Featured Trainer Reviews

Our Top Smart Indoor Bike Trainer Picks For 2017 Season

This is my second edition of the top indoor smart bike trainers. Many of trainers were released late last year and I didn’t have a chance to test all of them. This year, Wahoo released the Snap 2, and updated the KICKR and announced the Climb. Elite introduced the Direto at a very competitive price point. Some new trainers are entering the market and you can read more about them in my Interbike roundup post.

In this edition, I will go through all direct-drive trainers and wheel-on smart trainers.

All the trainers I am recommending here are Smart Bluetooth (BT) compatible and ANT+ FE-C, which means they have open communication with most third-party apps, your Garmin devices such as Edge 520, Edge 820 or Forerunner 920xt, Fenix, Wahoo Element, or any other device that is ANT+/BT compatible.

DIRECT DRIVE OR WHEEL-ON TRAINER

Aside from budget, one thing you need to consider is the type of trainer you want. A direct drive requires you to remove the rear wheel and affix your bike directly onto the trainer. The wheel-on trainer, doesn’t require you to remove the rear wheel but you might need to get a specific trainer tire which you can get for about $30-$40.  Also, direct drive trainers tend to be more accurate and not as loud as wheel-on trainers.

TOP DIRECT DRIVE TRAINERS:

#1) Tacx NEO Smart Trainer [ Full Review | Buy From Amazon

The Tacx NEO smart trainer was our top pick last year. After riding it for hundreds of hours and putting it through many Zwift sessions and hard interval sessions, it is still our top pick.

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Why We Like The Tacx NEO

  • Accuracy: Tacx NEO consistently produces accurate power and requires no calibration. Just ride your bike and go.
  • Noise Level: The NEO is very quiet. No other trainer match the noise level or lack of noise of the Tacx  NEO
  • Compatibility: The NEO is compatible with Shimano, SRAM, and Campagnolo
  • Road Surface Simulation: The NEO will simulate different road surface with compatible applications such as Zwift. You will feel cobblestone, boards, dirt road, etc.
  • Descent Simulation: The Tacx NEO will simulate descents up to -5% grade.
  • Road Feel: Road feel is as realistic as you will get from a direct drive trainer. The trainer also has a little rocking motion so your bike isn’t stiff on the trainer.
  • Metrics: The Tacx NEO provides power, speed, and cadence.
  • No Power Required: The Tacx NEO will run without connecting to a power outlet and will still transmit power,  speed, cadence numbers via ANT+ or Bluetooth.
  • Great for Zwift: With the NEO’s road feel, descent simulation, accuracy, and responsiveness, the Tacx NEO will immerse you in Zwift’s virtual world better than any other trainer.

#2) Wahoo KICKR 2 [ Full Review | Buy From Wahoo ]

You can’t go wrong with the Wahoo KICKR. It is priced at $1,199 and comes with an 11-speed cassette installed out of the box. The new KICKR is much quieter than the original KICKR and more accurate.

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Why We Like The New KICKR

  • Compatibility: The KICKR is compatible with Shimano, SRAM, and Campagnolo but with an additional adapter which you can purchase directly from their site.
  • App Compatibility: The KICKR has been around for a very long time and was the original smart trainer. Most indoor training apps if not all of them support the KICKR.
  • Support & Reliability: You can easily find support for the KICKR, online or by directly contacting Wahoo Fitness.  Just doing a simple online search and you are most likely to stumble upon the answer to your question.
  • Road Feel: With the KICKR’s 13LBS/6KGS flywheel, you will be very happy with the road feel.

#3) CycleOps Hammer [ Full Review | Buy From Amazon ]

This was a hard one. I wanted to place the Hammer second on the list, but it’s still fairly new and I just couldn’t place it before the KICKR… yet. However, I truly enjoyed using the Hammer and loved everything about it.

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The Hammer is priced at $1,199 but doesn’t come with a cassette or skewer. You might be able to get a 10-20% off the Hammer if you keep your eyes open for good deals. Our price tracker is a good place to start.

Why We Like The CycleOps Hammer

  • Compatibility: The Hammer is compatible with Shimano, SRAM, and Campagnolo.
  • Accuracy: The Hammer tested very well during our rides and was within 1-2% from our pedal-based power meter.
  • Road Feel: The Hammer comes with a massive 20lbs flywheel, one of the heaviest flywheels of any direct drive trainer and can replicate real-world inertia better than anyone.
  • U.S. Made: The CycleOps Hammer is designed and made here in the U.S.

#4 ) ELITE DIRETO (Full Review | Buy from Amazon)

The Elite Direto is new in this market but we absolutely love it. And for $899 and +/-2.5% accuracy – it’s a bargain. The trainer is also very quiet and Bluetooth FTMS compatible.

