Best Bike Trainers : Top Picks for Cyclists in 2021

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With many countries in lockdown mode, demand for bike trainers is skyrocketing, especially during the winter months. Rather than riding outdoors in the cold, wet weather or with limited distance and time, bike trainers are a very useful indoor cycling tool to have at home.

Some of the commonly asked questions are,

Which bike trainer should I get? 

Should I get a smart trainer?

You’re on the right page.

I’ll guide you through the various types of bike trainers available in the market as well as some of our favorite models.

A Quick Glance : Our Favorite Bike Trainers

Interactive Trainer

Tacx Neo 2T Bike Trainers
Tacx Neo 2T Bike Trainers

Tacx Neo 2T

Non-Smart Trainer

Sportneer Bike Trainers
Sportneer Bike Trainers

Sportneer Trainer

On This Page

Types of Bike Trainers

You’d probably have noticed there are different types of bike trainers. Here we take a deeper look into the 2 most commonly found types of bike trainers and how they compare against each other.

Trainer TypeSizeRide FeelCost
Wheels-onSmaller footprint, weighs lessOccasional wheel slippage especially with high power outputs$$
Direct DriveLarger footprint, significantly heavierSmooth power transfer and road-like feel$$$$$

Wheels On Trainers

Wheels on Indoor Bike Trainers

The benefit of the wheels on a bike trainer is that drivetrain compatibility is a non-issue. All you need to do is clamp your rear wheel onto the trainer.

Another significant benefit is the wheels on design tends to cost far less than their direct-drive trainers counterparts. This is because you don’t need to purchase an extra cassette.

Wheels on trainers are also smaller in size and weigh lesser. This is a significant benefit because they can be quickly stored with ease when not in use.

What about the downsides?

The main downside of a wheels-on trainer is the occasional wheel slippage. Generally, slippage occurs during high-intensity efforts which can affect your training session and keep you less engaged. You’ll also need to run a slightly lower tire pressure and ensure that there’s just enough contact between the tire and the trainer wheel.

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These days, there are various bike trainer tires that are designed specifically for a wheels-on trainer. They are thicker and more durable compared to the standard road bike tires.

Some of the popular wheels on trainers include the Tacx FlowWahoo Kickr Snap (a smart trainer), Sportneer, or the Saris Mag.

Geek Tip : Wheels on trainers are ideal if you’re just starting out, have a tight budget and won’t be doing any hard efforts on the trainer.

Direct-Drive Trainers

Wahoo Kickr 2018 Direct Drive Bike Trainer

Direct-drive trainers have a realistic (or close to) road feel. 

There is no tire slippage unlike the wheels on bike trainers since the rear tire is removed entirely and the frame is connected directly with the trainer.

You’ll able to step up your efforts while remaining completely engaged with smooth pedal strokes during your workout without the occasional hiccups that are found on the wheels-on trainer.

Keep in mind that while you can do hard efforts on the direct-drive trainers, you don’t want to be sprinting or doing any off-the-saddle pedaling on it to minimize the risk of damaging your bike frame, especially if it’s carbon!

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The convenience of smooth power transfer comes at a price. Direct drive trainers such as the Elite Drivo 2 and Wahoo Kickr are much more expensive than wheels on trainers because of their increased technological features.

They’re also more cumbersome because of their more intricate design. This added weight makes storage and transport more difficult.

Geek Tip : Direct-drive trainers are ideal if you’re looking to do sustained, medium to hard efforts training.

Types of Resistance in Bike Trainers

Fluid Based

Kurt Kinetic Fluid Bike Trainer Explained. Source: Kurt Kinetic

Fluid resistance trainers offer resistance by implementing an impeller (blade) within a bath of liquid. 

As the wheel speed increases, so does the resistance. Fluid trainers mimic the riding outdoors experience because the resistance is variable. 

If you spin in an easy gear, the fluid trainer offers little resistance, but if you jump into a harder gear, the resistance will quickly build up.

Manufacturers of fluid trainers generally utilize thermodynamically neutral fluid, such as medical-grade silicone, so that the fluid doesn’t absorb heat while you ride. This keeps the resistance you produce at a consistent level, every time. Connected to the fluid chamber is the drive system. This is either directly plugged into the chamber or magnetically attached. The drive system consists of the flywheel and a roller for your rear wheel to coast on. 

