How the heck is it fall already? Seriously. It felt like just yesterday I was enjoying warm summer days, yet now I’m sitting here looking out the window onto a rainy, cold, windy, and generally miserable day. I saw snow last week during my travels. Yuck.
In any case, it means it’s time for the Annual Trainer Recommendations post! I started this four years ago, and know many of you are looking for an updated version for this season. This year saw a continued shift of announcements earlier into the season (late spring in fact), versus having all announcements between Eurobike and Interbike. The theory behind this was that we’d see more trainers arriving on store shelves in the September timeframe, rather than being delayed closer to Christmas.
That’s because generally speaking bike trainer companies release new trainers at those two major trade shows in August (Eurobike) and September (Interbike). It can however sometimes take a few months for those new trainers to make it to market. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve been able to try all of them for some snippets of time since their announcements, however, some of them won’t be available for another month or two. But more on that later.
Further, this post will NOT cover trainer apps, rather, I have a dedicated post for that coming up later this month. Else, you can look at the last time I did that here. It’ll be a beast of a post.
Finally, for those looking for general sports technology recommendations (watches/action cams/activity trackers/scales/etc.…), I tend to publish those in early-mid November, just before the holidays (but after any lingering products have been announced reviewed). My goal being to wrap up all the new wearable reviews by that timeframe. Trainer reviews will happen as final versions of trainers come in. I’ve already posted a few this fall.
How I make trainer recommendations:
First and foremost, I only recommend trainers I’ve actually used. In fact, that’s why this post is coming out this week and not last week, two more trainers came in over the last week that I wanted to consider. More are also on the way.
That said, there are undoubtedly many other good trainers, great trainers even – especially in the sub-$300 range out there that don’t have electronics in them. But, even with some 15-20+ trainers currently in my possession, I simply can’t try out every one on the market today with any reasonable level of detail or authority. There are some trainers that I’ve used hundreds of times, and others just once or twice. My minimum bar for inclusion in this post is having ridden on it at least once. I’ve caveated some trainers this year specifically where I’m deferring a recommendation until a final unit arrives.
When I look at recommendations across all products I make, I try and recommend products to you in the same way that I’d do to friends and family. I keep it simple and explain exactly why I feel a given way. My goal is NOT to make a roundup of every trainer on the market, though I will briefly discuss why I didn’t include some trainers in this piece at the end. This is, again, my *recommendations*, not the holy grail of everything ever made by everyone. Still, I’m lucky enough to have been able to try almost everything made by all the major trainer companies this year, at least at the mid to upper end (I don’t tend to review the 93 different models of trainers from $75 to $200).
Price Ranges & Currencies:
Last year we saw prices drop significantly for low-end trainers, but this year we saw the mid-range trainers really increase in terms of market options. And as such, we saw a slight bump in specs at the mid-range. I had to change my price bucketing last year, and I’m slightly doing the same thing this year. My purpose isn’t so much moving the goalposts, as it is making the field more logical. Meaning, someone looking to spend $599 is probably OK spending $699, and someone teetering at $499 might be OK spending that $699 too if the benefits pay out.
Meanwhile, someone looking for a $399 trainer isn’t likely the same person as one looking at a $699 trainer. So, here’s the 2016 buckets, aligned to the trends of trainer pricing in 2016:
Budget – Sub-$400: These tend to be basic in functions, and lack automated controls, but some do still have some electronics. Most apps support these in a basic manner.
Mid-Range $400-$1,000: These are where we see electronic resistance control, as well as the majority of features and full app integration.
High-End $1,000+: These are the high-end trainers, and primarily distinguish themselves from the mid-range by increasing durability, reducing noise, or just being expensive for the heck of it (i.e. legacy branding/marketing).
Now – you’ll notice the dollar signs, which in this case is implying US pricing. I call this out specifically this year, because the whole pricing business has gotten kinda wonky, especially in the differences between US and European markets. There are specific cases where something may have a vast price gap in one market (i.e. KICKR vs. NEO in the US), yet be nearly identical in other markets (some European countries). Similarly, the European markets generally get a better deal on European-made products (Tacx/Elite), while US consumers tend to get better pricing on US made products (Wahoo). All of which ignores the reality of MAP (Minimum Advertising Pricing), which exists in the US and doesn’t exist in Europe.
