The 7 Best Bike Trainers for Zwift: From Low-End to High-End (2021)

Best Bike Trainers for Zwift

Let’s be honest. Without third-party apps, indoor bike training is quite boring. Apps like Zwift increase our engagement, motivation and bring a social element to our training sessions.

Buying the best bike trainer for Zwift is essential to ensure an immersive training experience. But how to find the best one?

In this article, you find that out. I evaluated more than 20 smart trainers and narrowed them down to just 7 to save your time.

At the end of this article, I also recommend useful Zwift resources to discover Zwift hacks, training plans, and more.

Let’s dive in!


What Are the Best Bike Trainers for Zwift?

When choosing the best bike trainers for Zwift, I evaluated their price, compatibility, connectivity, accuracy, ride feel, and other features. To learn more about these features, read the buyer’s guide section.

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Tacx Flow

Also available at jensonusa.com, competitivecyclist.com, and wiggle.co.uk

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kickr smart trainer v5 1 1
Wahoo KICKR

Also available at competitivecyclist.com and wiggle.co.uk

Read More

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Tacx Neo 2T

Also available at rei.com, competitivecyclist.com, jensonusa.com, and wiggle.co.uk

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Skip to the comparison table…


Tacx Flow (Best Budget)

One of the most affordable interactive smart trainers on the market.

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Main Features

  • Adjusts resistance via training app: Yes
  • Measures speed, power, and cadence
  • Front wheel block included

Technical Specs

Garmin’s Tacx Flow is one of the cheapest interactive smart bike trainers on the market. It is perfect for beginners or people with a limited budget.

Its full interactivity ensures that Zwift will adjust the resistance based on the terrain. This greatly improves your engagement and riding experience.

Keep in mind that it has lower specs than high-end trainers. This means it can simulate only 6% gradients and provide you with up only 800W resistance. However, this is enough for most beginners or casual cyclists.

Flow is pretty quiet, and you can make it even quieter using Tacx trainer-specific tire that will also improve grip and reduce tire wear. The noise is slightly higher than the level of normal conversation, so you may need to use headphones if you are used to watching movies during your training.

You will also appreciate Flow’s good portability so you can store it in a closet when you don’t use it. Its set up is easy and takes a few seconds.

Tacx Flow lacks in terms of specs but considering its price, it offers great value for the money. If you want a little bit better wheel-on trainer for Zwift, check out Wahoo KICKR Snap.

Also available at jensonusa.com and competitivecyclist.com


Wahoo KICKR (Best Overall)

Perfect specs, road-like-feel, reliability, and compatibility with Wahoo accessories.

kickr smart trainer v5 1 1
Wahoo KICKR | Source: wahoofitness.com

Main Features

  • Cassette included: Yes
  • Adjusts resistance via training app: Yes
  • Up to 5 degrees side-to-side movement
  • Measures metrics like speed, distance, power, and cadence
  • Sturdy and stable construction

Technical Specs

KICKR is Wahoo’s iconic trainer. They improve it every two years or so to make it the best trainer possible.

Its 5th generation from 2020 has a few improvements compared to the 2018 version.

  • The calibration is automatic and doesn’t require spindown.
  • The accuracy increased from ±2% to ±1%.
  • Wahoo added wired connectivity with accessories.
  • Up to 5 degrees side-to-side movement thanks to rubber dampeners.

Wahoo KICKR’s road-like ride feel is excellent. The flywheel does a great job, so together with high gradient simulation, you will feel a lot of pain climbing the Alp Du Zwift.

The trainer itself is quiet so that the most noise will be made by your bike’s drive train. You don’t have to use headphones, and you won’t disturb your family member and neighbors.

KICKR is fully compatible with Wahoo accessories like KICKR Climb or Headwind that will take your indoor training to a whole new level.

If the specs of KICKR are not sufficient for you, check out the Tacx Neo 2T. It offers higher gradient simulation (up to 25%) and more resistance (2200W).

