Reviews You Can Rely On

The 5 Best Bike Trainers of 2024

We put the best bike trainers from TacX, Saris, Zwift, and others to the test to find the perfect trainer for you
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Best Bike Trainer Review (OGL testers enjoying the great road feel of the Hammer Direct Drive as the snow falls outside.)
OGL testers enjoying the great road feel of the Hammer Direct Drive as the snow falls outside.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman
By Nathaniel Bailey ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Apr 20, 2024

The Best Bike Trainers for 2024


We've built our quads testing bike trainers for the last seven years, testing 25+ models hands-on. Our update features the best 12 options on the market today. We look at a wide range of options, carefully considering the needs of different riders, the support companies offer, and the value each trainer provides. To do this, we spent hundreds of hours in the GearLab pain cave, tinkering and assembling, sweating, and analyzing with our laptops the best options out there. This comprehensive review doesn't just compare and contrast each product, but we offer our recommendations to help you find the best trainer you need for your ambitions.

We also have the details on all the products you need to enhance your bike training, like the best bike computers and top-rated exercise bikes as well as the best budget exercise bikes. If you want to build out your home gym, check out our round-up of the best exercise equipment.

Editor's Note: We updated this review on April 20, 2024, to add several new models from Wahoo along with the Garmin Tacx Neo 3M.

Top 12 Bike Trainers - Test Results

Displaying 1 - 5 of 12
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Awards Top Pick Award Editors' Choice Award    
Price $2,000 ListCheck Price at Backcountry
Compare at 3 sellers
$1,300 List
$1,000 at Backcountry
$1,600 at Backcountry
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$650 List
$649.99 at Amazon
Overall Score Sort Icon
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Pros Incredibly accurate, movement, excellent road feelSolid accuracy, realistic road feel, easy setupHighly accurate, smooth road feel, Wi-Fi connectivityExcellent accuracy, best movement range, silent operationA low price range for a premium trainer, good responsiveness, smooth, high power accuracy
Cons Price, other options have more movement, no built-in WiFi/ethernet connectivityPower output/response can lag, heavy, no handleExpensive, heavyExtremely heavy, accuracy falls short of best-in-class, priceyStill relatively expensive, requires calibration, heavy, slightly aggressive in ERG mode
Bottom Line This is the best trainer we've tested, with incredible accuracy and great road feelOne of best bike trainers on the market for supercharged workouts in-season and off-season conditioningWith excellent accuracy and performance, this is one of our favorite trainers for any indoor rideAdding movement to one of our favorite trainers, this is a solid choice for serious indoor ridingA more affordable premium direct drive trainer to get you through winter, rain, and turbo-charged training sessions
Rating Categories Garmin Tacx Neo 3M Tacx Neo 2T Smart Wahoo Fitness KICKR Wahoo Fitness Kickr... Saris H3 Direct Drive
Connectivity and Power Accuracy (25%)
9.0
9.0
9.0
9.0
8.0
Road Feel (25%)
10.0
9.0
8.0
8.5
7.0
Design (20%)
9.0
8.0
9.0
9.0
7.0
Setup (20%)
9.0
9.0
8.0
8.0
7.0
Portability (10%)
6.0
6.0
7.0
5.0
8.0
Specs Garmin Tacx Neo 3M Tacx Neo 2T Smart Wahoo Fitness KICKR Wahoo Fitness Kickr... Saris H3 Direct Drive
Drive Type Direct drive Direct drive Direct drive Direct drive Direct drive
Measured Weight 52 lbs 47 lbs 47 lbs 64 lbs 47 lbs
Roll Out Time @ 200 watts 36 seconds 26 seconds 57 seconds 56 seconds 58 seconds
Power Comparison 0-2 watts, <1% 1-3 watts, 1% 1-3 watts, 1% 1-3 watts, 1%
Communication Protocol ANT +, Bluetooth ANT+ FE-C, Bluetooth FTMS ANT+ FE-C, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi ANT+ FE-C, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi ANT+ FE-C, Bluetooth FTMS
Dimensions L-H-W 24.8" x 23.4" x 31.5" 22.6" x 29.5" x 21.7" 20" x 28" x 17" 34.6" x 27" x 26.6" 31” x 18.5” x 19.5”
Storage Dimensions LxHxW 14" x 23.4" x 27.4" 24.4" x 10.2" x 17.3" 20" x 9" x 17" 14.5" x 27" x 19" 8.5” x 18.5” x 19.5”
Type of Trainer Smart Smart Smart Smart Smart
Flywheel Virtual Virtual 16 lbs 16 lbs 20 lbs
Axle compatibility 130mm and 135mm skewer, 142mm and 148mm thru axle, adapters for 10/23 x 135mm thru axle for both non-drive side and drive side available through Garmin 130mm, 135mm || Adaptors for 142mm and 148mm available through Tacx 130mm and 135mm skewer and 142mm and 148mm thru axles 130mm and 135mm skewer and 142mm and 148mm thru axles 130mm, 135mm compatible || Thru-axle available for 142mm and 148mm through CycleOps


