleasingly quiet, with excellent ride quality and accurate power numbers to boot.

Saris M2

Simon Bromley

  • Type: Wheel-on
  • Maximum power: 1,500 watts
  • Maximum simulated gradient: 15%
  • Weight: 9kg
  • Flywheel: 1.2kg
  • Cassette included: Not needed
  • Noise: 75dB
  • Price: £425 / $500 as tested

The Saris M2 is a relatively affordable, wheel-on smart turbo trainer. Using a classic A-frame design, it only weighs 9kg, making it easy to move around, and it folds up neatly for easy storage.

For a wheel-on trainer, the Saris M2 is noticeably quiet. It can’t quite compete with the better direct-drive trainers, but it’s not far off (tyre choice will affect this, though).

Ride feel is good, if not spectacular – largely due to the fact that it only has a 1.2kg flywheel, meaning it struggles to compete against more expensive units – and we also found the power accuracy to be better than the claimed +/- 5 per cent, once properly calibrated.

Tacx Flux S

Simon Bromley

  • Type: Direct drive
  • Maximum power: 1,500 watts
  • Maximum simulated gradient: 10%
  • Weight: 23.6kg
  • Flywheel: 7kg
  • Cassette included: No
  • Noise: 60dB
  • Price: £549 / $749 / €599 / AU$1,000 as tested

If you’re looking for a direct-drive smart trainer, but can’t quite stomach the prices of some of the high-end models, the Tacx Flux S might be the one you’ve been looking for.

It’s easy enough to set up, simply requiring you to attach the legs to the resistance unit with the supplied Allen key. There’s no cassette in the box though, so you’ll have to get one of those before you can start riding.

With its 6.7kg flywheel it has a good ride feel, but there is a ceiling of 1,500 watts power and just 10 per cent simulated gradients, which might occasionally be limiting for stronger riders in comparison to other trainers.

The only other niggle is that the trainer doesn’t fold up for easy storage – the legs are simply fixed in place with bolts. This won’t be a problem if you have a dedicated pain cave, but if you need to be able to easily stow it away, this might be a dealbreaker.


What to look for when buying a smart trainer

How did we test?

When testing these units, we first considered the price of each trainer and what is included in the box — adding on things such as cassettes, spacers or adaptors can add a premium and are worth factoring in.

We then considered how easy it was to set up the trainer, and how easily it paired with Zwift.

Next, we tested the ride quality on Zwift to see what the trainer felt like at a constant power, as well as when accelerating, climbing and sprinting out of the saddle.

This looked at both the physical stability and how the trainer reacted to Zwift, including changes in terrain and changes in power. These power results were compared with Garmin Vector power meter pedals.

Flywheel

A flywheel helps to create a road-like feel due to the kinetic energy they’re able to store, and the resultant inertia they give – essentially, when you stop pedalling it should feel like you are coasting on a real road.

It’s generally considered that the heavier the flywheel, the better the ride feel ought to be, but this isn’t always the case. Construction, materials and design all play a role, and some brands are in fact now using virtual flywheels with magnets.

Though more expensive, virtual flywheels have the advantage of being able to change the level of inertia depending on the virtual terrain – so climbing should feel different to riding on the flat, just like in the real world.

Weight and packability

Trainers come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and weights. Wheel-on trainers are, more often than not, the lightest and most packable kind of trainer.

Direct-drive trainers tend to be much, much bulkier. Though size and shape can vary wildly – with some models folding up to a very slim form – they tend to all be pretty heavy regardless.

If you’ve got a dedicated pain cave, it may not matter at all how big and heavy your trainer is. But if you have to set it up and pack it down before and after every session, then you’ll need to take this into consideration, especially if you have cyclists’ arms.

Power and gradient

Trainers have different maximum power figures that correspond to the amount of resistance they’re able to generate. They range from 1,500 watts to over 3,500 watts, but 1,500 watts should be plenty for most people, and 2,000-watt models ought to be enough for practically everyone except professional sprinters.

The gradient figures relate to the maximum incline a trainer can simulate – given in per cent, like on the road. Again, a lower figure isn’t going to hinder your training, it simply means those trainers won’t be able to simulate the virtual world perfectly whenever the gradients go beyond what the trainer is capable of.

Noise

Trainers used to be notoriously noisy, but there have been vast improvements made over the past few years. On-wheel trainers are still typically louder than direct-drive trainers, but the gap has narrowed considerably.

The quietest trainers are direct-drive though, with some models being so quiet that the sound from your drivetrain becomes the main source of noise.

If you want to be able to train inside your house or flat early in the morning, perhaps before your partner/family/housemates wake up, or after work when they’re trying to watch their favourite series in the next room, a quiet trainer is a must.

Useful accessories

First of all, most smart trainers need to be plugged into the mains electricity supply in order to function properly. A good quality extension lead might therefore be necessary, depending on where you’re going to set up the trainer because the supplied plugs don’t always have super-long wires.

We recommend using Bluetooth to connect all of your hardware together, but if you have ANT+ accessories (such as an older power meter or a heart rate monitor) that you also want to connect, then you’ll need an ANT+ dongle for your laptop or tablet.

You might need a riser block for your front wheel. Whether you do or not depends on each model of trainer, but it’s worth checking because those that need one to level you out don’t always come with one included.

They’re not essential, and you could theoretically use a yellow pages (if those still exist) or a bit of 2×4 to level things out, but a dedicated riser block will work better and they’re not that expensive (unless you want it to be, in which case Wahoo will sell you its Kickr Climb gradient simulator).

A trainer mat of some sort – preferably one that’s rubberised – will help catch your sweat and will also help damp vibrations and keep noise levels down, especially if you’re using your trainer on a wooden floor (which tends to amplify the sounds).

Sweat nets that cover your top tube, steerer tube and stem might also be a good investment to protect them from perspiration and corrosion, but what you really want is a big, powerful fan. Something around 20 inches will do, or if you’re really flash you can get a ‘smart’ fan such as the Wahoo Kickr Headwind.

If you’re using a laptop or a tablet then a specific stand to hold it in front of you is very useful as well, or if you want to use a TV, the Apple TV box is able to use the Zwift app.

Sours: https://www.bikeradar.com/advice/buyers-guides/best-smart-trainer/

The Smart Trainer Recommendations Guide: Winter 2019-2020

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Heads up! The 2020-2021 Smart Trainer Recommendations Guide is now up! Go check out that one, instead of this stinky old 2019-2020 guide!

The trees are turning colors and the leaves are falling. Except if you live in Australia. But for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere you’re probably thinking about spending more and more time indoors on a trainer, and perhaps looking at a new trainer.

Of course, over the last few years we’ve seen a shift towards year-round indoor training. Certainly many people trained at least part of their workouts year-round indoors, but with apps being more and more engaging (and driver interactions getting worse and worse) – people are simply spending time even on sunny days indoors riding.

Now in years past I’ve covered all trainers, from $70 units up to $1,600 trainers. But for this year’s post(as with last year’s), I’m really going to focus only on smart trainers. Specifically ones that transmit some sort of ANT+ and Bluetooth Smart signal (dual/concurrently), and allow control of the trainer itself (via ANT+ FE-C and/or Bluetooth Smart FTMS). In other words: A company has to follow the well recognized standards to even be considered for this list.

In any case, we saw new smart trainers (or indoor bikes) from virtually every major brand this year, as well as some smaller brands. Some of them made big jumps, while most made more incremental bumps in specs and features. Evolutionary – not revolutionary. And some of them just issued moderately big firmware updates adding new features.

At this point almost every trainer announced this season has started shipping. There are some exceptions though, and as such – I’ll note why those aren’t on the recommended list and where they might stand on a provisional list until I get them in-house to test. Generally speaking, I’m not going to recommend something unless I have a unit in the DCR Cave (exceptions are noted as such). So for things that are still outstanding, it’s tougher for me to recommend them at this time. I have notes at the bottom of this post for all my caveats and why-nots.

Finally, for indoor bikes – specifically the Tacx NEO Bike, Wahoo KICKR Bike, and WattBike ATOM, I have a separate shoot-out post coming up next week that tackles that individually.

How I Make Trainer Recommendations:

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First and foremost, I only recommend trainers I’ve actually used.  Certainly, there are some trainers that were announced this year that aren’t yet available – you won’t find those recommendations here unless I have a unit on-hand. An example of this being the Elite Tuo – I think it could be a stand-out option in the budget wheel-on category. But my only experience is a couple of minutes of pedaling a prototype at Eurobike. So it’s hard to judge things like accuracy or total ride feel until they’ve got production units (apparently within a few weeks). So in the two specific examples where I think it could be a solid contender but don’t have full testing time, I’ve listed them as ‘Provisional inclusions’. In other words, it’s worth placing a pre-order you can cancel later if my full review finds they fall flat.

When I look at recommendations across all products I make, I try and recommend products to you in the same way that I’d do to friends and family.  I keep it simple and explain exactly why I feel a given way.

My goal is NOT to make a roundup of every trainer on the market.

Though I will briefly discuss why I didn’t include some trainers in this piece at the end.  This is, again, my *recommendations*, not the holy grail of everything ever made by everyone.  Still, I’m lucky enough to have been able to try almost everything made by all the major trainer companies this year, at least at the mid to upper end (I don’t tend to review the 112 different models of trainers from $75 to $200).

Price Ranges & Currencies:

Over the last few years we’ve continued to see major shifting in price vs feature-set combinations.  For example, functionality and accuracy that used to be reserved for $1,200 trainers has slid down to $900 trainers and even $700 trainers.  I had to change my price bucketing last year to account for this (again). My purpose isn’t so much moving the goalposts, as it is making the groupings more logical.  Meaning, someone looking to spend $599 is probably OK spending $699, and someone teetering at $529 might be OK spending that $699 too if the benefits make sense.

Meanwhile, someone looking for a $599 trainer isn’t likely the same person as one looking at a $1,199 trainer.  So, here’s the 2019 buckets, aligned to the trends of trainer pricing in 2019:

Budget – Sub-$500: Most of these (all of these?) are wheel-on trainers that have basic smart trainer functionality (including replicating climbs, setting specific wattages, and working with apps). However, they tend to be less powerful trainers and may not be as accurate or as realistic feeling.

Mid-Range $500-$700: These tend to be units that have everything of the price bucket below it, but usually with just a bit more accuracy and a bit more power. Often with that slightly better road feel.

Mid-High End $700-$975: This category exists because there’s a clear line in the sand between the flood of sub-$599 trainers, and the flotilla of $700-$800 trainers.  I just don’t think it makes sense to put them in the lower-priced category, though the case could easily be made that they compete with the $1,000+ trainers (and are almost universally a better buy). The key difference here tends to be accuracy and road-feel, once again stepping it up a bit.

High-End $999+: These are the high-end trainers, and primarily distinguish themselves from the mid-range by increasing durability, reducing noise, increasing road-like feel, incline/wattage increases, or just being expensive for the heck of it (i.e., legacy branding/marketing).

