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Best smart turbo trainers: Top Zwift compatible indoor trainers

Reviews
11 Aug 2021
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It used to be that the turbo trainer was only resorted to in the direst winter conditions or for pre-race warm-ups. Nowadays, whether lured by the virtual world of Zwift or by the many benefits of stationary training, they’re increasingly a year-round companion for many riders.

And while turbo trainers have drastically improved in recent years, the fundamental concept remains the same. You bolt your bike onto the device with either a roller on the wheel or, more likely, a direct-drive system recreating the resistance you’d feel when riding on the road.

Happily, the features and ride-feel offered by modern smart turbo are much improved on models from just a few years ago. Chief among these developments is their ability to cooperate with training software, allowing you to compete in virtual races or automatically vary their resistance, to cover virtual courses or complete set workouts.

Even better, they are no longer the preserve of the extremely well-heeled, and a few hundred pounds will secure you a perfectly serviceable entry-level model. In our round-up, we’ve looked at turbos that deliver all the bells and whistles, along with options to get you on Zwift – or any other virtual training platform, without costing the earth.

Below are our favourites...

The best smart turbo trainers

Wahoo Kickr Core turbo trainer: Best all-around trainer

The Wahoo Kickr Core is the little brother to the regular Kickr but trades in a few of its more advanced features for a substantial cost reduction.

That isn’t to say the trainer is in any way compromised, though – its specs are more than sufficient to cope with any kind of typical session you may want to complete. Maximum output is 1,800 watts (which is world-class track sprinter-levels of power), which Wahoo claims can be accurately measured to within +/-2 % and can simulate gradients up to 16%.

The Kickr Core’s fixed footprint is less packable than the top-level Kickr, which has fold-away legs, but the base should be just as stable. Remember to buy a cassette though, as the Kickr Core doesn’t ship with one as standard.

It might not have the level of features compared to other designs at this price point, but you are buying a Wahoo product, meaning the construction quality and durability of the trainer is likely to be excellent.

Key specs: Max Resistance 1,800 watts; Max Gradient 16%; Connectivity Bluetooth, ANT+; Claimed Power accuracy +/-2 %

Tacx Neo 2 Smart turbo trainer: Best for a natural road feel

Looking like something straight out of Star Wars, the Neo is one of the new breed of ‘direct mount’ trainers where the bike is attached directly to a cassette on the trainer and secured with a quick-release skewer.

By removing the rear wheel, wear and tear on the tyre is no longer an issue. This trainer doesn’t just look impressive, though; the technology it contains is also applause-worthy.

Through its powerful motor, it is able to apply a resistance of 2,200W and simulate slopes of up to 25% – which is surely more than anybody could ever want – and it can even simulate a descent of -5%.

It also communicates via Bluetooth Smart and ANT+, which means it can be connected to Tacx’s excellent training apps on your phone, laptop, tablet, or other training platforms such as Zwift. It’s also all but silent to use, unlike a lot of the cheaper models, which can be quite noisy.

So no chance of disturbing the family or neighbours when bashing out a quick 100km then! 

Read our full review here.

Key specs: Max Resistance 2,200 watts; Max Gradient 25%; Connectivity Bluetooth, ANT+; Claimed Power accuracy +/-1% Other Measurement of left and right power distribution

Elite Direto OTS turbo trainer: Best for pedalling style analysis 


According to Elite’s Peter Lago, ‘over two-thirds of the trainers we sell nowadays are interactive, compared to just 10% a few years ago. Direct drive is far more popular too: our customers’ buying habits have shifted considerably.’

The Direto, then, is Elite’s most accessible trainer that caters to the all latest trends in the indoor training market. It uses either ANT+ or Bluetooth to interact with a multitude of apps and devices, while its direct-drive design uses an integrated optical torque sensor to measure power to within +/-2% accuracy and plot an analysis of pedalling action.

It can also simulate gradients up to 14% and can cope with peak power outputs of 1,400 watts.

That is quite a feature list considering the Direto is several hundred pounds cheaper than some interactive trainers, making it probably the best in its area of the market in terms of value for money. It even comes with a cassette.

‘It is the software companies that have created this new market,’ says Lago. ‘There’s a new desire, pushing hardware companies to come up with something better. I’d say we’ve made more progress in the last two years than in the 10 before that.’

Key specs: Max Resistance 1,400 watts; Max Gradient 14%; Connectivity Bluetooth, ANT+; Claimed Power accuracy +/-2 %; Other Cadence sensor


LifeLine Xplova Noza: The best for hardware tech on a budget


Smooth, stable and silent – that’s what the Xplova Noza S does best. And it does so at a reasonable price given its capabilities.

