The 10 Best Smart Bike Trainers on the Market in 2022

Best Smart Bike Trainers: Tacx indoor cycling setup (Tacx NEO 2T)

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These are the best smart bike trainers you can buy this cycling season. This article includes budget, mid-range, and high-end wheel-on and direct-drive smart bike trainers.

I selected them based on my in-depth market research in which I compared and evaluated reviews, tests, discussions, my experiences, and the experiences of my friends.

The best smart bike trainer overall is the Wahoo KICKR (also available from wiggle.co.uk). It is quiet, sturdy, accurate (±1%), and compatible with major training apps. It can simulate up to 20% gradients and 2200W resistance. You will also appreciate its carry handle and compatibility with Wahoo accessories.

Continue reading to discover what to be aware of when choosing a smart bike trainer, what features to look for, and much more.


What Are the Best Smart Bike Trainers?

The best smart bike trainers offer ANT+, ANT+ FE-C, Bluetooth, or WiFi connectivity. They should also provide you with accurate and consistent power & cadence data, realistic ride feel, reliability, and low noisiness.

You can choose a direct-drive or wheel-on trainer and trainers with electromagnetic or fluid resistance.

Buy an interactive smart trainer for the best possible experience when using indoor cycling apps.

If you want to learn more before you choose the bike trainer suitable for your needs, read the buyer’s guide section.

Tacx Flow wheel-on smart bike trainer with included front wheel riser (shot from the front)
Tacx Flow

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

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Wahoo KICKR (5th generation) direct-drive smart trainer (shot from behind and angle
Wahoo KICKR

Also available at wiggle.co.uk

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Tacx NEO 2T

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

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Skip to the comparison table…


Wahoo KICKR v5 (Best Overall)

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

Wahoo KICKR v5 from the right side on a wooden floor.

Wahoo KICKR v5 from the rear right side on a wooden floor.

Wahoo KICKR v5 from the rear side on a wooden floor.

Wahoo KICKR v5 from the rear left side on a wooden floor.

Wahoo KICKR v5 from the left side on a wooden floor.

Folded Wahoo KICKR v5 on a wooden floor.

Wahoo KICKR v5 from the right side on a wooden floor.

Wahoo KICKR v5 from the rear right side on a wooden floor.

Wahoo KICKR v5 from the rear side on a wooden floor.

Wahoo KICKR v5 from the rear left side on a wooden floor.

Wahoo KICKR v5 from the left side on a wooden floor.

Folded Wahoo KICKR v5 on a wooden floor.

Main Features

  • Cassette included: Yes
  • Adjusts resistance via training app: Yes
  • Up to 5 degrees of side-to-side tilt
  • Measures metrics like speed, distance, power, and cadence
  • Sturdy and stable construction
  • Easily portable thanks to carrying handle
  • Easily storable thanks to foldable legs
  • Compatible with Wahoo accessories like HEADWIND or CLIMB

Technical Specs

  • Resistance (type): Up to 2200W (electromagnetic)
  • Accuracy: ±1%
  • Gradient simulation: 20%
  • Automatic calibration: Yes
  • Weight: 46 lb (20.9 kg)
  • Noisiness: ~58 dB @ 200W
  • Power Consumption: ~6 Wh @ 200W, ~10 Wh @ 300W
  • Connectivity:
    • KICKR v5: ANT+, ANT+ FE-C, Bluetooth
    • KICKR v6: ANT+, ANT+ FE-C, Bluetooth, 2.4 GHz WiFi
  • Flywheel: 16 lb (7.3 kg)

World Tour Teams Using Wahoo KICKR v5

  • BORA – hansgrohe
  • EF Education-EasyPost
  • Trek – Segafredo

KICKR is Wahoo’s flagship smart trainer. There are multiple versions of this trainer. I still think the 2020 version (v5) is the best because it provides the best value for the money.

However, Wahoo recently introduced v6 that’s similar. It features WiFi connectivity, ERG Easy Ramp, and an odometer. Read my article KICKR v5 vs. v6 for more details.

