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Ride and race online, and train with with precision with a connected turbo

[This article was last updated on December 13, 2017]

Training at home is no longer a lonely winter slog as wireless-connected home trainers and apps let you race against riders all over the world.

Turbo trainers used to be a winter purchase. Sometime in September we’d resign ourselves to four or five months of rubbish weather, get out the credit card and shell out on a turbo trainer. Maintaining fitness through the winter then involved cold solo sessions in the garage, battling boredom as much as loss of form.

That’s all changed. Importers tell us they now sell more turbo trainers in the summer than the winter. Why? Because riders are competing against each other on line using smart trainers that either come with their own networks or work with third-party apps like Zwift, making intense training sessions at home more fun.

What’s a smart trainer?

A standard indoor trainer has a stand to support your bike at the rear wheel and a resistance unit driven by the rear tyre. In a smart trainer the resistance unit has built-in electronics that, at the very least, transmit your speed to an ANT+-capable device. Some smart trainers also include power meters so you can train by that metric too.

Fully smart trainers have the ability to be controlled remotely by software on a computer, phone or tablet. The app controls the resistance so you don't have to mess about with it, and the trainer also measures your power output so you can train to a precise target.

Some trainers are only what we'd describe as 'half smart'. They measure power, which is very useful, and can send that and other data wirelessly to your computer , phone or tablet, but  but their resistance can't be controlled by software.

For a fully smart, contrrollable trainer, the function to look for is ANT+ FE-C capability. ANT+ is Garmin's wireless communication protocol, as used for speed sensors, heart rate monitors and like that. FE-C stands for Fitness Equipment Control and the clue's in the name: it's a set of commands over ANT+ that, well, control fitness equipment such as turbo trainers. 

With a data stream from your trainer, you can hook up a laptop and tap into the trainer maker’s systems for less boring sessions, or to Zwift, which gives you the ability to ride with other people round the world.

>>Read more: How to get started on Zwift

You can use Zwift with just a regular trainer and ANT+ bike sensors, but more and more riders are choosing to go down the fully smart trainer route.

One very big advantage of fully smart trainers is ERG mode. Your software tells the trainer what resistance to provide and it does so, regardless of how fast you pedal. That means you don't have to think about what gear your bike's in, or concentrate on hitting a power target, you quite simply just pedal. It's kind of mindless, but meditative too, and it's an incredibly straightforward way to optimise your training.

A smart trainer also needs all the features that make a good regular trainer. That means a resistance unit that produces a realistic pedalling feel to better simulate riding on the road; a sturdy frame to support you and the bike, even under high-wattage efforts; and an easy-to-use claming mechanism.

It's also nice if the unit isn't too noisy, especially if, say, you live in a flat with downstairs neighbours or you don't want to be banished to the garage so the family can watch Eastenders.

Various accessories are available to make your trainer sessions more pleasant. A riser block for the front wheel will bring the bike level, while a trainer mat will keep sweat off your floor and help reduce the noise. A trainer-specific rear tyre is a good idea too, so you don't wear through your good tyre by pressing it against a little roller. 

An accessory that's particular useful with a smart trainer is a laptop or tablet stand for the handlebars so you can tap into the smart features or use apps.  

>>Read more: The best cycling turbo trainers — buyer's guide + 15 of the best trainers and rollers

12 of the best smart trainers

Bkool Smart Go — £299.99

Bkool Smart Pro 2 - bike mounted 4.jpg

Bkool Smart Pro 2 - bike mounted 4.jpg

The Bkool Smart Go is one of the cheapest proper smart trainers you can buy. And it puts in a very decent performance, provided that you're more interested in the online riding experience than super-accurate measurement of your power. As a way into the full experience of Zwift, it's pretty easy to recommend.

