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It’s not an easy task to find the best bike trainer on today’s market. Indoor bike trainers are bigger and better than ever. There are countless varieties and brands to choose from, including direct drive smart trainers, wheel-on trainers, and indoor smart bikes.
It is daunting to narrow it down, from Wahoo and Saris to Tacx, Stages, and more.
In this article, we’re doing to tell you what to look for when shopping for the best bike trainer.
Of course, you’ll want to know the price of these stationary indoor trainers, as well as their capabilities. We’ll dive into the features of indoor trainers, stationary bike stands, indoor exercise bikes, and more.
Jump straight to preferred type:
Direct drive smart trainers attach directly to your bike’s rear triangle, which means that you have to take the rear wheel out each time you connect your bike to the trainer. But the payoff is good. Direct drive trainers are quiet, accurate, and incredibly smooth compared to wheel-on indoor trainers.
The cheaper of the indoor trainer options, wheel-on trainers attach to your bike’s rear skewer and tire, applying pressure to the tire in order to generate resistance.
Wheel-on bike trainers are significantly cheaper than direct drive smart trainers – often less than half the price – but are also louder, less accurate, and have a less realistic ride feel.
But it’s not all bad, as wheel-on stationary bike trainers are light and portable, which makes them ideal for travel and pre-race warm-ups.
At the top of the indoor trainer, space is indoor smart bikes. These are purpose-built indoor training machines that are meant to be as smooth and luxurious as you could possibly get.
Indoor smart bikes are expensive, but they also provide an indoor training experience like no other.
Related: How To Improve Your Cycling
They are virtually silent, incredibly adjustable, and customizable, and many come with a few bonus features that you can only find on an indoor smart bike.
Overall Best Bike Trainer
|Maximum Simulated Gradient||+/-20%|
|Maximum Power Rating||2,200 w at 40kph|
The most popular direct-drive smart trainer in the world, the Wahoo KICKR leads the way in terms of power accuracy, smart capabilities, ride feel, and more. The unit even comes with KICKR Axis feet, which give the trainer a bit of side-to-side movement to add to the realistic ride feel.
Wahoo put a 16 lb flywheel in the KICKR, which is one of the biggest we see on direct drive bike stands. This creates more inertia than a smaller flywheel and is one of the reasons that the KICKR is more expensive and better-feeling than other smart trainers.
Virtually silent, the Wahoo KICKR includes an auto-calibration system and claims of +/-1% power accuracy. Private testing says that power accuracy might be a bit of a stretch, but we can confirm that the KICKR is as or more accurate than any other direct drive bike trainer.
Perhaps the biggest downside of the KICKR is its price tag; but overall, it is our favorite direct-drive smart trainer, with an amazing ride feel and fantastic all-around capabilities.
Best Virtual Riding Capabilities in a Smart Trainer Under $1,000
|Maximum Simulated Gradient||+/-24%|
|Maximum Power Rating||2,300 w at 40kph|
At the top end of Elite’s indoor bike trainers is the Elite Direto XR. This stationary bike stand is quiet, accurate, and boasts one of the most impressive power measurement systems of all smart trainer.
Using the Optical Torque System, the Direto XR has a massive power ceiling and can simulate gradients up to +/-24%. You could hardly experience a steeper gradient outside if you tried!
Elite’s indoor bike trainers aren’t the most popular or best-looking of the lot, but that doesn’t mean they’re a significant step down from the trainers at Wahoo or Saris.
In fact, the less popular brand name means that the trainer is a bit cheaper than others, and Elite’s Direto XR still comes in at under $1,000.
There is even a pre-installed cassette included in your purchase, where you can choose from a cassette compatible with 11-speed Shimano or SRAM. The Direto XR even works with cassettes from 8-speed through 12-speed.
Best Virtual Riding Capabilities in a Direct Drive Smart Trainer
|Maximum Simulated Gradient||+/-25%|
|Maximum Power Rating||2,200 w|
The Tacx NEO 2T is like no other – built with many of the same features as other direct-drive smart trainers, the NEO 2T takes it up another notch.
Unique to the NEO 2T and Tacx NEO Bike (below), the Road Surface Simulator acts on the trainer itself to simulate gravel and off-road riding. Just like smart capabilities adjust to changes in gradient, the NEO 2T and NEO Bike can adjust to cobbles, dirt roads, or mountain bike trails on third-party training apps like Zwift or RGT Cycling.
Related: Best Indoor Cycling Apps
In addition to being one of the best bike trainers on the market, the NEO 2T can also be ridden without power.
