Nutrition & Training

Turbo Trainers buying guide

Today, the whirr of a hard-working turbo trainer is a common sound in the homes of cyclists across the world. If you’re new to this realm of training, or you want to know more about different types of turbo trainer, then you’re in the right place. 

While taking elemental punishment is a well established path to cycling excellence, heading out on the bike isn’t always practical. Using an indoor trainer means you can keep up the miles without risking bike or limb in the slush of heavy rains or unpredictability of icy roads. 

Like most areas of modern cycling, the indoor trainer is now replete with technological advances, giving today’s cyclist a sometimes bewildering range of options to suit how they train. 

With different mechanisms of resistance, LED feedback, speed and cadence sensors, and wireless connectivity to online race simulations, there’s never been a better time to hop on a stationary bike. 

Choosing a turbo trainer means balancing your budget with the varying advantages of different mechanisms and the sort of experience you’re looking for. So below, we take a look at the different types of trainers, their main advantages, and some of the best on offer.

Magnetic turbo trainers

Magnetic resistance trainers are among the most popular and prolific entry-level units. They work using a magnet to control the level of resistance of the fly wheel, which is spun by your back tyre. The rear wheel is typically secured to the turbo trainer using your rear skewer.

Magnetic trainers, even at the bottom end of the price ladder, often come with a remote control unit you can attach to your handlebars and adjust as required. 

Fluid Turbo Trainers

Our top choice of fluid turbo trainers
 A little more expensive but offering a more road-like feel, fluid turbo trainers use a complex system whereby a rotor spins in an oil bath to produce resistance.

They’re generally quieter than magnetic turbo trainers and offer a realistic experience, with the fluid moving to simulate the behaviour of your bike on the road.

Fluid resistance trainers generally don’t allow you to adjust the level of resistance with a remote unit. Instead, the resistance builds progressively depending on how hard you pedal. However, they are often more powerful than magnetic trainers, so if you’re pumping out big watts, then a fluid trainer is the way to go (unless you upgrade to direct drive – below). 

Many of these models can be folded down for storage when not in use.

Direct Drive Turbo Trainers

Wahoo Kickr

Direct drive units allow for a highly realistic cycle experience, and are the choice of serious cyclists looking to improve technique and power. 

Unlike most magnetic and fluid turbo trainers, where your rear wheel is in contact with the turbo trainer, with direct drive your bike is directly mounted to the trainer.

Direct drive turbo trainers are some of the quietest units available too, making almost no noise as you crank out the virtual miles. Most (not all!) units are smart enabled, communicating using ANT+ and/or Bluetooth, allowing you to hook them up to virtual reality training programs or other devices, such as your Garmin / Wahoo / Polar / Lezyne bike computer.

Roller turbo trainers

Unlike wheel-on or direct drive trainers, roller trainers use cylindrical drums connected by a belt drive, which are spun by your bike wheels. Many cyclists enjoy the feeling of rollers, which provide more lateral movement and, for many, a realistic experience. 

They can, however, take a bit of getting used to, and finding your balance can take some time. They also have a much bigger footprint that the alternative.  

But if you’re interested in high cadence sessions or tempo training, they can be a revelation. 

Smart turbo trainer

Smart turbo trainers offer internet connectivity, allowing you to participate in online cycling races using platforms like Zwift, TrainerRoad, and many more. Any of the above styles of trainers, magnetic, fluid, rollers, can come Smart enabled, while there are ways of turning dumb trainers into Smart units by bolting on a few sensors and gadgets. 

However, one thing a truly Smart trainer will give you that others will not is instant and automatic feedback, so your trainer mimics the environment on screen. Head up a steep mountain climb on Zwift, and your Smart trainer will ratchet up the resistance in response, making for an immersive and integrated experience.  

6 of the best smart turbo trainers in 2019

Our top six smart picks for getting up and running with Zwift.

