If you have read my Turbo Training for Ironman post you may be looking to get a Turbo Trainer. But what Turbo Trainer? Here is my Round up of currently available Trainers in the UK. This should help you decide what trainer is right for both you and your budget. As you can see prices vary massively with features. And while you certainly don’t need a top end trainer, they are seriously impressive pieces of kit. But many of the essential features are trickled down into the lower end trainers. Even a budget trainer is perfectly adequate for your needs especially if you convert it to “smart” using trainerroad.com and virtual Power.
Basics – What I look for in a Turbo Trainer
There are a few basic requirements of a Turbo Trainer. These are not features as such but minimum requirements that need to be adhered to other wise they are not really fit for purpose. Following that we then need to look at different types and features. Just because a turbo lacks a feature doesn’t make it a bad turbo, just a lower model, and normally cheaper.
Sturdy: A trainer goes through quite a bit of rough and tumble. It has to take your whole weight, (and your Bikes) while you move in and out the saddle, pump the pedals and take the friction of a bike wheel spinning at quite high speed. Its quite a job really. Certainly any thing I will recommend or anything from the big manufacturers will be perfectly up top to the job. But I do worry about some of the bargain basement trainers and how they will stack up to the abuse.
Noise: Noise is a big consideration for anyone who doesn’t live on their own in a detached house, which I would surmise is most people. Even the quietest turbo trainers will make noise and its often a low frequency noise that resonates horribly round a house. Even a silent Trainer which is not an option right now (although there is a start-up attempting that feat) will make noise simply from the bikes drive train. So if you plan on training early in the morning or late at night look for as quiet a turbo as you can. alternatively if your training will be more sociable or your sound proofing excellent don’t worry too much about noise.
Stable: Most quality Turbo trainers are very stable platforms. And they need to be as a tip over is not going to be fun thing, and could be very costly. Again this is a major concern on the cheap turbo end. Reaching for a drink when a bit shaky from a hard interval and it could easily end in disaster. I came very close to putting my self through an outside window on a budget trainer when I was starting out !
Fitment: Finally the way the turbo mounts to your rear wheel is important. Most turbo trainers mount with a specific type of quick release skewer (normally included with the Trainer). But this needs to be a good secure fit. Its also very handy to have a quick release feature (See right), so you can quickly and easily remove your bike to ride outside. Without this feature its quite a faff. With Direct drive Trainers this is not an issue.
Wattage: Its important the trainer can handle the type of wattage you will be putting out. While you may not know at this stage what that will be its probably you won’t be requiring a very high wattage trainer. 99% or training is in the 100-400w range and almost all trainers can handle that. Only very fast, hard sprints see power heading over the 700w range. Unless you know you are going to be putting out this sort of power its not hugely relevant. for most Ironman Athletes 700w is enough power handling capability.
The world of turbo trainers used to be a lot simpler, but also a lot duller. The new features being implemented have turned the world of indoor cycling on its head.
These are the basic mechanical trainers. They do very little but allow you to ride indoors. Most have a variable level of resistance. But this is manually controlled, normally by a little lever. I really would not recommend these trainers as the scope is very limited. You can use videos or watch TV but it can get boring very quickly. However Not is all it seems as with a little extra money these can be upgraded to Smart trainer, All you need is a speed / cadence sensor and a Ant+ Dongle and you are good to broadcast your power to your laptop or android / iOS Device.
Also If you have a power meter on your bike all you will need is a mechanical trainer as the power meter will handle all the data transmission. Unless you want the Smart control features.
These Trainers are Like the Mechanical ones above only they have built in features that allow them to broadcast Power and other data automatically. There is no complicated setup as with a converted Mechanical. So really you are paying for convenience and potentially accuracy as virtual power can be quite a bit off. But really these trainers are only using their own type of virtual power its just a more controlled environment. Still the ease and simplicity could easily be worth the extra spend.
Now we are getting into the higher end Turbo Trainers. These have the ability to allow the resistance of the trainer to be controlled electronically from a computer or App. So when simulating a hill or during a high effort segment the trainer automatically becomes harder to ride. Really clever stuff. These will also be smart broadcast also. Thing too look for hear are the resistance figures! Like real hills they are rated in % gradients and will only be able to simulate hill up to the highest rating. so and 8% trainer might not be great for someone wanting to ride very steep hill (Ironman Wales ?)