As you pedal and increase your power output, the fluid system works simultaneously with the drive system to create that real-road feel.

The Kurt Kinetic Rock and Roll and Saris Fluid 2 trainer are some of the popular wheels-on bike trainers that uses fluid resistance.

Magnet Based

Magnetic trainers generate resistance by spinning a metal disk through a magnetic field. This magnetic unit creates a drag on the rear wheel as it turns from your power output. 

A magnetic trainer’s drive unit consists of a flywheel with opposing magnets that replicates the momentum of the rider on a bike and a roller where the rear tire spins.

The metal disk that spins through the magnetic field is affected by what is known as an Eddy Current. This current is what is responsible for the drag that’s produced on the rear wheel, effectively creating progressive resistance.

Magnetic trainers produce high amounts of heat throughout a workout session. As heat increases, resistance decreases. Some magnetic trainer models offer small fans to dissipate heat to keep resistance at an optimal and realistic level.

The Saris Mag trainer is a good example of a wheels-on magnet-based trainer.

Wind Based

Wind trainers are possibly the most basic design when it comes to indoor trainers. 

Wind trainers create resistance by creating air. The roller that the wheel spins on is connected to a large disk that consists of blades. 

As the rider produces power, the blades spin and creates wind resistance. The progressive resistance increases as you pedal harder. These models are known to be extremely loud due to the wind-generated, especially during high-intensity efforts.

The resistance offered by wind trainers does have a limit once higher power levels are reached. The fans can only provide a certain amount of resistance, which makes them best for endurance-like efforts.

Interactive Trainers

Interactive trainers provide dynamic resistance control through the use of sensors and power meters located on the trainer. These sensors communicate with apps on your phone or laptop and give you the most realistic resistance according to the specific parameters that you choose.

How does interactive trainers work?

Resistance works through a power meter located inside the smart trainer. The trainer broadcasts all power data to your preferred training app like Zwift. 

If you’re riding hills climbs with a 10% grade in the virtual training world of Zwift, the app communicates this to your trainer, and it automatically makes the resistance similar to its algorithm. 

If you begin riding downhill, the smart trainer releases all resistance, and you must shift accordingly to regain any resistance to increase your speed.

Through smart trainers and their associated apps, you can choose to set training plans of set power data ranges. If you want to train at 200 watts for one hour, the electromagnetic hub locks in at 200 watts and gives the specific resistance automatically, no matter how hard you pedal.

Read More :

Most smart trainers are direct drive based, and resistance is produced in its electromagnetic hub. This electromagnetic hybrid creates a low decibel and heat resistant atmosphere.

The most popular smart and interactive trainers in the market today for Zwift are the Wahoo Kickr and Tacx Neo.

Read More :

Bike Trainers Buying Guide

Bike Compatibility

When looking for a bike trainer, you’ll need first to check if the trainer is compatible with your current bike. Knowing beforehand if a bike trainer is compatible is the difference between starting your indoor training immediately or being frustrated staring at a trainer that you can’t use.

Generally, wheels on trainers can fit almost all bikes, regardless whether its rim or disc brakes. If you’ve a bike with disc brake, you might want to check if it’s supported.

For a bike with disc brakes, you’ll need a trainer with thru-axles as the method for mounting it.

Geek Tip : Most new (post 2017) direct-drive trainers can support bikes with rim and disc brakes, and various wheel sizes through the use of adapters.

Noise Levels

Noise levels play a significant role when considering which bike trainer to buy. This is because not all trainers are created equal, and not all living situations allow for loud trainers.

The quietest type of trainer is the fluid-based trainer. The thermodynamic fluid located within its chamber doesn’t retain heat, which keeps the noise at a minimum while you’re on your trainer. This style is a must if you’re living in a small space or others around you need peace and quiet.

The second quietest type is the magnetic-based trainer. Although these generate heat and necessitate a fan, the noise produced is manageable. 