The flywheel weighs 5.9kg to keep you firmly planted on your biggest efforts up to 2,500 watts or up a potential 18% incline.

With ANT+ and Bluetooth connectivity, you can ride it on all your favourite training apps, while its belt and pulley system helps to keep noise levels below 58dB, so you won’t wake everyone up with an early spin.

It's a bit of a chunky beast, so you'll have to have a decent amount of space to store it. You'll also have to accept the lack of a built-in cadence sensor. However, if you can live with these, its recent price reduction has made it a competitive budget option. 

Key specs: Max Resistance 2,500 watts; Max Gradient 18%; Connectivity Bluetooth, ANT+, FE-C; Claimed Power accuracy +/-2.5%


Saris M2 Wheel-on trainer: Best value variable-resistance smart turbo trainer 

The rear wheel-powered Saris M2 is fairly cheap for a smart turbo trainer at a little over £400 and capable of competing with some of its more expensive competitors.

The electromagnetic resistance offers power readings to +/- 5% accuracy that can fire up to 1,500W and simulate a 15% gradient which prevents from overheating with an internal cooling system that flows cool air onto the rollers as you ride.

Compatible with ANT+ and Bluetooth for Zwift use, you can link the Saris M2 straight to your phone, tablet or laptop for easy use, too.

Key specs: Max Resistance 1,500 watts; Max Gradient 15%; Connectivity Bluetooth, ANT+, FE-C; Claimed Power accuracy +/- 5%

Saris H3 turbo trainer: The best for natural feeling balance 


The Saris H3 is right up there among the top-end smart trainers, being compatible with the big online platforms like Zwift and TrainerRoad, boasting +/-2% power accuracy, making very little noise (a claimed 59dB at 32kmh) and replicating up to 20% gradients.

So the next step, says Saris (formerly known as CycleOps), is to make home training even more like riding outdoors, which is where the Nfinity comes in. It’s a platform that you put your bike and turbo trainer on, allowing the whole setup to move in a way that feels like riding on the road for real.

Using a series of rollers and bowed tracks, it can shift 24cm fore-aft and tilt 12° to either side. This, says Saris, not only makes riding feel more natural but aids performance by engaging the core and upper body as well as the legs. Encouraging shifts in weight also alleviates that dead backside feeling that comes from hours sat in a rigid turbo position.

Key specs: Max Resistance 2,000 watts; Max Gradient 20%; Connectivity Bluetooth, ANT+; Claimed Power accuracy +/-2 %; Other: 59dB (at 20mph)


Stages Smart indoor trainer bike: Best gym-style bike trainer 

Saving you the hassle of setting the turbo trainer up for every ride, the Stages Smart indoor trainer bike replicates all the benefits of a smart turbo, building it into what is effectively an incredibly realistic and accurate exercise bike.

Obviously, this is far more advanced than your gym exercise bike, integrating Stages' Gen 3 dual-sided power meter into a system that can offer 3,000W of resistance at 120rpm while replicating 25% gradients – perfect when pairing to third-party apps like Zwift.

What's more, with adjustable crank lengths and the ability to change handlebar and saddle, you can replicate the position and feel of your road bike to ensure a seamless transition between riding in and outdoors.

There's also a tablet and phone stand and bottle cages, all you need for a perfect indoor session.

Key specs: Max Resistance 3,000 watts; Max Gradient 25%; Connectivity Bluetooth, ANT+; Claimed Power accuracy +/-1.5 %; Other Cadence sensor, electronic shifting, adjustable crank length

Wahoo Kickr Smart turbo trainer: Best for feature-hungry virtual cyclists


Wahoo’s top-of-the-line Kickr Smart is one of the more minimal designs here, with a few touches that make it really stand out. You’ll notice there is no front wheel riser; that’s because the Kickr axle sits at rear wheel height and is adjustable.

Made mostly of steel, the legs have height-adjustable feet for fine-tuning on uneven surfaces and spring-loaded locking pins, so it stays in place during transit – for which there is a very helpful handle.

A Gates drive belt takes your effort into the flywheel, where a mains-powered electromagnetic system gives you resistance up to 2,200W and a 20% gradient.

There’s also an RPM cadence sensor, and the internal power meter is said to be +/-2 % accurate. Plus it comes fitted with an 11 speed Shimano cassette – all features that will allow you to take on pre-set turbo session or log onto Zwift with the minimum of fuss.

