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

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.

>>> Indoor cycling apps compared: Zwift vs Trainer Road vs The Sufferfest

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.

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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

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.

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.

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 Smart turbo trainer £1,199

Score: 8/10

Tacx Neo Smart turbo trainer

Tacx Neo Smart turbo trainer

Read more: Tacx Neo Smart turbo trainer review 

Buy now: Tacx Neo Smart turbo trainer at Amazon for £861.52

Out of the box, the Tacx Neo requires quite a tricky setting up procedure, especially in a confined space such as a London flat. Folding down the legs isn’t as simple as it sounds, especially when you add a weight of 22kg into the mix.

In addition, anyone with a thru-axle bike will be left scratching their head as the Neo doesn’t ship with the adapter needed to make it compatible, available separately for £44.99 – which stings a bit considering the price of the unit.

Unlike the Wahoo, the Tacx doesn’t come with a cassette. However, while the Neo Smart’s heft might be considerable, compared to the likes of the Elite Drivo it’s a featherweight.

Its footprint is bigger than that of the Wahoo Kickr but again, smaller than that of the Elite and once folded away it is quite slim and sits nice and flush against the wall out of the way.

Practicalities aside, the Neo Smart’s performance is excellent.

It paired very easily with Zwift and if you’re looking to do some structured training plans or just experience some of the virtual climbs on the platform it will do everything asked of it and more – although we have to admit the road feel feature (vibrations to replicate riding on cobbles or wooden etc), which is unique to the Neo Smart, wasn’t for us but proves Tacx is trying to give you that really immersive experience.

It’s worth noting that even if that feature is for you it might not be for your neighbours as it increases the noise level of what is for the rest of the time an acceptably quiet trainer – though not quiet the “completely silent” that Tacx claims.

The unit’s gradient replication is one of the best on the market, with a very smooth changing of the resistance. Power readings are accurate when compared with on-bike power meters and it’s self-calibrating: no spin-down required.

  • Weight: 21.5kg
  • Connectivity: ANT+, Bluetooth Smart
  • Max Resistance: 2,200W
  • Max gradient simulation: 25%
  • Flywheel: Electromagnetic
  • Compatibility: Campagnolo/Shimano/SRAM 9/10/11 speed
  • Thru-axle compatible: with adapter available separately

Read more: Tacx Neo Smart turbo trainer review 

Buy now: Tacx Neo Smart turbo trainer at Amazon for £861.52

Bkool Smart Pro 2 smart turbo trainer £499.99

Score: 8/10

Bkool Smart Pro smart turbo trainer turbo trainer

Bkool Smart Pro 2 turbo trainer

Read more: Bkool Smart Pro 2 smart turbo trainer review 

But now: Bkool Smart Pro 2 smart turbo trainer at Chain Reaction Cycles for £359

The Bkool Smart Pro 2 is the Spanish brand’s most sophisticated turbo – pending the arrival of its first direct-drive unit which hadn’t been launched in time for this test. It’s a wheel-on unit that can produce resistance of up to 1,200 watts and simulate gradients of up to 20 per cent.

The Bkool comes with its own quick-release skewer but if your bike has a rear thru-axle, you’ll need to buy a Bkool thru-axle converter to be able to use it on the Smart Pro 2 – it’s a £50 extra and you need to choose the right one of the three available to fit your bike.

There are telescopic legs that pull out of the unit’s base and increase its width to over 80cm, so no matter how much you move around when riding, the unit remains rock solid.

At over 11kg, the Smart Pro 2 is lighter than all the direct-drive trainers in this test and pretty compact when folded. The resistance unit comes enclosed in a futuristic-looking yellow half-basketball.

In use, the Smart Pro 2 is pretty quiet, with a magnetic resistance unit that whines rather than howls, so you won’t annoy the neighbours too much. It’s self-calibrating too. There’s a reasonable level of inertia when in use, although since there’s no motor you can’t coast on simulated downhills.

