Best turbo trainers: smart and standard turbo trainers reviewed

Your definitive guide to the best turbo trainers, what they are, what they can do and what one is ideal for you.

A smart or standard turbo trainer allows you to complete a focused training session on your own bike, without having to leave the comfort of your own home.

Much like a Wattbike in the gym, the benefits of the best turbo trainers means you can train your cycling muscles and respiratory system without the rigmarole of dealing with the weather.

Everything from power-based steady-state sessions to sprint reps, the easy-to-store units remove any outside variables like stoplights that would otherwise interrupt your intervals. They also give you an indoor option if you’re recovering from an injury or lack confidence out on the road.

They come in two forms: standard and smart, with the vast majority of models now sold being smart trainers.

If you are looking for a permanent indoor set up then our guide to the best exercise and best smart bikes should help you decide what one is right for you.

As with the exercise and smart bikes, leading turbo trainers are capable of connecting to computers, tablets and smartphones to help you get the most of your workout.

If you’re looking for a indoor riding motivation or guided training, then you will find plenty in the virtual reality world of a indoor cycling app. In fact, our page on  indoor cycling apps compared: Zwift vs Trainer Road vs The Sufferfest directly looks a the differences between the most popular ones to give you an idea of what to expect.

Unlike non-smart turbo trainers, the smart versions feature software like ANT+ and Bluetooth, allowing them to speak the same language as your devices to keep track of power, speed and cadence but also establish a two-way conversation.

This allows a plethora of extra capabilities: everything from being able to set your trainer’s resistance to a certain level via your smartphone to the trainer mimicking what you see on-screen while using an app like the ones mentioned above.



Our pick of the best turbo trainers

We’ve gone into detail on six of the top-selling smart trainers below, using Zwift as the virtual testing grounds while taking into account each trainer’s user-friendliness, functionality, features, and price for an overall score.

We recognise the leading smart turbo trainers are big investments. If you are on a tight budget, then you’ll be pleased to here there is an alternative way to get a  cheap Zwift setup . Scroll further down the page for some more budget-friendly turbo trainers which could help you achieve smart trainer perks with a smaller price tag.

If you are totally new to riding at home, then our beginners guide to indoor cycling has everything you need to know in order to get started.

There are two options when it comes to mounting you bike for indoor training, and our wheel-on vs direct drive turbo trainers page compairs the pros and cons of both.

With each product is a ‘See more’ link. If you click on this then we may receive a small amount of money from the retailer when you purchase the item. This doesn’t affect the amount you pay.

The best direct drive turbo trainers

Elite Drivo II smart turbo trainer £1,199.99 / $1200

Score: 8/10

best smart turbo trainer

Read more: Elite Drivo II smart turbo trainer review

The new Elite Drivo II is said to improve on everything the original Drivo was. Better road feel, better response to terrain change in apps like Zwift and improved power accuracy.

This is the first smart turbo we’ve come up against 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 large looking unit: set up side-by-side with the CycleOps Hammer, Wahoo Kickr or even the 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 can 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-percent gradient in three seconds. And 24-percent is a whole four-percent more than the Wahoo Kickr and is the highest output on the market despite the smaller flywheel – 6kg  / 13.2lbs compared to the Wahoo’s 7.25kg / 16lbs.

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 percent, the Drivo II factory calibrated and never needing a zero offset.

  • Connectivity: ANT+, Bluetooth
  • Smart Max Resistance: 2,300W
  • Max gradient simulation: 24%
  • Flywheel: Electromagnetic
  • Compatibility: Shimano/SRAM 9/10/11
  • Thru-axle compatible: included

Tacx Neo 2 Smart turbo trainer £1,199 / $1,399

Score: 9/10

best smart turbo trainer

Read more: Tacx Neo 2 Smart turbo trainer review

The Neo 2T is the long-awaited sequel to the original Tacx Neo, possibly the longest-serving stalwart of the smart trainer scene. Superficially it’s difficult to tell the Neo 2T apart from its 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 fifty dB, 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 definition 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 /47.39lbs.