Best Overall Smart Trainer


Tacx Neo 2T Smart


85
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Connectivity and Power Accuracy 9.0
  • Road Feel 9.0
  • Design 8.0
  • Setup 9.0
  • Portability 6.0
REASONS TO BUY
Excellent accuracy
Realistic road-feel
Broad compatibility
REASONS TO AVOID
Expensive
Heavy
No movement
SPECIFICATIONS
Measured Weight 47 lbs
Drive Type Direct drive
Roll Out Time @ 200 watts 26 seconds
Power Comparison 1-3 watts, 1%
Communication Protocol ANT+ FE-C, Bluetooth FTMS
If you want our most recommended trainer, look no further. The Tacx Neo 2T Smart earns our highest honors. This trainer has one of the smoothest rides out there, yet when you're Zwifting around on terrains like cobbles and boards, it'll bump and rumble to simulate a ride. It's one of only two trainers in the lineup that can simulate freewheeling on descents, which is cool. It uses ANT+ FE-C and Bluetooth Smart FTMS to sync up with various training apps to control it during virtual workouts and training sessions. It also has excellent power accuracy. If there's no power outlet nearby, no problem — it will run on your power as you ride, so you can still sync up to your phone and control resistance. This is one of the more versatile trainers out there, fitting most frames, axles, and the three major cassette brands, Shimano, SRAM, and Campagnolo (make sure to look into adapters and hubs beforehand).

Why consider any other trainer? The Tacx Neo 2T checks a lot of boxes. However, there are a few things to consider before investing. First, this is one of the heaviest models we reviewed. It needs the weight to get the performance it delivers, but moving it around the house or taking it on the road is cumbersome. If you plan to keep it in one place, this won't be a problem. Second, its premium performance comes with a premium price. The Tacx Neo 2T is for serious riders who want the most from their training sessions, either during in-season training or the off-season when it's freezing outside. Consider this trainer to take your training to the next level. Finally, the Tacx Neo 2T lacks built-in movement capability, although you can purchase movement plates from Garmin. If you're looking for a lighter, more portable model, the TacX Flow Smart Trainer is a great option that costs a fraction of the price.

Read more: Tacx Neo 2T Smart review

bike trainer - aligning the derailleur and removing the wheel are the only ongoing...
Aligning the derailleur and removing the wheel are the only ongoing issues with the Neo 2T. Overall, it takes about 3-5 minutes to set up if your trainer is stored and your bike still has the wheel attached.
Credit: Ryan Baham

