Smart trainers for your bike have changed the indoor cycling world. What once was a dreaded snore-fest during the off-season, has now transformed how we ride at home.
Smart trainers have made it possible to connect with a multitude of apps to improve the indoor, stationary riding experience. Now, you can ride in a virtual world and track a handful of metrics all straight through your smart trainer.
With advances in smart trainer technology in recent years, indoor cycling has never been easier or even more fun. We’ve created a list below of our top five picks for smart trainers in 2021.
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What are smart trainers?
Smart trainers go a step beyond your standard indoor trainer. Today’s smarter trainers are interactive, giving you the ability to connect with apps such as Zwift, Rouvy, and RGT Cycling (among others).
Smart trainers take input from your virtual rides in the connected app to control things such as your bike’s resistance to simulate riding uphill, dealing with a headwind, or drafting from a group. This truly creates the real-world experience that was previously missed when just riding in your garage.
The apps can also “talk” to the trainer if you want to maintain a particular power level. This could be helpful if you want to use power-based interval workouts to train.
The way these smart trainers communicate is usually with a third-party app on a compatible smartphone, tablet, or computer. This is done via ANT+ or Bluetooth connection.
Types of smart trainers
There are typically two main types of smarter trainers: direct drive or wheel-on.
Direct drive smart trainers
The direct-drive option takes slightly more effort. It requires you to remove the rear wheel and connect your bike to the trainer via a standard cassette. Typically, this style is heavier and more expensive, but it is often quieter and eliminates wear and tear on your rear wheel.
- No wear on your rear tire
- More realistic, road-like-feel
- More accurate with power and other metrics
- More expensive
- Requires removal of the rear tire
Wheel-on smart trainers
These smart trainers function like a standard trainer where you simply clamp down your rear axle to attach it to the trainer itself. The rear tire stays in place and cycles against the pressure of a roller drum to communicate various power and resistance levels to the app.
- Lighter than direct drive
- Cheaper option
- No disassembly of the rear wheel required
- Wear on your rear tire over time
- Less accurate with power measuring and adjustments
With this general overview out of the way, let’s dive into the specifics of our top-rated smart trainers.
Wahoo Kickr Smart: Top performance with a price to match
Many cyclists have raved that the Wahoo Kickr Smart is the gold standard for smart trainers. It functions as a direct drive trainer with a maximum power of up to 2,200 watts and a simulated gradient of 20%.
I think that all cyclists, myself included, agree that they hope to rarely have to ride uphill at a 20% gradient. Nonetheless, it’s still an impressive feature to have.
The Wahoo Kickr Smart comes in at 21.5kg but is exceptionally quiet. The current model’s accuracy was also upgraded from the 2019 version to be within +/- 1% of power rankings and also boasts five degrees of lateral tilt to create that road-like feel.
Purchase this trainer from Wahoo directly.
- Low noise profile of only 61dB
- Relatively large flywheel at 7.25kg
- Solid base and realistic ride feel
- Expensive price at around $1,199.99 USD
- Heavier model at 21.5kg
Wahoo Kickr Core: Greatest value pack for Wahoo brand
It’s no surprise to any cyclist that Wahoo has dominated the cycling world for a while. The Wahoo Kickr Core is a mid-range option for its functionality – not sitting at the top or bottom of their product line. It is, however, their cheapest option.
It’s lighter but a little louder than the Wahoo Kickr Smart. It still provides a +/- 2% read-on accuracy which is pretty comparable to its more expensive cousin. So there are a few trade-offs for either option.
The Kickr Core provides 1,800 watts of maximal power with a max simulated gradient of 16%. It’s easy to set up but still requires the removal of the rear wheel due to it being one of the popular direct-drive smart trainers.
Purchase from Wahoo directly or via Amazon and other stores.
- Better budget option at around $899.99 USD
- Lighter weight at 18kg
- A good mid-range option if you’re new to using smart trainers
- A bit noisier than the higher-end options
- Smaller flywheel at 5.4kg
- Slightly less maximum power than the Kickr Smart
Elite Suito: Lightest direct drive option
The Suito is Elite’s newest, midrange, and competitively priced direct-drive smart trainer. Users to date have raved about its solid stability even at high-powered rides. This is a great feature considering its flywheel isn’t the largest at only 3.5kg.