Read our review of the Bkool Smart Go
Find a BKool dealer

Elite Direto — £749.99

Elite Direto Interactive Power Meter Trainer - with bike.jpg

Elite Direto Interactive Power Meter Trainer - with bike.jpg

 

The Elite Direto is really impressive. It offers a smooth and realistic road feel, massive stability for your hardest interval sprints, easy compatibility with a host of training apps, and works with disc brake bikes. It's a good pick if you want to make a serious investment into indoor training this winter but can't stomach the £1,000+ price tags associated with the likes of the Elite Drivo, Wahoo Kickr and Tacx Neo.

Read our review of the Elite Direto
Find an Elite dealer

Tacx Satori Smart — £184.99 (+ €65 for Windows software)

Tacx Satori Smart

Tacx Satori Smart

One of the least expensive ways of getting into smart trainers, the Satori Smart works with iOS, Android and Windows. Its associated app is free to download for iOS and Android, with in-app fees for workouts, and €65 for the basic version for Windows.

You change the Satori Smart’s resistance with a 10-position controller on your handlebar that’s connected by a cable. That means apps like Zwift can’t control the resistance, but the Satori still works with it because it can communicate with your laptop or tablet using ANT+ or Bluetooth.

Tacx’ own app the app provides readouts of power, speed, cadence, heart rate (from a compatible heart rate monitor), energy output, ‘slope’ and so on. The initial calibration process for every training session is somewhat brutal, requiring a hefty power output from a cold start.

The app lets you create your own workout from this point, but pre-set workouts are also available as in-app purchases from the relevant app store, along with video play-throughs of a range of iconic routes. These scenic videos play in sync with your pedalling, creating a useful distraction to go along with the various statistics provided.

Read our review of the Tacx Satori Smart
Find a Tacx dealer

Kinetic Road Machine 2.0 Smart — £274.99

Kurt Kinetic Road Machine Smart.jpg

Kurt Kinetic Road Machine Smart.jpg

You can’t remotely control the resistance of this unit, but it provides power measurement, so you can use it with Zwift. It’s a sturdy unit that’s quiet and stable even under flat-out efforts, and has a very realistic pedalling feel.

The Road Machine uses Bluetooth to communicate with your iOS or Android device, so should work with a Bluetooth-capable laptop for Zwift purposes.

For general training purposes Kinetic provides its own phone and tablet app which includes a number of workouts, and has a straightforward interface. During a workout the display on the app shows a bold line across the screen which is your target power output, and a large dot that indicates your real time power output. Hold this dot on the line to follow the workout. Following the power encouraged smooth pedalling to create a level reading, which will clearly be an advantage when you're back on the road.

In autumn of 2016 Kinetic will release the Road Machine Smart Control with resistance that can be controlled wirelessly for the full virtual ride experience with Zwift and TrainerRoad.

Read our review of the Kinetic Road Machine 2.0 Smart
Find a Kinetic dealer

Bkool Smart Pro — £379.39

Bkool Pro Turbo Trainer and Simulator.jpg

Bkool Pro Turbo Trainer and Simulator.jpg

One of the less expensive fully smart trainers, this is a well-made unit with resistance controlled from the software on your laptop or tablet, matching that of the virtual climb you are tackling. It’s a really solid option for a pretty reasonable price.

Its software runs on PC, Mac or a tablet (Android or iOS). You create a ride via the website, then fire up the software and do your workout. If you skip the website bit then you can pick a workout from a selection of 20 rides that other users have scheduled, play a velodrome game or re-ride something you'd previously recorded for real on Strava (you can pair the two things up).

With a paid subscription to the website you've got a wide selection of first-person video rides to choose from. The harder you pedal, the faster the footage plays, and the resistance varies with the gradient of the hill.

This gives an immersive experience that some riders prefer to the computer-games feel of Zwift. It looks best if you've got a nice big telly set up in front of you, and you’ll need a decent internet connection.

There is also some ability to ride agaonst others. If another user jumps on your ride once you've scheduled it then you can try to beat them, but for obvious reasons they don't appear on the road in front of you like they would on Zwift – it is just a video recording, after all. Your progress, and that of your rivals, is shown via indicators that travel across the bottom of the screen in a video session, or with other 3D cyclists in a 3D session.