Now – you’ll notice the dollar signs, which in this case is implying US pricing.  I call this out specifically because the whole pricing business has gotten kinda wonky, especially in the differences between US and European markets.  There are specific cases where something may have a price gap in one market (i.e., KICKR vs. NEO in the US), yet be nearly identical in other markets (some European countries).  Similarly, the European markets generally get a better deal on European-made products (Tacx/Elite), while US consumers tend to get better pricing on US-made products (Wahoo).  All of which ignores the reality of MAP (Minimum Advertised Pricing), which exists in the US and doesn’t exist in Europe.

Next, be wary of purchasing trainers outside your home country (meaning, if in the US, buying from a retailer in Europe).  This is because if you have a problem, you’ll be on the hook to pay for shipping of the trainer back across the pond for service.  As one who does that regularly, it’s @#$#@ expensive. If you don’t believe me, go and look at the older 2015 trainer recommendation post, and see the river of tears for folks who have had to deal with cross-Atlantic shipping of cheap trainers they bought when things went wrong.  By all means, if you understand the risk – buy where it makes sense.  But do understand it’s a very real risk.

And finally, note that I tend to focus on trainers that have some element of technology in them.  It’s not that I think that all non-technology trainers are the same (cause they aren’t…well…except that most are), but it’s because that’s just what I happen to review the most here.

There’s a lot of things to look for in a trainer – but some are applicable across the board from a sub-$100 unit to a $1,500 unit.

First and foremost, it needs to be sturdy.  The more plastic involved, the less likely it’s going to last over time – at least on vulnerable and load-bearing components/areas.  Take for example, the old CompuTrainer, otherwise known as the rock.  A tank really.  I’m certain I could throw that in front of a semi-truck, and it’d probably be fine.  As such, those units last 10-15 years (or more).  In fact, I don’t know anyone who’s ever broken a CompuTrainer frame (ok, ignore the flywheel).  Some electrical components eventually wear out, but the frame is astoundingly sturdy.  I find the Wahoo KICKR in that same camp.  It’s a beast component-wise.  In many ways, the KICKR SNAP frame is the same way – as are the Kinetic frames too.

Inversely though, while the Tacx NEO series shell is made of plastic, directly under that layer is a metal frame. And nobody is kicking the side of their trainer randomly from that angle. Frankly, looking at anything on this list there’s no durability-type issues. The ‘worst’ durability type issue we’ve seen is the stickers (chevrons) on the back of the Wahoo KICKR/CORE trainers flying off the flywheel. Which I feel is almost a badge of honor that you put out that much wattage.

IndoorTrainer-Materials

Second, look at the attachment point to your bike.  I’ll start with the ones that leverage a skewer of some sort and don’t require removal of the wheel.  In these cases, try to find one that has a ‘quick-release’ mechanism for quickly locking the trainer into place.  One that doesn’t require you to endlessly spin the tightening lever and try to find an exact spot each time.  See below for an example of a quick-release lever on the mid-range Tacx options:

IndoorTrainerMount

In the case of trainers that you attach your bike directly into a cassette mounted on the trainer  – called ‘direct drive trainers’, be sure that it’ll be compatible with your bike frame.  There are only a few edge cases where an incompatibility occurs (primarily higher-end bikes, usually of the triathlon or disc variety), but just be aware of them.  Many trainer companies have printouts on their support sites where you can double-check frame compatibility on your bike.

And if you’ve got a disc-brake equipped bike, ensure that the trainer you’re purchasing includes the adapters for that. Generally speaking, most trainers include 130/135 x 5mm & 142 x 12mm adapters, but require you purchase extra adapters for other sizes. Beware if you’re looking at an older unit (like 3+ years old), as many of these didn’t support thru-axle natively, or even at all. These days in 2019 it’s less of an issue.

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Speaking of fancy, if you’re going with something like SRAM’s AXS 12-speed bikes, be sure that your trainer works with that. Most companies have adapters (and in many cases finally just released them in the past few months), but not always. I *strongly* encourage you to e-mail the company in question and ask them about your specific bike and the specific trainer to validate compatibility.

Third, look at how stable the platform is.  The smaller the base of the trainer, the more likely it is to tip over (and you along with it).  And while tip-overs are extremely rare – they are a problem on lower end trainers ($50-$150) where the base is really small.  This can be further compounded when the trainer mounts the wheel higher up – meaning a higher center of gravity.  It’s not hard to get a situation where you try and reach for a TV remote control, or something off to the side, and fall over.  None of the trainers I’m recommending have this issue, but in general, keep it in mind.

Fourth, direct drive or wheel-on? If you went back 3-5 years ago, only the most expensive trainers were direct drive and the rest wheel-on. But these days direct-drive smart trainers are down to $699, and that’s great for consumers. Wheel-on trainers mean that you mount the entire bike, inclusive of your back wheel, to the trainer. Whereas direct-drive trainers mean you remove the back wheel and attach the bike directly to the trainer (via a cassette on the trainer). This means that you generally don’t get any tire slip on direct drive trainers, and for many models you can also get away without having to do calibration/spin-downs.

DirectDrive-KICKR-COREWheel-On-KICKR-SNAP

These days my preference is overwhelmingly direct-drive, but I also totally get that such a trainer may be out of the ballpark of one’s budget.

Fifth, how do you move it around? This might sound silly – but if it’s a heavier trainer (which is most mid-range and above trainers), then is there some sort of handle to move the darn thing around? Most of these trainers come in at nearly 50 pounds (about 23KG) – so they’re beastly.

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Again – virtually everything on this list has already taken into account all of these considerations. But still, it’s worthwhile thinking of them and how they factor into your decision-making process.

Trainer-ANT-BluetoothSmart

Ok, we’re almost to the recommendations.  But we need to all be on the same table when it comes to some of the technical terms that we’re going to talk about.  Notably, the protocols and communications side of how trainers talk to apps.

In the sports world there are essentially two camps: ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart.  Virtually all devices use one or both of these low-power technologies to transmit and capture information such as heart rate, power, speed, cadence, and more.

In the trainer realm, that means trainers tend to support two types of things over these protocols.  The first is simple broadcasting (one-way) from the trainer to the app/device that you’re using.  This is done for the following on trainers:

ANT+ Broadcast: Power, Speed, Cadence
Bluetooth Smart Broadcast: Power, Speed, Cadence

Compatible devices, such as a Garmin/Suunto/Polar/Wahoo unit can pick up these signals and record them.  The same goes for apps like Zwift, TrainerRoad, or Rouvy.  Almost all trainer companies now broadcast dual on both protocols concurrently. No trainers in the 2019 guide fail to meet this requirement, to me it’s considered a baseline specification.

Next, for control there are basically two semi-standards that allow trainers to be controlled via apps:

Open/Standard Communication Channel: Via ANT+ FE-C (all trainers use this today) or Bluetooth Smart FTMS (most trainers have this today as well).
Private communication channel:
Prior to FE-C and and FTMS there wasn’t a standard. So each company did their own thing. Wahoo, CycleOps (now Saris), Tacx, Elite, Kinetic, etc… Most of these companies now support the ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart standard versions, but some of them also support their older variants to help out older apps.

For ANT+ FE-C, devices such as the Garmin and Wahoo cycling units support controlling the trainer straight from your head unit.  This also means you can re-ride your outside rides (elevation changes and all) without any other software.

Meanwhile, for Bluetooth Smart, there’s FTMS, which is basically the same thing as FE-C when it comes to trainers. It’s not quite as widely adopted yet by trainer companies, but is by app companies. On the trainer company side only Elite, Saris, and Kinetic support it across the board. With Tacx having it on some but not all units, and Wahoo having it on no units (but all Wahoo and Tacx trainers support private Bluetooth Smart with all major apps anyway).

Ultimately, almost all major apps support all companies’ Bluetooth Smart implementations (whichever variant they’re on).  Where the issue matters more is smaller apps that may not have the time to implement all the variants.  Nonetheless, here’s where things stand.

Elite: ANT+ FE-C and Bluetooth Smart FTMS on all 2019 smart trainers.
Gravat: ANT+ FE-C and Bluetooth Smart FTMS on all 2019 smart trainers
JetBlack: ANT+ FE-C and Bluetooth Smart FTMS on all 2019 smart trainers.
Kinetic: ANT+ FE-C and Bluetooth Smart FTMS on all 2019 smart trainers.
Minoura: ANT+ FE-C and Bluetooth Smart FTMS on all 2019 smart trainers.
Saris (CycleOps): ANT+ FE-C and Bluetooth Smart FTMS on all 2019 smart trainers.
STAC: ANT+ FE-C and Bluetooth Smart FTMS on all 2019 smart trainers.
Tacx: ANT+ FE-C on all ‘Smart’ branded trainers (except Satori). FTMS on some models (mainly non-NEO series). For remainder of trainers there’s still Bluetooth Smart control that all apps support.
Wahoo: ANT+ FE-C on all smart trainers. Gives developers access to private Wahoo Bluetooth Smart control.

This all matters when it comes to apps – but the thing you need to know is that you want your trainer to be dual capable, and it should ideally support if you want resistance control across a broad number of apps. But ultimately, if you buy any trainer from this guide, it’ll be some variant of dual.

Budget Smart Trainers (sub-$499):

There’s once again been almost no appreciable shift in this category this year, so things stay basically the same as last year.  And, there’s really only a few entrants in this category anyway. Only Tacx, Elite, and BKool compete in this realm from a legit smart-trainer standpoint (ones where you can control resistance).

But let me be clear – there are TONS of trainers out there for less than $500 that don’t have any smart electronic gadgets in them and work just great.  Really, there are.  But there’s only a few units in this price range (again, looking at USD MSRP) that have ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart broadcasting of speed, power, and cadence…AND…control of the incline/wattage.

Lastly, this is the one category I don’t have a ton of riding time on either of those units. Both of them have been at trade shows or the like.

The two options that I can recommend are as follows:

Tacx Flow Smart – 239EUR/329USD: This is without question the least expensive smart trainer on the market, though it mostly is only available in Europe (some European companies may ship to the USA). This tops out at only 6% inclines and 800w.  The 800w piece probably isn’t too challenging for most people, especially triathletes, but the 6% gradient may be tricky (of course, if you leave defaults on Zwift, you’re unlikely to notice).  GPLama/Shane Miller has tested this in a video, and it’s definitely worth a watch. I certainly wouldn’t recommend this for heavier riders, but it might work well for lighter riders that are mostly doing ERG work (structured workouts). Finally, the accuracy spec is only +/- 10%, which is the least accurate unit of the entire bunch. Still, for the price, as Shane says – you get what you pay for – but definitely watch his whole video. Oh, and the Flow supports both ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart and all the goodness you’d expect.

