A whole new batch of turbo trainers were released in late 2019, so this best turbo trainer 2019 review will cover these and consider them in our top turbo trainer list.
This article is updated to include the very latest turbo trainers that are available in 2019 / 2020. We know everyone’s needs are different, which is why we split our best turbo trainer recommendations into 3 categories.
- Best High-End Turbo Trainer
- Best Mid-Priced Turbo Trainer
- Best Low-Cost Turbo Trainer
Click on the links above to jump the category that interests you most or continue reading…
Table of Contents
- Best High-End Turbo Trainer
- Best Mid-Priced turbo trainer
- Best Low-Cost turbo trainer
- Best turbo trainer summary
- What is a turbo trainer?
- What is a smart turbo trainer?
- Different types of turbo trainer
- Main turbo trainer brands
- Which turbo trainer is best for you?
In recent years the best high-end turbo trainer award was contested between Tax’s Neo trainer and Wahoo’s Kickr. Read this direct comparison between the Tacx Neo and Wahoo Kickr here to see why there is so little to choose over recent years.
However, the other big turbo trainer brands (more on these later in this article) have stepped up to the plate for the 2019 / 2020 season and their range of new smart interactive trainers are pretty special.
Top 5 Turbo Trainers – High-End
Here are the best of the best. All come from top brands in cycling who have a history of building fantastic indoor cycling trainers. All offerings are direct-drive models, which means you remove your bike’s back wheel and attach the frame of your bike directly to the trainer. Your chain therefore powers the unit and not your tyre like in other trainer types do.
All the top end turbo trainers are interactive smart trainers. This means they communicate and record a lot of useful data as you workout and they also allow your trainer to interact and be controlled by software. This software is normally on a computer or app. See this Turbo Trainer Software guide here.
- Resistance: Motor
- Max Power: 2200 Watts
- Max Simulated Incline: 25%
- Max Simulated Decline: 5%
- RRP: £1199
Tacx are big players and their original NEO was always competing for the #1 spot. So it follows that the improved Tacx NEO T2 makes this list. Here are some of the stand out features.
The Neo 2 is quieter than its predecessor, achieved by reducing the noise from air displacements or vibrations. The reduced vibrations in particular are important because this transfers less vibration noise to your floor.
Unlike the other turbo trainers covered here, the NEO uses a motor resistance brake. The NEO 2T has an improved more powerful motor and it is particular good at simulating high resistance at low speeds, such as in steep climbs. The electo motor can also simulate descents, which is something competitor trainers cannot do.
Tacx also has advanced software, which you can read about here.
Other standout features include:
- Can use without an external power source (will not simulate descents without power plugged in).
- Uses 32 Neodymium magnets.
- Suitable cassettes: Not suitable for Specialized SCS system , Shimano & SRAM: 8 – 12 speed. Campagnolo, SRAM XD and XD-R body sold separately.
- Suitable axles: Width of rear fork: Race 130 mm, MTB 135 mm, 142 mm & 148 mm. Adapter for 135 x 10 mm available.
- Comes with: Front wheel support , Quick release for road bikes and mountain bikes (5mm) , Direct drive quick release with adapter set 142x12mm & 148x12mm , 1 month Tacx Premium software.
- Resistance: Electromagnetic
- Max Power: 2200 Watts
- Max Simulated Incline: 20%
- Max Simulated Decline: 0%
- RRP: £999.99
The Wahoo Kickr is a fantastic turbo trainer and was our #1 trainer in 2018. Team Ineos use Wahoo turbo trainers and this says a lot. Would one of the worlds best and biggest professional cycling teams use a bad turbo trainer? Probably not.
Wahoo claim the latest version of their world famous turbo trainer is
“VIRTUALLY SILENT – With improvements made to make KICKR almost silent, the only noise you’ll hear will be the sound of your chain when you shift gears as you power through your workout.”Source at wahoofitness.com
Wahoo also claim that this is their trainer offers the best ride feel, with a new improved larger flywheel and new algorithms to improve responsiveness and better replicate the sensation of riding on the road.
