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Turbo Trainers 2018-2019 – Which Trainer Best Suits Your Needs? [Buyer’s Guide]

Want to cycle with and against fellow cyclists using a turbo trainer at home? Thanks to the rise of Zwift that’s perfectly possible. Times are long gone when a turbo trainer was a simple tool for structured personalised trainings or useful for an occasional ride. From high-end direct drive trainers that even vibrate when you cycle over virtual cobblestones to basic turbo trainers. There is a suitable and good turbo trainer for everyone. So which trainer best suits your needs? We walk you through the differences between the various types of turbo trainers.

To find out which turbo trainer suits your needs, it’s important to look at what you want to use it for. A super intensive training? Just an occasional short ride on Sunday? Or do you want to compete in races with Zwift or really venture into the mountains by means of the Tacx Desktop App’s videos?

You can choose from a wide range of turbo trainers. Tacx alone already has more than 10 trainers in its assortment. So how do you pick the right one?
You can choose from a wide range of turbo trainers. Tacx alone already has more than 10 trainers in its assortment. So how do you pick the right one?

The harder you (want to) train, the stronger your turbo trainer needs to be. A good indication is the gradient a trainer can simulate, because this is indicative for its power.

Do you have a lot of trouble cycling up a mountain with a 10% gradient when cycling outside? In that case it’s not necessary to own a turbo trainer that offers more than that. Unless you want to challenge yourself, of course. For athletes who really want to go to the max, there are turbo trainers that simulate a gradient of 25%. So even professionals can challenge themselves on a good turbo trainer.

Want to feel like a true professional? Then Tacx Desktop App’s videos might be your pick.
Want to feel like a true professional? Then Tacx Desktop App’s videos might be your pick.

Basically, every cyclists needs a different turbo trainer. Turbo trainers you can operate with your computer or smartphone are extremely popular. Moreover, increasing amounts of people buy a turbo trainer since it has become a lot of fun to cycle at home. This type of turbo trainer is called an interactive or smart trainer.

Turbo trainers for Zwift and other interactive software

Turbo trainers that are compatible with Zwift or other software transfer your data regarding speed, cadence and wattage to your computer or smartphone. The information shown on your display is a realistic representation of the effort you put into your training.

In addition, better turbo trainers automatically adjust the resistance of your turbo trainer. This way you can complete your training in a structured way. But what’s really fun to do, is cycling through a virtual landscape or video.

With Zwift, you will never get bored on your turbo trainer.
With Zwift, you will never get bored on your turbo trainer.

Zwift is currently the most popular software for indoor cycling. But there’s actually a lot more to choose from. For example, the updated Tacx Desktop App is a really nice application to work with. But Kinomap, Trainerroad, The Sufferfest and Fulgaz are also good enough for hours of fun on the turbo trainer.

So the choice for the right turbo trainer for you depends on your level, your requirements, your budget and if you want to use it with Zwift. To help you pick the right turbo trainer, we listed all different types of trainers for you.

Still haven’t found the one you’d like? In our superstores in Arnhem and Den Bosch it’s possible to test nearly all our turbo trainers. There you’ll find setups with turbo trainers from Tacx, Wahoo and CycleOps.

Comparing turbo trainers

Besides the power of a turbo trainer, you also need to determine which type of turbo trainer you want to have. There are 3 types of turbo trainers: direct drive turbo trainers, wheel-on turbo trainers and rollers.

With Wheel-on turbo trainers, your rear wheel rests on a metal roll that generates resistance.

Direct drive and Wheel-on turbo trainers are the most popular. This is not just because they are more powerful. It’s also to do with the fact that most of these trainers are compatible with trainer software. Only the cheaper Wheel-on turbo trainers are not, or only limited, to be used with Zwift.

Rollers are especially useful for a warming up or cooling down. In particular racing cyclists often have a handy portable roller to be able to start a race all warmed up.

Direct drive turbo trainers

With a direct drive turbo trainer you place the bicycle with the swingarm on the trainer. So the only thing you need to do is detach the rear wheel, mount a cassette and you’re good to go. All our direct drive turbo trainers are also smart turbo trainers.

Before using a direct drive turbo trainer you only need to provide it with a cassette. The trainer replaces your rear wheel.
Before using a direct drive turbo trainer you only need to provide it with a cassette. The trainer replaces your rear wheel.

Direct drive turbo trainers are the most powerful. Additionally, they are more exact in transmitting data. And some high-end turbo trainers, such as the Tacx Neo and the Tacx Neo 2, have a few fun extra features like Road Feel.

On top of that, direct drive turbo trainers are by far the quietest trainers. Do you live in a flat or do you need to take your roommates into account? If so, you’ll make your flatmates a lot happier by choosing a direct drive turbo trainer.

But all that power, precision and functionality does come with a price. Therefore, direct drive turbo trainers are the most expensive. In recent years, prices have dropped a bit thankfully. That’s also why every brand has a direct drive trainer that can be labelled as a starter model.

The best direct drive turbo trainers

Direct drive turbo trainers under £750

Wheel-on turbo trainers

The second type of turbo trainer is the wheel-on trainer or turbo trainer with wheel drive. With these turbo trainers you place the rear wheel of your bicycle on a roller. Your rear wheel will be pushed against that roller, which will generate resistance.