Also available at competitivecyclist.com and wiggle.co.uk


Check out the best bike trainer accessories to upgrade your training cave and improve your indoor training experience.


Tacx Neo 2T (Best High-End)

High-end direct-drive trainer for the most demanding riders.

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Main Features

  • Cassette included: No
  • Adjusts resistance via training app: Yes
  • Measures speed, cadence, power, left/right leg power balance
  • Highly accurate, responsive, and reliable
  • Very quiet
  • Relatively portable
  • Front wheel block included

Technical Specs

Neo 2T is one of the most advanced direct-drive bike trainers on the market. Its newest generation doesn’t differ from the previous one too much. There are a few minor improvements.

The latest version is more accurate (±1% vs. ±2.5%), quieter, and has more reliable connectivity.

Neo 2T stands out thanks to an excellent ride feel ensured with a virtual flywheel weighing 276 lb (125 kg).

Neo’s high-specs also cannot be overlooked. The maximum resistance of up to 2200W is sufficient even for most track sprinters.

Pro cyclists use Tacx Neo 2T for pre-race warmups, post-race cool downs, and also training. This is proof of the high quality of this trainer.

If you decide to buy it, I am sure you will also appreciate its portability. Neo 2T has foldable legs that reduce its dimensions and make it better for storing in your closet, basement, or garage.

The biggest downside of Tacx Neo 2T is its price and the fact the packing doesn’t include a cassette.

Anyway, if you are a demanding rider who looks for a high-end trainer, this one is the one to buy.

I included its two alternatives in this selection. Both are more affordable but offer similarly good specs:

Also available at rei.com, competitivecyclist.com, jensonusa.com, and wiggle.co.uk


PRO TIP: Take your zwifting to the next level. Choose one of these best cycling rocker plates to improve your riding comfort thanks to the swing motion, add more realism and engage your core muscles.


Kinetic Rock and Roll Smart 2

A unique side-to-side movement construction that will make your indoor training more engaging.

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Main Features

  • Adjusts resistance via training app: No
  • Side-to-side movement
  • Measures speed, cadence, power
  • Sturdy construction

Technical Specs

Kinetic Rock and Roll Smart 2 is a small exception from the rest of the trainers on this list. It is not interactive, so Zwift can’t adjust its resistance. But, bear with me for a moment. I explain why I included it.

Thanks to its unique construction, R&R allows side-to-side movement. It is great for your engagement because you will have to balance. This forces you to use your core muscles which are important to keep stability.

Long endurance rides can be boring even on Zwift, so this extra element makes it more fun. Furthermore, riding out of the saddle will be more road-like.

Kinetic R&R Smart 2 uses a fluid resistance unit. This means the resistance is progressive (the faster you pedal, the higher the resistance).

R&R has three downsides compared to other trainers on this list. The first is the lack of interactivity mentioned above.

The second is its bulkiness. This trainer is not very portable. If you don’t have much space, I recommend checking out KICKR Snap or Tacx Flow.

The last downside is sometimes inaccurate cadence data, so it is better to have dedicated third-party sensors or power meter.


Saris H3

An iconic US-made trainer that will satisfy a wide range of riders.

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Main Features

  • Cassette included: No
  • Adjusts resistance via training app: Yes
  • Measures speed, cadence, power
  • Precise and responsive ERG mode (ideal for TrainerRoad)
  • Well built

Technical Specs

Saris (formerly CycleOps) is a US brand producing bike trainers and racks. The H3 is one of their most popular bike trainers. It is an improved CycleOps Hammer. So, what can you expect from it?

It’s quiet, well-built, and stable. According to Saris, it has a noisiness level of 59dB at 20mph. This is a level of a normal conversation.

H3 offers up to 2000W and 20% gradient simulation – enough for advanced even pro cyclists.