Direct Drive Smart Control:
These are the Top end trainers. High power, near Silent (drive train apart) all features of the Above. The weak point of conventional trainers is the roller contact point. This is so variable accuracy will always be limited. Direct drive turbos can be as accurate as a power meter as they are taking a real power reading. They also provide the best “road feel” meaning they are most like actually riding on the road. Of course these are definitely the Trainers you want. Unfortunately this level of excellence doesn’t come cheap. At around £1K mark they will certainly break the bank.
Elite Crono Mag Speed Alu Trainer RRP: £149.99
Key Features : Basic Well built solid trainer, 5 Resistance levels, Wattage unknown.
At full retail this is not a good trainer but at the £75 wiggle is selling it for its very cheap. No quick release and only 5 levels of resistance mean its pretty bare in terms of features. Not too quiet and a little rough its not the greatest trainer. But well built and solid would last for years.
Buy from: £75 – Wiggle.co.uk
Tacx Blue Matic Folding Trainer RRP: £134.99
Key Features : Basic Well built solid trainer. 10 Levels of resistance, 700w, Quick release.
An excellent entry level trainer from the Tacx stable. Everything you need to get turbo Training. If the power handling is on the low side for you look at the “ultra high power” model. With a speed/cadence sensor + ant+ this is everything you need to get into power based training.
Bkool One Trainer RRP : £164.99
Key Features : Light weight, Progressive resistance, 550 watts, Very Quiet.
Bkool’s entry level Trainer is a neat little thing. It works with their simulator software which offers everything you could need from training software. It also comes with 3 months free membership to the simulator. The wattage is quite low for this trainer, but its still ok for most use only, hard sprints will top it out. Unlike other mechanical turbo’s mentioned the resistance isn’t controlled by a lever but automatically increases with speed. A bit like in the real world where drag increases with speed.
Top Pick : Tacx Blue Matic Folding Trainer
Sub £300 Trainers
Tacx Satori Smart Trainer RRP: £249.99
Key Features : Smart Broadcast, 1000 watts, 10 levels of resistance, Quick Release, Battery Powered.
Our first Smart Broadcast Trainer. And to be honest the ground is pretty thin in this department these days. This lower end priced Trainers have everything you need to quickly and simply get up and running with trainer software and power based training. This Trainer does nothing the Mechanical trainers won’t but its removes the complexity required to get it set up. its ready to go out the box. Fairly quiet with tons of power handling its the perfect trainer to get you up and running.
Elite Qubo Digital Smart B+ RRP: £299.99
Key Features : Smart Control, 800Watts, Quick Release. 6% Slope
Elites Qubo Digital Smart B+ is our cheapest Smart Control Trainer. Just sneaking in under £300 by a penny. Its slightly older tech but fully functional with all major training apps. including Trainerroad and Zwift plus Elites own Platform Which you get 12 months free subscription for the basic “Levels Training mode”. The resistance control can be on the slow side but that’s the price you pay for a full features smart trainer for under £300
Buy from: £299.99 – Wiggle.co.uk
Top Pick: Tacx Satori Smart Trainer
For this price range I would go with the Tacx smart broadcast only Trainer. I Would Advise just spending a little more and move into my next category if you were looking for Smart Control.
Sub £600 Trainers
Bkool Pro Trainer RRP: £459.99
Key Features : Smart Control, 1200Watts, 20% Slope, Quick release.
The Bkool Pro is the top of the line trainer from Bkool. Bkool used to own this category but the big boys have all now released trainers into this price range leaving the Bkool struggling a bit. However its still a very high specced Trainer, and Ships with Bkools excellent simulator software (3Months free) The high Slope resistance is a very good feature for those wanting to train for big hills but you unlikely find yourself riding in this zone often. Plenty of Wattage handling means you are very unlikely to out ride this machine.
Elite Rampa FE-C, B+ Smart Trainer RRP:449.99
Key Features : Smart Control, 800Watts, 10% Slope, Quick release.
For a similar price to the Bkool comes the Rampa from elite. A perfectly good trainer. However Its hard to find a reason to recommend it over the Bkool. They all have the same features but both slope and watt handling are inferior. There is a lot to like about the Rampa but for me it doesn’t quite stack up to the others, I would seriously consider the cheaper Elite Qubo Digital Smart B+ as a alternative.
