Whether you’re training for an event, just trying to keep a regular riding schedule, or simply prefer the safety of riding inside, an indoor bike trainer is a valuable tool. But what to get? There are several basic kinds, and the options for them have proliferated wildly over the past few years, not to mention the explosion of “smart” trainers and the virtual worlds and training programs they allow you to connect to. Here, check out info on five of the best-performing trainers from our testing, then scroll deeper for longer reviews of these and other top options, plus buying advice.
Best Travel Companion: Feedback Sports Omnium Over-drive
Best Value Direct-Drive: Elite Suito T
The Gold Standard: Wahoo Kickr
Quietest Direct Drive: TacX Neo 2T
Fastest Set-Up: Wahoo Kickr Rollr
The Three Types of Indoor Trainers
Although there are many variations of each, most trainers come in three basic styles.
Direct-drive trainers attach to the rear dropouts, replacing your wheel and providing a direct connection to the resistance unit. These are easily identified because they require a cassette. They’re typically the most expensive but also the most accurate, with the highest levels of resistance.
Friction trainers place a small roller against the rear wheel and utilize either magnetic or fluid resistance. They tend to be lighter and more portable than direct-drive trainers, but are noisier and less accurate. The trade-off comes in cost. You can get a smart friction trainer for about half as much as a direct-drive model.
Rollers are the most basic style and also require the most technique since the bike isn’t held in place but rather perched atop three rollers. Resistance can range from almost nothing up to as much as any direct-drive trainer. They are also very useful for refining pedaling technique.
What Is a Smart Trainer?
A smart trainer is different than a model with electronically controlled resistance. “Smart” means it can communicate wirelessly with a training app on your smartphone or virtual riding world like Zwift and automatically adjust resistance. The popularity of Zwift and other apps means most newer trainers are “smart.” This adds to the cost, but prices are falling, and you can now score a smart trainer for less than $500.
Some third-party training platforms support non-connected trainers, but you’ll need to purchase extras, like an external “speed” sensor from Garmin or Wahoo and possibly a power meter as well.
Other Things to Consider
Compatibility: With axle attachment standards and widths changing almost yearly, check whether a trainer you’re interested in offers different attachment options such as thru-axle adaptors and, for direct-attachment trainers, free-hub options. Some trainers come with them. If yours doesn’t, you’ll have to purchase them separately.
Noise: With more people exercising indoors, and with families working at home, looking for a quieter option may be more of a priority than before (as well as getting a good fan when you work out). While most manufacturers can get away with using words like “silent” and “virtually silent” to describe the noise level of their trainers, there are other factors to consider, such as the sound your bike’s drivetrain cranks out as you pedal and, if you use one, the fan that’s whirring away to keep you cool and simulate wind speeds. To get a better idea of how loud “silent” actually is, we used a decibel meter to record the noise levels of each trainer being ridden at 15 and 25 mph. Decibels ranged from 68 (comparable to a vacuum cleaner) to 85 (diesel truck going 40 mph); the fan alone measured 71. To get an idea of how significant a seemingly minor jump in decibels can be, 70 is twice as loud as 60, and 80 is twice as loud as 70.
Stability: Trainer crashes are rare, but not unheard of when you’re going cross-eyed trying to beat your PR on that workout. Typically, the broader the trainer’s base, the more stable it will be. Many have a leveling feature for uneven surfaces.
Check out this short video on why a Ramp Test might be better for you than the traditional FTP test.
How We Tested
We used every one of these trainers to squeeze Zwift workouts into our busy workday and even hauled a few of them with us for race-day warm-ups. We tested each one with third-party apps as well as their own companion apps—and untethered for those who prefer the freedom to choose their own structured workouts. Every trainer was put through the same steady-state intervals, max-power sprints, and Tabata-style efforts (high-intensity intervals) to test ride feel, stability, resistance, reliability, and repeatability. As we mentioned, we tested ambient noise levels while riding at 15 and 25 miles per hour to determine the real-world disturbance you’ll cause during your pre-dawn trainer session. In the end, we were left with this list of the best indoor trainers you can buy right now.
Direct-Drive ―THE GOLD STANDARD―
The Kickr has consistently been one of the most reliable and user-friendly trainers available. The newest version measures power more accurately than the 2018 edition—to within 1 percent up to 2,200 watts—and allows for some side-to-side movement while riding. Rubber feet, which the brand calls Axis, are paired with three sets of plastic cups that fit over the feet to moderate that lateral movement. The largest cups completely encapsulate the rubber feet and keep the trainer fixed in place, while the smallest leave the flexible, rubber feet largely exposed and allow the bike five degrees of side-to-side wiggle. It’s just enough that riding felt far more comfortable than being locked in place, but not so much that the bike moved unnaturally. The ride feel is also more lively than the previous Kickr. Riders no longer need to perform a spin down to calibrate the trainer, and the Kickr can simulate gradients up to 20 percent. It comes pre-installed with an 11-speed Shimano/SRAM-compatible cassette, works with most 8-, 9-, 10-, 11, and 12-speed setups, and plays well with most third-party virtual cycling apps.
