The products mentioned in this article are selected or reviewed independently by our journalists. When you buy through links on our site we may earn an affiliate commission, but this never influences our opinion.

Best smart trainers 2021: top-rated turbo trainers

Popular units tested on Zwift

Man riding a smart trainer

Indoor cycling used to have a fearsome reputation for being excruciatingly boring. The idea of spending time on a turbo trainer, self-flagellating to heavy music while you stared numbingly at a wall, all in pursuit of some intangible fitness gains, seemed like a kind of madness.

Advertisement

However, thanks to the advent of smart turbo trainers and third-party interactive apps, realising the benefits of indoor cycling has never been easier or, crucially, more fun.

If you’re looking to invest in an indoor training setup, then you’re in the right place. We’ve put the latest smart trainers through their paces to find out what’s really worth spending your money on.

What is a smart trainer?

Smart trainers are interactive turbo trainers that connect with indoor cycling apps such as Zwift, TrainerRoad, Wahoo SYSTM and RGT Cycling, to control the trainer’s resistance and replicate hills, headwinds and drafting effects inside virtual worlds.

These apps can also guide you through power-based interval workouts, with the resistance automatically adjusting to keep you in the required training zones (this is known as ERG mode).

Today’s smart turbo trainers work by communicating with third-party apps on smartphones, tablets and computers using wireless ANT+ frequencies or Bluetooth.

It sounds complicated, but most of these trainers and apps will automatically search for and connect to each other with the click of a button, so in practice, it’s usually very simple.

Wheel-on or direct drive?

There are two main types of smart trainer: wheel-on and direct drive.

Wheel-on smart trainers

Wheel-on smart trainers function like classic, ‘dumb’ turbo trainers – you clamp the rear axle into a support while your rear wheel rests on a roller drum. This drum is connected to a resistance unit that communicates with your chosen hardware and app to control the resistance you feel through the wheel.

These are typically the cheapest and lightest types of smart trainers, but they can cause wear on your tyres (though specific trainer tyres are available to mitigate this issue), their power measurement is generally less accurate and the ride feel often isn’t as good as direct-drive trainers.

This is most often the noisiest type of indoor trainer, too.

Direct drive trainers

Direct drive trainers require you to remove the rear wheel and connect your bike to the trainer via a standard cassette. These are heavier and more expensive than wheel-on trainers, but prices are getting more competitive and they have a number of advantages.

Outside of the obvious one – a lack of wear on your lovely rear tyre – they also tend to be quieter and offer a more realistic, road-like ride feel. They are also usually much more feature-rich and accurate – in terms of power measurement – than wheel-on trainers.

Of course, price is always going to be a major consideration. So we’ve tested a range of options to suit as many budgets as possible, but there’s no denying these trainers aren’t cheap.

However, compared to a road bike groupset upgrade, or even a new winter road bike, they can offer good value if you want to be able to consistently and enjoyably train indoors.

Let’s move on to our pick of the best smart trainers out there right now. For more information on how to choose the right indoor trainer for your needs, read our full buyer’s guide at the end of the article.

Best smart trainers in 2021, as rated by our expert testers

  • Elite Suito: £649.99/ $799 / €669 / AU$999
  • Saris H3: £749.99 / $1,099.99
  • Tacx Neo 2T: £1,199.99 / $1,399.99 / AU$1,899.99
  • Wahoo Kickr: £999.99 / $1,199.99 / €1,199.99 / AU$1,699.99
  • Wahoo Kickr Core: £699.99 / $899.99 / €799.99 / AU$1,199.99
  • Elite Direto XR: £824.99 / $949.99 / €849.99
  • Elite Zumo: £449
  • Saris M2: £430 / $500
  • Tacx Flow Smart: £269.99
  • Tacx Flux S: £550 / $749 / €599 / AU$1,000

Elite Suito

4.5 out of 5 star rating
Best smart trainers
Elite’s Suito is a simple and user-friendly smart trainer.
Simon Bromley / Immediate Media
  • Type: Direct drive
  • Maximum power: 1,900 watts
  • Maximum simulated gradient: 15%
  • Weight: 14.5kg
  • Flywheel: 3.5kg
  • Cassette included: Yes
  • Noise: 73dB
  • Price: £649.99 / $799 / €669 / AU$999 as tested

The Suito sits between the top-end Direto XR and budget Zumo in Elite’s range of direct drive smart trainers.

It comes ready to use straight out of the box, so there’s minimal fuss involved in setting it up and getting riding. It’s a great plug-and-play solution.

It comes with an 11-speed Shimano 105 cassette installed, and there are adaptors for 142mm thru-axles and a front wheel riser block included in the box, all of which is especially noteworthy at this price point.

