Today we’re going to look at nine of the best smart trainers you can find on the market right now. If you aren’t familiar with what a smart trainer is, it is a turbo trainer that helps you focus on a training session but one that takes place in your own home. The major difference between a traditional turbo trainer and a smart trainer is that the smart option works with apps to control your resistance. These trainers work on Bluetooth and wireless ANT+ frequency, which is what is native for many laptops, smartphones, and tables.
All you need for smart training is the right bike, Wi-Fi, and a phone or table. You can also use a computer but if it does not have Bluetooth capabilities, you’ll need an ANT+ dongle to plug into your USB port. We’re going to go over what to look for in the best smart trainers, but first, we want to showcase the absolute best options available to you right now.
Table of Contents
- 1 Best Indoor Smart Trainers for Cyclists
- 2 Tacx Neo Smart Direct Driver Trainer
- 3 Kinetic Road Machine Smart Bike Trainer
- 4 CycleOps Fluid2 Indoor Trainer
- 5 CycleOps M2 Smart Trainer
- 6 Elite Direto Interactive Trainer
- 7 Kinetic Road Machine 2.0 Fluid Trainer
- 8 Tacx Satori Smart Wireless Training Base
- 9 Selecting the Perfect Smart Trainer for Your Bicycle
- 9.1 Types of Smart Turbo Trainers
- 9.2 Full Smart Trainers
- 9.3 Partially Smart Trainers
- 9.4 Looking at the Durability
- 9.5 Think About the Attach Point
- 9.6 Considering the Stability of the Platform
- 9.7 Connectivity Needs and Options
- 9.8 Automatic Resistance Options
- 9.9 Considering Your Needed Features
- 9.10 Need for Extra Accessories
- 10 Wrapping Up
Best Indoor Smart Trainers for Cyclists
Tacx Neo Smart Direct Driver Trainer
The Tacx Neo has been considered one of the best smart turbo trainers for years now, although there is certainly now more competition. This is a direct drive smart turbo, which is considered to be the best option to get the road feel you’d expect outdoors when compared to wheels on models. However, these are also a bit more expensive in many cases. This may be partially based on the fact that these trainers offer things like power ratings and are controllable using various apps and programs.
When you purchase a Tacx Neo, you’re going to also get a power socket and transformer, front riser block, quick release skewer, and Edco lockrings. Once you get everything out of the box, the process of setting it up can be a little tricky, especially if you are in a small area. It’s not too difficult to catch your hand or hit a release clip so you want to be extra cautious. Another thing that might be a disadvantage for some is that it doesn’t come with a cassette.
However, this trainer is compatible with both Shimano/SRAM and Campagnolo, so you have more options than some of the alternatives. In addition, the transformer for this trainer is dual voltage so you can even take it overseas and use it if the opportunity presents itself. The weight of the trainer is pretty similar to others in its class, although it is a little bigger than some smart trainers. However, for those who hate extra noise, it is quieter than most models. You will sometimes get some noise form the wooden slats and cobblestones that the Neo Smart Direct offers.
One thing that stands out is that you can use this device even when it’s not plugged in the wall. However, when it is plugged in, you get the ability to connect to apps for your table tor smartphone. You can even set the slope and a wattage you want to ride. All in all, it’s a nice hardware piece for a realistic ride and the surface simulation adds to that.
Kinetic Road Machine Smart Bike Trainer
Kinetic has been around in the bike trainer world for ages and before the advent of smart trainers, CycleOps or Kinetic were the best-known options out there. Nowadays, Kinetic has moved to the smart trainer world and the Road Master is a great fluid trainer option. It has a steel frame that is durable and tough along with a flywheel that is a bit heavier than average. It also comes with the inRide smart sensor which lets you track your performance and enjoy a social experience while riding in your own home.
The sensor you get will mount on your frame near the wheel drum. There is a magnet that connects to a grommet in the drum near the sensor. Whenever the drum moves around and around, an impeller in the fluid chamber is spinner. When you go faster, that automatically increases the resistance you feel. The sensor is able to determine the wattage needed to turn the drum based on your speed and used that to send data to your favorite trainer app.
One plus of the Road Machine is that is has a low weight, so you can cart it around as you like. The problem is that the design is a bit awkward to carry and it has no handle to help. However, it doesn’t require electricity to provide resistance, so that adds to its high level of portability. Overall it has a nice design and should be capable of years of abuse and hard use. The heavy-duty frame is one of the best options out there for smart trainers.