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―BEST VALUE DIRECT-DRIVE―
The sturdy steel Suito is one of the best value direct drive trainers we've tested. It comes pre-installed with a Shimano 11-speed cassette and pre-assembled legs. Compared with the company’s top-end model, the Direto XR, this direct-drive trainer sacrifices only a smidge of accuracy (+/-2.5 percent vs. +/-1.5 percent) but offers faster resistance transitions and the freedom to ride untethered—all for $200 less. We also love the Suito because, unlike some trainers that require you to use an app to operate the trainer, you can simply plug it in and start pedaling if you just want to ride without the fuss of logging onto a virtual platform. When disconnected from the virtual world, the Suito holds momentum better than any other trainer in this test–in other words, once you get it up to speed, it likes to stay there. The Suito doesn't allow lateral movement like some of the new trainers, but our staff loves it for the ease of jumping on and doing either a structured workout or a virtual ride. Best of all: after 18 months of being knocked around going from house to house and office to office, it's holding strong and is reliable as ever.
Tacx Neo 2T
The Neo 2T is similar to the Kickr in both power measurement (up to 2,200 watts within 1 percent accuracy) and maximum gradient simulated (up to 25 percent). But the Neo 2T has two features found nowhere else. It generates its own electricity, meaning you can use it without external power—although it works best when plugged in. That's especially relevant in the winter when our training-obsessed test editor loves that he can still use the Neo 2T for a workout when his house loses power during a snowstorm. Similar to the old-school Nintendo Rumble Pack, it vibrates to simulate a wide range of road surfaces—from gravel to cobblestones to concrete slab roads, to name a few—when you’re riding on virtual platforms. Unlike other direct-drive trainers that use belts or rollers for power transmission, the Neo 2T has a metal flywheel with magnets that interact with electrical coils to moderate resistance. You turn the flywheel directly as you pedal; the more electricity that flows through the coils, the larger the magnetic force. This space-age-looking device allows more side-to-side movement than the Kickr, and felt as comfortable and natural as riding a stationary trainer can, even through high-powered efforts like steep climbs and full-gas sprints. It also comes with pedal-stroke analysis and a thru-axle adapter that accommodates 142 x 12mm and 148 x 12mm axles, plus is compatible with Shimano and SRAM 8- to 12-speed drivetrains.
―BEST VALUE KICKR―
Wahoo Kickr Core
Wahoo's Kickr Core is a little more compact and a bit less expensive than the much-loved Kickr. We love it so much that we've placed it on Bicycling's Gear of the Year list. The Kickr Core uses the same smooth and quiet flywheel tech and reliable belt drive with electromagnetic resistance. The Core has a 12-pound flywheel (versus the Kickr’s 16-pound) and comes in a smaller package that features a reduced footprint and a more compact stand (when folded) that’s easier to store than other direct-drive units. If you love the Kickr but don’t need the extra max wattage or incline of that pricier unit, the Kickr Core delivers the same great quality and ride experience in a cheaper and more portable package.
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―EASIEST TO STORE―
If you’re familiar with the CycleOps H2 direct-drive smart trainer, then you’re familiar with the Saris H3—nearly the same CycleOps product, with new Saris branding. The functional difference is a more robust power cord on the H3 that’s less prone to getting yanked and broken when we accidentally trip over it. The H3’s numbers are identical to the H2’s—2,000 watts, 20 percent max incline, +/-2 percent accuracy. It’s compatible with the most popular virtual cycling platforms via ANT+, FE-C, and Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity. And while pairing to those apps is simple, that’s not the case with the Saris companion app, which is prone to crashing and generally just annoying to use. Fortunately, you really only need it for software updates and to calibrate the trainer. And if you want to just plug in and ride, no app is needed. Resistance changes on the H3 are as pleasantly smooth as the best trainers we’ve tested. And that dead feeling often associated with heavy flywheels isn’t as noticeable on the H3—it provides enough momentum to simulate a “real” ride feel without feeling sluggish. For those who don't have room in their garage or living room to leave the trainer out all winter, we love the H3 for how easy it is to fold down and how little room it occupies when stuffed into a closet.
Rollers ―FASTEST SET-UP―
Wahoo Kickr Rollr
With the Rollr, Wahoo designed a trainer with ultimate user simplicity in mind. Their target user was someone who doesn’t want to deal with removing the rear wheel from their bike, deal with drivetrain compatibility, or various rear skewers or thru-axles. It’s also ideal for riders that might want to train on multiple bikes indoors without adjusting for axle or cassette standards.
To accomplish this, Wahoo has created a novel-looking trainer. At the front, there is an A-shaped bracket that holds the front wheel at the tire. The front wheel clamp uses a tool-free adjustment and can accommodate a tire up to 2.1” (or 53mm) width. At the back of the Rollr are two drums that cradle the bike's rear wheel and an external flywheel that adds resistance. While the frame of the Rollr is adjustable for wheelbase, the adjustment is limited and is optimized around road bikes, which means that mountain bikes with a particularly long wheelbase might be a bit too long to fit. Still, most road or gravel bikes shouldn’t have any issues.
