TURBO trainers have come a long way in recent years and the days of slogging away on an exercise bike in your spare bedroom are (thankfully) a thing of the past.
Since the pandemic, you may have found yourself searching for the best turbo trainers for exercising indoors – but it can be hard to choose the right one for you. Our guide below should help you find a great turbo trainer without breaking the bank.
What is a turbo trainer?
Turbo trainers are aimed at road cyclists, but also compatible with mountain bikes and even hybrids, they are essentially a way of easily turning your bike into a static bike.
They do so by elevating your rear wheel off the ground and connecting it to a roller. The roller’s resistance is adjustable, allowing you to make it harder or easier to turn the pedals.
On more expensive, specialist ‘direct drive’ models, the rear wheel is removed from the occasion entirely, and you connect your bike’s chain to a cassette fitted to a flywheel.
Another term to look out for is ‘smart trainer’ – meaning you can take your workouts digital.
The ability to connect your turbo trainer wirelessly to a computer or tablet not only allows you to track and log your stats more efficiently, but it also opens up a whole new world of indoor cycling workouts, including virtual training platforms such as Zwift.
Ultimately though, the right bike trainer for you will come down to your budget.
1. B’Twin In’Ride 100 Turbo Trainer
- In’Ride 100 Turbo Trainer, £79.99 from Decathlon – buy now
The In’Ride 100 bike trainer from Decathlon’s in-house brand B’Twin is a great introduction to the world of turbo trainers.
The magnetic system has seven different levels of resistance that can be adjusted with the included dial that you attach to your handlebars.
Those looking to really push themselves might want to look further down the list though, with power limited to 550 watts.
It’s super simple to set up, has an additional connection kit to make it ‘smart’, and can be folded away compactly when not in use.
2. Tacx Antares Rollers
- Tacx Antares Rollers, £179 from Wiggle – buy here
While not a turbo trainer per se, these rollers from Dutch specialists Tacx are a great way to keep fit and improve your all-round cycling indoors.
Rollers are essentially the cycling equivalent of a self-powered treadmill. Two metal rollers are situated at either end of the trainer and you balance your bike on top.
They are fairly primitive compared to the smart trainers below but are still used by professional riders as they are great for certain drills, such as cadence work.
If using for the first time, it’s recommended that you locate your rollers with a wall within arm’s reach – this is to help you find your balance and get up to speed without falling off.
3. Saris Fluid 2 Trainer
- Saris Fluid 2 Trainer, £259.99 from ProBikeKit – buy now
The Fluid 2 bike trainer by American brand Saris might look similar in design to the B’Twin turbo above but utilises a fluid instead of magnetic flywheel.
A fluid flywheel helps to simulate riding on the road, with resistance adjusted by shifting up or down your bike’s gears.
The big plus point for the Fluid 2 though is its clutch knob, which ensures the optimum place for your bike’s tyre every time you go for a spin.
4. Tacx Vortex Smart Trainer
- Vortex Smart Trainer, £379.99 from Decathlon – buy now
The first turbo on this list that is a smart trainer right out of the box comes from Dutch brand Tacx.
Although at close to £400, that can be considered an entry-level price for an interactive turbo trainer.
Unlike higher-end models, the Vortex looks similar in design to the others already featured on this list, using a wheel-on design.
The big difference though is the resistance, which is modified electronically through training applications such as Zwift or Trainer Road.
5. Elite Tuo FE-C Mag Trainer
- Elite Tuo FE-C Mag Trainer, £399.99 from Tredz – buy now
While it might look like something you use to toast your bread rather than your friends on Zwift, this turbo from Italian brand Elite is one of the best wheel-on trainers around.
That’s because it is fully set up with Bluetooth and ANT+ sensors out of the box, meaning it can be used with virtual training platforms such as the previously mentioned Zwift or Sufferfest without any additional kit.
And like the Tacx Vortex above and more expensive direct drive turbo trainers below, the magnetic roller automatically adjusts your resistance as you go, allowing you to simulate inclines of up to 10 per cent without needing to faff around with a dial.
Finally, it is one of the more compact turbos around when not in use.
6. Wahoo Kickr Snap
- Wahoo Kickr Snap turbo trainer, £429.99 from Wiggle – buy now
Although renowned for its Kickr direct drive smart trainer, Wahoo also has a slightly more entry-level wheel-on turbo trainer that provides a similar experience to its sector-leading machine for a fraction of the price.
Like the Tacx Vortex and Elite Tuo turbos listed above, the Kickr Snap is a smart wheel-on trainer, meaning it can be used with virtual training platforms without needing to buy any other sensors. Plus, it too adjusts resistance automatically, and can simulate power output of 1,500 watts and 12 per cent inclines.