The Wahoo Kickr gives a buttery smooth pedalling sensation that feels both realistic and comfortable. What’s more, being part of Wahoo means you can also use the Wahoo eco-system of Headwind fan and Climb simulator.

Key specs: Max Resistance 2,200 watts; Max Gradient 20%; Connectivity Bluetooth, ANT+; Claimed Power accuracy +/-2 %; Other Cadence sensor 


Elite Suito-T turbo trainer: Best for full-size performance in a bite-size package

Despite being just 15cm wide, it’ll provide a stable base and simulate slopes of up to 15%, along with resistance of up to 1,900 watts at 40kmh.

Pairing via ANT+ or BLE, it measures power to within +/-2.5% accuracy and can detect cadence without a sensor. Easily paired with an app like Zwift, once synched up, it’ll rapidly tailor resistance to match your virtual riding environment.

Alternatively, you can use it in ERG mode. Here it also does a good job of keeping you at a constant output regardless of how you mash the pedals.

Perhaps a decibel or two louder than other trainers in its category, its comparatively low price means it remains an excellent choice. Read our first look here.

Key specs: Max Resistance 2,900 watts; Max Gradient 15%; Connectivity Bluetooth, ANT+; Claimed Power accuracy +/-2.5%; Other Compact size 

Tacx Flux 2: Best for dedicated training spaces


The Tacx Flux 2’s mix of features, connectivity and looks make it hard to beat.

In appearance, the Flux 2 is very much the little brother to Tacx’s range-topping Neo (see above), carrying over the Star Wars spaceship-esque aesthetic, but in performance terms, there isn’t much to separate the two trainers apart from a sizeable chunk of cash.

High-end Tacx trainers are known for their quietness, and the Flux 2 is no different, claiming to possess a near-silent flywheel. And the 7.6kg flywheel weight should create a decent ride feel to boot.

One niggle is that the Flux 2’s legs don’t fold away, but provided you have some dedicated space to store it, those legs should create a very stable platform from which to train.

This is the second iteration of the Flux's design, in which Tacx has bumped up the trainer’s capabilities in nearly every area. Accuracy is a claimed +/-2.5%, gradients can be simulated up to 16%, and the trainer has a maximum output of 2,000 watts.

Key specs: Max Resistance 2,000 watts; Max Gradient 16%; Connectivity Bluetooth, ANT+; Claimed Power accuracy +/-2.5 %; Other Cadence sensor


Elite Drivo II Direct Drive Smart Turbo Trainer: Best for maximum resistance 

  

Elite makes excellent turbo trainers, and the Drivo II doesn't deviate from that trend of quality, but the best thing about the Elite Drivo II Direct Drive Smart Turbo Trainer is the fact that some retailers still look to have stock (at least at the time of writing).

The Elite Drivo II uses a direct drive system with an integrated power meter OTS (Optical Torque Sensor) that accurately measures the rider's power output throughout their turbo training session.

With a huge 3,600 watts at 60kmh, this turbo is suitable for the strongest riders. A 6kg internal flywheel offers a smooth operation and significant resistance. Connectivity is made through ANT+ and Bluetooth, meaning the trainer can be quickly and easily paired with a host of devices, allowing you to train interactively on your choice of software – such as Zwift and RGT.

Compatible with 9, 10, and 11-speed Shimano cassettes and quick release and bolt-thru axles, this versatile trainer can be used with most modern bikes.

Key specs: Max Resistance 3,600 watts; Max Gradient 24%; Connectivity Bluetooth, ANT+ FE-C; Claimed Power accuracy +/-0.5%

How to get the most from your turbo trainer...

Whether your goal is to use long, steady sessions to preserve your base fitness or build top-end power through intense intervals, a cycling turbo trainer can provide a simple, low-maintenance solution to keep you competitive (or at least mildly fit).

Many manufacturers now employ a ‘trickle-down’ strategy. The high-quality but expensive fluid and magnetic resistance know-how of a few years ago are now available at great-value prices, making it a great time to buy a trainer on a tight budget.

After getting your turbo trainer, you will want to put some sort of plan in place. There's nothing worse than flogging yourself sporadically for an hour without much in the way of structure or purpose, especially as it will not really improve you as a cyclist.

There are plenty of easy turbo workouts that you can follow and will offer excellent sessions aimed at improving certain aspects of your riding. Here, we have put together five of the best sessions you can do at home.

Alternatively, you can sign up to apps like Trainer Roads or Zwift. These will cost you a monthly subscription but come preset with a host of training programmes that you can follow depending on your goals and available time.

Read our guide to the best bike rollers and everything you need to know about the FTP test.

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