The Elite Direto packs in a lot of performance at a really fair price, earning our Best Buy Award. Its power meter turns out to be one of the most accurate, typically within 1% of actual output and can read up to 1400W while kicking up to a 14% grade - high enough to capture many riders' most insane, red-lining uphill sprints and steep enough to challenge all but the wildest of goats. To wrap it up, it comes in at about 30% lighter than other top smart trainers. For any rider looking for an affordable smart trainer with great functionality, this is a must-see.
Elite Direto ReviewPrice: $900 List | $799.99 at Backcountry
Compare prices at 3 resellers Pros: Affordable, quiet, consistently accurate, relatively light
Cons: Limited gradient and power, difficult to get Campy components
Bottom line: All of the best smart trainer features without the premium price.
Communication Protocol: ANT+ FE-C, Bluetooth Smart
Weight: 33.1 lbs
RELATED REVIEW: The Best Bike Trainers
Our Analysis and Test Results
Connectivity and Power Accuracy
This trainer uses Bluetooth Smart and ANT+ FE-C protocols, meaning it connects across a wide range of third-party apps, devices, and operating systems. You would be hard-pressed to find limitations on the connectivity front. And did you notice the Smart and FE-C parts? That means you can use programs like Zwift, TrainerRoad, and Elite's E-Training software to get machine control for things like climbing and structured resistance workouts. That's what makes it a truly smart trainer.
It pairs well with third parties, which is good because its own training app is a bit clunky, limited in its engagement, and experiences occasional crashes. That said, its real videos and structured workouts can be a good training tool. Elite claims that its Integrated OTS (Optical Torque Sensor) power meter is accurate within 2.5%, but we found that it didn't typically vary by more than 1% on average. It achieves this with the help of a 9.3lb flywheel and 12 points of measurement, where the smaller flywheel could help transfer and communicate power more efficiently.
It finishes ahead of most of the other trainers, owing in large part to its excellent accuracy and broad compatibility with third parties. It's comparable to the more expensive CycleOps Hammer Direct Drive, which uses a much larger 20lb flywheel, helping with road feel, but perhaps ceding power transfer and communication, meaning there might be delays or rounded power spikes. The Wahoo Fitness KICKR and Editors' Choice Tacx Neo Smart top the list for this measure. Both offer extremely accurate and responsive power readings and a broad range of third-party compatibility, but the Tacx boasts superior controls and more support.
On balance, those looking for a top-end trainer with excellent control and connectivity should gravitate toward the Tacx. If you can make the investment, you will be pleased with the experience. For those who want a true smart trainer with all the anticipated accouterments, but can't quite justify the premium, the Elite Direto is a good option.
The Direto is a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to portability. It folds up really well for stowing, pushing, stacking, and moving, and it's about 10 pounds lighter than most other trainers. It is fairly easy to grab, and like some of its competitors, it includes a convenient handle.
One area that's slightly inconvenient is the support or base. For example, the CycleOps Hammer allows its legs to fold directly into its base, so the legs don't increase the footprint while Tacx Neo Smart's base collapses inward and reduces the footprint. The Direto's legs are separate from the main structure, sprawled out front even when collapsed, making it less convenient to carry to the next spot because of its awkward shape. That's compounded by the fact that the legs aren't secure when folded, so they might open and close and clank around if they aren't secured with a bungee or rope while transporting. The Tacx Vortex Smart tops the portability charts among contenders we reviewed, weighing just 22lbs and folding up quite nicely while not requiring a plug.
The Direto uses a well-balanced central frame with three foldable support legs to give it both stability and storage convenience. It uses more plastic in its frame than a lot of the other trainers, which could partially explain its lower weight and maybe some of its price, but we couldn't find any indication that it would impair performance. As with most other smart trainers, it also keeps its electronics tucked away in the back, far from the splash and drip zones. It does, however, have an exposed flywheel, which is visually cool, but we feel a covered design like the CycleOps Hammer and Wahoo Kickr is more protective.
It's no surprise that the Direto sits near the top of this measure. It's a very economical machine, managing to fit a broad range of bikes and componentry while delivering excellent controllability and data reliability, yet still comes in about 10 pounds lighter and hundreds of dollars lower than the top models in our review.
The biggest setback was installing the cassette, which, like the Tacx Neo and most of the other direct drive trainers, requires you to buy the cassette separately. It comes with a freehub that's only compatible with Shimano and SRAM, so if you have Campagnolo, you'll need to buy the Campy hub separately. Be sure that you get the Elite Direto Campy freehub, not the Elite Muin freehub, the latter being extremely easy to find on third-party sites while the former is very much not. It's also worth noting that the Elite website is not very easy to navigate, so you might find yourself relying on third-party sites to find accessories.
