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We've built our quads testing bike trainers for the last seven years, testing 25+ models hands-on. Our update features the best 11 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.
If you want the cream of the crop, look no further. The Tacx Neo 2T Smart earns our highest honors. This trainer is probably the smoothest ride 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 the only trainer to 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 the most accurate power reader tested. Did we mention it requires zero calibration? 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? There are a few things to consider before diving all in on the Tacx Neo 2T. For starters, this is one of the heaviest trainers we tested. It needs the weight to get the performance it delivers, but moving around the house or taking on the road is cumbersome. This won't be an issue if you plan to keep it in one place. Second, its premium performance comes with a premium price tag. 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.
Lower maximum wattage and incline than some others
Lack of handle
The Zwift Hub packs a ton of performance for its price point. It costs significantly less than top-shelf bike trainers and often equally the performance. Since it follows standard trainer connectivity, you can use the Zwift Hb on your platform. Accuracy is solid and constantly improving with firmware updates that include auto-calibration. If you're used to a tire-drive trainer, you'll also love its quietness.
While the Hub isn't the heaviest trainer, its lack of a dedicated handle and is hard to move around. If you're looking to ride the "steepest" grades on Zwift or are a cyclist who can push massive wattage, you're better off with a higher-performing option. Similarly, it isn't accurate enough (+/- 2.5% rather than +/- 2%) to use in elite virtual competitions like the Zwift Grand Prix. But if you're looking for a hassle-free intro to virtual riding or are a serious cyclist looking to save money while training in the off-season, the Zwift Hub is hard to beat.
Our favorite tire-drive trainer is the TacX Flow Smart Trainer. It has a potent mix of performance and portability, with the affordability of a tire-drive unit. It's easy to set up and light to take on the road. Unlike many other tire drive trainers, it's a smart control trainer, meaning you can 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.
That isn't to say it's perfect. Tire drive trainers have a few drawbacks to which the TacX isn't immune. Power accuracy is lower than you'd get on a direct drive trainer. It's accurate to about 5 percent, which is fine, but this loss may become frustrating for some regarding higher efforts. Similarly, this is not a quiet trainer. It is loud enough to make you appreciate noise-canceling earbuds on Zwift Group Rides. Finally, it's limited in max power and incline compared to direct-drive trainers. If you're looking to get into virtual training at an affordable cost or want a trainer you can take on trips, the TacX Flow Smart Trainer is one to consider.
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 line-up as the top-scoring standard trainer we've tested.
While this trainer won't replace the feel of the road or compare to the high-end smart, you won't have to hang the bike up 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. Additionally, the resistance is finicky, which might 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 cost, the BalanceForm Bike Trainer will do the job.
Why You Should Trust Us
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 assigned 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.
Our testing of bike trainers uses 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)
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 Bachelors'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.
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).
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 also are either limited or sometimes not present on the low-priced end of the market. However, most smart models now 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 TacX Flow Smart Trainer proved to cover most cyclists' needs in a tire drive bike trainer at an extremely competitive price. It has just enough smart control features to keep us tuned into our workout at a fraction of the price of the premium direct drive models. It's also simple and light enough to cart around wherever you want. However, to taste the features of a higher-end trainer, go with the direct-drive Zwift Hub. 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 considering a bike trainer purchase. 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.
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.
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.
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 2T Smart and Wahoo Kickr performed extremely well in this category. Similarly, the Zwift Hub 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 2Tcapabilities. 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. 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.
Power accuracy in both models is also excellent, rivaled only by the Saris H3 Direct Drive. We tested all of the products against a Quarq crank-based power meter, Garmin Vector 3 pedals, and Favero Assioma DUO pedals. We found less than one percent variance with all three models. The Zwift Hub lags in power accuracy but is accurate enough for most riders. The Tacx Flow Smart Trainer 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.
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 wasn't nearly as ubiquitous just a year ago.
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 or 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 of the resistance unit's physics and responsiveness. Does it feel like the trainer is rolling out when you coast, and the power you put in is 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. 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.
Those with the longest rollout time usually offer 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 riding downhill. Yet, its rollout time is only 26 seconds. Returning to the trend, the H3 Smart had the longest rollout time at 58 seconds and with a heavy flywheel.
Our testers found the Saris H3 Direct Drive 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 Wahoo Fitness Kickr Snap has a 10.5-pound flywheel and also provides the best road feel for tire drive trainers. The top-scoring Tacx Neo 2T Smart blows it out of the water.
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 make 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. The Kinetic Road Machine Control is the second quietest tire drive model we tested. Of the direct drive trainers, the Saris H3 was the quietest in our tests at just 55.3 dB, and the Tacx Neo 2T came in at 57.8 decibels.
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 Kinetic Road Machine Control, Zwift Hub, and Kickr Snap, which 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 can also adjust the trainer's height to accommodate different wheel sizes to maintain a level bike position without using 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 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.
Along with the Neo 2T, 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 and the Kinetic Road Machine Control.
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.
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 2T Smart and Wahoo Kickr, 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 Zwift mobile and Wahoo fitness applications the easiest to use.
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. 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 2T Smart 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 app, while not as interactive as Zwift, provides a ton of excellent training and support while giving you real-world cycling videos, which is pretty cool. The Zwift Hub also has auto-calibration features, meaning there is no need to calibrate regularly outside an initial calibration (or after moving the trainer).
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. 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 Zwift Hub are awkward to carry, given their weight and precarious handholds.
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.
GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.