Turbo trainers have earned their ‘torture machine’ nickname for a reason, but what if there was a way to make the indoor cycling experience fun and rewarding? Up for the challenge? Read our best smart turbo trainers buying guide.
These stationary cycling training units allow you to clock up some big miles from the comfort of your own home, but leaving you alone with your own thoughts and four walls can make those miles seem much longer and more arduous.
But go ‘smart’ and you can enter a world of online competing, or even find yourself tackling the Pyrenees without leaving your home.
Smart turbo trainers link up with your computer, smartphone, or tablet transforming your trainer into a gateway to an online world of competition and exhilaration, recreating all the dynamics of an outdoor ride while providing a virtual simulation of your session in real time.
Clocking up those miles has never been easier!
There are options to suit all training needs and budgets, and the possibilities are limited only by the software which continues to improve by the day.
Our guide to smart turbo trainers will help you get started, and looks at the range of different models to give your training an interactive boost.
What is a smart turbo trainer?
With onboard computer-friendly outputs, smart-enabled turbo trainers connect to your computer, tablet or smartphone, relaying a range of data from your ride, such as power, cadence, and of course, speed.
The data is replicated onscreen allowing you to cycle through a digitised course, from real-life locations to virtual volcanoes. Meanwhile, onscreen climbs or descents are replicated in the resistance of your trainer, allowing you to feel the dynamics of the digital terrain.
Pedalling on the spot is now fun and rewarding, as you tackle hill attacks in distant lands, sprint and surge through sublime landscapes, or even go head-to-head against strangers, friends or club colleagues across the internet in online real-time races.
Using state of the art graphics and tracking a huge variety of data from your ride, smart turbo trainers are an exciting gateway to an online world of sensational cycling.
It’s easy to get up and cycling as soon as your smart turbo trainer is out of the box, but you will need a couple of things to get the best from your device, and for it to get the best out of you.
A gaming computer with a large display will provide the ultimate experience, but you can still take your trainer online with a tablet or even a smartphone.
Many smart trainers come Bluetooth enabled, connecting wirelessly to your device, while others use the ANT+ USB adaptor to allow your computer and trainer to interact.
After that, you just need the standard turbo trainer accessories; a mount to bring your front wheel to the same height as the rear, and a large mat to silence unwanted noise.
It’s a good tip to read the specifications for each unit before you buy to ensure your wheel size and frame are compatible.
There a number of different types of smart turbo trainer, such as direct drive, where you mount your bike frame directly onto the unit, or the ‘wheel on’ trainers that use your back tyre to drive a flywheel that uses electromagnetic or fluid resistance. Smart enabled roller style trainers are also available.
Once you have your smart turbo trainer and computer set up, just find the coolest room in your home and get pedalling!
Which smart turbo trainer is for me?
Now that you’re a smart turbo trainer expert, it’s time to take a look at the range of options available. There’s ample choice, with options to suit all types of riders and budgets. Let’s look at some of the current smart turbo trainers available and what they’re capable of.
Tacx Neo Direct Drive Smart Trainer
If you’re a seasoned rider, or just want the best experience out there, then the Tacx Neo Direct Drive Smart Trainer might be the device for you. This is among the best of the best, and used by professional cyclists and top amateurs everywhere.
It’s a direct drive model, made and constructed from the highest quality parts, making it exceptionally durable. Its compact design removes unwanted vibrations, making it one of the quietest on the market.
If you’re looking for the most road-like experience out there, its ‘real direct drive’ technology delivers realistic inertia. And the tight marriage between the onscreen course and the level of resistance you’ll feel through the pedals produces a truly immersive online ride.
Using a built-in wireless Bluetooth connector, the Tacx Neo Direct Drive gives you access to Tacx software where you’ll find a range of simulated courses. It’s also compatible with a range of other smart trainer platforms such as the popular Zwift package, Kinomap, Virtual Training, BKOOL, and TrainerRoad.
Elite Drivo Turbo Trainer
Drivo is interactive and features a 24-point power measuring system with a +/- 1% accuracy, for each pedal stroke. The integrated power measurement system determines the watts expressed as precisely as scientific measuring devices. Drivo combines all the advantages of a professional training tool with an easy and intuitive system.
Tacx Vortex Smart Trainer
While it doesn’t have the brute power of the Neo, the Tacx Vortex Smart Trainer still sports an impressive maximum resistance of 950 Watts and can realistically mirror gradients of up to 7%. The wheel-on model is small and compact and while it can connect to your PC, Mac, smartphone, or tablet wirelessly using via ANT+ and Bluetooth® it can also be used as a resistance trainer without being plugged in.
Wahoo KICKR SNAP Smart Turbo Trainer
It may be half the price of the professional-level KICKR, but the Snap is not short on quality or features. Its super quiet and folding design is big advantage for those tight for space, while its power output is a respectable 1,500W, simulating gradients up to a maximum of 12%.