KICKR (v5 and v6) have AXIS legs with rubber dampeners that allow up to 5 degrees of side-to-side tilt.

They improve your riding experience by reducing vibrations and friction between the saddle and your intimate parties.

You don’t have to think about calibration because it’s automatic. The accuracy increased from ±2% to ±1% (v4 vs. v5).

KICKR is popular among cyclists thanks to several features. First, it is quiet. This is important for people living in apartments and those who don’t want to disturb other family members and enjoy watching a movie, for example.

Second, it is well built, so it’s easy to set up and use (it is sturdy and stable) and will also last you a long time. Its carry handle is also handy if you need to move it around often.

And third is the Wahoo customer support. I have had a positive experience with them because they are responsive and helpful. If you encounter any issues, you can contact them, and they will help you find the solution.

Tacx NEO 2T, Elite Direto XR, and Saris H3 are KICKR’s main alternatives. They differ mainly in terms of accuracy, gradient simulation, and resistance.

The Tacx NEO 2T offers up to 25% gradient simulation and is sturdier. However, it is more expensive and doesn’t come with a cassette.

The Elite Direto XR is more affordable than KICKR and provides higher resistance and gradient simulation. But it is about 0.5% less precise.

And the Saris H3 provides lower resistance (2000W), is less accurate (±2%), and doesn’t come with a cassette. On the other hand, it is more affordable.

Also available at wiggle.co.uk

Also available at wiggle.co.uk


Interested in zwifting? Check out the best Zwift-compatible bike trainers.


Tacx Flow (Best Budget)

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

Tacx Flow on a wooden floor with a front wheel riser (view from the front)

Tacx Flow on a wooden floor with a front wheel riser (view from the rear)

Tacx Flow on a wooden floor with a front wheel riser (view from the side)

Tacx Flow on a wooden floor with a front wheel riser (view from the front)

Tacx Flow on a wooden floor with a front wheel riser (view from the rear)

Tacx Flow on a wooden floor with a front wheel riser (view from the side)

Main Features

  • Adjusts resistance via training app: Yes
  • Measures speed, power, and cadence
  • Front wheel block included
  • Easily portable thanks to low weight

Technical Specs

Garmin’s Tacx Flow is not the cheapest smart bike trainer on the market, but its price-value ratio is excellent. Let me explain why.

Flow is an interactive trainer, so it can adjust the resistance based on the virtual world of your favorite training app. This makes your riding more road-like and engaging.

The 3.5 lb (1.6 kg) flywheel is silent, but due to the nature of this trainer, the tire will make some noise.

This means this trainer is louder than direct-drive trainers but relatively quiet compared to other wheel-on trainers. I recommend using a trainer tire to reduce its noisiness further.

Tacx Flow is also portable and easy to set up. So if you don’t have much space to waste, you can store it every time you won’t use it.

Its biggest downsides are the low maximum resistance compared to other trainers in this price range and worse accuracy. Some users also reported connectivity issues, but you can solve them with an ANT+ receiver.

Tacx Flow is the one to consider if you are looking for an entry-level smart trainer.

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


Tacx NEO 2T (Best High-End)

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

Tacx Neo 2T smart bike trainer with a mounted Bianchi road bike on a black trainer mat and a wooden floor (view from the rear)

Tacx Neo 2T smart bike trainer with a mounted Bianchi road bike on a black trainer mat and a wooden floor (view from the left side)

Tacx Neo 2T smart bike trainer with a mounted Bianchi road bike on a black trainer mat and a wooden floor (view from the right side)

Tacx Neo 2T smart bike trainer with a mounted Bianchi road bike on a black trainer mat and a wooden floor (view from the rear)

Tacx Neo 2T smart bike trainer with a mounted Bianchi road bike on a black trainer mat and a wooden floor (view from the left side)

Tacx Neo 2T smart bike trainer with a mounted Bianchi road bike on a black trainer mat and a wooden floor (view from the right side)

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
  • The most realistic ride feel of all trainers thanks to the virtual flywheel
  • Foldable but without a carry handle
  • Front wheel block included

Technical Specs

World Tour Teams Using Tacx NEO 2T

  • Astana Qazaqstan Team
  • INEOS Grenadiers
  • Lotto Soudal
  • Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl Team
  • Team BikeExchange – Jayco
  • Team Jumbo-Visma

NEO 2T is Tacx’s flagship direct-drive trainer. It is the latest generation that has improved internals. The result is that the latest version is quieter, more accurate (±1% vs. ±2.5%), and reliable.