When combined with the fact that it’s relatively quick to set up your bike on the turbo and doesn’t require the removing of any wheels, it could be the perfect companion for those who only have access to one bike and like to use it both in the real and virtual worlds.
7. Elite Direto-X OTS
Elite Direto-X OTS turbo trainer, £649.99 from Halfords – buy here
The cheapest direct drive turbo trainer featured, the Direto-X OTS from Italian brand Elite is almost half the price of the likes of Wahoo’s Kickr and Tacx’s Neo 2T, but is it half as good?
The trainer’s specification would suggest otherwise. Like its more expensive competitors, the Directo-X can sync up seamlessly to the likes of Zwift and TrainerRoad, and offers up a realistic recreation of riding outside in the comfort of your own home.
It can simulate climbs of up to 18 per cent and maxes out at 2,100 watts (a number that even Chris Froome would struggle to reach, even in his prime).
The main difference between it and its more expensive rivals is its footprint – it certainly looks like quite a dated and bulky trainer compared to its more streamlined peers.
But if your focus is more on ability than looks, then the Direto-X could help you get in shape for less.
8. Saris H3
- Saris H3 Turbo Trainer, £849.99 from Wiggle – buy now
The second turbo trainer featured on this list from American brand Saris is the polar opposite to the Fluid 2 mentioned above. A direct drive smart trainer, it falls within the same bracket as the Wahoo Kickr and Tacx Neo 2T below, but comes in slightly cheaper than both.
It compares favourably with its more well-known rivals– it’s possible to spin at a Chris Hoy-level 2,000 watts, replicate a 20 per cent climb and track your speed, cadence and power without requiring any other sensors.
The only things that let the H3 down are its size – it is a bit bigger than the Kickr and Neo 2T when at its most compact – and the fact is doesn’t come with a pre-installed cassette.
9. Wahoo KICKR Smart Turbo Trainer
- Wahoo Kickr Smart Turbo Trainer, £999.99 from Wiggle – buy now
At the top (and expensive) end of the smart trainer scale, you’ll find the KICKR by American company Wahoo.
The unit comes in one penny under £1,000, so it’s certainly only for those with deep pockets. But is it worth it?
The direct drive system sees you remove your back wheel and mount your bike to the trainer’s cassette, which offers an even more realistic and reactive experience.
It can also manage output up to 2,200 watts (handy if you’re a track sprinter), and simulate inclines of a thigh-slapping 20 per cent.
10. Tacx Neo 2T
- Tacx Neo 2T smart turbo trainer, £1,199.00 from Wiggle – buy now
The most expensive turbo trainer on our list, the Neo 2T from Tacx is arguably the pinnacle of current indoor training.
Like the other direct drive trainers featured, it too can handle superhuman efforts (2,200 watts), is able to provide performance readings to within one per cent accuracy and can simulate hills of 25 per cent. But there are a number of other features that warrant it being £200 more expensive than its nearest competitor.
First up is the inclusion of pedal stroke analysis that can detail how to get rid of black spots and improve your power output throughout the whole revolution of the pedal.
It also has a feature called ‘Real Road Feel’ that does just that, simulating vibrations and chatter when spinning your way around the virtual world of Zwift. Ride over cobbles or on gravel sections and it feels like you’re actually there, helping improve the immersive experience of indoor training platforms.
11. Elite Quick-Motion Rollers
- Elite Quick-Motion Rollers, £374.99 from ProBikeKit – buy now
The Elite Quick-Motion rollers are a great turbo trainer if you're after something more compact.
It would be the ideal companion to those who like to get outside in the summer, but like to train indoors when the weather isn't so great – as it can be neatly folded away depending on you.
It's brilliant when it comes to simulating steady gradients and it can measure power, speed, cadence – for those who like to use indoor training apps, it also works well with Zwift and Traineroad.
The rollers are adjustable, so it can fit all sorts of different sized wheelbases, whether your use a road or mountain bike.
12. Saris Basic Mag Trainer
- Saris Basic Mag Trainer, £135 from ProBikeKit – buy here
If you're a beginner and want to get used to a turbo trainer, this Saris Basic Mag trainer could be the best for you.
There are no gimmicks, no wires or fuss and it does the job at hand – it's a super easy way to get set-up for using a bike indoors.
This turbo trainer comes with five levels of resistance, so you can adapt it to your style of training.
Simply connect the turbo trainer to the rear wheel of your bike and you're good to go – jump on and ride!
13. Wattbike Atom
- Wattbike Atom smart bike, £1,899 from Wattbike – buy here
For those looking for a truly professional set-up, a dedicated smart bike is the way to go. Although a lot more expensive than a turbo trainer, they provide laboratory-level quality that you can train on in your home.
The Wattbike Atom is one of the most iconic smart bikes on the market and its latest iteration is the best one yet.