Best Bang for Your Buck Direct-Drive Trainer


Wahoo Fitness Kickr Core


73
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Connectivity and Power Accuracy 8.0
  • Road Feel 7.0
  • Design 7.0
  • Setup 7.0
  • Portability 7.0
REASONS TO BUY
Quiet and responsive
Great price
Auto-calibration
Decent road feel
REASONS TO AVOID
Lower maximum wattage and incline than some others
Lack of handle
SPECIFICATIONS
Measured Weight 40 lbs
Drive Type Direct drive
Roll Out Time @ 200 watts 44 seconds
Power Comparison 3-5 watts, 2%
Communication Protocol ANT + FE-C, Bluetooth
The Wahoo Fitness Kickr Core packs a ton of performance for its price point. It costs significantly less than top-shelf bike trainers and often equals their performance. The Kickr Core Accuracy is solid; it's significantly better than the best tire-drive units we've tested and close to that of units that cost twice its price. If you're used to the noise of a tire-drive trainer, you'll also love the Core's near silence.

Honestly, our biggest gripe with the Kickr Core is the lack of a handle. It lacks the portability of some other trainers, which makes this a great option for riders who don't have to regularly move their setup. We think this trainer hits a sweet spot in terms of price and performance. Extremely powerful riders who sprint above 1500 watts or ride 14% grades regularly may find a more premium unit that better serves them. Otherwise, we think the Kickr Core is hard to beat, whether you're a serious cyclist who wants to save some money while training in the off-season or a newer rider looking for a great virtual riding experience. The very similar Wahoo Fitness KICKR may serve you better if you need spot-on accuracy coupled with high performance.

Read more: Wahoo Fitness Kickr Core review

The Wahoo Fitness Kickr Core is our choice as the best entry into direct drive trainers.
Credit: Nathaniel Bailey

Top Pick for Exceptional Performance at a High Price


Garmin Tacx Neo 3M


90
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Connectivity and Power Accuracy 9.0
  • Road Feel 10.0
  • Design 9.0
  • Setup 9.0
  • Portability 6.0
REASONS TO BUY
Incredibly accuracy
Best-in-class road feel
Integrated movement
REASONS TO AVOID
Expensive
Heavy
SPECIFICATIONS
Measured Weight 52 lbs
Drive Type Direct drive
Roll Out Time @ 200 watts 36 seconds
Power Comparison 0-2 watts, <1%
Communication Protocol ANT +, Bluetooth
If you want the pinnacle of bike trainer performance, the Tacx Neo 3M is for you. Earning top marks in almost every category, the 3M stunned us with its unparalleled accuracy and road feel. Thanks to its virtual flywheel, simulation mode is excellent. The 3M can simulate downhills, bumps, cobbles, and dirt roads in Zwift. Add in two inches of front-to-back movement as well as a few degrees of side-to-side motion, and this trainer is the closest we've ever felt to riding outdoors on a trainer-only setup. ERG mode blew us away, with no overshoot and a smooth, precise ramp. Finally, this trainer can work without being plugged in, although you do lose the downhill and terrain simulation features.

You pay for all that performance, though. This is the most expensive trainer we've tested. While the performance and movement are excellent, you can get excellent results at a much lower price from other trainers. It's also large and heavy, making it a poor choice if you want to move your setup often. The Tacx Neo 3M is for riders who want the absolute best from their indoor training. If you want similar performance and movement, the Wahoo Kickr Move offers more front-to-back motion and excellent accuracy.

Read more: Tacx Neo 3M

The Tacx Neo 3M has unparalleled performance and is our favorite trainer to ride on various bikes.
Credit: Nathaniel Bailey

Top Pick for Tire Drive


Wahoo Fitness Kickr Snap


63
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Connectivity and Power Accuracy 6.0
  • Road Feel 6.0
  • Design 7.0
  • Setup 7.0
  • Portability 5.0
REASONS TO BUY
Affordable
Best road feel for a tire-drive trainer
Solid control for a tire drive trainer
REASONS TO AVOID
Noisy
Lower accuracy than direct-drive trainers
SPECIFICATIONS
Measured Weight 38 lbs
Drive Type Tire drive
Roll Out Time @ 200 watts 45 seconds
Power Comparison 10-15 watts, 5%
Communication Protocol ANT+ FEC, Bluetooth Smart
Our favorite tire-drive trainer is the Wahoo Fitness Kickr Snap. It has a potent mix of performance and portability, with the affordability of a tire-drive unit. Unlike some other tire drive trainers, it's a smart control trainer, meaning you can still get power and speed data from the unit. This makes integration with Zwift or TrainerRoad (or the program of your choice) easy. Its price point makes it one of the most wallet-friendly entries into smart trainers, and it has top-performing responsiveness and accuracy for a tire drive trainer.

