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Saris H3 Direct Drive Review

A more affordable premium direct drive trainer to get you through winter, rain, and turbo-charged training sessions
Saris H3 Direct Drive
Photo: Saris
Best Buy Award
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Price:  $1,100 List | $989.99 at Amazon
Compare prices at 3 resellers
Pros:  Lower price range for a premium trainer, good responsiveness, smooth, high power accuracy
Cons:  Still relatively expensive, requires calibration, heavy, slightly aggressive in ERG mode
Manufacturer:   Saris
By Ryan Baham ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Jan 13, 2022
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78
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#3 of 10
  • Connectivity and Power Accuracy - 25% 8
  • Road Feel - 25% 8
  • Design - 20% 9
  • Setup - 20% 6
  • Portability - 10% 8

Our Verdict

The Saris H3 Direct Drive sits in the perfect spot when it comes to affordability and performance in a premium direct-drive bike trainer. It's an awesome, hard-working machine that competes directly with the very best bike trainers out there. You get almost everything you get from a super-premium model, but at a slightly lower price, earning our Best Bang for Your Buck Award among the best models out there. There are very few limitations or drawbacks to this model. It excels in all the pursuits you'd want to chase on a trainer. That's not to say that it's perfect, but it's as pretty close, and it could be a great addition to your gym at home.

Editor's Note: We updated the Saris H3 review on January 15, 2022, to provide additional insight on why we love this trainer and how it compares to the other to-ranking products.

Compare to Similar Products

 
Saris H3 Direct Drive
Awards Best Buy Award Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award Best Buy Award  
Price $989.99 at Amazon
Compare at 3 sellers
$1,400 at Backcountry
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$550 List
$569.00 at Amazon
$323.32 at Amazon
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$80 List
$49.69 at Amazon
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Pros Lower price range for a premium trainer, good responsiveness, smooth, high power accuracyDoes not require calibration, realistic road-feel, broad compatibility, wider support for 3rd party appsAffordable, simple to set up, easy to take on the road, great control for a tire drive trainerQuick setup, easy operation, durable, stable, communicates with training apps, low noiseVery affordable, light, easy to carry, store, and move around
Cons Still relatively expensive, requires calibration, heavy, slightly aggressive in ERG modePower output/response can lag, pricey, heavy, somewhat of a pain to move around and set upResistance unit is just a bit bulky and heavy, manual drum adjustment, lower responsivenessLimited max resistance, roller can heat up and accelerate tire wear, no power data, no controlLimited resistance, cable shifter, durability and quality issues
Bottom Line A more affordable premium direct drive trainer to get you through winter, rain, and turbo-charged training sessionsEasily the best bike trainer on the market for supercharged workouts in-season and off-season conditioningA tire-drive model with all the awesome performance of a smart trainer at a fraction of the priceA simple, affordable, and highly functional tire drive trainer with the option to use it with training appsIf you can't possibly spend more, this trainer works to get the legs spinning
Rating Categories Saris H3 Direct Drive Tacx Neo 2T Smart Kinetic Road Machin... Saris Fluid 2 FDW Bike Trainer
Connectivity And Power Accuracy (25%)
8.0
9.0
6.0
5.0
1
Road Feel (25%)
8.0
9.0
6.0
6.0
2.0
Design (20%)
9.0
9.0
7.0
7.0
4.0
Setup (20%)
6.0
8.0
8.0
7.0
8.0
Portability (10%)
8.0
6.0
8.0
9.0
9.0
Specs Saris H3 Direct Drive Tacx Neo 2T Smart Kinetic Road Machin... Saris Fluid 2 FDW Bike Trainer
Type Direct drive Direct drive Tire drive Tire drive Tire drive
Weight (lbs) 47 lbs 47 lbs 28 lbs 21 lbs 19 lbs
Compatible Platforms TrainerRoad, Zwift, Rouvy TrainerRoad, Zwift, Tacx Films, Rouvy, Wahoo SYSTM, Kinomap, FulGaz, BKool, and Road Grand Tours. TrainerRoad, Zwift, Kinetic Fit, Rouvy, Kinomap, Wahoo SYSTM, FulGaz. TrainerRoad, Zwift, Rouvy, Wahoo SYSTM None.
Communication Protocol ANT+ FE-C, Bluetooth FTMS ANT+ FE-C, Bluetooth FTMS ANT+ FE-C, Bluetooth FTMS ANT+ BlueGiga USB None
Dimensions L-H-W (inches) 31” x 18.5” x 19.5” 22.6" x 29.5" x 21.7" 32"x22.4"x16" 28" x 21.5" x 15.7" 23.9 x 20.1 x 7.6
Storage Dimensions LxHxW (inches) 8.5” x 18.5” x 19.5” 24.4" × 10.2" × 17.3" 20.75"x8.25"x21.5" 20.5" x 9" x 20.75" 23.9 x 20.1 x 7.6
Power Comparison 1-3 watts, 1% 1-3 watts, 1% 10 watts, 5% 10 watts, 5% N/A
Decibel @ 230 Watts 55.3 dB 57.8 dB 55.9 dB 64.7 dB 65.2 dB
Roll Out Time @ 200 watts 58 seconds 26 seconds 17 seconds 15 seconds 5 seconds
Flywheel 20 lbs Virtual 12 lbs 3 lbs 5 lbs
Additonal No Cassette included No Cassette included Skewer included Skewer Skewer
Axle compatibility 130mm, 135mm compatible || Thru-axle available for 142mm and 148mm through CycleOps. 130mm, 135mm || Adaptors for 142mm and 148mm available through Tacx. 130mm, 135mm || 142mm and 148mm adaptors available through Kinetic. 120mm, 130mm, 135mm compatible || Thru-axle available for 142mm and 148mm through CycleOps. 130mm and 135mm || May need 3rd party adaptors for 142mm and 148mm