As it’s an all-in-one set-up rather than relying on your bike’s drivetrain, the resistance is smooth and gear changes are extremely slick. This also makes it one of the quietest trainers around.
Its data accuracy at +/- one per cent is second-to-none, allowing your workouts to be even more focused.
Finally, a Wattbike is also something for the whole household to train on. Its saddle and handlebars can be raised and lowered at a cinch, meaning you don’t have to remove and install a different bike every time someone else wants to ride on it.
14. Wahoo Kickr Bike
- Wahoo Kickr Bike smart bike, £2,999 from Sigma Sports – buy here
Not content with blowing away the competition in the smart turbo trainer market, Wahoo has also decided to channel its expertise into a smart bike – and the Kickr Bike is the result.
Like the Wattbike Atom, it too has a +/- one per cent accuracy and is able to track everything from speed and distance to power output and cadence, while the maximum power output is a punchy 2,200 watts.
Where it differs from the Wattbike Atom though is how you can get it set-up geometrically exactly the same as your actual road bike – down to the crank length. This leaves you with a smart bike that is not only able to recreate riding in a virtual world like Zwift, but one that simulates the experience of riding any bike on the planet.
Throw in the ability to match the gearing to any Shimano, SRAM or Campagnolo drivetrain (both current and future), and you’ve got one of the ultimate ways to train (both indoors and out).
It does come at an eye-watering price, but can you put a cost on a peloton-ready set-up?
What is the best turbo trainer?
Working out the best turbo trainer really depends on your budget. If money is no issue, then the likes of the Wahoo Kickr and Tacx Neo 2T direct drive smart trainers are tough to beat, but they are both serious investments. For those looking for a more affordable way to give indoor cycling a go, the Wahoo Kickr Snap or Elite Tuo are both great wheel-on trainers that are fully compatible with numerous virtual training platforms.
What is the best turbo trainer for Zwift?
To really get the most out of Zwift, a direct drive smart trainer is your best bet. As well as being able to handle higher power outputs, simulate steeper climbs and generally record data more accurately, these come into their own when used in Zwift’s ERG mode – a feature of its various training plans. When used in ERG mode, the turbo trainer is able to hold you at a certain power output, regardless of cadence or the gear you are in. This is crucial when training using your power zones and leaves you with a lab-spec tool in your front room.
Therefore, the Wahoo Kickr, Tacx Neo 2T and Saris H3 turbo trainers are the best set-ups for Zwift.
Do I need a special tyre for turbo trainer?
While not essential, it could be beneficial to swap your rear tyre for a turbo-specific one if using a wheel-on trainer. Unlike when ridden on the road, only one section of the tyre comes into contact with the roller on a wheel-on turbo trainer, and therefore the centre of the tyre can get worn down quickly.
The likes of Tacx sell turbo trainer-specific tyres that supply more grip than your standard tyre, as well as being thicker at the contact point of the tyre, meaning they’ll last longer. These tyres can’t be used on the road or trails though, so it’s worth weighing up if it’s worth investing in one if you are going to be using the same bike for riding outside as inside as it would mean changing tyres every time you went for a ride outside.
Do turbo trainers damage your tyres?
While turbo trainers don’t necessarily damage your tyres, they can wear down tyres quicker than when used outside on the road or trails. Only one section of your rear tyre comes into contact with a wheel-on turbo trainer’s roller, which can cause bald spots in the tread.
How to set up a turbo trainer
Setting up your turbo trainer will ultimately come down to the model you purchased.
Generally speaking, there are two types available – wheel-on turbo trainers and direct drive turbo trainers.
When it comes to wheel-on options, you use your existing rear bike wheel to attach to the turbo trainer, whereas on a direct drive turbo, you remove the rear wheel of your bike and connect the frame directly to the turbo trainer.
Check the instructions that come with your chosen turbo trainer – if you haven't purchased one yet and are after the easier choice, go for a wheel-on option.
With any turbo trainer, make sure you set it up in the place you want to use it – it will be difficult to move your fixed bike once you've set everything up.
It's also worth setting up in a well ventilated area – you will be working up a sweat, without an outdoor cycling breeze! If you can, place a fan nearby, or set up near a window.
To prevent mess, a training mat or something to protect your floor at home is worth putting down (to protect it from bike marks, as well as drops of sweat.)
Are turbo trainers noisy?
If you're into bikes, you've likely heard about how noisy turbo trainers can b – they can be very loud, depending on the model, and whilst fluid filled ones tend to be quieter, they are more expensive.
Roller options can also be loud – but far quieter in comparison to regular turbo trainers. Keep this in mind before purchasing (and if you're training, it may be considerate to let your neighbours know, especially if you live in a flat!)
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