Featured Guide

Your Indoor Bike Trainer Buying Guide

It’s that time of the year. Many athletes are asking which trainer to get. In the past, I just ranked indoor bike trainers based on my own experience. However, I realized everyone’s needs are different so I am going to do this guide a little different.

If you want my own personal general ranking, you can read my own indoor bike trainer picks here.

In this guide, I am going to rank trainers based on the following categories:

One thing to note here – all indoor bike trainers I am recommending here are good trainers, smart, compatible with Zwift, TrainerRoad, Sufferfest, and many other cycling apps. All can communicate with your Garmin computer, Wahoo Element or Bolt, Garmin watch, or any device that is ANT+ or smart Bluetooth compatible. If the trainer you were considering isn’t listed here, then there is probably a reason I didn’t list it.

DIRECT DRIVE OR WHEEL-ON TRAINER

Before going through the list, the first question you need to ask yourself: do you want a direct drive or wheel-on trainer?

I’ve talked about this topic in a little more detail in my Direct Drive vs Wheel-on post but here are some bullet points to consider:

  • Direct Drive trainers tend to be more accurate, faster response time, higher wattage, more resistance, and better road feel.
  • Direct Drive trainers don’t require calibration as often as wheel-on trainers.
  • Direct Drive trainers can be quieter. Tacx NEO and Elite Drivo are one of the quietest trainers I’ve used.
  • Direct Drive trainers don’t require a rear wheel so you don’t have to worry about tire wear and tear.
  • Wheel-on trainers can be prone to tire slippage.
  • Wheel-on trainers can be lighter and easier to move around.
  • Wheel-on trainers are usually cheaper.

With that out of the way, let’s go through each category.

ROAD FEEL

I am very finicky about road feel. All the trainers I am recommending below have a very good road feel. Some have bigger flywheels like the CycleOps Hammer but that doesn’t directly translate into better road feel than the KICKR for example which has a smaller flywheel.

The only trainer that expanded on road feel is the TACX NEO with their virtual flywheel and road feel simulation. Basically, the NEO can simulate cobblestone roads, dirt roads, wooden boards, and more with a compatible app like Zwift. Other than that, I think you will be happy with the road feel of any trainer you pick below.

POWER ACCURACY

Like I mentioned above, direct drive indoor trainers tend to be more accurate. If you have a power meter already, then that might not matter to you as much since you will most likely want to use that instead. Also, depending on which application you like to use for training, most of them now offer power match feature, which basically can make adjustments to the trainer resistance based on numbers from your power meter rather than the trainer itself.

If you don’t own a power meter, then accuracy might or might not matter to you depending on what you want to do with the trainer and your goals.

With indoor training, speed doesn’t matter. Don’t even bother looking at it and don’t mention your average indoor speed to other cyclists on your group rides. What matters when training indoors is your power. That’s the only repeatable metrics you will have and you want to be obsessed about.  Notice how I said repeatable? You want to be able to trust the trainer to repeat these numbers every ride so you can have a reliable metric to measure your training effect.

When purchasing a trainer, you will see some power accuracy claims by the manufacturer such as +/- 3% or something like that. As long as the trainer is off by 3% every ride, then you have good repeatable numbers. It might be +3% or -3% when compared to a power meter. But as long as it’s always off by 3% then you are good. You might not be happy when you decide to try a real power meter because you are suddenly seeing lower numbers or higher number, but that doesn’t really matter. What matters here is you have a good reliable measurement produced by your trainer that you can use to measure your training.

Calibration:

One of the best features of smart trainers is their ability to provide power numbers. To keep that number as accurate as possible, some trainers require calibration. This calibration process is especially important with wheel-on trainers and can take few seconds but requires you to warm up the trainer for about 10-minutes.  Some trainers don’t require calibration at all such as the NEO or Elite Drivo. Direct Drive trainers require calibration as well but not as often as there is no tire-to-rollers interface.

I’ve talked about the importance of power accuracy in my earlier post: Bike Trainer’s Power Accuracy: Does it Really Matter?

The following trainers are the most accurate trainers I’ve tested:

NOISE

Bike trainers are getting quieter thankfully. We all tend to train at some odd hours, and nothing can ruin your training more than waking up a sleeping baby or significant other. Vibration produced by trainers is definitely a quick way to make your neighbors hate you.

If a super quiet trainer is a must have then your options are: The Tacx NEO or Elite Drivo. The Tacx NEO barely make any noise. Your bike chain is much noisier than the trainer itself. The Drivo is also very quiet but not as quiet as the NEO.

Noise is really a difficult thing to measure. Where you place your trainer, the mat used, the room, walls, furniture, etc can affect the noise. Furniture and carpet tend to dampen the noise a bit so the more furniture you have in your workout room the better.

Based on my own experience, none of the trainers below is that loud. They are all good but some are quieter than others. None of these trainers woke up anyone in my house except the InsideRide rollers just to give you an idea.

ZWIFT EXPERIENCE

Zwift is quickly turning into a cult in the indoor cycling world. Some gave up riding outdoors in exchange to chasing Zwift rewards. Companies are starting to notice that and started to develop trainers with Zwift in mind. For example, the road-feel simulation with the Tacx NEO and now Wahoo’s Climb.

The maximum incline (slope or gradient) is another feature you want to pay attention to in order to experience some of the steep climbs on Zwift. Some climbs can reach up to 17% grade. The final climb up to the tower is mostly around 14% and can reach up to 17% for few seconds. So a trainer with a 14% slope should give you a very good and challenging experience.

All trainers below will give you good response time and overall good Zwift experience. I am also including the maximum incline in the table below for reference.

BEST VALUE FOR YOUR MONEY

In this category, I looked at what you get with each trainer. Accuracy, noise, and what’s included such as cassette, or 1-month free trial membership to Strava, Zwift, TrainerRoad or some other app. These are things that can have an effect on the price you pay for the trainer and some companies include more than others.

Also, some companies restrict their retail prices and prevent discounts more than other companies. Some trainers might have a better resale value than others. I scored each trainer below and ranked them based what you get for your money.

SMART ROLLERS

If you are the rollers type cyclist, or your bike manufacturer recommends against the conventional trainers, rollers might be a good option.

The only one that I would recommend in this category is the InsideRide E-Motion. InsideRide added Elite Qubo Digital B+ smart resistance unit to their e-motion rollers earlier this year. You can read all about it in my review here.

These rollers might not be the quietest option, but they are robust and easy to use. The Elite resistance unit works well but would be nice to see InsideRide come up with a more integrated solution.

The InsideRide cost around $1,200 with the smart resistance add-on, and you can purchase it directly from InsideRide.

Hopefully, you will find this guide helpful. If you have any questions about any of these trainers, please don’t hesitate to ask in the comments below.

If you want to look at all the trainers side by side, take a look at our comparison tool here.

You can also take our short quiz to help you decide which trainer is best for you:

Thanks for reading!

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