Next, be wary of purchasing trainers outside your home country (meaning, if in the US, buying from a retailer in Europe). This is because if you have a problem, you’ll be on the hook to pay for shipping of the trainer back across the pond for service. As one who does that regularly, it’s @#$#@ expensive. If you don’t believe me, go and look at last year’s trainer recommendation post, and see the river of tears for folks who have had to deal with cross-Atlantic shipping of cheap trainers they bought when things went wrong. By all means, if you understand the risk – buy where it makes sense. But do understand it’s a very real risk
And finally, note that I tend to focus on trainers that have some element of technology in them. It’s not that I think that all non-technology trainers are the same (cause they aren’t…well…except that most are), but it’s because that’s just what I happen to review the most here.
Things to Consider:
There’s a lot of things to look for in a trainer – but some are applicable across the board from a sub-$100 unit to a $1,500 unit.
First and foremost, it needs to be sturdy. The more plastic involved, the less likely it’s going to last over time. Take for example, the CompuTrainer, otherwise known as the rock. A tank really. I’m certain I could throw that in front of a semi-truck, and it’d probably be fine. As such, those units last 10-15 years (or more). In fact, I don’t know anyone who’s ever broken a CompuTrainer frame (ok, ignore the flywheel). Some electrical components eventually wear out, but the frame is astoundingly sturdy. I find the KICKR family in that same camp. It’s a beast component-wise.
Second, look at the attach point to your bike. I’ll start with the ones that leverage a skewer of some sort and don’t require removal of the wheel. In these cases, try to find one that has a ‘quick-release’ mechanism for quickly locking the trainer into place. One that doesn’t require you to endlessly spin the tightening lever and try to find an exact spot each time. See below for an example of a quick-release lever:
In the case of trainers that you attach your bike directly into a cassette mounted on the trainer – called ‘Direct Drive trainers’ (KICKR/NEO/HAMMER/DRIVO/LeMond/etc…), be sure that it’ll be compatible with your bike frame. There are only a few edge cases where this occurs (primarily higher end), but just be aware of them.
Third, look at how stable the platform is. The smaller the base of the trainer, the more likely it is to tip over (and you along with it). And while tip-overs are extremely rare – they are a problem on lower end trainers ($50-$150) where the base is really small. This can be further compounded when the trainer mounts the wheel higher up – meaning a higher center of gravity. It’s not hard to get a situation where you try and reach for a TV remote control or something off to the side and fall over. None of the trainers I’m recommending have this issue, but in general, keep it in mind.
Ok, we’re almost to the recommendations. But we need to all be on the same table when it comes to some of the technical terms that we’re going to talk about. Notably, the protocols and communications side of how trainers talk to apps.
In the sports world there are essentially two camps: ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart. Virtually all devices use one or both of these low-power technologies to transmit and capture information such as heart rate, power, speed, cadence, and more.
In the trainer realm, that means trainers tend to support two types of things over these protocols. The first is simple broadcasting (one-way) from the trainer to the app/device that you’re using. This is done for the following on trainers:
Compatible devices, such as a Garmin Edge unit or a Polar V800 can pickup these signals and record them. Almost all trainer companies now broadcast dual on both protocols, though there are some exceptions – such as the CompuTrainer or Kurt Kinetic Smart Control trainers, which broadcast on neither.
Next, for control there are basically two semi-standards that allow trainers to be controlled via apps:
Private communication channel: Over private-ANT or private Bluetooth Smart, or heck, even wired as in the case of the CompuTrainer. There is no standard for controlling a trainer for Bluetooth Smart yet, so pretty much every company does their own dance. That’s fine, but just make sure whichever app you plan to use does the same dance as your trainer company. Open/Standard Communication Channel: Via ANT+ FE-C (virtually all trainers use this)
For ANT+ FE-C, devices such as the Garmin Edge 520/820/1000 support controlling the trainer straight from your Edge. This also means you can re-ride your outside rides (elevation changes and all) without any other software. Wahoo with their ELEMNT is set to allow the same as well (FE-C control), but even today they support controlling their own Wahoo trainers.
