Smart Bike Trainers vs. Smart Bikes: Which One to Choose?

Smart bike trainer Tacx NEO 2T on the left side vs. Smart Bike Wahoo KICKR Bike on the right side.

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This article compares the pros and cons of smart bike trainers and smart bikes (bike simulators).

I talked with people who have experience with both and summarized their insights.

IN SHORT:
Smart bike trainers are more affordable and portable. They don’t take up as much space when you don’t use them. You also have more options to choose from on the market.
Smart bikes are quieter and cleaner thanks to the lack of a classic drivetrain. They allow you to adjust the fit easily and customize gears. They are also more stable when sprinting and require less maintenance than your bike.

Let’s scrutinize individual pros and cons in more detail.

Pros & Cons of Smart Bike Trainers vs. Smart Bikes

In the following table, I summarized the pros and cons of smart bike trainers and smart bikes.

Training DeviceProsCons
Smart Bike Trainers• More affordable (assuming you already have a bike)
• Don't take as much space when not used
• More choice on the market
• More portable
• More comfortable (depending on the model)
• Noisier
• Not 'multi-user friendly' (you have to switch bikes)
• Messier (because of your bike's drivetrain)
• Not customizable gears (unless you buy new components)
• Less stable during sprints
• Wear out your bike's parts
Smart Bikes• Quieter
• Easily adjustable fit
• Cleaner
• Customizable gears
• More stable during sprints
• Don't wear out your bike's parts
• Pricy
• Take up more space when not used
• Less choice on the market
• Less portable
• Less comfortable (they are rigid)
This table compares the pros and cons of the smart bike trainers and smart bikes.

Let me now explain the individual differences below.

NOTE: Features like gradient simulation, resistance, accuracy, connectivity, etc., are usually the same or similar. For this reason, I won’t examine them further.

You can read my guides on how to choose a smart bike trainer and how to choose a smart bike if you want to learn more.

Price

One of the biggest factors you probably consider is the price.

While smart bike trainers cost hundreds to lower thousands of dollars*, smart bikes cost thousands of dollars.

*Assuming you already have a bike to mount in the bike trainer.

For example, the Wahoo’s highest-end smart trainer (KICKR v5) has a recommended retail price of 1199.99 USD.

Their smart bike (KICKR Bike) is three times more expensive (3499.99 USD).

Wahoo KICKR Bike on a Wahoo KICKR trainer mat in front of a TV
Wahoo KICKR Bike

Is this price difference worth it? Well, it depends on your preferences.

So let’s take a look at the other features.

Space Requirements and Portability

Both training devices take up similar space when you use them.

The situation changes when you need to store them when you don’t need them.

Bike trainers have foldable legs, allowing you to store them in a closet, under a bed, in a garage, basement, etc. They often also have carry handles for easier portability.

Unfolded ThinkRider X7 PRO (front side) on a wooden floor in front of a wall.
ThinkRider X7 PRO unfolded
Folded ThinkRider X7 PRO on a wooden floor in front of a wall.
ThinkRider X7 PRO folded

Smart bikes require more storage space and are heavier.

Therefore, it’s better to have a dedicated, permanent training area where you can keep them all year round.

Fit Adjustability

One of the biggest benefits of smart bikes against smart trainers is the possibility to adjust their fit.

This also gives a space for multi-user usability. If more household members are interested in using the smart bike, you can quickly adjust the fit.

Different bike frame sizes and geometries make this impossible. It’s also not practical to change bikes before every training session.

Market Offer

There are dozens of smart bike trainers you can choose from. Unfortunately, the number of smart bikes is limited.

Smart bikes are more niche products, so manufacturers don’t have as big a motivation to develop more models.

Please don’t take me wrong. I am not saying you won’t choose from the smart bikes on the market. But, their offer is much narrower.

Noisiness

Smart bike trainers are pretty quiet. Often, your bike’s drivetrain creates more noise than the trainer itself.

However, smart bikes are quieter thanks to the lack of the drivetrain (chain-chainrings-cassette).

This feature makes them more suitable for apartments and those who need a quiet training device not to disturb other household members.

However, not even smart bikes are completely silent. Especially when you use them with an indoor cycling fan or at higher intensities.

DC Rainmaker did great videos comparing the noise of the Tacx NEO trainers and smart bikes.

Smart bike trainers’ noisiness test
Smart bikes noisiness test

Stability

The general rule is that smart bikes are more stable than bike trainers. But this is also dependent on the bike trainer.

So, if your training plan includes sprint efforts, you should consider a stable trainer or rather a smart bike.

For example, Stages SB20 is a heavy smart bike weighing over 60 kg, providing a stable training platform.

Maintenance

While both training devices don’t require much maintenance, smart trainers have a significant disadvantage—you must maintain your bike.

When using your bike on a bike trainer, you wear out its parts like the chain, cassette, or chainrings.

You should also double-check the headset, handlebar, and other bolts for damage caused by your sweat from time to time.

Many people worry bike trainers can damage their bikes. But if you follow manufacturer instructions, you have nothing to worry about.

Smart bikes are almost maintenance-free. You only have to wipe off the sweat and dust. Manufacturers recommend an in-depth once or twice a year.

They are also much cleaner, so you don’t get chain oil or dirt on your floor.

Riding Comfort

Comfort-wise, it’s highly dependent on the bike trainer.

Some bike trainers like the Wahoo KICKR v5 or ThinkRider X7 PRO have a side-to-side tilt.

This tilt reduces the friction between your bottom and the saddle, contributing to better riding comfort.

Smart bikes are often rigid, so I recommend using them with a rocker plate. This also applies to rigid bike trainers.

You can read rocker plate benefits for more info on why to use them.

Rocker plate - Side-to-side movement
Rocker plate – Side-to-side movement easing the pressure on your bottom | Picture Source: Saris

Ease of Use

When you already have a bike in the bike trainer, you just hop on it and start riding.

But, mounting the bike in the trainer takes some time. Furthermore, you ‘lock’ your bike indoors.

So, if you want to use the same bike outdoors, you must take it off.

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)
A bike ‘locked’ in a direct-drive smart bike trainer Tacx NEO 2T

That’s what you don’t have to worry about when having a smart bike. You will have one bike for riding indoors and one (or two, three) for outdoors.

This is something that women will appreciate. It may be complicated for them to put the bike on and off the trainer, so smart bikes are more convenient for them.

Smart Bike Trainers and Smart Bikes FAQ

Conclusion

Based on the pros & cons explained above, I recommend:

Smart bike trainers for people on a budget who don’t mind mounting their bike into a bike trainer.

They are more portable and take up less space but still provide similar features.

On the other hand, your bike components will wear out quicker. Also, due to the drivetrain, bike trainers tend to be noisier.

Smart bikes are suitable for passionate athletes or those with a dedicated training area where they can leave the bike all year round.

I hope you find this article helpful. Feel free to comment below.

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