Best Bike Trainer of 2020
Best Overall Smart Trainer
Tacx Neo 2T Smart
The winner of our Editors' Choice Award is the Tacx Neo 2T Smart. When you're looking for the top of the line, you'll find it here. The Neo 2T is probably the smoothest ride out there, yet when you're Zwifting around on terrain like cobbles and boards, it'll bump and rumble to simulate it. It's the only trainer to simulate freewheeling on descents. It requires zero calibration, ever, and is the most accurate power reader on the market. Don't have a power outlet near you? Not a problem, it will run on your power as you ride so you can still sync up to your phone and control resistance. And it's one of the more versatile trainers, fitting most frames, axles, the three major cassette brands, Shimano, SRAM, and Campagnolo (make sure to look into adapters and hubs beforehand).
There are a few areas to consider before jumping all-in on the Tacx Neo 2T. It's among the heaviest trainers out there. It needs the weight to get the performance it delivers, but it does make it a bit of a pain to move around the house or take out on the road. It's a premium bike trainer, so it comes at a premium price. This trainer is for serious riders who want to get the most out of their training sessions. That's either as part of their in-season training or in the off-season when it's freezing outside. It's a serious piece of machinery for serious riders.
Read review: Tacx Neo 2T Smart
Best Bang for Your Buck
Saris H3 Direct Drive
The Saris H3 Direct Drive is the winner of our Best Bang for Your Buck Award. It packs in a lot of performance for its price-point. It's probably closer to top-shelf bike trainer specs and performance, but it's hundreds less than the premium trainers, especially with Saris reducing the price of the H-series with the release of the H3. It features a new motor design that improves its handling of power changes and requirements, so your sprinting, climbing, and ERG training are smoother and feel nicer. The accuracy remains at a solid +/- 2%, but improvements have reduced drops-outs and spikes, so the overall accuracy is actually better in the H3 than in earlier iterations. And it's the quietest trainer in our lineup, with a claimed noise level of 59 dB, though we measured it even lower, at 55 dB. Truly, it's one of the nicest trainers on the market.
It's not all sunshine and flowers though. You don't get the H3's level of performance without a lot of dense machinery inside. It's a heavy thing, nearly 50 pounds. Even the hulkiest cyclist will find that to be a pain when moving the trainer around. It's also worth pointing out that it requires periodic calibration to remain accurate. That's pretty common for bike trainers, but a few competitors out there have machines that don't require it even once. The folks who will get the best use of the Saris H3 are riders who are serious about training indoors. They're looking for a top-level trainer, but also want to get a bargain on it. If you were into securities, you'd look at this trainer and consider its asking price to be at a discount relative to its underlying value.
Read review: Saris H3 Direct Drive
Best Value for a Mid-Range Trainer
Kinetic Road Machine Control
The Kinetic Road Machine | Control is the winner of our Best Value for a Mid-Range Trainer. It hits the right mix of versatility and affordability. It's an easy trainer to get set up and rolling pretty quickly. It's a smart control trainer, so not only do you get your performance data, like speed and power, but you get to control the darn thing. It's one of the few tire drive trainers with control - hence the name. So you're now fully integrated into the interactive training world of Zwift and TrainerRoad and the other sweet programs out there on offer. It's also offered at a super competitive price point. Not a lot of trainers get you into the interactive control world without making you cringe at the expense.
There are of course a few drawbacks with this trainer. It's a tire drive trainer, so there are inherent limitations on performance. Power accuracy tends to be a little lower for this style of trainer. It's no different with the Kinetic Road Machine | Control. It's accurate to about +/- 5%. That's doable for a mid-range trainer, but not quite as accurate as the premium direct drive trainers. Then again, it's a fraction of the price and gets the job done. It also needs to be plugged in to have the control features work. That's not ideal, but there are a few trainers that can overcome that problem. Riders looking to get into the virtual control world who don't want to splurge on a trainer that costs as much as the bike will get a lot of the Kinetic.
Read review: Kinetic Road Machine Control
Best Shoestring Budget Buy
Blackburn Tech Mag 1
The Blackburn Tech Mag 1 picks up our Best Shoestring Budget Buy Award. You probably don't need to guess too hard to figure out how it earned that award. It's eminently affordable. Any rider looking for a trainer can get their hands on this machine without serious pecuniary concerns. It didn't just pick up its accolade on price though. It's also one of the lightest trainers available. Take that in combination with its ease of setup and sturdy design and you now have one of the best trainers for traveling and roadside warmup.