Probably the best feature of H3 is its precise ERG mode. This makes this trainer ideal not only for Zwift but also for TrainerRoad and other apps.

Saris H3 will provide you with a great road-like feel to make your Zwift rides as high-quality as possible.

One of the main downsides of Saris H3 is sometimes an inaccurate cadence sensor and the fact that the cassette is not included.

The main alternatives of H3 are Wahoo KICKR and Tacx Neo 2T. Both these trainers are a little bit more expensive.

Also available at jensonusa.com, competitivecyclist.com, and wiggle.co.uk


Wahoo KICKR Snap

A wheel-on trainer on steroids.

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Wahoo KICKR Snap | Source: rei.com

Main Features

  • Adjusts resistance via training app: Yes
  • Measures speed, distance, and power
  • Front wheel block included
  • Very portable

Technical Specs

Snap is the most affordable bike trainer from Wahoo. It is great for Zwift, although it is a wheel-on trainer. Let me explain why.

Wahoo took advantage of its experience with bike trainers. The electromagnetic resistance unit and 10.5 lb (4.8 kg) flywheel create a good riding experience. Naturally, it is not as great as on direct-drive trainers.

Snap has much better specs than its closest alternative Tacx Flow:

  • Resistance: 800W vs. 1500W
  • Accuracy: ±5% vs. ±3%
  • Gradient simulation: 6% vs 12%

To take your indoor training setup to the next level, you can pair it with a Wahoo Headwind fan and a Wahoo KICKR Climb gradient simulator. The fan will keep you cool, and the simulator adjusts the position based on the terrain in Zwift (or any other training app).

The main disadvantage of Wahoo KICKR Snap is its price compared to Tacx Flow.

Also available at competitivecyclist.com and wiggle.co.uk


Tacx Flux S

A mid-range direct-drive trainer combining great value for the money.

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Main Features

  • Cassette included: No
  • Adjusts resistance via training app: Yes
  • Measures power, speed, and cadence
  • Sturdy and stable
  • Great price-value ratio

Technical Specs

Tacx Flux S is an affordable direct-drive trainer with decent specs. If you don’t need the specs of a high-end trainer, Flux S is a great option for Zwift.

Let’s be honest, the specifications of Flux S will be sufficient for most riders. It can generate resistance of up to 1500W, gradient simulation of 10%, and the accuracy is ±3%.

As is common with direct-drive trainers, the Flux S provides a good riding experience that is only slightly worse than with high-end direct-drive trainers.

It is sturdy and stable, so you can push into pedals hard while being confident you won’t lose balance or overturn it when sprinting.

The only main issue is that it doesn’t have foldable legs, so it is not ideal for people with limited space. No carry handle that would ease its manipulation makes it ideal for people with a dedicated training cave.

Also available at competitivecyclist.com



My Verdict

The best bike trainers for Zwift are ANT+ FE-C compatible, meaning they are interactive. This means they allow Zwift to adjust the resistance based on the gradient you ride.

However, you can also use a smart noninteractive bike trainer with Zwift. Most smart trainers are ANT+ and Bluetooth compatible. This means they can transmit data to Zwift, but Zwift won’t adjust the resistance.

The third option is to use a dumb trainer with ANT+ and Bluetooth compatible cadence + speed sensor OR a power meter.

Based on these and other criteria (more about them in the How to Choose the Best Bike Trainer for Zwift part), I selected the following three bike trainers:

  1. The best budget bike trainer for Zwift is Tacx Flow (also available at jensonusa.com and wiggle.co.uk). This wheel-on trainer is one of the most affordable smart interactive bike trainers on the market. It is ideal for beginners or people with limited budget.
  2. The best bike trainer for Zwift overall is Wahoo KICKR (also available at competitivecyclist.com and wiggle.co.uk). KICKR direct-drive trainer offers an excellent ride feel, sufficient specs even for demanding riders and pros, and is compatible with accessories from Wahoo’s ecosystem.
  3. The best high-end bike trainer for Zwift is Tacx Neo 2T (also available at competitivecyclist.com and wiggle.co.uk). It is a direct-drive bike trainer used by pros for pre-race warm ups, post race cool down, and training. Neo 2T is one of the most advanced bike trainers in all specs.

