Your definitive guide to the smart turbo trainer, what they are, what they can do and where to find the best
What is a smart turbo trainer?
Smart turbo trainers serve the same goal as regular turbo trainers: they allow you to complete a focused training session on your own bike, in the comfort of your home. The difference is that a smart turbo trainer hooks up to other tech like computers and smart phones to help you get more from your workout.
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Much like a Wattbike in the gym, a turbo trainer means you can train your cycling muscles without the rigmarole of leaving your house. Everything from power based time trial turbo training sessions to sprint reps, the easy-to-store units can allow you to nail down your training without having to focus on your surroundings. A turbo trainer also gives you an indoor option if you’re recovering from a recent injury or are lacking in road confidence.
Unlike non-smart turbo trainers, the smart versions feature software like ANT+ and Bluetooth, collecting feedback and offering two way interaction with smartphones and computers. This allows a plethora of extra capabilities: everything from being able to set your trainer’s resistance to a certain level via your mobile phone to the trainer mimicking a ride’s profile that you see on your computer, like the popular Zwift app.
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Our pick of the best smart turbo trainers
CycleOps Hammer smart turbo trainer – £1000 (rrp)
A heavy duty unit, the CycleOps hammer weighs in at 21kg. The weight is down to a hefty 9kg flywheel – which is claimed to be the most weighty on the market, resulting in a road-like ride quality. The unit can take up to 2,000 watts, and replicate gradients of 20 per cent. We found it the most realistic to ride – though its bulk won’t suit those who want to move it around the house with ease.
TechnoGym MyCycling smart turbo trainer – £1590 (rrp)
A name that won’t ring bells for most, the MyCycling unit comes from TechnoGym – an Italian manufacturer of pro gym equipment.
Though pricey, this trainer won us over in the looks department – and its sturdy materials imply quality and durability. The company has produced its own app – and there are paid-for workouts created by Ivan Basso, and you can even choose to train with a real-life coach. Paring the unit with Zwift, we found, took a bit more work as a result but was successful and worked well.
Wahoo KICKR smart turbo trainer – £999 (rrp)
This latest iteration of the KICKR from Wahoo has received a decent upgrade and offers more data than you could ever possibly need. Great for those more serious turbo trainers out there.
Tacx Flux Smart turbo trainer – £699.99 (rrp)
The wide base and near silent drive system means the Flux smart turbo trainer not only provides a stable but a quiet ride too.
Tacx Neo smart turbo trainer – £1200 (rrp)
A step up from the Flux, the Neo can master power output up to 2000 watts and mirror gradients of 20 per cent – plus it’s super quiet.
Wahoo SNAP KICKR smart turbo trainer – £499.99 (rrp)
Much like the KICKR, the Wahoo SNAP provides the same incredible functionality and software variety but at nearly half the cost.
Tacx Satori Smart turbo trainer – £259.99 (rrp)
This magnetic turbo trainer also doubles up as a smart trainer with complete compatibility to the likes of Zwift and other third party apps, great for anyone on a budget.
Elite Turbo Muin II Fluid direct drive smart turbo trainer – £499 (rrp)
This fluid direct drive trainer is perfect choice if you’re looking for a smart trainer that is quiet and fairly affordable. Despite the trainer’s smart capabilities not being as wide as some others on show, this software interacts with Zwift and other popular apps.
Cycleops Magnus smart turbo trainer – £500 (rrp)
Incorporating both ANT+ and Bluetooth connectivity and up to 1500 watts resistance, this trainer can connect to a whole plethora of devices making sure you train your power effectively.
What are the different types of smart turbo trainers?
The most basic of all the Turbo trainers these use magnetic resistance to imitate the feel of the road. These are generally the cheapest due to their simplicity but there are few smart versions of them. Usually supplied with a resistance changer, their smart capabilities aren’t as varied as other and can’t be programmed to mimic a certain gradient or power resistance.
A step up from the magnetic trainers, fluid are much quieter and have a progressive resistance build up, meaning the faster you get the harder it is to ride. These are where the majority of affordable smart trainers will be based here 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
These space age looking machines remove the need for the wheel by attaching directly to the drive train hence the name. These are usually motorised and must be plugged in to work but this means they can be programmed to offer a wide variety of smart capabilities. It also means they can be built more complexly to provide a more natural road-like feel. By forgoing the need for the rear wheel they also mean you don’t have to buy new tyres as regularly as you would with any of the other trainers.
Why should you go for a smart turbo trainer?
For many people a standard cheap magnetic turbo trainer may do the trick, however, going for a smart trainer will ensure a much more fulfilling training session.
Firstly, their smart functions mean that they can connect to a whole host of software like Zwift, Strava and Skuga. Apps like Zwift interact with your turbo trainer to measure your effort and apply it to a virtual replica of yourself riding against other people over the internet. This makes a change from just staring at a wall or watching day time television as it creates a much more natural ride feel and isn’t as regimented.
Other apps like Skuga, actually enable you to recreate any Strava ride you may have done before into a language the trainer can understand so it can replicate. For example, if you found the perfect training route but can’t get out the house, you can programme it into your trainer so you don’t have to miss out on that exact feeling it gives you. You can even replicate a ride in the Alps in your living room!
Smart trainers also offer the chance to record more data than you may have thought even existed with some higher end models being able to accurately record your power output. This is great if you want to improve your power but don’t want to buy separate turbo trainers and power metres.