1] Tacx Neo 2 Interactive Smart Trainer
Probably the best smart turbo on the market, the Tacx Neo 2 simulates road feel in a highly realistic manner, with no loss of power. Just like other Smart trainers, the Neo communicates using ANT+ and Bluetooth Smart, allowing it to be connected quickly and easily with Tacx apps and other training software.

2] Wahoo KICKR Smart Turbo Trainer – UK ONLY
This high-end Wahoo KICKR Smart Turbo Trainer features smooth and controlled resistance, increased durability. The go-to turbo for many professional cyclists, including the entire Team Sky squad, the Wahoo KICKR can handle power output up to 2000W and simulate gradients up to a maximum of 20%.

3] Elite Volano Direct Drive B+ Trainer
A value-for-money direct drive smart turbo which is 100% wireless – perfect if you have no access to power. Can also be folded easily for transportation.

4] Wahoo KICKR Core Smart Turbo Trainer

An almost silent trainer offering great connectivity and a mid-range price tag. It’s limited to a max incline of 16% and max wattage of 1,8000 but unless you’re a pro you’ll be ok with this.

5] Tacx Flux S Direct Drive Smart Trainer
A wallet-friendly version of the top-end Neo, the Flux is stable, quiet, offers a realistic ride feel and is easy to connect to online training software. It doesn’t fold down, so not ideal if floor space is a premium.

6] CycleOps H2 Direct Drive Smart Trainer
The H2 is a futuristic direct-drive unit from CycleOps. It’s capable of immense power, simulating up to 20% inclines all while remaining library-quiet, even at peak intensity. And with its smooth lines and funky design it’ll look great in any modern home.

Non-smart turbo trainers
You’ll need a speed and cadence sensor or a power meter to connect to Zwift if you’re using this type of trainer. Note that the new Zwift iOS app only communicates with your iOS device via Bluetooth, not Ant+.

Our top picks of non-smart turbos for getting up and running with Zwift.

LifeLine TT-02 Fluid Trainer
The robust Lifeline TT-02 is supported by Zwift who have configured its power curve to provide accurate feedback when combined with a speed and cadence sensor and ANT+ stick, giving you an incredible online experience.

Tacx Booster Ultra High Power T2500 Trainer
The top model of the Tacx turbo trainers – even at low speed the powerful magnetic brake generates high resistance; the maximum resistance is 1050 Watt.

Tacx Blue Matic T2650 Trainer
The Blue Matic has a magnetic brake with permanent-magnets. You set the resistance selecting one of the ten different positions via the handlebar resistance lever. During your training session the resistance increases as you cycle faster or switch to a heavier setting.

Essential Zwift turbo training accessories

LifeLine Trainer Table
The LifeLine Trainer Table is height adjustable and will comfortably support your training device, refreshments and nutrition as you tackle your stationary workout.

Tacx USB ANT+ Antenna For PC
This USB dongle connects wirelessly to Android devices and PCs, relaying all the data from your speed, cadence, and power sensors to your training platform.

Tacx Sweat Cover
The sweat cover protects your smartphone from falling perspiration while giving you full access while on the bike.

LifeLine Speed and Cadence Sensor
Data is the key to improvement and your gateway to online training. LifelLine’s Speed and Cadence Sensor is compatible with ANT+ receivers and mounts discretely on your chainstay, cranks, and spokes.

Skip to a very brief history of the turbo trainer

A very short history of the turbo trainer

The first stationary cycling trainers date back to the late 1800s, and even recognisable wooden rollers were used in the early to mid 1900s. Training on these ungainly contraptions was almost as bad as facing the howling winds and rain on the other side of the wall.

Antique bicycle on antique rollers in US Bicycling Hall of Fame, dating from around the 1930s (Wikicommons).

But over time, the turbo has been developed and perfected, with a range of inventive mechanisms created to give riders a real-world response under their feet. The smart trainer, meanwhile, has breathed new life into those long stationary miles, attracting a range of new riders to keep up the mileage on off days.

This is good news for the sport, raising the bar of competitive advantage and allowing modern cyclists to set new standards of what can be achieved.

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