NEO 2T features up to 276 lb (125 kg) virtual flywheel. It is the largest on the market, improving your overall riding experience to make it more road-like.

This is because it can simulate multiple road surfaces like cobbles, gravel, etc.

Tacx NEO 2T is simply a trainer for the most demanding cyclists, including pros. Users also praise its accuracy and robustness. It can even measure your leg balance.

What I also like about Tacx NEO 2T is its foldability. You can easily fold it and store it when you don’t plan to train on it during summer.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t have a carry handle, so it’s difficult to move around.

However, NEO 2T has its flaws too. The first is the price and the fact that a cassette is not included, so you have to buy it separately.

And second, the ERG mode could also be a little bit better (it is challenging and aggressive).

So, is its price justifiable? If you have high demands, then yes, it is. This was just a quick introduction to all its features, and you can be sure it can offer much more.

But, if you don’t need the latest and greatest, I recommend checking out other alternatives like Wahoo KICKR, Elite Direto XR, and Saris H3, which are more affordable.

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


Wahoo KICKR Snap

A wheel-on trainer on steroids.

Wahoo KICKR Snap direct-drive smart trainer on a KICKR trainer mat and a mounted road bike
Wahoo KICKR Snap | Source: wahoofitness.com

Main Features

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

Technical Specs

Wahoo KICKR Snap is one of the best and most affordable options for indoor training using apps like Zwift, TrainerRoad, ROUVY, etc.

Snap is an interactive wheel-on trainer that provides electromagnetic resistance. Thanks to the 10.5 lb (4.8 kg) flywheel and resistance mechanism, it feels almost like riding outside. Of course, the ride feeling is slightly worse compared to high-end direct-drive trainers.

Snap can measure speed, distance, and power (not cadence), so if you want the cadence data, remember that you will need a separate cadence sensor.

The interactivity is one of the biggest advantages of this trainer in comparison with its alternatives. Training apps can adjust the resistance, giving you a more road-like riding experience.

Snap is sufficient for beginner and advanced riders thanks to 1500W electromagnetic resistance and up to 12% gradient simulation.

Its main alternatives are Tacx Flow, Kinetic Road Machine 2, and Kinetic Rock and Roll.

Tacx Flow is a more affordable wheel-on trainer ideal for people with a limited budget and beginners. It provides lower resistance and gradient simulation.

Kinetic Road Machine 2 and Kinetic Rock and Roll Smart 2 are unfortunately not interactive and use fluid resistance. I also couldn’t find their accuracy or gradient simulation rates. Their maximum resistance is 100W lower.

The main difference is that Kinetic Rock and Roll Smart 2 provides you with a side-to-side movement that is convenient and realistic for intervals out of the saddle.

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


Have you heard of cycling rocker plates? A rocker plate will improve your riding comfort and add more realism to your indoor training.


Tacx Flux S

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

Tacx Flux S direct-drive smart trainer with a cassette (view from the side)

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

If you are looking for a direct-drive smart trainer, but you don’t want to spend $1,000 on it, Tacx Flux S is a good choice.

Taking into account its price, it provides a great price-value ratio. Yes, it doesn’t feature the best specs (the accuracy is only ±3%, resistance up to 1500W, and gradient simulation of 10%), but it’s relatively silent and does its job well.

Flux S 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 biggest downside of this trainer is the portability. The legs cannot be folded, so you have to disassemble the trainer to store it. It also lacks a carry handle.

Remember that you won’t find a cassette in the packing, and you must buy it separately.