The Tech Mag 1 is an extremely simple, stripped-down trainer that uses a magnetic resistance unit. You can expect that it just won't offer the level of resistance or integrations that more expensive trainers offer. Indeed, it offers no software integrations, as it doesn't equip sensors. If you want trainer data, you'll need to rely on bike sensors from your rear wheel, crank, or pedals. Yet, its simplicity is part of the allure for some riders. It's ideal if you do a lot of traveling and wish you could bring along a trainer you're not worried about getting knocked around a little or if you just want something that you can use to get spinning and don't want to break the bank.
Read review: Blackburn Tech Mag 1
Top Pick Tire Drive
Saris Fluid 2
Looking for a simple bike trainer to get you up on your bike in the winter without the hassle and full paycheck? The Saris Fluid 2 with Sensor will do exactly that. It's a straightforward trainer that's super easy to set up and get rolling. We tested it with the speed or cadence sensor (a very worthwhile option) that easily pairs with Zwift, Rouvy, and all the other major training apps so you're not flying blind. And it's not just any old tire drive trainer. It actually feels like you're out on the road. CycleOps, now Saris, has earned its excellent reputation for unmatched road feel in its fluid resistance trainers, and that's on show with the Fluid 2. It follows a basic progressive resistance curve, but it has the perfect amount of responsiveness, inertia, and rollout/spin-down to mimic the road. It's also one of the lightest bike trainers on the market, making it super easy to move around, store, and take out on road trips or to warm up before races. Note that this model is sold for less money without the sensor. We definitely endorse spending the extra money to get the sensor to get more benefits and features out of this trainer.
Of course, the limitations of this model are found across all tire drive trainers. While it's great in comparison to the models in its class, it still can't match the road feel, smart data, and power measurement accuracy of direct drive trainers. And like most tire drive models, it doesn't have control, so your Zwifting won't be quite as interactive as it could be. But hey, it also doesn't have the price tag. If you're after a practical, easy, natural-feeling tire-drive trainer, it doesn't get much better than the Saris Fluid 2.
Read review: Saris Fluid 2
Why You Should Trust Us
Our testers Curtis Smith and Ryan Baham are cycling fanatics with a passion for fitness. These two reviewers spend an obscene amount of time in the saddle putting in serious miles. When the weather turns foul in the winter months, both spend their fair amount of time on the bike trainer. Both testers race competitively in road and mountain bike events regularly, chalking up a few 1st place finishes.
We obsessively test these bike trainers, putting in a huge amount of hours, losing gallons of sweat, and occasionally, even a little blood. We ride these trainers with an eye for smart connectivity with smartphones, computers, and fitness applications. We double-check all of the power readings with an outside power meter. We also pay attention to the portability of each unit, ease of setup, and how the feeling of each trainer compares to the feel of the road. Rest assured, we have all the bases covered.
Related: How We Tested Bike Trainers
Analysis and Test Results
To provide an accurate accounting of the advantages, disadvantages, and overall end-user experience, we rate trainers on five separate metrics: connectivity and power accuracy, portability, design, road feel, and setup time. We give each product a score from 1 to 10 for each metric, representing how the products compare to each other. Each metric, in turn, is weighted to account for the relative importance to value and performance. Portability, for example, is a factor for a lot of riders, but it's not a make-or-break for most of us. So it's not accorded the same weight as power accuracy, because that impacts most of us pretty heavily.
Related: Buying Advice for Bike Trainers
The most expensive trainers generally scored the highest in our review. However, if you don't need many features, we found that many of the cheapest models performed just fine. Typically, as you go down in price, the accuracy of data collected and road feel decreases. Smart control features also are either limited or sometimes not present on the low-priced end of the market. However, most models come with ANT + and Bluetooth connectivity now, so you can still use third-party apps like Zwift, The Sufferfest, and TrainerRoad for an engaging session of pains and gains.
After hours of testing, the Kinetic Road Machine | Control proved to cover most cyclists' needs in a bike trainer at a very competitive price. It has just enough smart features to keep us tuned into our workout at one of the lowest prices in this review. It's also simple to use and light enough to cart around wherever you'd like. However, if you want a taste of the top echelon of bike trainers these days, go for the Saris H3. It's a clear jump up in features and road feel from the tire drive models and isn't far behind the direct drive models in terms of performance, but it costs hundreds of dollars less. You can also go bare-bones and grab the Blackburn Tech Mag 1, which has no smart features but does get you spinning for an impressively low price.