The machine does come with a quick release skewer for 130- and 135-mm frames, which is great for most road bikes, as well as some cyclocross and mountain bikes. It does have a design that causes the back wheel to be elevated, but you can use a cinderblock to elevate the other wheel if you want it to be more level. As far as road feel, it does a decent job but is eclipsed by some of the other trainers available on the market today.
CycleOps Fluid2 Indoor Trainer
If you are searching for a mid-range smart trainer that offers you a great workout inside, the CycleOps Fluid2 should definitely be on your short list. The CycleOps brand came about in 2006 and has been a fixture in the indoor bike trainer world since then. They offer all sorts of products, accessories, and parts to provide you with an optimal training experience even when you can’t make it outside for whatever reason.
There are a lot of things going for the Fluid2, not least of which is how simple it is to unload and load a bike after the first adjustment. It also has easy resistance adjustment and the gears can be changed out quickly to keep you at the pace you are striving for. It’s a quiet smart trainer which has a reputation for lasting many years, even under intense usage. It doesn’t take up a lot of space, which is another plus for those living in smaller spaces or with other people.
The Fluid2 has what is called power band technology which makes it possible to have a large range of resistance. However, rather than having to fiddle with a lever, the resistance occurs automatically by virtue of the gears on the bike. There is also a cooling mechanism on the smart trainer to prevent overheating and ensure the durability of the machine. Another plus is that this trainer offers a flywheel that is larger than average.
The trainer looks quite nice compared to others with a bronze design instead of bright colors. However, the item itself is rather bulky as it is a fluid resistance model. It’s also heavy and doesn’t fold up the same way some trainers do. This might not be the right trainer for someone who is a beginner, but if you are already an avid user of a smart trainer, this is a great choice. It has the features you want but isn’t overly expensive to bring home.
CycleOps M2 Smart Trainer
The CycleOps M2 is an update on the formerly popular Magnus turbo trainer and it has added features and abilities you might not expect. The M2 uses a two-inch steel tubing that was used with the classic trainer line. That means you can expect the same durability and strength the brand is known for. It also has folding feet in the front, so you can fold the trainer down to a smaller size. This will provide you with a trainer that can be easily transported or stored as you like. It also offers a spring-loaded bolt-action clamp and an adjuster with three positions. The spring ensures that the skewer is secured correctly without becoming overtightened to the frame.
There is an integrated cadence detector on the M2 smart trainer and it incorporates four magnets which attach to the flywheel. These magnets help the trainer get the best readings of their power output. It also allows the rider to see the ups and downs on each rotation of the pedal. This offers a highly accurate cadence reading. It uses the same PowerTuned technology that CycleOps has used for a decade. That also means that there’s no need to have a specific cadence sensor that you use only indoors.
Because of the three-position adjustment located on the opposite of the drive, you can use the trainer with a hub spacing of 120, 130, or 135 mm. For those who have a bicycle with a through axle, you aren’t out of luck, either. There are adapters that you can purchase separately for 142- and 148-mm bikes. In addition to that, the M2 has a special clutch knob to ensure the right tension is applied to the tire of your bicycle. You simply inflate the tire as the manufacturer recommends and turn it until you hear a small click.
Elite Direto Interactive Trainer
With the Elite Direto, you get a decent price for a trainer that has some amazing performance. It has one of the most accurate power meters available out there and is usually within 1% of the actual output. It can also read up to 1400 watts and offers up to a 14% grade, which means this machine is just as useful for an expert as it is for someone looking for their first smart trainer. On top of that, it’s quite a bit lighter than most other smart trainers. It’s a definite option to have on your list if you want a quality machine without paying a lot for it.
As far as connectivity goes, this trainer connects to FE-C, Bluetooth, and ANT+ protocols, which allows you access to it across all sorts of devices and apps. There is likely never going to be a situation where connection is an issue. That means you are capable of using apps like TrainerRoad or Zwift for control of structured resistance or climbing workouts. As such, it’s a true smart trainer that will work for pretty much everyone out there. It pairs fantastically with third parties so there’s no need for concern there.