This is different from other trainers such as the Saris H3 or Wahoo KICKR which need to be plugged into a power source. You could take your Tacx NEO 2T on the road, in a hotel, or to the car park for a pre-race warm-up.
In fact, the NEO 2T is a popular choice among the WorldTour peloton for time trial warm-ups.
The price tag is the biggest drawback of the NEO 2T, but if you can afford it, you’ll get to experience one of the very best direct-drive smart trainers in existence.
Most Affordable Direct Drive Smart Trainer
|Maximum Simulated Gradient||+/-15%|
|Maximum Power Rating||1,900 w at 40kph; 2900 w at 60kph|
The Elite Suito fits into a unique and low-end price point for a direct drive smart trainer. It includes a cassette, and is still cheaper than the Wahoo KICKR Core, and is super easy to set up right out of the box.
Of course, there’s a catch (or two). The Suito is louder than other direct-drive smart trainers; though it is still significantly quieter than wheel-on trainers.
You’ll sacrifice a bit of ride feel in the Elite Suito compared to more expensive direct drive stationary trainers, but only the most dedicated indoor riders will truly notice.
Despite the relatively low price, the Suito has an incredible power ceiling of 1,900 w at 40kph, and 2,900 w at 60kph – that’s a ceiling that I’m not sure any cyclist in the world can break.
To sacrifice half a percent in power accuracy is relatively insignificant, yet Elite still includes their own complete power measurement system in the Suito.
Besides the noise and ride feel, there are few complaints to be had about the affordable Elite Suito direct-drive smart trainer.
Quietest Mid-level Direct Drive Smart Trainer
|Maximum Simulated Gradient||+/-16%|
|Maximum Power Rating||2,000 w at 40kph|
Any upgrade from the Tacx Flux S, the Flux 2 fits in with mid-range direct-drive smart trainers and is significantly cheaper than the Wahoo KICKR and Tacx NEO 2T. The Flux 2 has slightly lower power ratings than those high-end competitors, but it also comes in well under $1000.
Garmin upgraded a number of features from the Flux S to the Flux 2, one of them being quicker responses to resistance and power changes.
Unlike other direct-drive smart trainers, the Flux 2 simulates a 70lb flywheel, rather than using only its own 22-33 lb flywheel like other stationary trainers.
Another bonus feature is that, with the purchase of a Flux 2, you get access to Tacx Training Software and Tacx Training Plans, which include real-life videos, live races, and 3-D virtual maps.
The self-calibrated trainers are virtually silent, and you’ll never really hear them over the noise of your drivetrain or shifting anyway.
Best Bike Trainer With the Most Value
|Maximum Simulated Gradient||+/-16%|
|Maximum Power Rating||1,800w|
Coming in at $899.99, the Wahoo KICKR Core is $300 cheaper than the KICKR. So what’s the difference?
Well, the KICKR Core doesn’t come with a cassette, it has a slightly smaller flywheel, and is slightly less accurate and capable. Specifically, the KICKR is can simulate a +/-20% gradient, measure power accuracy to +/-1% (allegedly), and has a power ceiling of 2200w.
Those may seem significant, but the truth is that most riders will be plenty satisfied with what the KICKR Core has to offer. Only if you’re racing in the Zwift Premier League would you really need the upgrades presented in the KICKR.
The KICKR Core – like all of Wahoo’s offerings – is well-built, reliable, and accurate. Its stable feet and 12 lb. flywheel give it a great all-around ride feel and quick responses to changes in gradient.
The KICKR Core is also compatible with a number of Wahoo indoor trainer accessories such as the KICKR Climb, KICKR Headwind, and KICKR Axis.
All of these all to the overall experience and bring the outdoor ride feel inside. For under $1,000, there is no better value in a direct drive smart trainer than the Wahoo KICKR Core. That’s the reason why it’s the best bike trainer on the market.
Most Affordable Direct Drive Smart Trainer
|Maximum Simulated Gradient||+/-10%|
|Maximum Power Rating||1,500w|
You don’t really see direct-drive smart trainers for less than $800, and that’s what makes the Tacx Flux so unique.
Calibrated in-house at Garmin, the Tacx smart trainer is an upgrade from the Flux 1, and one of the cheapest direct-drive smart trainers available.
Perhaps its biggest downside is its ability to only simulate a +/-10% gradient; but then again, most people don’t ride at 100% trainer difficulty anyway, and most riders don’t want to experience more than a 10% grade.
