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What’s the Best Smart Trainer for Indoor Cycling?

One of the Best Smart Trainers is the Garmin Tacx Trainer

We Tested These Smart Trainers. Here are Our Top 3 Picks.

Direct-drive smart trainers have become the gold standard upgrade from traditional bike trainer models. Unlike a mechanical and fluid trainer, a smart trainer gives you the ability to control the level of resistance with an app like Zwift, Rouvy, TrainerRoad, or RTG Cycling.

In addition to control, I prefer using a smart trainer because it provides a more interactive and lifelike cycling experience that mimics the true elevation changes and ride feel of real outdoor cycling.

However, not all smart trainers are created equally. And I’ve found firsthand that some perform better than others. Between my own experience and that of Better Triathlete coach Jeff Lukich, we’ve tried several smart trainers on the market. There are certain models that we recommend over others.

Jump to: Tacx NEO 2T (Jeff’s pick), Wahoo KICKR (Tyler’s pick), Saris H3 (bronze medal), Honorable Mentions, and Trainer FAQs

Smart Trainer Evaluation Criteria

Wahoo KICKR Core Smart Trainer

According to Jeff, who runs Drive Multisport endurance coaching out of Georgia, “There is no doubt that using a smart trainer has major advantages with platforms like Zwift, Rouvy, and FulGaz.”

“You can train on many Ironman courses with Rouvy and FulGaz, and plan training rides on Zwift to prepare for climbing and technical routes. There’s also a social aspect to these platforms that make indoor group rides possible.”

Integration is key with any smart trainer investment. It should be compatible with your preferred training app of choice, whether that be Zwift, Rouvy, TrainerRoad, FluGaz, or RGT Cycling. Other evaluation criteria we look for includes:

  • Max Simulated Gradient – Otherwise known as climbing steepness, the best smart trainers max out at 25% gradients, while other cheaper models only simulate 16% climbs.
  • Accuracy – The best smart trainers will accurately read your power output within +/-1% of your actual wattage.
  • Noise – A quiet trainer is always preferred. 70 decibels (dB) is as noisy as a standard dishwasher, so around 60dB or less is best.
  • Max Power – Although it’s seldom you’ll be hitting 2,000 watts while sprinting on your trainer, some top out at around 1,800 watts.
  • Connectivity – Easy connectivity with your device and training app is a huge plus. We like trainers that use either ANT+ FEC or Bluetooth.
  • Cassette – Drivetrain compatibility is crucial when investing in a smart trainer, so be sure to know what cassette your bike uses versus what’s compatible with your trainer.
  • Price – Let’s be real. A smart trainer is not cheap. Some cost over $1,000. But the bottom line is you generally get what you pay for.

When we actually tried out these smart trainers, we also took into consideration the overall smoothness and ride feel each trainer provided. Based on these criteria, we’ve distilled our recommendations below.

Jeff’s Pick: Tacx NEO 2T Smart Trainer

tacx neo 2t garmin's best bike-trainer

Based on Jeff’s extensive experience with bike trainers, his top recommendation is the Tacx NEO 2T from Garmin. This is his smart trainer of choice and he recommends it to his athletes.

The Tacx NEO 2T is an incredibly smooth and realistic feeling trainer. Its flexible base sways with your natural pedal stroke and hip movement, providing the next closest thing to riding outdoors.

As an upgrade from the original NEO smart trainer, the Tacx NEO 2T features a new motor design that delivers a quieter, smoother ride. Unlike most smart trainers, it doesn’t require a power source so you can use it practically anywhere. 

“The Tacx NEO 2T smart trainer outperforms many of its competitors on accuracy, a realistic, road-like ride, and overall product quality. I recommend the NEO 2T to the athletes I coach.”Jeff Lukich

Tacx is a line from Garmin, so you can be confident you’re getting a well-engineered smart trainer from one of the best brands in the cycling industry. Go to Garmin.com for all the tech specs or check out this summarized breakdown below:

  • Max power: 2,200 watts
  • Accuracy: +/- 1%
  • Max simulated gradient: 25%
  • Total weight: 47.4 lbs (21.5 kg)
  • Cassette included: No
  • Noise: 61dB
  • Connectivity: ANT+ FEC,  Bluetooth
  • Price: $1,399.99 

Tyler’s Pick: Wahoo Fitness KICKR Smart Trainer 

Wahoo KICKR V5 Smart Bike Trainer

Having previously done most of my winter cycling training outdoors on a fat bike (in sub-freezing temperatures), this year I’ve decided to invest in a direct-drive, smart trainer to train indoors. The Wahoo KICKR was the first of two trainers that I tried out, and it’s the one I chose to buy.