If you don’t need absolute silence but also want to hear your surroundings, then a magnetic-based trainer will do just that. Since magnetic trainers are in the middle, it’s up to you to consider all other factors if you’d like to spend a little extra to get the benefits of a fluid trainer.

The loudest type of trainer is the wind-based models. These produce resistance through large fans that create wind. If your living situation allows for high decibels, then this is an option. 

Although more recent models are becoming quieter, they are still the loudest option. Alternatively, you can also use a bike trainer mat to reduce noise levels.

Geek Tip : Noise level increases as you go from fluid to magnetic and wind based trainers.

Overall Trainer Weight

The lightest option is the wind-based trainer. 

This trainer style weighs the least out of the others because they are based on a straightforward design. The disc with blades also acts as a flywheel, so there are fewer components that add weight.

In the middle is the magnetic-based trainer. The resistance unit consists of a flywheel and a magnetic hub.

The heaviest option of the three is the fluid-based trainer. These tend to be the heaviest because of the fluid located within a chamber to offer resistance and reduce heat absorption.

Geek Tip : Weight increases as you move from wind to magnetic and fluid-based trainers.

Size, Footprint and Storage Space Needed

Just like in the previous category, weight plays a significant role in a trainer’s size and ease of storage. Anyone considering a bike trainer should think how they’ll store their trainer after a training session. 

Wind-based models are smaller and easier to store. The vast majority of wind trainers can fold up for easy packability.

Magnetic trainers are once again in the middle. These trainers are usually foldable, but due to their added components, their size is larger than the wind-based trainers.

Fluid trainers are slightly larger than magnetic trainers and therefore are third in this category. These trainers are generally foldable so storage is very possible, but its additional weight doesn’t allow for the highest marks in size and storage.

Price Point

The price point is possibly the biggest factor to consider before buying a trainer. Some of us are on a budget, whereas others don’t mind the price tag at all. Depending on where you land on this spectrum, this category will determine which model you’ll eventually buy.

When it comes to bike trainers, one thing is sure; the more features available equates to a higher price. The pinnacle in price lands can be found with smart trainers. These have endless functions and features and have a significant price tag to match.

Beginner to mid-level smart trainers like the Elite Direto usually starts from $700, while some high-end models like the Wahoo Kickr and Tacx Neo are in the $1,000+ range.

Fluid trainers are the second most expensive models, third is magnetic-based models, and the least costly are wind-based trainers.

Geek Tip : Expect to pay upwards of $700 for a smart, direct drive trainer.

Interactive Trainers for Zwift

These are bike trainers that offer the most immersive indoor riding experience. They provide the best road-like feel as the resistance dynamically adjusts itself according to the virtual terrains you’re riding in.

Tacx Neo 2T

Tacx Neo 2T Bike Trainers
Photo Credit : Tacx

The Tacx Neo 2T is by far the quietest smart trainer on the market.

Its revolutionary design over its predecessor, the Tacx Neo 2 allows for it to run wireless or hooked up to a power source, making it perfect for those on the go.

There’s always a reason why riders need a truly quiet trainer. This is for those that just became a parent, those that live in a small apartment with thin walls, or those that just can’t stand the noise of indoor trainers.

Although it weighs 47 lbs., it’s a breeze to store due to its compact frame design and foldability. It can quickly connect to Apple and Android devices through Bluetoth. It’s a direct drive system that allows for an excellent ride feel that even includes dynamic inertia and descent simulation.

The Tacx Neo 2 is the best smart trainer for those that absolutely must have peace and quiet during their training rides while also retaining the features that make for an excellent ride.

  • Pros : Very quiet. Simulates up to 25% max gradient.
  • Cons : Max power limited to 1,600 watts.

Wahoo Kickr Core

Wahoo Kickr Core Bike Trainers
Photo Credit : Wahoo

Wahoo’s latest iteration of its Kickr line of trainers gives you the smart capability you want at an affordable price. 

The Wahoo Kickr Core works with training apps including Zwift, The Sufferfest, and TrainerRoad. It seeks to be a more affordable option than the standard Wahoo Kickr. It accomplishes this by not including a cassette, which shaves off significant costs.

