Turbo Trainers

It’s the time of year for staying indoors and racking up the hours on the Turbo.

There have been a few articles on RCUK about turbo training but testing them takes a long, long time and boy is it hard work! and if you already have one you may want to check out the RCUK accessory guide too.

Whatever your view on them there’s no denying that Turbo trainers offer the chance to put the miles in within the comfort of your home when it can be hard to find the motivation to get out on the bike… Warm, comfortable training – perfect. It just hurts.

So, to find out which one offers the most for the money, we’ve been sweating it out in the RCUK office to find out which turbo’s we reckon are the best on the market. We’ve spent considerable time on each trainer, testing for how easy they are to get from the box to getting the bike setup, how much noise they make, how smooth they are and how stable they are.

It may be a little late to get one of these in your Christmas stocking but they may give you some incentive to get training again in the New Year.


Before we get started on the test here’s a quick preview of the resistance choices:

Air resistance – The original turbo trainers used a plastic fan to generate wind resistance. In fact they still live on in the market because ‘Turbo’ refers to the fan part of the machinery. They sound like Concorde taking off, which is the main reason they seem to have died out in the trainer market.

Friction large flywheel – Used on spinning bikes in the main and the size and weight can be limiting. Spinning bikes are quiet and solid but very expensive and difficult to store.

Fluid resistance – A a fan revolving in oil. Complicated ones have valves and more control via a handlebar mount. Quiet. Usually smooth, usually expensive too.

Magnetic resistance – These units use a metal plate spinning inside a magnetic field. A simple cable operated lever control at the handlebars moves the magnet to create more resistance. Most of the sophisticated electronic trainers use magnetic resistance, However they aren’t always as smooth as fluid trainers.

Electronically controlled – These are the latest breed of magnetic trainers and they offer the best control via an electro-magnet, but they come at a price. Now available with all sorts of computer simulations and add-ons to (try) to make indoor workouts a little more stimulating.

CycleOps Magneto

  • Noise level: 4
  • Ride Quality: 5
  • Value: 5
  • Overall: 5

Using Power Band Technology the Magneto gives a broad range of adjustment without having to twiddle any knobs. Out of the box we were immediately impressed, lifting it clear of the polystyrene packaging it feels heavy which is very reassuring. And it’s easy to setup; fold out the legs attach the flywheel, bolt in the bike, and away you go. The feet can be rotated to allow for uneven floors. Clever and very simple.

The lever to clamp the bike in place is solid and is one of the best solutions in the Turbo market. Anyone can use it and it works effortlessly.

There’s no adjustable resistance with this model, instead you get progressive resistance which varies with your cadence and gear choice, through something CycleOp’s call Power Band Technology. It works fine we like the simple no nonsence approach. For the price, the Magneto is hard to beat; it’s simple to setup and use, works perfectly and folds away in a second.

Tacx Cycleforce One T1480

  • Noise level: 3
  • Ride quality: 4
  • Value: 4
  • Overall Verdict: 4

First up, the Tacx was not easy to build up. The instructions were hard to follow and it required some assembly (in fact we needed an extra pair of hands) before we could get training – clearer instructions would have made the process a lot easier.

Once we were out of Ikea flat pack hell and once we’d re-read the instructions (and learnt how to fold it properly) we found that the unit is fairly stable. The bike attachment lever is a bit flimsy and not as solid as the CycleOps. It is really smooth though, although a bit noisy at full speed.

A handlebar mounted lever allows 10 levels of adjustment on the magnetic flywheel, enough for all training requirements. The unit folds away easily and is pretty compact when folded, except some way of keeping the long cable tidy when transporting would be a benefit.

Minoura VFS

  • Price: £199.99
  • Contact: Zyro
  • Noise level: 3
  • Ride quality: 4
  • Value: 3
  • Overall verdict: 3

The most expensive trainer in this part of the test, the VFS combines a fluid and magnetic device which is designed to make it quiet and smooth. And in our tests, it wasn’t the quietest – not by much we’d hasten to add – but it certainly was the smoothest.

It was quick to setup, and we particularly liked the foot pedal which means you don’t have to reset the roller on the tyre every time you do a training session. It’s a solidly built trainer which is all finished off with quality materials. There are a few nice details and we especially like the well designed handle for attaching the bike’s rear wheel.

There’s no adjustable resistance, but like the CycleOps the resistance auto-adjusts depending on your cadence. Minoura have built a solid trainer with some nice features – it’s just a little bit expensive.

CycleOps Mag

  • Noise level: 4
  • Ride quality: 3
  • Value: 5
  • Overall Verdict: 4

A cheaper alternative to the Magneto, the Mag only differs in the flywheel mechanism. The framework is the same as the more expensive model, but the flywheel has five levels of resistance, set by turning a dial on the flywheel.

Having to set the resistance before getting on the bike isn’t ideal, but as with the other trainers you can use the gears to up the effort levels. A bit of a hassle at first ride, but we found that once you’ve set your prefered resistance it doesn’t need adjusting. For an extra £15 the Mag+ comes with a handlebar mounted resistance adjuster, allowing you to alter the resistance without getting of your bike. Either of the CycleOps trainers are winners on value so far, but the progressive resistance Magneto is far more realistic, less hassle to adjust resistance and probably worth the little extra.

So, so far we’ve earmarked the CycleOps Mag and Magneto as our turbos of choice, they offer great value and they work. Best of all they’re simple and limited faff to set up, combined with their excellent front wheel support it’s perfect for solid and stable training.

More to come
Watch out for the next couple of installments of our Turbo Trainer grouptest – where we’ll be testing trainers between £200 and £500 and then rollers and alternative indoor trainers… we now need a few days off to recover.

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