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We know that there are three types of bike trainers that allow a cyclist to keep riding indoors if the weather won’t allow it outside. Wind, fluid and magnetic resistance trainers all depend on some form of physical resistance mechanism powered by the rider himself, either by pedaling or by controlling resistance levels. However, if you’re training for a race or keeping up with your training routine in the off season, or just want a more interesting way to keep up your cycling fitness routine indoors, you could consider a more high tech type of trainer that is controlled by a software app to simulate riding outside. With the best smart bike trainer you can use Bluetooth or ANT+ connectivity to access apps that can either dial in precise resistance settings or use preset workouts or actual outdoor courses to simulate a realistic program.
Interactive resistance control isn’t the only benefit you get from smart trainers. You also have the ability to measure power so that you know exactly how hard you’ve been working out. Accurate power measurement is particularly important for training. If you’re only using a trainer for exercise, a smart trainer makes the workout infinitely more entertaining because you can pretend to be cycling outside, maybe even choosing a scenic course to complete.
While this review article will focus on finding the best smart bike trainer of the traditional “bike wheel on” type where physical contact happens between a roller and the rear tire of the bike, there is also the direct drive smart trainer type that is the most expensive kind and usually costs more than $1000, where you completely remove your bike’s rear wheel and only fix the axle to the trainer. If you have the budget for it, the direct drive is the type that most pro cyclists prefer. However, the following trainers that use fluid or electro-magnetic resistance mechanisms on the bike’s tire are more than good enough for most users. To know the difference between all the different kinds of trainers, read our bike trainer guide.
Table of Contents
Compare the Best Smart Trainers
|Product||Rating (out of 5)||Resistance type||Price|
|Kinetic Road Machine Smart Trainer||4.2||fluid||$$|
|Tacx Satori Smart Trainer||4.5||magnetic||$$|
|CycleOps Magnus Trainer||4.1||magnetic||$$$$|
|Kinetic Rock and Roll Smart Bike Trainer||4.1||fluid||$$$$|
|Tacx Vortex Smart Ergotrainer with Electro Brake||3.7||magnetic||$$$$|
Best Smart Trainer Under $500
Kinetic Road Machine Smart Trainer
The Kinetic Road Machine Smart Trainer comes available in a sleek green color, folds flat and weighs in at just under 15 lbs for easy portability, and utilizes the fluid resistance model. Fluid trainers are considered more favorable to avid users compared to other types of trainers for a few reasons. These include the fact that fluid trainers are typically less noisy than other types, they offer progressive resistance that does not require physically dismounting the bike to adjust or using a remote to select between distinct levels, and that the fluid resistance creates a more realistic feel. The Kinetic Road Machine Smart trainer fits all bike sizes, including mountain bikes and is fairly easy to set up. Even though it costs less than $500, we rate it as one of the best fluid resistance trainers of all. For an even more realistic road experience, check out the more expensive model from Kinetic further down this page.
This particular model from Kinetic features an add-on from the original Road Machine called inRide. The inbuilt inRide sensor tracks and consistently updates cadence, power, distance, and speed metrics during your workout. All of these stats can be uploaded at convenience while training on both iPhones and Android phones through the inRide app. To compliment this feature, the trainer is also compatible with most of the more popular training apps such as Zwift and Garmin trackers (both only if you have your own ANT+ sensors), and TrainerRoad via Bluetooth, which this trainer is already compatible with. The purchase of this trainer does come with a 1-month subscription to Kinetic’s inRide app but most users seem to prefer the other open platforms, as they say that they had difficulty getting inRide to work properly.
As you can tell from this category’s title, the Road Machine Smart trainer falls under a more reasonable price range when compared to some others trainers. It is recommended, however, that buyers also purchase the riser block and training tire to go along with it. Although you can use your own tire if need be, using the Kinetic tire is wiser because the friction created on the tire can cause it to become shredded fast. The tire provided by Kinetic is manufactured specifically to endure the wear and tear caused by the Road Machine. The riser block simply provides a balanced and sturdy ride during your training.
Tacx Satori Smart Trainer
Next in line we have the Tacx Satori Smart Trainer. It is a magnetic style trainer that carries a more subtle blue color and weighs in around 17 pounds. The Satori trainer works through magnets instead of fluid, but still provides a softer noise level compared to some. The Tacx is compatible with Race, Tri, and Mountain Bikes, provided you have an axle skewer. As far as set-up goes, the directions that come with the trainer seem to be pretty vague but with a quick Google search set-up is fairly simple.
The main caveat with the Tacx is that resistance adjustments are made manually. This is done by raising or lowering a lever located on the steer. The lever resistance is separated into 10 levels for varied preferences, but can slightly take away from the experience when using popular training apps because it cannot be automatically synced like other trainers.