The Wahoo Kickr Core also seeks to be more mobile. It is lighter and more compact. This does mean that the flywheel on the Core is lighter, so you’ll have to settle for a max of 16% gradient with the Core vs. the Kickr’s 20%.

This also means that the max power output for the Core is 1,800 watts vs. 2,200 watts for the standard Kickr.

  • Pros : Excellent value for money vs features.
  • Cons : Max power limited to 1,600 watts.

Elite Drivo 2

Elite Drivo 2 Bike Trainers
Photo Credit : Elite

For the premium price tag, you’ll get a reasonably quiet ride and an unusually realistic ride.

While Elite’s original Drivo already had a solid reputation for stability and responsiveness, the Drive 2 takes these qualities and improves on them by a significant margin. 

Coming with a good assortment of standard extras like a cadence monitor and various thru-axle adapters, the setup is relatively smooth and simple. As soon as it’s assembled, mounting your bike will quickly get you into a very responsive and realistic training session, perfectly complemented by your favorite virtual training software such as Zwift, Trainerroad, or Rouvy.

  • Pros : Power accuracy within +/- 0.5%. Improves response times over its predecessor.
  • Cons :Cassette not included.

Wahoo Kickr

Wahoo Kickr Bike Trainers
Photo Credit : Wahoo

When it comes to the best overall trainer to connect to Zwift, most trainers pale in comparison to the Wahoo Kickr.

The Wahoo Kickr offers the ultimate indoor bike riding experience. It provides a plethora of options such as Kickr Climb, a grade simulator, and even a headwind simulator, known as Kickr Headwind. Its sensors guarantee that your riding experience is as close to the real deal as possible. It boasts a wide range of connectivity through Bluetooth Smart, ANT+, and ANT+ FE-C.

The Wahoo Kickr offers a near-silent design, perfect for those who don’t want to hear the noise produced in wind, magnetic, or fluid resistance trainers.

This is the ideal trainer for those who don’t mind a hefty price tag and desire the ultimate riding experience. But if you’re slightly tight on budget, consider the Kickr Core.

  • Pros : Very realistic ride feel and simulates up to 2,000 watts.
  • Cons : No cadence sensing capabilities.

Elite Direto X

Elite Direto X Bike Trainers
Photo Credit : Elite

This is the best trainer for those who want the flexibility of high-end trainers, but also want to save a bit of money.

The Elite Direto X boasts an integrated Optical Torque Sensor to achieve accurate power measurements and power readings.

A pedal stroke analysis option is available to hone in on the perfect spin. It comes with in-house training software that records your training efforts.

Just like other high-end smart trainers, the Elite Direto X offers Bluetooth Smart and ANT+ FE-C capabilities. It’s a direct drive style trainer so you can be sure that you won’t be wearing out any of your road bike tires.

  • Pros : Very stable base for powerful sprint intervals with maximum power up to 2,100 watts.
  • Cons : Slower response times compared to peers.

Smart Trainers

These trainers are smart because they offer connectivity options such as ANT+ and/or Bluetooth in which you can then connect to online training apps such as Zwift.

The main difference is that resistance on these trainers are controlled manually.

Tacx Flow

Tacx Flow Bike Trainers
Photo Credit : Tacx

Updated for wireless transmission of speed, cadence and power, the Flow works easily with training apps through the inclusion of Bluetooth and ANT+ connectivity. 

Designed as much for ease as for versatility, the Flow is a wheel-on trainer so you don’t have to lose time catching good weather by bothering with tricky mounting and dismounting for your bike. 

To help you be considerate towards your neighbors, an elastogel core is built into the roller, reducing noise and vibration without waking the whole street.

Finally, the Tacx Flow’s electric brake can simulate incline resistance of up to 6%, and the 3.5lbs flywheel creates a realistic impression of outdoor inertia.

  • Pros : Compatible with Zwift and TrainerRoad with a full suite of wireless connectivity options.
  • Cons : Resistance unit may require periodic adjustments.

Kinetic Rock and Roll Smart Trainer

Kinetic Rock and Roll Smart Trainer
Photo Credit : Kinetic

Simulation is a huge factor when it comes to indoor trainers. You want the trainer to feel, as much as possible, like the real thing. 