While we think the Snap is the best tire-drive option, it isn't immune to the inherent weaknesses of that design. Every direct drive unit we tested had better power accuracy and control, higher max specs, and a quieter experience. The Snap has a best-in-class road feel but still can't compete with a direct-drive unit. Finally, we really recommend noise-canceling earbuds when you use this trainer. If you're looking to get into virtual training at an affordable cost, the Wahoo Fitness Kickr Snap is the best choice. But if you'd rather not limit yourself and go the direct-drive trainer route, the Wahoo Kickr Core offers direct-drive performance at an approachable cost.

Read more: Wahoo Fitness Kickr Snap

No other tire drive unit can compare with the accuracy and road feel of the Wahoo Fitness Kickr Snap.
Credit: Nathaniel Bailey

Notable for Standard Trainer


BalanceFrom Bike Trainer


43
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Connectivity and Power Accuracy 1.0
  • Road Feel 2.0
  • Design 5.0
  • Setup 8.0
  • Portability 9.0
REASONS TO BUY
Affordable
Easy setup
Portable
REASONS TO AVOID
Lack of smart controls
Poor road feel
Linear power curve
SPECIFICATIONS
Measured Weight 19 lbs
Drive Type Tire drive
Roll Out Time @ 200 watts 5 seconds
Power Comparison N/A
Communication Protocol None
The BalanceFrom Bike Trainer is a standard practical trainer without features or smart compatibility. It's a good choice to get your legs moving at the end of a long day. It's simple to set up, store, and move around, like most standard trainers. It also comes at an incredibly affordable price. While it's not comparable to any of the smart trainers, it still has its place in the lineup as the top-scoring standard trainer we've tested.

Unfortunately, this trainer won't replace the feel of the road, and it doesn't compare to the high-end smart models. That said, you won't have to hang up the bike on cold, dark, or wet days. It has a poor power curve, no “real” road feel, and doesn't give you smart controls or connectivity. Furthermore, the resistance is finicky, which may lead to some frustrations. As a lightweight, magnetic trainer with adjustable resistance, you can use it as a low-cost way to set up your indoor gym. If you want something to spin your wheels at a very low price, the BalanceFrom Bike Trainer will do the job. For better connectivity and road feel without breaking the bank, the Wahoo Kickr Snap is a great choice.

Read more: BalanceFrom Bike Trainer review

bike trainer - setting up the balancefrom trainer and getting it going is a...
Setting up the BalanceFrom trainer and getting it going is a straightforward process.
Credit: Ryan Baham

Compare Products

select up to 5 products to compare
Score Product Price
90
Garmin Tacx Neo 3M
Top Pick for Exceptional Performance at a High Price
$2,000
Top Pick Award
85
Tacx Neo 2T Smart
Best Overall Smart Trainer
$1,400
Editors' Choice Award
84
Wahoo Fitness KICKR
$1,300
83
Wahoo Fitness Kickr Move
$1,600
74
Saris H3 Direct Drive
$650
73
Wahoo Fitness Kickr Core
Best Bang for Your Buck Direct-Drive Trainer
$500
Best Buy Award
63
Wahoo Fitness Kickr Snap
Top Pick for Tire Drive
$350
Top Pick Award
58
Tacx Flow Smart Trainer
$370
Top Pick Award
55
Saris Fluid 2
$350
47
Saris Mag+
$200
43
BalanceFrom Bike Trainer
Notable for Standard Trainer
$126
Top Pick Award
41
FDW Bike Trainer
$80

bike trainer - we go through the hassles and figure out how things work so you...
We go through the hassles and figure out how things work so you don't have to.
Credit: Ryan Baham

