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Conventional bike trainers attach to the back wheel of your cycle to let you ride it indoors when you can’t ride it outdoors. While this is the most common form, there is an inherent disadvantage that comes with them. Because a roller is constantly in contact with the wheel’s tire to create friction necessary to spin the wheel, that friction causes the tire to become shredded pretty quickly. While you can buy a separate trainer tire to replace the regular tire everytime you use the trainer, another option is to get a trainer that directly attaches to the bike rear axle after you completely remove the rear wheel. The best direct drive trainer within your budget is almost always better than a traditional trainer for a few other different reasons as well.
How Does a Direct Drive Bike Trainer Work?
Direct drive bike trainers only require a cassette to be fitted to the drive unit and the chain is engaged that way. This means that the trainer flywheel lies more towards the center of the bike, which creates a more realistic road feel as compared to the more rear position with traditional trainers. Another more realistic feature is that most direct drives feature a bit of side to side give
Also, if measuring your power output is important to you, you may find that a power meter used with a traditional trainer is often inaccurate because of wheel slippage against the roller or just natural inconsistencies in roller tension. In fact, you can expect the reading to be off by 5 watts or more. A direct trainer easily includes “smart” features that measure power more accurately and the best direct drive turbo trainers will register nothing more that a watt off.
Direct drive trainers are almost always the most quiet of all bike trainers, however, not all trainers are compatible with all bikes. Not only do you have to pick one that’ll fit your current bike, but you don’t want to have to be limited to a certain type of bike later on if you ever want to buy a new one. To ensure that this doesn’t happen, you may want to choose a model that is compatible with a wide variety of bikes.
The critical factor you should consider is cost, as a direct drive smart trainer is the most expensive of all types. The cost may be worthwhile for anyone who has to train a lot indoors and wants to use popular VR software like Zwift. However, you can also get “smart” features with a traditional trainer but at a lower cost. If smart feature are not important to you, you may want to consider a wind trainer, magnetic trainer or fluid trainer. Unsure of the differences? Check out our bike trainer guide first.
Compare the Best Direct Drive Turbo Trainers
|Product||Rating (out of 5)||Max simulated grade||Max power output||Flywheel weight||Price|
|CycleOps Hammer Direct Drive Trainer||4.3||20%||2000 W||20 lbs||$$|
|Wahoo New Kickr Power Trainer||4.5||20%||2000 W||12.5 lbs||$$|
|Tacx Neo Smart Direct Driver Trainer||4.1||25%||2200 W||virtual simulation||$$$$|
|Elite Drivo Interactive Power Meter Muin Trainer||4.0||22%||2000+ W||13 lbs||$$$|
CycleOps Hammer Direct Drive Trainer
The CycleOps Hammer has one of the widest ranges of technological compatibility available on the market. It works with many different apps such as CycleOps Virtual Training, TrainerRoad, and Zwift. Any software available that Bluetooth 4.0 and ANT+ FE-C supports is compatible with this product. It also operates well with various devices. It will work with any thru-axle (fork width 142 or 148) or quick release bike (fork width 130 or 135).
This model is known for its high quality electro-magnetic resistance but you have to plug it in for a power source to run. This helps to ensure that resistance is both activated immediately and achieved to the highest level possible throughout the entire duration of your workout. It is designed to simulate up to a 20% climbing grade and stand as much as 2000 watts when ridden at 20 mph. It uses accurate PowerTap technology to measure power.
The product’s front wheel tray provides stability and fits within the trainer whenever it is not in use. Its legs fold quickly and easily. These factors help for easy storage and transport, something that’s uncommon among direct drive trainers. Its weight is 47 pounds, however, so it is definitely not easy for everyone to carry or move.
CycleOps advertises this product as being “quiet enough to ride in a library.” It specifies that when riding at 20 mph, the noise level is 64 dB. While this is quieter than some, several customers have reported some minor annoyances with the noise level. The general consensus among such reports it that these customers hear a sound similar to a moan that they say they have not experienced when using similar products. A few customers also say that there is a lag in resistance when you use it with a VR training app, going both uphill as well as downhill.
A Shimano splined freehub comes with the direct drive trainer. The freehub is compatible with 8-11 speed cassettes, but the cassettes are not included. The CycleOps Hammer direct drive trainer is easy to assemble, quick to connect with compatible devices and software for accurate and in depth data, and designed for efficient use to ensure a quality workout.
Wahoo New Kickr Power Trainer
The Wahoo Kickr2 is compatible with Zwift and TrainerRoad, among some of the other more common apps for training. It uses ANT+, ANT+ FE-C and Bluetooth Smart to connect wirelessly, so you can even use your Garmin to control the trainer. The device that you use to connect the product automatically controls the resistance for you to ensure its consistency. The hub types compatible with the Wahoo Kickr2 are 130 and 135 mm quick release and 142 x 12 thru axle with an adapter. A quick release skewer, 11 speed cassette, and disc brake pad spacer for 10 speed cassettes are included.
