A smart trainer is a piece of equipment you connect to your bike to keep you from losing your mind when riding inside. But with the added benefit of cycling apps such as Zwift. It allows the resistance and other parameters to be controlled. Now ‘smart’ means two-way communication on speed power and often cadence between apps on your phone, computer or tablet and the smart trainer. Most importantly, it means that apps can control the resistance of the trainer so when you come to a virtual hill or the start of a hard workout, the trainer adjusts automatically making it more difficult to pedal.
So these are the top budget smart trainers that will make your training more fun and realistic than ever before.
1. Wahoo KICKR Snap
- Optimized flywheel technology
- Quiet operation
- Controlled resistance
- 12% maximum grade simulation
- +/- 3% power accuracy
Wahoo KICKR Snap is a fully interactive smart trainer that brings a realistic ride experience indoors. One of the great things about KICKR Snap is that it is a wheel-on trainer, which means the bicycle rear wheel doesn’t have to come off the bike. At 17.2 kg, the KICKR Snap is heavy-duty, sturdy, and durable. It holds up easily for simple storage. The KICKR Snap has a lever that acts as a quick-release to help with mounting and dismounting your bikes. Both 130 and 135 mm quick-release hubs are supported and they weld by 142 through axle is supported with an adapter.
The KICKR Snap works with both 650 and 700C road wheels. Once the KICKR Snap is powered up, it works with several trainer apps including Zwift, TrainerRoad, and others. Like the original KICKR, the KICKR Snap broadcast on ANT+ and Bluetooth smart concurrently allowing it to work with a wide variety of cycling computers and devices. These apps allow the KICKR Snap to plan and execute specific workouts, ride virtually with friends, and simulate outdoor routes greatly improving the indoor cycling experience. Wahoo recommends a maximum user weight of 113.3 kg for the KICKR Snap. It can handle a maximum power output a 1500 watts and simulate a maximum grade of 12%.
Pros: Sturdy and stable construction, controlled resistance with Zwift and TrainerRoad, easy set-up with ‘snap’ lever
Cons: Difficult pedalling at low rpm, requires calibration for accurate power measurement
2. Elite Turno
- Compatible with wheel size 20″ – 29″
- 5.1 kg flywheel
- 650 W (at 40 km/h) braking performance
- Comes with 12-month My E-Training access
- Integrated Misuro B+ sensor
Elite Turno is a budget-friendly direct drive trainer that is super quiet. The slipping rear wheel is excluded to save power. Elite Turno has a 5.1 kg flywheel that uses fluid technology, which makes pedalling as you are riding on the road outside. There is an integrated Elite Misuro B+ sensor so you can connect your trainer with a smartphone or tablet. It is also compatible with a variety of bike computers. The fluid brakes have a self-adapting progressive resistance, which increases braking power at higher speeds. This progressive resistance also offers optimum conditions for training pedalling cadence, power, and sprinting.
The construction is sturdy, well-built, and the frame is foldable for easy transport. It is suitable for wheel size 20 to 29 inches. It supports both 130 and 135 mm hub widths for quick-release (5 mm) and with 142 x 12 mm thru-axle. Elite Turno comes with a free 12-month subscription to the Elite App My E-Training. This trainer is also compatible with all popular software like Zwift, TrainerRoad, Kinomap Trainer, and others. The data is transmitted via Bluetooth and ANT+. If you are in the market for an entry-level smart trainer, the Elite Turno is a great option to consider.
Pros: Quite, feels realistic, can be used inside an apartment without disturbing neighbours
Cons: Little information available regarding initialization of the included Misuro B+ device.
3. Elite Qubo Digital Smart B+
- Electric-motor resistance controlled by Zwift or TrainerRoad
- Light and folds down
- Can do ANT+ or Bluetooth
- Relies on rider weight for tyre/roller contact
Elite Qubo Digital Smart B+ is an easy-to-use trainer and can make your indoor workouts much easier. It a simple to set up and suits a bike and ride with a good sense of quietness. The trainer is easy to put together and does not sound too bad. To assemble this thing, bolt the resistance unit to the base, plug it, and you are done. Smart B+ comes with a quick-release that allows you to connect your bike and trainer. It uses your body weight to make the connection between the bike and the elastogel roller. This enables you to get a tool-free adjustment. There is also a quick-release locking lever, which is great in this budget.
The trainer is pretty quiet. The company claims 50% less noise than a metal roller. You could easily use it in a spare room without disturbing other family members. If you could get a good quality mattress, it would help a lot. Remember, you will need to add a riser block as it does not come with one. The maximum resistance offered by this trainer is 1070 watts and max slope the trainer will replicate is 6%. The flywheel comes with it is not too big but manages to do a good job of smoothing out your pedal stroke.