How We Test Bike Trainers


We obsessively test these bike trainers, putting in many hours, losing gallons of sweat, and occasionally, even a little blood. Staying objective is tough, especially when comparing trainers that cost less than a hundred bucks to others that cost thousands. We use five performance measures and assign weighted scores to do so. We then compare but keep different users and their requirements in mind. While one trainer might have a lower score, we might still highlight the trainer as ideal for some riders, like someone who isn't chasing marginal gains and wouldn't benefit from premium frills. Rest assured, we have all the bases covered. The bike trainers underwent more than 16 individual tests to assess and compare their performance. Over the last seven years, we've tested more than 26 trainers. We purchase each model to give you the best unbiased review. For in-depth info on our testing process, see our How We Test article.

We tested bike trainers using five rating metrics:
  • Connectivity and Power Accuracy tests (25% of overall score weighting)
  • Road Feel (25% weighting)
  • Design (20% weighting)
  • Setup (20% weighting)
  • Portability (10% weighting)

Why Trust GearLab


Our testers Nathaniel Bailey, Curtis Smith, and Ryan Baham got their roles testing this gear because they're cycling freaks. Bailey has cycled across the United States unsupported, worked as a bike mechanic, and regularly trains on a bike whether he is racing on the roads or trails. He has a bachelor's in journalism from Kent State University. Smith races in road, mountain, and cyclocross for the Bikes Plus/Sierra Nevada team. Recent accomplishments include a first-place overall finish in the Sierra Cup Northern California Nevada Regional Championship XC Mountain Bike Series. Ryan Baham has a Bachelor of Arts in anthropology and religious studies from the University of South Florida and a Master's in Public Administration from Old Dominion University. He enjoys long bike rides and runs in his spare time.

We timed each assembly, while also paying attention to quality...
We timed each assembly, while also paying attention to quality instructions and the level of frustration achieved while setting up each model.
Measuring the noise each model puts off while in-use.
Measuring the noise each model puts off while in-use.
Pushing our physical limits as we find the mechanical limits of each...
Pushing our physical limits as we find the mechanical limits of each machine.

Analysis and Test Results


Our goal is help you find the perfect bike trainer for your needs through this review and our how to choose a bike trainer article. As no-bull riders, we put out the review we want to read. We do all the research and buy the trainers at market rates from the same places you do, then ride them hard and see whether they're worth recommending to our friends (including you).


Value


The price of a trainer tends to move in line with performance. The higher the price, the more capabilities and dependability, while the lowest-priced items are usually stripped down with lower reliability and quicker wear. Smart control features are also either limited or sometimes not present on the low-priced end of the market. However, most smart models come with ANT + and Bluetooth connectivity, 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 Wahoo Fitness Kickr Snap proved to cover most cyclists' needs in a tire drive bike trainer at an extremely competitive price. It has enough smart control features to keep us tuned into our workout at a fraction of the price of the premium direct drive models. However, to taste the features of a higher-end trainer, go with the direct-drive Wahoo Fitness Kickr Core. It's a huge jump in features and road feel from the tire drive models and isn't too far behind the most expensive direct drive models in terms of performance. It also costs many times less.

How Will You Use It?
It is important to consider your needs when purchasing a bike trainer. If you are looking for something to get the legs turning for casual at-home workouts, then a lower-scoring tire drive or standard model may fit the bill. These less expensive models lack the smart/control features and road feel of the high-end direct drive models, but that may not matter to many users. If you're a serious cyclist seeking an immersive, interactive training experience, then you know you'll be looking into the more expensive options to get there.


bike trainer - we make sure to test and compare performance between trainer models...
We make sure to test and compare performance between trainer models in the same series, as here with the Neo 2 and Neo 2T.
Credit: Ryan Baham

Connectivity and Power Accuracy


Not all bike trainers give you the same features. Many lower-end trainers don't have connected features like speed, cadence, or power, so testing was sometimes nearly impossible or done compared to outside sensors. In the case of power, how does the resistance curve work with our gearing and cadence? Are we putting out 100 watts to go 25 miles per hour when we should be hitting 220? All of the lower-end trainers limped along in this measure, but we addressed the relevant concerns in the in-depth analyses for each trainer.

