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8 best turbo trainers for cycling at home

From smart trainers to wheel-on rides, clock up the miles with an indoor steed

Aaron Roe
Thursday 03 March 2022 15:14
<p>Opt for a trainer with a fan which will keep you cool while you’re putting pedal to the metal</p>

Opt for a trainer with a fan which will keep you cool while you’re putting pedal to the metal

Whether you’re looking to race with your mates on apps like Zwift or you’re just looking to keep fit, a turbo trainer is an essential bit of kit for any cyclist who wants to clock up some quality training without leaving the house.

Turbo trainers are divided in two main categories: “direct-drive” and wheel-on. The main difference between the two is that wheel-on models are generally simpler to set up and are cheaper too. But more on that later.

Many of these “smart” devices come fitted with power meters, so you can accurately gauge your power output, and are compatible with ANT+ and Bluetooth. That means you can easily connect to training apps, your heart monitor or even a separate power meter. Plus, they tend to fold down when not in use, making life easier if you’re short on space.

If this is your first foray into the world of turbo trainers, make sure you also buy a fan to keep you cool. Without a breeze while you’re riding, you’ll overheat and won’t be able to perform to your best. It’s also worth investing in a mat to place beneath your trainer to dampen any vibrations and keep complaints from your neighbours to a minimum.

How we tested

We tried out these turbos trainers with our usual bike, looking at how easy they were to mount and set up. We connected them to our sensors where possible and used them in conjunction with Zwift to see how they performed for workouts and riding. We also kept an ear on how loud they were, and considered build quality too. These are the eight that made the cut...

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The best turbo trainers for 2022 are:

Tacx flux 2

Best: Overall

Rating: 8/10

If you’re looking for a quality smart trainer, but don’t want to pay the four figure sum for the top tier devices, this one from Tacx is a solid choice. The maximum resistance of 2,000W is more than enough for even the most powerful amateurs to carry out sprint intervals and with a maximum simulated gradient of 16 per cent it’s great for climbing sessions too.

Viewing your metrics such as speed, power and cadence is easy with the Tacx app, and thanks to the Bluetooth and ANT+ it’s a breeze to connect to your sensors and favourite training apps. Once assembled it doesn’t fold down, so it’s probably not the best choice for small apartments but it’s quiet and we found the 7.6 kg flywheel gives a realistic riding feel.

Tacx flow

Best: For simplicity

Rating: 9/10

Tacx made its first training device – a roller set up – in the early 19070s and pioneered “smart” units back in 2000, so they know what they are doing when it comes to indoor exercise. We loved the fresh look of this neat little number, and it’s got performance to match its good looks too. The magnetic flywheel does a good job of recreating that on-road riding experience.

It’s nice and quiet in use too, with none of that hideous howling of old-style fab trainers from years gone by. It can handle power outputs up to 800W – ample for most of us – along with recreating the feel of climbs up to 6 per cent. Tacx have their own online training plans for you to tackle, or you can connect up to Zwift and other providers if you prefer.

Wahoo kickr

Best: For serious training

Rating: 9/10

As Wahoo’s flagship trainer, this one has a heavy 7.2kg flywheel to create inertia like you’d feel if you were out riding. It’s also got special feet on it’s wide legs that move to recreate some of the side-to-side movement of your bike you’d experience while out on the road. It’s great for powerful riders and sprint sessions, with a maximum resistance of 2,200 W,  and it’s very accurate too (reportedly +/- 1 per cent) meaning it’s perfect to use for e-racing.

There’s connectivity via Bluetooth, and ANT+ for your sensors and devices to allow you to connect to your training apps, and Kickr even automatically calibrates the power reading while you ride. It’s expensive, but if you’re serious about indoor training and want the most accurate and realistic experience, it’s an excellent choice.

Wahoo snap

Best: Wheel-on trainer

Rating: 8/10

Looking for the convenience of a “wheel-on” trainer, but looking for the advanced features of a direct-drive? This one from Wahoo has you covered. With its wheel-on design, you simply need to “snap” your back wheel in place over the roller, plug it in and you’re good to go.