So, when you get up out of the saddle to climb or sprint, the bike can’t stay stationary while you rock to and fro. The Rock and Roll are designed with this in mind. 

This smart trainer rocks back and forth as you pedal out of the saddle in order to simulate a realistic motion. 

In order to facilitate this, the Rock and Roll are constructed with a larger than average steel roller, a heavy-duty frame, and large rubber feet. This ensures that the trainer stays securely in place in your living room as you climb away from the field on a virtual Alpe-D’huez.

  • Pros : Affordably priced. Smooth and realistic resistance.
  • Cons : Bulky and large footprint.

Saris Fluid2 Trainer

Saris Fluid2 Bike Trainers
Photo Credit : Saris

The Saris Fluid 2 interacts with Zwift and TrainerRoad through a speed sensor that is ANT+ and Bluetooth capable.

This trainer relies on the internal fluid to simulate outdoor conditions and resistance. The resistance unit is independent of external or battery power sources making maintenance and repairs a little simpler for the entry-level cyclist.

You won’t aggravate your neighbors even at speeds of up to 20mph, with volume from vibration and mechanical noise kept between 64-68 decibels. 

The Saris Fluid2 can also accommodate a wide array of wheel sizes, coming pre-equipped for 120mm, 130mm, and 135mm rear dropout spacing. A 12mm thru-axle adapter can make room for 142 and 148mm options, as well.

  • Pros : Very quiet even at higher power. Easy to mount on.
  • Cons : Fluid system will take sometime to warm up.

Budget Bike Trainers

Sometimes called dumb trainers, these definitely won’t break the bank and are ideal especially if you’re just starting out in indoor riding. 

The features are generally very basic and the resistance is either controlled manually through the resistance knob, or you shifting to a harder gear on your bike.

Sportneer Fluid Trainer and Stand

Sportneer Bike Trainers
Photo Credit : Sportneer

The Sportneer bike trainer is the best model for beginners because of its ease of use, fluid-based design, and overall modest price. This model will get newbies in the saddle when conditions outside prove unrideable.

It allows users to put maximum power efforts on its smooth fluid system, without compromising resistance. The Sportneer offers quick release skewers to rapidly mount or dismount a bike with ease and accommodates most road and mountain bikes.

Its small size packs away quickly and makes storage a breeze. This model weighs in at 30-pounds.

The Sportneer fluid trainer is the perfect trainer for beginners looking to get their first indoor trainer.

  • Pros : Cheap. Multiple resistance settings.
  • Cons : Prone to tire slippage under load.

Saris Mag Trainer

Saris Mag Bike Trainers
Photo Credit : Saris

This Saris Mag trainer is probably one of the simplest trainers around.

If you’re looking for a simple, no-frills trainer to improve your performance without having to worry about complicated parts or maintenance, this is the trainer for you. It’s compatible with bikes with quick release and 700c, 26″, 27″, and 29″ wheel sizes. If you’re using a bike with thru-axles, there’s a separate thru-axle adapter kit available.

Want to connect to Zwift? 

All you need to get a separate speed sensor that is ANT+ and Bluetooth capable, connect it to the trainer and your computer.

  • Pros : Minimal maintenance needed. Quiet magnetic resistance unit.
  • Cons : Initial assembly can be tricky.

Minoura MagRide Q

Minoura MagRide Q Bike Trainers
Photo Credit : Minoura

Minoura has been producing bike accessories in their workshop in southern Japan since 1933. 

While it might not be well-known like others such as Wahoo or Tacx, you can be sure of a high-quality Japanese product. The MagRide Q has a solid resistance unit which is a 35% improvement over its predecessor. There are 7 manual resistance levels for you to choose from as you ride.

The frame is made of lightweight steel and weighs only 6kg which is ideal if you’ll be constantly moving the trainer around the house.

  • Pros : Lightweight and easy to transport. Minimalist design.
  • Cons : Resistance unit can be noisy.
Chris Ireland

Chris Ireland

Chris Ireland is a staff writer covering everything road cycling. He has been writing about cycling as a freelance journalist since 2017. In his spare time, Chris participates in many types of cycling activities from cyclocross racing, mountain biking, gravel grinding, and commuting.