Ride quality is very good, especially considering it doesn’t have the largest flywheel out there, and we were impressed by its stability when really cranking things up.

It can simulate gradients of up to 15 per cent and has a maximum power of 1,900 watts, so the very strongest riders might find this unit a little under-specced, but for most people, this will be more than they’ll ever need.

Saris H3

4.5 out of 5 star rating
Best smart trainers
The Saris H3 tops the brand’s range.
Simon Bromley / Immediate Media
  • Type: Direct drive
  • Maximum power: 2,000 watts
  • Maximum simulated gradient: 20%
  • Weight: 21.3kg
  • Flywheel: 9kg
  • Cassette included: No
  • Noise: 61dB
  • Price: £749.99 / $1,099.99 as tested

The H3 sits at the top of Saris’s smart trainer range and builds on the popular H2. Reducing the noise levels was one of Saris’s top priorities and it’s certainly achieved good things with the H3 – at just 61dB at 20mph (measured on an iPhone app), it’s very quiet indeed.

Ride feel is good, with the stout 9kg flywheel contributing to a very realistic experience. At 21.3kg, it’s also a very solid platform, and while this does make it quite hard to move around, Saris has at least included a handle in the design, which makes things considerably easier.

The H3 is capable of 2,000 watts of power and 20 per cent gradients. Power figures were within the claimed +/- 2 per cent accuracy, which should be more than enough for most riders. At £749.99, it’s also competitively priced, so there’s a lot to like.

Tacx Neo 2T

4.5 out of 5 star rating
Best smart trainers
Tacx’s Neo 2T smart trainer is its top-of-the-range model.
Simon Bromley / Immediate Media
  • Type: Direct drive
  • Maximum power: 2,200 watts
  • Maximum simulated gradient: 25%
  • Weight: 21.5kg
  • Flywheel weight: Virtual
  • Cassette included: No
  • Noise: 61dB
  • Price: £1,199.99 / $1,399.99 / AU$1,899.99 as tested

The Neo 2T is Tacx’s top-of-the-range smart trainer, and it’s priced accordingly. It looks like a spaceship and its spec and performance are among the best out there.

The Neo 2T uses an arrangement of magnets to create a virtual flywheel, and this offers fantastic ride feel, along with the ability to change the level of inertia depending on the virtual terrain. Tacx also claims the Neo 2T power measurement is accurate to +/- 1 per cent, which is up there with the best.

At this price, it’s a little disappointing that a cassette isn’t included and, at 21.5kg with no carry handle, it’s not the easiest thing to move about. Overall, however, the Neo 2T is about as good as it gets in terms of performance.

When you consider that it can be used without a power source (making it useful for pre-race warm-ups) and that it’s also one of the quietest trainers available, you have a very compelling package. The only real problem is whether or not you can afford it.

Wahoo Kickr (2020)

4.5 out of 5 star rating
Best smart trainers
The ride feel of the Wahoo Kickr smart trainer 2020 is fantastic.
Simon Bromley / Immediate Media
  • Type: Direct drive
  • Maximum power: 2,200 watts
  • Maximum simulated gradient: 20%
  • Weight: 21.5kg
  • Flywheel: 7.25kg
  • Cassette included: Yes
  • Noise: 61dB
  • Price: £999.99 / $1,199.99 / €1,199.99 / AU$1,699.99 as tested

The Kickr is Wahoo’s top-of-the-range model. It offers a fantastic ride feel, thanks to its relatively large 7.25kg flywheel, and it’s also wonderfully quiet.

Setting the unit up is very easy, with Wahoo including a cassette and a generously sized power cable, so you shouldn’t need an extension lead. Once the bike’s installed, it offers a very solid platform for sprints up to 2,200 watts and gradients up to 20 per cent – these aren’t the highest maximums, but they should be plenty for the vast majority of riders.

Power accuracy has increased over the 2019 Wahoo Kickr, up from +/- 2 per cent for the previous model to +/- 1 per cent, and the trainer is now able to automatically calibrate itself without a traditional spin down.

Wahoo also amended the trainer’s supporting feet over the previous design too, to allow for five degrees of lateral tilt and help give a more realistic ride feel.

The Kickr doesn’t have any absurd headline features or specs, and it doesn’t come cheap, but it does everything you need brilliantly and without fuss. Our tester called it “the gold standard of smart trainers”.