BKool Smart Go – $399USD: This is three years old now, but still a unique option. The unit replicates up to 8% grades and 800w, so pretty similar to the Tacx Flow, but with an oddly unstated (or findable) accuracy specification. Most others have found it fairly variable. I haven’t done a full review of the Smart Go, but have done the other BKool trainers and have things a bit variable. Since it’s ANT+ FE-C controllable, you’ll be able to have 3rd party apps control it like most of the higher end trainers. Note that I do get mixed reviews from folks on BKool service, so I’d probably be more likely to recommend this to someone that’s confident in their retailer (and their return/support policies).  Also note that I’ve ridden it at trade shows, but haven’t spent a ton of time on it outside of those venues.

Mid-Range Trainers ($499-$700):

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While this is a very specific price bracket, it mostly captures the entire mid-range market.  And to be perfectly clear: They’re all about the same, except one.  There are minor nuances between these trainers, for which you’ll want to look at closely, depending on your needs.  Specifically, look carefully at these four areas:

A) Maximum incline
B) Maximum wattage
C) Which protocols/standards/types they transmit on (i.e., power, but not cadence, etc…)
D) Flywheel weight

That’s about the only real tangible differences between them.  They all have about the same road feel (and each company will tell you their road feel is better). They all have ANT+ FE-C and Bluetooth Smart control, and they all work with Zwift and TrainerRoad.

The flywheel weight, in theory, gives a more road-like feel, but the thing is, at these weights, it’s all kinda wimpy to begin with.  I know a lot of folks want the most road-like feel, but my brain can’t really separate out the fact that I’m still inside looking at a wall going nowhere.  I’d rather have greater accuracy and more app support than the mythical road-like feel. Still, at this level it’s definitely different between these $500-$600 trainers and those a $1,000+.

Now this line-up has mostly remained the same. However, Elite has introduced the Tuo, which based on my brief Eurobike testing seemed to have far better road-feel than I expected at this price point. But it isn’t shipping yet and I don’t have a unit for real testing yet. Last year Elite also had Zumo included in the list provisionally, assuming they worked out some kinks. They didn’t work those out until this past summer (for real). And in fact, it was only this morning that I finally got on a unit with updated firmware to get it tested on two rides. Good news – it’s solid (finally)!

Meanwhile, there’s also 4iiii with the new Fliiiight (previously by STAC). That too was announced at Eurobike and I think it’s super compelling, but I don’t yet have a unit in for testing and they haven’t started shipping yet. It seems to have righted most of the quirks with the original STAC Zero virtually silent trainers (they use magnets instead, it’s cool if you haven’t seen it). But again, definitely provisional until I can get it in to test.

There are also very minor differences in how you mount your bike to each one in terms of the clasp/lever, but that’s too a wash.  About the only notable difference here is that the Saris Magnus/M2 has a nifty resistance knob that makes it easy to ensure your bike is at the same resistance setting each time.  It’s actually kinda brilliant.

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But no matter, all of these will require calibration about 10-15 minutes into a ride to ensure accurate numbers.  With that in mind, here are your lower-priced options:

4iiii Fliiiight $599 (provisional inclusion)
Elite Zumo – $699 (if you’re looking for direct drive at this price bucket)
Elite Tuo – $499 (provisional inclusion)
Kinetic Smart Control Road Machine 2018 Edition – $569
Saris (CycleOps) M2 – $499
Wahoo KICKR SNAP – $499

Last year I included the Bushido Smart, but it got kicked off the island this year as its price stayed static at $620 despite everyone else going lower, I don’t see any reason to pick up the Bushido Smart at that price. And similarly, the Vortex Smart is at $520, but spec-wise it just doesn’t compete with the others above from a simulation of incline or accuracy standpoint.

I know a lot of folks will want some sort of concrete answer on which of the aforementioned trainers to pick, but the reality is that they are just so darn similar.  That’s obviously on purpose, the companies have largely modeled them after each other, and thus the end-state is basically the same.  I’d be happy with any of these four trainers.  I think the KICKR SNAP is probably the most robustly built of the bunch, whereas I think the Magnus/M2 is the most accurate of the bunch (plus it has up to 15% incline resistance, which along with the Bushido is the most of the bunch).  And the Elite Zumo is the only direct drive trainer of the bunch – which is super appealing.

If I were to really narrow it down, it’d probably be between the Elite Zumo and the Wahoo KICKR SNAP. The SNAP has better road-like feel, while the Zumo has the convenience and accuracy of a direct drive trainer (in that you don’t have to worry about tire pressure. Accuracy of power numbers is equal, but in different ways. I find the SNAP slightly more variable on the whole, whereas I find the Zumo can clip some sprints (meaning, it shorts you a bit). Overall, roughly a wash. Keep in mind though with the Zumo you’re still gonna spend another $50 for a cassette to put on it (and another $20 for tools if you or a friend don’t have them). Which means you’re within a few Starbucks visits of the $799 that is the Elite Suito – a more powerful trainer with better road-like feel that includes the cassette pre-installed. And heck, you even get free 30 days of Zwift, FWIW. More on that in the next category.

Here’s some nifty tables that might help narrow it down.  Remember, you can make your own comparison tables here.

[Pop-open a new window to see all 6 trainers here]

Function/Feature4iiii FliiiightElite TuoElite ZumoWahoo KICKR SNAP (Current edition)
Price for trainer$599$529$699$499
Trainer TypeWheel-onWheel-onDirect Drive (No Wheel)Wheel-on
Available today (for sale)December 2019YesYesYes
Availability regionsGlobalGlobalUSAGlobal
Wired or Wireless data transmission/controlWirelessWirelessWirelessWireless
Power cord requiredNo, 2hrs battery capabilityYesYes (no control w/o)Yes
Flywheel weightN/A2.5kg / 5.5lbs4.2KG/9.2LBS10.5lbs/4.8KG
Includes cassetteN/ANoN/A
Resistance4iiii FliiiightElite TuoElite ZumoWahoo KICKR SNAP (Current edition)
Can electronically control resistance (i.e. 200w)YesYesYesYes
Includes motor to drive speed (simulate downhill)NoNoNoNo
Maximum wattage capability2200w1,250 (40KPH)/2,050 (60KPH)1,150w @ 40KPH1,500W @ 40KPH
Maximum simulated hill incline7%10%12%12%
Features4iiii FliiiightElite TuoElite ZumoWahoo KICKR SNAP (Current edition)
Ability to update unit firmwareYesYesYesYes
Measures/Estimates Left/Right PowerNoNoNoNo
Can rise/lower bike or portion thereofNoNoNoWith KICKR CLIMB accessory
Can directionally steer trainer (left/right)NoNoNoNo
Can rock side to side (significantly)NoNoNoNo
Can simulate road patterns/shaking (i.e. cobblestones)NoNoNoNo
Accuracy4iiii FliiiightElite TuoElite ZumoWahoo KICKR SNAP (Current edition)
Includes temperature compensationYesYesYesYes
Support rolldown procedure (for wheel based)N/AYesYesYes
Supported accuracy level+/- 1%+/- 5%+/- 3%+/- 3%
Trainer Control4iiii FliiiightElite TuoElite ZumoWahoo KICKR SNAP (Current edition)
Allows 3rd party trainer controlYesYesYesYes
Supports ANT+ FE-C (Trainer Control Standard)YesYesYesYes
Supports Bluetooth Smart FTMS (Trainer Control Standard)YesYesYesYes
Data Broadcast4iiii FliiiightElite TuoElite ZumoWahoo KICKR SNAP (Current edition)
Transmits power via ANT+YesYesYesYes
Transmits power via Bluetooth SmartYesYEsYesYes
Supports Multiple Concurrent Bluetooth connectionsNo, just oneNo, just oneNo, just one
Transmits cadence dataYesYesYesNo
Purchase4iiii FliiiightElite TuoElite ZumoWahoo KICKR SNAP (Current edition)
AmazonLinkLink
Backcountry.comLinkLink
Competitive CyclistLink
REIN/ALinkLink
WiggleLinkLinkLink
DCRainmaker4iiii FliiiightElite TuoElite ZumoWahoo KICKR SNAP (Current edition)
Review LinkLinkLinkLinkLink

Mid-High End ($700-$975):

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This is a tricky category, and where the vast majority of ‘innovation’ is occurring. Though, not necessarily product innovation, but rather just price innovation. Companies continue to pack more and more features and power into sub-$1000 trainers. Especially trainers in the $799-$899 price points.

And in some ways, these companies are slicing and dicing really thinly. For example with Tacx you’ve got the Flux S ($749) and Flux 2 ($899) both in the market. And Elite has the Zumo ($699), Suito ($799), and Direto X ($899). In the case of Tacx, they’ve quietly refreshed the Flux 2 this year to rid it of issues from last year around ERG mode (it was horribly inaccurate). That includes a bunch of internal shifts that actually make it a trainer worth buying, though I haven’t tested one yet and don’t have one here to put through its paces.

But then there’s the KICKR CORE. That came out last year when Wahoo basically took a full 2017 KICKR and made it silent. They then lopped $300 off the price.  This meant that you got what up until last summer was one of the best trainers on the market that was loved by most, for $300 cheaper – and now it didn’t make any tangible noise. Well, until it broke. But I think those issues are almost entirely behind us these days for people going out and buying new trainers. I sure as hell wouldn’t touch any used 2018 Wahoo trainers though, god no.

In any case, that pretty much decimated the value prop for the Elite Direto at $899 or the Tacx Flux 2 at $899.  Elite dropped their price to $849, though I still don’t think that really does a ton. Instead, they launched the Suito this year at $799 with an included cassette. And I think that’s hitting a bit of the sweet spot. Or, Suito-spot. You get a direct drive trainer that requires zero assembly – pull it straight out of the box, plug it in, and you’re riding. And doesn’t cost anything more. With all the other direct drive trainers in this category you’ll still need to do some assembly as well as adding that $50 cassette (+ $20 in tool costs if you don’t have them).

Wahoo KICKR CORE:

DirectDrive-KICKR-CORE

There’s really no surprise this trainer is here. Now, it definitely had a rough winter with after-sales issues that crept up and caused, rightfully so, lots of upset people. A combination of noise issues and electrostatic discharge issues that killed units with merely a single touch. But as we stand here in October 2019, the complaints about those issues for people buying new units have evaporated. Wahoo continues to sell those units in higher volumes than ever before, so given that combination – I think this is solved.

In any case, ultimately, the CORE is essentially a 2017 KICKR that’s been muted.  If you had told someone early last summer that they can buy a quiet KICKR for $300 less, albeit with no ability to adjust height – people would have scrambled for it.  And, that’s what happened.

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Finally, the CORE is compatible with the KICKR CLIMB. The fact that the CORE is compatible with the KICKR CLIMB means that you can get a CORE + CLIMB for $1,500, versus just a KICKR FOR $1,200.  Said differently, you can justify to your significant other that you’re saving $300.