Our Analysis and Test Results

Like most other major brands, Saris' new H3 is an incremental change from the previous versions, with just a few tweaks. We look at the machine as a whole and grade it against our performance measures to give you the best advice possible.

Performance Comparison


The Saris H3 knocks the rest out of the water.
The Saris H3 knocks the rest out of the water.
Photo: Ryan Baham

Connectivity and Power Accuracy


Like most trainers released over the past few years, the Saris H3 uses ANT+ FE-C and Bluetooth FTMS to transmit data and allow you to control the trainer with training apps. If you choose to use ANT+ to connect to a computer, you'll likely need to buy an ANT+ dongle to stick in one of the USB ports. It's a fairly cheap device, but be sure to have it beforehand. Newer phones and tablets are typically ANT+ capable; you might need to download a special driver for it.


We didn't experience any issues with connectivity or communication between the Saris H3 and any of our devices. We also couldn't find any serious reports of issues in this department. That dependability was also transferred to the power department. Saris claims to have +/- 2% accuracy and our testing bore that out as well. That's the same degree of claimed accuracy from the earlier version, but the actual performance is better in the new H3. The H2 almost always had the same degree of accuracy, but it had a problem with power spikes and dropouts. The H3 doesn't seem to have those issues. We stomped as hard as we could and couldn't replicate any of the problems from the H2.

The Saris H3 is compatible with most programs and devices.
The Saris H3 is compatible with most programs and devices.
Photo: Ryan Baham

No, it's not the most accurate machine on the market, but it's quite close. Taken together with its dependability and solid baseline of communication capabilities, it's safely among the best bike trainers out there. And it goes into the many reasons we're calling it the Best Bang for Your Buck Award winner this time around.

Be sure to calibrate your Saris H3 periodically to maintain its...
Be sure to calibrate your Saris H3 periodically to maintain its accuracy.
Photo: Ryan Baham

Road Feel


We feel this is one of the best trainers on the market for road feel. That's a major reason we handed it the Best Bang for Your Buck Award. It's probably the best ride you can get for the money. A few things go into this judgment. We look at the actual feel of pedaling and being down on the trainer - does it rock, does it feel muddy, etc. And we look at the performance in training programs.


