- A high-quality indoor bike trainer can help you replicate the outdoor riding experience, isn’t too loud, and is made of durable materials.
- Our guide features trainers that are easy to use, work with a variety of bike types, and have a track record of performance.
- The Elite Direto 2 Interactive Smart Trainer is our top pick because it’s easy to set up, compatible with the most popular training apps, and lightweight and affordable compared to other direct drive trainers.
With an indoor bike trainer, I can simulate the outdoor riding experience when the weather turns nasty without risking life and limb.
Bike trainers have been around for more than a century. The first trainers were bike rollers, which consisted of three rolling cylinders – two in the back and one in the front – on which the bike rests as you pedal away. You can still find bike rollers, and they are excellent for fine-tuning your balance. However, they are no longer as popular as they once were.
Most of today’s trainers hold the bike in place. Here are the types of trainers you will come across:
- Friction Trainers: Until recently, friction trainers were all the rage. They supply fluid or magnetic resistant to the rear wheel via a small roller.
- Direct Drive Trainers: These trainers recently took the industry by storm. With these, you remove your back wheel and attach the rear dropout to the trainer. They require a cassette compatible with your bike. Direct-drive trainers offer the highest level of resistance and are the most accurate. Yet, they also cost the most. Direct-drive trainers are “smart,” which means you can connect to your mobile device and experience the wonder of the many virtual riding apps. You can control the resistance yourself or have it adjust automatically based on the workout.
- Fluid Trainers: Direct-drive trainers are not the only smart trainers. There are also several fluid trainers with Bluetooth or ANT+ connectivity. And even if you choose a “dumb” trainer, you can purchase accessories to make it smart. For instance, the Garmin Bike Speed Sensor 2 and Cadence Sensor 2 bundle should get the job done and can provide you with valuable data when you’re riding outdoors as well.
While researching the best indoor bike trainers, we looked at hundreds of buyer and expert reviews and ratings of dozens of models. Our guide features trainers that are easy to use, work with a variety of bike types, and have a track record of performance. When shopping for a trainer, make sure the model you look at is compatible with your bike. If not, you may need to buy additional parts.
Here are the best indoor bike trainers you can buy:
- Best indoor bike trainer overall: Elite Direto 2 Interactive Smart Trainer
- Best high-end indoor bike trainer: Tacx NEO 2 Smart Indoor Trainer
- Best smart indoor bike trainer on a budget: Kinetic Road Machine Smart 2 Trainer
- Best indoor bike trainer for power accuracy: Wahoo Fitness Kickr Smart Bike Trainer
- Best “dumb” indoor bike trainer: CycleOps Fluid2 Indoor Trainer
The best indoor bike trainer overall
The Elite Direto 2 Interactive Smart Trainer provides an optimal balance of performance – with and without inclines – with an attractive price.
The Elite Direto 2 Interactive Smart Trainer uses an optical torque sensor (OTS) power meter to accurately measure power within 2% of the actual output. This combined with Direto’s pedal analysis options will help you optimize your training. The smart trainer can also simulate inclines up to 14%. Wireless connectivity is through Bluetooth and ANT+ FE-C, and it’s compatible with Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS.
In our research, the only difference we could find between the Direto and the Direto 2 is that the newer version comes with a trainer block and features a slight internal upgrade for accuracy. The two are so similar that buyers report that the Direto 2 comes in the same box as the Direto and is simply labeled “Direto” without the “2.”
Outdoor Gear Lab recommends the Elite Direto as a “best buy.” In their tests, the trainer received high marks for power accuracy and connectivity. The reviewer found of the seven models they tested, the Direto had one of the most accurate power meters – within 1% of actual output. He noted that it’s also much lighter than other top smart trainers.
DC Rainmaker recommends this model because it balances value and all-around performance. He notes that other models are quieter, more like riding on a road, and have better automated inclines, but they are all much more expensive and lack multifaceted aptitude in all three of these areas.
Currently, there are only six reviews of the Elite Direto 2 on Amazon, and all but one gives it 5 stars. Spartacus, the most helpful reviewer, likes the direct drive over his rollers because he doesn’t need to focus on balance. He found setup was effortless, though he recommends putting plywood or a mat underneath to protect your floors against chain lubes and sweat. The 3-star reviewer would still recommend the trainer, especially for hill climbs, but he notes that the unit gets too warm and doesn’t register when sprinting in low gears.