Elite Suito:

DSC_8304

Next, we’ve got Elite’s pretty darn smart plan of simplifying the end user experience – rather than just throwing another trainer into the $700-$800 mix. With the Suito you get the cassette pre-installed on the trainer. The only other trainer that has that is the full Wahoo KICKR (at $1,199). Heck, Elite even saves you $5-$10 by tossing in a front wheel riser. All while giving you a fairly capable direct drive trainer. Finally, it folds up easily for storage and comes entirely pre-assembled.

Now the key difference between the Elite Direto/Direto X and the Suito is the lack of power meter within it (called OTS by Elite). But keep in mind, having a power meter in it doesn’t really matter. What matters is whether or not it’s accurate. After all – neither the Tacx NEO or Wahoo KICKR series have power meters in them, and are just fine with accuracy (in fact, Wahoo even ditched the power meter in theirs years ago due to accuracy issues). Of course, nobody is saying the Direto-X isn’t accurate. It is. It’s incredibly accurate.

But with the latest Suito firmware update that I got last week, it too is pretty darn accurate. I have no issues with it from a Zwift or TrainerRoad standpoint, meaning no issues in regular riding, sprints, or doing ERG mode 30×30’s – all of which can be demanding. That said, Elite does seem to be going through some teething pains with the Suito production – with a few people reporting early units back in September having uneven flywheels and other quirks. The number of complaints seems to have tapered off in recent weeks, and Elite seems to swap out any units pretty quickly if people have issues. It wouldn’t keep me from buying it from any reputable dealer.

All in, I think the Suito is this year’s best value for a trainer, especially if you aren’t really sure what you need or want. Sure, the Wahoo CORE has more inertia and thus slightly better road-feel. But the Elite Suito will basically save you $150 once you factor in the cassette cost. Oh, and the Suito does also include a 30-day free Zwift trial, which is oddly hard to get otherwise (Zwift themselves only offers 20 kilometer free trials, for realz). So again, if you don’t really know what you want, it’s an ideal option to play the field.

Tacx Flux S:

Tacx-Flux-S

Sitting at $150 cheaper than the CORE at $749, the Flux S is basically just the 2016/2017/2018 Flux 1 with a bunch of internal changes and support for longer derailleur cages. And by basically, I mean, that’s all it is.  But that’s OK. The Flux 1 was incredibly popular and for good reason. It was the first direct-drive smart trainer below $1,000 when it came out, and supported all the apps people wanted.  Thus, it’s an easy pick.

Now between this and the Elite Suito, it’s a tough call. It’s basically a wash price-wise once you factor in the required cassette. Form-factor the Suito wins because it can fold its legs for storage, though the Flux is a bit beefier in terms of stability. I feel like the Flux has slightly better inertia than the Suito, though I also think the Flux sounds a bit more ‘rough’ than the Suito does (a bit more gravelly, if that makes sense).

Neither the Flux S or Elite Suito is silent in the same way the CORE is.  But ultimately, all those trainers make some amount of noise once you put a bike on it. After all, there’s still a drivetrain of metal on metal.  No doubt the CORE is very quiet, but once you turn on a fan – all of these trainers are quiet in comparison.

High-End Trainers List ($999+):

DSC_8283

Ahh yes, the vaulted space of the super expensive trainers.  While the upper-mid tier of trainers gets closer and closer to these units in specs, the distinguishing aspects of the high-end trainers tends to be road feel and resistance ceilings (and to a lesser extent these days, accuracy which is equal/better than +/- 1%).

This category has largely remained the same for the three previous years, (both winners and non-winners alike), but finally, Saris manages to join the ranks of the recommended units list here with the H3. Still, the Wahoo KICKR 2018 and Tacx NEO 2T remain incredibly close – both are silent (save the drivetrain), while the Saris H3 isn’t. It’s quite a bit quieter than the Hammer 1/Hammer 2 were though, thankfully. And, it got a lower price. All three of these are accurate (notably so for me with the latest Tacx NEO 2T firmware 0.31).

Essentially though, you’re left with comparing some minor nuances in features (and entertainment/experience/distraction ‘features’).

By that, I mean that we’ve got what I’m going to call the ‘Move it’ addendum.  With the Tacx NEO series that’s the ability for the trainer to simulate cobblestones and other road surfaces.  It’s pretty cool in a geeky way, albeit without a ton of specific training value.  Meanwhile, with the Wahoo KICKR (and KICKR CORE/SNAPv2) you can add their $600 CLIMB accessory, which simulates climbing by lifting the front of your bike up. The Saris H3 doesn’t move by itself, though you can spend an extra $1,200 for their motion platform. But that’s compatible with all trainers.

Tacx NEO Series:

DSC_8306

You’ll notice I said ‘NEO Series’, and not just the NEO 2T. Because frankly, all of them are still really solid. The NEO 2 added some minor internal hardware over the NEO 1, and eventually Tacx plans to release Garmin Cycling Dynamics to the NEO 2T and NEO 2 based on that. Whereas the NEO 2T got substantially increased power from an internals standpoint.

With that, Tacx got rid of the low-speed slip-sprint problem of the NEO 1/2. That sub-second issue was rare for most people, but basically occurred if you were at very low speeds (like going up a steep hill, or just easy pedaling on the flats waiting for your buddy) – and then instantly sprinted hard. It would feel like the trainer ‘slipped’ for a fraction of a second. It never really bothered that many people with the NEO 1/2, but either way, it’s gone now. And…that’s it in terms of end-user differences.

Ultimately the NEO 1 and 2 trainers were usually the trainer I turn to when I’m not testing other trainers.  It’s my go-to.  And for good reason: It requires no calibration, it’s really damn accurate, and it just works.  Oh, and it vibrates.  Everyone likes good vibrations.  Technically they’re cobblestones or what-not on Zwift, but you get the point.

Still, I think I value most the accuracy pieces.  I just don’t have to think about it.  There’s not even an option to calibrate it – and nobody has seen any reason for them to include one either.  It just works.  It also folds up relatively small, though the lack of a handle is fairly awkward in the event you’re trying to move it frequently and for long distances.  Did I mention it also looks like a ship from Star Wars?  Cause seriously, that design is worth something (though, slightly less so with the new blue bottom on the NEO 2). I had some issues with the NEO 2T as I noted back in August when it was first announced, and finally last week they issued a firmware that I’ve been putting through its paces and it’s pretty darn good. I still have some very minor things I can nitpick on (oddly enough, I think it’s actually too powerful in certain cases), but realistically I can nitpick at this level on all these units.

But of course – its biggest asset it just how quiet it is.  It’s silent.  About the only sound you’re going to hear is your drivetrain and a slight hum.  If you want both the quietest and most accurate trainer on the market (and most powerful), this is it.  If you want the most road-like feel…this might be it.  It’s debatable.  Everyone who has ridden this and the KICKR differs on which is more road-like.  I could put 10 well-respected cycling journalists in a room and blindfold them and ride both trainers and they’d likely even have differing opinions ride to ride.

Wahoo KICKR 2018

Wahoo-KICKR-2018

Now here’s the thing.  I consider both of these top two options somewhat equal, albeit at different price points and for different people.  If you’re planning on buying the KICKR CLIMB, then obviously, get a Wahoo unit. The CLIMB doesn’t work with non-Wahoo trainers. But yes, the CLIMB is fun to ride.

The KICKR 2018 got an increased flywheel size over the KICKR 2017. Additionally, the KICKR 2018 became silent over the previous models. I suspect most people can’t feel the flywheel size difference between the 2017 and 2018, I know I can’t. And GPLama/Shane Miller has said the same. Perhaps in certain scenarios it’ll manifest itself, but I haven’t seen said scenario.  And as such, I don’t notice any difference in feeling between a KICKR CORE and KICKR 2018.

Still, if you want the ultimate in upwards/downwards indoor trainer movement, the KICKR 2018 + CLIMB is where it’s at (well, technically the KICKR BIKE has a greater range). Not to mention the fact that unlike the more expensive Tacx NEO, you actually get a cassette included here. Why on earth the NEO doesn’t include a cassette is (still!) beyond me.

Finally, like the KICKR CORE above it – the KICKR 2018 also experienced a rough winter last year. But also like the notes I made about the CORE, I think these issues are largely behind us for any new purchases. But again, I sure as hell wouldn’t buy a used KICKR CORE/2018 off of anybody (Updated note: This does not apply to Wahoo’s own refurbed units. While initially I was skeptical of these, in talking to Wahoo and their specific procedure for handling these, I’m not worried about one of these. They carry the same warranties as new KICKR’s – 1 year in US, 2 years in EU, and while they don’t go back to the factory, they are run through a complete refurb process and functionality check by Wahoo. Which in my mind basically makes them no different than new KICKR’s, except these might have scratches/dings on them.)

Saris H3 (Hammer 3):

DSC_8308

Going into this season, I wouldn’t honestly have expected that the Saris H3 would have made the list. After all, it’s always fallen short in years past with the H1 & H2. But this year the company made some minor technological tweaks, but also substantially reduced the price. And that combination put it over the edge.

First up, from the technology side, they reduced the noise. I remember last winter Des of DesFit was at the DCR Cave doing a workout a few days after the Open House, and he curiously picked the then CycleOps H2 trainer as he wanted to give it a whirl as he hadn’t tried it yet. Well, the rest of us that day certainly remember it – because it was so darn loud echoing around the concrete box that is the DCR Cave. Thankfully, Saris did a bunch of work to dramatically reduce that noise with the H3. It’s not as quiet as either the Wahoo KICKR or Tacx NEO, but it’s basically below the noise levels of most people’s fans.

Next, from a technology standpoint, they fixed the sprint overshooting issue this summer. In fact, both the H1 and H2 trainers got that firmware update – but it meant this was more accurate now.

However, the one strength of the Hammer series has always been just how darn good it is at ERG mode. If TrainerRoad were ever to acquire a trainer, I’m pretty sure they’d acquire the Saris Hammer series. Seriously. There’s no trainer that works better on TrainerRoad than the H3. Period. If you live in TrainerRoad, then you’ll love just how good the H3 feels. So smooth, so purposeful as it shifts between intervals. If I wasn’t so lazy moving around trainers, I’d probably ride the H3 anytime I rode TrainerRoad.

Finally, the last thing they did was reduce the price down to $999. This makes sense. They can’t compete on brand recognition with Wahoo or Tacx these days, and they can’t compete on silence. So…you’ve gotta compete on price. $999 is priced perfectly.