So what about Bluetooth Smart control? Well today there actually isn’t a standard trainer control over Bluetooth Smart. Rather, each company does their own thing and shares it with developers. So, Wahoo has their variant of a BT Smart control implementation (that everyone supports), CycleOps has theirs, and Elite has theirs, and so on. Tacx took an interesting spin and simply wrapped the ANT+ FE-C standard inside a Bluetooth Smart wrapper and called it done (making it easy for app developers). Either way, things are a bit messy here. Here’s what each major manufacturer does there:
Wahoo: ANT+ FE-C on KICKR SNAP/KICKR1/KICKR2. Gives developers access to Bluetooth Smart control. Tacx: ANT+ FE-C on all ‘Smart’ branded trainers (except Satori). Gives developers access to Bluetooth Smart control. Elite: ANT+ FE-C on Drivo/Rampa, plus various other older units. Gives developers access to Bluetooth Smart control. CycleOps: ANT+ FE-C on Hammer/Magnus, older trainers have developers get access to private-ANT control, and Bluetooth Smart control methods. BKOOL: ANT+ FE-C on all electronic trainers. Gives developers access to Bluetooth Smart control. Kurt Kinetic: Does not support any standards on Smart Control trainers, but has offered developer access for Bluetooth Smart control. CompuTrainer: Gives some developers access to WiFi and wired control. Most other developers just ‘make it work’ via wired.
This all matters when it comes to apps – but the thing you need to know is that you want your trainer to be dual capable, and should ideally support if you want resistance control across a broad number of apps. At this stage (at a super high level), every single app supports ANT+ FE-C (on desktop), and virtually every app on mobile supports Wahoo on Bluetooth Smart. The vast majority also support Elite, CycleOps, and Tacx on Bluetooth Smart for mobile. Most desktop apps support the CompuTrainer (wired).
Budget Trainers (sub-$400):
This is a tricky category, and one in which I’m really going to focus on options that have electronics in them. But let me be clear – there are TONS of trainers out there for less than $400 that don’t have any smart electronic gadgets in them and work just great.
But there’s only one unit in this price range (again, looking at USD MSRP) that has ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart broadcasting of speed, power, and cadence. So for this reason, I’m mentioning that one. Note that it may be worthwhile looking at the older Elite Qubo Digital Smart B+ (which I recommended last year at $450), as well as the BKOOL Smart Go offerings, which sit just a bit above this at $479USD. But alas, you eventually have to draw a line somewhere in the sand on a price breakpoint.
Tacx Satori Smart
This is the least expensive ‘Smart’ branded trainer from Tacx, at $399US, but significantly cheaper in Europe at about 225EUR. Their ‘Smart’ trainer lineup broadcasts your power/speed/cadence over ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart. It does NOT have ANT+ FE-C control though because it doesn’t have automated control. Instead, you have a little lever connected via cable. But otherwise it’ll give you your power and other metrics and let you connect your Garmin, Polar, or other App to read it. Accuracy-wise it’s fairly good once you’ve done calibration on it using the procedure in the app.
Now, you’ll notice the caveat about being Euro pricing focused. That’s because this is an example where the US pricing is way more expensive than the European pricing. So you may want to figure out what’s most important to you (control or broadcasting power). The Satori doesn’t allow automated control, but does open-broadcast ANT+/BLE Speed/Power/Cadence. Meanwhile, trainers starting at $500 allow automated control.
Finally, this is the only trainer I’d feel comfortable ordering from Euro web shops on the cheap and shipping to the US. That’s because there is no resistance control unit (which is where things usually break). Thus, the likelihood of this trainer having issues is far less than the ones in the $500+ category.
The unit works by using magnets to create an eddy-current that gives resistance. It means that from a resistance standpoint, no portion of it touches your bike. Thus the entire thing is totally silent (save your drive train). It’s really impressive. They have two versions. The first is a trainer without resistance control or broadcasting of your power. While the second is a power meter version that does broadcast your power (but still no resistance control this year). The first version costs $302USD, while the second version costs $378USD. Those prices are converted from Canadian Dollar prices, as that’s the selling currency.
I’d have zero issues recommending this trainer at this point, super cool stuff. And I’m even more interested in seeing how it shakes up next year when they introduce a resistance control version. I suspect if they can pull that off, it’ll be a huge disrupter in the mid-range trainer market.
This is a tough category, because there are so many entrants here and I’ve only used a few. And quite frankly, they’re all pretty similar.