Connectivity and Power Accuracy
When it comes to smart trainers, one of the most important considerations is connectivity with companies' in-house applications and, probably more importantly, the broad array of third-party training apps like Zwift. Because a drop here could tank an entire training session or even block a rider from an entire virtual universe of training, we assigned this category a higher weight. Training apps are critical to the overall functionality of the unit and your training experience. A smart trainer without apps is a fifty-pound paperweight for all but the hardest Vikings among us. They rely on applications and their connections to those applications to control resistance, collect data, and provide an engaging riding experience.
The models we tested use both ANT+ and Bluetooth communication protocols. Why both? Well, the short explanation is that most smartphones are not ANT+ enabled, but they do have Bluetooth, so trainers need the Bluetooth connectivity for mobile apps. Many computers and tablets also use the Bluetooth protocol, so enabling Bluetooth can provide an adaptor-free method of communication for web-based applications like Sufferfest, TrainerRoad, and Zwift.
You'll want to check out the capabilities of the third-party programs. Zwift, for example, didn't initially support native Bluetooth communication for PC/Windows, meaning you had to download the Zwift Companion mobile app to use your phone as a bridge. Zwift has since fixed that issue and continues to punch up. Outside put out a piece that got us even more excited about the things to come from Zwift (and its virtual training competitors).
If you do run into trouble with Bluetooth compatibility, an ANT+ connection will allow you to communicate with any device by simply plugging an ANT+ dongle into one of the USB ports. Dual communication protocols provide the easiest connection regardless of what type of display device you're trying to use.
The other portion of the category is power accuracy. Smart trainers base resistance on power measured in watts. Each employs a power meter that measures power output. The most accurate way to do this is to read power at the hub, which is the method utilized by direct drive trainers. Tire drive models read power farther down the chain at the drum/resistance unit interface and thus do not offer the same level of power accuracy. Tire drive trainers must contend with more variables when measuring power, primarily the effect that tire drag has on the reading. As a tire heats from friction, the rolling resistance changes, as does the air pressure within the tire. The combination of both factors affects rolling resistance. Because of this tire drive trainers inherently provide a more variable and less accurate measure of power.
The Tacx Neo 2T Smart and Wahoo Kickr outscored all other products we tested in this category. ANT+ FE-C and Bluetooth Smart communication protocols made for easy connections to the Tacx and Wahoo Fitness smartphone apps and third-party applications. Some of our testers described the Kickr as the Apple of the smart trainer world due to its intuitive and straightforward smartphone application that incidentally works equally well with both IOS and Android devices. The Neo training app, however, was slightly less glamorous and could have used a bit more interactivity, but it connected across apps and platforms without issue.
Unique to the capabilities of the Tacx Neo 2T, though, is a pedal stroke analysis. This feature allows you to see the power and efficiency of each leg during any given workout to help you further understand your strengths and identify areas for improvement. Your one freeloading leg no longer has a place to hide. However, to utilize this feature, you must use the Tacx app, which isn't our favorite of the bunch. Tacx also looked to the future with this model, adding extra memory to make space for software updates and new features in the future. As bike trainer technology continues to improve every year, we think this is a very smart move.
Power accuracy in both models were also excellent, rivaled only by the Elite Direto X and Saris H3. We tested all of the products against a Quarq crank-based power meter and Garmin Vector 3 pedals and found the variance of less than one percent with all four. The Kickr Snap and Kinetic Road Machine Control fare very well for tire drive models, equaling their direct drive counterpart on ease of connectivity. Power accuracy drove the overall score down, with variance in the 5% range for both.
Lower scoring products suffered from less intuitive native applications. Their power accuracy also tended to increase significantly. That said, we welcome the lower end of the market adopting the dual standard communication protocols of ANT+ and Bluetooth, something that wasn't nearly as ubiquitous just a few years ago.
Road feel ranks right up there in importance with connectivity. The best simulate the sensation of riding on the road. Poor quality models lack the feeling of inertia you get when riding out on the road. Achieving a good road feel is a complicated feat of engineering. Standard and smart models deliver good road feel in different ways.
There is a strong correlation between flywheel weight and the sensation that the user gets when spinning the cranks. In general, the heavier the flywheel, the better the road feel. A heavy flywheel mimics the inertia felt when riding outside. The first thing you will notice with an inferior quality product is the sensations of resistance in the pedaling dead spot the back half of the pedal stroke. When riding on the road, the forward momentum of the wheels carries you through this spot, and it is not noticeable except on steep climbs. Models with poor road feel give the rider the sensation of being on a perpetual climb.