I love that the Wahoo KICKR is very quiet. In fact, it’s so quiet that I hear the noise of my drivetrain more than I do the trainer itself. It’s also super smooth and closely replicates the elevation changes of the road. I’ve been using the smart trainer with Zwift and Rouvy, however, I like using this trainer with Rouvy the most because it simulates actual routes in different parts of the world.

my best bike trainer choice: wahoo kickr

Wahoo Fitness has evolved its bike trainer technology to great lengths and the KICKR Smart Trainer is a pack-leading frontrunner for those looking for the next best thing to outdoor riding. The footing foundation of KICKR’s AXIS technology mimics the side-to-side movement of riding outdoors. Combined with exceptional stability, this is one solid smart trainer for serious cyclists seeking the best-in-class.

The KICKR bike trainer wasn’t a cheap investment, but it was definitely worth the expense. I got it on sale at REI.com for $899, which was a nice discount from its original price tag of $1,299. Keep an eye out for deals through Wahoo Fitness and other retailers and you can usually find good discounts like these. 

The Wahoo KICKR Smart Trainer offers highly precise (+/-) 1 percent power accuracy and an extra-large flywheel making it ultra-quiet. It provides automatic calibration out of the box with no manual process required, so it’s ready to ride with minimal setup.

This high-end smart trainer comes with a Shimano 11-speed cassette but is 12-speed SRAM compatible with the appropriate XD/XDR freehub and thru-axle adapter. Visit WahooFitness.com for more details or see the specs at a glance below

  • Max power: 2,200 watts
  • Accuracy: +/- 1%
  • Max simulated gradient: 20%
  • Weight: 47 lbs (21.5 kg)
  • Cassette included: Yes
  • Noise: 61dB
  • Connectivity: ANT+ FEC, WiFi
  • Price: $1,299.99

Bronze Medal: Saris H3 Smart Trainer

Saris H3 Smart Bike Trainer

The other trainer I tried out at my local bike shop was the Saris H3. It was a great trainer that’s exceptionally quiet and smooth.

My choice of the KICKR over the H3 was largely due to my loyalty to Wahoo Fitness products. However, if I was looking for a more affordable smart trainer under the $1k price range, the Saris H3 would be a no-brainer pick at $799 MSRP.

The Saris H3 is one of the lesser-known smart trainers on the market that comes highly reviewed. The H3’s power accuracy is within (+/-) 2 percent, which is less precise but still sufficient for most cyclists.

The H3 trainer has a robust flywheel that provides a realistic riding experience that’s both smooth and quiet. It also provides ample maximum power output at 2,000 watts and can simulate up to 20 percent grade climbs.

As a significant upgrade from the H2 model, the Saris H3 is a more accurate, stable, and enjoyable smart trainer for Zwift and other training platforms. You can get all the details at Saris.com or review the primary specs below.

  • Max power: 2,000 watts
  • Accuracy: +/- 2%
  • Max simulated gradient: 20%
  • Total weight: 47 lbs (21.3 kg)
  • Cassette included: No
  • Noise: 59dB
  • Connectivity: ANT+ FEC, Bluetooth
  • Price: $799.99 

Honorable Mentions: More Smart Trainers to Consider

If you want to learn about additional smart trainer options other than the recommendations we mentioned above, here are several honorable mentions. While these are trainers that we’ve yet to try firsthand, they do have great reviews and are notable products on the market:

Elite Direto XR-T Interactive Smart Trainer

Elite Direto XR-T Interactive Bike Trainer

Just one step down from its old brother Justo, the Direto XR is one of Elite’s high-end smart trainers. It offers the same 2,300-watt power maximum and the same level of elevation simulation peaking at a 24 percent maximum gradient. 