Coupling the Bkool Smart Pro 2 via Bluetooth to external devices and Bkool’s own Cycling Simulator (three months’ free subscription comes as part of the package) is quick and uncomplicated but it supports Zwift via the ANT+ protocol – so for that you’ll need a dongle for laptops, iPhones and iPads.

The Bkool Smart Pro 2 is a sophisticated and versatile unit, which gives you a lot of training options. But you can now get direct-drive units for a similar price that give you a better riding experience and cut out wear on your tyres from the resistance drum.

  • Weight: 11.6kg
  • Connectivity: ANT+, Bluetooth Smart
  • Max Resistance: 1,200W
  • Max gradient simulation: 20%
  • Flywheel: Electromagnetic
  • Compatibility: 650C-29in wheels
  • Thru-axle compatible: adapter available separately

Read more: Bkool Smart Pro 2 smart turbo trainer review 

But now: Bkool Smart Pro 2 smart turbo trainer at Chain Reaction Cycles for £359

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

Buy now: Elite Drivo II smart turbo trainer at Merlin Cycles for £999

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 Merlin Cycles for £999

JetBlack WhisperDrive smart turbo trainer £769.99

Score: 8/10

JetBlack WhisperDrive Smart turbo

JetBlack WhisperDrive Smart turbo

Buy now: JetBlack WhisperDrive Smart Turbo at Tredz for £699.99

The Australian brand entered the smart trainer market this year with the WhisperDrive Smart, which is relatively small compared to the heavyweights from Elite, Tacx et al. However, it comes with a big USP: it doesn’t require an external power source for any of its functions, including the smart ones. You are the engine. It also has a USB port so you can charge up a device while you’re riding.

Whereas certain smart trainer designers have let their imaginations run riot and created abstract sculptures or Sith landing crafts, the Aussies have played it straight: the WhisperDrive is unremarkable looking but much more user friendly than the Tacx and the Elite. Two hinged legs simply fold out and snap into place. So set-up is incredibly easy.

There’s no cassette supplied but you do get thru-axle end-caps and a spanner to fit them. These legs are cannily placed just behind the bottom bracket to provide stability directly underneath the rider.

In use the WhisperDrive feels stable with a springiness that makes pedaling feel realistic. The legs are well placed just behind the BB and directly underneath the rider’s weight for maximum support.

As for connectivity, we had an initial hiccup where it wouldn’t connect to anything at all despite furious pedaling to charge its capacitors, but then it pinged up on Zwift and behaved like any of the other smart turbos in this test.

Riding the Watopia Volcano Circuit its electromagnetic resistance system replicated changing gradients very smoothly and ‘feel’ was particularly good with its 6.5kg flywheel, which is pretty heavy for its overall size. It has behaved perfectly since, but the JetBlack app needs improvement: it crashes easily and at the time of writing we hadn’t been able to do a spin-down calibration with it despite uninstalling and reinstalling the app. However, Zwift’s own calibration feature supports the WhisperDrive Smart.

‘Whisper’ does not describe the noise it makes – whine is more accurate – but happily as you increase the resistance and pedal harder the whine settles down into a hum that is louder than the quieter units in this test such as the Wahoo, but is not offensive.

  • Weight: 17kg
  • Connectivity: ANT+, Bluetooth Smart
  • Max Resistance: 2,500W
  • Max gradient simulation: 16%
  • Flywheel: Electromagnetic
  • Compatibility: Shimano/SRAM 10/11 speed
  • Thru-axle compatible: included

Buy now: JetBlack WhisperDrive Smart Turbo at Tredz for £699.99

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

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

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 Wiggle for £999.99

Best smart turbo trainer for 2018/2019: 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.

If you’re not after a direct-drive unit and space is at a premium, the Bkool Smart Pro 2 coupled with the Bkool simulator provides a lot of indoor training options. It’s reasonably light and packable for a smart turbo, but gives a stable ride. There’s plenty of resistance for hard rides and the option to challenge yourself against other real and simulated riders. It’s relatively quiet too.

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:

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.”