Like similar products, this is a very heavy bike trainer that can be difficult for many people to move or to carry. You don’t need a riser block for the front wheel but you may find that it’s more comfortable to use one.
The noise level of 61 dB is quite good. The quietness of the product is one of the most commonly praised aspects of customer reviews. On the other hand, the most commonly reported customer problem is related to this model’s durability. A 1-year warranty is available with the product, and several customers have stated that they needed to request a full replacement within that year. While a few users say that power accuracy is lost after some time, this is most likely because the Kickr2 needs to spin down regularly to zero-offset your power meter.
Once you register your Kickr2 with the Wahoo Fitness app, you will become entitled to use Strava Premium free for two months so long as you do not already have an existing member account with Strava Premium. You can also receive membership with Sufferfest Training Center for two months and with TrainerRoad for one month. The Kickr2 comes with the Wahoo RPM Cadence Sensor so that you can get the complete vital cycling metrics you need to train properly. The included power adapter lets you use your own power meter and it is rated to go up to 2000 watts with a maximum simulated grade of 20% and 11 speed compatibility. Accuracy is claimed at +/- 2%.
The product is assembled via a fairly simple process. Just take a compatible back wheel off of bike, connect it to your new Kickr2, and then connect to Wifi to receive all the features intended to simulate outdoor riding. Customers give the trainer high marks for the realism of that simulation. They express a higher sense of appreciation for the feelings of realistic roads, hills, etc. than customers of products that attempt the same realistic feelings.
Tacx Neo Smart Direct Driver Trainer
This next model we will look at is compatible with Apple and Android devices. However, although the product is Apple-friendly to a large degree, Mac computers are generally not compatible. You can use it wirelessly or connected to an outlet, whichever is more convenient for you. It uses ANT+ and Bluetooth Smart technology that is compatible with many different training software applications. Taxc also has its own free training app available you can connect the trainer with in case you do not already have applicable software. This direct drive trainer works only with quick release bikes.
You have control over the level of resistance, which sets this trainer apart from the above two direct drive cycling trainers. Since you do not have to be fully dependent on your device to maintain the resistance, you are able to adjust it to best fit the type of workout and the type of outdoor simulation you are looking for and you don’t need a power source to run it. Unlike the others on this list, there is a powerful motor that is set right onto the cassette to control speed so there’s no need for other gearing. There’s also no roll-down process to calibrate the power meter, another major advantage over the above two trainers. The max power is 2200 watts and also simulates a 25% maximum slope.
At almost 48 lbs, this direct drive trainer is probably the heaviest one currently on the market. It is, however, designed to be easily foldable and storable. So despite the weight, it is compact enough that it is one of the most portable trainers available.
The noise level emitted from this direct drive trainer is almost nothing. Rare customer complaints have been made about the ticking noise triggered by the motion, but this is still significantly less the noise caused by most similar products. Of course absolute silence is not possible, but many customers confirm the company’s claims of the trainer’s near silence.
The Taxc Neo Smart Direct Driver Trainer is designed with the intention of being one of the stablest presently on the market but there is a bit of give to simulate a natural side to side movement. It can even simulate riding over cobblestones! Current owners do love the way it works even though it is the most expensive one on this list. In this case, however, you get what you pay for.
When you also factor in all the portability aspects already shared and the fact that assembly and set up is very easy, regular use is much easier than is possible with most other trainers.
Elite Drivo Interactive Power Meter Muin Trainer
This final direct drive trainer we will assess here works with ANT+ and Bluetooth wireless technology. It is compatible with some of the most readily available third party apps for training such as Zwift and TrainerRoad. Compatible software is also included with a purchase of the trainer. There is no wireless accessibility with this trainer; it must be plugged in to a power source in order to use it. Your bicycle must have a 130-135 x 5mm quick release and a 142 x 12 mm thru axle in order to work with this trainer. You will also need your own cassette.
Through the ANT+ technology, resistance is controlled electronically as is also the case with most of the other models currently on the market. This trainer, however, connects to the bicycle chain, emitting a stronger power that allows for a more rigorous workout as a result of the resistance at work here. It gives you a maximum 22% incline and over 2000 W of maximum power. The pulleys and belts used ensure that the resistance is as consistent as it is high. As with the Tacx Neo, there is no roll-down procedure required and you’ll always have just a +/- 1% accuracy with power.
The Elite Drive does not fold very thoroughly. It is intended for home use solely and is best placed in the position you will want to keep it for a long time. This model is relatively quiet.
This product is sold with compatible software. Real software and My eTraining app are included. My eTraining does require a membership, and with a purchase of this product, you will be entitled to an unending free membership. This app enables you to use Real Videos as you cycle, giving you a visual enhancement to the simulation of outdoor riding.
Though the portability issues discussed before may be drawbacks, the positive aspect also involved is that it helps make the way for a very easy set up. So as long as you know that your purpose is for working out in a way that fits with a bike you can keep in the same place all the time, then its ease of use will be great for you the entire time you own it.