One essential consideration here is a smart trainer's ability to link to in-house apps as well as a wide range of third-party training apps like Zwift. This factor can potentially tank an entire training session or even prevent a rider from accessing an entire virtual training universe, so we assigned this metric 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. 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 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.

bike trainer - we tested connectivity across platforms and communication protocols.
We tested connectivity across platforms and communication protocols.
Credit: Ryan Baham

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.

If you run into Bluetooth compatibility trouble, 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.

bike trainer - the saris h3 is a very accurate bike trainer in our lineup.
The Saris H3 is a very accurate bike trainer in our lineup.
Credit: Ryan Baham

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 of tire drag 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 3M, Neo 2T, and the Wahoo Fitness KICKR performed extremely well in this category. Similarly, the Kickr Core also scores highly for connectivity. ANT+ FE-C and Bluetooth Smart communication protocols made 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. However, the Neo training app was slightly less glamorous and could have used more interactivity, but it connected across apps and platforms without issue.

Though, a pedal stroke analysis is unique to the Tacx Neo capabilities. 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. 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 yearly, this is a smart move.

bike trainer - the neo 2t smart allows you to see your power balance and stroke...
The Neo 2T Smart allows you to see your power balance and stroke profile using the Tacx training app, but that functionality should be extended to other major training apps soon enough.
Credit: Ryan Baham

Power accuracy in the 3M is unparalleled. We tested all of the products against a Quarq crank-based power meter, Garmin Vector 3 pedals and Favero Assioma DUO pedals. We found about a one percent variance with the Neo 2T, KICKR, and Kickr Move. The Kickr Core lags in power accuracy but is accurate enough for most riders. The Kickr Snap is the best-scoring tire drive model, performing well with good power accuracy for a tire drive model and smart control features to ride along with training apps.

bike trainer - there&#039;s no shame in setting up a zwift-based suffer session inside...
There's no shame in setting up a Zwift-based suffer session inside on a rainy morning. Sessions longer than an hour, especially those with more than 1,000 feet of climbing, were made much more bearable on the controllable direct drive trainers.
Credit: Crystal Huffman

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, which weren't nearly as ubiquitous just a year ago.

Road Feel


This measure might seem like it favors roadies — and it does — but even the grittiest mountain biker is going to get annoyed if their trainer feels like your brake is rubbing, it's lagging hills, or you're missing sprints because it takes too long to respond when you're kicking out watts. This measure mainly looks at the smoothness and responsiveness of the resistance unit's physics. Does it feel like the trainer is rolling out when you coast, and is the power you put in appropriate to get back up to cruising? Is it responding the right way? Are the climbs natural or lumpy? Is the trainer adjusting as fast as needed or too fast to feel natural?

Road feel ranks right up there in importance with connectivity. The best trainers 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 a good road feel in different ways.


There is a strong correlation between flywheel weight and the user's sensation 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. With an inferior quality product, you will notice the sensation of resistance in the pedaling dead spot during 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 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 and Neo 3M. During testing, we used a test to determine how long the flywheel would spin once pedaling stopped from 200 watts at 20 miles per hour. We tested the lowest resistance setting on the smart trainers using native applications.

bike trainer - the tacx neo 2t really is the ultimate ride. smooth when you need it...
The Tacx Neo 2T really is the ultimate ride. Smooth when you need it to be smooth, rough when you're hitting cobbles and rough terrain, responsive, accurate, and powerful.
Credit: Ryan Baham

Those with the longest rollout time usually offer the best road feel when used in SIM mode. The major exception to this rule was both Neo series trainers, which use a unique magnetic electromotor to perfectly simulate the road, even going so far as to replicate riding downhill. Yet, both had relatively short rollout times. Returning to the trend, the H3 Smart had the longest rollout time at 58 seconds, thanks to a heavy flywheel.