Tacx Flux S main alternative is Elite Suite, which comes in a similar price range, has better specs, and cassette included.

Also available at rei.com, and competitivecyclist.com


Elite Suito

A mid-range direct-drive trainer from Italy.

Elite Suito direct-drive smart trainer with included cassette and front wheel riser (view from the side)

Main Features

  • Cassette included: Yes
  • Adjusts resistance via training app: Yes
  • Measures speed, cadence, power
  • Front wheel block included
  • Very portable (foldable legs and a carry handle)

Technical Specs

World Tour Teams Using Elite Suito (Suito-T)

  • AG2R Citroën Team
  • Bahrain – Victorious
  • Intermarché – Wanty – Gobert Matériaux
  • Israel – Premier Tech
  • Movistar Team

Elite Suito is a relatively affordable direct-drive trainer with good cadence and power accuracy. It comes with a cassette and front-wheel block, which is a plus.

Suito is super easy to set up and is also pretty portable thanks to a carry handle and foldable legs. This is perfect if you have limited space or if you need to take Suito with you on a race, vacation, etc.

The ride experience is great too. Almost comparable with higher-end models.

The biggest issue is that Suito is probably the most defective trainer in this selection. If you are lucky, it works well. But, users report it can develop a knocking noise and failing cadence sensor.

Unfortunately, Elite customer support doesn’t work as well as Wahoo support, for example, so if you don’t mind spending a little bit more, go for Direto XR instead (it is more reliable). The cheaper alternative is the Tacx Flux S.

Also available at performancebike.com


Elite Direto XR

The best high-end smart bike trainer from Elite.

Elite Direto XR direct-drive smart trainer with included cassette (view from the side)

Main Features

  • Cassette included: Yes
  • Adjusts resistance via training app: Yes
  • Measures speed, cadence, power
  • Front wheel block included
  • Great specs in this price range

Technical Specs

  • Resistance (type): Up to 2300W (electromagnetic)
  • Accuracy: ±1.5%
  • Gradient simulation: 24%
  • Automatic calibration: No
  • Weight: 24.8 lb (15.8 kg)
  • Flywheel: 11.2 lb (5.1 kg)
  • Connectivity: ANT+, ANT+ FE-C, Bluetooth

World Tour Teams Using Elite Direto XR

  • Cofidis
  • Team DSM

Elite Direto XR sits between lower-end direct-drive trainers (like Tacx Flux S) and high-end (Saris H3, Wahoo KICKR, etc.).

It is an improved and better specs version of the Direto line. It comes with a larger flywheel (from 4.2 kg to 5.1 kg) and improved ERG mode accuracy.

One of this trainer’s highlights is the resistance up to 2300W. This is comparable to the high-end trainers.

The gradient simulation of 24% is also something you won’t find on trainers at this price range.

The question is, do these specs really matter? Well, if you enjoy pain, then maybe, but don’t forget to edit the settings in a training app because it usually automatically halves how the gradients feel.

Direto XR sits somewhere between Flux S and Wahoo KICKR in terms of the noisiness and road-like feel.

The biggest downside of Direto XR is that it has a plastic chassis that feels cheap, and also, the accuracy in the ERG mode isn’t the best.

Who is its main “competitor”? Elite Suito. It is a little bit cheaper and doesn’t have as good specs, so if Direto XR is too expensive for you, Suito could be a better option.

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


Saris H3

An iconic US-made trainer with one of the best ERG modes on the market.

