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Seven of the best smart turbo trainers

In the market for a smart trainer? Here are seven of the best

The turbo trainer market has evolved quickly in recent years with the introduction of ‘smart’ trainers, which offer wireless connectivity in order to pair the trainer with a range of accessories and apps.

A smart trainer will give you the tools to take your indoor training to the next level by offering power measurement, structured training sessions, interactive videos and the chance to ride with and against other cyclists online.

The smart trainer market has evolved and expanded significantly in recent years – here are seven for your shortlist

If you’re not sure whether to take the plunge with a smart trainer, then make sure you read our in-depth buyer’s guide to learn more about the features your should look out for. Otherwise, we’ve rounded up seven of the best smart trainers on the market here to help you make up your mind.

What is a smart trainer?

Before we get started, what is a smart trainer? In this round-up, we’ve only included smart trainers with resistance-controlled units, whereby the turbo will automatically adjust the resistance according to a number of factors (dependant on the software being used), including preset intervals and gradient. These smart trainers will enable you to get the most out of training platforms like Zwift, although you don’t need a resistance-controlled turbo to get started – reader our Zwift guide for more on that.

While a number of more affordable ANT+ and Bluetooth trainers exist which offer manual resistance and connectivity with third-party software, a resistance-controlled trainer offers the true ‘smart’ experience, so that’s what you’ll find here.

Bkool Smart Go

The Bkool Smart Go trainer, launched last winter, is as an affordable smart turbo trainer which uses Bkool’s own training platform. That includes more than 500,000 routes, a 3D riding simulator, multi-player interactivity and structured training sessions.

The Smart Go is a wheel-on unit, so your bike slots into the trainer like a regular turbo and power is estimated by an algorithm, so it’s not as accurate as a smart trainer with a built-in power meter. We’ll come onto those further down.

 

The magnetic resistance setup can handle a maximum wattage of 800w, which, in reality, will satisfy most riders for most sessions, and can simulate a gradient of up to eight per cent – on par for a trainer in this price bracket. Beyond that, Bkool’s simulator will slow the rider down to replicate the effect of having to work harder on a climb (by effectively making the climb longer).

The Smart Go’s connectivity means the trainer’s resistance can be controlled by the simulator,  making it one of the most affordable resistance-controlled trainers on the market. You can also control it via one of the latest generation of Garmin computers (e.g. the Edge 520, 820, 1000 and 1030 – however, due to the Smart Go broadcasting in ANT+ FE-C, it’s not compatible with older Garmin units). If you’re looking to use the Smart Go with Zwift, you’re need to make sure it’s transmitting in ANT+, rather than Bluetooth as Bkool use a closed protocol for the latter. 

If you’re after greater wattage from a Bkool trainer, then it may be worth going for the Smart Pro (£449.99) version instead. It’s essentially a beefed up version of the Go with a larger resistance unit, sleeker quick release lever to fix the wheel in place, and wider legs.

Price: £349.99
Drive interface: Wheel-on
Maximum resistance: 800 watts
Zwift compatible? Yes (via ANT+)
Website: Bkool
UK distributor: i-ride

Tacx Vortex Smart T2180

The Tacx Vortex Smart T2180 retails at a little more than the Bkool Smart Go, but for that you do get a higher maximum resistance of 950 watts (for a ten-second sprint, or 750w for a one minute effort). Again, this is one of the most affordable resistance-controlled turbo trainers out there.

The trainer features a simple electronic brake, which can help simulate gradients of up to seven per cent. The chief benefit of this form of electro-magnetic resistance is that, like the Bkool trainer, there are no contact points generating resistance, making the system relatively maintenance-free and quiet. Again, like the Bkool, it’s a wheel-on unit, which creates an estimate of power. You need to spend more to get a more accurate gauge of your power output.

The trainer is compatible with Tacx’s software for smartphones, tablets and Windows computers, and that gives you the option to use the Vortex Smart to follow training sessions, as well as train according to gradient, heart rate or power. You can also compete against other riders online.

Some climbs on online platforms can reach over seven per cent, but Tacx have also developed a virtual system whereby the power you generate is translated into an equivalent speed on the Tacx online system, so that they can compete fairly against those using the full motor brake of the more expensive models.

Tacx also offer downloadable films that detail world-famous courses like the 2013 Amstel Gold Race and various Ironman bike courses, for those wanting to take advantage of Tacx’s tie up with the long distance triathlon brand. You can use the Vortex Smart with Zwift, too.

All in all, Tacx offer nine smart trainers, including the direct drive Flux Smart (£699.99) and the flagship Neo Smart (£1,249.99), which we’ll come on to.

Price: £399.99
Drive interface: Wheel-on
Maximum resistance: 950 watts
Zwift compatible? Yes
Website: Tacx
UK distributor: Zyro-Fisher

CycleOps Magnus

CycleOps’ Magnus trainer’s USP is the use of sister company PowerTap’s technology to offer, CycleOps say, improved power readings from the resistance unit, with accuracy claimed to be +/- five per cent.

Like the Bkool and Tacx trains featured here, it too uses a wheel-based drive system, set upon CycleOps’ tried-and-tested ‘Classic’ trainer frame. The Magnus can generate 1500 watts of resistance – enough for practically anyone.

The Magnus communicates via ANT+ FE-C and Bluetooth Smart and, as well as being compatible with a range of third-party software like Zwift, runs with CycleOps’ own VirtualTraining software. That offers thousands of routes (included streamed video), detailed analysis, the capability to ride against other cyclists, intervals sessions and power tests.