You’ll be able to use your KICKR right out of the box as it features an installed 11-speed cassette and integrated cadence measurement. You’ll be up and riding as soon as you get your bike attached.
- Resistance: Electromagnetic
- Max Power: 2000 Watts
- Max Simulated Incline: 20%
- Max Simulated Decline: 0%
- RRP: £899.99
- Resistance: Electromagnetic
- Max Power: 2300 Watts
- Max Simulated Incline: 24%
- Max Simulated Decline: 0%
- RRP: £1199.99
- Max Power: 2000 Watts
- Max Simulated Incline: 20%
- Max Simulated Decline: 0%
- RRP: £999
Best Mid-Ranged Standalone Turbo Trainer.
The Kurt Kinetic was the choice for the 2015 / 2016 season and it has undergone some improvements for the 2016 / 2017 season. Most notably the trainer now has the option of a ‘Roll Smart Control’ that turns the standard trainer into an interactive software controlled trainer.
However, this ‘Roll Smart Control’ is not necessary if you want to simply ride your trainer without being controlled via software, and the Kurt Kinetic Rock and Roll is still a top choice.
In 2016 / 2017 CycleOps have improved their turbo trainer range, but one of their classics, the Fluid2 is still up there as one of the best in the mid-priced range. We have an in-depth review of the CycleOps Fluid2 here.
Some people prefer a more simplistic experience and just want to get a solid and realistic workout, this is where standalone turbotrainers come into their own. Away from the high-end and very expensive cycle trainers you get the most realistic and smooth riding experience from a fluid resistance unit. What this means is that as you power the trainer a fan or blade is rotated through a fluid whose viscosity has been specially calculated to return a resistance that is very similar to what you would experience when riding outdoors.
The resistance or power curves of fluid trainers are non-linear, meaning when you apply more power and spin your back wheel faster the resistance you feel increases exponentially. Fluid trainers are not the cheapest on the market, but this is because the technology within the trainer is more advanced when compared to lower priced magnetic trainers.
Kurt Kinetic make solid and reliable turbo trainers and the Rock & Roll is their best trainer. It costs around the £400 mark (slightly less), so for that kind of price you expect it to offer more than other lower priced trainers.
It is a fluid turbo trainer and therefore provides a realistic riding experience, but the Rock & Roll has one feature that sets it apart from other trainers out there and that is that it is mobile. The whole trainer (and thus your bike) can tilt from side-to-side as you transfer your body weight as you cycle.
When you are taking it easy you are quite stable, but when you get out of the saddle and really push yourself the trainer tilts and rotates just like it does when you sprint or push yourself on the open road.
As you can see in the video above the riding mechanics are amazing with the trainer (and bike) effortlessly moving around as you cycle. Also you can see that this is not just a bog-standard cycle trainer, it is a smart trainer. As standard with this version of the Kinetic Rock & Roll it comes with inRide sensor technology already setup, meaning you can use the Kinetic app-based power training on your smart device (phone or tablet).
With the app you can do intervals, threshold, or recovery spins, and when you combine this with the ultra smooth and realistic fluid resistance it makes the Kurt Kinetic Rock And Roll 2.0 Smart Trainer hard to resist. The trainer itself is particularly well built with a heavy and robust frame. While not a cheap trainer you can definitely see the build quality is superior to others on the market.
Best Low Priced (Entry-Level) Turbo Trainer.
Having a high-end turbo trainer with all the bells and whistles is great, but sometimes a standard trainer that does what it says on the tin is all you need. If this is the case then you will want a less expensive turbo trainer. There are some real budget trainers available, as discussed in our ‘Top 3 Best Budget Turbo Trainers Under £60’ article, and while these trainers are great you will get a better quality trainer from an established brand if you pay a little bit more. Not much more but around the £100 mark.