*See the full list of considered bike trainers (on request only).


How to Choose the Best Bike Trainer for Zwift?

When choosing a bike trainer for Zwift, you should consider the following features:

Below, I explain why these features are important and what you can expect from bike trainers available on the market.

To learn more about all types of bike trainers, read my fully dedicated guide on choosing a bike trainer.

Type of a Bike Trainer

In this guide, I focus on the basic two types of trainers: wheel-on and direct-drive.

Wahoo KICKR SNAP wheel on bike trainer
Wheel-on bike trainer (Wahoo KICKR SNAP) | Product picture source: wahoofitness.com
Wahoo KICKR Smart direct drive bike trainer
Direct-drive bike trainer (Wahoo KICKR) | Product picture source: wahoofitness.com

Wheel-on Trainers

Wheel-on trainers are more affordable because they are simpler than direct-drive trainers. The rear wheel of your bike is set against the roller that provides resistance.

This resistance is usually (electro)magnetic. There are also wheel-on trainers with fluid or air resistance, but these, except for a few exceptions, are not suitable for Zwift because training apps cannot adjust their resistance.

Direct-drive Trainers

Direct-drive or wheel-off trainers require you to take off the rear wheel and mount your bike directly in the trainer.

These trainers use electromagnetic resistance that training apps like Zwift can control. They also offer better riding characteristics and are more accurate than wheel-on trainers.

Check out the advantages and disadvantages of these two types of bike trainers.

Trainer TypeProsConsRecommended for
Wheel-on• More affordable than direct-drive trainers
• Compatible with many types of bikes
• Take up less space than direct-drive trainers and are more portable
• Worse riding characteristics than direct-drive trainers
• Less stable than direct-drive trainers
• Low-end models may be smart but can't adjust the resistance
• Usually noisier than direct-drive trainers
Beginners, people with a limited budget
Direct-drive• Better riding characteristics than wheel-on trainers
• More stable than wheel-on trainers
• Can adjust the resistance based on training apps
• Very quiet
• More expensive than wheel-on trainers
• Take up more space than wheel-on trainers
• They require accessories like a cassette
• They may not be compatible with every bike
Advanced riders, pros

Connectivity

If you want to use a trainer directly with Zwift, you can choose from the following three options:

  1. Interactive (smart) bike trainers can communicate with your device such as a laptop, tablet, smartphone, or computer* via ANT+, ANT+ FE-C, or Bluetooth protocols. These trainers can adjust the resistance based on Zwift and they are the most convenient for zwifting.
  2. Noninteractive smart bike trainers can also communicate with your mobile devices (via ANT+ or Bluetooth), but they can’t adjust the resistance. This means that Zwift cannot adjust the resistance when you start climbing, e.g. Alp Du Zwift, resulting in worse, less engaging riding experience.
  3. Dumb trainers cannot transmit any data. This type of trainers is the least suitable for Zwift. You can use it for zwifting, but you either need a power meter OR a speed + cadence sensor. This type of trainers also cannot adjust the resistance based on Zwift.

Smart (interactive) trainers use protocols like ANT+, ANT+ FE-C, or Bluetooth for connecting with mobile devices or a computer (you can read more about this topic on the DC Rainmaker website).

*To ensure your computer’s connectivity with a bike trainer, you will need an ANT+ USB adapter.

Resistance & Resistance Type

The overall bike trainer resistance is given in watts. You don’t need a trainer that has 2000W resistance unless you are a really, really powerful rider. 1000W or 1500W is enough for most riders.