Saris H3 review: H3 on a wooden floor

Saris H3 on a wooden floor right side

Saris H3 on a wooden floor rear right side

Saris H3 on a wooden floor rear side

Saris H3 on a wooden floor left side

Saris H3 on a wooden floor (front left side)

Saris H3 on a wooden floor (unfolded legs)

Saris H3 on a wooden floor (folded legs)

Saris H3 review: H3 on a wooden floor

Saris H3 on a wooden floor right side

Saris H3 on a wooden floor rear right side

Saris H3 on a wooden floor rear side

Saris H3 on a wooden floor left side

Saris H3 on a wooden floor (front left side)

Saris H3 on a wooden floor (unfolded legs)

Saris H3 on a wooden floor (folded legs)

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

  • Resistance (type): Up to 2000W (electromagnetic)
  • Accuracy: ±2%
  • Gradient simulation: 20%
  • Automatic calibration: No
  • Weight: 47 lb (21.3 kg)
  • Flywheel: 20 lb (9.1 kg)
  • Noisiness: ~58.7 dB @ 200W
  • Power Consumption: ~8.8 Wh @ 200W, ~11.7 Wh @ 300W
  • Connectivity: ANT+, ANT+ FE-C, Bluetooth

Saris (formerly CycleOps) is a US-based bike trainer manufacturer with one trainer that stands out.

It’s Saris’ quietest trainer. It reaches noisiness levels of around 59dB, so it isn’t louder than a normal conversation. You won’t disturb your neighbors or loved ones during your efforts. However, Wahoo KICKR and Tacx NEO 2T are even quieter.

One of the best features of Saris H3 is its ERG mode. It’s fluent, responsive, and accurate. Simply one of the best in the business.

H3 offers up to 2000W of resistance. This is enough for every amateur cyclist, even for sprint intervals.

Read my review of Saris H3 for accuracy tests and more detail.

Of course, you can connect it with your favorite training apps that can control the resistance. It can simulate up to a 20% gradient, so when you start climbing a steep climb, the resistance changes quickly.

Saris H3 has a few downsides too. It does not come with a cassette, and according to some users, its cadence sensor is not as precise as sensors of other similar-priced trainers (Elite Direto XR, Elite Suito).

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


Kinetic Road Machine Smart 2

An affordable wheel-on bike trainer with fluid resistance.

Kinetic Road Machine Smart2 with a mounted road bike that has a green Kinetic trainer tire and front wheel put on a Kinetic front wheel riser
Kinetic Road Machine Smart2 | Source: kurtkinetic.com

Main Features

  • Adjusts resistance via training app: No
  • Measures speed, cadence, power
  • Well-built and stable

Technical Specs

If you don’t like Tacx Flow for some reason, Kinetic Road Machine 2 is another very affordable smart trainer. So, how does it stands out for its price?

Users praise its built quality, easy setup, and stability. It is a perfect wheel-on trainer for beginners who don’t mind the lack of interactivity (this means the training apps can’t adjust the resistance). This is due to the fact it has a fluid, progressive resistance.

However, the trainer can communicate with the vast majority of training apps via ANT+ and Bluetooth protocols thanks to the inRide 3 Power Sensor.

The trainer is quiet, and the larger roller diameter reduces the tire wear. My advice is to use a dedicated trainer tire that eliminates this issue.

Road Machine 2 measures power accurately. Where it lacks is cadence. That may be a little bit off sometimes.

If you prefer more movement on a bike trainer, make sure also to check out the Rock and Roll Smart 2 trainer that has one extra feature – side-to-side movement.


Kinetic Rock and Roll Smart 2

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

Kinetic Rock Roll fluid bike trainer
Kinetic Rock and Roll Smart 2 | Source: kinetic.com

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 shares most of the features with Road Machine 2. The main difference is that R&R’s unique construction provides side-to-side movement. This differentiates it from other wheel-on trainers on the market.

This trainer will be a perfect choice for you if you want to enjoy more fun during your training sessions when riding out of the saddle.

Keep in mind that it has a fluid resistance and is not interactive, so training apps cannot adjust the resistance based on the road profile.

The only main disadvantages of this trainer are sometimes inaccurate cadence and its bulkiness, making portability more difficult.


