If you’re new to home trainers, it could help to check out our previous article. It explains the basics about turbo trainers and how to get started with them. This article will focus more on the category of smart turbo trainers. These can be hooked up to Zwift, Rouvy, Sufferfest, Trainer Road, Bkool, and other virtual training platforms that turn boring home training into an exciting part of cycling.
There are two main categories of smart turbo trainers based on how your bike attaches to them.
- Wheel-on trainers – Your bike is fixed to an A-shaped frame and the rear wheel sits on a roller. These trainers are generally less expensive but louder and less accurate.
- Direct-drive trainers – You remove your rear wheel and mount your bike onto the trainer, which includes a cassette. These are generally higher-end, quieter, and more accurate.
First, let’s take a look at the three best wheel-on trainers we would recommend. Each of them has a different set of unique benefits but they all fit in the ‘under 500 EUR’ category.
The most accurate wheel-on smart trainer
Zycle might sound like a new name in the turbo trainer world next to brands such as Wahoo, Elite, Tacx or Saris. But don’t be fooled. When Bkool decided to focus on software, they sold their hardware side of business to Zycle. So, this seemingly new brand has a solid background in the industry.
Their wheel-on trainer uses magnetic resistance and ventilation system that makes it much quieter compared to other trainers in this category. It’s able to simulate a 15% gradient and 1,200 watts of power while claiming an excellent +/- 3% accuracy. This is also much better than the standard in this price range. This trainer is quick to setup and thanks to the telescopic legs, it offers greater stability during training.
The most portable wheel-on trainer
This smart trainer weighs only 9 kg and is relatively easy to move around. It folds up neatly for convenient storage. If you’re working with limited space or need to transport it often, it’s a great choice. It’s able to simulate up to 15% gradient and 1,500 watts of power while claiming a +/- 5% accuracy. One aspect where it is lacking is the road feel. It only has a relatively light flywheel weighing 1,2 kg, which produces less realistic feel than other trainers.
The best road-feel wheel-on trainer
This smart trainer features a heavy flywheel weighing 2,5 kg, which helps create one of the best road feels among wheel-on trainers. It’s able to simulate up to 10% gradient and 1,300 watts of power while claiming a +/- 5% accuracy. It has a very particular design, which may or may not be your style, and the setup can feel a bit confusing but otherwise it’s an excellent product in this category.
Now it’s time for our top four of direct-drive trainers. All of these are notably more expensive, ranging from 650 EUR all the way to 1,200 EUR. But they also come with much better specs.
The best budget direct-drive trainer
This is the cheapest recommended direct-drive smart trainer. You will be able to get it around 650 EUR. That’s not significantly more expensive than the wheel-on trainers and you get a better +/- 2,5% accuracy and better road feel with a 3,5-kg flywheel. This trainer can simulate gradients of up to 15% and has a maximum power of 1,900 watts. It comes ready to use straight out of the box with an 11-speed Shimano 105 cassette installed – it’s a great plug-and-play solution.
Tacx Neo 2T
The best trainer for realistic road feel
We are getting to the highest range with this trainer but the price tag of 1,200 EUR is certainly warranted. The Neo 2T uses an arrangement of magnets to create a virtual flywheel and this offers fantastic ride feel, along with the ability to change the level of inertia depending on the virtual terrain. It’s able to simulate up to 25% gradient and 2,200 watts of power while claiming an astonishing +/- 1% accuracy. It can be used without a power source, which makes it useful for pre-race warm-ups and it’s also one of the quietest trainers available. The only downsides, except for the price, are that the cassette is not included and it weighs 21,5 kg, which is a lot if you want to transport it.
The best trainer for all-round performance
This is Wahoo’s top model and falls in the ‘over 1,000 EUR’ category. It offers a fantastic ride feel thanks to its large 7,25-kg flywheel, and it’s very quiet. It’s able to simulate up to 20% gradient and 2,200 watts of power while claiming an amazing +/- 1% accuracy. The Kickr is able to automatically calibrate itself without the traditional spin down. Overall, it doesn’t stand out in any single feature but it does everything you need brilliantly. It is often referred to as the gold standard of smart trainers.
The best trainer for stability in sprints
This is Saris’s top model. It’s a quiet trainer with a very realistic ride experience thanks to a huge 9-kg flywheel. It’s often praised for a very solid platform that prevents it from moving around. This is appreciated for sprinters who push the trainer to its limits. It’s able to simulate up to 20% gradient and 2,000 watts of power while claiming a +/- 2% accuracy. It’s very competitive with the other top models especially because of a much nicer price tag of around 800 EUR.
There is a lot to choose from in the world of smart trainers these days. You can get very accurate machines even at the lower price range with the Zycle ZPro. Or you can max out every spec with a Tacx Neo and truly feel like you’re riding outdoors. Ultimately, the choice depends on your budget and goals. If you’re considering getting a smart trainer, check out tips on how to setup your home training equipment in our previous article.