Turbo trainers have seen extreme and rapid development over recent years. Around 10 years ago, the best turbo trainers required manual resistance changes, were noisy and would chew through tyres at an expensive rate.
The advent of the smart turbo trainer and accompanying software meant indoor cycling as a discipline underwent a revival. Nowadays, the best turbo trainers are 'smart', meaning they connect to your computer via Bluetooth or ANT+ and the resistance at which your turbo trainer is set can be controlled by software.
Gone are the days of trying to balance enough focus to hit the prescribed workout with enough distraction to take your mind off the pain. Nowadays we are awash with indoor cycling apps to guide you through highly targeted workouts if you're training. There are even connected video games that react to your pedalling input, meaning indoor cycling has opened up to recreational cyclists who want more than just suffering from their time on a bike.
So popular has the discipline become, the UCI has introduced an e-sports world championships, and a lockdown-edition of the Tour de France was held via the indoor platform, Zwift.
- Want more than a turbo trainer? Check out our guide to the best smart bikes
- Want to save money but still ride on Zwift, TrainerRoad, etc? We explain how to get the cheapest Zwift setup
Best turbo trainers: Direct drive
For direct drive turbo trainers to function, you'll need to remove your rear wheel. The turbo trainer will have a cassette fitted (although not always included), and you'll connect your bike to the trainer in the same way you'd fit a rear wheel. This means your pedalling turns the flywheel directly, rather than relying on friction between your tyre and a roller.
Wahoo Kickr Core
Compact and quiet direct drive trainer
Flywheel weight: 12lbs / 5.4kg | Connectivity: ANT+, ANT+ FE-C, and Bluetooth | Accuracy: +/- 2-per cent | Max power: 1800-watts | Max simulated grade: 16-per cent
Wahoo's Kickr Core sits in the just under the brand's flagship direct-drive Kickr model. It's quite a bit cheaper and the main differences are the lack of folding legs, height adjustment, the slightly smaller flywheel at 12lbs / 5.4kg (the same size as the 2016 and 2017 Kickr), and you’ll have to supply your own cassette.
What the Kickr does offer is universal training app compatibility, 1800-watts of electromagnetic resistance, a simulated grade topping out at 16-per cent and claims of a +/- 2-per cent power accuracy. Once you've installed your cassette, it works with quick release, and thru-axle rear ends and offers smooth transitions in resistance and a surprisingly realistic road feel.
Elite Direto XR
Elite's most refined model to date is also one of the best turbo trainers currently on the market
Flywheel weight: 12lbs / 5.1kg | Connectivity: ANT+, ANT+ FE-C, and Bluetooth | Accuracy: +/- 1.5-per cent | Max power: 2300-watts | Max simulated grade: 24-per cent
The Elite Direto XR headlines the Italian company's current range of direct-drive smart turbo trainers. The new model can now simulate gradients of up to 24 per cent, up from 18 on the Direto, while the maximum power output it can handle is 2300 watts, up from 2100. It should handle everything you can ask of a home trainer, then.
There's improved power reading accuracy too, with the integrate OTS (optical torque sensor) power meter measuring your output with 1.5 per cent accuracy either way.
Ease of use is a big draw too, with Elite throwing in a pre-installed Shimano 105 (or equivalent) pre-installed cassette so you can get riding right away. With our review of the Direto X seeing the lack of a cassette as one of the very few negatives about the trainer, it's a welcome improvement.
Tacx Flux 2
Pared down Neo at a considerable discount
Flywheel weight: 7.6kg (31.2kg virtual) | Connectivity: ANT+ FE-C, Bluetooth | Accuracy: +/- 2.5-per cent | Max power: 2000-watts | Max simulated grade: 16-per cent
The Flux 2 is positioned in the mid-tier of Tacx trainers, above the slightly cheaper Flux S and beneath the Neo 2T, which makes it into our list below.