As you’d expect from a Wahoo, it’s easy to connect to your sensors and your favourite apps such as Trainer Road or Zwift, and once you’re connected the trainer automatically sets the resistance just like on more expensive direct drive models. It can provide up to 1,500 W resistance, with an accuracy of +/- 3 per cent, so it’s perfect for sprint intervals or even fitness tests. This trainer even folds up when you’re finished to save some space around your house.

LifeLine magnetic

Best: Budget option

Rating: 7/10

If you want to get kitted out for indoor training without breaking the bank, here’s a solid trainer from Wiggle brand LifeLine. It’s a magnetic trainer that works by clamping on to your back tyre. You can change the resistance level too, between six different resistance levels. There’s even a handy plastic riser block to elevate your front wheel for a more comfortable position and the resistance lever mounts on your bars so you can easily toggle the resistance while you’re riding. It folds down when you’re not using it which is good if you’re short on storage space. So, if you’re after a basic, no-nonsense trainer and you’re not interested in smart features, this one’s a solid choice, and at less than £50 it’s a bargain.

Saris H3

Best: For quiet training

Rating: 8/10

Able to cope with power output of up to 2,000W, this one is a really sturdy choice for anyone who fancies themself as the next Mark Cavendish. Those fold-out legs offer a nice, broad base to keep it stable during out-of-the-saddle efforts, and there’s a block to slip under your front wheel to give you a more level riding position. There’s also a hand-hold built into the main body of the trainer, but at just over 21kg you won’t want to lug it very far. What really impressed us though was how quiet it was in use – around 60 decibels when pedalling along at 20mph.

Elite novo smart

Best: Value smart trainer

Rating: 7/10

Stuck for space in your “pain cave”? This simple trainer folds down nicely so you can stow it out of the way when not in use – it’s also small enough to stick in the back of a car if you need a trainer you can use to warm up before a race. It will work with the major training platforms such as Zwift, but it’s not really stable enough for those lung-busting out-of-the-saddle efforts. There’s no riser block included and if you have disc brakes with thru-axles you’ll have to buy an adaptor to replace the included quick release skewer. But, having said that it’s a decent buy for anyone on a budget who wants to get into “smart” training.

Saris fluid2

Best: For looks

Rating: 8/10

Saris’s fluid2 has been around for more than a decade in one guise or another – it’s a great, minimalist design that works well, so no wonder it’s still going strong. The resistance builds or diminishes as you change gear, meaning there’s no need for a handlebar-mounted adjuster. You can just swap out the skewer on your rear wheel, stick the bike on the trainer and be riding in minutes.

If you want to use it with an online training platform you’ll have to buy a speed sensor for the rear wheel, but it’s not a complicated job and you can be linked up to your laptop and riding in the virtual world within minutes. In case you’re wondering, that fan assembly on the right hand side is there to cool the fluid encased in the main body of the unit, so you’ll need to either invest in a fan or open a window to keep yourself comfortable as you exercise.

Turbo trainer FAQs

Wheel-on vs. direct-drive

There are two key types of turbo trainer: wheel-on and direct-drive. Wheel-on trainers are the cheapest option and work by using a roller that touches the rear wheel to provide the resistance. They’re cost-effective, but don’t provide the most realistic ride feel. And we’d also recommend a turbo trainer specific tyre to avoid wearing out your normal road tyres.

Spend a little more and you can get a direct-drive trainer. These require the rear wheel of the bike to be removed so that it can be mounted on an integrated cassette (the bit with the gears). The resulting ride feel is much more authentic and performance metrics such as power and cadence are more accurate.

What is a smart trainer?

Aside from the most basic of options, most turbo trainers these days are what are known as “smart trainers”. This simply means that they possess the functionality to connect to a smart device, allowing the user to train virtually by using a multiplayer training program such as Zwift. This is usually achieved via a Bluetooth or ANT+ connection.

The verdict: Turbo trainers

With features and connectivity that are perfect for most amateur riders, the Tacx flux 2 is our recommendation and is an amazing value smart trainer for less than £650, with all the features you need to get a great workout. If you just want a no-nonsense turbo trainer though, you can’t go wrong with LifeLine’s magnetic offering.

Voucher codes

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