Best indoor bike trainers for 2020: Tacx, Wahoo, Saris and more compared
If you’re a, an is probably the best way to take your exercise indoors. A bicycle trainer can replicate the feel of the road and the realistic resistance, climbs and descent that come with it. This is something you won’t find with standard exercise or spin bikes, which offer progressive resistance, but not much else to replicate the feel of riding on the road. So, if you’re used to riding outside, an indoor trainer offers a more engaging experience than a stationary bike and will keep your training schedule on track during those times when inclement or colder weather forces you to take your ride inside.
Finding the best indoor bike trainer for your needs can be overwhelming since there are many different options to consider. There’s the roller trainer, friction trainer, magnetic trainer, direct drive trainer and a simple stationary bike stand. And if you want to go a little more high-tech, there are also a bunch of smart bike trainer options. Fortunately, I love scouring the internet, reading reviews until my eyes start to cross and testing a wide variety of all the top models to give you some guidance.
My goal was to end up with a list that included all types of indoor bike trainers for cyclists at different skill levels and with different budgets. I took several factors into consideration, looking for a quiet bike trainer that offers several levels of resistance for indoor training. I compared all the bicycle trainer options, found the best indoor bike trainers at several different price points. Then, I thoroughly tested them. Whether you’re brand new to indoor cycling or a pro looking to upgrade your setup, you’ll find something here that fits.
The Tacx Neo 2T Smart Trainer is not your grandmother’s indoor bike trainer stand. OK, your grandmother probably didn’t have a bike trainer, but my point is that this thing is intense — in all of the best ways. Although you can use the Neo 2T as a standalone trainer, I focused on testing its smart training capabilities by connecting it to the Tacx Training app, which is free for basic functions, but requires a monthly subscription of $12 to $17 to access premium features.
With the app, which is similar to Zwift, you can connect your trainer via Bluetooth and choose from several different workouts or “movies” that take you through simulated roads and inclines of up to 25%. The result was almost eerily realistic and provided some serious road feel. If I closed my eyes, I would have thought I was riding up the slopes of the Dolomites.
The trainer was super quiet, which is nice if you’re an early riser who wants to get some training in without waking up the rest of your house. And while I don’t personally have the leg power or stamina to get up to the Neo 2T’s power cap of 2,200 watts, even at my personal high speeds, it stayed stable without any shaking at all.
There are some things you have to keep in mind with this trainer, though. The Neo 2T Smart trainer is the only one on this list that requires full removal of the back wheel and the cassette on your bike. And to do the job properly, you need specialized tools. Another thing to note is that while the Tacx Neo 2T does come with several spacers to make your bike fit, it’s only compatible with certain cassette models. If you’re thinking of buying the Neo 2T, which retails at around $1,400, make sure you check the specs first and you have a bike that’s compatible — or that you’re also comfortable investing in a different bike that is.
While I had a positive experience with all of the indoor bike trainers on this list, if I had to pick just one, it would be the Wahoo Kickr Snap. The whole process was easy to follow. And as someone who doesn’t have a lot of time to spare, an easy setup is always at the top of my list.
The trainer was ready to go right out the box, with no assembly required. You do have to set up your bike — either with the included quick release skewer or an appropriate adapter if your bike has a thru-axle rear wheel — but once you get the hang of it, it’s done in a snap (super cheesy pun intended). I do wish there was an option to choose which skewer you’d like included with the trainer (even if it costs a little bit extra), but this isn’t a knock on the Kickr Snap itself. It’s a gripe with all of these types of indoor bike trainers, in general.
Once the bike is up and in place, you can connect the trainer to any third party training app — there’s a free 30-day trial of Zwift included with purchase, so that’s the program I used to test the trainer. Once I got moving, I was immediately impressed. The 10.5-pound flywheel provided a smooth, quiet ride with a hyper-realistic road feel. When using Zwift, the resistance adjusted automatically and expertly mimicked actual road conditions and climbs of up to a 12% incline. As I picked up speed, the Kickr Snap stayed stable without any shaking and the front wheel riser block stayed firmly in place, even on a slippery-ish vinyl floor.
