Indoor Trainer Guide - GPLama



📆 Last Update: April 27th 2017.

Which indoor trainer should you buy? There's no easy answer. They're all a little different. While I'm working behind the scenes on something a lot more comprehensive.... here's the skinny on all of the trainers I've ridden, stress tested, broken, loved, and hated over many years of training indoors.

If the trainer you're looking into isn't listed below, I have not ridden/tested/reviewed it. Will it be added in the future? If I can get a hold of it, yes! Please contact me if you can help me grow this guide.

These reviews and ratings can and will be changed on a regular basis as firmware update releases can have a major impact on the function/features of most of these trainers.

Shane - GPLama


Direct Drive 'Smart Trainers'


Wahoo Kickr



Great road feel. A little noisey at high revs. Get yourself some noise cancelling headphones and it's all good. A lot cheaper in Australia than the Neo. Power reporting accuracy can be variable, however I've found regular spindowns keep the numbers inline with my Quarq and PowerTap P1 pedals. I own four Kickrs (original units) and hire them out to people wanting to try before they buy, or who've broken bones and need to keep training. The feedback has always been positive. Excellent support from Wahoo for ongoing firmware updates for functionality. The build and looks is a little industrial but provides adjustable feet solid stability.

Pricing: 
US$1,199 (Sale ~US$1,079)
AU$1,599 (Sale ~AU$1300)
€999.99 (Sale ~€709.99)
£749.99 (Sale £649.99)

GPLama Rating: 8/10

Rating Comment: The original game-changer for indoor cyclists. ANT+, Bluetooth Smart, interactivity. It's an old unit now but has stood the test of time. Belts known to wear out after ~10,000km (replaceable). Some reports of gear indexing issues, usually resolved with shims/spacers.

Links:
WAHOO KICKR SETUP FOR BEGINNERS
WAHOO KICKR: Basic Maintenance
Wahoo Kickr - Sticky / Grabbing Freewheel Fix





Wahoo Kickr16/Kickr2 



Same road feel/inertia as the original Kickr (see above). A little quieter than the original. The new handle position is a great addition if you're setting up your training space each session. Power accuracy and resistance responsiveness were excellent with my testing so far. Support and updates have been good (like the original Kickr). Wahoo have been responsive to feedback and with providing updates for this unit to date. Not so much a Kickr v2.0, but a refined release taking it to Kickr v1.5. :)

Pricing:
US$1,199
AU$1,599
€999.99
£999.99

GPLama Rating: 8.5/10

Rating Comment: 1/2 a point up on the original for the lower noise, handle, LED lights, and improved rear derailleur clearance.

Links:
Wahoo Kickr16 / Kickr 2: Unboxing, Building, First Ride.




Tacx Neo



Quiet. Really quiet. The #1 pick if you need the least noise for your indoor sessions. The simulated flywheel is noticeably different if you've got a keen eye (leg?) for detail. Road feel is pretty nifty, they can do a lot more with it when/if your software supports it. Ice mode is, or could be, a great training tool to smooth out peddling. Power accuracy is excellent. Anyone saying otherwise is usually comparing it to an old Stages that has drifted, or a pair of Vector pedals that haven't been torqued up correctly. Regular firmware updates from Tacx have seen a number of issues addressed, most recently an update to ERG mode which has been praised in a number of training forums. I still experience 'Virtual Tyre Slip' on simulated steep gradients and the occasional smell of fish after 1000W+ sprints. See my blog post below discussing both of these phenomena. Neither show-stoppers. There's an army of happy Neo owners out there, so it's a good buy.

I've recently encountered a grinding/knocking noise after transporting the unit (in original box). Resolution was a support ticket with TACX who supplied a flywheel extraction tool. Removing and reseating everything resolved the issue.

Pricing:
US$1599 (Amazon)
AU$1,700-$2,199
€999
£999.99-£1,191

GPLama Rating: 7.5/10

Rating Comment: A good unit, even better with the new firmware.... but that virtual tyre slip still gets me down when it occurs. Unable to level the unit with the feet. Slightly more right side flex on the original Neo I have. Original unit had chain-stay clearance issues with some bikes, this has been resolved in the 2017 model Neo.