It has a good range of compatibility, fitting hubs 130-135x5mm with quick releases and 142x12mm with thru-axles like the Kickr, Hammer, and Neo. It doesn't include much beyond the skewer and axle fittings for quick release or thru-axles, but Elite has a few accessories for purchase. They are useful, but not quite as innovative as Tacx Neo's Neo Track, which allows you actually to steer your bike in riding simulations. It would be nice if it included a normal wheel block like the Neo or Kickr, but Best Buy winners don't usually come with a ton of extras.
This trainer has pretty solid road feel, which was a major factor in selecting it for our Best Buy Award. Typically, the time it takes for a trainer to come to a stop when you stop pedaling will have a big impact on the road feel. In the Direto's case, it took 13 seconds at 200W. That means that when you start pedaling again, you get a lot more resistance to get back up to speed than you would with the Wahoo Kickr with its 53 seconds or the CycleOps Hammer, which takes two and a half minutes to come to a stop. The tradeoff for all of that smoothing inertia is that the Hammer and Kickr both have heavier flywheels and heavier overall weight. The Direto only has a 9-pound flywheel and an overall weight of 10 and 14 pounds lighter, respectively, than the other two.
Now, you'll notice it doesn't quite have a top score, but it still ranks highly. That's because it uses an electric brake and an optical torque sensor to provide the smoothness that would otherwise be provided by an oversized flywheel. That made training and especially Zwift usage much nicer when hitting big gradients.
We think the Direto is excellent, especially in its responsiveness and at its price. If you crave unmatched road feel, the Tacx Neo Smart might be a better option for you. It uses a unique electromotor to simulate downhills, perfectly replicating coasting and gradient transitions.
For all its other conveniences, this one requires a bit of time to get set up and rolling. It's not a ton, but compared to some of the other trainers in the bunch, it's more. For starters, you'll need to use a hex key to bolt on its three support legs. It's a straightforward process, just be sure to use the short bolts on the outside legs and the long bolts on the side legs. Once installed, open the legs and tighten down the knobs in the open position.
Being a direct drive trainer, you'll need to install a cassette. Given the crazy range of groupset options, Elite doesn't bother sending one. That works out much better because it keeps the price a bit lower and gives you the freedom to get what you need to fit your bike. Why send out a generic 11 speed Shimano Ultegra cassette if a good portion of riders are going to immediately remove it and let it sit in their gear pile or try to hawk it at a loss? As mentioned above, the important thing to keep in mind here is that it comes with a freehub body that's compatible with Shimano and SRAM cassettes, so if you're riding Campy, you'll need to buy the Campy freehub that fits the Direto.
Once you get that all worked out and installed with the right amount of spacers for the hub and speed, it's time to throw the bike on. You'll need to select the correct adapter for your axle type. It's a simple process to insert the adapter on the non-drive side and unscrew/screw on the drive side. It is a bit annoying that the adapter will always fall out from the non-drive side. The best solution is to keep the skewer or axle in the machine when it's not in use, so the adapter is always with the machine.
Now that that's all done, you can jump on, but wait, two final steps before you can get cranking. You need to plug it in, wait about 10 seconds for it warm up, and pedal a few times and let your device locate it on Bluetooth or ANT+. Once it's located and paired, you need to calibrate the trainer on whatever software platform you're using, ideally after warming up for about 10 minutes. Now, you're ready to go.
As you can see, direct drive smart trainers generally didn't do as well as standard tire drive trainers in this measure. Most standard tire drive trainers are as simple as replacing a skewer, locking the axle down, and securing the drum in place. Direct drive trainers require some assembly, and most smart trainers require some calibration. The Direto should be calibrated at least every few rides, though it wouldn't hurt to do it once a session. The exception to this is the Neo Smart, which does not require calibration - and you can't do it even if you wanted. If you don't mind a little bit of tinkering and the periodic spin down calibration in return for the best priced smart trainer out there, stick with the Direto. We awarded it the Best Buy for a reason.
This trainer is best suited to riders ready to step up into the controllable smart trainer world, but not ready to break four figures on the price. It's relatively lightweight and much easier to store and drag around on trips, though it does need to be plugged in to get the full range of resistance and any data broadcasting.
The Direto is really the entry point for true smart trainers. It doesn't quite have the bells and whistles of the premium trainers, but it has solid performance and offers most of the features you can expect in a smart trainer. We feel that it sits at exactly the right spot of price and performance, so much so that it earns our Best Buy Award.
The Direto is one of our very favorite trainers. It is effortless to collapse and take out of town or store in closets and behind furniture to keep partners, spouses, roommates, and house guests happy. If you can kick out 1400W at 24 mph (40 km/h) or 2200W at 37 mph (60 km/h), you can tag the upper end of its range, but if you can do that you should have sponsors sponsor you a top-range smart trainer like the Tacx Neo Smart. And to test some of those watt limits, it can pitch up to a 14% grade, enough to quench all but the hardest riders' thirst. This model is more than enough trainer to get you through the winter and the rainy days unless you're looking to get into the top 2 or 3 racing categories - then again, there's no reason pro riders wouldn't find the Direto to be a bargain for much of their winter riding.
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Most recent review: July 30, 2018
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