Where it falls short slightly short is its power metrics vary at +/- 1.5 percent, just a half-percent off from comparable models. For a vast majority of users, this is a very minimal discrepancy.

The Directo XR-T is the version that does not include the cassette while the XR version does. The XR-T, however, can be easier to find. Visit Elite-IT.com to get all the details or see the summary of specs below.

  • Max power: 2,300 watts
  • Accuracy: +/- 1.5%
  • Max simulated gradient: 24%
  • Total weight: 44.8 lbs (20.3 kg)
  • Cassette included: No
  • Noise: very quiet
  • Connectivity: ANT+ FEC, Bluetooth
  • Price: $999.99 

Wahoo KICKR Core Smart Trainer

wahoo kickr core best bike trainer with smart integration

The KICKR Core is a great choice for those seeking one of the best smart trainers at a reasonable price. It’s a slight step down from KICKR V5 but delivers ample capability and features for most riders.

Backed by the exceptional engineering and customer support of Wahoo Fitness, the KICKR Core is a simple yet durable smart trainer that provides great ride quality despite its smaller design and flywheels.

While its power accuracy is slightly less accurate at (+/-) 2 percent and the maximum output tops out at 1,800 watts, the KICKR Core is an economical model that’s more compact and easier to store. Head to WahooFitness.com for more details or see the primary specs below.

  • Max power: 1,800 watts
  • Accuracy: +/- 2%
  • Max simulated gradient: 16%
  • Total weight: 39.7 lbs (18 kg)
  • Cassette included: No
  • Noise: 70dB
  • Connectivity: ANT+ FEC, Bluetooth
  • Price: $899.99 

Zwift Hub Smart Trainer

Zwift Hub Smart Trainer

The Zwift Hub smart trainer is a lightweight, compact, and quiet option that’s great for use indoors, especially in an apartment or shared living space. The Zwift Hub is a mid-priced smart trainer but rides smoothly and realistically adjusts the resistance levels in real-time to match the terrain and level of effort.

If you already use the Zwift cycling app, then the hub smart trainer is a perfect, budget-friendly option. It is easy to set up and use and comes with a durable and stable frame that can accommodate bikes of all sizes. The Zwift hub smart trainer is designed to be used specifically with the Zwift cycling app, but it can also be used with other virtual training platforms like TrainerRoad and The Sufferfest.

  • Max power: 1,800 watts
  • Accuracy: +/- 2.5%
  • Max simulated gradient: 16%
  • Total weight: 33 lbs (15 kg)
  • Cassette included: Add on, 8-12 speed options
  • Noise: Silent
  • Connectivity: ANT+ FEC, Bluetooth
  • Price: $499.99 

Elite Suito T Interactive Bike Trainer

Elite Suito T Interactive Bike Trainer

The Suito T is one of the best bike trainer options from Elite. Perfect for a wide variety of bikes that use both quick-release and thru-axles, the Suito T is compatible with 9-12 speed Shimano, Campagnolo, and SRAM cassettes with the appropriate adapter. 

Primarily made from steel, the Elite Suito T is a highly durable indoor smart trainer that’s very solid and stable. While it’s not as quiet as some of the more premium-priced smart trainers, it still hums with minimal noise. 

The Suito T has a heavier flywheel which is preferred by most riders. And while this version does not come with a cassette but it’s also far more affordable compared to similar smart trainers.

  • Max power: 1,900 watts
  • Accuracy: +/- 2.5%
  • Max simulated gradient: 16%
  • Total weight: 50 lbs (22 kg)
  • Cassette included: No
  • Noise: “semi-quiet”
  • Connectivity: ANT+ FEC, Bluetooth
  • Price: $849.99 

Kinetic RS Power Bike Trainer

Kinetic RS Power Bike Trainer Smart

One of the most affordable direct-drive smart trainers with features like wireless app syncing and accurate power reading, the Kinetic RS Power Bike Trainer is the best budget trainer available. It’s designed with a large flywheel, so it’s effective in simulating outdoor cycling.