That wide footprint does have an advantage in that the Neo 2T is incredibly stable during heavy training efforts. You really can put it 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.

  • Weight: 21.5kg / 47.39lbs
  • Connectivity: ANT+, Bluetooth Smart
  • Max Resistance: 2,200W
  • Max gradient simulation: 25%
  • Flywheel: Electromagnetic
  • Compatibility: Campagnolo/Shimano/SRAM 8-12 speed
  • Thru-axle compatible: with adapter supplied

Elite Direto smart turbo trainer £600 / $899

Score: 8/10

best smart turbo trainer

Read more: Elite Direto smart turbo review

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-percent 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-percent max gradient.

While the Drivo II reaches a whopping 2,300w and gradients of 24-percent, 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-percent, which is less than the more expensive Elite Drivo II but more than the Tacx Flux S at less than 3-percent.

  • Connectivity: ANT+, Bluetooth
  • Smart Max Resistance: 2,300W
  • Max gradient simulation: 24%
  • Flywheel: Electromagnetic
  • Compatibility: Shimano/SRAM 9/10/11
  • Thru-axle compatible: included

Tacx Flux Smart turbo trainer £499.99

Score: 9/10

best smart turbo trainer

Read more: Tacx Flux Smart turbo trainer review

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 1500 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.

  • Connectivity: ANT+, Bluetooth smart
  • Smart Max Resistance: 1,500w
  • Max gradient simulation: 10%
  • Flywheel: Electromagnetic
  • Compatibility: Shimano/SRAM 8/9/10/11
  • Weight: 21.3kg

Elite Suito smart turbo trainer £649.99

Score: 9/10

best smart turbo trainer

Read more: Elite Suito smart turbo trainer review

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 per cent 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 per cent. But the Suito does come at a significantly cheaper price.

  • Connectivity: ANT+, Bluetooth
  • Smart Max Resistance: 1,900w
  • Max gradient simulation: 15%
  • Compatibility: Shimano/SRAM 9/10/11
  • Weight: 14.5kg

Best on test: Wahoo Kickr smart turbo trainer £999 / $1200

Score: 9/10

best smart turbo trainer

Read the full review: Wahoo Kickr smart turbo trainer

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 / 16lbs, in turn, raises the overall weight to nearly 22kg / 49lbs. 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-percent, slightly down on its rivals too.

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

  • Weight: 21.5kg
  • Connectivity: ANT+, Bluetooth Smart
  • Max Resistance: 2,200W
  • Max gradient simulation: 20%
  • Flywheel: Electromagnetic
  • Compatibility: Shimano/SRAM 10/11 speed
  • Thru-axle compatible: included

Best direct drive turbo trainer: verdict

We said last year that the Neo Smart’s rivals had caught it up; there’s no new top-of-the-range Tacx – though there is a new Tacx Flux S for £549 / $749. However, as if to acknowledge this the Neo Smart is £50 / $100 cheaper than it was last year and is still an excellent trainer, although not the most maneuverable.

The Elite Drivo II is a very good trainer and offers similar performance to the likes of the Wahoo and the Tacx. It isn’t the best designed, and although relatively light in weight it is awkward to store and move. Noise-wise, it is completely reasonable but not as quiet as the Wahoo. The Elite is probably the most stable on test but if space is an issue it may not be the best option.

Wahoo has improved the Kickr nicely and although it’s heavier than before that’s countered by good ergonomics and well-placed weight. In addition, it isn’t that hard to move around and it folds nicely to slot into a small space. It isn’t totally silent but it’s the quietest here. Overall it represents a good improvement over the previous model and is our test winner.

More direct drive smart turbo trainer reviews:

Best non-direct drive turbo trainers

Whilst 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 £269.99 / $369.99

Tacx Flow Smart

The Flow Smart from Tacx provides the perfect turbo trainer that strikes the balance between connectivity and budget, allowing you to link it up to platforms like Zwift, trainer road 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 finding they max it out during a full pelt sprint, or find it wanting on a climb. The trainer uses Bluetooth Smart open and ANT+ FE-C to transmit data and has a magnetic resistance unit and provides cadence, power and speed outputs.