Why We Love The Elite Direto

  • Price: at $899, this is by far the best direct drive trainer you can get.
  • Accuracy: With an integrated Optical Torque Sensor, this trainer is accurate. Elite says it’s +/-2.5% accuracy but it tested even better than that.
  • Noise: The Direto is very quiet. Only Elite Drivo and Tacx NEO are quieter than the Direto.
  • Bike Compatibility: It fits MTB frames, with 130-135 x 5mm hubs and quick release and 142×12 with thru-axle.
  • Sprocket cassette compatibility: Shimano 9/10/11 speed, SRAM & Campagnolo 9/10/11 speed with an adapter.

WHEEL-ON SMART TRAINERS

The following trainers are wheel-on type trainers. These indoor trainers tend to be cheaper than direct drive trainer but offer less maximum wattage and not the same real road feel the direct drive trainers offer. However, overall, they offer many of the same functionality and all these trainers can communicate via Smart Bluetooth and ANT+ FE-C. With these wheel-on trainers, you leave your rear wheel on which some prefer to do and not have to deal with taking the rear wheel off.

#1) Wahoo KICKR Snap [Full ReviewBuy From Wahoo ]

The KICKR Snap remains to dominate the wheel-on smart trainer market with its compatibility, true road feel, and noise level and solid frame. The KICKR Snap is priced at $600 and comes with a wheel block and a quick release.

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Why We Like The KICKR Snap

  • Compatibility: The Snap is compatible with 650c, 700c, 26″, 27.5″, 29″ wheel size and works with 130mm and 135mm hub types.
  • App Compatibility: Similar to its big brother, the KICKR, the KICKR Snap is compatible with most training apps and can connect via ANT+ FEC or Smart Bluetooth.
  • Road Feel: The KICKR Snap comes with a heavy 10.5 lbs flywheel and will give you real world inertia better than any other wheel-on trainer.
  • Support & Reliability: You can easily find support for the KICKR Snap, online or by directly contacting Wahoo Fitness. Just doing a simple online search and you are most likely to stumble upon the answer to your question.
  • Noise Level: The Snap is quiet and you will have no problem getting in your workout without waking up the family.

#2) CycleOps Magnus [ Full Review | Buy From Amazon ]

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The CycleOps Magnus was released late last year and is just as good as any other wheel-on design smart trainer we have tested, if not even better. The Magnus is priced around $599 but you might be able to find it at a much lower price.

Why We Like The CycleOps Magnus

  • Power Accuracy: For a wheel-on design trainer, the CycleOps consistently came within 3%-5%. Also, its clutch knob will give you a perfect roller to tire tension to make sure you get a consistent and reliable ride every single time.
  • Compatibility: The trainer was designed to fit common road and mountain bike frames with included steel quick release skewer and has three settings for rear dropout spacing: 120mm, 130mm and 135mm. Optional thru-axle adapter available for 142x12mm and 148x12mm. The 2″ resistance unit roller allows for 650b, 700c, 26″, 27″, and 29″ and up to a 2.0 tire.
  • Road  Feel: Real road feel was actually very good and just as good as any other wheel-on design trainers.

WHERE TO BUY

4 Comments

  • Are they going to update the Tacx Neo anytime soon? It seems like it is two years old at this point. I realize they put out a smart bike, but I’m worried about them updating the direct drive trainer right after I buy it this month…any thoughts on this?

    • I am not aware of an updated NEO anytime soon. They have been updating the firmware in the current NEO to add more functionality which you can do via their app but other than the Smart Bike, I am not aware of an updated NEO.

  • Having owned a Magnus for several months, and being a current owner of a KICKR SNAP and also a Hammer, I don’t disagree with your list, per se, but I do disagree with your statement regarding the feel of the Magnus. For 90% of riding, the Magnus feels great, as you say, and just as good as the KICKR SNAP, but once the gradient exceeds 10% (for example on the Watopia Radio Tower climb), if you are a spinner and run shorter gearing on your bike (I am running a 36T small chainring and a 28T large cog on the cassette), the experience breaks down on the Magnus because the flywheel is not massive enough to maintain proper simulated momentum. The KICKR SNAP, on the other hand, is able to handle that kind of rider torque with absolute aplomb, and it rode just as smoothly and realistically as my old Kurt Kinetic Road Machine with Pro Flywheel upgrade. I discovered this issue with the Magnus after I sold it to buy a KICKR SNAP (I plan to buy the KICKR CLIMB when it comes out next month, and the CLIMB only works with 2017/V3 KICKR, and 2017/V2 KICKR SNAP). I’m not even a particularly heavy or strong rider, so I can’t imagine how it must feel for stronger and bigger riders!

    The Hammer obviously handles these types of situations perfectly fine as well. It is an amazing machine, and sometimes I am envious that my wife rides that instead instead of me, but I’m sure the envy will fade away once I have the CLIMB. 🙂

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