Pros: Accurate, lightweight, affordable, easy to set up, great for hill climbs
Cons: Runs loud, several features are only available through in-app purchases
The best high-end indoor bike trainer
If you are willing to spend a little extra for a trainer that closely captures the feel of riding on the road, the Tacx NEO 2 Smart Indoor Trainer is your best bet.
The Tacx NEO 2 Smart Indoor Trainer features dynamic inertia, which compensates for incline, speed, and weight to provide a smooth and realistic ride feel. It’s even able to simulate acceleration on a descent or riding over gravel and cobblestones. Tacx focused on creating a silent trainer that keeps you and your bike completely still while mounted – a much-needed perk for cyclists who live in apartment buildings. The trainer also closely monitors the position of each leg to achieve a more precise pedal analysis.
The NEO 2 Smart can simulate climbs up to 25% and resists sprints up to 2,200 watts. Tacx backs the quality of this product with a two-year warranty.
Smart Bike Trainers recommends the Tacx NEO 2 because of its quick response, realistic road-feel simulation, and accurate power meter. The reviewer also found that there was no calibration necessary to get started. Plus, the unit runs quietly. However, he was bummed that some of the pedal analysis was only available in the Tacx Windows app.
Road.cc recommends this model because it performed better than any other trainer in their tests. The reviewer was also impressed by the sturdy construction.
Of the buyers who reviewed the Tacx NEO 2 on Amazon, 74% gave it 5 stars. Cyclists mention how road-like the simulator is. They also appreciate that the trainer works well with the top apps, such as Zwift, Wahoo, Strava, Rouvy, and Sufferfest. However, there are complaints that the Tacx app either doesn’t pair with the trainer at all or works with limited features.
Pros: Excellent performance, accurate power meter, realistic road feel, runs quietly, works with several apps, two-year warranty
Cons: No-carry handle, complaints about the pedal analysis features, connectivity issues with the Tacx app
The best smart indoor bike trainer on a budget
The Kinetic Road Machine Smart 2 Trainer is one of the most affordable smart trainers on the market, and it’s built to last.
The Kinetic Road Machine Smart 2 Trainer takes Kinetic by Kurt’s popular 2.0 Fluid Trainer and makes it compatible with the top training apps, including Zwift, Trainer Road, and Rouvy. Fluid resistance is controlled by your speed with a max resistance of 1,400 watts at 35 mph. The unit works with an array of bike types, including bikes with wheels as small as 16 inches, internally geared hubs, and thru-axles.
Bicycling recommends the Kinetic Road Machine Smart 2 Trainer because it proved to be sturdy and reliable in their tests. The reviewer also liked that it was portable, good for interval sessions, and seamlessly allowed him to join a virtual crowd with its smart capabilities.
Outdoor Gear Lab recommends the trainer because of its lifelike road feel, sturdy build, and reasonable price. However, in their tests, it received low marks for power accuracy. Road.cc, Bike Trainer World, and Smart Bike Trainers also recommend this model.
Approximately 76% of the Amazon buyers who reviewed the Kinetic Road Machine Smart 2 Trainer gave it 4 or 5 stars. A few of the reviewers are first-time owners of bike trainers and appreciate that it’s so easy to set up and get a workout.
Buyers like that it supports ANT+ and works with a variety of different apps. Yet, the biggest complaint appears to be that the Kinetic app either works poorly or not at all. One buyer mentions that he has to uninstall and reinstall the app to get it to track his workout.
Pros: Affordable, supports ANT+, portable, lifelike road feel, sturdy build, easy to use
Cons: The app works poorly or not at all, questionable accuracy
The best accurate indoor bike trainer
The wheel-off design of the Wahoo Fitness Kickr Smart Bike Trainer provides accurate power measurement, and it works well with the top apps using ANT+ and Bluetooth.
The Wahoo Fitness Kickr Smart Bike Trainer is designed to bring the outdoor riding experience indoors. The universal fit, wheel-off design accommodates a broad range of bike types, including 24-inch bikes, mountain bikes, and full-size road bikes. Using Bluetooth, ANT+, and ANT+ FE-C, you can control it wirelessly from just about any device using the Wahoo Fitness App, Zwift, TrainerRoad, and more. The trainer adjusts to simulate a 20-degree incline and generates up to 2,200 watts of power.
The great thing about buying from REI is that you get 10% back in store credit. And the device is backed by their 100% satisfaction guarantee. This means you get up to 90 days to return it if you’re not satisfied.
Bike Radar recommends the Kickr because it can provide the exact wattage resistance you need. The reviewer found it paired well with TrainerRoad to bring his training to a new level. And he liked how the resistance adjusted automatically for big-group drafts, virtual climbs, descents, and flats when used with Zwift.