My general recommendation is to check out the Travel Trac Magnetic Trainers that Performance Bike offers (these are also branded under various other names worldwide – usually about $100-$120). The key thing is that you want to ensure it can handle an appropriate amount of watts. For that I’d swag 300w for those just getting into the sport, but probably more like 400-500w if you’ve got a bit more strength. If you’re on the pointy end already, then you’ll already know your max wattage and already know you probably need more.
The most important thing is ensuring that it meets some of the characteristics that I talked about earlier in the post on things to look at (materials, build, stability, lever for control, etc…).
Finally, if you’re spending more than $200 in this category, you should really be looking at other automated resistance options. About the only reason to spend more and get less is if you’re trying to get a trainer that supports a very high level of resistance (i.e. 1,000w), which some of the lower end trainers will fail at providing.
Mid-Range Trainers ($400-$1,000):
While this is a vast price range, the best options (save one) are all clustered between $500 and $700. And to be perfectly clear: They’re all about the same. There are minor nuances between these trainers, for which you’ll want to look at closely depending on your needs. Specifically, look carefully at these four areas:
A) Maximum incline
B) Maximum wattage
C) Which protocols/standards/types they transmit on (i.e. power, but not cadence, etc…)
D) Flywheel weight
That’s about the only real tangible differences between them. They all have about the same road feel (and each company will tell you their road feel is better). They all have ANT+ FE-C, and they all work with Zwift and TrainerRoad. Seriously, it’s mostly a wash.
The flywheel weight in theory gives a more road-like feel, but the thing is, at these weights, it’s all kinda wimpy to begin with. I know a lot of folks want the most road-like feel, but my brain can’t really separate out the fact that I’m still inside looking at a wall going nowhere. I’d rather have greater accuracy and more app support than the mythical road-like feel.
There are also very minor differences in how you mount your bike to each one in terms of the clasp/lever, but that’s too a wash. About the only notable difference here is that the CycleOps Magnus has a nifty resistance knob that makes it easy to ensure your bike is at the same resistance setting each time. It’s actually kinda brilliant. But no matter, all of these will require calibration about 10-15 minutes into a ride to ensure accurate numbers.
With that in mind, here are your four options:
Wahoo KICKR SNAP – $599 (new price as of Oct 17th, 2016)
CycleOps Magnus – $599
Elite Rampa – $549
Tacx Vortex Smart – $529
As you can see, there’s a slight price bump (not anymore) up to the Wahoo KICKR SNAP. I’m not sure it’s worth that over the CycleOps Magnus, though, it is available today unlike the Magnus. On the flip-side, so is the Rampa and Vortex Smart. Oh, and yes, there is the Tacx Bushido Smart at $799, which is nice in that you don’t need a power supply for it. But honestly, I just can’t justify spending that much more compared to the pile of units noted above.
I know a lot of folks will want some sort of concrete answer on which of the four aforementioned trainers to pick, but the reality is that they are just so darn similar. That’s obviously on purpose, the companies have largely modeled it after each other, and thus the end-state is basically the same. I’d be happy with any of these four trainers. I think the KICKR SNAP is probably the most robustly built of the bunch, whereas I think the Magnus is the most accurate of the bunch (plus it has up to 15% incline resistance, the most of the bunch). The Vortex and Rampa are both the lightest of the bunch, thus the easiest to move around. I’d say the Vortex is the weakest in terms of specs/resistance (especially depending on your weight), but it’s also the cheapest (even more so in Europe).
Here’s some nifty tables that might help narrow it down. Remember, you can make your own comparison tables here.
Again, these are really very similar trainers. You won’t go wrong with any of these. Note that the CycleOps Magnus should start shipping in the next week or two, whereas the others are already out and about. I have used a prototype Magnus a bunch this summer (as seen here), which did well. Of course, it’s possible it went from good to bad between then and now. But hopefully that’s not the case.
The Mid-High Wild-Card:
Now before we move onto high-end trainers, I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about the Tacx Flux. For the singular reason that it has the potential to demolish both the high-end bucket as well as the upper portion of the mid-range bucket. This trainer sits at $899USD, but is direct drive with ANT+ FE-C built into it (and Bluetooth Smart and all that jazz), not to mention being pretty darn quiet. It’s essentially a cheaper KICKR. The only downside is that it has a lower accuracy rate. It’ll likely have official specs in the +/-5% range, but it sounds like that once it’s warmed-up (10-15 mins), then they’re hoping more in the 2-3% range. As a reminder: That’s exactly how the long-fabled CompuTrainer works when it comes to accuracy and specs. Warm-up is variable, but then it stabilizes.