The road feel with the Elite Direto is solid and will remind you of being out on the street with your bike. As far as setup goes, there is a process involved but it isn’t anything overly complicated. You’ll need to bolt on the support legs, as well as installing a cassette. Unfortunately, it doesn’t come with that, but you can purchase the one you want, which leaves the option open to choose a less expensive one. After all that, you can install your bike and get going with your first workout on the Direto.
Kinetic Road Machine 2.0 Fluid Trainer
Kinetic is a fantastic company that offers high quality trainers, smart and otherwise. This particular smart trainer is green, and it comes with a skewer to secure your bike easily. Something that is unique to Kinetic is that with the Road Machine and other trainers, you get an unconditional lifetime guarantee. That means plenty of peace of mind knowing that if something goes wrong, you have the option to get your trainer repaired or replaced. The trainer also has a bike computer available that shows your power but that comes at an additional charge.
This smart trainer has a 6.25-pound flywheel and a fluid resistance unit. This ensures that you get a realistic resistance curve and a feel like you’re outside on the road. The roller for the tire is of stainless steel and 2.5 inches in diameter, which is larger than some of the competitors. This is a plus since the larger the roller is, the less wear that happens to your tires. It also offers a reduced temperature on the elements that spin. The resistance level is also reasonable, and it is a quiet machine due to being a fluid resistance trainer. The resistance progression varies and that seems to be similar to real riding outside.
Honestly, this is one of the better smart trainers out there and it comes at a reasonable price considering all the features available. You can also choose to purchase a watt meter from Kinetic that will show your power output. If you prefer, you can instead use your choice of speed or cadence sensor. The data will be automatically sent to whatever apps you choose to use. This also means you can do exciting things like race virtually against other people and more.
Tacx Satori Smart Wireless Training Base
Our final smart trainer to go over today is the Tacx Satori Smart and it’s a bit different from some of the others we’ve looked at. It’s a versatile option that can be used traditionally or with the use of smart features. The brake is self-propelled and there are 10 different resistance curves that you can access through a thumb lever. That means you aren’t required to hook anything up to get your workout underway if you aren’t feeling it during one particular session.
This is a fairly portable option and it packs down, so you can take it wherever you like or store it in a small space. It can also work well on uneven surfaces due to the wide splay of the legs which lock in place. There is also a leveling block for the front end of the bike so there’s no issue with saddle angle or hand positioning. It does have a smaller roller, which can make it a bit louder than the alternatives. However, you can also use a training tire if this is something you think will be an issue for you.
You can expect amazing connectivity with this trainer, which sets it apart from some other trainers out there. The apps for the smart trainer are intuitive and work well so third party apps aren’t needed unless you simply prefer them. It links via ANT+ and Bluetooth for access from tablets and smartphones. However, it can link with software like Kinomap and Bkool on either of those devices, too. The only place it falls back a bit is when it doesn’t have the ability to automatically change up the brake’s resistance.
Selecting the Perfect Smart Trainer for Your Bicycle
We talked a bit earlier about what a smart trainer is but there’s more to it than the basics. Most trainers are going to be a stand that is used to hold your bike at the read wheel which includes a resistance unit that is also driven by the tire in the back. To make the trainer smart, that means there are electronics involved which provide a transmission of your speed to ANT+ capable devices like phone sand tables. Many of the trainers available also have power meters and more.
Types of Smart Turbo Trainers
You may have noticed that there are numerous types of smart turbo trainers mentioned throughout this article. The major types include fluid trainers, magnetic trainers, and direct drive trainers. Understanding the different options and what advantages and disadvantages you can expect from them is the appropriate place to start when you are considering the purchase of a smart trainer.
Many of the less expensive smart trainers on the market use magnetic resistance. This is done to offer the feel of riding your bicycle on an actual road. They are inexpensive due to their simplicity, but when it’s a smart version, it brings a bit more to the table than you might expect. In most cases, you will find that these come with a resistance changer. They may not have the features needed to mimic a specific power resistance or gradient. However, this is a fantastic choice for anyone who is on a budget or for beginners to training indoors.
Next up is the fluid trainer, which is generally a bit better quality than the magnetic option. These are going to be much quieter and will offer a resistance build up. Basically, that means when you start to go harder or faster, the trainer will immediately begin to increase the level of resistance to ensure you train hard. These trainers are also usually affordable but will have a greater range of features than the magnetic type of trainer.