The B60 is a hugely popular trainer by a trusted and long standing cycle trainer brand. Attaching your bike is very easy and you will be up and running in no time, plus when you are not using the trainer the legs fold and it can be put away in a corner easily.
A great feature of the Minoura B60 is its handlebar mounted shifter that allows you to select from 7 different resistance levels so you can either have a relaxed cool down ride or a more intense high resistance workout. Also while an entry-level trainer that looks relatively basic the Minoura B60 actually has a very smooth ride and is pretty quiet. So all in all for around £100 this turbo trainer is an absolute bargain and should be looked at seriously if you was a simple standalone entry-level trainer.
A little more info about lower priced trainers
Lower priced trainers tend to use magnetic or wind resistance in their braking units. Wind is the most simple technology where your pedaling power goes into spinning a blade/fan and it is the resistance of this spinning blade/fan against this air that causes a resistance as you pedal. While relatively simplistic wind trainers are actually pretty smooth and comparable to the more expensive fluid trainers, such as the Kurt Kinetic Smart Trainer discussed above.
However wind resistance comes at a price, and that is noise. They can be very noisy, particularly when you really get the fan spinning so this is an obvious negative factor if you (a) don’t like too much noise or (b) the noise will upset people around you such as neighbours or partners/family.
Simple magnetic resistance is your next best option when it comes to lower priced trainers. Magnetic resistance is great and basically you have a spinning metal plate (powered by you as you pedal) which spins relative to some magnets. Things called Eddie currents are generated and cause resistance to the spinning plate and thus you as you pedal.
The Minoura B60 uses magnetic resistance to provide a smooth and quiet workout.
SUMMARY – Best Turbo Trainer
There are lots (and lots) of turbo trainers out there. The top brands are really pushing each other and if it making for some pretty special bits of cycling kit.
However, as the tech and specifications of indoor cycle trainers increases so does the price tag. You won’t get much change (if any) out of a £1000 note for the best smart interactive trainers, as covered here.
You could fit a cigarette paper between the top trainer on the market, but if we were to stick out neck out we’d crown the Kinetic R1 the best out there, purely for its outstanding realism and top notch specs. Saying this if you were to choose any other of the other top-end trainers discussed you would not be disappointed.
For those wanting a smart trainer that will record performance then you can drop your budget by a few hundred pounds. This too is a very competitive market but we’d recommend the Tacx Snap as the choice of the best smart trainer.
If you just want a functional and low cost trainer then you can venture aware from the top brands and head over to Amazon. We have a dedicated article for cheap low cost trainer here, but to cherry pick the winner we’d recommend the PedalPro Mag trainer.
What is a turbo trainer?
Turbo trainers (aka indoor cycle trainers or bike trainers) let you ride your standard road bike indoors. You can either remove your bike’s back wheel and connect it directly to the turbo trainer (known as direct-drive turbo trainers) or you can leave your bike wheel on and use it to spin a resistance unit. Either way you are essentially turning your bike into an indoor exercise bike.
Turbo trainers are popular in the colder winter months when it is more difficult to get outside on your bike, because lets be honest, if its raining, dark, and cold most of us don’t want to venture outside. However, they are also used for specialist training or for pre- and post-race warm-up and cool-downs respectively. All the top Pro cycling teams use a turbo trainer before and after events.
What is a smart turbo trainer?
Where a smart turbo trainer differs from a standard turbo trainer is that it can connect to other apps or software, and in turn do things such as monitor performance and even adjust specifications on your trainer as you ride (i.e. the resistance – this is known as a smart interactive turbo trainer).
We cover the different types of turbo trainer in the next section, but just to stay on smart trainers for a little longer we have to say that it is becoming more and more commonplace to have a smart trainer. Most turbo trainer brands have several smart trainer offerings and the world of online cycling is becoming huge and these software companies hook into your smart trainer so you can ride virtual courses and compete against other smart trainer riders.