Smart trainers are a bit more complicated than standard fluid ones. The response to the control protocol from the application determines road feel in combination with the flywheel, or virtual flywheel in the case of the Tacx Neo 2T Smart. During testing, we used a test to determine how long the flywheel would spin once pedaling stopped from 200 watts at 20mph. We tested the lowest resistance setting on the smart trainers using the native applications.
Those with the longest roll out time usually also offered the best road feel when used in SIM mode. The major exception to this rule was the Neo 2T Smart, using a unique magnetic electromotor to perfectly simulate the road, even going so far as to replicate downhilling, yet its roll out time is only 21 seconds. Returning to the trend, the H3 Direct Drive had the longest roll out time at 2:30, and also has the heaviest flywheel of any model we tested.
Our testers found the Saris H3 to provide some of the best road feel among traditional flywheels across a range of applications both native and third party. It would be easy to assume that the flywheel weight is the only factor at play, but the complex magnetic resistance units and how they interpret the data fed to them by the applications also plays a critical role.
When it comes to fluid trainers, the flywheel weight makes all the difference. The Wahoo Fitness Kickr Snap has a 10.5-pound flywheel and also provides the best road feel about tire drive trainers. With that said, the top-scoring Tacx Neo 2T Smart blows it out of the water.
All trainers make noise. Some are louder than others. The quietest we tested is the Kickr Snap that put out 54.5 decibels at 20mph. The Saris H3 is also relatively quiet compared to the competition. The H3 was the quietest direct drive trainer, at just 55.3 dB. Our Editors' Choice winner, the Tacx Neo 2T, was measured at 57.8 dB. The loudest models, the Wahoo Fitness KICKR and Saris Fluid 2, measured 64.6 dB and 64.7 dB, respectively.
When assessing the overall quality of design, we took several factors into account, including durability, stability, adjustability, and wheel and hub compatibility. We assigned the design criteria a weight of 20 percent. Whether you are considering spending hundreds or thousands on your purchase, we know that the longevity of the product, as well as the ability to use with multiple bikes, are all considerations.
Durability and Stability
Is this thing going to last? Am I going to tip it over if I go too hard on a sprint? Am I going to break this thing? Is this thing going to break my favorite two-wheeled toy? These are some of the questions we had during testing. We found the heaviest models to be the most stable during use, but it should be noted that we never felt at risk of tipping over with any trainers during testing. The Saris H3 is a standout product with a fully enclosed design. The resistance unit and flywheel are all protected from exposure to sweat and damage by the plastic shell. The legs have a 19.5" footprint when open, providing excellent stability when combined with weight. Other standout products include the Kinetic Road Machine | Control and Kickr Snap that both have tubular steel frames that provide great durability and stability.
Both the H3 and the Kickr have adjustable legs to accommodate an uneven floor. The Kickr also can adjust the height of the trainer to accommodate different wheel sizes to maintain a level bike position without the use of a wheel block.
Wheel and Hub Compatibility
Direct drive models have the advantage here because they do not rely on the rear wheel to drive the resistance unit. The Saris H3 is compatible with both 130 and 135mm quick-release frames, as well as 142 and 148mm through axle frames using adaptors. Most other high-end models also support these expanded axle sizes, but you might need to purchase the adaptors separately. This makes the machines compatible with almost any type of bike available: road, cyclocross or mountain. The tire drive trainers we tested will work with thru axle bikes as well but require adaptors, and we recommend you use a slick tire rather than the knobby you probably have on your off-road machine.
Along with the Neo 2T, the Saris H3 is the highest scoring product overall for design. Excellent durability, stability, and a well thought out design set them apart from the competition. The Kickr and Direto X also score swell in this metric. Among the tire drive models, we are most impressed with the Kinetic Road Machine | Control.
We are all crunched for time, and any time lost setting up your trainer could have been spent putting in quality training time. Setup receives 20 percent weighting. We broke setup down into two primary areas for consideration, physical setup and tech setup.
Physical Set Up
We spent a lot of time with these trainers and became intimately aware of the setup procedure and related quirks of each unit. From folding out the support legs to attaching the bike, they all have their pros and cons. Overall, we found that direct drive models are the easiest to set up on a daily basis. Despite the need to remove the rear wheel for use, there is no need to mess with tire pressure or drum tension on the rear wheel. With tire drive trainers, the rear wheel does not need to be removed, but you will have to swap out your skewer before mounting the bike and you'll see more tire wear than normal. Also, tire pressure needs to be adjusted before each ride, and the drum tension on the rear wheel also needs to be set up just right.