We think the Flux 2 offers slightly better value for money than its more budget sibling thanks to the increased power accuracy, 500 extra watts of resistance, six per cent extra incline simulation, and the almost doubled maximum torque. It also includes compatibility for 142 and 148mm thru-axles.
Tacx Neo 2T
For the dedicated Zwift lover, if you can afford it
Flywheel weight: 125kg / 275.6lbs (virtual) | Connectivity: ANT+ FE-C, Bluetooth | Accuracy: +/- 1-per cent | Max power: 2200-watts | Max simulated grade: 25-per cent
If your pockets are deep enough, the Tacx Neo 2T turbo trainer is a Zwift or Rouvy lover’s best indoor companion. Offering a degree or two of movement in the freewheel, the Neo 2T can also recreate road surface sensations with some clever electronics.
Using electromagnetic resistance, Tacx says it can simulate up to a 125kg flywheel and offers 2200-watts to fight against and a max incline of 25-per cent. It's also compatible with 135x10, 142x12 and 148x12 mm axles without the need for extra adaptors. It can also be unplugged and still continue to function, so it can be taken to races for your pre-race warmup.
Instead of using a belt to spin the freewheel like most other direct drive trainers do, the freehub Neo Smart 2 turns the flywheel, which Tacx says allows the trainer to offer power accuracy within one per cent without calibration — Tacx is so sure of this, it doesn't even provide an option to calibrate. The Neo 2T also offers advanced power metrics like left/right balance and pedal stroke analysis.
The Kickr V5 is Wahoo's best turbo trainer, and it's one of the best on the market
Flywheel weight: 16lbs / 7.3kg | Connectivity: ANT+, ANT+ FE-C, and Bluetooth | Accuracy: +/- 2-per cent | Max power: 2200-watts | Max simulated grade: 20-per cent
Wahoo Kickr recently updated the top-tier model in its range, introducing the Kickr V5. With it, the already-highly-popular Kickr V4 is improved upon without any increase in price.
The key highlights all remained the same, including the 7.3kg flywheel, maximum 2,200 watts of resistance, 20 per cent incline, and the design of the body and foldable legs. However, Wahoo introduced AXIS; removable cushioned feet that allow up to five per cent of lateral motion to allow for natural pedalling motion and thus, an increase in comfort and road feel... on early tests with the Kickr V5, it's noticeably better.
It also added an ethernet port, which doesn't actually do anything at the moment, but will soon connect to laptops or televisions to help prevent mid-ride dropouts, making it great for competitive racers.
Great for those with big engines and nearby neighbours
Flywheel weight: 20lbs / 9kg | Connectivity: ANT+ FE-C, Bluetooth | Accuracy: +/- 2-per cent | Max power: 2000-watts | Max simulated grade: 20-per cent
With a substantial 20lb flywheel to drive, the Saris H3 combines real-world inertia with electromagnetic resistance to offer 2000-watts of interactive resistance from your favourite training app.
The H3 sees integrated speed and cadence (and of course power) sensors and offers smooth transitions in power. The standout figure is the low noise, promising just 59 decibels at 20mph, the H3 is arguably the best turbo trainer for those looking to keep neighbours happy.
The legs fold away, and there’s and carry handle so you don’t throw out your back trying to move the 21.3kg unit. It comes with end caps to suit most modern rear ends (except super boost).
Elite Drivo II
Trainer for the data nerds
Flywheel weight: 13.2lbs / 6kg | Connectivity: ANT+, Bluetooth Smart | Accuracy: +/- 0.5-per cent | Max power: 2300-watts | Max simulated grade: 24-per cent
Elites Drivo II takes power seriously, with an accuracy claimed to be within +/- 0.5-per cent. The Italian outfit says the built-in Optical Torque Sensor takes measurements from 24-points and can even measure the smoothness and roundness of your pedal stroke.
With 2300-watts of resistance, up to a 24-per cent simulated grade, the Drivo features built-in speed and cadence sensors too. It does require a bit of assembly out of the box, and the fold-out legs provide for a stable pedalling platform for those trying to target that maximum wattage.