The Magnus is also capable of housing 142x12mm and 148x12mm thru-axles, as well as the common quick-release skewer systems used by most trainers. It will also take a wide range of wheel sizes – although, note that you can’t use 650b and some 29” tires, if that’s your thing.

Price: £500
Drive interface: Wheel-on
Maximum resistance: 1,500 watts
Zwift compatible? Yes
Website: CycleOps
UK distributor: Paligap

Kinetic Rock and Roll Smart Control

One of the criticisms of riding on the turbo trainer is the limited feedback compared with riding on the open road. Kinetic’s Rock and Roll Smart Control trainer is built to tackle this by integrating lateral movement into the riding experience.

The resistance is controlled via the Smart Control Power Unit, which can manage up to 1,800 watts, and connects to the Kinetic Fit app on your phone or tablet via Bluetooth Smart. The key difference with Kinetic trainers, however, is that they operate on a closed Bluetooth protocol. That means you don’t get open access to all third-party apps (nor connectivity to most bike computers), but Kinetic have made sure the Rock and Roll supports key software like Zwift and TrainerRoad.  

Like the CycleOps Magnus, the Rock and Roll also works with thru-axle-equipped bikes if you buy the ‘Traxle’ accessory. The resistance is provided by an oversized flywheel to give a more realistic pedalling sensation when training away in the kitchen, garage or wherever you use the turbo.

However, if simplicity is what you’re after from Kinetic, then the Road Machine Smart at £330 may be the model for you. It’s a static trainer, so you don’t get any lateral movement, but it also connects to the Kinetic Kit app for monitoring and power workout selection, and records your power using the same inRide sensor technology.

If you have an existing Kinetic trainer, you can also give it a smart upgrade by purchasing the Smart Control Power Unit separately.

Price: £748.99
Drive interface: Wheel-on
Maximum resistance: 1,800 watts
Zwift compatible? Yes
Website: Kinetic
UK distributor: 2Pure

Wahoo Kickr

The choice of smart trainer of Team Sky, the Kickr helped kick start the smart trainer revolution and is the first in our line-up of smart trainers to be a direct-drive unit.

The Kickr was updated in September 2017, making this the third generation trainer, and now it’s compatible with thru-axles (12×142 and 12×148), as well the Wahoo’s new Climb simulator. Being a direct drive unit with a built-in power measurement system, accuracy is improved over wheel-on trainers, with a claimed +/- two per cent accuracy. The Kickr is capable of simulating 2,000w and a 20 per cent incline, making it truly capable of catering for any rider. 

Additionally, if you have a preferred power meter already setup on you bike, the trainer can take the information from this and override its own internal system, ensuring consistency between your readings on and off the trainer.

There is also a cheaper wheel-based option, the Kickr Snap (£499.99), if you don’t need the full bells and whistles of the flagship Kickr. It uses an algorithm to calculate power, with a maximum resistance of 1,500 and a claimed accuracy of +/- five per cent. The Snap can also simulate a maximum incline of 12 per cent, otherwise it’s fully compatible with the Wahoo Fitness app and thirty-party software like Zwift, just like the Kickr.

Price: £999.99
Drive interface: Direct drive
Maximum resistance: 2,000 watts
Zwift compatible? Yes
Website: Wahoo Fitness

Elite Direto

The Direto is the newest smart trainer from Italian firm Elite and is a compelling package, with the direct-drive unit offering a maximum power output of 1,400 watts and coming with a claimed accuracy of +/- 2.5 per cent via the integrated Optical Torque Sensor power meter.

As well as being compatible with Elite’s My E-Training app, which contains a range of training sessions, the Direto works with the likes of Zwift, TrainerRoad, The Sufferfest and more thanks to the ANT+ FE-C and Bluetooth Smart connectivity.

The Direto’s built-in power meter measures your wattage at 12 points, rather than 24 like the more expensive Elite Drivo (£1,199.99), but that does make it considerably cheaper.

Finally, the Elite’s sturdy legs can be folded away, handy if you need to store the trainer after use, and it’s also able to work with both quick release and 142×12 thru-axles

Price: £749.99
Drive interface: Direct drive
Maximum resistance: 1,400 watts
Zwift compatible? Yes
Website: Elite
UK distributor: Madison

Tacx Neo Smart T2800

The Tacx Neo Smart is the most expensive smart turbo trainer here, and arguably with good reason. It offers an unparalleled ability to hit a 1:4 incline and a maximum resistance of 2,200w.

Where it also differs from the other direct drive trainers here is in how the Neo does away with a flywheel and instead uses Tacx’s ‘FAST’ technology to perform 1000 calculations per second that take into account factors such as rider movement, gradient, air pressure, wind speed and even altitude to give as realistic resistance – and subsequently ride quality – as possible.

If connected to a power socket, it also simulates realistic starts from standing and descending by producing the equivalent of negative five per cent gradient, making the Neo Smart one of the most technologically advanced and realistic smart trainers on the market.

It’ll work with the full range of Tacx software and third party apps, much like the Flux Smart, a cheaper, direct drive version of the Neo Smart. Unlike the Neo Smart, the Flux Smart it bases its resistance around a physical flywheel, and can reach a slightly lower maximum wattage of 1,500w and a 10 per cent gradient. If you’re budget can’t quite stretch to the Neo, then the Flux is a fantastic smart trainer for a lot less money.

Price: £1,249.99
Drive interface: Direct drive
Maximum resistance: 2,200 watts
Zwift compatible? Yes
Website: Tacx
UK distributor: Zyro-Fisher

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