Links: 
Tacx Neo Smart T2800 User Review
TACX NEO ROAD FEEL - The Game Changer!
Tacx Neo - Sound Check and LED Light Show



Tacx Flux



A more budget focused direct drive trainer with acceptable power accuracy (~5%, but closer to ~3% when warmed up) and good resistance responsiveness. The units I've had were not overly loud.... but unfortunately I've broken two of them in quick succession. 10% maximum gradient simulation is a limiter if you're looking for super hard strength efforts on steep virtual grades. Power reporting responsiveness was adjusted in recent firmware updates, but I've not had the opportunity to go to Round 3 to date. With so many unit failures still occurring in the field, the Flux is on my 'proceed with caution' list. Keep your receipt!

Pricing:
USD$899 (Amazon)
AUD$1,099
€799

GPLama Rating: Tentative... 6.0/10

Rating Comment: My experience to date is that it ticks boxes, then the unit falls over. Online forum feedback by owners is littered with failures, daily. I haven't tested a third unit... Stay tuned on this!

Links:
TACX FLUX Smart Trainer: Unboxing. Building. First Ride.
Tacx FLUX: Test Flight Aborted! 
Tacx FLUX Redux: ROUND 2 





Elite Drivo



The trainer that looks like a vacuum cleaner. A really quiet trainer, just not as quiet as the Neo. Great inertia/road feel like the Kickr. Best power accuracy of any trainer out there (although the Neo is really good too). As mentioned, it's not the best looking unit... but you can't see it when you're riding, so it doesn't matter. Resistance changes are responsive and strong within Zwift, I'll need to quantify this soon... but it'll kick you in the butt quickly when the road heads upwards! I haven't had any luck with the pedal scan analysis working on my iOS devices, but the unit has potential to provide some interesting analysis once that's sorted. The Drivo and Kickr16 are very comparable. With the Drivo taking the lead in the power accuracy/reporting and sound department, and the Kickr16 in the connectivity and proven track record department.

Pricing:
US$1,279 (Amazon)
AU$1,862
€1,390
£1099.99

GPLama Rating: 8/10

Rating Comment: The questionable looks of the unit are balanced out by the superior power accuracy. Points deducted as the ANT+ / BLE connectivity is one or the other, not both at the same time. This limits how I can use the unit (control over BLE, collect data over ANT+ not possible).

Links:
ELITE DRIVO SMART TRAINER: Unboxing. Building. First Ride.
ELITE DRIVO SMART TRAINER: 90min Ride and Sprint Test.






CycleOps Hammer



Built like an army tank, as you'd expect being from #MERICA! Massive flywheel making the ride feel on par with, if not a little nicer than the Kickr and Drivo. Solid unit that is stable while sprinting. It has a humming noise to it at a lower pitch than the Kickr1/2. Steady state power numbers were a few watts lower than my PowerTap pedals in a number if instances. Hoping this is something that they can iron out in firmware if the readings are similar on other units (I only tested a demo unit). A small lag in resistance changes when riding Zwift. Will keep an eye out for future firmware updates to see if they address this too.

Pricing:
US$1,199 (Amazon)
AU$1,649
£999.99

GPLama Rating: 7.5/10

Rating Comment: I'll bump this to an 8 once I've got a unit (or there's a firmware update) that tracks closer to my other power meters. Still a really good unit if you're using a secondary power meter.

Links:
CycleOps Hammer Smart Trainer: Setup, Ride, First Impressions




Direct Drive 'Non-Smart Trainers'

These ratings can't really be compared one-to-one with smart trainers, they're different units with a different purpose. The general ratings I've given are based on them being non-smart trainers (no built-in tech).


LeMond Revolution 



LOUD. WHAT? YES! REALLY LOUD. Buttery smooth road feel with a excellent inertia and spindown. Noise cancelling headphones are a great addition must for this trainer. Adjustable feet make this the perfect race day companion for almost any surface. Do not touch the PowerPilot unit, it's a disaster. The WattBox add-on can also be bypassed with a speed sensor hack and the right software. My go-to indoor trainer for TT efforts. Also my go-to trainer to take to race warm-ups, there's no electronics to get fried by the elements (rain!). Not available for purchase anymore, or if you can find them they're priced though the roof... AU$800+.  Second hand / preowned marketplace is a good source of these. Original units had 10spd freehubs and required an upgrade kit. The LeMond Revolution v1.1 came with 11spd hubs. You could probably hack an old 10spd one into 11spd with a Dremel.

Pricing:
N/A. 2nd Hand: AU$250-$400

GPLama Rating: 9/10

Rating Comment: The only point deducted is for that damn noise! :) Noise levels aside, people love these trainers for a reason.