  • Weight: 9.41kg (20.7lbs)
  • Connectivity: Bluetooth Smart open and ANT+ FE-C
  • 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)

Wahoo KICKR SNAP Smart Turbo Trainer £429.99 / $499.99

Score: 8/10

best smart turbo trainer

 

Read more: Wahoo Kickr Snap turbo trainer review

The Kickr Snap might not feel as smooth as the top end direct drive options, but it still offers a max power output of 1500 watts before the resistance wavers, which is pretty hefty for most riders and making it one of the best turbo trainers for less than $500/ £500.

It’ll replicate climbs as steep as 12 per cent 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.

  • Weight: 17kg (37.5lbs)
  • Connectivity: Bluetooth Smart open and ANT+ FE-C
  • Max Resistance: 1500W
  • Max gradient simulation: 12%
  • Flywheel: Electromagnetic
  • Width of rear fork: 130mm and 135mm Quick Release and 12×142 Thru-Axle with adapter (sold separately).

Elite Qubo Power B+ Smart Turbo Trainer £279.99 / $374

best smart turbo trainer

Read more: Elite Qubo Power Fluid review

This 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 Trainer Road aren’t up your street you also get twelve month free subscription to Elite’s own My E-Training app making it a impressive turbo trainer for the money.

The Elite trainer uses what’s called Crono Compass system, which the brand say effects the power output, where the rider’s weight directly affects the power output, providing an accurate ride feel.

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

No electrical power supply required means the flyweight unit can be a great option for travel or just when relegated to garden or balcony training.

  • Weight: 8.7kg (19.2lbs)
  • Connectivity: Bluetooth  and ANT+
  • Max Resistance: 900W
  • Max gradient simulation: N/A
  • Flywheel: Electromagnetic
  • Width of rear fork: 130mm and 135mm Quick Release and 12×142 Thru-Axle with adapter (sold separately).

Saris Basic Mag Trainer £149.99 / $189

best smart turbo trainer

If you simply want a turbo trainer you can hook your bike up to and pedal away on, then Saris’ basic mag trainer will do the trick.

You can still use apps like Zwift alongside a speed/cadence sensor if you like too, you just won’t get the variable resistance thrown in.

There are five adjustable levels of resistance to choose from and Saris say it’s  linear resistance will boost workout intensity to back match each pedal stroke and gear change.

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

With no wires and no need to connect to anything, the super simple Saris is idea for just getting on and riding no matter where your home training is done.

  • Weight: 8.7kg (19.2lbs)
  • Connectivity: Bluetooth  and ANT+  on Smart version
  • Max Resistance: tbc
  • Max gradient simulation: N/A
  • Flywheel: Electromagnetic
  • Width of rear fork: 120mm, 130mm and 135mm Quick Release and 12×142 Thru-Axle with adapter (sold separately).

More non- direct drive turbo trainer reviews:

What are the different types of smart turbo trainers?

Magnetic trainers

The most basic of all the 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 mimic 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

These space-age looking machines remove the need for the wheel by attaching directly to the drivetrain, hence the name. These are usually motorised and must be plugged into the wall, meaning that they can be programmed to offer a wide variety of smart capabilities and a more natural road-like feel. 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.

Are there any smart turbo trainer alternatives?

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

 

best smart turbo trainer

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 the bike comfort as turbo trainers do, and the floating system absorbs abrupt movement which would otherwise send you flying over the edge.

The other perk of rollers is the minimal faff of bike mounting.  The Elite Nero Interactive, pictured above, are one of our favourites, providing up to 830w max resistance and seven-percent grade. You can read all about these and see more n our  best rollers for indoor cycling page.

Why should you go for a smart turbo trainer?

For many people a standard cheap magnetic 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, an improvement on staring at a wall.

best smart turbo trainer

Zwift also offers structure training

Other apps like Skuga and Road Grand Tour 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 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!

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