To get the best results with a turbo trainer on a roller, you do need a special trainer tyre.
To get the best results with a turbo trainer on a roller, you do need a special trainer tyre.

The benefit is that these trainers are relatively cheap in comparison with the direct drive turbo trainer. However, the downside is that you need a separate trainer tyre. In terms of performance, turbo trainers with roller are a little less powerful than direct drive turbo trainers. But sometimes more expensive smart turbo trainers with roller are even more powerful than the starter model of direct drive turbo trainers.

The differences in brake power, functionality and therefore also price are the largest amongst turbo trainers with a roller. Basic turbo trainers with roller for example cannot be operated with software such as Zwift.

Smart turbo trainers can be operated with Zwift. The only exception is the Tacx Satori Smart, this trainer does transfer the data to your computer, but the resistance needs to be adjusted manually.

Smart turbo trainers with roller

Basic turbo trainers with roller

All our new turbo trainers in one overview

We understand it is quite difficult to compare all turbo trainers. In the figure below we have listed all turbo trainers for you, both direct drive and trainers with rollers.

Turbo trainer Max % Power Accuracy Interactive Direct Drive Wheel-on Price
Tacx NEO 2 25% 2200W < 1% £££££
Wahoo KICKR 20% 2200W 2% £££££
CycleOps H2 20% 2000W 2% £££££
Tacx Flux 2 16% 2000W 2,5% ££££
Tacx Flux S 10% 1500W 3% £££
Wahoo KICKR Core 16% 1800W 2% ££££
Tacx Genius 20% 1500W 5% £££
Tacx Bushido 15% 1500W 5% £££
CycleOps M2 15% 1500W 5% £££
Tacx Vortex 7% 950W 5% ££
Tacx Satori n/a 950W n/a ££
Tacx Booster n/a 1050W n/a £
Tacx Blue Motion Pro n/a 950W n/a £
Tacx Blue Matic n/a 700W n/a £

Rollers

One category that is very popular among professionals is rollers. With rollers you place the bicycle on two rolls, that don’t give you any resistance and aren’t secured to your bicycle either.

A roller is usually easy to carry and therefore fits in the boot of the car.
A roller is usually easy to carry and therefore fits in the boot of the car.

The benefit of a roller is that it is easy to carry around. This way it’s perfectly possible to put the roller in your car in case you often participate in races. Additionally, a roller is very suitable if you want to train your core. When you use a roller you need to maintain your balance and because of that, you actively train your core while cycling.

And even if you have a power meter and a speed or cadence sensor, you can use the roller with Zwift. The only thing is, you won’t receive any feedback. So it might be a bit unrealistic.

Rollers for easy transport

What else do you need with a turbo trainer?

Depending on which turbo trainer you choose, you can use multiple accessories. Some accessories such as sensors are needed to keep track of you heart rate. For example, a cheaper non-interactive turbo trainer can also be made interactive by using a power meter or speed and cadence sensor.

A bicycle trainer mat absorbs sweat and dampens noise. I bet your neighbours will be happy with that. On top of that, the mat is easy to clean.
A bicycle trainer mat absorbs sweat and dampens noise. I bet your neighbours will be happy with that. On top of that, the mat is easy to clean.

A training mat is a good option for those who live in a house with thin walls and floors, or for people who want to train as quietly as possible. It dampens the sound and also absorbs your sweat. This means you protect your floor at the same time.

Trainer tyre ensures silence

A trainer tyre is an essential element for turbo trainers of which you place the rear wheel on a roller. The friction between the bicycle tyre and the roller creates a lot of heat. A normal rubber bicycle tyre has to endure a lot and therefore wears out quickly.

A trainer tyre is especially made for use on a roller. It’s quieter and can cope better with the high temperatures.
A trainer tyre is especially made for use on a roller. It’s quieter and can cope better with the high temperatures.

Using a trainer tyre reduces slipping of the tyre, diminishes wear and reduces heat generation. In addition, the tyre is quieter. We always recommend the use of a special trainer tyre.

Choose your ideal turbo trainer

When you are looking for a turbo trainer, there is a lot to choose from. It is particularly important that you decide what you want to do with the trainer beforehand. Do you value entertainment or feedback on your most important training data? Then a smart trainer is the best choice. If that doesn’t matter too much to you, it’s likely that a basic turbo trainer will best suit your needs.

Starting your bicycle ride becomes a bit easier and more fun when you use an interactive turbo trainer like Zwift for example.
Starting your bicycle ride becomes a bit easier and more fun when you use an interactive turbo trainer like Zwift for example.

Within the category of smart trainers, you can choose a relatively strong or weak brake. The stronger the brake, the more realistic the gradient. Then again, that comes with a price. However, for the most realistic cycling experience it is a must to have a powerful smart trainer.

Training together is a lot more fun, of course!
Training together is a lot more fun, of course!

Warming up or cooling down? Then it’s best if you opt for a roller or classic turbo trainer. By the way, don’t forget that every turbo trainer (including the very best smart trainers) also work without software and are therefore also suitable for warming ups or a cooling down.

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Olle Vastbinder

Olle Vastbinder

You can find me on a bicycle almost every day. I commute each day from my house to work and back. Often on my road bike, and during the winter on an old crosser. And if that isn't enough, you can find me on my bike during most weekends too. On my trusty road bike or my mountainbike. And if you can't find me outdoors riding my bike, odds are I might be riding on Zwift

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