Links:
HACK TIPS - LEMOND REVOLUTION EDITION
LeMond Revolution zPower Data Analysis
LeMond Revolution Indoor Trainer: Resistance Hack





RevBox


An almost immediate flywheel stop once you ease up on the pedals. It may have an application somewhere in the cycling/rehab space. Maybe it's a good machine for specific strength efforts. It's just so different to anything I've ever ridden it was really a chore to keep the power to the pedals. If you're after replicating outside riding indoors, this isn't the trainer to go with.

Pricing:
NZD$1,199

GPLama Rating: 2/10

Rating Comment: Really not my cup of tea. Points given because it's super light, and it exists. Other dramas with their software and restrictions on using their own Bluetooth Smart sensors.

Links:
RevBox Erg Review
RevBox Erg - Zwift Richmond Sprint






Elite KURA (Technically a non-interactive Smart-Trainer)




Borrowing the physical build from the Drivo, the KURA is the #1 premium direct drive 'fluid trainer'. The ride feel is very similar to that of a Fluid2 and Road Machine, but without the tyre/roller setup issues that can hamper the experience of those trainers. I found the speed/power resistance curve to be better training than using an interactive trainer in ERG mode, I've discussed this in the Unbox, Build, First Ride video below. The power calibration process needs a little refinement which could be ironed out with an app update / firmware / or extended calibration functionality (maybe against a known good power meter?). 


Pricing:
USD$909 (Amazon)
€850
£649

GPLama Rating: 7/10

Rating Comment: As with the Drivo, points deducted as the ANT+ / BLE connectivity is one or the other, not both at the same time. Although as this isn't a controllable trainer this was only a hassle when trying to calibrate the system over BLE. No on/off switch to reset the wireless protocol selection.

Links:
Elite KURA Indoor Trainer: Unboxing. Building. First Ride.




Wheel-on Smart Trainers


Elite QUBO Digital Smart B+



The cheapest smart trainer around. This unit surprised me so much that I've made a few videos about it. Can be found for under AU$400.. but watch for the price of international returns/etc. Good road feel inertia for a wheel-on trainer with a small roller. Power accuracy can be questionable, as is the case with any power estimator (vs a real power meter) that has to take into account tyre pressure and the like. This unit can be calibrated against a power meter with the Elite MyETraining app. A good first smart trainer buy if you're not too sure on spending more than $1000 on the high end units. Like all wheel-on trainers, rear tyre wear will occur. Look at getting yourself a trainer specific tyre if you're cranking out more than a few hours a week on one of these puppies.

Pricing:
AUD$649
£270

GPLama Rating: 6.5/10

Rating Comment: Easily the best budget option for automatic resistance changing with software like Zwift. The inevitable tyre wear is a hidden cost (as with all tyre-on trainers).

Links:
Elite Qubo Digital Smart B+ Smart Trainer Review
Elite Qubo Smart Digital B+ Sprint Video
CHEAPEST SMART TRAINER BUNCH RIDE






Elite Rampa 



The Elite equivalent to the Wahoo Kickr SNAP. A good step up from the QUBO DSB+ unit with a rock solid frame. Sprints well, pretty good inertia for a wheel-on trainer. As with all these types of trainers, power accuracy depends on a number of factors. Once everything is lined up I found it well within ranges of what I'd expect. I'll need to put this unit head to head with the Kickr SNAP to really know which one comes out on top.

Pricing:
USD$649 (Amazon)
AU$849
€457
£449.99

GPLama Rating: 7/10

Rating Comment: Again an Elite product with points deducted as the ANT+ / BLE connectivity is one or the other, not both at the same time. This limits how I can use the unit (control over BLE, collect data over ANT+ not possible).

Links:
ELITE RAMPA SMART TRAINER: Unboxing. Building. First Ride.
ELITE RAMPA SMART TRAINER: Sprint Testing
ELITE RAMPA SMART TRAINER: Power Accuracy and Calibration



Wheel-on 'Non-Smart Trainers'

CycleOps Fluid2



I've busted two of these over the years with leaking seals. These were replaced under warranty and I've been unable to break the third. zPower (virtual power reporting based on speed/power curve) can be close to accurate if you've got everything right such as tyre pressure and tension on the tyre correct. Resistance and virtual power will change as the unit heats up over the first 10-20 minutes of use. Current RRP of AU$459 is a little high. You can source an Elite QUBO smart trainer for this kind of coin.

Pricing:
US$299 (Amazon)
AU$459

GPLama Rating: 5/10

Rating Comment: Possible ok buy at AU$150 second hand, maybe. Save your pennies for a smart trainer.

Links:
ZWIFT ON A BUDGET
Zwift on a Budget - zPower Fury Road!