Like butter, the pedaling is silky smooth both in free rides and ERG mode. To be fair, we like feeling a little buzz from some of the other trainers. It can make them feel a little more like you're outside getting some road noise in the seat and handlebars, but the smooth H3 feels quite nice sans vibrations. It's probably the quietest trainer out there, both in terms of auditory noise and vibrations.

The Saris H3 has updated specs and internal workings to smooth out...
The Saris H3 has updated specs and internal workings to smooth out some of the drops and spikes from earlier models, making it one of the best on the market right now.
Photo: Ryan Baham

It also does a good job of responding to power changes. That's either output, when you need to jump out of the saddle to kick out some power, or input when you're in ERG mode and the power requirement changes. The key here seems to be that it's a smoother transition than some other trainers. It's not quite a delay, but it gradually transitions, so you aren't all of a sudden trying to push out 400 watts at 20 RPMs. The only detractor here is that it seems slightly aggressive on downward adjustments when trying to match cadence and power in ERG. This is always a struggle as you tire and become sluggish, but there seems to be a bit more of a sloth penalty with the H3. It's certainly not as hurtful or punishing as some of the other smart trainers, but you'll need to keep an eye on it and manage it throughout your ERG training. Despite this minor annoyance, it would be hard to recommend many other trainers over the H3, especially if you're in the market for an upper-level trainer but aren't necessarily looking for a top-shelf Blue Label.

Design


The Saris H3 is one of our favorite designs. It's simple but versatile. Physically, it's practical. It has a handle for easy…uhh…handling. It's compact, so it's easy to move it out of the way when you're not using it. It uses foldable legs to expand its base and improve stability, which it does effectively. And when those legs aren't in use, you can securely stow the wheel stand in between the legs when they're locked down. On that note, it's also nice to have the hub set a bit lower, so you don't need a giant wheel stand to level the bike. The H3 comes with a wheel stand, but you could probably get away with just using a folded towel or something you don't mind getting a little road detritus on.


This model is also compatible with Shimano 8-11 speed (and, by extension, SRAM). We're a bit bummed they don't have a Campagnolo hub, but you should be able to use your Campy drivetrain on a Shimano cassette if you run 11 speed. No promises. On that note, you'll also need to buy your own cassette to put on the trainer. It fits the major axle standards, including 130 and 135mm quick releases and 142 and 145mm thru-axles.

Shimano and SRAM are the only hubs that work on the Saris H3. You...
Shimano and SRAM are the only hubs that work on the Saris H3. You won't get a Campy hub to line up on the Shimano/SRAM splines. You can see the Shimano cassette pictured here has to line its key notch up with the splines of the only compatible hub configuration.
Photo: Ryan Baham

This newer version is quieter than the previous. It has a claimed noise level of 59 decibels, but we recorded it a little lower at 55 dB at 20mph and about 200 watts. That made it one of the quietest trainers in our lineup - and it's a difference you can tell. Your neighbors and co-habitants will appreciate it. They've also made a few tweaks to their internal cooling system so that the motor doesn't overheat as the earlier models did. That also helps reduce the potential for data distortion or inaccurate readings.

You can kick out up to 2,000 watts at 20 mph, and the H3 will take it like a champ. It also simulates inclines up to 20%, which should cover training for all but the absolute worst climbs. It has a claimed power accuracy of +/- 2%, and we couldn't find any serious departure from that in our testing.

Not bad... The Saris H3 is one of the most reliable and accurate on...
Not bad... The Saris H3 is one of the most reliable and accurate on the market.
Photo: Ryan Baham

Like most trainers in this latest generation, it uses ANT+ FE-C and Bluetooth FTMS communication protocols to transmit your performance data and control the unit. That gives it a good level of flexibility across operating systems and devices. Keep in mind that if you want to use ANT+, you'll likely need to buy a dongle to stuff in a USB port. Your phone or tablet might also be ANT+ capable if you want to train off an app and use your TV or computer for cinematic distraction.

Luckily, there are tons and tons of free and paid training apps that work across devices. The Saris H3 is supported by Zwift, TrainerRoad, Rouvy, and tons of other mainstream training programs.

