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RW Reviewed: The best bike turbo trainers

A fantastic way to cross train, we review the best indoor cycling trainers

bike turbo trainers

Finding the best turbo trainer for your cross training needs can at first appear like a confusing place to the uninitiated runner. With buzzwords like ‘direct drive’ and ‘wheel-on’ to contend with, it’s no wonder that you might give up looking before you’ve even properly started. And that’s before you throw ‘smart’ into the mix.

But persevere you should. Indoor cycling is a brilliant way to improve your fitness in a low impact manner, can be a great alternative to running if the weather isn’t playing ball, and takes up less space than another staple of indoor cardio training – the treadmill. Plus, if you get into the spin (sorry) of things, you might even consider giving a duathlon or triathlon a go.

Before your eyes glaze over with talk of ‘max watts’ and ‘power accuracy’, we’ve put together a handy indoor cycle trainer guide together, as well as our picks of the best turbo trainers you can currently buy.

What is a turbo trainer?

In its purest form, a turbo trainer transforms a bike you’d use out on the road (or off-road) into a static bike such as the one you’d find in a gym. It does this in one of two ways – direct drive or wheel-on (more on which below) – but in essence, it enables you to simulate a real-world ride within the comfort of your own home.

Resistance is applied by the turbo trainer and can be adjusted to replicate inclines or sprints, and you can use your bike’s gears to make things easier or harder.

What are the different types of turbo trainers?

As already alluded to, there are two common types of turbo trainers – direct-drive and wheel-on. There is a third variety called rollers – where you literally ride along on a two big rolling pins and have to throw balancing into the mix – but these are quite a specialist type.

Direct drive turbo trainers require the rear wheel of the bike to be removed and for the rest of the drivetrain (the chain, chainring, cranks and pedals) to be connected directly to the indoor trainer via a pre-installed cassette (the cogs on a rear wheel). Around for just over a decade, direct drive turbo trainers have revolutionised indoor cycling, improving training accuracy and possibilities while consigning common wheel-on turbo trainer issues such as tyre slip and tyre wear spots to the past.

Sound good? They’re also expensive. The upfront cost of a direct drive turbo trainer is what puts most people off and that’s before you factor in the additional cost of a cassette, what with the majority of models not coming with one pre-installed.

If you’re just after a cheap and easy way of creating a static bike out of your current ride, then you might be better suited to a wheel-on turbo trainer instead. Unlike the direct drive alternative, you don’t need to remove any parts of your bike to use one – you simply slot your back wheel into the turbo trainer’s frame, make the necessary adjustments and you’re all set to spin away on the machine’s roller.

Historically, resistance was changed using a lever, which would alter the distance between the metal roller and a set of magnets – the closer the magnets, the harder it is to ride. Today, it’s possible to buy wheel-on trainers where those magnets are altered automatically, but all wheel-on turbos still suffer from the downsides mentioned above. It’s also worth noting that, while it might sound like a more convenient installation process than a direct drive model, it’s recommended that you use a turbo trainer-specific tyre to minimise wear spots on your road-worthy rubber; the time spent swapping tyres between indoor and outdoor riding negating any benefits you might get from attaching your bike to a wheel-on model.

What do smart turbo trainers do?

Before we get into our favourite indoor cycling set-ups, it’s worth delving into the world of smart turbo trainers. Essentially, a smart turbo trainer can be connected to training platforms such as Zwift, Wahoo Systm and Rouvy.

Any turbo trainer can be turned into a smart one with the addition of speed and cadence sensors to your bike (these Lifeline ones are the cheapest around at £25), which can be synced up with a computer, tablet or phone via Bluetooth. At this most primitive level, the power you lay down in your pain cave is translated into the virtual space, powering an online avatar around a virtual world and making your training experience a bit more engaging in the process.

There are ‘smarter’ turbo trainers though that adjust the resistance levels depending on a pre-set workout or mimic the gradients and environment in your chosen training tool – the highest end ones even simulating the feeling of the real-life thing down to the vibrations from riding over virtual cobbles or gravel.

Put plainly, if you’re looking for a Zwift turbo trainer, make sure it’s a smart one or at least invest in some sensors to turn it into one.

Now you’re armed with all the essentials you need to make an informed decision, here’s our pick of the best direct drive and wheel-on turbo trainers you can currently buy.

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THE BEST DIRECT DRIVE TURBO TRAINERS
Wahoo sigmasports.com
KICKR CORE Smart Turbo Trainer
£599.99
Tacx Wiggle
Tacx Neo 2T Smart Trainer
£1,199.99
wahoo sigmasports.com
Wahoo KICKR Smart Turbo Trainer
£899.99
Saris halfords.com
Saris H3 Silent Smart Turbo Trainer
£474.00
k edge Wiggle
Elite Direto Smart Turbo Trainer
£399.99
THE BEST WHEEL-ON TURBO TRAINERS
Tacx
Tacx Flow Smart Trainer
£269.99
Elite halfords.com
Elite Novo Smart Turbo Trainer
£229.00
Saris halfords.com
Saris Fluid2 Turbo Trainer with Smart Kit
£185.00
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