Compatible with both Shimano and SRAM 8 thru 12-speed cassettes, the Kinetic RS Power Bike Trainer delivers the capabilities you want in a smart trainer but for half the price. While it’s not as accurate or as quiet as some of the best bike trainer models, it’s a solid option from a reputable brand.

Among the few smart trainers that are battery-operated, the Kinetic RS Power Bike Trainer is highly portable and ideal for on-the-go use. Visit KurtKinetic.com for more info or see the trainer’s specs at a glance.

  • Max power: 700 watts
  • Accuracy: +/- 3%
  • Total weight: 36.8 lbs (16.7 kg)
  • Cassette included: No
  • Noise: 60dB (moderate) 
  • Connectivity: Bluetooth, ANT+, and ANT+ FE-C 
  • Price: $329.00 to $379.00

Xplova NOZA S Interactive Smart Trainer

Xplova NOZA S Interactive Smart Trainer

The Xplova NOZA S is an international standout in the smart trainer world (the Taiwan brand is typically only available on Wiggle or through local dealers). The NOZA S was the official smart trainer for the UCI 2.1 Tour De Taiwan, and it’s highly regarded for its smoothness and stability.

This interactive smart trainer is built with a larger and more realistic-feeling flywheel that’s designed to handle up to 2,500 watts. The Xplova NOZA S is also extremely quiet at just 58 decibels and is easy to set up. It also has an adjustable arm to dial in the trainer’s height relative to the bike.

  • Max power: 2,500 watts
  • Accuracy: +/- 2.5%
  • Max simulated gradient: 18%
  • Total weight: 37.5 lbs (17 kg)
  • Cassette included: No
  • Noise: 58 db
  • Connectivity: ANT+ FEC, Bluetooth
  • Price: $899 

Keep in mind that for SRAM drivetrains, the necessary XD/XDR driver is sold separately, as is the case with Wahoo smart trainers. Learn more about the NOZA S at Xplova.com.

Elite Justo Interactive Smart Trainer

What looks like it came out of the late 1980s, the interactive smart trainer known as Justo is a new innovation from the Elite brand of cycling technology.

This well-crafted smart trainer offers some of the highest gradient slopes for climbing, maxing out at 24 percent pitches. Its simple 90-degree folding leg design is mindfully engineered for optimal stability.

Like other top-of-the-line trainers of today, Justo offers auto-calibration for easy at-home setup. It’s a fantastic smart trainer for Zwift, TrainerRoad, and other interactive simulated rides. But it also offers two stand-alone features that don’t require power or a connection Go to Elite-IT.com for more info or see the most important specs below.

  • Max power: 2,300 watts
  • Accuracy: +/- 1%
  • Max simulated gradient: 24%
  • Total weight: 37.5 lbs (17 kg)
  • Cassette included: No
  • Noise:very quiet” 
  • Connectivity: ANT+ FEC, Bluetooth
  • Price: $1,199.99 

The trainer comes from a European brand, so being that it’s relatively new, it’s tougher to get in the States. Stay tuned for updates.

Bike Trainer Buyer FAQs

What are some of the most common questions about indoor smart trainers? Here are a few popular FAQs and our responses.

Are smart trainers worth it?

Researching the Best Bike Trainers for Zwift, TrainerRoad, Rouvy, etc.

Even for the most outdoor-enthused cyclists, a smart trainer can be a practical investment for many reasons. Smart trainers along with virtual cycling apps like Zwift, TrainerRoad, and Rouvy make it possible to log quality training hours in a realistic-feeling and socially-accessible way. 

Some of the best smart trainers for Zwift enable cyclists to participate in group rides and races from indoors. And with Rouvy and FulGaz, you can ride real routes and experience real climbs, providing a lifelike training experience.

Any bike trainer can be supportive aid for cyclists looking to maintain their fitness during the winter months or ride in a controlled environment. They’re especially practical for those who live in areas without safe cycling roads or extreme weather conditions.

But like any big bike purchase, direct-drive smart trainers are not cheap. You can buy a simple fluid bike trainer for $200 or less, but an $800-1,200 smart trainer provides valuable returns for some riders, be it sociability or training performance.

