How to Choose a Smart Bike? (Buyer’s Guide)

How to choose a smart bike? Stages SB20 cockpit, Tacx NEO Bike from the front, Wahoo KICKR Bike from the rear side

Smart bikes are not cheap, so you better choose the right one before regretting your purchase.

Luckily, you are at the right place because in this how to choose a smart bike guide, I will guide you through the features to consider before purchasing.

I tried multiple smart bikes and talked with other owners about their experiences.

So, let’s dive into the features to look for.

Features to Consider When Choosing a Smart Bike

The following sections explain the features you will encounter when shopping for a smart bike.

Resistance

Most smart bikes offer resistance of around 2000W. This is enough even for the most powerful riders.

The resistance affects the ride feel to a certain extent, for example, when sprinting or climbing.

To put resistance into context, most untrained people can’t even reach 1000W peak power.

Strong sprinters, however, can easily reach 1500W and even exceed 2000W. (Source)

The following chart shows the resistance of the best smart bikes.

This chart shows the resistance of the best smart bikes
Resistance levels of the best smart bikes

As you can see from the chart above, resistance won’t be the deciding factor when choosing a smart bike.

Gradient Simulation

Gradient simulation means that the bike can slow your pedal stroke (e.g., increase the resistance) when you start climbing in a training app.

The most common gradients are 20 and 25%.

This chart shows the gradient simulation of the best smart bikes.
Gradient simulation rates of the best smart bikes

For example, some smart bikes like the Tacx NEO Bike can even simulate downhills. It has a motor that runs the flywheel, making your indoor ride closer to riding outside.

Similar to resistance, most smart bikes offer enough gradient simulation that you will probably need to reduce the trainer’s difficulty in the training app.

Unless you are a masochist, training on 20% hills is not fun, right?

Accuracy

A smart bike’s accuracy means the power deviation at a certain power.

For example, if you ride at 250W and the deviation of the bike is ±1%, your real power will be in the range of 247.5-252.5W.

This chart shows the accuracy of the best smart bikes
Accuracy rates of the best smart bikes

If you are not a marginal gains hunter, you shouldn’t care too much whether the smart bike has an accuracy of ±1% or ±2%.

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

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)

NOTE: The accuracy also applies to cadence.

Customizable Shifting

Most smart bikes, or their dedicated apps respectively, allow you to customize:

  • The shifting behavior (usually Shimano, SRAM, Campagnolo, or custom).
  • The number of teeth on the cassette and chainrings for easier or harder gears, depending on the terrain you will ride.

Wahoo KICKR Bike is the best in class in both areas, thanks to the ELEMNT app and the hardware (i.e., shifters).

Detail on the left Wahoo KICKR Bike shifter.
Wahoo KICKR Bike shifting is pretty close to Shimano Di2

It’s close to Di2 shifting, but you can customize it for SRAM or Campagnolo.

On the other hand, Wattbike Atom has limited shifting customization.

Noisiness

The noisiness level is important mainly for those who need to use a smart bike in the early mornings or late evenings without disturbing other household members.

Direct-drive smart trainers are noisy mainly because of the drivetrain noise. On the other hand, smart bikes don’t have the cassette-chain-chainring interface, so they are quieter.

Tacx NEO Bike and KICKR bike are considered the quietest smart bikes.

Connectivity & App Compatibility

Smart bikes usually offer ANT+ and Bluetooth connectivity. This means you can connect them to compatible indoor cycling apps.

By purchasing a smart bike, you sometimes get a free trial on apps like Zwift, ROUVY, etc.

One of the downsides of smart bikes (if you want to use them with these apps) is that you have to pay for the subscription once the trial period ends.

Multi-User Friendliness

Let’s say you are looking for a smart bike suitable for you and your partner.

You likely don’t share the same height and weight, so you will have to adjust the bike’s fit.

Different smart bikes use different mechanisms to adjust the fit. Some use quick-release, some levers, some knobbs.

Here it depends on your preference. I find the QR most user-friendly.

Remember, some smart bikes require adjusting the weight settings in their dedicated apps to simulate the ride feeling properly.

Price

The price of smart bikes starts at around 2500 USD but can easily exceed 5000 USD.

The following chart shows the prices of smart bikes popular among cyclists.

This chart shows the recommended retail prices of the best smart bikes.
Recommended retail prices of the best smart bikes

Depending on your price sensitivity, the budget can easily narrow down the options to choose from.

Other Features to Consider

  • Build quality and reliability – some smart bikes feel more durable than others. For example, Stages SB20 is very rigid and well-built.
  • Weight – heavier smart bikes are less portable. Check if the bike has wheels for easier moving around if you need to relocate it often.
  • Flywheel weight – some people tend to pay too much attention to the flywheel weight. The heavier flywheel doesn’t necessarily mean the better, more road-like ride feel.
  • Cranks length – depending on what crank length suits you, get a smart bike that offers the desired crank length. The general rule is that the shorter the cranks, the higher the cadence, and vice versa.
  • Tablet/phone holder – some bike trainers come with tablet holders, but some don’t, so you will need a dedicated table or a TV/laptop for the cycling app.
  • Charging ports – some bike trainers come with USB charging ports so you can recharge your mobile devices directly from the bike.

Smart Bikes FAQ

Summary

I hope you know better now what to look for when choosing a smart bike.

In the end, most smart bikes offer similar features, so it’s a matter of price, your brand preference, and a few details.

Do you consider a smart bike to take your indoor cycling to the next level? If so, which one? Let me know in the comments below.

Also, feel free to contact me if you need assistance when choosing a smart bike.

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