The trainer plays nice with a host of third-party training apps, and the trainer comes with a 36-month membership to Elite's My E-Training app.
Best turbo trainers: Wheel-on
Put simply, wheel on turbo trainers connect via your bike's axle. Your rear tyre is placed against a roller so that when your pedalling input spins your rear wheel, it in-turn spins the roller.
Wahoo Kickr Snap
One of the best turbo trainers for user-friendliness
Flywheel weight: 10.5lbs / 4.76kg | Connectivity: ANT+, ANT+ FE-C, and Bluetooth Smart | Accuracy: +/- 3-per cent | Max power: 1500-watts | Max simulated grade: 12-per cent
While Wahoo's Kickr direct drive turbo trainers are likely some of the first that comes to mind (for good reason), the brand's wheel-on Kickr Snap is no chump.
With both ANT+ and Bluetooth connectivity, Wahoo makes the unit compatible with basically every training app under the sun and the Kickr Snap plays nicely with iOS, Android, Windows and Mac.
At +/-3 per cent accuracy, the power measurement of the V2 edges in just above much of the competition and in the ERG mode, the Snap adjusts the resistance at the rear wheel to match what your app of choice dictates.
The frame is sturdy and doesn't feel as though you're going to tip over when the intervals get tough, but the legs are foldable for easy storage.
Kurt Kinetic Rock and Roll Control
A smart turbo trainer that simulates outdoor riding
Flywheel weight: 12lb / 5.4kg | Connectivity: ANT+ FE-C and Bluetooth | Accuracy: +/-3-per cent | Max power: 1800-watts | Max simulated grade: 10-per cent
Kurt Kinetic's Rock and Roll turbo trainer offers an indoor riding experience that many people attempt to replicate with a rocker plate. The unique frame sways from side to side, forcing you to engage your core as you would in the real world. On the downside, if space is at a premium, the Rock and Roll has a massive footprint and does not fold down.
Kinetic is offering the Rock and Roll trainer with a Power Control unit which features a 12lb flywheel and app-controlled interactive resistance. Even better, if you've already got a Rock and Roll, or any other Kurt Kinetic trainer you can upgrade it with the Power Control Unit.
The Kurt Kinetic Rock and Roll Control has a maximum resistance of 1800-watts and maximum simulated incline of 10-per cent. There is plenty of leg-burning power on tap.
Lifeline TT-01 turbo trainer
A simple and versatile magnetic turbo trainer for those on a budget
Flywheel weight: TBC | Connectivity: N/A | Accuracy: N/A | Max power: 800-watts | Max simulated grade: N/A
This magnetic wheel-on turbo trainer from Wiggle's inhouse brand Lifeline may lack the bells and whistles of a smart trainer, but it does offer a very budget-friendly way for anyone to get started with indoor cycling. Its wide steel construction and rubber feet create a strong and stable platform to hold your bike securely in place, while the compact folding a-frame design that makes it easy to pack away or take with you to warm up before an event.
With six levels of magnetic resistance that you can adjust using an ergonomic remote lever atop your handlebars, and a promised power curve to simulate real riding conditions, it’s an ideal entry-level trainer for anyone who’s at the beginning stages of setting up their pain cave. It comes with a riser block for your front wheel to rest on to place you in a natural riding position, and you can combine the magnetic resistance with your bike’s gears to simulate hill climbs and sprints.
It’s also compatible with multiple wheel sizes, ranging from 26-inch mountain bike wheels to 700c road wheels, and can fit both 130 and 135mm rear spacing, for road and mountain bikes respectively. This means if you’ve not yet invested in a road bike, you can still start training with whatever set of wheels you already have.