So why not recommend it yet?
Well, it’s not out yet.
Simply put Tacx hasn’t started shipping the units, and as of last week had again pushed delivery dates further into the fall. I’ve tried it a bunch of times now over the last 4 months, but all of them have been pre-production units. The first production units might not be available in Europe until early November, with them not hitting the states until early December. And that’s assuming nothing else goes wrong with production.
So my advice is this: If you can wait until early November, and if you’re looking at dropping more than $800 for a trainer, then I’d strongly recommend waiting. At least if you want to save $300 (the difference between $1,199 for the KICKR and $899 for the Flux). There’s *nothing* wrong with the KICKR at $1,199, or the Elite Drivo at $1,299. This is simply a case of saving you money. As soon as a production unit rolls out the factory, I’ll likely have my hands on it. Until then, there’s really nothing more than can be said on whether it’s as accurate and quiet as Tacx (and others) hope.
This season we saw a couple a number of new players in the higher end trainer space. These are essentially trainers that cost more than $1,000USD, but also usually have a much higher accuracy range +/- 2%. This year we saw a new Wahoo KICKR, a new Elite trainer (Drivo), a new CycleOps trainer (The Hammer), and of course, we saw the Tacx NEO from last year receive a very minor external case tweak to increase bike frame compatibility.
This category has seen tremendous competition and innovation this year, and I suspect it’ll be cheaper for the 2017-2018 trainer season (next year). But for this season, you’ll have to spend at least $1,100 if you want to join this club. The good news is the club is very solid. The bad news is that one player (CycleOps Hammer) missed the boat (literally), and thus won’t be included at this time in the rankings. See the ‘Why I didn’t include it’ section below for more there.
Like the previous category, all three of the remaining contenders are fantastic offerings. Seriously, you won’t go wrong with any of them. Period. That said, I’ll go ahead and give my top recommendation, and then my thoughts on the remaining.
Top Pick: Tacx NEO
First off, let me start by pointing out the obvious: This baby’s expensive. It sits at $1,600USD. But it’s the best trainer of those I’ve reviewed. Is it worth $400 more than the KICKR or Drivo? Probably not. But, if money is no object – then this is it.
Historically the NEO’s claim to fame is its noise properties. Or rather, lack thereof. It aims to be the quietest trainer on the market. And I’d agree – I don’t know of anything that’s more silent than this. That’s all while having ANT+ FE-C compatibility, as well as ANT+ transmission of power/speed/cadence to any capable device. And finally, Bluetooth Smart control as well. Plus, this past summer they added that nifty ability to simulate road patterns, so it actually feels like you’re riding on cobblestones in Zwift. It’s crazy cool.
The NEO is more expensive than the KICKR, at $1,699US. For Europeans, this NEO is much closer in price to the KICKR, only 100EUR difference at 1,299EUR + the cost of a cassette (about 50-100EUR). So that’s something to heavily consider.
In my opinion, the primary reason you’d get the NEO over the KICKR is that you want near-silence. And in my experience – it does deliver on that quite well. There’s also a slight gap right now on the Bluetooth Smart control side for 3rd party apps (notable for iPhones/iPads that can’t do ANT+). Tacx released access for developers to control all Tacx Smart trainers via Bluetooth Smart the last week of September, so we’re still seeing some apps get that all baked in. I expect that to settle out by December though – thus putting them on the virtually same app playing field as Wahoo.
Now, there is one downside here: Tacx quality control on the NEO production line seems to be variable. Last year started off with some folks having various noises coming from their units. These had different sources, and Tacx found an issue in assembly that caused metal bits to end up in the unit. That was supposed to solve that. But the reality is it hasn’t. There are still people – including even myself – who have managed to get bum units straight off the assembly line, even as recently as this past week (via retailers). It’s a problem. So, I’ve got no issues recommending the NEO as long as you can return it easily and quickly for a new one (within your country). You’ll generally know within the first ride or few if something is amiss.