Function/FeatureSaris H3Tacx NEO 2T SmartWahoo KICKR V4/2018
Price for trainer$999$1,399$1,198
Trainer TypeDirect Drive (no wheel)Direct Drive (no wheel)Direct Drive (No Wheel)
Available today (for sale)YesYesYes
Availability regionsGlobalGlobalGlobal
Wired or Wireless data transmission/controlWirelessWirelessWireless
Power cord requiredYesNoYes
Flywheel weight20lb/9kgSimulated/Virtual 125KG16lbs/7.25kgs
Includes cassetteNoNoYes (11 Speed SRAM/Shimano)
ResistanceSaris H3Tacx NEO 2T SmartWahoo KICKR V4/2018
Can electronically control resistance (i.e. 200w)YesYesYes
Includes motor to drive speed (simulate downhill)NoYesNo
Maximum wattage capability2,000w2,200w @ 40KPH2,200w @ 40KPH
Maximum simulated hill incline20%25%20%
FeaturesSaris H3Tacx NEO 2T SmartWahoo KICKR V4/2018
Ability to update unit firmwareYesYesYes
Measures/Estimates Left/Right PowerNoYesNo
Can rise/lower bike or portion thereofNoNoWith KICKR CLIMB accessory
Can directionally steer trainer (left/right)NoNoNo
Can rock side to side (significantly)NoNoNo
Can simulate road patterns/shaking (i.e. cobblestones)NoYesNo
AccuracySaris H3Tacx NEO 2T SmartWahoo KICKR V4/2018
Includes temperature compensationYesN/AYes
Support rolldown procedure (for wheel based)YesN/AYes
Supported accuracy level+/- 2%+/- 1%+/- 2%
Trainer ControlSaris H3Tacx NEO 2T SmartWahoo KICKR V4/2018
Allows 3rd party trainer controlYesYesYes
Supports ANT+ FE-C (Trainer Control Standard)YesYesYEs
Supports Bluetooth Smart FTMS (Trainer Control Standard)YesNo, but supports most appsNo, but supports most apps
Data BroadcastSaris H3Tacx NEO 2T SmartWahoo KICKR V4/2018
Transmits power via ANT+YesYesYes
Transmits power via Bluetooth SmartYesYesYes
Supports Multiple Concurrent Bluetooth connectionsNo, just oneNo, just oneYes, 3 Concurrent
Transmits cadence dataYesYesYes
PurchaseSaris H3Tacx NEO 2T SmartWahoo KICKR V4/2018
AmazonLinkLink
Backcountry.comLinkLink
Competitive CyclistLinkLink
REILinkLinkLink
WiggleLinkLinkLink
DCRainmakerSaris H3Tacx NEO 2T SmartWahoo KICKR V4/2018
Review LinkLinkLinkLink

The Why I Didn’t Include It List:

First and foremost, this isn’t a list of bad trainers.  If you take that away from this section, then you’re mistaken.  In fact, there are some awesome trainers in here.  Instead, this list is to save me time answering the same question 327 times below for each trainer as to why I didn’t include them.  I’m keeping these explanations short and sweet.  In many cases, I’ve detailed out longer answers in posts related to those products.

Elite Direto/Direto X: Look, this is a great little trainer – and the *only* reason it’s not in the above list is purely because of pricing. At $899, it sits $150 more than the basically equal Flux S (in terms of specs), while the far more capable (and silent) Wahoo CORE sits at $899 – the same price. Obviously, in Europe the pricing game shifts a bit. But it’s hard for me to track Euro pricing as it shifts about every 8 seconds based on whenever a given retailer decides to go even lower. So ultimately, I’d say you can kinda figure out what you value here in terms of price to features. But certainly don’t shy away from a good deal on the Direto or Direto X – it’s solid for the right price.

Elite Drivo II: This is a fantastically accurate and relatively quiet trainer. Really, it is. The only challenge is that it’s up against two also-accurate trainers that aren’t just ‘relatively’ quiet, but actually silent (Tacx NEO 2T & KICKR 2018). Also, they’re up against two trainers that both have unique features (CLIMB compatibility for Wahoo, and road-feel/no-calibration for Tacx NEO 2).

Gravat: Distribution is the main factor here. It’s largely only available in Asia, and while they do actually make some good trainers (see my review on it previously), it’s just hard to include when the majority of the world can’t get it.

Kinetic R1: Oh Kinetic. You had so much potential with the R1. Unfortunately, this unit continues to sit downstairs boxed (it’s been there for months). As GPLAMA found in his review, it’s horribly inaccurate in sprints. And unfortunately, Kinetic has confirmed with me that hasn’t changed. I wish it would. They wish it would, and they’re still working away on the firmware. Until then, I simply can’t recommend it.

Minoura Kagura DT (Not Direct Drive): While this almost made the cut for the mid-range trainer bucket last year, the accuracy was just a bit beyond the price point I’d expect. I think they’re getting closer on it, and depending on where you are (specifically, Japan), this may be a very good option based on the costs of other trainers being more expensive.

Minoura Kagura DD (Direct Drive): Is it even shipping yet?

STAC Zero: This made the cut last year, but I’m pretty sure it’s being phased out. If you can pick up a unit at like sub-$400, then definitely consider it. Check out my review on it from the past. Of course, this unit is being phased out because 4iiii acquired STAC and is now making the 4iiii Fliiiight, which I’ve provisionally included in the $500-$700 bucket.

Tacx Flux 2: This originally came out last year, and after my testing I found ERG mode (such as for TrainerRoad) horribly inaccurate. Like 10-15% inaccurate. Tacx confirmed this was the issue, but weren’t able to fix it. At Eurobike 2019 in early September they quietly released the Flux 2.1, which fixes those issues through a combination of software and internal hardware changes. I have not tested it yet, but I think it’s a harder pitch given it’s still the same price as the KICKR CORE, but is noiser and doesn’t have as good a road feel (anywhere near it).

CompuTrainer: They went out of business (or at least stopped making them) three years ago.  I generally don’t recommend products that don’t have a sustainable support path.  I do think if you can get a used unit under about $400, and know exactly which apps you’re using and if they’re compatible – then go forth.

LeMond Revolution Pro: The company has folded and ceased operations many years ago. Like CompuTrainer, they’re out of business.

Trainers FAQ:

Most of this is from years past, but I wanted to repeat it for this year.  I’ve tweaked things where appropriate and/or where they’ve changed.

What about specific trainer tires?

I commented on trainer tires a long while back in a Weekly Mailbag post, so here’s what I said then – which still applies today.

I train every day on the stock wheels and tires that came with the bike.  Just normal tires and normal wheels.  In fact, I don’t even bother to swap out for a separate trainer tire.  Why?  Well, my thinking is that I spend 3+ days a week on a trainer, and the last thing I want to deal with is swapping tires or wheels every time I go inside to outside or the inverse (I’m kinda lazy that way).  Further, when you step back and look at the total cost of triathlon or cycling, and the total cost of simply getting a new tire each year due to wear – the new tire is pretty low (between $30-45).

Now, if you’re riding race wheels with expensive race tires – you’ll have to balance the much higher cost of most race tires.

Do trainer tires make it quieter?

Nope, actually, not at all.  And I proved this as part of my Tacx Genius review way back when – some actually make it louder.  I’ve then further confirmed this with a few other tire companies as well.  Most of them kinda silently laugh at the fact that people actually buy expensive trainer tires.  Hint: Just use last season’s tire and toss it at the end of the winter.

The only benefit of trainer tires is that some tires will slowly shred tire specks over the course of the winter, depending on both the specific tire and the specific trainer. Not ideal in a carpeted living room, but not even noticed in a garage.

Why didn’t you recommend XYZ trainer or software instead?  It’s waaaaay better!

As noted above, it’s likely because I haven’t used it.  I’m pretty strict in that I don’t recommend things I haven’t used or know a lot about.  I know magazines love to, but I don’t.  Sorry!

Any tips or suggestions on where to place remote controls/jelly beans/bike computers/etc. while on a trainer?

Yup, you’re in luck.  I’d recommend either a simple 4-cup OXO measuring cup (silly, I know, but it clips onto almost all road bike bars and triathlon bike aerobars – awesome).  Or, you can build your own like I did here in this post.

What about that desk you use on the trainer?

Ahh yes, that desk is awesome.  More on that here in my in-depth review.

Do you use a trainer pad/mat (floor protector)?

Sometimes.  You can find endless numbers of them online or at your local bike shop – usually around $30.  You can also just use a towel, just be sure that if you’re on carpet that you change the towel regularly, otherwise it’ll eventually stain the carpet below (sweat going down into it).  Here’s the thing, don’t overspend on this – that’s silly.  You don’t need a $70 trainer mat.  As long as it’s waterproof (thus, sweatproof) and offers some padding to lower sound profiles, that’s really the key thing.

What’s the quietest trainer?

It’s basically a wash between the 4iiii/STAC Halcyon/Zero trainers, the Tacx NEO 1/2/2T, and the Wahoo KICKR/KICKR CORE.

How do you test for accuracy? Or, how can I see if my trainer is accurate?

Simple – follow my full post here where I go into both testing and troubleshooting your trainers and power meters for accuracy.

What about generic rollers, any thoughts?

I don’t have a ton of experience on rollers unfortunately. I have recently tested the InsideRide solution with the floating fork, and I found that super compelling. But it’s hard to recommend that for most people given the accuracy and price limitations.

In any event, I find that the cross-over between people who really like riding rollers and the people who really like the technology aspect tends to be rather small.  Said differently, roller people tend to be more purists who don’t want technology in the way (not all of course, but most).

What about one of those bike protective thong cover things?

Do I look like an Instagram supermodel? No (especially given how little I post). Thus, my bike isn’t either – I don’t cover up my bike.  I’ve spent A LOT of time on my bike, pouring a lot of sweat – many multi-hour rides.  But you know what?  I’ve never seen any adverse issues due to it.  Perhaps I’m lucky, perhaps it’s not normal.  Either way, I don’t use one.  That said, Tacx released a cool one that actually has a cell-phone holder built in (with a protective plastic cover).  Kinda neat.

Buy Now, and support the site!

DSC_8277-2

If you’re looking at any of the above devices, you can support the site by making purchases through any of the below links.  Here’s a handy table of everything mentioned above that I have a review on. Thanks for reading, and thanks for considering to do your shopping through the links on this website.

Thanks for reading!  And feel free to drop any questions below, I’ll be happy to answer them.

Sours: https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2019/10/the-smart-trainer-recommendations-guide-winter-2019-2020.html

Reviews 2019 trainer bike

Whether you’re training for an event, just trying to keep a regular riding schedule, or simply prefer the safety of riding inside, an indoor bike trainer is a valuable tool. But what to get? There are several basic kinds, and the options for them have proliferated wildly the past few years, not to mention the explosion of “smart” trainers and the virtual worlds and training programs they allow you to connect to. Here, check out info on five of the best-performing trainers from our testing, then scroll deeper for longer reviews of these and other top options, plus buying advice.

Best Travel Companion

Omnium Over-Drive

Omnium Over-Drive

biketiresdirect.com

$430.00

SHOP NOW

Folds small enough to fit in an airplane overhead bin

Best Value Direct-Drive

Elite Suito

Elite Suito

competitivecyclist.com

$679.99

SHOP NOW

Ready to go right out of the box

The Gold Standard

Wahoo Kickr

Wahoo Kickr

wahoofitness.com

$1,199.99

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The most user-friendly trainer we've tested, now with adjustable lateral movement

Most Freedom To Move

Kinetic R1

Kinetic R1

SHOP NOW

Allows the bike to rock from side to side

Quietest Direct-Drive

TacX Neo 2T

TacX Neo 2T

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Can be used without an external power source

The Three Types of Indoor Trainers

Although there are many variations of each, most trainers come in three basic styles. Direct-drive trainers attach to the rear dropouts, replacing your wheel and providing a direct connection to the resistance unit. These are easily identified because they require a cassette. They’re typically the most expensive but also the most accurate, with the highest levels of resistance.