The best resistance type for a trainer you want to use with Zwift (or any other training app) is electromagnetic. Trainers with electromagnetic resistance can adjust the resistance based on a training app.

As I explained before, you can use trainers with magnetic, fluid, or even air resistance for zwifting as well. However, the overall riding experience will be worse, and you will need additional sensors.

Gradient Simulation

Gradient simulation is a handy feature popular among interactive trainers. It means that the trainer can slow your pedal stroke when you start climbing in a training app. This simulates real-life conditions where you have to down-shift to keep a similar cadence.

High-end trainers can simulate up to 25% gradients while mid-range around 15%, and low-end around 5%. But, does this matter? Well, yes, it does. Let me explain.

The higher that gradient simulation, the faster the trainer can slow down your pedal stroke. GPLama (Shane Miller) explains it perfectly in his video.

I would also like to point out that if you want to enjoy high gradient simulations, you have to double-check and adjust the settings in Zwift because it halves the gradient simulation.

Accuracy

The accuracy indicates what the power deviation at a certain power is. It is important not only to get the exact idea of how many watts you put out but also if you don’t have a power meter and plan to buy one. Let me explain this more in detail.

Let’s say the trainer will have an accuracy of ±5%. This means that if you pedal at 250W, your real power output can vary between 237.5-262.5W. Now, imagine you buy a power meter with ±2% accuracy (245-255W). Do you see the issue?

The more accurate the trainer, the better power data you get. Greater inaccuracy can be, for example, the difference between riding in zones 3 and 4. If you take cycling seriously, you want to avoid this.

Check out the power deviations at different power outputs and the trainer’s accuracy levels in the table below.

Accuracy250W500W1000W2000W
1%247.5-252.5495-505990-10101980-2020
2%245-255490-510980-10201960-2040
3%242.5-257.5485-515970-10301940-2060
4%240-260480-520960-10401920-2080
5%237.5-262.5475-525950-10501900-2100

Noisiness

The noise level of a bike trainer is important to make your training more convenient and pleasant. Furthermore, you won’t disturb your family members or neighbors if you don’t have a dedicated training space.

Manufacturers try to make their trainers quiet. Mid-range and high-end trainers are often so quiet that your bike’s drivetrain makes more noise than the trainer itself.

The quietest bike trainers reach noisiness levels of around 55dB. This is even less than the level of a normal conversation which is 60dB. Expect noise levels of around 70dB on budget wheel-on trainers.

TIP: Make your bike trainer quieter – here is how.

Other Features to Consider

  • Bike compatibility – direct-drive trainers may not be compatible with every bike. Make sure to double-check the compatibility to avoid an unpleasant surprise when setting up your bike.
  • Weight – heavier trainers, tend to be more stable but less portable. If you are limited by space and need to hide the trainer often, I recommend choosing a more compact and lighter trainer.
  • Flywheel weight – flywheel is one of the most important parts of a bike trainer. Together with the resistance unit, it creates resistance. Keep in mind, though, the heavier flywheel doesn’t necessarily mean a better, more road-like ride feel. If you can’t try the trainer in person, check out reviews of other customers.
  • Side-to-side movement – is suitable when riding from the saddle and during sprints. The overall feeling of riding a trainer that has this feature is closer to riding a bike outside.
  • Portability – does the trainer have foldable legs and a carry handle? If so, its manipulation and storage will be easier and more convenient than with trainers without them.

Bike Trainers for Zwift FAQ

More bike trainers FAQs answered.


BONUS: Useful Zwift Resources

Zwift Hub – includes everything you need to know about Zwift worlds, routes, achievements, etc.

Zwift Insider – tracks Zwifts updates and provides tips, tricks, and guides on squeezing the maximum potential out of Zwift.

What’s on Zwift – is a database of worlds and workouts on Zwift.

Zwift Compatible Trainers – an official list of trainers (including rollers and smart bikes) compatible with Zwift.


Preview picture source: Zwift

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