In addition to other users, you can also compete with "bots" and "ghosts", respectively computer-generated opponents with varying characteristics, and other real riders who've done that route in the past.

Read our review of the Bkool Smart Pro
Find a Bkool dealer

Wahoo Kickr Snap Smart — £500

Wahoo Kickr Snap Smart Bike Trainer.jpg

Wahoo Kickr Snap Smart Bike Trainer.jpg

This reassuringly solid unit has a very realistic ride feel. Wahoo relies on a range of third-party apps for functions beyond recording sessions, and because its devices have an open interface there are plenty of compatible apps, including Zwift.

We found the Kickr Snap’s power measurement under-read compared to a PowerTap and this needed Wahoo’s iPhone/iPad app to fix it, which is a bit annoying if you only have Android devices. Even corrected, it still under-read around 5%, which won’t be an issue if you do all your power sessions on the Kickr Snap, but is irritating if you want to compare against a bike-mounted meter.

This can be worked around, and other riders report very close correlation with their power meters.

It’s an easy job to pair the Kickr Snap with Zwift and TrainerRoad via a Garmin ANT+ dongle: you just plug in the dongle, start the apps and the Kickr is available to use.

Find a Wahoo dealer
Read our review of the Wahoo Kickr Snap Smart

Tacx Flux — £619.95

Tacx Flux -1.jpg

Tacx Flux -1.jpg

The Tacx Flux Smart is currently the closest thing there is to an inexpensive fully smart direct drive indoor trainer. It's a doddle to set up and get started, measures your power to a useful level of accuracy and consistency, and works with popular virtual riding applications such as Zwift to make indoor training less dull. It's not cheap, but it's good value compared to its competition.

It's also fairly quiet, so the family can watch TV in the next room and you won't annoy your downstairs neighbours if you live in a flat. But most importantly, it's so straightforward to use that it actually makes indoor training – dare I say it? – fun.

Read our review of the Tacx Flux
Find a Tacx dealer

Elite RealAxiom ANT+ Trainer — £500

Elite Real Axiom Trainer

Elite Real Axiom Trainer

At full price (over £1,000) this now-discontinued indoor trainer was an expensive proposition, but at this price it's well worth considering. If you plan to do a lot of indoor training and want all the bells and whistles, it's a serious investment. The resistance unit itself is mains-powered, and Elite claim it can replicate gradients of up to 10%. It's controllable by ANT+, and the Real Axiom comes with an ANT+ USB stick to connect to your PC. With it hooked up to a computer, you can benefit from the big library of RealDVD courses, which will allow you to slog up Alpe d'Huez or your favourite climb.

Read our review of the Elite RealAxiom ANT+ Trainer

Find an Elite dealer

CycleOps Hammer — £898.99

CycleOps Hammer Direct Drive SMART Trainer.jpg

CycleOps Hammer Direct Drive SMART Trainer.jpg

If you're planning to buy a fully-featured indoor trainer to use with Zwift and similar apps, then the excellent CycleOps Hammer should be on your shortlist. It has a smooth, realistic pedalling feel, accurate power measurement, high maximum resistance, and an air of reassuring solidity. It even folds away for more compact storage.

It's also quiet, and a doddle to set up, but it's a very long way from cheap. Whether it's good value will depend on how seriously you take your indoor training.

Read our review of the CycleOps Hammer
Find a CycleOps dealer

Elite Drivo — £989.99

Elite Drivo -1.jpg

Elite Drivo -1.jpg

The Elite Drivo is a top-drawer, powered, indoor trainer with Bluetooth Smart and ANT+ connectivity that's a cinch to hook up and get riding. The Drivo is aimed squarely at the cyclist with plenty of money burning a hole in her jersey pocket and for those with the means I can't imagine a much better training tool. It's a shame that the bottom-drawer aesthetic and some needless niggles let it down, because it's otherwise close to perfect.