Friction trainers place a small roller against the rear wheel and utilize either magnetic or fluid resistance. They tend to be lighter and more portable than direct-drive trainers, but are noisier and less accurate. The trade-off comes in cost. You can get a smart friction trainer for about half as much as a direct-drive model.

Rollers are the most basic style and also require the most technique since the bike isn’t held in place but rather perched atop three rollers. Resistance can range from almost nothing up to as much as any direct-drive trainer. They are also very useful for refining pedaling technique.

Jimmy Cavalieri

What Is a Smart Trainer?

A smart trainer is different than a model with electronically controlled resistance. “Smart” means it can communicate wirelessly with a training app on your smart phone or virtual riding world like Zwift and automatically adjust resistance. The popularity of Zwift and other apps means most newer trainers are “smart.” This adds to the cost, but prices are falling, and you can now score a smart trainer for less than $500.

Some third-party training platforms support non-connected trainers, but you’ll need to purchase extras, like an external “speed” sensor from Garmin or Wahoo and possibly a power meter as well.

Other Things to Consider

Compatibility: With axle attachment standards and widths changing almost yearly, check whether a trainer you’re interested in offers different attachment options such as thru-axle adaptors and, for direct-attachment trainers, free-hub options. Some trainers come with them. If yours doesn’t, you’ll have to purchase them separately.

Noise: With more people exercising indoors to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus, and with families working at home, looking for a quieter option may be more of a priority than before (as well as getting a good fan when you work out). While most manufacturers can get away with using words like “silent” and “virtually silent” to describe the noise level of their trainers, there are other factors to consider, such as the sound your bike’s drivetrain cranks out as you pedal and, if you use one, the fan that’s whirring away to keep you cool and simulate wind speeds. To get a better idea of how loud “silent” actually is, we used a decibel meter to record the noise levels of each trainer being ridden at 15 and 25 mph. Decibels ranged from 68 (comparable to a vacuum cleaner) to 85 (diesel truck going 40 mph); the fan alone measured 71. To get an idea of how significant a seemingly minor jump in decibels can be, 70 is twice as loud as 60 and 80 is twice as loud as 70.

Stability: Trainer crashes are rare, but not unheard of when you’re going cross-eyed trying to beat your PR on that workout. Typically, the broader the trainer’s base, the more stable it will be. Many have a leveling feature for uneven surfaces.

Trevor Raab

Why It May Be Harder to Find a Trainer Right Now

Ever since terms like “shelter in place,” “stay at home,” and “social distancing” took root in our daily lexicon, we’ve had to find alternative forms of entertainment that don’t involve large crowds or risky situations. Many have discovered the joys of cycling, and more than a few current riders have turned to indoor cycling because of local restrictions and safety concerns. This has led to a world-wide surge in trainer sales and, thus, a depletion of stock. That’s a good thing, because it means more people have discovered bikes. But it’s also frustrating if your goal today is to place an online order for a cool new trainer only to find out that you may have to wait weeks or even months to get it. If you see something on this list that catches your eye, and you hit the out-of-stock roadblock, patience (waiting until inventory is fulfilled again), perseverance (it may be available somewhere else online or even somewhere locally), or just being proactive (pre-order is available for many out-of-stock models) might be the way to go. We’ll keep our eye on inventory and update links as often as we can.

How We Tested

We used every one of these trainers to squeeze Zwift workouts into our busy workday, and even hauled a few of them with us for race-day warm-ups. Then we banished test editor Bobby Lea, former pro and three-time Olympian, to the deepest, darkest recesses of our office with nothing but his bike, a fan, and enough trainers to make even the most cycling-obsessed person go mad. We tested each one with third-party apps as well as their own companion apps—and untethered for those who prefer the freedom to choose their own structured workouts. Every trainer was put through the same steady-state intervals, max-power sprints, and Tabata-style efforts (high-intensity intervals) to test ride feel, stability, resistance, reliability, and repeatability. And like we mentioned, we tested ambient noise levels while riding at 15 and 25 miles per hour to determine the real-world disturbance you’ll cause during your pre-dawn trainer session. In the end, we were left with one well-trained test editor and this list of the best indoor trainers you can buy right now—just in time for the cold, dark months ahead.


Direct-Drive


―THE GOLD STANDARD―

Wahoo Kickr

wahoo fitness

Kickr

Wahoowahoofitness.com

$1,199.99

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  • Side-to-side movement makes the Kickr more comfortable to ride
  • Not so much movement that you can swing the bike side to side while sprinting

The Kickr has consistently been one of the most reliable and user-friendly trainers available. The newest version measures power more accurately than the 2018 edition—to within 1 percent up to 2,200 watts—and allows for some side-to-side movement while riding. Rubber feet, which the brand calls Axis, are paired with three sets of plastic cups that fit over the feet to moderate that lateral movement. The largest cups completely encapsulate the rubber feet and keep the trainer fixed in place, while the smallest leave the flexible, rubber feet largely exposed and allow the bike five degrees of side-to-side wiggle. It’s just enough that riding felt far more comfortable than being locked in place, but not so much that the bike moved unnaturally. The ride feel is also more lively than the previous Kickr. Riders no longer need to perform a spin down to calibrate the trainer, and the Kickr can simulate gradients up to 20 percent. It comes pre-installed with an 11-speed Shimano/SRAM-compatible cassette, works with most 8-, 9-, 10-, 11, and 12-speed setups, and plays well with most third-party virtual cycling apps.
READ FULL REVIEWVIEW 23 IMAGES


―MOST FREEDOM TO MOVE―

Kinetic R1

Kinetic

Kinetic R1

$699.00wiggle.com

SHOP NOW

  • Smooth resistance changes
  • Very quiet
  • Bike can move from side to side
  • Some riders may not like the wide range of movement

The R1’s +/-3 percent power readings are on the low end for a direct-drive model in this price range, but this trainer offers something unique in the ride-feel department that others don’t: extreme freedom to move the bike from side to side, far more than any others on this list. Controlled by rubber elastomers between the legs and the drive mechanism, this movement can be adjusted simply by tightening or loosening the two bolts that hold those elastomers in place. However, unlike the Kickr which can be set to have zero movement, on even the most restrictive setting the R1 still offers more lateral movement than the rest of its competitors. This level of freedom might feel funny at first, especially if to those accustomed to being locked into place, but the longer you ride the more you’ll appreciate being able to shift around at will—you can actually throw your bike from side to side during all-out sprints the same way you would on the road. The R1, the company’s entry into the direct-drive category, works with the usual apps, including Zwift, TrainerRoad, The Sufferfest, and its own Kinetic Fit via ANT+, ANT+ FE-C, and Bluetooth Smart. It’s compatible with Garmin devices and nearly all bikes, even those requiring a thru-axle. But unlike the other Kinetic trainer here, a separate purchase of the Traxle thru-axle adapter isn’t required.


―BEST VALUE DIRECT-DRIVE―

Elite Suito

Suito

Elitecompetitivecyclist.com

$679.99

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  • Ready to go right out of the box
  • Very smooth resistance changes
  • Maximum slope simulation only 15%

The sturdy steel Suito is one the best value direct drive trainers we've tested. It comes pre-installed with a Shimano 11-speed cassette and pre-assembled legs. Compared with the company’s top-end model, the Direto XR, this direct-drive trainer sacrifices only a smidge of accuracy (+/-2.5 percent vs. +/-1.5 percent) but offers faster resistance transitions and the freedom to ride untethered—all for $400 less. We also love the Suito because, unlike some trainers that require you to use an app to operate the trainer, you can simply plug it in and start pedaling if you just want to ride without the fuss of logging onto a virtual platform. When disconnected from the virtual world, the Suito holds momentum better than any other trainer in this test–in other words, once you get it up to speed, it likes to stay there. The Suito doesn't allow lateral movement like some of the new trainers, but our staff loves it for the ease of jumping on and doing either a structured workout or virtual ride. Best of all: after 18 months of being knocked around going from house to house and office to office, it's holding strong and is reliable as ever.


―QUIETEST DIRECT-DRIVE―

Tacx Neo 2T

Tacx

Neo 2T

Tacxbackcountry.com

$1,399.99

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  • Extremely quiet
  • Slight ability to move side to side is comfortable for long sessions
  • Works without an external power source

The Neo 2T is similar to the Kickr in both power measurement (up to 2,200 watts within 1 percent accuracy) and maximum gradient simulated (up to 25 percent). But the Neo 2T has two features found nowhere else. It generates its own electricity, which means you can use it without external power—although it works best when plugged in. That's especially relevant in the winter, when our training-obsessed test editor loves that he can still use the Neo 2T for a workout when his house loses power during a snowstorm. Similar to the old-school Nintendo Rumble Pack, it vibrates to simulate a wide range of road surfaces—from gravel to cobblestones to concrete slab roads, to name a few—when you’re riding on virtual platforms. Unlike other direct-drive trainers that use belts or rollers for power transmission, the Neo 2T has a metal flywheel with magnets that interact with electrical coils to moderate resistance. You turn the flywheel directly as you pedal; the more electricity that flows through the coils, the larger the magnetic force. This space-age looking device allows more side-to-side movement than the Kickr, and felt as comfortable and natural as riding a stationary trainer can, even through high-powered efforts like steep climbs and full-gas sprints. It also comes with pedal-stroke analysis and a thru-axle adapter that accommodates 142 x 12mm and 148 x 12mm axles, plus is compatible with Shimano and SRAM 8- to 12-speed drivetrains.


―EASIEST TO STORE―

Saris H3

saris

If you’re familiar with the CycleOps H2 direct-drive smart trainer, then you’re familiar with the Saris H3—nearly the same CycleOps product, with new Saris branding. The functional difference is a more robust power cord on the H3 that’s less prone to getting yanked and broken when we accidentally trip over it. The H3’s numbers are identical to the H2’s—2,000 watts, 20 percent max incline, +/-2 percent accuracy. It’s compatible with the most popular virtual cycling platforms via ANT+, FE-C, and Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity. And while pairing to those apps is simple, that’s not the case with the Saris companion app, which is prone to crashing and generally just annoying to use. Fortunately, you really only need it for software updates and to calibrate the trainer. And if you want to just plug in and ride, no app is needed. Resistance changes on the H3 are as pleasantly smooth as the best trainers we’ve tested. And that dead feeling often associated with heavy flywheels isn’t as noticeable on the H3—it provides enough momentum to simulate “real” ride feel without feeling sluggish. For those who don't have room in their garage or living room to leave the trainer out all winter, we love the H3 for how easy it is to fold down and how little room it occupies when stuffed into a closet.