Different types of turbo trainer
There are 2 modes of attaching your bike to a turbo trainer as well as several types of resistance brake. The resistance brake is just the way the turbo trainer offers resistance as you pedal, but we’ll get into this more below.
First lets discuss the 2 ways your bike can attach to a turbo trainer.
- Wheel-on resistance roller.
- Wheel-off direct-drive.
Wheel-on turbo trainers
Traditionally these wheel-on turbo trainers were very common. In fact all turbo trainers were like this. Simply the back tyre of your bike pushes against a roller. When you spin you back wheel (i.e. you pedal your bike) your tyre spins this roller which in-turn drives the resistance mechanism, which is either a blade spinning through air or fluid, a magnetic disc, or in some cases a motor.
The main positive of a wheel-on turbo trainer is that it is very easy to setup. You normally attach your spindle of your back wheel to the trainer and push the resistance roller up against your back wheel. That is it, you’re ready to go.
The main negative is that you get tyre wear, so you may want to invest in a special trainer tyre. This is fine if you are only using your bike indoors for extended periods, but if you are continuously taking your wheel on and off to swap between your normal tyre and the trainer tyre is can be a hassle. In this case you are probably better off buying a direct-drive turbo trainer.
Wheel-off direct-drive turbo trainers
What is a direct-drive turbo trainers?
Direct-drive indoor cycle trainers differ from traditional trainers in that you remove your back wheel and fix your bike directly to the trainer. There are some advantages and disadvantages of doing this.
Lets start with the disadvantages. Well to be honest the main one is that you need to remove your back wheel (and put it back on again afterwards), which for some people may be a bit of a hassle. However, if you are looking to use the trainer for extended periods of time and do not need to but the back wheel back on regularly then this is not a big issue.
There are a few advantages. One is that you eliminate any tyre wear and tyre noise that occurs when using traditional trainers. Tyre wear can be a big issue if you are using turbo trainers for extended periods of time, however you can purchase special trainer tyres that are smoother and more wear resistant and is recommended if you are someone who will use your trainer regularly.
Another advantage is that you are driving the resistance unit of the trainer directly via your bikes chain, which will give you 100% power transfer. Traditional trainers that rely on your back tyre spinning a cylinder are not as efficient, although the actual effects of this in reality are likely minimal.
Turbo Trainer Resistance Types
Whether you choose a traditional roller or a direct-drive cycle trainer you have options when it comes to the technology that drives the resistance unit. Each technology has its merits whether that is price or features.
We’ll work through the different technologies in terms of sophistication, although this being said it does not necessarily mean in terms of realism or ride performance because some of the simplest tech does provide one of the best rides. The type of trainer refers to the mechanism by which the trainer (more specifically the resistance unit or brake) generates the resistance.
WIND (AKA AIR OR FAN) TURBO TRAINERS
Wind turbo trainers use the most straight forward system to provide resistance as you pedal. Your pedalling energy is used to spin a fan or blade, and this spinning fan/blade is resisted by the air around it. While relatively simplistic in principle wind resistance provides a solid feel and generates a progressive resistance/power curve, which is somewhat similar to the power curve generated when cycling outdoors (on a flat road – i.e. zero incline). This means the correlation between speed and power is not linear, instead at higher speeds the resistance is proportionally higher. Without getting into the physics too much air resistance is more or less the friction you get on the blade as it moves through the air, and is influenced by speed and the cross-sectional area of the blade (also the shape and number of blades).
power curves when cycling outdoors (on a flat road – i.e. zero incline). This means the correlation between speed and power is not linear, instead at higher speeds the resistance is proportionally higher. Without getting into the physics too much air resistance is more or less the friction you get on the blade as it moves through the air, and is influenced by speed and the cross-sectional area of the blade (also the shape and number of blades).
More accurately it is known as drag this resistance force is defined by the following equation:
F=(1/2)*p*V2*C*A where F = Drag Force (resistance); p = the density of air; v = velocity of the blade; A = Cross-sectional area of the blade; C = drag coefficient.