Pros: Most affordable smart turbo trainer on the market, folds for storage, lightweight
Cons: Short power cord, inaccurate power measurement, a little noisy but manageable
4. Tacx FLUX S
- 1500 watts max resistance
- 3% power accuracy
- 7 kg flywheel
- 10% max incline
- 24.6 kg of weight
This is the trainer with direct drive benefits at a very competitive price. Out of the box, it needs some assembly. You need to slot the stabilising legs into the main body and bolt in place. It only takes a couple of minutes and an Allen key is supplied to make things easy. One of the downsides of this trainer is that it doesn’t fold and requires a dedicated training room or space. Also, it lacks a carry handle and basic handholds, which makes it difficult to move. However, the trainer is good looking and it won’t encroach too much within a multi-purpose room. The Flux S may be a good option for those who want a simplified introduction to the world of budget direct drive trainers.
Tacx FLUX S can simulate climbs of up to 10%. This might not be very impressive but for most people, this will be enough. It offers a max 1500 watts of resistance that is enough for most indoor riders. You can control both gradient and power settings by using the Tacx app through your smartphone. The ride feels pretty good and this is largely down to the 7.6kg flywheel. The resistance also feels good, especially when using Zwift and hitting the climbs. It is smooth and provides a great indoor training experience.
Pros: Stable, quiet, premium feel
Cons: Does not fold for storage, no carry handle
5. Kinetic Rock and Roll Smart
- Compatible with Kinetic Fit, Zwift, TrainerRoad
- Pairs with devices using ANT+ or Bluetooth Smart
- Compatible with ANT+ FE-C and Bluetooth FTMS communication standards
- Frame fits 22-inch to 29-inch wheels
- Large diameter roller for reduced tire wear
Kinetic Rock and Roll Smart comes pretty much preassembled. You just need to take it out of the box, put on both the legs, tightening those down, and mounting the bike with the supplied skewer. If you find the unit sways to the left or to the right, you can re-centre the bike. Now turn on the knob, once it’s touching the tyre and three full rotations should give you enough resistance. For optimal performance, use the Tacx tyre at 100 psi. The assembly manual that comes with it is best I have ever seen for an indoor trainer. It is full of glossy and clear instructions to get you up and running straight away.
Rock and Roll Smart is essentially like other fixed wheel trainers but adds a novel suspension mechanism that gives the rider some freedom of movement in all directions. The trainer has a very large base to account for the extra instability introduced by this mechanism. The big footprint works well, and the trainer is quite stable but it will require a little more room than your standard trainer so be aware of that. There is an elastomer sandwiched between metal plates, which is then secured with some big carriage bolts. This mechanism allows the resistance unit and your bike to float to some degree. The amount of float you get is determined by how tight you set those carriage bolts, which means that it’s user tunable. If you want the unit a little stiffer just tighten the bolts and vice versa.
Pros: Smooth and sustained 3d realism with smart upgrade capability
Cons: Bulky and heavy, not compatible with Pro Flywheel accessory
6. Bkool Smart Pro 2
- Adjustable to wheels from 20 to 29
- No calibration and assembly required
- ANT+ and Bluetooth connection
- Ability to simulate inertia
Bkool is a Spanish brand that makes some of the great trainers and Smart Pro 2 is no exception. It is a wheel-on trainer and it can produce resistance up to 1200 watts. The trainer also simulates gradients of up to 20%. To position your bike quickly, Smart Pro 2 comes with a quick-release skewer. There are two threaded holders, which allow you to adjust the back wheel position. You can purchase Bkool thru-axle converter if your bike has a rear thru-axle. It also comes with a front-wheel riser, so your frame is level.
Smart Pro 2 is consists of two main sections, the frame or wheel attachment section and the resistance unit. In addition to threaded holders, there is a power supply, a replacement spindle, front-wheel support, and a USB ANT+, which allows you to connect your trainer to a laptop or computer. There is also an instructions manual, which most people ignore. The trainer does not require calibration and you don’t need to adjust the pressure of the resistance roller against your bike wheel. Most smart trainers are heavy but this one is very compact and pretty lightweight. It is not the lightest option but compared to other top-end models, it is very lightweight.
Pros: Simple to attach the bike, very straight forward to put together, reasonably quiet, lightweight
Cons: Thru-axle converter costs more, not direct drive
7. TACX Vortex
- ANT+ FE-C, Bluetooth Smart open
- PC/laptop Tacx Cycling app
- Realistic slope: 7%
- Max brake power (10 sec): 950 Watt
- Sprint power (1 min): 750 Watt
Vortex Smart Trainer is an entry-level and budget trainer because you’ve got things like the Flux and the Neo that have come along and improved that premium experience indoors. Although this unit was out in 2014, it still supports everything that’s popular today like ANT+ FE-C and Bluetooth, reporting power, speed and cadence. The trainer goes up to 950 Watts for a few seconds in the sprint at about 40 kilometres an hour. It’ll pack a punch of 750 Watts for a minute if you can hold that and a 7% grade simulation as well. It’s kind of packing a punch mid-range when it comes to the hills. You’re not going to get those steep pinches, but it’s enough for a good training session.