Read our review of the Elite Drivo
Find an Elite dealer

Wahoo Kickr trainer — £899

wahoo kickr.jpg

wahoo kickr.jpg

Wahoo's Kickr power trainer offers a very smooth and realistic road feel, is simple to use and is compatible with an increasing number of apps that give you access to a huge virtual training world. But at £899 it's an investment of serious proportions.

Read our review of the 2017 Wahoo Kickr
Fund a Wahoo dealer

Wattbike Pro/Trainer — £1,875

Wattbike Side LO

Wattbike Side LO

Famously designed with input from Sir Chris Hoy, the Wattbike is a staggeringly good bit of kit but its price limits it to those most seriously interested in home trainer. If you're interested in the Wattbike you'll want to know that it's one of the most advanced home trainers currently available. Smooth resistance with stacks of adjustment from the huge fan up front, and it spits out more data than you'll know what to do with. It can be plugged into your computer to thoroughly analyse each session.

Read our review of the Wattbike

Read about our Wattbike experiences

Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.

Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.

Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.

The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

18 comments

Avatar
surly_by_name [551 posts] 6 months ago
1 like

That's a retro picture. I used to have a pair of Carnac's like that (Quartz), although mine were in the blue and gold rather than black and gold. Top quality materials, comfortable and lasted for ever but not especially light or cheap, from recollection. Worn by Hincapie and Stuart O'Grady among others. And an old campag crankset, with square taper BB.

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Rapha Nadal [713 posts] 6 months ago
0 likes

Yeah, I always lusted after those shoes when I was younger.

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fukawitribe [2087 posts] 6 months ago
0 likes

Dear Lord... how old is this Franken-article ?

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ChrisB200SX [589 posts] 1 month ago
0 likes

I think the Elite Direto is the outgoing model and can be found online for fair bit less than £600. Looks like great value.

Avatar
CXR94Di2 [1904 posts] 1 month ago
0 likes

My definition of a smart trainer, ant+/Bluetooth has variable resistance and have a proper built in power meter. It must work on all platforms but mainly Zwift, Trainer Road.

Most of the list are dumb trainers with only 3 or so with built in power meters, even the expensive watt bike pro, you have to alter the resistance manually

Avatar
Butty [225 posts] 1 month ago
0 likes

Snapped up a Drivo for £824 last week. Works OK with an Elemnt which suprised me.

It creeps across a smooth floor when sprinting, so needs to be on a mat or carpet.

Software supplied reminds me of flaky homemade programs from the 1980's and doesn't have "lifetime" subscription as advertised, which Elite are now backpedalling  3 on

Avatar
Rich_cb [530 posts] 1 month ago
0 likes
Butty wrote:

Snapped up a Drivo for £824 last week. Works OK with an Elemnt which suprised me.

It creeps across a smooth floor when sprinting, so needs to be on a mat or carpet.

Software supplied reminds me of flaky homemade programs from the 1980's and doesn't have "lifetime" subscription as advertised, which Elite are now backpedalling  3 on

Where did you buy it from if you don't mind me asking?

I was planning on buying a Direto after Christmas, what made you go for the Drivo?

Avatar
Butty [225 posts] 1 month ago
1 like
Rich_cb wrote:

Where did you buy it from if you don't mind me asking? I was planning on buying a Direto after Christmas, what made you go for the Drivo?[/quote]

Hi Rich, it was https://www.athleteshop.co.uk/search/?q=drivo

Delivery was 1 week late which got me worried, but after giving them some grief it turned up last week.

I went for the Drivo as it was just in my price range (under £900) when all other top range ones are above this.

Comparison of the Direto and Drivo is here

 http://www.elite-it.com/sites/default/files/download/attachments/drivo_v...

BTW the Direto is going for £584 at the same shop

Avatar
ibr17xvii [260 posts] 1 month ago
0 likes
Butty wrote:
Rich_cb wrote:

Where did you buy it from if you don't mind me asking? I was planning on buying a Direto after Christmas, what made you go for the Drivo?