(Side note: For no particular reason, I don’t have an in-depth review of this unit published, despite using it all last winter. I’ve seen zero issues with power accuracy, and you can often see those charts in various in-depth power meter reviews. Aside from the quality control issues, I’m pretty happy with it.)
The new KICKR got far quieter, and addressed some outstanding accuracy quirks that some people had, while the Drivo upped the accuracy game by stating a +/-1% accuracy claim (and then backing it up by 3rd party labs). I found both very accurate in testing, without question, solid.
The KICKR is priced $100 cheaper than the Drivo ($1,199 vs $1,299), and the Drivo will require you to purchase a cassette ($50-$100), so that is a downside. On the flipside, it can claim a slightly higher accuracy rating than the KICKR. Whether or not that additional 1% increase matters…I don’t know.
Both trainers have ANT+ FE-C control, so they’ll work with all desktop apps. The KICKR will broadcast power and speed, while the Drivo will broadcast power, speed, and cadence. Further, as they showed at Interbike, they’re also doing cool pedaling metrics too, which the KICKR lacks. On the flipside, the KICKR is going to enjoy slightly more 3rd party app compatibility on mobile devices, simply because Wahoo’s been in the game longer there and more mobile/tablet apps have the Wahoo API than Elite.
Here’s a look at all three trainers, side by side in a shoot out!
Again, all three are very solid, and I’d have no problems recommending any of them as a high end trainer. I will also use all three of them semi-randomly throughout the winter. Though…a small part of me really does enjoy the feeling of the road on Zwift with the Tacx NEO.
Now, every year there are a few trainers that don’t really fit into the norms, but somehow they end up in my bucket and I figure I’ll briefly discuss them. These are different from the ‘Why I Didn’t Include It List’, which is next. Think of this as sort of a curiosity of sorts. In years past it was the Inside Ride Rollers, plus a tiny little portable trainer from Sportscraft. These aren’t so much direct recommendations as really just kinda interesting products that you might fit into the ‘Well that’s different!’ category.
This year, I’m tossing the Revbox in that pile. I was going to put the Stac Zero trainer in this category, but I decided it should really be moved up into the sub-$400 category above. I think it deserved that, after all, they did start shipping.
This is a $1,400 wind trainer that effectively forces you to keep constant pressure all the way around the crank/pedal rotation. Failure to do so makes it immediately obvious where pedaling dead spots are and is kinda like stalling a manual transmission car. More than that though, it has the unusual capability of allowing very high power resistance with a very low cadence. They advertise being able to hold 500w at only 45RPM (many other trainers fail these types of tests).
Now, whether or not those features are truly useful is definitely debatable. Since last year they added a power sensor, though it doesn’t transmit ANT+ to your head unit. Instead, only to their app…which is a solid bummer. Further, the trainer is anything but quiet. It’s the loudest trainer I’ve tested by a long shot. It’s basically a small jet engine in your living room. On the bright side, that fan output does get funneled directly back to your back, cooling you. So that’s kinda cool.
In any case, I’ll do a bit more on this sometime this fall, more out of curiosity than anything else.
Why I Didn’t Include It list:
First and foremast, this isn’t a list of bad trainers. If you take that away from this paragraph, then you’re mistaken. In fact, there are some awesome trainers in here. Instead, this list is to save me time answering the same question 482 times below for each trainer as to why I didn’t include them. I’m keeping these explanations short and sweet. In many cases I’ve detailed out longer answers in posts related to those products.
CycleOps Hammer: Simply put – it’s not out yet. While I did try it back in May, far too much has changed on the internals of the unit to know how it might shape up. Not only that, it sounds like in a best case scenario it’ll start shipping in later November or December. But then why write a whole section on the Tacx Flux when it’s not out yet either? Because at that price point it has the potential to be a massive industry disrupter. Whereas as the Hammer price-point, it’s just another KICKR by a different (albeit very reputable) name.
Elite Kura: There’s nothing technically wrong with this trainer. It shares the same power meter accuracy components as the higher end Drivo. The challenge though is that unlike the Drivo, it doesn’t allow control of the trainer. It’s kinda like the LeMond Revolution Pro below, in that there’s no resistance control. If that’s your preference, and you want something that has good road feel and solid accuracy – this may be your deal.