Buy from: £449.99 – Wiggle.co.uk
Tacx Vortex Smart Trainer RRP: £399.99
Key Features : Smart Control, 950watt, 7% Slope, Quick Release.
The vortex may be one of the weakest options in terms of spec but its also the cheapest option, and good savings can be had. They also have the bushido and the Genius which offer similar features only high specced, and higher priced. The Genius even has a motor which can simulate down hills, however I’m un sure just how useful that is ? There is even the super high spec Ironman branded Trainer, but I’m not convinced that it worth other double the basic vortex smart. As one of the cheapest smart control trainers the Vortex smart is a very enticing proposition.
Wahoo KICKR SNAP Smart Turbo Trainer RRP: £499.99
Key Features :Smart Control, 1500watt, 12% Slope, Quick Release.
Wahoo Fitness don’t do Budget trainers so their first trainer on the list is the KickR Snap. And its a great trainer. The original KickR was their Direct drive Smart control trainer. But they have now released the KickR snap in a more price friendly position. Its still far from cheap but you get a lot for your money. Its the best built trainer on the list, and almost matches the Bkool Go for Spec, and the reality is you won’t be riding 20% slopes often indoors or out. Its compatible with all apps and is generally the benchmark in this category. Unsurprisingly its the most expensive.
Buy from: £499.99 – Wiggle.co.uk
Top Pick: Wahoo KICKR SNAP Smart Turbo Trainer Or Tacx Vortex Smart Trainer
£300 is a lot of money and that’s almost what separates the two top pick trainers here. And why I couldn’t pick just one.here and its the one to go for if you have the money. But the Tacx Vortex Smart is not to be over looked and is a lot cheaper trainer, and it will be perfectly adequate for most riders.
High end Trainers
Tacx Neo Direct Drive Smart Trainer RRP: £1,199.99
Key Features :Direct Drive Smart Control, 2200Watts, 25% Slope, Accuracy +- 1%
To start off in this category is the Tacx Neo. There is not much to say, as this Unit just has it all. Enough power handing for Chris Hoy, All the bells and whistles you could want and the unit is near Silent. Its a serious unit at a serious price. You really couldn’t want for anything more.
Wahoo KICKR Smart Turbo Trainer RRP: £999.99
Key Features : Direct Drive Smart Control, 2000Watts, 20% Slope, Accuracy +- 2%
After the glowing review above, the Wahoo Kickr has a lot to live up to. And it manages it perfectly. While not quite as quiet or as accurate Its still way off the scales of what most require. Even Team Sky who use the Wahoo KickR for training on. While I am sure that is more down to business arrangements than anything else it does prove they are happy to use it as Team Sky do not compromise. So if its Good enough for the best cyclists in the world I’m sure its Ok for you!
Buy from: £999.99 – Wiggle.co.uk
Elite Drivo Direct Drive FE-C Smart Trainer RRP: £1099.99
Key Features :Direct Drive Smart Control, 2000Watts, 24% Slope, Accuracy +- 1%
Elites Drivo finalises my list and its another great unit. Matching up perfectly with the above units. There are a couple of down sides. Namely you don’t get a cassette shipped with it so you need to purchase and install the cassette yourself ( Same as the Tacx Neo) and the thing is enormous, it packs away quite neatly but its a big unit so make sure you have space.
Top Pick: Tacx Neo Direct Drive Smart Trainer
I think, But its a close call. All 3 of these units are exceptional but then for the price you would expect that. This is one of the occasions where the rivals are all so close there is no clear winner. But that said Tacx may be about to change that as they begin shipping the flux. Its not quite out yet but look to be a bit of a game changer, offering most of the features of the top end trainers at a much lower Price point.
Phew that’s quite a list! Hopefully its helped you pick out the right trainer for your budget and needs. Remember Effective Power based training can be done on even the humblest of trainers with a Speed / cadence sensor and Ant+ dongle providing data to an App / Program. So Budget is no reason to not get into the world of power based training. If all that sounds like a hassle the Satori Smart is the hassle free solution to that.
The higher end trainers are great but their features are not essential, just nice. Unless you happen to be a cycling monster capable of chasing Mark Cavendish in a sprint, but then I’m sure someone will pay you to ride their trainer.
Let me know if you have any questions on my recommendations or if you think I have missed anything off.