Hi Rich, it was https://www.athleteshop.co.uk/search/?q=drivo

Delivery was 1 week late which got me worried, but after giving them some grief it turned up last week.

I went for the Drivo as it was just in my price range (under £900) when all other top range ones are above this.

Comparison of the Direto and Drivo is here

 http://www.elite-it.com/sites/default/files/download/attachments/drivo_v...

BTW the Direto is going for £584 at the same shop

[/quote]

There was a big thread a while ago about Athlete Shop not being able to fulfill orders so although their prices are always keen I'd be slightly wary of them.

No direct experience of them myself, glad it all went OK for you though Butty.

Avatar
Rich_cb [530 posts] 1 month ago
0 likes
Butty wrote:

Hi Rich, it was https://www.athleteshop.co.uk/search/?q=drivo

Delivery was 1 week late which got me worried, but after giving them some grief it turned up last week.

I went for the Drivo as it was just in my price range (under £900) when all other top range ones are above this.

Comparison of the Direto and Drivo is here

 http://www.elite-it.com/sites/default/files/download/attachments/drivo_v...

BTW the Direto is going for £584 at the same shop

Thanks for the info, I was a bit wary of athleteshop so good to hear some feedback, their Direto price looks better than anything else I've seen so looks like they'll be getting my order!

Avatar
Butty [225 posts] 1 month ago
0 likes

I can't say that dealing with them inspried me with confidence, but being on their case seemed to spur them into action.

I'd be wary of expecting a pre-Christmas delivery, depsite what their stock level says.

 

Avatar
BrianMcMahon [20 posts] 1 month ago
2 likes

Picked up a Direto in the tredz sale recently, fantastic bit of kit but the wife still complained it was too noisy.  Had to get shot of it.......next is the wife

Will need to take a look at in the new year and see if i can find a quieter one (the trainer that is)

Avatar
Rich_cb [530 posts] 1 month ago
0 likes
BrianMcMahon wrote:

Picked up a Direto in the tredz sale recently, fantastic bit of kit but the wife still complained it was too noisy.  Had to get shot of it.......next is the wife

Will need to take a look at in the new year and see if i can find a quieter one (the trainer that is)

Sean Kelly would be very disappointed by this.

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CXR94Di2 [1904 posts] 1 month ago
0 likes

Tacx Neo is the quietest

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ibr17xvii [260 posts] 1 month ago
0 likes
BrianMcMahon wrote:

Picked up a Direto in the tredz sale recently, fantastic bit of kit but the wife still complained it was too noisy.  Had to get shot of it.......next is the wife

Will need to take a look at in the new year and see if i can find a quieter one (the trainer that is)

If you can get a Flux that works it is very quiet.

My 1st unit went pear shaped pretty much out of the box but got a replacement straight away & that's been fine (touch wood). Wiggle's customer service was absolutely 2nd to none in that respect which was why I bought from them in the 1st place.

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pedalpowerDC [371 posts] 1 month ago
0 likes

The Direto is brand new for 2017. It's definitely not outgoing.  Other than lacking a motor to drive the flywheel (to simulate downhills) and the 1% accuracy of the Drivo, the Direto is amazing! That's what my wife got for early Christmas and she loves it.

 

ChrisB200SX wrote:

I think the Elite Direto is the outgoing model and can be found online for fair bit less than £600. Looks like great value.

Avatar
CliveDS [49 posts] 1 month ago
0 likes
surly_by_name wrote:

That's a retro picture. I used to have a pair of Carnac's like that (Quartz), although mine were in the blue and gold rather than black and gold. Top quality materials, comfortable and lasted for ever but not especially light or cheap, from recollection. Worn by Hincapie and Stuart O'Grady among others. And an old campag crankset, with square taper BB.

 

Carnac had some of the best ad's in the back of Winning mag. Can't forget that. 

Avatar
Butty [225 posts] 3 weeks ago
0 likes

forgot to mention - Athleteshop sent the Drivo with a continental plug on the power adapter.

Tell them that you want a UK spec power supply, or have a kettle lead on hand for delivery day.