Kinetic Road Machine



A popular classic. Current RRP of AU$699... step away from the Road Machine. Keep going... keeeeep going. When comparing these to low end smart trainers and other wheel-on smart trainers such as the Rampa and SNAP, the Road Machine is way too expensive. The ride feel on the Road Machine is ok-ish. It provided me enough resistance and training stimulus for a few years prior to the LeMond Revolution coming along. Virtual power estimates from the Road Machine are again in the 'ok' ball-park assuming all the ducks are lined up with tyre pressure and roller tension.

Pricing:
US$327 (Amazon)
AU$699

GPLama Rating: 6/10

Rating Comment: It's a good workhorse that will outlast you. That's about it. Picking one up cheap second hand might be an option for low milage indoor riders.



What about Rollers?


If you're looking at rollers and can ride them, you've got this covered. I use a set of Minura ActionMag Rollers for recovery days, leg speed work, and the occasional race day warm up. Indoors for me is about maximum power over a set duration (of any length). Rollers don't allow for these kind of efforts I'm seeking indoors on the road or TT bike. I want a hard workout, with road style inertia, without having to perform a balancing act.


Then what about......


That's a running machine. Get your bike off it! Seriously though, there's a number of devices hitting the market like the Tacx Magnum above that is pushing boundaries of indoor cycling. I love the innovation... as for the practical application of most of them, I'm not sold, yet. I want maximum watts over time indoors, and I'll work on my balancing skills and bike handling outside.



GPLama Top Picks



Lowest Noise:
1st - Tacx Neo
2nd - Elite Drivo

Most accurate Power:
1st - Elite Drivo
2nd - Tacx Neo

Best Non-Smart Direct Drive:
1st - LeMond Revolution
2nd - Elite KURA

Best Budget Smart Trainer(s):

Wheel-on
1st - Elite QUBO Digital Smart B+

Direct Drive (Wheel off)
1st - Second hand (preowned) Kickr1

Best All-Rounder:
1st - Wahoo Kickr (Original version with newest firmware installed. Cheap. Reliable. Responsive)
2nd - Wahoo Kickr2/16 (As above... but with a few small additions)
3rd tied (aka the 'rest') - Elite Drivo, Tacx Neo, & CycleOps Hammer






Disclaimer: Why and what you choose to buy is entirely up to you. I'm just sharing my somewhat extensive experience with indoor trainers, with my background in technology, and a passion of combining the two.

9 comments:

Phil Ward said...

Really useful to see this all boiled down to a few key points for each Shane, thanks. Not many of us can get to extensivley try before buying so this helps identify any potential niggles before going to the shop and jumping on one with those key issues in mind already.

Steve Hodgkinson said...

Hi Shane - not sure if you have done a review on the Wahoo Kickr Snap but this model and the Elite Rampa seem to be priced about the same and have very similar features. If you had to make a choice which one would you pick out of these two.

Shane Miller said...

No SNAP in the collection, sorry.

Steve Hodgkinson said...

ok thanks for the reply.

Phil H said...

I wish I'd seen these reviews before I bought my first smart trainer, that dammed Bushido! My previous iFlow was more responsive and easier to get along with. The Bushido just made me not want to use the turbo and left me with a moody knee with all the slippage. The replacement Kura is ace. I've done the ergo stuff and it isn't for me. I'd sooner just ride to power and the Kura lets me do that. Initial issues getting it to give correct power readings on Zwift, but that was down to Garmin Express turning on i the background.

Daffy Phone said...

HI Shane, thanks for the write up. If we set aside the wheel on power level accuracy and rely on an alternative ie Quark, Stages...What advantages or disadvantages are there between the two types please? Is the wheel off smart trainer that much better for feel, usability and stability? Most reviews seem to focus on the power reporting. I am in need of a smart trainer due to a bike crash and need to move on from the magnetic one that I have. I can afford both but am trying to work out if the wheel off experience is worth it. I have no ability to test due to my location unfortunately. Each brand seems to have there issues. I am 195cm tall and just under 4w/kg. My concern with the wheel on is slippage and rocking. Any thoughts would be appreciated. Keep up the good work

Shane Miller said...

Direct drive is the better option. Less things to go wrong. (No tyre wear, not tyre pressure issues, no roller contact tightness issues...etc).

Daffy Phone said...

Thanks Shane for the zwift response and thoughts. Now to decide which one:)

Chris Mitchelmore said...

Great roundup! So many junk reviews of turbos out there it's really nice to see everything boiled down. Thanks