Wahoo Kickr Core

4.5 out of 5 star rating
Best smart trainers
The Wahoo Kickr Core is a value-packed smart trainer that’s stable and easy to use.
Simon Bromley / Immediate Media
  • Type: Direct drive
  • Maximum power: 1,800 watts
  • Maximum simulated gradient: 16%
  • Weight: 18kg
  • Flywheel: 5.4kg
  • Cassette included: No
  • Noise: 70dB
  • Price: £699.99 / $899.99 / €799.99 / AU$1,199.99 as tested

Though it sits in the middle of Wahoo’s Kickr range, the Kickr Core is its cheapest direct-drive trainer. The budget Kickr Snap is a wheel-on trainer.

Claimed power accuracy is +/- 2 per cent and our tester was very impressed by its ride feel, despite having a smaller flywheel than the more expensive Kickr.

Setup is also easy, with the unit’s legs simply needing to be bolted on. There’s no cassette included though, so you’ll have to remember to factor that in.

You also can’t easily fold the legs away for storage – something to consider if you’re not able to leave your indoor trainer setup at home.

If you’re happy with the maximum power and gradient figures of 1,800 watts and 16 per cent, then the Kickr Core is a great option at a competitive price.

Elite Direto XR

4.0 out of 5 star rating
Best smart trainers
The Elite Direto XR is quiet and reliable.
Simon Bromley / Immediate Media
  • Type: Direct drive
  • Maximum power: 2,300 watts
  • Maximum simulated gradient: 24%
  • Weight: 15.8kg
  • Flywheel: 5.1kg
  • Cassette included: Yes
  • Price: £824.99 / $949.99 / €849.99 / AU$TBC as tested

Priced between the cheaper Suito and top-of-the-range Drivo II, the Direto XR is an update to Elite’s Direto X direct-drive smart trainer, getting a heavier flywheel (5.1kg), an increase to the maximum simulated gradient (24%) and a higher maximum power (2,300 watts).

The trainer comes with absolutely everything you need out of the box, including an 11-speed cassette. We wish the legs had a quick-release mechanism for folding them away, but the unit’s (relatively) light 15.8kg weight makes it less of a chore to move around than others.

In testing, we found the trainer to be pleasingly quiet, with excellent ride quality and accurate power numbers to boot.

Elite Zumo

4.0 out of 5 star rating
Elite Zumo
The Elite Zumo is one of the cheapest direct-drive smart trainers available.
Simon Bromley / Immediate Media
  • Type: Direct drive
  • Maximum power: 1,350 watts
  • Maximum simulated gradient: 12%
  • Weight: 13.08kg
  • Flywheel: 4.2kg
  • Cassette included: No
  • Noise: 69dB
  • Price: £449 as tested

With an RRP of just £449, the Elite Zumo is one of the cheapest direct-drive smart trainers available.

It does an impressive job of replicating the premium user experience you get with pricier direct-drive trainers, and marks a genuine step up from wheel-on options, as long as you don’t mind the relatively low maximum resistance figures.

Serious esports racers may want to use an on-bike power meter to drive their avatar, though, as the Zumo’s internal power meter consistently read a few per cent lower than expected.

For general indoor riding though, the Elite Zumo is a great-value package.

Saris M2

4.0 out of 5 star rating
Best smart trainers
Saris’s M2 smart turbo trainer is a good-value option.
Simon Bromley / Immediate Media
  • Type: Wheel-on
  • Maximum power: 1,500 watts
  • Maximum simulated gradient: 15%
  • Weight: 9kg
  • Flywheel: 1.2kg
  • Cassette included: Not needed
  • Noise: 75dB
  • Price: £430 / $500 as tested

The Saris M2 is a relatively affordable, wheel-on smart turbo trainer. Using a classic A-frame design, it weighs only 9kg, making it easy to move around, and it folds up neatly for convenient storage.

For a wheel-on trainer, the Saris M2 is noticeably quiet. It can’t quite compete with the better direct-drive trainers, but it’s not far off (tyre choice will affect this, though).

Ride feel is good, if not spectacular – largely due to the fact that it only has a 1.2kg flywheel, meaning it struggles to compete against more expensive units – and we also found the power accuracy to be better than the claimed +/- 5 per cent, once properly calibrated.

Tacx Flow Smart

4.0 out of 5 star rating
Tacx Flow Smart
The Tacx Flow Smart is one of our favourite budget smart trainers.
Simon Bromley / Immediate Media
  • Type: Wheel-on
  • Maximum power: 800 watts
  • Maximum simulated gradient: 6%
  • Weight: 8.49kg
  • Flywheel: 1.6kg
  • Cassette included: Not needed
  • Noise: 68dB
  • Price: £269.99 as tested

The Tacx Flow Smart is one of the cheapest entry points into interactive indoor cycling. While it doesn’t compete with pricier options on paper, in practice it offers an enjoyable and immersive indoor cycling experience for an attractive price.