The final type is the direct drive trainer and they work a bit differently than the other two. There is no need to attach the wheel of your bike to this trainer. Instead, it attaches to the drive train of the bike, instead. That’s where the name comes, as you probably already guessed. The vast majority of these trainers have to be plugged in to provide their capabilities. However, that also means there are much more options for programming them to work with smart devices. In addition, these are the most capable of offering the feel of an actual road. You also will never need to replace tires based on using this type of smart trainer since it doesn’t use the tires to begin with. That said, these are going to be the most expensive option and best suited to experienced users.
Full Smart Trainers
The highest quality smart trainers will be capable of being controlled entirely online through a tablet, phone, or laptop. The app you use will control the amount of resistance you deal with, so you don’t have to continually change thing up on your own. You’ll also find that these trainers help you measure the amount of power you output. This means that training to a certain target is easier than it ever has been before.
Partially Smart Trainers
Other trainers are partially smart in that they measure your power and send data to your devices. However, these trainers do not have the ability to control your resistance via software.
Looking at the Durability
You want to be sure that the smart trainer you choose is sturdy and long-lasting. If there’s a lot of plastic involved in its construction, that probably isn’t the case. Having a sturdy frame means your trainer is likely to be in good shape years down the road. While it’s possible you will need to service the electronics as some point, the components will stick around and offer you training for years to come. So take a look at how the trainer is made and whether it seems like it will last.
Think About the Attach Point
You want to think about how the trainer attaches to your bicycle. Some have a skewer available, so you don’t have to deal with removing and replacing the wheel. If you choose one of these, make sure it has a quick release which will lock everything in place. Otherwise, you could end up in a situation where you spend a lot of time spinning levers each time you use the trainer. For the trainers that don’t attach directly, you want to be sure it is compatible with your bike’s frame. In most cases, that won’t be an issue, but it never hurts to be sure.
Considering the Stability of the Platform
When you have a base that is quite small, that means it can more easily tip over. That can result in damage to the trainer, your bicycle, or even yourself. It’s rare for that to happen but when it does, it’s typically because of an inexpensive, small base. If the wheel is also mounted rather high, this can add additional problems. Consider the size of the base and don’t go with one that seems too good to be true.
Connectivity Needs and Options
If you want the best option in terms of smart trainers’ connectivity, you will want to look for both FE-C and ANT+ capabilities. ANT+ is the communication protocol used to wirelessly share your data for use with heart rate monitors, speed sensors, and similar items. FE-C is an assortment of commands that are sent over ANT+ which can control certain sorts of fitness equipment. That means you can use your data stream from the trainer to use systems that let you compete with others and have a more interactive training session.
Automatic Resistance Options
The fully smart trainers also include ERG mode, which is an advantage over the other options. Basically, the software will let your trainer know how much resistance you should have at any one time and it provides it to you. This can be a nice feature since you can simply focus on pedaling rather than worrying about your bike’s gear or what power target you want to be hitting. It may be somewhat mindless, but it is also a relaxing way to enjoy a training session.
Considering Your Needed Features
You want to make sure that the smart trainer you choose has all the features you expect from a traditional trainer. One of those needs is a resistance unit that can provide you with a simulated feel of riding on the road. You’ll also want to search for a smart trainer that has a sturdy frame to support both you and your bicycle. You may also be interested in determining which machines are the quietest, as loud noise from the smart trainer can make a workout more frustrating. It can also disturb the other people in your household, so consider that in your search.
Need for Extra Accessories
While there is no need to buy a ton of extras for your smart trainer, there are some accessories that you may be interested in. Some people appreciate the presence of a front riser block, which will ensure your bike is level rather than pointing downwards. A trainer mat is also an excellent idea since it can drop the noise level of the machine and catch any sweat while you exercise or train. We also recommend considering a training tire, which will prevent you from wearing out your bike’s real tires from constantly pressing it against a roller.
Smart trainers are huge right now and that is only going to accelerate as more people try them out for their homes. When you aren’t able to head outside for a training session, a smart trainer gives you the next best thing. There are trainers available at all sorts of price points and for all skill levels, so you’ll find one that fits your needs on this list. Everyone ends up in a situation where training inside is the best option on occasion and having a way to do so easily and with the aid of helpful apps is the best option out there. So, think about your needs and what your budget is and get going. You’ll be glad you did.
Brad grabbed up his first bike when he was a kid and never looked back. He is an avid BMX rider and mountain biker.