Anything older Elite: Basically, if it hasn’t got one of the new names (Rampa, Kura, Drivo), I’d consider it older tech and simply would focus on the newer stuff. Now you might find some older units out there for a steal, but validate that it has dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart, as well as FE-C (if you’re looking for a controllable unit).
CompuTrainer: Solid physical product (build/accuracy), horrible software, overpriced compared to KICKR (or even NEO). Just outdated. But, if you can get a used one on eBay for about $600, that’s a good deal and it works with many desktop (Mac/PC) apps these days. But I wouldn’t pay any more than $600 for the unit.
LeMond Revolution Pro: The company has folded and ceased operations too many times in such a short time. While it was a good (albeit crazy loud) product, from a consumer standpoint it just doesn’t make sense. Plus, technically speaking the Wattbox isn’t up to par with many other solutions on other trainers today.
CycleOps PowerBeam Pro & PowerSync: While technically a very capable trainer, it lacks the ability to do dual ANT+/BLE. For that singular reason, it doesn’t make the list. Otherwise, it probably would. In such a shifting landscape of apps, you don’t want to be locked in on one protocol or the other. I’m only recommending purchasing trainers that are dual-capable. Plus, with the CycleOps Hammer and Magnus replacing these – I wouldn’t pick up the older single-protocol trainers for any more than about $400 (the current $499 sale is still a bit too high for me).
BKOOL Trainers: These are very capable, and their $479 price point is really solid for the Smart Go (and their Pro at $699 with a fairly solid 20% incline rating is *very* impressive). But when I compare them to the other four brands at the same price point, the BKOOL Trainers are missing one specific thing: Power broadcasting using open ANT+/BLE. They do however use ANT+ FE-C, which means you’ll get it easily using desktop apps. But unless you have an Edge 520/820/1000, you won’t get it on your Garmin head unit. And thus for that tiny reason, I have to separate it from the other four. If they were to enable that, then I’d have no issues lumping it in with those other options. Or if you don’t care about that and want inclines, then go forth!
Tacx Genius Smart: This trainer is different from the other Tacx units in that it can actually spin the wheel by itself, thus simulating downhill sections. While fun for a ride or two, I don’t find it worth the extra money. Like anything else, if you find it for what you consider a great deal, then sure there’s no harm in the extra capability…but for MSRP pricing, no thanks.
Tacx Bushido Smart: While it has more incline simulation capability (15% vs Vortex Smart at 7%), that really only impacts you if you’re doing hills above that. It’s about the slow speed, and not actually the total wattage output. Further, if you’re really set on spending that money, then the KICKR SNAP is $699 currently. But it gives you slightly better app compatibility and a much beefier frame. The SNAP also gets you up to 10.3% incline, so not as much as the Bushido, but covers it for most hills. There are other nuances, but that’s the gist of things.
Kurt Kinetic Smart Control Trainers: Really? I thought they had the right idea this year with offering the upgrade kits for *any* older trainers. While the upgrade kits were a bit overpriced (by about $100-$150), the theory was sound. Well, until we found out that it doesn’t follow any standard (ANT+ or Bluetooth Smart ones), and as of this writing is only compatible with a single 3rd party app, and only on the desktop version of that app. If you want the longer story, read my post here and then read through the 200 or so comments.
Most of this is from years past, but I wanted to repeat it for this year. I’ve tweaked things where appropriate and/or where they’ve changed.
I train everyday on the stock wheels and tires that came with the bike. Just normal tires and normal wheels. In fact, I don’t even bother to swap out for a separate trainer tire. Why? Well, my thinking is that I spend 3+ days a week on a trainer, and the last thing I want to deal with is swapping tires or wheels every time I go inside to outside or the inverse (I’m kinda lazy that way). Further, when you step back and look at the total cost of triathlon or cycling, and the total cost of simply getting a new tire each year due to wear – the new tire is pretty low (between $30-45).
Now, if you’re riding race wheels with expensive race tires – you’ll have to balance the much higher cost of most race tires.
Do trainer tires make it quieter?
Nope, actually, not at all. And I proved this as part of my Tacx Genius review – some actually make it louder. I’ve then further confirmed this with a few other tire companies as well. Most of them kinda silently laugh at the fact that people actually buy expensive trainer tires. Hint: Just use last season’s tire and toss it at the end of the winter.
Why didn’t you recommend XYZ trainer or software instead? It’s waaaaay better!
