The best turbo trainers for indoor cycling: smart and standard turbo trainers reviewed

Your definitive guide to the smart turbo trainer, what they are, what they can do and where to find the best deal

A turbo trainer allows you to complete a focused training session on your own bike, in the comfort of your home.

Retailers have confirmed that the vast majority of models sold in 2019 and 2020 have been smart trainers. The difference between a smart and regular trainer is that the former 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.

>>> Spin classes: everything you need to know

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.

>>> Beginners guide to indoor cycling

We’ve gone into detail on the top selling five smart trainers below. However, we recognise that they’re big investments, so scroll further down the page for some more cost conscious offerings.

With each product is a ‘Buy Now’ 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.

Covid update: Many products are currently out of stock from online retailers; we’re maintaining a separate page listing turbo trainers available in the UK right now.



Our pick of the best smart turbo trainers

We’ve tested four direct-drive trainers and one wheel-on, all each of them the top model in their manufacturer’s range.

We’ve used Zwift to assess them because the platform is the most popular as well as being the leader in VR training. We’ve balanced user-friendliness, functionality and features against price for an overall score.

All of these models are £600 or more – but you can pick up a turbo trainer, even a smart one, for a lot less – read further down the page for more reviews of more affordable alternatives.

With each product is a ‘Buy Now’ 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.

Tacx Neo 2T Smart turbo trainer £1,199

Score: 9/10

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 smart splash of Tacx blue across the underside signifying the revamp.

It’s inside where the updates are significant. 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 owing to a redesign of the magnets. This has reduced both noise and vibration down significantly. Even under heavy sprint loads we barely managed to get the decibel reading to move over fifty dB, lower than a quiet conversation.

It still is one of the largest trainers with regards footprint but the ability to fold it neatly away still makes it suitable for those of us who can’t afford to 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 some form of carry/hand hold so manoeuvring it around can be a bit awkward. It has lost weight compared to the original but still weighs in at just over twenty one kilos.

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 and this goes some way to keep it feeling planted no matter what.

  • Weight: 21.5kg
  • 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

Read more: Tacx Neo Smart turbo trainer review

Buy now: Tacx Neo 2T Smart turbo trainer at Wiggle for £999.99 or at Wiggle US for $1399.99

Elite Direto smart turbo trainer £600

Score: 8/10

Read more: Elite Direto smart turbo review

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

With virtual cycling and indoor training only growing in popularity, Elite has cemented 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.

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

While the Drivo II reaches a whopping 2,300w and gradients of 24 per cent, 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 a +/- accuracy of two per cent, which is less than the more expensive Elite Drive II but more than the Tacx Flux at less than three per cent.

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

Buy now: Elite Direto smart turbo trainer at Halfords for £499 or ProbikeKit for $818.99

Elite Drivo II smart turbo trainer £1,199.99

Score: 8/10

Elite Drivo II smart turbo trainer

Elite Drivo II 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 higher accuracy.

This is the first smart turbo we’ve come up against that requires some self-assembly. It isn’t that complicated and a spanner 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 good thing though about its wide footprint and low-down weight is that it’s very stable. Even during big efforts the Drivo remains assured.

Connection 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 per cent gradient in three seconds. And 24 per cent is a whole four per cent more than the Wahoo Kickr and is the highest output on the market despite the smaller flywheel – 6kg compared to the Wahoo’s 7.25kg.

The Drivo II claims to be one of the quietest but it does fall short of some of the best out there at the moment, such as the Wahoo. Accuracy is said to be the best on the market at +/- 0.5 per cent, with 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

Read more: Elite Drivo II smart turbo trainer review

Buy now: Elite Drivo II smart turbo trainer at Halfords for £699.99 or at Pro Bike Kit for $1117.99

Best on test: Wahoo Kickr smart turbo trainer £999

Score: 9/10

Wahoo Kickr

Wahoo Kickr 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 turbos grouptest, but it had some limitations in terms of outright performance and ride quality. So for 2018 Wahoo has given the Kickr a spruce-up and brings a number of key upgrades without increasing the price.

However, what has increased is the weight of the flywheel to 7.25kg, in turn increasing the overall weight to nearly 22kg. 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 cassette 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 and although we didn’t experience any dropouts in wattage as we had on the previous version, numbers did seem a little more erratic than with the Elite and read a little higher than we expected. And one thing we did notice when using the cadence sensor was a reading of around 5rpm 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 per cent, 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

Read the full review: Wahoo Kickr core smart turbo trainer

Buy now: Wahoo Kickr smart turbo trainer at Evans Cycles for £999.99

Best smart turbo trainer: verdict

The JetBlack is ambitious, innovative and very competitively priced. With its self-generating power if you want to train in a shed without mains hook-up it’s the answer to your prayers.

On the flipside, if you want to stay in the house it’s on the noisy side and the app is a little buggy at the moment – though we expect that to be fixed.

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. However, as if to acknowledge this the Neo Smart is £50 cheaper than it was last year and is still an excellent trainer, although not the most manoeuvrable.

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, however, 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 stablest on test but if space is an issue it may not be the best option.

Wahoo has improved the Kickr nicely and although it has got heavier 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 reviews:

Best non-direct drive turbo trainers

Whilst the price of smart, 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 the options…

Tacx Satori Smart Turbo Trainer £259.99

best turbo trainer

The Satori from Tacx is a smart trainer, which means you can link it up to platforms like Zwift and enjoy changing resistance levels as the terrain or efforts adjust.

The max power is 950 watts, which will be enough for most riders, with some stronger cyclists finding they max it out during a full pelt sprint. The trainer uses Bluetooth and Ant+ to transmit data and has a magnetic resistance unit.

Buy now at Evans Cycles for £259.99

Wahoo KICKR SNAP Smart Turbo Trainer £429.99

best turbo trainers

 

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 will struggle, which is pretty hefty for most riders. It’ll replicate climbs as steep as 12 per cent which will be more than enough to provide a good workout.

Buy now at Evans Cycles for £429.99

Elite Qubo Power B+ Smart Turbo Trainer £249.99

best turbo trainers

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 six months free subscription to Elite’s own My E-Training app.

Buy now at Evans Cycles for £249.99

Saris Basic Mag Trainer £149.99

best turbo trainers

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.

Buy now at Halfords for £150

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. 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.

Fluid trainers

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.

>>> Eight ways to make your turbo training sessions more enjoyable

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.

best smart turbo trainer

Zwift also offers structure training

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.

Asked for his opinion, assistant manager at JLT-Condor and a coach with TrainSharp, Dean Downing told us: “I hate turbo trainers, but I did train a lot on a Wattbike during my racing career. Working as a coach, many of my clients work full-time and have families so they don’t want to go out at 8pm in the dark and cold.”
Asked if he would recommend the athletes he coaches purchase a smart turbo, Downing replies: “It ultimately comes down to personal preference. One of my clients uses a Wahoo KICKR and Zwift, while another trains with a Stages power meter on a standard turbo. It’s about breaking the boredom down.”