Tacx’s power claims have proven to be reliable and accurate, and only the most serious virtual racers will be bothered by the relatively lenient power accuracy rating. While the Tacx Flux S isn’t quite up to snuff in terms of the quality of the Flux 2, it offers an impressive range of features at a significant price cut.
For under $800, the Tacx Flux 2 direct drive smart trainer is one of the very best indoor trainers.
Best Affordable Smart Trainer
|Maximum Simulated Gradient||+/-6%|
|Maximum Power Rating||800 w at 40kph|
It’s difficult to find a smart trainer for under $900, but that’s if you’re looking at direct-drive smart trainers. When you’re looking for bike stands for indoor training, the Tacx Flow offers all the smart capabilities of some direct drive trainers but comes at half the price.
The wheel-on trainer uses a small flywheel and lightweight design so that it is both portable and travel-friendly. It measures power, speed, and cadence internally, so you won’t need to make room in your budget for extra sensors.
The biggest limits of the Tacx Flow are its gradient capabilities, power ceiling, and power accuracy, but only dedicated racers will be bothered by that.
Overall, this stationary bike trainer is a fantastic entry-level smart trainer for a first-time buyer. If you’re looking to get into the smart world of virtual cycling, and you don’t want to spend $1,000, look no further than the Tacx Flow.
Best Wheel-on Smart Trainer
|Maximum Simulated Gradient||+/-12%|
|Maximum Power Rating||1,500 w|
By now, we know that Wahoo is one of the best when it comes to creating and crafting bike indoor trainers. From the KICKR and KICKR Core to the KICKR Bike and Snap, it is difficult for competitors to match the quality Wahoo put into their products. The KICKR Snap is no different.
Unlike most other wheel-on trainers, the KICKR Snap has a massive power ceiling and simulated gradient of +/-12%. Much of the competition fails to match half of that.
You can even pair this Wahoo trainer with the KICKR Climb to create a real-life riding experience. Wahoo’s flywheel on the Snap is less than 2 lbs smaller than on the KICKR Core, and only a few pounds off of the KICKR which is renowned for its realistic ride feel.
The latest KICKR Snap is a big upgrade from the 2015 Snap, including improved power accuracy, more compatibility, and even a price drop. For under $500, there’s no better wheel-on smart trainer than the KICKR Snap.
Most Portable Wheel-on Smart Trainer
|Maximum Simulated Gradient||+/-15%|
|Maximum Power Rating||1,500 w at 20mph|
While the Saris M2 doesn’t quite match the power accuracy and raw capabilities of the Wahoo KICKR Snap, it is even lighter and more portable, which makes it more appealing to a different crowd.
If you’re looking for a travel-friendly smart trainer that you can take on the road, ride in hotel rooms, or use for a pre-race warm-up, the Saris M2 is our favorite option. Its small footprint and lightweight design make it easy to pack and store, while still sacrificing little in terms of overall quality.
A wide variety of bikes and wheels fit on this smart indoor bike stand, and the M2 is even compatible with tires up to two inches wide.
In terms of gradient simulation and maximum power ratings, the Saris M2 is on-par with the very best of wheel-on smart trainers, and with a price tag that isn’t too worrying.
Best Overall Indoor Smart Bike Trainer
|Maximum Simulated Gradient||+20% / -15%|
|Maximum Power Output||2,200 watts|
Touted as the ultimate indoor training experience by Wahoo, the KICKR Bike is almost in a league of its own (including the price tag). The ride simulation capabilities are second to none on this KICKR smart trainer.
There’s hardly a rider in the world that would want to push the limits of the +20% simulated gradient or could even get close to breaking the 2,200 w power ceiling.
The Wahoo KICKR Bike moves up and down, simulating gradients like the Wahoo KICKR Climb and adding to the virtual riding experience.
The stationary trainer can fit riders from 4’9″ to 6’3″ and has a rider capacity of 250 lbs.
Unlike other indoor smart trainers, the Wahoo KICKR Bike pairs a large flywheel with an enhanced motor, creating an unmatched riding experience. The smart bike is quieter than any indoor trainer and boasts a power accuracy of +/-1%. Aa number that no direct drive smart trainers or wheel-on trainers can match.
Using the Wahoo Fitness app, you can customize your gearing setup, adjust your bike fit, and schedule training workouts. The entire bike is adjustable, and the crank arms even come with five different lengths to choose from. Brake levers will stop the flywheel silently and efficiently, although the top tube may be a bit thick for some.
All in all, the Wahoo KICKR Bike is the ultimate indoor training machine, if you can afford it.