Our testers found the Kickr Move to provide the best road feel among traditional flywheels across various applications, both native and third-party. It would be easy to assume that the flywheel weight is the only factor. Still, the complex magnetic resistance units and how they interpret the data fed to them by the applications also play a critical role.

The flywheel weight makes all the difference when it comes to fluid trainers. The Kickr Snap has a 10.5-pound flywheel and also provides the best road feel for tire drive trainers. The top-scoring Tacx Neo 3M blows it out of the water.

bike trainer - direct drive models go head to head as our testers tease out the...
Direct drive models go head to head as our testers tease out the best qualities in each.
Credit: Crystal Huffman

Noise


Trainers are inherently noisy machines. The drivetrain alone makes about 35 or 40 decibels, so it's tough to find something that will be silent. You're spinning chains and gears against something whose job is to provide the same resistance as a road or mountain trail. Too many moving parts vibrating and fancy things like electric motors to be silent. Despite that, we measure this because it makes a difference, particularly in close quarters when we don't want to disturb our housemates.

It may not be surprising that there's generally a premium on quietness. A lot of extra engineering reduces machine vibrations and the friction that makes the noise. When we test these, we'll take a few measurements around the bike to get an idea of how the noise spreads, but we go with the measurement taken in front of the rider. We'll spin up to 20 miles per hour and keep power at about 220 or 230 watts and 90 RPMs to keep all inputs constant.

The quietest we tested is the Kickr Snap, which put out 54.5 decibels at 20 miles per hour and 230 watts. Of the direct drive trainers, the Saris H3 was the quietest in our tests at just 55.3 dB, and the Tacx Neo 3M came in at 56 decibels. However, we found that the sound levels we recorded in our test didn't correspond to the perceived noise we experienced. For example, we thought the 3M was the quietest overall and the Snap was among the loudest. Some of that likely has to do with the frequency of the noise emitted. The rest of it could come down to how clean our drivetrain was at the time of the test. Across the direct-drive trainers, the vast majority of the noise we experienced came from our drivetrain, not the trainer itself.

Design


When assessing the overall design quality, we took several factors into account, including durability, stability, adjustability, and wheel and hub compatibility. No matter the price range of the machine you end up buying, you're going to want something that will last a good long while, including everything from kicks and drops to years of sweat and minimal upkeep. And, of course, you want to know if your big 29er will fit on this thing that you only see road bikes on before you buy it. We take all of this into account under design.


Durability and Stability


Is this thing going to last? I will 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. The heaviest models felt the most stable during use, but we never felt at risk of tipping over with any of these trainers we tested. 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. When open, the legs have a 19.5" footprint, providing excellent stability when combined with weight. Other standout products include the Kickr Core and Kickr Snap, which have tubular steel frames that provide great durability and stability.

Adjustability


Both the H3 and the Kickr have adjustable legs to accommodate an uneven floor. The Kickr can also adjust the trainer's height to accommodate different wheel sizes to maintain a level bike position without using a wheel block.

bike trainer - thanks to the adjustable foot pads and one of the widest stances in...
Thanks to the adjustable foot pads and one of the widest stances in the trainer world, the Saris H3 is also one of the most stable trainers.
Credit: Tara Kharrazian

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 H3 Smart is compatible with both 130 and 135mm quick-release frames and 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 also work with thru-axle bikes but require adaptors, and we recommend you use a slick tire rather than the knobby you probably have on your off-road machine.

bike trainer - you&#039;ll need to install a cassette on most of the direct drive...
You'll need to install a cassette on most of the direct drive trainers.
Credit: Crystal Huffman

Along with the Neo series 2T and 3M, the Saris H3 and Wahoo Fitness KICKR are the highest-scoring products overall for design. Excellent durability, stability, and a well-thought-out design set them apart. Among the tire drive models, we are most impressed with the TacX Flow Smart Trainer.