If you’re into your physics head over to Wikipedia here to get more on drag forces.
Who are wind trainers aimed at?
Wind trainers are generally seen as an entry-level option, being lower priced when compared to other types of trainer.
Most of the bigger brands used to offer a wind trainer option but are now starting to discontinue this type of trainer. You can still pick up a low cost wind turbo trainer for around £50 from less known brands, and as you will see these trainers get pretty decent reviews. Check out our Best Cheap Turbo Trainer article here.
FLUID TURBO TRAINERS
Fluid turbo trainers can be seen as an upgrade to wind trainers. Instead of spinning a fan/blade through air they spin it through a fluid. This immediately makes them a lot quieter than wind trainers because spinning blade in fluid causes less noise than spinning it through air. Also, this all happens in a fully enclosed water tight chamber (for obvious reasons) which further dampens the noise. Generally, fluid trainers are recognised as the quietest on the market so if this is a major selling factor for you then you should consider this kind of trainer.
The progressive power curves generated by fluid trainers can be very realistic and comparable to power curves generated when cycling outdoors (see the graph above). The reason for this, particularly in higher-end fluid trainers, is because the viscosity of the fluid is specifically engineered to create these accurate power curves. Like wind trainers fluid trainers do not allow you to increase resistance via the trainer itself and you need to ramp up through the gears to get more resistance, which like wind trainers may not be a major issue for you. You can get hybrid trainers that do allow varying resistance levels, and we’ll chat about them in a minute.
Along with not being able to set various resistance levels via the trainer, another issue with fluid trainers is that the spinning fan/blade causes the fluid to heat up. As the liquid gets hotter its viscoelastic properties change, which means the power curve that was once very realistic may lose some of its realism. Whether this is noticeable or not is up for debate, but if you have spent a lot of money on a trainer because you want a quiet and realistic ride you want it to perform consistently. To combat this issue some trainers add a fan to blow cold air into the resistance brake to keep the fluid at an optimal temperature, such as the CycleOps Jet Fluid Pro (which also looks pretty cool too, pun intended). Obviously this cooling fan impacts on the quietness of the trainer.
Who are fluid trainers good for?
A fluid trainer is ideal for anyone wanting a road-like feel to their workout and anyone who wants a quiet (relative to other trainers) training session. The progressive resistance is a major selling point to serious cyclists, and if don’t want to annoy your other half, neighbours, or you just want to watch TV while you ride then a fluid trainer could be for you.
MAGNETIC TURBO TRAINERS
Magnetic turbo trainers, or simply just mag trainers as they are known are seen as entry- to mid-level trainers. Unlike wind and fluid trainers you DO have the option to set different resistance levels meaning you can have a tougher/stiffer workout that in some ways is like pedalling up an incline. Mag trainers, and in particular the lower priced ones have linear power curves, which are not as realistic as the progressive power curves that wind and fluid trainers generate. However, if you are just looking for a way to get a good solid workout on your bike indoors then this may not (and probably won’t) bother you.
Magnetic turbo trainers work by spinning a metal (usually steel) disc relative to a magnetic disc(s) or vice versa. The spinning disc causes what are known as “Eddy Currents” – see Wikipedia description here – that generate a drag on the metal disc (end result – your pedals feel stiffer). So, you pedal, your back wheel spins on a roller, this spins a metal disc (or your chain spins it if you have a direct-drive cycle trainer), and you generate a resistance.
Spinning a metal disc within a magnetic field causes it to heat up, which can become hazardous. To combat this a lot of mag trainers incorporate a fan, which can be noisy. Mag trainers aren’t quiet, so be prepared for a relatively noisy workout when using one.
