Best turbo trainers: smart and standard turbos reviewed and rated

training on a turbo best turbo trainers
(Image credit: Future)

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 is pictured side on

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 is shown in the image along with the front wheel riser stand.

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.

Elite Drivo II smart turbo trainer is pictured here rear side on

(Image credit: Riccardo Urnato Fotografo srl)

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 is shown in the image rear side on

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 direct drive turbo trainer is pictured side on

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 in the image is front side on

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:

Tacx Flow Smart Turbo Trainer in the image comes with the front wheel riser block which is shown in the middle of the turbo legs

(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 pictured is shown rear side on

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 in the image is un-folded and ready to have a bike placed in-between the two uprights.

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. 

Saris Basic Mag Trainer in the photo had isn't legs unfolded and is ready to have a bike placed on it

(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.

 

This image shows a pair of interactive rollers

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.

best smart turbo trainers link with compatible virtual training software. This image shows a picture taken from the on line Zwift game. It shows a rider in the centre of the screen and lots of data numbers around the edges

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!