Setup


These days, we're all crunched for time. Time lost setting up your trainer is quality training time lost. We broke the setup metric into two primary areas for consideration: physical setup and tech setup.


Physical Set Up


We spent much time with these trainers and became intimately aware of each unit's setup procedure and related quirks. They all have pros and cons, from folding out the support legs to attaching the bike. We found that direct-drive models are the easiest to set up daily. 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. The rear wheel does not need to be removed with tire drive trainers, 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 must be set up just right.

bike trainer - the fluid 2 boasts a user-friendly setup that takes less than 10...
The Fluid 2 boasts a user-friendly setup that takes less than 10 minutes, even if you don't excel at DIY assembly.
Credit: Tara Kharrazian

Pairing and Applications


All smart models we tested require users to download the proprietary application before use. The manufacturer's application allows you to update the firmware before use. You need to download the native application for calibration, except with the Tacx Neo series and Wahoo KICKR/Kickr Move, which come pre-calibrated. All other smart trainers we tested require 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 with your output. The applications for each trainer are easily found in the App Store on both IOS and Android phones. Once downloaded, you must follow the instructions within the application to pair your trainer. We found the Wahoo app easiest to use, followed by Tacx.

Calibration 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 warmup period to account for changes in resistance related to heat build-up. On the other hand, the direct drive only needs to be calibrated every 30 days (or after you move the trainer). This huge advantage will save you an average of 10 minutes with every session. That time adds up over a week of training; we could all be doing something more productive than calibrating a trainer. Only the Tacx Neo 3M, Tacx Neo 2T Smart, Wahoo Kickr Move, and Wahoo KICKR never need calibration, the ultimate regarding convenience. Also, once paired with applications, there's no other upkeep required - not to mention the Tacx and Wahoo apps, while not as interactive as Zwift, provide a ton of excellent training and support while giving you real-world cycling videos, which is pretty cool.

bike trainer - the clutch knob provides audible feedback with a click at the...
The clutch knob provides audible feedback with a click at the perfect tension, eliminating guesswork.
Credit: Tara Kharrazian

Portability


How easy is it to move around? Stationary models are a great option for pre-race warmups, and you may even consider closing the office door for a quick lunch session if you are serious about training. Even if you never plan to travel with your bike trainer, you will likely need to move it around your living space.


Few of us have the luxury of a dedicated space for indoor training, so putting it away after a workout is standard practice. We considered several factors when ranking products; weight, ease of carrying, storage size, and operating without electrical power.


This is one area where the smart, direct-drive trainers do not outscore the lower-priced tire drive models. There are many reasons to choose a premium model over a basic unit, but portability is not one of them. The direct-drive models we tested weigh between 30 to 50 pounds. Heavier flywheels, magnets, and electronics add up to a good ride but are not easy to move around. Surprisingly, we found the heavier direct drive Saris H3 and the Wahoo KICKR easier to move than lighter-weight smart models like the Wahoo 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 and Kickr Core are awkward to carry, given their weight and precarious handholds.

bike trainer - the tacx neo neo 2t smart is the best bike trainer we&#039;ve tested...
The Tacx Neo Neo 2T Smart is the best bike trainer we've tested. While it could be the right model for you, many options exist. Hopefully, we've helped to guide you in the right direction to finding the best bike trainer for your needs.
Credit: Ryan Baham

Conclusion


Testing and thoroughly reviewing bike trainers is considerable work, but our reviewers are bike geeks and more than up for the task. Like you, we spend much time reading up on and analyzing each bike trainer before purchasing. After assembling each model and spending dozens of hours atop each machine, we develop an in-depth understanding of each model's capabilities, which we share with our readers. We hope this review and our recommendations prove helpful to your bike training goals and aspirations. Good luck out there, and keep riding.

Nathaniel Bailey