Best Value Indoor Smart Bike
|Maximum Simulated Gradient||+/-6%|
|Maximum Power Rating||3,000 w|
The Stages SB20 separates itself from its competitors with carefully-placed phone and tablet holders, and a kinder price tag than most.
Coming in at over 100 lbs, the Stages SB20 is a beast as much as it is a bike, which means you’ll never have to worry about tipping or bouncing when you’re mid-sprint.
The frame comes with its own saddle, bottle cage, power meter, handlebars, and the aforementioned holders. It’s a complete bike right out of the box (the only thing you’ll need to add are your pedals).
With a power accuracy of +/-1.5%, the SB20 is up there with the best, plus it comes with a 50 lb. flywheel that feels as realistic as the road. We’re not sure there’s a microwave in the world capable of breaking the SB20’s 3,000 w power ceiling, a power which is measured by a Stages Gen 3 dual-sided power meter.
Like many indoor smart bikes, you can customize the SB20’s shifting to create whatever set-up you’d like, be it a 1x gravel-style set-up, or a triple chainring up front for maximum range.
A bonus feature of the Stages SB20 is its quick handling of ERG mode workout adjustments.
Unlike some other smart bikes and indoor trainers, the SB20 is much better at adjusting the required power and torque required if you start bogging down during a tough interval. It may sound small, but for serious indoor cyclists, this is just the kind of feature that can make all the difference.
Most Features in an Indoor Smart Bike Trainer
|Maximum Simulated Gradient||+/-25%|
|Maximum Power Rating||2,200 w|
The Tacx NEO Bike simply looks impressive. With two fans jutting out from either side of the handlebars, a wide base, and clean look, and built-in tablet and phone holders, the NEO Bike looks like it was built for indoor cycling.
At $3,100, the cost is steep, but it’s significantly less than the Wahoo KICKR Bike, and only a bit more than the Stages SB20. The NEO Bike includes significantly better power accuracy and gradient capabilities. It even includes two USB charging ports just under the front part of the handlebars.
Like the NEO 2T, the Tacx NEO Bike comes with the Road Surface Simulator which can vibrate to simulate the feeling of riding over gravel, dirt, and rocks.
No other trainer or smart bike has a feature like this, which makes the NEO Bike truly stand out. You can also ride the NEO Bike with or without power, which can come in handy in a variety of situations.
Like other smart bikes, you can customize the Tacx NEO Bike’s shifting to whatever you’d like, although the overall bike lacks a little bit of adjustability.
If you’re looking for unique features on an indoor smart bike at a mid-level price point, the Tacx NEO Bike is the choice for you.
Best Value Stationary Indoor Bike
|Number of Adjustable Resistance Levels||Friction resistance, adjustable|
|Flywheel Weight (Total Weight)||40lbs. (86lbs.)|
|Display||“Time, Speed, RPM (cadence), Distance, Calories Burned, and Odometer”|
An upgrade from Yosuda’s YB001, the YB007A is a great exercise bike for indoor cyclists.
Other indoor bikes – many of which come with smart capabilities – are well over $1,000, and some are over $3,000. The YB007A is on another planet in terms of price, and it’s nearly as quiet and as smooth as some of its competitors.
Its heavy steel frame is incredibly sturdy and carries a load-bearing capacity of 330 lbs. The YB007A has a huge 40 lb. Flywheel and adjustable saddle, as well as a fully adjustable friction resistance system. It even comes with a felted wool brake that is as quiet as any indoor smart bike.
If you’re looking for something cheaper, but still capable, then this is the best indoor exercise bike for you.
See Kinetic’s bike trainers for more mid-range trainers.
Best Interactive Smart Rollers
|Maximum Simulated Gradient||+/-7%|
|Maximum Power Rating||830 w|
|Wireless capabilities||Arion Digital Smart B+ interactivity|
Indoor bike rollers are usually limited by their power ceilings, (lack of) wireless capabilities, and inability to simulate gradients. But that all changed with the release of the Elite NERO Rollers, interactive smart rollers that can connect with third-party apps such as Zwift, RGT Cycling, BKool, and more.
Using Arion’s own Digital Smart B+ interactivity and Quick Motion technology, the NERO Rollers can simulate virtual gradients and up to almost 900w, putting them far and above most other indoor bike rollers.
While the power accuracy and ceiling won’t be enough for some to race on Zwift, these rollers are an amazing training tool for indoor riders who want a more realistic ride feel than a direct drive smart trainer or wheel-on bike stand.