We would not recommend the Rollr for riders who are doing a lot of out of the saddle, high-intensity training, or riders who regularly race on Zwift. A direct drive trainer will be better suited to these tasks. But riders that find these trainers to be too cumbersome will love the smooth ride feel and easy on-and-off set-up of the Rollr.
―MOST LIKE RIDING OUTSIDE―
Elite Nero Interactive Rollers
If you hate the “locked-in” feel of being on a trainer but want to ride on third-party virtual platforms, the Elite Nero Interactive Rollers are the answer. On their own (in other words, not plugged in and connected to any devices or apps), they function just like a set of standard rollers, except they offer the added bonus of progressive resistance. However, strong riders may overpower the resistance and momentum. For sustained efforts north of 400 watts, our tester, who eschews compact gearing, was nearly maxed out at the bottom of the cassette in order to maintain the effort level. The rollers also slide back and forth on a fixed frame, which makes for a somewhat natural ride (if you ignore the feeling of sliding backward) as the bike has the freedom to move not just side to side but forward and back as well. Along with the freedom to move, these rollers give you the freedom to join the world of virtual cycling. At first, it feels odd to experience resistance changes as you hit climbs and descents on Zwift while riding rollers, but it quickly feels as normal as riding in a virtual world can, aided by the free-flowing movement of the bike. Don’t get carried away thinking these are the magic bullet for indoor training. Roller purists will find there’s too much resistance for high-cadence technique work, and trainer lovers won’t like that they can’t zone out for hours on end with nothing to think about but keeping the pedals turning. In other words, the Nero offers a comfortable middle ground.
Friction Trainers ―BEST TRAVEL COMPANION―
Feedback Sports Omnium Over–Drive
At 14 pounds, the Omnium Over-Drive is ideal for race day, small living spaces, and travel—it comes with a durable tote bag that lets you stow it under a bed or shove it into an overhead bin on a plane. This portable trainer isn’t light on features, though. Two four-inch magnetic drums provide progressive resistance up to a max of 1,050 watts at 55 mph and make for an incredibly quiet ride that won’t disturb the peace while you’re cranking out a workout in your hotel room. Thanks to its height-adjustable fork mount (compatible with post- and flat-mount disc brakes) and sliding base on which the aluminum rollers are attached, the Over-Drive can accommodate various bike and wheel sizes and quick-release or thru-axle configurations. At first glance, you might think the Over-Drive’s simple design sacrifices stability, but even in an out-of-the-saddle sprint our tester couldn’t tip it over or get a rear wheel to skip off the rollers. The most he could do was lift a front support leg off the ground. If you like the concept of the Over-Drive but don’t want the resistance, Feedback Sports offers the Omnium Zero-Drive, which is identical except the rollers have no resistance. As an added bonus, both models’ sleds (the part that holds the rollers) are interchangeable and sold separately, so if you want both options, you don’t have to buy two complete trainers.
―BEST VALUE SMART TRAINER―
Kinetic Road Machine Smart 2
If power data is all you need, Kinetic’s Road Machine Smart 2 trainer is a great value. While it doesn’t automatically control resistance (for that, check out the Road Machine Control), it does connect with training apps such as Kinetic Fit, Zwift, TrainerRoad, and more, as well as ANT+ and Bluetooth-enabled computers and ANT+ head units. Its stable base with floor-safe rubber feet, 6.3-pound (claimed) flywheel, and big roller mean it can find a permanent spot in your home, but its foldable legs and wheel-on design make it a convenient race-day traveler, too. It's far louder than the direct drive trainers on this list, but it reliable works every time. Despite having access to a fleet of the best smart trainers around, our tester found himself gravitating to this trainer for structured workouts when he just wanted to put his bike on the trainer and ride without spending time screwing around with power cords, apps, and Bluetooth connections. It fits 22- to 29-inch wheels and comes with its own skewer, so you can save yours from wear and tear. If your bike has a thru-axle, you’ll have to drop another $49 for the Kinetic Traxle thru-axle adapter. Bonus: It comes with a free one-month subscription for the Kinetic Fit training app.
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―BEST WHEEL-ON SMART TRAINER―
Wahoo Kickr Snap
The Kickr Snap is everything we love about the Kickr in a cheaper, more convenient, and lighter-weight package. Like the Kickr, the Snap is compatible with Bluetooth Smart, ANT+, and ANT+ FE-C and can be controlled by a smartphone, tablet, or Wahoo computer, with LED lights alerting you to a successful connection. It’s also compatible with Wahoo’s Headwind (wind-speed simulator) and Climb (grade simulator) accessories, and it works seamlessly with third-party apps like Zwift, The Sufferfest, TrainerRoad, and more. The Snap’s wheel-on design accommodates QR and thru-axle rear wheels up to 29 inches, though you’ll have to purchase the thru-axle adaptor separately. It’s essentially the highest-end Kickr minus a bit of the accuracy and user experience that some riders will happily pay more for.