Smart TrainerTypeResistanceAccuracyGradient SimulationAuto CalibrationBuy
Wahoo KICKR v5Direct‑drive2200W±1%20%YesCheck Price

Check Price (wiggle.co.uk)
Wahoo KICKR v6Direct‑drive2200W±1%20%YesCheck Price
Check Price (wiggle.co.uk)
Wahoo KICKR SnapWheel-on1500W±3%12%NoCheck Price
Check Price (competitivecyclist.com)
Tacx FlowWheel-on800W±5%6%NoCheck Price
Check Price (rei.com)
Tacx Neo 2TDirect-drive2200W±1%25%YesCheck Price
Check Price (amazon.com)
Tacx Flux S Direct-drive1500W±3%10%NoCheck Price
Check Price (competitivecyclist.com)
Elite SuitoDirect-drive1900W±2.5%15%NoCheck Price
Check Price (performancebike.com)
Elite Direto XRDirect-drive2300W±1.5%24%NoCheck Price
Check Price (rei.com)
Saris H3Direct-drive2000W±2%20%NoCheck Price
Check Price (amazon.com)
Kinetic Road Machine 2Wheel-on1400Wn/an/aNoCheck Price
Kinetic Rock and Roll Smart 2 Wheel-on1400Wn/an/aNoCheck Price
List of the best smart bike trainers with info about their type, maximal resistance, accuracy, gradient simulation, and auto calibration.

My Verdict

Bike trainers are not cheap so if you want to spend your money wisely, make sure to consider the following features.

After comparing more than 30 smart bike trainers on the market and evaluating their features based on the list above, I chose the best smart bike trainers available on the market:

  1. The best budget smart bike trainer is the Tacx Flow (also available at rei.com and wiggle.co.uk). It is one of the most affordable interactive wheel-on bike trainers. Flow is ideal for beginners or riders who want to upgrade their dumb smart trainer.
  2. The best smart bike trainer overall is the Wahoo KICKR (also available at wiggle.co.uk). KICKR is precise, quiet, and reliable, and will provide you with a road-like feel thanks to the quality flywheel and up to 5 degrees of side-to-side movement.
  3. The best premium smart bike trainer is the Tacx NEO 2T (also available at wiggle.co.uk). This sophisticated, high-end trainer will satisfy the needs of the most demanding riders. Especially thanks to the realistic road feel and multiple surfaces simulation.

How to Choose the Best Smart Bike Trainer?

When choosing a smart bike trainer, you should consider a few features to spend your money wisely.

The following guide is a consolidated version of the how-to choose a bike trainer guide that explains all bike trainer types in-depth.

Type of a Bike Trainer

When buying a smart trainer, you have 2 basic choices. You can either buy a wheel-on or a direct-drive trainer.

An example of a wheel-on smart trainer (Wahoo KICKR SNAP)
Wheel-on bike trainer (Wahoo KICKR SNAP) | Product picture source: wahoofitness.com
An example of a direct-drive smart trainer (Wahoo KICKR)
Direct-drive bike trainer (Wahoo KICKR) | Product picture source: wahoofitness.com

Wheel-on Smart Trainers

Wheel-on smart trainers require the rear wheel to be mounted on your bike. It is then set up against a roller that provides resistance.

The resistance is usually (electro)magnetic or fluid, and depending on the trainer, it is adjusted either manually (via remote) or automatically (via an indoor cycling app, in this case, look for an interactive trainer).

Smart wheel-on trainers are more affordable than direct-drive trainers. They are also more portable and don’t take up too much space. You can store them in a closet, for example, during summer.

They are ideal for riders new to indoor training or with a limited budget. However, advanced riders can use them too.

TIP: Learn how to set up and use wheel-on and direct-drive trainers.

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 (electro)magnetic resistance that can be controlled by a training app. They also offer better riding characteristics and are more accurate than wheel-on trainers.

Direct-drive trainers are ideal for avid cyclists and advanced and pro riders because they provide great riding characteristics.

The following table shows the pros and cons of wheel-on and direct-drive smart 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
Pros & Cons of wheel-on and direct-drive bike trainers, and their recommended use

Resistance & Resistance Type

Most smart bike trainers use one of the two types of resistance.

  1. (Electro)magnetic
  2. Fluid

Smart direct-drive trainers and high-end wheel-on trainers mostly use (electro)magnetic resistance.