Best Smart Trainer Accessory
|Maximum Simulated Gradient||+20% / -10%|
|Compatible Trainers||Wahoo Smart Trainers (KICKR, KICKR CORE, and KICKR SNAP) 2017 Edition and newer|
|Supported Hubs||QR, 12×100, 15×100, 15×110|
For those who can afford it, the Wahoo KICKR Climb is an awesome accessory to have on your indoor stationary bike stand. Basically, all the KICKR Climb does is raise and lower the front end of your bike (it attaches to the end of the bike’s fork) in response to changes in gradient on your virtual riding app.
The piece is specially designed to be safe and effective and to feel as normal and realistic as possible. That said, the KICKR Climb doesn’t sway side-to-side, as you would do while riding out of the saddle in the real world. And in that, the KICKR Climb’s function is extremely limited.
But, with all that said, the KICKR Climb does its job, and it does it well. A few manufacturers have designed competing pieces to the Wahoo KICKR Climb, but none can match the stability and ride feel of the KICKR Climb.
It is compatible with a wide range of bikes and axle designs. It even comes with a remote control that can be used to ‘lock’ and ‘unlock’ the KICKR Climb, in case you don’t want to use it.
While we see a little room for improvement with the Wahoo KICKR Climb, it is still a game-changing piece of technology, and one of our favorite accessories for indoor bike trainers.
Best Portable Stationary Bike
|Flywheel Weight||22 lbs.|
|Assembled Dimensions||21.26L x 12.29W x 10.95H in|
|Easy-read monitor||“Time, Distance, Speed, and Calories”|
The Yosuda YBM-1 is an incredible little machine with few competitors in the indoor bike trainer market.
No one can match its price point at under $150, and its footprint is smaller than any other trainer. You can even use your arms on the YBM-1, which makes it perfect for senior citizens or rehabilitation. Of course, the trainer has its limits. There are only eight different levels of resistance and no wireless capabilities.
But the entire unit weighs just over 20 lbs and can be set up in under 10 minutes.
Yes! You can find new indoor smart trainers for less than $400. And while this might seem like a lot, a well-maintained indoor smart trainer should last at least five years.
An indoor smart trainer is an interactive stationary trainer that connects with virtual riding apps such as Zwift, Rouvy, TrainerRoad, and RGT Cycling. The trainer’s ‘smart’ function automatically controls the trainer’s resistance to simulate hills, headwinds and drafting in these virtual worlds, as well as creating ERG mode workouts that hold you at a required power.
Smart trainers are incredibly engaging, entertaining, and fun. Boredom is the #1 reason that people avoid indoor training, but smart trainers changed all that. Without even thinking about it, you keep be riding up Alpe du Zwift, descending Mont Ventoux, or bouncing over the Belgian cobbles on a smart trainer.
Yes. Most smart trainers need to be plugged into a power source, but they don’t need to be connected to an app. In this case, they’ll just behave like a ‘dumb’ trainer with one, unvarying resistance.
Wheel-on trainers can certainly damage tires, whereas direct drive trainers will not. Many tire manufacturers are making strong tires specifically designed for riding on a wheel-on trainer. If you ride frequently (>twice per week) on a wheel-on trainer, it’s worth considering a trainer-specific tire.
Smart trainers communicate with third-party apps via wireless frequencies (typically ANT+ or Bluetooth) to automatically adjust the trainer’s resistance to what is presented in the app. These frequencies work with smartphones, laptops, computers, and tablets, with no cords required.
Yes! You can find a great bike trainer for under $300 which will last you 5-10 years of use, if not more. Bike trainers are ideal for indoor training, travel, and pre-race warm-ups. They are light, portable, easily stored, and work with a variety of bikes from small road frames to large time trial bikes.
The above is a lot of information to process, but with a bit of paring down, we want to help you find the best bike trainer for your needs.
In the last two years, the world has changed. Not just the cycling world, but the world as a whole. Indoor bike trainers have never been so important to our fitness, mental health, and daily routines.
So many of us were stuck inside our house or apartment for months. Without an indoor bike trainer, there was nowhere to ride.
Indoor smart trainers have forever changed the landscape of indoor training. What used to be a boring chore can now be labeled “fun.”
Zwift, TrainerRoad, Rouvy, and others have only added to our experiences, and we can only expect that there is more to come.
While many of these indoor bike trainers were sold out at the beginning of the year, the market has begun its resurgence. The best bike trainers are back on the market.
Whether it’s a direct drive smart trainer in the Wahoo KICKR, a wheel-on trainer such as the Tacx Flow, or an indoor smart bike like the Stages SB20 Smart Bike, the opportunities are endless.
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