The flywheel weight of this unit is 1.65 kilos with an effective flywheel weight of 11 kilos. Power-wise, the specification is less than 10%. Well, that means within 10% accuracy of a true calibrated and certified power meter. It also comes with a nice steel skewer. I highly recommend using those. Save the super-light race skewers for race day. But for training and just generally riding around on your bike, stick with the steel skewer. They won’t bend or break.
Pros: Reliable power measurement, interactive resistance works with Zwift and other apps
Cons: Wattage reads a little high, louder than direct-drive
8. Elite Suito
- Comes with a pre-installed Shimano 11-speed cassette
- Wider support base with pre-assembled legs
- Slopes up to 15% with ± 2,5% accuracy
- ANT+ FE-C & Bluetooth
- Free subscription to Zwift and My E-Training
Suito is a competitively priced direct-drive interactive trainer. It’s ready to use out-of-the-box and comes complete with an 11-speed Shimano cassette fitted as standard. This is worth noting when comparing two similar priced units that don’t include a cassette. I like that there’s plenty of metal in the casing making it a notably robust feeling trainer. The Suito sits in the middle ground when it comes to weight at 14.5 kilos. The trainer is simple to set up. It is a case of folding out the legs, attaching the power lead, and the unit is ready for a bike to be attached. When folded, the unit is impressively compact and small enough to stick in a cupboard or under a bed.
I am also impressed that the adapters for 142-millimetre thru-axle come in the box as does a front wheel block for levelling things out. There’s no need for any sensors because the Suito covers cadence, power, and speed. It’s all easy and hassle-free. I also have no issues connecting straight to Zwift. The wide legs and weight do a good job of providing a stable ride once you start pedalling. The Suito offers gradients of up to 15%. This is 1% less than the Wahoo KICKR Core. I am sure for most in this market it will not be a deal-breaker. As you’d expect from a direct-drive trainer, the ride feel is good. The 3.5-kilogram flywheel helps with this but it is not as hefty as the Wahoo KICKR Core at 5.4 kilos.
Pros: Affordable, easy to use, stable
Cons: Not as quiet as some
9. Wahoo KICKR Core
- ANT+, ANT+ FE-C and Bluetooth connectivity
- Features a 5.4 kilos flywheel
- Belt motor drivetrain
- 16% maximum grade simulation
- Thru-axle compatible
The Core is Wahoo’s mid-price smart trainer that sits between their top-end KICKR and the budget-priced KICKR Snap. It has all the essential key functions you’d find on their top-end trainer, which makes it attractive if you’re on a little tighter budget or want to spend on Wahoo’s add-ons. It works directly with quick-release axles but it also comes with adaptors for thru-axles. There is no cassette or wheel block though you will have to add those on. Before you start, you will also need a cadence sensor as this unit does not transmit that information. To help keep the price down, the legs are fixed and you do have to bolt them on out of the box.
The 5.4-kilogram flywheel on the Core isn’t as burly is that on the 7.3-kilogram KICKR. The heavier flywheel is designed to help with a better ride-feel but in reality, it is hard to actually notice a difference between the two. Ride setup is simple and only takes a few minutes through the dedicated Wahoo app. It is pretty quiet thanks to the belt motor drivetrain, which offers almost silent pedalling. However, the bike transmission makes more noise than the trainer. The setup is very stable even when you’re working hard. Once pedalling, the power outputs are similar to those found on Garmin Vector power pedals. It offers a great deal even when compared to its more expensive Big Brother the KICKR. The Core is an impressive smart trainer and for many, the price will be a big pool compared to its main competitors.
Pros: Low noise levels, good ride feel
Cons: No cassette, not as compact as some, not very budget-friendly
10. Bkool Smart Air Lite
- Up to 20% gradients and up to 2000 watts
- Rocking System allows your bike to move slightly
- ANT+ and Bluetooth compatible
- Compatible with Shimano
- Compatible with SRAM 7-11-speed cassettes
The Smart Air Lite is a more affordable version of Bkool’s flagship direct-drive Smart Air. It competes with other mid-range trainers including Elite Suito, Wahoo KICKR Core, and the Saris H3. The trainer is designed to look like a bike with a wheel fitted. The design is taller than most and looks different whether it’s large enclosed flywheel setup. Initial setup is easy and all you have to do is pull out to outer stabiliser legs. While it may be taller than many smart trainers, with legs folded the narrow design makes it easy to store. Plugging in the power is simple and there’s plenty of length from the cable so you shouldn’t need an extension lead.