Cycling Weekly recommends the trainer because it was easy to set up, stable, and packed full of features, including realistic road feel and excellent connectivity to the top apps.
Around 75% of the buyers who reviewed the Wahoo Fitness Kickr Smart Bike Trainer on REI’s website gave it 5 stars. Cyclists are impressed with how realistic the ride is. One reviewer said, “This truly is the closest to cycling while being indoors.”
Another reported that when his unit stopped reporting power, Wahoo provided excellent customer service and was quick to replace it. However, there are reports of a few quality-control issues with this product.
Pros: Realistic road feel, pairs seamlessly with several apps, accurate power measurement, great customer service, one-year return policy
Cons: Expensive, reports of quality-control problems
The best ‘dumb’ indoor bike trainer
The CycleOps Fluid2 Indoor Trainer is an affordable option if you don’t need smart connectivity but still want an indoor ride when the weather isn’t accommodating.
Before the recent surge in smart trainers, the CycleOps Fluid2 Indoor Trainer was at the top of the heap. This heavy-duty beast features a 2-inch-round, 16-gauge steel frame made of 100% recyclable, nonrusting materials in the United States. The trainer comes with a steel quick-release skewer, and the 2-inch resistant roller fits a wide array of road and mountain bike wheel sizes. CycleOps backs the quality of their trainer with a lifetime warranty.
Road.cc recommends the CycleOps Fluid2 because of its high-quality construction, durability, and comfort. The reviewer has used the Fluid for four years without any issues, and he appreciates how the resistance offers a smooth, natural feel. He also liked that the unit appears to be quite heavy-duty, which is great for remaining stationary but doesn’t make it very portable. And, he got a lot of use out of the DVD that came with the trainer. Bike Radar, Kyle’s Bikes, and Turbo Bike Trainer also recommend this model.
About 85% of the buyer reviews of the CycleOps Fluid2 on Amazon are positive. The most helpful reviewer, dpkeith, described how the trainer started to make an off-putting noise after using it for more than four years, three times a week for 45 minutes a workout. He contacted CycleOps, and they replaced it free of charge. Other buyers recommend buying cadence and speed sensors for the bike so the trainer can be used with various apps -essentially smartening up a dumb trainer.
Pros: Affordable, heavy-duty construction, excellent customer service, lifetime warranty
Cons: No smart connectivity, not easily portable
What else we considered
When researching this guide, we considered several models of bike trainers, and there are a few that we almost included. The following five barely missed the cut:
- Jet Black Z1 Pro Fluid Trainer ($301.93): This is another “dumb” trainer. It’s backed by a lifetime warranty, is foldable, and relatively light so you can bring it with you on road trips. Several expert lists included this trainer. However, we think there are better, more affordable trainers if you don’t care about smart connectivity.
- FeedBack Sports Omnium Portable Cycle Trainer ($399.99): The Omnium Over-Drive is unique because you remove your front wheel, attach it to the stand, and your back wheel rests on two 4-inch magnetic drums that supply progressive resistance. The set comes with a travel bag that fits in an airplane overhead bin. The trainer is highly recommended by Bicycling, but it only has a 3.9-star average customer rating on Amazon.
- Bkool Go Trainer ($299.99): The Bkool Go is a fun, low-cost smart trainer for beginner or casual cyclists since it only gets up to 800 watts of resistance and simulates slopes of 8%. However, it works with Bluetooth or ANT+ FE-C to pair with the Bkool app as well as other popular training apps to give you a realistic virtual riding experience. It didn’t make our guide because the customer and expert reviews are a mixed bag of positive and negative experiences.
- Wahoo Fitness Kickr Snap Power Bike Trainer ($500): This is a good mid-range smart trainer made of high-strength carbon steel. It works with popular training software and is compatible with aftermarket power meters. The accuracy levels are impressive but don’t compare to the high-end options in our guide. Also, the adjustable incline only reaches a 12% grade, which isn’t enough for those of us who like punishing climbs.
- Kinetic R1 Direct Drive Smart Trainer ($1,050): Kinetic by Kurt is one of the top names in the bike trainer industry, and the R1 is their high-end direct drive trainer. It has all the whistles and bells – compatibility with all the most popular training apps, 20% max slope, 2,000-watt max resistance at 30 mph. However, it’s relatively new so the verdict is still out. Keep an eye out as we update this guide because the R1 is likely to move up.