As with other wheel-on smart trainers, the Flow Smart is louder and does report power with less accuracy than direct-drive models. But if you’re on a limited budget, it will still do a respectable job.

It’s also beginner-friendly – it’s quick and easy to assemble – and is very compact when folded away for storage. Tacx is even generous enough to include a good-quality front wheel riser block too, which is great to see at this price point.

Tacx Flux S

4.0 out of 5 star rating
Best smart trainers
The Tacx Flux S offers a lower-priced option for training indoors.
Simon Bromley / Immediate Media
  • Type: Direct drive
  • Maximum power: 1,500 watts
  • Maximum simulated gradient: 10%
  • Weight: 23.6kg
  • Flywheel: 7kg
  • Cassette included: No
  • Noise: 60dB
  • Price: £549 / $749 / €599 / AU$1,000 as tested

If you’re looking for a direct-drive smart trainer, but can’t quite stomach the prices of some of the high-end models, the Tacx Flux S might be the one you’ve been looking for.

It’s easy enough to set up, simply requiring you to attach the legs to the resistance unit with the supplied Allen key. There’s no cassette in the box though, so you’ll have to get one of those before you can start riding.

With its 6.7kg flywheel, it has a good ride feel, but there is a ceiling of 1,500 watts power and just 10 per cent simulated gradients, which might occasionally be limiting for stronger riders in comparison to other trainers.

The only other niggle is that the trainer doesn’t fold up for easy storage – the legs are simply fixed in place with bolts. This won’t be a problem if you have a dedicated pain cave, but if you need to be able to easily stow it away, this might be a dealbreaker.


How did we test the latest smart trainers?

When testing a smart trainer, we consider its price point, how easy it is to set up and what accessories are (or aren’t) included in the box.

Once a trainer is ready to ride, we put it through a series of tests to assess ride feel, power accuracy and how quickly it responds to virtual gradient changes and ERG mode power shifts.

With ride testing complete, we then compare the trainer’s power data to an on-bike power meter, to check whether or not the trainer gives accurate readings on a consistent basis.

What to look for when buying a smart trainer

Price

How much you have to spend will ultimately dictate what kind of smart trainer you get, but it’s certainly possible to put together a good indoor cycling setup on a tight budget.

Smart trainers at the lower end of the price scale tend to compromise on things such as power accuracy and noise levels, but should still offer an immersive experience. High maximum power outputs or leg-breakingly steep gradients are nice to have, but far from essential, so don’t be swayed by on-paper spec alone. Do you really need a trainer capable of handling a 2,000-watt sprint?

If you’ve got lots of money to spend, then, as usual, you’ll have far more options to choose from.

In our experience, the biggest leap in performance comes around the £500 mark, where direct-drive models start to appear. The ride feel, noise levels and power accuracy all typically take a big step up at this point, and beyond that it’s all marginal gains.

Flywheel

Elite Zumo
In theory, heavier flywheels should create a better ride feel.
Simon Bromley / Immediate Media

A flywheel helps to create a road-like feel due to the kinetic energy they’re able to store, and the resultant inertia they give – essentially, when you stop pedalling it should feel like you’re coasting on a real road.

It’s generally considered that the heavier the flywheel, the better the ride feel ought to be, but this isn’t always the case. Construction, materials and design all play a role, and some brands are in fact now using virtual flywheels with magnets.

Though more expensive, virtual flywheels have the advantage of being able to change the level of inertia depending on the virtual terrain – so climbing should feel different to riding on the flat, just like in the real world.

Weight and packability

Elite Suito smart turbo trainer
Some smart trainers, such as this Elite Suito, have legs that fold in for easier storage.
Simon Bromley/Immediate Media

Trainers come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and weights. Wheel-on trainers are, more often than not, the lightest and most packable kind of trainer.

Direct-drive trainers tend to be much bulkier. Though size and shape can vary wildly – with some models folding up to a very slim form – they tend to all be pretty heavy regardless.

If you’ve got a dedicated pain cave, it may not matter at all how big and heavy your trainer is. But if you have to set it up and pack it down before and after every session, then you’ll need to take this into consideration, especially if you can’t fold down the supporting legs of a trainer or it lacks a carry handle.

Power and gradient

Cyclist using a smart trainer with the Wahoo Kickr Climb
The Wahoo Kickr Climb replicates gradients.
David Caudery / Immediate Media

Trainers have different maximum power figures that correspond to the amount of resistance they’re able to generate. They typically range from around 1,500 watts to over 3,500 watts.