Price: How much does a bike trainer cost?

Fluid Bike Trainer

In the grand scheme of things, the cost of bike trainers ranges widely between $100 to over $1,000, depending on the type. The most affordable options are resistance trainers that fall into the fluid trainer or friction trainer type. Some of the new resistance trainer options are smart trainers that can be used with Zwift, Rouvy, etc. These generally cost between $200-$400 for fluid smart trainers (shown in the image).

On the more expensive end of the spectrum are direct-drive trainers. These are quintessential smart trainers that provide the highest level of performance in terms of accuracy, maximum wattage, and maximum elevation gain. On average, direct-drive bike trainers can cost between $500 (Zwift Hub Smart Trainer) and upwards of $1,200 (Tacx NEO 2T Trainer).

Type: What are the different types of bike trainers?

indoor bike trainer worth it?

While there are several different types of bike trainers, these are the most common types:

  • Fluid trainers: Perhaps the most popular yet fundamentally simplistic type, fluid trainers use a fluid-filled chamber as the primary flywheel for resistance against the rear wheel. As a more affordable step down compared to direct-drive trainers, fluid trainers are a fantastic entry-level option that provides a realistic ride feel and a wide range of resistance levels. The only downside is that they are less accurate and less capable of simulating steep elevation gains or all-out sprints at maximum watts.
  • Direct-drive trainers: These more advanced options have the hub and cassette directly affixed to the trainer itself. Instead of riding with the rear wheel on the bike like resistance trainers, the rear wheel is removed and the back through axle and chain is installed on the trainer. This provides the most realistic ride feel and accurate power metrics. Almost all direct-drive trainers are considered smart trainers that wirelessly connect to virtual training apps.
  • Rollers: The most fundamental type of bike trainer but arguably the most engaging, with rollers the bike rests atop three rollers rather than being affixed to the bike trainer itself. With smart options, the resistance is applied to the roller itself and provides a lifelike ride feel when climbing or descending. And because the bike is perched atop the rollers with no added attachment, these types of trainers can help improve balance and pedal technique.

There are also friction trainers, which use magnets to produce resistance for the back wheel. These are generally the most affordable option, but they also lack the level of resistance and realism. And then there’s the classic wind trainer, which utilizes a fan to generate resistance. Wind trainers are also very affordable but they tend to be the noisiest and are seldom realistic options compared to modern types of indoor bike trainers.

Brands: What are the best smart trainer brands?

When it comes to direct-drive options, the most popular smart trainer brands include Wahoo, Saris, Tacx, and Elite. For fluid trainers, Kurt Kinetic and CycleOps are noteworthy brands for their quality build and ride feel. Zwift, the popular virtual cycling app, is one of the newest brands with its highly-affordable Hub Smart Trainer model.

Weight: Do bike trainers have a weight limit?

Most modern bike trainers have a weight limit of between 250-300 pounds, depending on the model. For example, the Wahoo Kickr v5 has a 250lb weight limit, the Tacx Neo 2T has a 275lb weight limit, and the Saris H3 has a 300lb weight limit.

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Banner photo: Jumbo Visma’s Sam Oomen, Nice-Paris 2021

 
Jeff Lukich Triathlon Endurance Coach
Jeff Lukich
Endurance Coach at Drive Multisport | Website

Jeff Lukich is the owner and head coach of Drive Multisport and leads Better Triathlete's coach match program. He is a USA Triathlon (USAT) Level 1, USA Cycling (USAC) Level 2, and USA Track & Field (USATF) certified coach. A 10x Ironman finisher and Boston Marathon Qualifier, Jeff specializes in coaching long-course triathletes, ultra-runners, marathoners, cyclists, and athletes with unique events, such as double Ironman, staged races, and SwimRun events. Learn more about Jeff.

Head of Content at Better Triathlete | Website

Endurance athlete, professional off-road cyclist, and avid blogger, Tyler Tafelsky participates in long-course multisport and cycling events. Today, Tyler competes in ultra-distance cycling races at the professional level. Since starting Better Triathlete in 2014, he has been the head of content for the site's editorial team. Learn more about Tyler