At only 14.5kg, it’s one of the lightest direct-drive smart trainers out there, but it still packs a punch with up to 1,900 watts of maximal power. Its maximum simulated gradient of 15% is pretty decent too.
This smart trainer is ready to go right out of the box, so its ready-to-ride option is very appealing to riders.
- DIRECT TRANSMISSION: If you want to get the best from your indoor bike trainer workouts, you need to...
- PRECISE AND POWERFUL: Packed with power, accuracy, and interactivity, the Suito simulates slopes up...
- Lightweight considering it is a direct drive trainer
- On the more cost-effective end at $799.00 USD
- Ready-to-ride, no setup needed
- Small flywheel at just 3.5kg
- Slightly lower max gradient at 15% when compared to other direct drive options
Elite also offers a less expensive option in the Suito-T. The main difference between the two models is that the Suito-Thome trainer does not include a supplied sprocket cassette.
- Features: Powerful, solid, and quiet, Suito is an interactive home trainer designed to offer you an...
- Plug and Play: Among Elite's interactive home trainers range, Suito is innovative as it features a...
Saris M2: Best wheel-on smart trainer
The Saris M2 is our only wheel-on option among the list of smart trainers. As you can see, the majority of picks for good smart trainers come in the form of the direct drive.
If you want the hassle-free aspect of not having to disassemble and reassemble the rear wheel whenever you transition from trainer to on-road, then the wheel-on alternative is going to be your best fit.
The Saris M2 is notably lighter at only 9kg, and it still can crank up to a 1,500-watt maximum power. The maximum 15% simulated gradient is also comparable to other direct-drive smart trainers.
Its sleek A-frame design also easily folds up for compact storage when needed. Its ride feel is good but not amazing. This is a given for these wheel-on smart trainers, though.
Overall, it’s a great option that is priced well with many perks. With only a few minor drawbacks compared to its spendy direct drive counterparts, it’s a great option if you prefer the wheel-on model.
- WHEEL ON: Connects to rear wheel of bike, no need to remove wheel or disassemble bike. Noise level:...
- PRECISE TRAINING: +/- 5% accuracy
- Super lightweight
- Wheel-on model means no need to remove rear wheel
- Affordable option of around $549.99
- Pretty quiet at 75dB, considering it is wheel-on
- Closer to +/- 5% accuracy
- May produce wear and tear on the rear tire over time
Tacx Flux S: Solid mid-range buy for price and features
The Tacx Flux S is a great direct drive trainer that ranks in the middle for everything – which can be a plus for some riders.
It’s our heaviest trainer at 23.6kg, but it’s also relatively stable for this reason. Again, the ride feel is pretty good given its larger flywheel. It’s also wonderfully quiet, producing just 60dB.
It does lack in maximum power and simulated gradient, though. Reaching a max of just 1,500 watts and a gradient of 10%, some more advanced riders may find this limiting. For most riders, we don’t think this is too much of an issue.
It’s relatively easy to set up, just requiring you to attach the base legs. These cannot fold up, though, so it remains as a bulkier footprint.
This could be an excellent option with a relatively mid-range price tag if weight and storage space are not an issue.
- Stable, great ride feel
- Easy to assemble
- Mid-range price of around $749.00 USD
- Heavier than the others
- It can’t fold up for easy storage
- Least amount of simulated gradient at just 10%
Since the company was acquired by Garmin in 2019, Tacx now offers a premium model, the Tacx NEO 2T Smart Trainer that takes your indoor training to the next level with its robust features.
- Resistance: magnetic (32 Neodymium magnets)
- Foldable: yes
All five smart trainers provide you with a great indoor riding experience when the weather turns or if you need additional training. These smart trainers are already equipped with the ability to pair with a handful of cycling apps to enhance your virtual rides.
Given the details and different pros and cons listed above, we hope this list helps you narrow down the perfect smart trainer that best fits your indoor cycling needs.
Last update on 2021-11-29 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API