1,500 watts should be plenty for most people, and 2,000-watt models ought to be enough for practically everyone except professional sprinters.

The gradient figures relate to the maximum incline a trainer can simulate – given in per cent, like on the road. Again, a lower figure isn’t going to hinder your training, it simply means those trainers won’t be able to simulate the virtual world perfectly whenever the gradients go beyond what the trainer is capable of.

However, many indoor cycling apps, including Zwift, automatically set the difficulty level to 50 per cent, so a 10 per cent ‘real life’ gradient will feel like five per cent on a smart trainer.

Unless you’re planning to change the app’s difficulty setting, this may mean you don’t need as high a spec as you think.

Noise

Wahoo Kickr Snap photographed in studio
Wheel-on trainers are more affordable but noisier.
Allen Krughoff / Immediate Media

Indoor trainers used to be notoriously noisy, but there have been vast improvements made over the past few years. Wheel-on trainers are still typically louder than direct-drive trainers, but the gap has narrowed somewhat.

Direct-drive smart trainers are typically the quietest, with some models being so quiet that the sound from your drivetrain becomes the main source of noise.

For both types of trainer, though, the noise levels tend to increase as your power output and the flywheel speed go up.

If you want to be able to do interval training sessions inside your house or flat early in the morning, perhaps before your partner/family/housemates wake up, or after work when they’re trying to watch their favourite series in the next room, a quiet trainer is a must.

If you have your trainer set up in a garage, on the other hand, it’s less of an issue.

Useful accessories

Garmin HRM Pro heart rate monitor-1
A heart rate monitor can provide even greater insight into your training.
Jack Luke / Immediate Media

Once you’ve got all of the essential items, there are still a few extra turbo trainer accessories that can make your indoor cycling sessions even more enjoyable.

First of all, most smart trainers need to be plugged into the mains electricity supply in order to function properly. A good-quality extension lead might therefore be necessary, depending on where you’re going to set up the trainer, because the supplied plugs don’t always have super-long wires.

We recommend using Bluetooth to connect all of your hardware together, but if you have ANT+ accessories (such as an older power meter or a heart rate monitor) that you also want to connect, then you’ll need an ANT+ dongle for your laptop or tablet.

You might need a riser block for your front wheel. Whether you do depends on the model of trainer, but it’s worth checking – those trainers that need a riser block to level you out don’t always come with one included.

Even if your trainer doesn’t technically need one to level the bike out, using a front wheel riser block can also increase stability, as it helps to stop your front wheel from moving underneath you. They’re not that expensive, either (unless you want it to be, in which case Wahoo will sell you its Kickr Climb gradient simulator).

A trainer mat of some sort – preferably one that’s rubberised underneath to help it stay in place – will help catch your sweat, and will also help dampen vibrations and keep noise levels down, especially if you’re using your trainer on a wooden floor (which tends to amplify the sounds).

Sweat nets that cover your top tube, steerer tube and stem might also be a good investment to protect them from perspiration and corrosion (also, read our advice on using a carbon bike on the turbo trainer).

However, what you really want is a big, powerful fan. Something around 20 inches will do, or if you’re really flash you can get a ‘smart’ fan such as the Wahoo Kickr Headwind.

If you’re using a laptop or a tablet, a specific stand or table to hold it in front of you is very useful as well, or if you want to use a TV, the Apple TV box is able to use the Zwift app.

What about smart bikes?

Wahoo Kickr Bike climbing.
Smart bikes are expensive, but they do everything a smart trainer does and more.
Tom Marvin / Immediate Media

If you’re really dedicated to indoor cycling, there is another tier of smart cycling device available; the smart bike.

The best smart bikes offer all of the features a top-end smart trainer does, plus more, making them a perfect fit in the best Zwift setup. Once assembled, they’ll always be ready and waiting for you to jump on and start pedalling, and they’re essentially maintenance-free too.

The downsides? First of all, they’re typically very expensive. You’ll also need a dedicated space to use it in, as they’re far too big and heavy to put away for storage when not in use.

Why should you train indoors rather than just ride outside?

This is a fair question and one that really has a very personal answer.

However, most of us will probably admit that we don’t enjoy getting wet, cold or dirty.

Furthermore, if you live in a particularly busy part of the world, training indoors can be much safer. If you’re doing hard intervals to exhaustion or training in a time-trial position out on the open roads, you really need to be careful of traffic.

Training indoors can save you from all of that, and in a more positive light, training indoors can be extremely time-efficient if you’re following a Zwift training plan, or something similar on another platform.

Advertisement

Virtual riding is now so popular that there are organised online group rides and Zwift races, so you can indulge your competitive urges at all hours to make it more fun.