―BEST VALUE KICKR―

Wahoo Kickr Core

wahoo fitness

Kickr Core

Wahoowahoofitness.com

$899.99

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  • Takes up less real estate than most other direct-drive trainers
  • 16% maximum grade simulation

The Kickr Core is a new trainer from Wahoo that’s a little more compact and a little less expensive than the much-loved Kickr. It uses the same smooth and quiet flywheel tech and reliable belt drive with electromagnetic resistance. The Core has a 12-pound flywheel versus the Kickr’s 16, and comes in a smaller package that features a reduced footprint and a more compact stand (when folded) that’s easier to store than other direct-drive units. If you love the Kickr but don’t need the extra max wattage or incline of that $1,200 unit, the Kickr Core delivers the same great quality and ride experience in a cheaper and more portable package.
READ FULL REVIEWVIEW 12 IMAGES


―BEST NEW TRAINER―

Elite Direto XR

Direto XR

Eliteglorycycles.com

$999.99

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  • Power data is accurate within 1.5%
  • No side-to-side movement
  • Not as quiet as the other direct-drive trainers

The new Direto XR is a full-scale overhaul of the trainer by the same name that used to reside in the middle of Elite’s line. This one replaces the much more expensive Drivo II as the Italian brand’s premier direct-drive smart trainer. Power data is accurate with 1.5 percent up to 2,300 watts, and the Direto XR will simulate hills at a maximum gradient of 24 percent. In testing, we found the trainer to be one of the most stable we’ve ridden, and the wide legs are easy to weigh down in order to hold the trainer in place during full gas sprints. The companion app from Elite, called MyTraining, is quirky but offers a massive library of virtual courses and pre-loaded workouts. It also lends the ability to upload a GPS file so cyclists can simulate riding that specific course. Connecting to Zwift was a seamless experience, although we did notice an idiosyncrasy with resistance changes: When transitioning to a climb on Zwift, we found the trainer has a habit of adding too much resistance at first, then backing down slightly to what felt like the appropriate level. We also found it noisier than the other direct-drive trainers on this list, and the volume ratcheted up noticeably at higher power output. However, it’s still quiet enough that we could ride in our living room and watch (and hear) the TV with no problems.


Rollers


―MOST LIKE RIDING OUTSIDE―

Elite Nero Interactive Rollers

Elite

Nero Interactive Rollers

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  • Progressive resistance
  • Slides forward and back to mimic natural feel of riding outdoors
  • Rollers require more balance and focus while riding than traditional trainers

If you hate the “locked-in” feel of being on a trainer but want to ride on third-party virtual platforms, the Elite Nero Interactive Rollers are the answer. On their own (in other words, not plugged in and connected to any devices or apps), they function just like a set of standard rollers, except they offer the added bonus of progressive resistance. However, strong riders may overpower the resistance and momentum. For sustained efforts north of 400 watts, our tester, who eschews compact gearing, was nearly maxed out at the bottom of the cassette in order to maintain the effort level. The rollers also slide back and forth on a fixed frame, which makes for a somewhat natural ride (if you ignore the feeling of sliding backwards) as the bike has the freedom to move not just side to side but forward and back as well. Along with the freedom to move, these rollers give you the freedom to join the world of virtual cycling. At first it feels odd to experience resistance changes as you hit climbs and descents on Zwift while riding rollers, but it quickly feels as normal as riding in virtual can, aided by the free-flowing movement of the bike. Don’t get carried away thinking these are the magic bullet for indoor training. Roller purists will find there’s too much resistance for high-cadence technique work, and trainer lovers won’t like that they can’t zone out for hours on end with nothing to think about but keeping the pedals turning. In other words, the Nero offers a comfortable middle ground.


Friction Trainers


―BEST VALUE SMART TRAINER―

Kinetic Road Machine Smart 2

Road Machine Smart 2

Kinetickurtkinetic.com

$299.00

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  • ANT+ and Bluetooth connectivity
  • Friction trainers are hard on tires

If power data is all you need, Kinetic’s Road Machine Smart 2 trainer is a great value. While it doesn’t automatically control resistance (for that, check out the Road Machine Control), it does connect with training apps such as Kinetic Fit, Zwift, TrainerRoad, and more, as well as ANT+ and Bluetooth-enabled computers and ANT+ head units. Its stable base with floor-safe rubber feet, 6.3-pound (claimed) flywheel, and big roller mean it can find a permanent spot in your home, but its foldable legs and wheel-on design make it a convenient race-day traveler, too. It's far louder than the direct drive trainers on this list, but it reliable works every time. Despite having access to a fleet of the best smart trainers around, our tester found himself gravitating to this trainer for structured workouts when he just wanted to put his bike on the trainer and ride without spending time screwing around with power cords, apps, and Bluetooth connections. It fits 22- to 29-inch wheels and comes with its own skewer, so you can save yours from wear and tear. If your bike has a thru-axle, you’ll have to drop another $49 for the Kinetic Traxle thru-axle adapter. Bonus: It comes with a free one-month subscription for the Kinetic Fit training app.
READ FULL REVIEWVIEW 15 IMAGES


―BEST WHEEL-ON SMART TRAINER―

Wahoo Kickr Snap

competitive cyclist

Kickr Snap Smart Trainer

WahooCompetitive Cyclist

$499.99

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  • Easy connectivity via Bluetooth
  • Wheel-on design can be rough on tires

The Kickr Snap is everything we love about the Kickr in a cheaper, more convenient, and lighter-weight package. Like the Kickr, the Snap is compatible with Bluetooth Smart, ANT+, and ANT+ FE-C and can be controlled by a smartphone, tablet, or Wahoo computer—LED lights alert you to a successful connection. It’s also compatible with Wahoo’s Headwind (wind-speed simulator) and Climb (grade simulator) accessories, and it works seamlessly with third-party apps like Zwift, The Sufferfest, TrainerRoad, and more. The Snap’s wheel-on design accommodates QR and thru-axle rear wheels up to 29 inches, though you’ll have to purchase the thru-axle adaptor separately. It’s essentially the highest-end Kickr minus a bit of the accuracy and user experience that some riders will happily pay more for.


―BEST TRAVEL COMPANION―

Feedback Sports Omnium Over–Drive

Omnium Over-Drive

Feedback Sportsbiketiresdirect.com

$430.00

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  • Very light and easy to carry
  • Folds down very small
  • No electronically controlled resistance

At 14 pounds, the Omnium Over-Drive is ideal for race day, small living spaces, and travel—it comes with a durable tote bag that lets you stow it under a bed or shove it into an overhead bin on a plane. This portable trainer isn’t light on features, though. Two four-inch magnetic drums provide progressive resistance up to a max 1,050 watts at 55 mph and make for an incredibly quiet ride that won’t disturb the peace while you’re cranking out a workout in your hotel room. Thanks to its height-adjustable fork mount (compatible with post- and flat-mount disc brakes) and sliding base on which the aluminum rollers are attached, the Over-Drive can accommodate various bike and wheel sizes and quick-release or thru-axle configurations. At first glance, you might think the Over-Drive’s simple design sacrifices stability, but even in an out-of-the-saddle sprint our tester couldn’t tip it over or get a rear wheel to skip off the rollers. The most he could do was lift a front support leg off the ground. If you like the concept of the Over-Drive but don’t want the resistance, Feedback Sports offers the Omnium Zero-Drive, which is identical except the rollers have no resistance. As an added bonus, the both models’ sleds (the part that holds the rollers) are interchangeable and sold separately, so if you want both options, you don’t have to buy two complete trainers.
READ FULL REVIEWVIEW 22 IMAGES

Bobby LeaTest Editor, BicyclingBobby is part of the Bicycling Test Team and brings with him over a decade of professional racing experience, including 3 Olympic Team berths.

Sours: https://www.bicycling.com/bikes-gear/a20050631/how-to-choose-an-indoor-bike-trainer/
Elite DIRETO X // Smart Bike Trainer REVIEW

Whether you’re training for an early-spring event, just trying to keep a regular riding schedule, or simply prefer the safety and convenience of riding inside, an indoor bike trainer is a valuable tool. But which to get? There are several basic kinds, yet the options within each category have grown wildly the past few years. And that’s not to mention the explosion of “smart” trainers and the virtual worlds and programs to which they allow you to connect.

Find quick info below of four great-performing indoor trainers, then scroll for helpful buying advice and longer reviews of these and other top options.

Editors’ Choice

Kickr Power Trainer

Kickr Power Trainer

Wahoo Fitnesscompetitivecyclist.com

$1,199.99

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This Kickr is for the rider who wants the best smart trainer bells and whistles.

Best Value Direct Drive

Suito Interactive Trainer

Suito Interactive Trainer

Elitecompetitivecyclist.com

$799.99

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Elite’s sturdy steel Suito comes out of the box practically ready to go.

Most Natural Rollers

Nero Interactive Rollers

Nero Interactive Rollers

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Functions like standard rollers, but with progressive resistance.

Quietest Direct Drive

Tacx  Neo 2T  Smart Trainer

Tacx Neo 2T Smart Trainer

Garmingarmin.com

$1,399.99

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The Neo 2T hums along, no external power source necessary.

Easiest to Store

H3 Direct-Drive Trainer

H3 Direct-Drive Trainer

Sarisbackcountry.com

$1,099.99

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A very quiet trainer with pleasantly smooth resistance changes.

The Three Types of Indoor Trainers

Although there are many variations of each type, most trainers come in three basic styles: direct drive, friction, and rollers.

Direct-drive trainers attach to the rear of your bike, replacing the wheel, and provide a direct connection to the resistance unit. These trainers are easily identified because they have a cog set, or cassette, installed on them, so the chain will have something to engage with the wheel removed. They are typically the most expensive but also the most accurate, with the highest levels of resistance.

Friction trainers place a small roller against the rear wheel and utilize either a magnetic or fluid resistance unit. They tend to be lighter and more portable than direct-drive trainers, but they are noisier and less accurate. The trade-off comes in cost. You can get a “smart” friction trainer for about half as much as a direct-drive model.

Rollers are the most basic style and also require the most technique since the bike isn’t held in place, but rather balanced atop three rollers. Resistance can range from almost nothing up to as much as any direct-drive trainer. They are also very useful for refining pedaling technique.

Courtesy

What Is a Smart Trainer?

A smart trainer is different than a model with electronically controlled resistance. “Smart” means it can communicate wirelessly with a training app on your smart phone or virtual riding world like Zwift and automatically adjust resistance. Given the popularity of Zwift and other apps, most newer trainers are “smart.” This adds to the cost, but prices are falling and you can now score a smart model for less than $500.

Garmin Bike Speed 2 Sensor

Garminbackcountry.com

$39.99

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Some third-party training platforms support non-connected trainers, but you’ll need to purchase extras, like an external “speed” sensor from Garmin or CycleOps and possibly a power meter as well.

