Saris H3 Direct Drive Review
Cons: Requires calibration, heavy, slightly aggressive in ERG mode
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Our Analysis and Test Results
Like most of the other major brands, Saris' new H3 is an incremental change from the previous versions, with just a few tweaks. We take a look at the machine as a whole and grade it against our performance measures to give you the best advice possible.
Connectivity and Power Accuracy
Like most trainers released over the past 1-2 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 just 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 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.
No, it's not the most accurate machine on the market, but it's bloody close. Taken together with its dependability and solid baseline of communication capabilities, it's safely one of 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.
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 in ERG. To be fair, we actually really 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 the auditory noise and vibrations.
But 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 of the 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 does seem to be slightly aggressive on downward adjustments when trying to match cadence and power in ERG.
This is always a struggle as you wear down over your ride and become sluggish, but there seems to be a little 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 top-shelf Blue Label.
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. 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 it.
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.
This newer version is quieter than the previous trainer. It has a claimed noise level of 59 decibels, but we actually recorded it a little lower at 55 dB at 20mph and about 200 watts. That made it the quietest trainer 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 take care of 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.
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.
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.
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 and 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.
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. 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, with the exception of some of the Tacx trainers.
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 as well as just getting 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 of the 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 especially convenient is its weight. It's almost 50 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 the damn thing and shove it around on the floor, nevermind that the weight improves riding performance and stability…
If you're looking for the best bike trainer, dollar for dollar, we think the Saris H3 packs in the best performance for the price. Not only is it an excellent baseline bike trainer, but its price has also dropped from the earlier models. It brings top-shelf performance at a competitive mid-shelf price. We suspect all but the most discerning riders will be happy with what they get here.
Saris has finally decided to integrate its CycleOps brand into the main Saris brand and the H3 is one of the first releases under the unified label. It continues the successful Hammer line, succeeding the H2 with a handful of new tweaks that earned it our Best Bang for Your Buck Award. Obviously the line's price drop for the H3 was a factor in earning the accolade, but it also had a handful of improvements under the hood. Its power accuracy was improved with fewer random spikes, which were a bit annoying in earlier versions. Its accuracy is also improved, so your stats are cleaner and training programs run smoother. It doesn't overheat like some of the H2 models and it's quieter than the earlier versions. In fact, it was the quietest of all the models we tested. Your group-chat, roommates, spouses, and/or neighbors will be grateful. It's a solid trainer that will serve you well for quite a few years. You won't go wrong with the Saris H3 Direct Drive trainer.
— Ryan Baham