The best turbo trainers for Zwift

If you're a fan of Zwift, you need a decent turbo trainer that will give you resistance and excitement - check out our shortlist.

Woman on bike with bike turbo trainer

by Adam Binnie |

For the uninitiated, the world of indoor cycling can seem bewildering, with a vast amount of technologies and options depending on how much space you’ve got, whether you already own a bike and if you plan on using training apps like Zwift or Sufferfest. These are essentially games that use your real-world pedal strokes to move a virtual rider through an on- or off-road environment and can turn a soul-crushing 90-minute offline grindfest into a more enjoyable (dare we say fun?) experience.

At its most basic a turbo trainer is simply a metal frame that holds your rear wheel off the ground, and a motor that sits against the tyre and creates resistance, so it feels like you’re riding outside. If you want to use a training app you’ll need speed and cadence sensors which attach to your bike and connect to your phone or computer.

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The next step up from a standard ‘wheel-on’ unit is a smart turbo trainer, which connects to your app of choice and ramps up the motor’s resistance when you come across a hill in the game so you have to pedal harder to get up it, just like in real life. This adds a great level of immersion.

For extra precision and responsiveness (wheel-on trainers can take a couple of seconds to react to an increase in speed) you’ll want a direct drive turbo – instead of reversing your whole bike onto it, this unit has a cassette already mounted, so you have to take off your rear wheel and attach the bike to the trainer. These are also quieter and come without the faff of having to put a trainer-specific rear tyre on your bike.

This unit is quite pricey but as we discovered in our Tacx Neo 2T review, it more than makes a case for its four-figure price tag. Headline stats are the ability to simulate 2,200w and a 25% gradient, with no need to plug it in or regularly calibrate it. Specification to one side for a moment, it does look brilliant and packs away neatly if space is a consideration for you too.

Garmin Tacx Boost Trainer

Best entry-level 'dumb' trainer
Garmin Tacx Boost Trainer
Amazon

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We've given the Tacx Boost a more thorough review after living with one for four months so we'll avoid repeating our findings too much here, but basically it was faultless during that time. Quiet, stable, smooth and easy to pack away, it is the perfect choice for a first-timer or occasional turbo trainer user. It also looks really nice and is constructed from high-quality materials, which might be a consideration if you leave it set up in your home.

Saris CycleOps Fluid2 Smart Equipped Indoor Bike Trainer

Best 'dumb' trainer for a bigger budget
Saris CycleOps Fluid2 Smart Equipped Indoor Bike Trainer
Amazon

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An incrementally more sophisticated (and better) trainer from Saris, the Fluid2 uses, as you might have guessed, fluid to provide resistance for your rear wheel. This is smoother and quieter in use, and the large flywheel makes riding indoors feel more natural by allowing your back wheel to rotate even when you're not pedalling. This unit isn't 'smart' (despite the title) in the sense that it won't ramp up the resistance as you climb, but does come with a speed sensor to hook it up to virtual training apps.

Wahoo KICKR Snap

Best smart wheel-on turbo trainer
Wahoo KICKR Snap

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If you specifically want a wheel-on trainer (it is marginally simpler to reverse your bike into one than have to mess around by taking the rear wheel off) then the KICKR Snap offers variable resistance in line with your on-screen avatar in the same way that a direct drive unit does. It's quite expensive though, and overlaps considerably with cheaper wheel-off devices.

Elite Turno Indoor Smart Cycle Trainer

Best budget direct drive turbo trainer
Elite Turno Indoor Smart Cycle Trainer
Amazon

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Our cheapest direct drive unit on the list costs less than the wheel-on KICKR Snap but comes with all the benefits of not having a tyre dragging against a motor u2013 namely a quieter operation, and more accurate and agile readouts. It's a bit of a lump though, and looks a bit like a garden waste shredder, plus you'll have to save some budget for a cassette and potentially an axle adaptor depending on what bike you want to fit to it.

Wahoo KICKR Power

Best all-round turbo trainer
Wahoo KICKR Power

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For a trainer that does most things for most people you won't go far wrong with a KICKR Power it's a quiet and precise direct drive unit built to withstand the strongest riders and comes with a cadence sensor and cassette, so all you need to do is provide the bike.

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