Other Things to Consider

Compatibility
Wheel-axle attachment standards and axle widths have been changing, so check whether a trainer you’re interested in offers different attachment options or adapters to fit your specific bike. Some trainers come with them. If yours doesn’t, you’ll have to purchase them separately.

Noise
While most manufacturers use words like “silent” or “virtually silent” to describe the noise level of their trainers, there are other factors to consider, such as the sound your bike’s drivetrain makes as you pedal and, if you use one, the fan that’s whirring away to keep you cool and simulate wind speeds.

Stability
Trainer crashes are rare, but not unheard of when you’re going cross-eyed trying to beat your best time on that workout. Typically, the broader the trainer’s base, the more stable it will be. And many have a leveling feature for uneven surfaces.

Trevor Raab

How We Tested

We used every one of these trainers to squeeze Zwift workouts into our busy workday, and even hauled a few of them with us for event warm-ups. Then we banished test editor Bobby Lea, former pro and three-time Olympian, to the deepest, darkest recesses of our office with nothing but his bike, a fan, and enough trainers to make even the most cycling-obsessed person go mad. He tested each one with third-party, as well as their own, companion apps and untethered for those who prefer the freedom to choose their own structured workouts. He put every one through the same intervals and max-power sprints to test ride feel, stability, resistance, reliability, and repeatability. In the end, we were left with one incredibly fit test editor and this list of the best indoor trainers you can buy right now for the upcoming cold, dark months.


—EDITORS’ CHOICE—

Wahoo Kickr

Kickr Smart Trainer

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  • Quietest smart trainer we’ve tested
  • Easy to connect to computers and virtual platforms

For the rider who wants the ultimate in smart trainers with all the bells and whistles, Wahoo’s Kickr has a lot to offer. What you get: a very quiet trainer, rock-solid stability, a whopping 2,200 watts of power, compatibility with most virtual training apps, and Bluetooth Smart, Ant+, and Ant+ FE-C connectivity. It comes preinstalled with a Shimano/SRAM-compatible 11-speed cassette, and works with most 8-, 9-, 10-, and 12-speed setups. Go for the Kickr K.O.M. (King of the Mountain) Bundle, and you get the Kickr Climb grade simulator along with the trainer for $1,600 (a $200 savings if you were to buy them separately). The Kickr Climb can simulate, in real time, ascents up to 20 percent and descents of -10 percent, making virtual workouts feel even more like the real thing.


—BEST VALUE DIRECT DRIVE—

Elite Suito

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Suito Interactive Trainer

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  • Ready to go right out of the box
  • Very smooth resistance changes
  • Maximum slope simulation only 15 percent

The sturdy steel Suito comes preinstalled with a Shimano 11-speed cassette and pre-assembled legs. Compared with the Wahoo Kickr and Tacx Neo 2, this direct-drive trainer sacrifices only a smidge of accuracy (+/-2.5% vs. +/-0.5%), but it offers fast resistance transitions similar to its high-priced counterparts when riding on virtual platforms, as well as the freedom to ride untethered (the Drivo II is managed through the company’s My E-Training app, which costs $18.95 a year)—all for $400 less. We also love the Suito because, unlike some trainers (the Drivo included) that require an app to run, you can simply plug it in and start pedaling if you just want to ride without the fuss of logging onto a virtual platform. When disconnected from the virtual world, the Suito holds momentum better than any other trainer in this test—once you get it up to speed, it likes to stay there.


—QUIETEST DIRECT DRIVE—

Garmin Tacx Neo 2T

Garmin Tacx Neo 2T Smart Trainer

Garmingarmin.com

$1,399.99

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  • Extremely quiet
  • Slight ability to move side to side offers a more natural ride feel

Similar to the Wahoo Kickr, the Neo 2T Smart measures power up to 2,200 watts within 1 percent accuracy and simulates gradients up to 25 percent. But it has two features found nowhere else: It generates its own electricity (though it works better when plugged in) and vibrates to simulate a wide variety of road surfaces—from gravel to cobblestones. The redesigned drive system keeps the ride smooth, even through high-powered efforts like steep climbs and full-gas sprints. Unlike other direct-drive trainers that use noisy belts or rollers for power transmission, the Neo 2T has a metal flywheel with magnets that interact with electrical coils to moderate resistance. You turn the flywheel directly as you pedal, and the more electricity that flows through the coils, the larger the magnetic force. This newest Neo is also claimed to have better accuracy of cadence measurement (RPMs at the pedal), a smoother ride, more responsive resistance control, and improved internal memory. It also comes with pedal-stroke analysis and a thru-axle adapter, and is compatible with Shimano and SRAM 8- to 12-speed drivetrains. Plus, it’s ANT+, FE-C, and Bluetooth Smart-enabled and uses no external power source.


—MOST LIKE RIDING OUTSIDE—

Elite Nero

Elite Nero

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  • Progressive resistance
  • Mimics natural feel of riding outside
  • Requires more balance and focus than traditional trainers

If you hate the “locked-in” feel of being on a trainer but want to ride on third-party virtual platforms, the Elite Nero’s interactive rollers are the answer. When not plugged in and connected to any devices or apps, they function just like a set of standard rollers, except they offer the added bonus of progressive resistance. They also slide back and forth on a fixed frame, which makes for a very natural-feeling ride as the bike can move not just side to side but forward and back as well. When you are plugged in, it feels odd at first to hit resistance changes as you reach climbs and descents on Zwift while riding rollers. But it quickly becomes as normal as riding in a virtual world can, aided by the free-flowing movement of the bike. Don’t get carried away thinking these are the magic bullet for indoor training, though. Roller purists will find there’s too much resistance for high-cadence technique work, and trainer lovers won’t like that they can’t zone out for hours on end with nothing to think about but keeping the pedals turning. The Nero offers a middle ground for everybody.


—BEST WHEEL-ON SMART TRAINER—

Wahoo Kickr Snap

Wahoo Fitness Kickr Snap

Wahoo Fitnessrei.com

$500.00

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  • More portable than Kickr and Kickr Core
  • Easy connectivity via Bluetooth
  • Wheel-on design can wear out tires

The Kickr Snap is everything we love about the Kickr in a cheaper, more convenient, and lighter-weight package. Like the Kickr, the Snap is Bluetooth Smart, ANT+, and ANT+ FE-C ready and can be controlled by a smartphone, tablet, or Wahoo computer—LED lights alert you to a successful connection. It’s also compatible with Wahoo’s Headwind (wind-speed simulator) and Climb (grade simulator) accessories, and it works seamlessly with third-party apps like Zwift, The Sufferfest, TrainerRoad, and more. The Snap’s wheel-on design clamps over the ends of the rear axle. It accommodates quick-release and thru-axle rear wheels up to 29 inches, though you’ll have to purchase the adapter for thru-axles separately. It’s essentially the highest-end Kickr minus some of the accuracy and stability of the direct-drive model.


—BEST VALUE WHEEL-ON SMART TRAINER—

Kinetic Road Machine

Courtesy

Road Machine Control Trainer

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  • Easy to set up and pair with virtual platforms
  • Smooth resistance changes

The Road Machine Control smart trainer makes the pain cave of your dreams just a little more affordable, offering the same level of connectivity as its high-priced counterparts at a lower price. This friction trainer, with an electronically controlled 12-pound flywheel, offers remarkably smooth resistance. Momentum generated by the flywheel also makes the riding experience feel a little more lively compared to other friction trainers, which have a tendency to feel pretty dead as they amplify every imperfection in your pedal stroke. It’s important to note that, unlike some smart trainers that let you just plug in and go, the Road Machine must be used in conjunction with an app, either a third-party one for virtual riding or Kinetic’s own for more virtual options, as well as self-guided workouts.


―OUR FAVORITE SMART TRAINER―

Wahoo Kickr Core

Wahoo Kickr Core Smart Power Trainer

Wahoo Fitnessbackcountry.com

$899.99

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  • Same great feel as the slightly more expensive Kickr
  • Takes up less space than most direct-drive trainers
  • Max grade simulation tops out at 16 percent

The Kickr Core takes up less floor space and keeps 300 extra bucks in your wallet compared with the company’s much-loved Kickr. It uses the same smooth and quiet flywheel tech and reliable belt drive with electromagnetic resistance, though the Core uses a 12-pound flywheel versus the Kickr’s 16. The Core comes in a smaller package that features a reduced footprint and a more compact stand (when folded) that’s easier to store than other direct-drive units. If you love the Kickr but don’t need the extra max wattage or extra incline of that $1,200 unit, the Kickr Core delivers the same great quality and ride experience in a cheaper and more portable package.


―EASIEST TO STORE―

Saris H3

Saris H3 Direct Drive Smart Trainer

Sarisbackcountry.com

$1,099.99

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  • Extremely quiet
  • Smooth resistance changes
  • Stores easily
  • Can be finicky when riding without using a companion app

Similar to the Wahoo Kickr and Tacx Neo 2T, the H3 measures power up to 2,000 watts, with a 20 percent max incline and +/–2 percent accuracy. Like those two, the H3 is compatible with the most popular virtual cycling platforms via ANT+ FE-C and Bluetooth FTMS connectivity. Unlike those trainers, the H3 locks your bike in place without any side-to-side movement. But resistance changes on the H3 are as pleasantly smooth as the best trainers we’ve tried. In testing, we did have trouble with the trainer shutting down and losing resistance when riding without using a companion app, an issue we quickly fixed by unplugging the trainer and plugging it back in. And that dead feeling often associated with heavy flywheels isn’t as noticeable on the H3—it provides enough momentum to simulate “real” ride feel without seeming sluggish.


—EASIEST TO TRANSPORT—

Feedback Sports Omnium Over-Drive

Courtesy

Omnium Over-Drive Trainer

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  • Very light and easy to carry
  • Progressive resistance
  • No electronically controlled resistance

At 14 pounds, the Omnium Over-Drive is ideal for small living spaces and travel—it comes with a durable tote bag that lets you stow it under a bed or shove it into an overhead bin on a plane. This portable trainer isn’t light on features, though. Two four-inch magnetic drums provide progressive resistance up to a max 1,050 watts at 55 mph and make for an incredibly quiet ride that won’t disturb the peace while you’re cranking out a workout in your hotel room. Thanks to its height-adjustable fork mount and sliding base to which the aluminum rollers are attached, the Over-Drive can accommodate various bike and wheel sizes and quick-release or thru-axle configurations. At first glance, you might think the Over-Drive’s simple design sacrifices stability. But even in an out-of-the-saddle sprint, we couldn’t tip it over or get a rear wheel to skip off the rollers; the most we could do was lift a front support leg off the ground.

Bradley FordTest EditorBrad Ford has spent most of his life using tools to fix, build, or make things.

Sours: https://www.popularmechanics.com/adventure/outdoor-gear/a29697717/best-indoor-cycling-trainer/

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