Pairing and Applications
All of the smart models we tested require the user to download the proprietary application before use. The manufacturer's application allows you to update the firmware before use. The other reason you need to download the native application is for calibration, except with the Tacx Neo 2T Smart, which comes pre-calibrated. All of the other smart trainers we tested require some calibration before initial use, and ongoing calibration after that. Without calibration, power measurement will not be accurate. As a result, resistance will be out of balance to your output. The applications for each trainer are easily found in the App Store on both IOS and Android phones. Once downloaded, you will need to follow the instructions within the application to pair your trainer. We found the Wahoo Fitness application to be the easiest and most intuitive to use, with the Saris CVT mobile application coming in a close second.
Calibration, quite frankly, is a pain. Tire drive models require calibration before each training session to account for tire pressure and drum tension differences from ride to ride. Even a quarter turn on the tensioning knob can cause a huge variance in power readings. Ideally, calibrate tire drive trainers following a 10-minute warm-up period to account for changes in resistance related to heat build up. Direct drive, on the other hand, only need to be calibrated every 30 days. This is a huge advantage that will save you an average of 10 minutes with every session. That time adds up over the course of a week of training; we could all be doing something more productive than calibrating a trainer.
The Blackburn Tech Mag 1 is the fastest and easiest to set up of all the models we tested. It has a clear advantage as a basic trainer with no need to calibrate or pair to applications. The clutch knob on the Tech Mag 1 is a unique feature that makes getting the proper tire tension on the drum fast and simple. The Neo 2T Smart also does really well here, largely because it never requires calibration. Also, once it's paired with applications, there's no further upkeep required - not to mention the Tacx app, while not as interactive as Zwift, does provide a ton of great training and support while giving you real-world cycling videos, which is pretty cool.
How easy is it to move around? Stationary models are a great option for pre-race warm-ups, and you may even consider closing the office door for a quick lunch session if you are really serious about training. Even if you never plan to travel with your bike trainer, you will likely need to move it around. Few of us have the luxury of a dedicated space for indoor training, so putting it away after a workout is standard practice. The portability category is weighted at 10 percent. We took several factors into account when ranking products; weight, ease of carrying, storage size, and the ability to operate without electrical power.
This is one area where the smart direct drive trainers do not outscore the lower-priced tire drive models. There are loads of reasons to choose a premium model over a basic unit, but portability is not one. The direct drive models we tested weigh between 30 to 50 lbs. Heavier flywheels, magnets, and electronics all add up to a good ride, but they are not easy to move around. Surprisingly, we found the heavier direct drive Saris H3 and the Wahoo Kickr to be easier to move than lighter weight smart models like the Kickr Snap. This is due to the well designed built-in carrying handles found on both units and compact folding. But generally, tire drive trainers have an advantage in this measure because they are lighter than the direct drive models.
Models like the Tacx Neo 2T are awkward to carry, given their weight and precarious handholds. The Tech Mag 1 is a standout, with a compact folded size, and the lightest weight of any trainer we tested. It can even fit inside a suitcase, and only weighs 15 lbs. Another great feature is that it doesn't need power. The magnets in the Tech Mag 1 will provide a steady speed based resistance curve that is more than enough resistance for a good pre-race warm up. The Tacx Neo 2T provides almost all of its features (minus its downhilling feature) without a power source, and the Saris Fluid 2 doesn't require power to operate, either.
We spend most of our review time looking through the lens of a handful of performance measurements. We do this so we can get a sober look at these machines and quantify their differences. But we also rely on the subjective expertise and knowledge of our reviewers who know that high scores don't necessarily mean meeting user requirements. To get our scores and qualitative analyses, we augmented those hurty stationary sessions with just as much research on specs, materials, design, and other user experience. We do everything we can to cut out the bias and hype so we can bring you the best bike trainer reviews out there. It's exactly what we would want to hear if we were in the market for a new trainer - and we're literally always in the market for new trainers. For this rolling review, we get to test a dozen or more trainers throughout the year and those reviews are spread throughout the bike trainer site. For this particular page, our best in class, we boil down what we think are the best bike trainers and give out awards for overall best bile trainer, best per dollar (best buy), best on a tight budget, and then best tire drive trainer, since tire drives are rarely able to compete directly with direct drive trainers on the performance measures, but still bring a lot of value. We hope this helps you narrow done your options and gets you in the training saddle.
— Ryan Baham and Curtis Smith