It’s still possible to achieve an at-home virtual cycling setup with the Lifeline TT-01, if you pair it with an ANT+ or Bluetooth stick and a speed and cadence sensor. In fact, the trainer is now included in the Zwift classic trainer hardware list, which means with these additions you can take advantage of Zwift’s power curve configuration to improve the accuracy.
There will be a slight delay between your power output and the response on screen, but for under £100 / $150, it’s definitely not something to be sniffed at.
Part trainer, part modern art
Flywheel weight: N/A | Connectivity: ANT+ FE-C, Bluetooth Smart | Accuracy: +/- 3-per cent | Max power: 1250-watts | Max simulated grade: 10-per cent
The Elite Tuo is easily the best turbo trainer for the style-conscious or those who want their turbo trainer to blend in with their home decor.
However, it's not just a pretty face. With a claimed accuracy of +/- 3-per cent, slope simulation of 10% and a maximum resistance of 1250 watts, it holds its own as a great training tool too.
The Tuo is compatible with bikes from 130mm quick-release up to Boost 148x12mm thru-axle. It has a large footprint for stability during high power efforts, yet if you do decide to hide it away, it folds up to a compact package.
How to choose the best turbo trainer
Turbo trainers can be a confusing minefield of options, but that's where we can help. Firstly, you'll need to decide between smart and dumb. The best turbo trainers of today are all smart, which means they can connect (usually via Bluetooth or ANT+) to your electronic device (phone, laptop, tablet and most of the best cycling computers) to offer variable resistance which is controlled by apps such as Zwift or sessions uploaded to your device.
When buying, look for connectivity specs and compatibility claims. If it has Bluetooth/ANT+ mentioned, or it claims to be compatible with Zwift, then you're looking at a smart turbo trainer.
Simple turbo trainers forego this connectivity and are much cheaper. They either offer a variable resistance curve (the harder you pedal, the harder it gets), or a manual controller, which is not dissimilar to dragging your brakes. Of course, if you have a power meter or speed sensor, you can still pair that with your Zwift-running device, but the interactivity is lost. For more information on this, we've put together a guide to the cheapest Zwift setup which explains what you need to ride on Zwift (and others) and the cheapest way to make it happen.
Within smart turbo trainers, there are two options, wheel-on and direct drive. Just as the names suggest, wheel-on places a roller against your rear tyre to provide resistance while direct-drive connects a cassette to the trainer itself, and removes the rear wheel entirely.
The most significant factor in determining which turbo trainer is best for you will be how much you're willing to spend. Direct drive turbo trainers are often more expensive, the wheel-on smart variety is more budget-friendly, and dumb turbo trainers are regularly the cheapest.
Of course, there is a trade-off. The wheel-on trainers are usually louder and don’t offer the same accurate power measurement their direct drive cousins do and most direct drive trainers require power calibration before each use, generally in the form of a 'spin down'.
Smart turbo trainers can also offer ERG mode where the trainer will tailor the resistance curve to help you hit your target power. For example, let's say you're riding using TrainerRoad and your target power is 200 watts, ERG mode will provide the right resistance for 200 watts regardless of whether you're pedalling at 60RPM or 150RPM.
This means you can focus more on the pedalling and less about shifting, cross chaining and blowing your interval because you got a bit too involved in whatever you were watching on Netflix.
When it comes to communication with your device, almost every trainer can connect via Bluetooth Smart or ANT+ and now, ANT+ FEC. While Bluetooth Smart has been able to broadcast data and control your trainer from the outset, ANT+ only transmits data and ANT+ FEC allows for your device or training app to send orders to the trainer.
As of around 2016, virtually every trainer on the market was dual-band, meaning they worked on both protocols, so no matter if you're using a Garmin cycling computer or your laptop, your smart turbo trainer should be able to speak the right language.
Bikes use a variety of axle and free-hub standards these days it's also essential to make sure you've got the right adaptors. Most direct-drive trainers come with a variety of end caps to suit multiple axles; however, wheel on trainers may require a special axle, either one from the respective trainer company or a third-party universal option.
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