The fluid resistance is more common on wheel-on trainers (like those ones from Kinetic), but there are also smart trainers with fluid resistance.

TIP: Check out this article comparing the pros and cons of fluid vs. (electro)magnetic resistance.

The interactive electromagnetic resistance trainers can adjust the resistance based on the training app. Fluid resistance trainers can’t do this, and you have to change gears (or pedal faster) to increase the resistance.

Another difference between these two resistance types is that fluid trainers feature progressive resistance. This means that the more you pedal, the higher the resistance. It better simulates real-world riding conditions.

The overall bike trainer resistance is given in watts. High-end smart bike trainers offer a resistance above 2000W while mid-range and lower-end up to 1500W and 1000W, respectively.

This chart shows comparison of the resistance levels of the best smart bike trainers
Resistance of the best smart bike trainers

You don’t have to be afraid of having just a 1000W or 1500W trainer. You will only last a few seconds at this power. However, if you are a powerful rider that needs to train sprints and peaks them at 1500W+, you may consider getting a trainer with higher resistance.

Gradient Simulation

Gradient simulation means that the trainer can slow your pedal stroke when you start climbing a steep climb in a training app. High-end trainers have higher gradient simulation (25%), slowing you down faster than lower-end trainers (up to 7%).

This chart shows comparison of the gradient simulation levels of the best smart bike trainers
Gradient simulation level of the best smart bike trainers

The trainer must consider your weight and the bike’s weight when simulating the gradient to simulate road-like conditions realistically. Heavier riders must exert more power than lighter riders to ride uphill.

Shane Miller (GPLama) did a great video demonstrating this feature.

Accuracy

A trainer’s accuracy means the power deviation at a certain power. If you ride at 250W and the deviation of the trainer is 2%, the real power will be in the range of 245-255W.

More expensive smart bike trainers are usually more accurate than the more affordable ones. The highest-end models have an accuracy of ±1%, mid-range ±2.5%, and the lower-end smart trainers ±5%.

This chart shows comparison of the accuracy levels of the best smart bike trainers
Accuracy levels of the best smart bike trainers

The following table shows the power variance for different levels of trainer accuracy and power output.

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
Bike trainer accuracy for specific accuracy rate (1%, 2%...) and power output (250W, 500W, 1000W, 2000W)

Noisiness

If you don’t have a dedicated training cave, I recommend paying a little bit more for a quiet bike trainer.

When I trained on a wheel-on bike trainer, the noise was so loud that I disturbed other household members and neighbors. Furthermore, you have to train with headphones or have powerful speakers to watch a movie during your training session.

The quietest trainers have a noisiness level of around 55dB. Your bike’s drivetrain often makes more noise than the trainer itself. For comparison, 60dB is a level of normal conversation.

Make sure to follow these tips to make your trainer quieter.

App Compatibility

There are two types of smart bike trainers:

  1. Interactive smart bike trainers – as the name suggests, they can adjust the resistance based on the training app (Zwift, ROUVY, TrainerRoad, etc.).
  2. Noninteractive smart bike trainers – they can’t adjust the resistance. They can only transmit your ride data to the training app.

You can go for a noninteractive trainer if you don’t need interactivity. However, I recommend saving a little more and paying for an interactive trainer because you get a more road-like ride feeling, and your training or races will be more engaging.

You might be interested in the best indoor cycling apps.

Smart trainers are connected to training apps via ANT+ or Bluetooth protocols. DC Rainmaker goes in-depth in his article, so feel free to read it if you are a techie.

One of the article’s main points is that if you use your smart bike trainer via a desktop app, you need an ANT+ USB adapter that ensures connectivity with your computer and trainer.

Smart trainers with WiFi (Elite Justo, Wahoo KICKR v6) started becoming more common in 2022.

They save you slots for more devices when you use Apple TV, for example. They can also upgrade their firmware automatically.

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. Remember, though, that 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 with this feature is closer to riding a bike outside.

Smart Bike Trainers FAQ

More bike trainers FAQs answered.

Preview picture source: Garmin

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