Jumping on the bike, the degree of movement in the trainer gives a very different ride feel. The curved main tube of Air Lite that produces its kind of hanging design not only allows a certain amount of movement, the hands to the riding field but reduces the load and amount of stress on the bike. Once pedalling, the Air Lite is relatively quiet and the internals does a good job of making things almost silent. The unit is capable of replicating up to 2000 watts and speeds of up to 70 kilometres an hour so there’s never a problem with running out of power or speed. With regards to power accuracy, Bkool says that the Air Lite has a margin of error of less than 3%.
Pros: Low noise, forgiving ride
Cons: Taller than many, rocking out of the saddle
A Guide to Budget Smart Turbo Trainers
You worked hard for your fitness over the summer and it’s a fall now and you’re still riding. But winter is coming and it’s going to be time to move indoor soon. The best way to maintain your fitness over the winter or to get a head start on your fitness towards the spring is to use an indoor trainer. Now an indoor trainer is a device that’s the axis of a tripod. It’s going to attach to the rear wheel of your bicycle. That’s going to lift the rear wheel off the ground just a little bit and it’s going to press a resistance unit against the tyre. That will give you a smooth and consistent resistance so that you can pedal and train indoors just like you would outside.
There are three basic types of indoor trainers. You’ve got magnetic, fluid and an interactive or trainer. I’m going to walk you through each one a little bit and just give you some idea of which one might be the right trainer for you.
The most basic type of trainer is going to be the magnetic resistance unit. It uses opposing magnets to create the resistance that’s pressed against your rear tyre and makes it harder to ride. A magnetic resistance unit provides a nice consistent linear resistance that can be adjustable. Many magnetic trainers come with a handlebar-mounted remote that gives you multiple different levels of resistance. If you wanted to do interval training, you have that option.
A fluid trainer uses a fluid resistance unit. It means that there’s basically a fan that is sitting inside a heavy viscous fluid. When you turn the wheel, your bike spins that fan and the fluid creates the resistance. The main benefit of a fluid trainer is that you get progressive resistance. It means is that the faster your rear wheel turns the more resistance you get. You can essentially vary the level of resistance simply by shifting gears on your bike or by pedalling harder or softer.
There are three types of fluid resistance trainers. One uses a gravity stand and all you have to do is lock the rear wheel of your bike into the trainer. The weight of the bike and rider against the resistance unit puts the right amount of contact between the resistance unit and the tyre. On the other hand, there are also fluid trainers where you can manually adjust the level of resistance that is being put against your rear tyre.
If you like the idea of a fluid trainer and you’re looking to step up to the next level, you could consider a fluid trainer like the CycleOps Fluid2. The first thing you’ll notice about it is that the fluid resistance unit is much larger. There are a bigger fan and cooling vents. It allows for a much steeper power curve. If you’re looking to do workouts that you know can be more challenging, the CycleOps Fluid2 would be a great choice for you.
The last type of fluid trainer that I want to address is the adjustable fluid. If you are a rider who loves precision and you’ve got specific workouts that you like to do and you want just a little bit more control than a standard fluid trainer. You can get a fluid trainer that has an adjustable resistance unit. This particular trainer gives you five different levels of resistance so that you can be much more precise with your indoor training.
The ultimate in indoor training is the smart trainer. This trainer uses a computer-controlled resistance unit that connects to a computer either a laptop or a desktop. A lot of people will then hook the computer up to a television. So you get not only the maximum level of control over the amount of resistance that you have but you can do extremely specific workouts. You can download and record all of the data from your ride. You can even ride simulated courses. Most smart trainers will come with and allow you to purchase additional video courses.
So now I have addressed the major types of trainers and you’ve got some idea of which trainer is going to be the best trainer for you. There are a couple of accessories that you ought to consider as well.
Now as I mentioned earlier the trainer is going to lift the rear wheel of your bike just an inch or two off the ground. It’s pretty important to get a front riser block to lift your front wheel about the same amount that levels everything out.
Another nice accessory to have is the mat that the whole bike and trainer sits on. The trainer mat absorbs some of the sounds that a trainer makes especially if there’s going to be anybody on floors beneath you when you’re riding. A trainer mat is nice to have and it also keeps your floor clean of any sweat.
Most bikes will have a sweat net to keep the sweat under control. It looks like a pretty small thing but when you’re sitting still, this does capture most of the sweat that you’re going to drop. It protects your bike and your bike hardware from your sweat.