Similar to the Road Machine, the Tacx does come with its own training app that can be used with ANT+ and Bluetooth Smart devices and measures speed and power. You will need your own cadence and heart rate monitor devices. Most users find themselves disappointed or frustrated when using the Tacx app and lean towards more well-known apps like Zwift, which is compatible with this trainer. The company does offer the Tacx utility App, which allows users to update any newer releases in firmware as they are offered.
This smart cycling trainer shines when it comes to portability. It can be folded and doesn’t require a power source for you to workout, so it is a good option if you need it for pre-race warm ups. When the smart feature is not in use, it functions like a regular magnetic bike trainer.
It is strongly recommended to use the Tacx training tire instead of your own personal bike tire due to the fact the trainer heats up fairly quickly and could potentially cause a blowout mid-ride. Unlike the Road Machine, the Tacx comes equipped with its own riser block for a less wobbly feel.
CycleOps Magnus Trainer
First up in our second category is the CycleOps Magnus Trainer. This is an electromagnetic type of trainer and although this one is a tad more expensive than the previous trainers listed above, it brings something more to the table and has even landed on our best magnetic resistance trainers list. To start, the frame is based off of the original CycleOps Classic and is very sturdy due to the clutch knob that holds the tire in place against the roller for more tension. There have been some issues reported with the clutch knob but all in all it seems to work pretty well when clicked in correctly.
The CycleOps is compatible with all bikes, including mountain bikes, and comes in a solid black color with a simple yellow stripe across the base. The trainer weighs in a little heavier at about 26 pounds but is foldable for easy storage. It is also considered one of the quieter trainers out there.
The main benefit users can enjoy when compared to the other Tracx magnetic trainer is that the resistance unit is not manual. This means that while you are using the Zwift app, resistance will adjust automatically. On top of that, this trainer maxes out at 1500 watts. This means users don’t have to worry about out-pedaling the trainer and avoiding lags in resistance. Because the resistance unit ramps up a lot faster than other models, starting from a slower pace and quickly gaining speed in a short time frame during interval training will happen seamlessly. Because of this, we think that this is probably the best smart turbo trainer out there right now, save for the high end direct drive trainers.
Similar to most smart trainers, the Cycle Ops works through ANT+FEC and Bluetooth to sync up to all the popular devices and apps. It does come with a steel quick release skewer but no riser block or mat. It can also be used without power for before races but will not give out a reading on stats and resistance progression will not be the same as when the trainer is plugged in.
Kinetic Rock and Roll Smart Bike Trainer
Kinetic’s Rock and Roll model offers all the same smart trainer qualities as the Kinetic Smart Road Machine as far as bike size capabilities and app compatibility. The included inRide sensors include power, speed, distance and cadence, all of which can be accessed via Kinetic’s app on your iOS or Android smart device. If you prefer using TrainerRoad, it is already Bluetooth capable, but if you want to use Zwift or your Garmin tracker, you’ll need to get additional ANT+ sensors.
The feature that stands out and most likely justifies the more expensive price tag, is that this is not just a stationary trainer. The distinct frame allows for side to side sway while riding. This feature really does add to the “road-like” feel to your workouts and helps users become more focused while training. All around it simply offers a much more dynamic experience compared to most other trainers. Despite this added motion while riding, the noise level for this trainer is still fairly quiet and it also makes our list of best fluid resistance trainers on the market.
Setup is simple, although directions are vague. The main downside to this trainer is that it is fairly wide, at 35”, and is not foldable. Depending on your workout area, this can cause some obvious space issues. It is also much heavier, weighing in at 34 lbs, making portability for this trainer difficult as well. If you need a trainer for pre-race warm ups, this is probably not the best choice, but if off season training is what you’re after, then this may be the best smart trainer you can buy.
The trainer does not come with a trainer wheel or the riser block but you can buy them separately.
Tacx Vortex Smart Ergotrainer with Electro Brake
Last but not least, we have the Tacx Vortex Smart Ergotrainer. It comes in a solid white color with small baby blue accents on the flywheel and handles. It weighs in at a moderate 24.7 pounds and is built with 8 permanent magnetic and 8 controllable magnetics. Just like the other Tacx trainers, it comes with a standard riser block, so no added purchase is needed. The footprint on this particular trainer is about 26” X 26” and it does fold for storage.
The max resistance on the Tacx Vortex is 950 watts with a 7% maximum uphill slope. Set up is pretty simple but users have had difficulty with mounting the resistance unit onto the frame due to issues with plastic tabs that set it in place. Another issue seems to be that, for American users, a converter is needed for the plug. However, these can be found fairly cheap online.
As you can tell by its name, this trainer comes with an electro brake, which means the brakes and resistance used are controlled electronically. Connecting with all the popular apps is not a problem with this smart trainer and can be connected via ANT+ and Bluetooth as well. You can also upload your previous workouts onto Strava with this trainer.