When it comes to tire drive trainers, you should be looking for a few things: road-like resistance, quick and easy set-up, reliability, and compatibility with training apps. The CycleOps Fluid 2 outperforms across all of these considerations and others, which is why it earns our Top Pick for Tire Drive Trainer. It's a really easy machine to put together. And it's super easy to come home after work, throw the bike on, fire up the laptop, and just go, and that's the clincher — it's easy to use and it does all of the basic things you need it to do. That, plus a very fair price.
CycleOps Fluid 2 Review
Cons: Limited max resistance, roller can heat up and accelerate tire wear, no power data, no control
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Our Analysis and Test Results
Connectivity and Power Accuracy
As with many tire drive trainers, the base model is a dumb trainer, but it can go quasi-turbo by adding speed or cadence and pairing it with Zwift, Rouvy, or a bevy of other training programs. Now, it doesn't become smart or controllable, but it transmits data, and the program responds to the data you're producing, which keeps your stats accurate and hopefully casts some sort of illusory spell to help you trick yourself into better performance.
Given the crutch of not having power data, this machine isn't going to top this test metric. The sensor does a fine job of connecting over its two communication protocols, but that doesn't change the fact that you're only getting speed or cadence. But if you want to pay enough for good power data, you might as well just get a powertap or pedals that can pair with your training app with the primary benefit of being able to be used out on the road. That being said, if you're after power (and accuracy), you have lots of impressive options to choose from among the direct drive models.
The Fluid 2 features a uniquely light flywheel. The high performance without a heavy flywheel is widely attributed to CycleOps' PowerTuned technology. We researched this pretty exhaustively and weren't able to find much beyond powercurve charts, so it appears to be more of an ideally-tweaked configuration than an advanced material or mechanical design, but again, we couldn't find much information on it. In any case, the outcome of whatever they did is still pretty sweet because it did as well as or better than other tire drive trainers.
This might be a bit counter-intuitive, but tire drive trainers are at a bit of a disadvantage here. A tire rolling against glassy-smooth rollers just feels too clean, too easy, and there's usually a tough balance between slippage (loose resistance unit) and over-squeezing (tight resistance unit). The way CycleOps overcomes that is with another super simple, super clever design: their clutch knob. It clicks once you've tightened it to the ideal tension, so you're not fooling around with a torque wrench every time you want to ride your bike.
Again, this is a bit hard to determine because of the limited information, but it appears that the light flywheel also reduced the unnatural slippage and molasses-feel you sometimes get with heavier, clunkier trainers. That means that when we were coasting for a second or needed to jump on it and start slamming on the pedals, there wasn't a delay because the tires had to get enough traction to push a 20-pound flywheel. It just responds naturally, and the resistance is there when you needed it. In this way, it is a little closer to the direct drives, but it's still just not on the same plane. Not to mention, that particular model has features that allow it to stutter and shake when you cross over cobbles or gravel in Zwift and other training apps.
Still, the Fluid 2 has a natural feel and it's near enough to the road that it's not a distraction or frustrating, the way the slippier tire drive models can be. For its low cost and simplicity, it's an excellent choice, especially for riders just looking to get a few hours in a week for a short indoor season.
This machine uses the classic design but improves upon it in subtle ways. The most important aspect is the resistance unit, which CycleOps seems to have mostly mastered. It uses a cooling unit to keep the fluid cool, though, like most fluid trainers, there is a fine balance between overheating and high-heat performance, which they do a fairly decent job of sticking.
Despite the self-cooling fan designed into the flywheel, there are occasional concerns about the tires getting too hot if you're doing 2.5 or 3 hour rides. But if you have a good fan blowing and don't do tons of rides over 2.5 or 3 hours, your tires shouldn't be any worse for the wear compared to the average tire drive trainer.
Understandably, it comes in behind the premium smart trainers, but it gets mad kudos for being both simple and light. It takes the traditional tire-drive design and figures out how to reduce weight without sacrificing performance. Whereas most trainers use extra heavy flywheels to improve the inertia and road-feel, the Fluid 2 has a unique design that allows it to sport a flywheel that's only a few pounds, but it still rolls like the models with much heavier flywheels.
No matter how clever the design is, it's hard for tire drive trainers not to just eat tires. As we mentioned above, rollers always get hot, no matter what awesome patented design you have, and that heat can lead to accelerated deterioration of tires. That seems to be especially a concern with the Fluid 2, but only for frequent, long rides. That can be addressed fairly easily by using a trainer-specific tire and learning how to change them.
All in all, it's a cleverly simple design that gets the job done, and that's one of the major reasons it earned our Top Pick for Tire Drive Trainer Award. What it lacks in complexity, it makes up for in convenience and practicality.
This was one of the most pleasing aspects of the trainer. From unboxing to rolling, it is really easy to figure out, assemble, mount, and get going. Again, this was a major contributing factor to its Top Pick status. There's nothing like anticipating a ride all day, and when you get home from work, all you have to do is swap skewers (if you want), tighten a few bolts, and fire up your preferred training app.
You'll see that this one lands alongside other top trainers in this metric. The easier initial set-up time definitely goes to the CycleOps Fluid 2, because it takes about 10 minutes and comes with just about all the tools you'll need.
Not only is the physical set-up easy, but so is the training app piece. That's because CycleOps doesn't try to trap you in its garden by forcing you to use its native training app - it relies on the robust 3rd party apps. Granted, you have to pay for all or most of those services. Either way, we appreciate that CycleOps focuses on developing good machines.
Most tire drive trainers tend to be a bit awkward to carry around. The bulk of their weight is concentrated in the resistance unit and roller, which flops around a bit, but you still have the wide legs and feet to lug around. The Fluid 2 is still designed the same way, but it has the singular advantage of being more than 15 lbs lighter than other top tire drive trainers. For riders after a convenient trainer to use to warm up at the start line or out on road trips, the clear preference is the lighter, easier to carry Fluid 2.
Weight is the biggest driver for this measure. No matter how ergonomically designed a trainer is, if it weighs almost 50 lbs, we're not going to be terribly fond of taking it out to the start line to warm up for 30 minutes for a 90-minute race. The Fluid 2 really dominates the pack here.
This trainer, like most tire drive trainers, is for the racer who needs a good trainer to stay warm at starting line or the utilitarian rider who needs a dependable trainer with good connectivity across training apps like Zwift and Rouvy.
This is one of the reasons we were so thrilled with this trainer and why it picked up the Top Pick for Tire Drive Trainer. It is as much trainer as you could want in a tire drive machine. Any more and you need to start looking into direct drive.
This trainer has all you probably need. With just a few bolts and a bit of follow-through, your trainer is out of the box and ready to go within 10 minutes. Placing the speed sensor and swapping out the skewers takes another minute or so and you then you can throw the bike on, tighten down the roller and skewer receivers, and you're pedaling. Download your preferred app and pair it to the sensor and now you're ready to have the computer tell you why you're pedaling (virtually, not metaphysically). It's not a smart trainer, but when it comes to tire drive, adding controlled resistance on the drum can wear your tires out faster and starts becoming a cost concern. We suspect most riders set on a tire drive trainer will be happy with the CycleOps Fluid 2. It's simple, straight forward, sturdy, feels natural, and it's responsive. CycleOps is also reputed to have excellent customer service should you have any issues, and did we mention it has a super accessible price-point?
— Ryan Baham