Between the physical design aspects and tech/programmatic designs, it's hard not to be impressed with the H3. It's powerful, versatile, and simple to handle. We didn't even mention that it can be used as a progressive resistance trainer if it's not plugged in or that it has dummy lights to tell you if it's connected and transmitting. See? It's a clever machine, and that's yet another reason it took our Best Bang for Your Buck Award.

Setup


The Saris H3 is also great because it doesn't take much to set it up. And of course, if you want to win our hearts, make it as easy as possible to get on and go. The only assembly that's required is the cassette. That's pretty unavoidable for direct drive trainers. A lot of them used to come with cassettes pre-installed, but it's just too wasteful when so many riders prefer to use different cassettes.


So to get yourself started, you'll need a chain whip, a lockring tool for your cassette, a wrench to fit that tool, and probably some latex gloves, especially if you're playing with a used cassette. The H3 comes with a hub that fits Shimano and SRAM 8-11 speed, so there should be no need for any spacers. If you use a thru-axle, pop in the appropriate adapter from the goody bag, and you're ready to mount.

The Saris H3 setup starts with unboxing.
The Saris H3 setup starts with unboxing.
Photo: Ryan Baham

Simply remove your rear wheel and treat the trainer as a new wheel. Make sure to shift down to your smallest ring on the back before removing it so it's easier to align with the new cassette with the dropouts centered. Tighten down your skewer or thru-axle as you would out in the wild. Then plug the trainer in and get your computer, tablet, or phone set up with your preferred training app. Your machine will already be broadcasting Bluetooth or ANT+; all you have to do is locate it on your device and sync.

The hardest part of the H3's initial setup is getting your cassette...
The hardest part of the H3's initial setup is getting your cassette on, but that's not a difficult process if you've done it once or twice before.
Photo: Ryan Baham

We had zero problems with either syncing or with data transfer. The only real pain we had was with calibration. Not that there were any problems with it, just the fact that we had to do it at all. You'll need to warm the machine up for about 10 minutes, and then you can run the calibration with some confidence, and you're set to ride. The best practice is to do this once a week. It's not a serious mark against this trainer because you have to do calibrations for almost all trainers, except some Tacx models.

The Saris H3 comes with a handful of useful things, including a...
The Saris H3 comes with a handful of useful things, including a hidden disc brake spacer in the wheel stand.
Photo: Ryan Baham

Portability


When we look at portability, we're considering what it takes to pack this thing up and take it out on the road with you and just get it put up and out of the way when you're not using it. We consider it to be one of the more convenient models.


Its legs fold in nice and compact-like, so it's easier to stack and stow. Some other models also have legs that will fold, but their shape still makes the machine a little awkward. Of course, the handle is great too. You can never overestimate the utility of a good handle.

The area where it's not incredibly convenient is its weight. It's 47 pounds, so if you were planning on flying with it or mailing it somewhere to meet up with it later, you're going to end up paying a bit more than you'd like. Plus, it's just a hassle to lift and move around on the floor, never mind that the weight improves riding performance and stability…

Heavier models tend to be more stable than lightweight models. This...
Heavier models tend to be more stable than lightweight models. This trainer is heavy but also provides a very stable base. Tradeoff.
Photo: Ryan Baham

Should You Buy the Saris H3?


Depending on your goals, the H3 is a potential option, to be sure. This higher-end choice gives you a lot for a price lower than the other premium options in a compromise that could save you a few hundred dollars. This product is a premium trainer that offers good responsiveness and smooth, high power accuracy.

The Saris H3 is an all-around great trainer you can depend on to get...
The Saris H3 is an all-around great trainer you can depend on to get your hardest riding done.
Photo: Ryan Baham

What Other Bike Trainer Should You Consider?


For a hundred dollars more list price, the Wahoo Fitness Kickr did earn a better overall score and offered better performance, connectivity, and setup. It isn't as portable, but depending on your goals, this slight performance variance might not be a factor at all, as neither is truly well suited to travel. So, depending on your goals and budget, the Kickr could be the better fit for cycling in your indoor gym at home.

Ryan Baham

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