Mag trainers are very popular because you can set different resistance levels, meaning you can have an easy warm-up session or a tough hill like workout. This is achieved by moving the spinning metal disc closer or further away from the magnetic disc(s). On cheaper (lower cost) trainers this resistance can be set on the braking unit itself before you start pedalling, or you can get a model with a handlebar mounted lever or knob that allows you to change the resistance as you cycle. Most trainers come with around 5 to 10 different levels of resistance.
ELECTROMAGNETIC TURBO TRAINERS
Like the standard mag trainers, electromagnetic trainers use a magnetic field to generate drag on a spinning metal disc. They achieve this in a more sophisticated way however, using electromagnetic fields that can be incrementally varied by increasing the electrical current to the resistance unit. Because electromagnetic trainers use electricity they can be controlled digitally and in most cases wirelessly, making them a lot more practical to use. Instead of having 5 to 10 set resistance levels (like in standard mag trainers) you can control the resistance much more freely in almost infinitely small increments and using metrics such as % or Watts.
The upper level of resistance is however limited because as you increase the electrical current to the electromagnet within the resistance unit the thin wires that carry the electricity heat up – get a simple explanation about electromagnets here. Too much heat can compromised the wires or cause them to heat up significantly (i.e. dangerously hot), and because it is the electricity causing the heat cooling fans will not eliminate the issue. High-end trainers can however simulate high resistance equivalent to an incline (gradient) of 20% in some cases, so don’t worry if you think you won’t get a tough workout because you will.
The video below is by Tacx for their i-Vortex turbo trainer that uses an electromagnetic resistance brake. It is a good example of how the trainer hooks up with a computer, but it is not just Tacx that do this, other companies such as Elite, CycleOps, Bkool, Kurt Kinetic, Minoura and more also have apps and software for smart devices and computers.
One massive plus point with these trainers is the ability to control them digitally, which means you can not only use a handlebar control unit but you can quite often use a smart phone, tablet, or computer. It doesn’t stop their either, now you have the power to control things using fancy software you can run training programs that automatically vary your resistance, or even better you can enter GPS data of real rides so you can recreate the same experience indoors. We’ll cover this more in the interactive trainers section, but there is now the ability to ride films and 3D virtual reality environments against other real-life riders in online races. This turns indoor training into something fun and addictive.
Motor turbo trainers are not very common, in fact only the manufacturer Tacx current use this technology on their high-end trainers, the i-Genius, Ironman, and Bushido. As you can probably guess it uses a motor as a resistance mechanism, which without getting too technical (see here for a simple explanation) involves spinning a current carrying coil within a magnetic field. A torque is generated on the coil, which is accurately controlled via the amount of current applied to the rotating coil. Increasing the torque necessary to spin the coil means you increase the pedalling power needed in your legs.
Ultimately the performance and experience will not differ much compared to an electromagnetic turbo trainer, however motor trainers have one feature that no other trainer can match. This is their ability to apply torque in both directions, thus they can physically spin your bike wheel. This means if you are riding on a GPS course via your tablet or laptop you will get a realistic feel when cycling downhill (a maximum of a 5% decline is the current limit).
The main disadvantage of a motor trainer is the price, with only high-end trainers currently having this technology. Also choice is an issue, with only one brand (Tacx) supplying these trainers. While the mechanism of spinning your back wheel is unique, other modern and high-end electromagnetic trainers can simulate the feel of downhill cycling by adjusting the resistance of the trainer and using a well-balanced flywheel.
Hybrid trainers aim to combine benefits of different technologies, such as smooth progressive power curves of a fluid trainer with the variable resistance of a magnetic trainer. This is seen for example with new Elite Turbo Muin direct-drive trainer that combines fluid and magnetic technologies and aims to be one of the quietest and smoothest trainers available. In this example the trainer uses a direct-drive mechanism (eliminating back tyre noise) and an oversized flywheel that spins in silicone oil (for smooth and quiet progressive resistance). They use electromagnetic resistance to provide the wide and controllable resistance range which is something standard fluid trainers cannot. You can read more on the official Elite website.