As noted above, it’s likely because I haven’t used it. I’m pretty strict in that I don’t recommend things I haven’t used or know a lot about. I know magazines love to, but I don’t. Sorry!
Any tips or suggestions on where to place remote controls/jelly beans/bike computers/etc. while on a trainer?
Sometimes. You can find endless numbers of them online or at your local bike shop – usually around $30. You can also just use a towel, just be sure that if you’re on carpet that you change the towel regularly, otherwise it’ll eventually stain the carpet below (sweat going down into it). Here’s the thing, don’t overspend on this – that’s silly. You don’t need a $70 trainer mat. As long as it’s waterproof (thus, sweat proof) and offers some padding to lower sound profiles, that’s really the key thing.
What’s the quietest trainer?
Technically, it’s the Stac Zero. But for resistance controlled it’d be the Tacx NEO, though the new Wahoo KICKR2 and Elite Drivo are both very quiet as well.
What about generic rollers, any thoughts?
I don’t have a ton of experience on rollers unfortunately.
In any event, I find that the cross-over between people who really like riding rollers and the people who really like the technology aspect tends to be rather small. Said differently, roller people tend to be more purists who don’t want technology in the way (not all of course, but most). The one thing I do like about the Inside Ride unit is that the bumpers make it a bit easier to get used to riding rollers versus units without that, plus they support the ANT+ FE-C. So if I had to pick a pair of rollers, I’d go that direction.
What about one of those bike protective thong cover things?
No, sorry, I don’t cover up my bike. I’ve spent a A LOT of time on my bike, pouring a lot of sweat – many multi-hour rides. But you know what? I’ve never seen any adverse issues due to it. Perhaps I’m lucky, perhaps it’s not normal. Either way, I don’t use one. That said, Tacx just released a cool one that actually has a cell-phone holder built in (with a protective plastic cover). Kinda neat.
Do you use a trainer block? Which one do you recommend?
Yup, I have a couple floating around. In general, don’t go overboard here. Pick up something cheap and call it a day. I’ve got the CycleOps climbing block – which is somewhat handy in that it has basically multiple levels on it. I don’t use that for climbing per se, but just to handle differences in the different trainer heights. It’s $26. But there are other cheaper ones that start at about $11. Most of those are fine (I have a few of those too). Just be sure it can support your weight.
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If you’re looking at any of the above devices, you can support the site by purchasing through any of the below links. Here’s a handy table of everything mentioned above that I have a review on. And remember that everything you purchase through Clever Training saves you 10% off your entire cart – so that will definitely help in some of the trainers’ cases. You’ll use coupon code DCR10BTF and you’ll also get free US shipping for all items over $75. For the Wahoo products, you’ll need the DCR/CT VIP club, but that only takes a moment to sign-up.
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Think my written reviews are deep? You should check out my videos. I take things to a whole new level of interactive depth!
Smart Trainers Buyers Guide: Looking at a smart trainer this winter? I cover all the units to buy (and avoid) for indoor training. The good, the bad, and the ugly.
You probably stumbled upon here looking for a review of a sports gadget. If you’re trying to decide which unit to buy – check out my in-depth reviews section. Some reviews are over 60 pages long when printed out, with hundreds of photos! I aim to leave no stone unturned.
I travel a fair bit, both for work and for fun. Here’s a bunch of random trip reports and daily trip-logs that I’ve put together and posted. I’ve sorted it all by world geography, in an attempt to make it easy to figure out where I’ve been.
The most common question I receive outside of the “what’s the best GPS watch for me” variant, are photography-esq based. So in efforts to combat the amount of emails I need to sort through on a daily basis, I’ve complied this “My Photography Gear” post for your curious minds! It’s a nice break from the day to day sports-tech talk, and I hope you get something out of it!
Many readers stumble into my website in search of information on the latest and greatest sports tech products. But at the end of the day, you might just be wondering “What does Ray use when not testing new products?”. So here is the most up to date list of products I like and fit the bill for me and my training needs best! DC Rainmaker 2023 swim, bike, run, and general gear list. But wait, are you a female and feel like these things might not apply to you? If that’s the case (but certainly not saying my choices aren’t good for women), and you just want to see a different gear junkies “picks”, check out The Girl’s Gear Guide too.