(Pocket-lint) - Turbo trainers have long been a favourite of cyclists and triathletes, letting them get on the bike during the cold winter months without having to brave the rain, wind and ice on the roads.
Turbo trainers have the advantage over an exercise bike that they use your existing bike, meaning you can train as you race and will often take up a lot less space than an exercise bike when you come to pack them away.
What is a turbo trainer?
Briefly, a turbo trainer is a device that attaches to the rear of your bike, clamping the frame in place, allowing you to ride your bike without going anywhere.
The more advanced direct drive turbo trainers replace the back wheel completely, letting you slot your bike frame into place and then ride as normal. You'll have to match the cassette (gears) on the turbo to those on your bike. Simpler turbo trainers will clamp onto the rear wheel skewer, putting the rear wheel onto a roller. You might want to get a turbo tyre so you don't wear out your road tyres.
There are basically two types of turbo trainers - normal or smart - with the latter able to supply you with a lot of data about your training, as well as being compatible with a number of virtual training services, such as Zwift. As we're gadget people, all the trainers below are smart, so you're connected, to differing degrees.
Best turbo trainers in 2022
Best turbo trainers: Our top picks
- Automatic calibration
- Super quiet
- Smooth power changes
- Axis Feet don't really make a huge difference
- It's undeniably expensive
The Wahoo Kickr is one of the most popular direct drive turbo trainers and one of the most iconic. It's almost silent, but still makes some noise, and offers huge power up to 2200W and can simulate inclines up to 20 per cent.
It will give you heaps of data, fully compatible with services like Zwift or TrainerRoad, with a big flywheel to give a great ride feel, while giving great accuracy. This latest version has flexible feed designed to give a more natural lateral feel.
Tacx Neo 2T
- Auto calibration
- Accurate measurements (power/cadence/speed)
- Rock solid stability - whether saddled or standing
- Large footprint
- Accessories currently lacking
- 'Road feel' is more quirk than necessity
Turbo trainers can be expensive, but so can bikes. If you're serious about your training then the Tacx Neo 2T is one of the best on the market, offering essentially silent performance and built-in power sensors with analysis for things like your pedal stroke.
It incorporates tech to give you different road feels and inclines (up to 25 per cent), as well as giving you acceleration when you come to a descent.
It's fully compatible with services like Tacx's training software, Zwift and TrainerRoad. It also packs up fairly small so you can pack it away. It can also run without a power supply, but, if you want decent acceleration, you'll need to plug it in.
Wahoo Kickr Core
- Super quiet operation
- Faultless connectivity and sensors
- Smooth road feel
- No carrying handle
- Power accuracy of +/-2% is less than high end competitors
The Wahoo Kickr Core is one of the most popular turbos, with a blend of the quality and performance to suit many riders.
It's not as adept as the higher-spec Kickr, but offers a smooth and quiet ride, accuracy and a flawless connected experience to make indoor training a breeze.
Pinnacle HC Turbo
- Very quiet when in use
- Good road feel
- Power readings are not completely consistent
- Cadence readings are inaccurate
For those in the UK, Evans own-brand Pinnacle has a turbo that could save you a little cash. It's not as premium as the Wahoo Kickr Core, but it's a good slice cheaper and offers a similar setup.
It's a direct drive turbo and ideally positioned for serious riders who don't have quite as much cash to spend. It offers a good Bluetooth connection, but the power and cadence reading isn't the most accurate.
Other turbo trainers to consider
The Elite Suito aims to be as easy to use as possible, coming with an 11-speed Shimano cassette preinstalled. It's fully assembled, just unfold the legs and get going.
It will simulate slopes up to 15 per cent and give you 1900W resistance while it's also fairly accurate. It will give you plenty of data and dive into Zwift races or other virtual race series.
Wahoo Kickr Snap
The Kickr Snap offers smart skills, fully connected so you can use it with services like Zwift, but also supporting an impressive 1500W and able to simulate climbs up to 12 per cent.
But this wheel-on turbo trainer will quickly fold away its legs for easy storage once you're done with it.
Elite Qubo Power Mag Smart B+
Although a much more simple design, the Qubo Power Mag Smart B+ is still a smart trainer, just a lot less expensive and a lot lighter and easy to move around and store. It will still give you data for your records or to use with services like Zwift, TrainerRoad or The Sufferfest.
The Qubo has magnetic resistance offering up to 900W with an 8-position lever.
The Tacx Satori hangs on to smart credentials so it will give you some data, perhaps more importantly allowing you to participate in virtual platforms like Zwift, perfect to keep you entertained during indoor training.
The advantage the Satori has is that it's affordable and easy to fold up and stow away when you're done with it. It will support a max power of 950W and the resistance is managed via a 10-position manual lever.
What to look for in a turbo trainer
Buying a turbo trainer allows you to keep up the cycling, even when the weather outside is terrible. For cyclists, it means you can put in hours in the saddle, without having to deal with the wind of the rain - and unlike a bike like Peloton or the more advanced Tacx Neo Smart Bike, you use your existing bike.
There are lots of options. All the devices we have suggested are smart trainers, meaning that have some degree of connectivity, allowing you to extract data to get more information about your training session. We recommend this, although there are some basic wheel-on trainers that just offer friction and nothing else if you want to go even cheaper.
Beyond that, at the cheapest end of the scale, you're literally just clamping your bike into the trainer and start pedalling, but as you move up to the direct drive options, you have a much more proficient system. The advantage that direct-drive offers you is that you remove your back wheel, so you're not wearing the wheel or tyre, and the system is nice and quiet, so you won't disturb others in your home.
Direct drive also means the door is opened to more features. First and foremost there's power measurement, but also the ability to simulate different surfaces or elevations when connected to a third-party application like Zwift. That means you have a lot more realism, a much more interactive experience and a maximal amount of feedback on your training. While there's a big difference in price between wheel-on and direct drive, it's well worth the outlay if you're serious about your cycling.
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