A few things to note: The trainer only comes with a quick-release skewer, so if you need an adapter for a thru-axle bike, you’ll have to buy it separately. The trainer is also the only one on this list that requires an external power source, meaning you have to plug it into an electrical outlet in the wall. While this wasn’t a dealbreaker, it is a potential downside since it limits the trainer’s portability. There’s also no on-off switch — you turn the trainer on and off by plugging it in or unplugging it. Again, not a big deal since I like to unplug all of my electronics when I’m not using them anyway, but it’s still worth noting.
Alpcour isn’t as well-known as Wahoo or Saris in cycling circles, so when I saw that it had mostly 4- and 5-star reviews on Amazon and you could snag it for under $300, I had to test it out to see if it could stand against the bigger guys. Unlike other similar models on this list, it doesn’t have smart training capabilities so you can’t use it with any training apps. But as far as basic performance goes, I was impressed.
Fluid bike trainers provide a stable, but outdoor-like ride and the Alpcour didn’t disappoint. The trainer was sturdy and held the bike firmly in place, even as I picked up speed. The resistance and friction automatically changed with fluctuations in my pedaling speed, so it really felt like an outdoor ride. The front wheel riser block did tend to slip a little while I rode, which wasn’t a major deal, but could get a little annoying. In all fairness, I had the trainer set up on vinyl flooring, which can get slippery. If it bothers you too much, you can easily rectify this by placing a thin rubber exercise mat underneath the bike trainer.
The Alpcour Fluid Bike Trainer was a little louder than the other similar trainers on this list, but it didn’t create enough noise for me to take any real points away from it. The noise also depends on the type of bike you use. When I used my Schwinn road bike with smooth wheels, it was barely audible. But when I tested it with my niece’s mountain bike that has thick, treaded tires, it was considerably louder.
While the trainer is compatible with most 26- to 29-inch bikes and 700c wheels, like with the Wahoo, you have to make sure you have the right skewer to properly attach your bike. Also like the Wahoo, it comes with a standard quick release skewer, but if you have a bike with a thru-axle, you’ll have to buy one separately.
I want to preface this by saying that the rollers may look the least technical on this list, but don’t judge a book by its cover. Compared to all of the other models, the Saris Aluminum Rollers, which feature a 16-inch wheel base that fits most bike sizes and three 3.25-inch aluminum roller drums, were the hardest to get used to.
That’s partly a reflection on me as a rider (if you’ve already had lots of experience with indoor bike trainers or outdoor cycling, you’ll likely take to it right away) and partly due to the fact that roller trainers require more deliberate focus than other models. If you lose concentration and your mind starts to wander, you can easily fall right over — a situation I found myself in more times than I’d like to admit.
But roller trainers are made to help improve balance and control and after just a few days of practice and some serious frustration, I noticed a vast improvement in my performance, which is a testament to how well the trainer does its job. And since you have to pedal the whole time you’re using the trainer to keep the bike upright, you get a killer workout. Once I got the hang of the rollers and actually got moving, I was surprised at how quiet the rollers were and how firmly the rubber foot pads held the trainer in place, even as I picked up speed.
Another plus is that the rollers were practically ready to go right out of the box. All I had to do was unfold them and adjust the front roller so that it properly lined up with my bike and I was ready to ride (or fall over several times before I actually rode).
Recommended, but not yet tested
I haven’t had the chance to personally test the Kinetic Rock and Roll Trainer yet, but I included it on the list for several reasons. As its name implies, the Rock and Roll Trainer was designed to allow for a side-to-side rocking motion that mimics the natural sway of riding outdoors.
At 12 pounds, its flywheel is also larger than any other trainer in the category. According to Kinetic, this allows for automatic app-controlled resistance, whisper-quiet operation, a wider range of bike compatibility and improved inertia, which provides more of a road-like feel. While the max slope is slightly lower than the Wahoo Kickr Snap — 10% versus 12% — it goes up to a max resistance of 1,800 watts at 30 mph.
Because it’s a smart trainer, the Rock and Roll trainer works with Kinetic’s own training app or third-party apps, like Zwift or TrainerRoad. The Kinetic trainer is compatible with almost any bike, but, like other similar styles on this list, if your bike has a rear thru-axle, you’ll need an adapter that will cost you an additional $49.
This all sounds good, but when I get the chance to test the trainer on my own, I’ll report back with my personal experience.
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The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.