Bike

The Best Bike Trainers for Triathletes and Cyclists In 2020

We look at a wide range of the best bike trainers from entry-level to deluxe, rate them, and then check out some new accessories to make the indoors feel more like outside.

If triathletes didn’t love indoor bike trainers before, this year has given almost everyone a reason to ride inside. The good news is that the smart trainer market has been exploding in the last few years so now you can get way more for way less—and have a greater number of options in the best bike trainer category. Not only is trainer tech getting smaller, more reliable, and less expensive, but it’s also getting more and more realistic, thanks to the growth of virtual training environments like Zwift.

And as if great trainers weren’t enough, the market for trainer accessories and other ways of riding inside (like smart bikes) have also been hitting a high water mark, so even if you’re starting to get sick of riding indoors, there are now new ways to keep the relationship with your trainer interesting.

Our list of best bike trainers below reflects a range of newer trainers at different pricepoints, and while we don’t cover every single trainer available, these are the models from brands who are continuously updating their offerings with new features and functions. We’ve also selected two new trainer accessories that make the one-dimensional experience a little more “3D.” In rating the indoor riding options below, we’ve used a scale from one to five, with one being the lowest score in that category and five being the highest, based off the following criteria:

Power – This is a combination of wattage ceiling (how much resistance the trainer can output) and maximum slope (the most amount of gradient the trainer can simulate in a virtual training environment) on the indoor bike trainer. Both assume the highest amount of in-game resistance selected.

Accuracy – While accuracy is important in a smart trainer, consistency is actually key. To achieve this, some trainers either require calibration or have auto-calibration. Trainers with auto-calibration will be rated more favorably in our list of best bike trainers.

Construction – This is based on some basic stats (like weight) and other intangibles (like stand stability, part durability, etc.), the higher a rating here generally means you’ll have a more stable, worry-free ride without need for lots of maintenance.

Portability – Weight is a factor here, but also the ability to fold the trainer down, the ability to carry it, and the ability to set it up quickly.

Connectivity – Here, we look at how quickly a virtual training environment can connect to the trainer, how solid the connection is, and look at the history of connectivity issues for a given model.

Noise Level – Not only is this rating based on pure decibels put out on the trainer itself, but also the amount of potential vibration it can create on a floor. A higher rating here represents a quieter indoor bike trainer.

Note: While the gear below was loaned out by the brands represented, all choices were selected independently by the tester without any promotional consideration or brand input. 

Best Bike Trainers

Tacx Flow Smart Indoor Bike Trainer

Best Bike Trainer For: Portability

$370, available at rei.com, 800W max, 6% slope max, ±5% accuracy

The Tacx Flow Smart Indoor Bike Trainer makes our list for best bike trainers.

Category Rating
Power o o
Accuracy o o
Construction o o o
Portability o o o o
Connectivity o o o
Noise Level o o

The Flow Smart is an excellent magnetic trainer for the vast majority of beginner to intermediate smart trainer users. It comes with a front wheel block and a 3.5-pound flywheel, both of which fold up very easily for storage and transport (the block actually acts as a handle). The trainer itself is right in the 21-pound range, also making it easier to move and/or slide under a bed or couch. While the accuracy is on par for a wheel-on design, the max slope may leave a little bit to be desired if you want to do any super intense virtual climbs in Zwift on max resistance difficulty. (Though the max wattage should be fine for 99% of all triathletes.) Connectivity is generally good enough, not as rock-solid as some higher models, but it doesn’t drop out or require restarting devices. And while the roll-down calibration is fine—bearing in mind this is a wheel-on trainer, so calibration is crucial before every ride unless you leave the knob alone and get your tire pressure perfect each time—the actual process can be a little tricky in the app on the first few uses. 

Saris M2 Smart Indoor Bike Trainer

Best Bike Trainer For: Big Resistance, Little Price

$500, available at amazon.com, 1500W max, 15% slope max, ±5% accuracy

The Saris M2 makes our list for best bike trainers.

Category Rating
Power o o o
Accuracy o o o
Construction o o o
Portability o o o
Connectivity o o o
Noise Level o o o

With nearly double the max wattage and slope maximum of the Flow Smart, this hearty wheel-on smart trainer from Saris also tracks power, speed, and cadence without the need for external sensors, and gives rider slope feedback based on virtual environments. Though it has a slightly lighter flywheel than the Flow Smart at 2.6 pounds, it still weighs in at a hefty 26 pounds—due to the unit’s construction. Unfortunately, the lighter flywheel certainly makes the ride quality suffer on this trainer, but it also might have the added effect of keeping the noise down—keeping in mind it’s still wheel-on. As this trainer has the same accuracy and other similar features, the M2 is a good choice over the Flow Smart only if you’re interested in a higher watt/slope ceiling and something that’s a little burlier with its old school-design—and you’re willing to spend another $130 to make that happen. 

Elite Direto XR Smart Indoor Bike Trainer

Best Bike Trainer For: Wheel-Off That Won’t Break The Bank

$950, elite-it.com, 2300W max, 24% slope max, ±1.5% accuracy, ANT+ FE-C and Bluetooth

Elite Direto XR Smart Indoor Bike Trainer makes our list for best bike trainers.

Category Rating
Power o o o o
Accuracy o o o o
Construction o o o o
Portability o o o
Connectivity o o o
Noise Level o o o o

This new update to the solid Direto line has excellent accuracy and one of the highest power/slope ceilings of any trainer out there—with a big increase from 18% to 24%, a bigger flywheel, and easier assembly. While it’s unlikely a triathlete will use a smart trainer at that level of power/slope, it’s certainly there if you need it. This is a great choice for under $1,000 as it comes with an included and pre-installed 11-speed cassette (not helpful if you’re on 10- or 12-speed bike, however). It’s got a super quick setup right out of the box, in fact one of the best we’ve tried, and the design itself is modern enough to look more like furniture than a tool. The nearly 10-pound flywheel helps simulate not only virtual uphills but also road surfaces and has reasonably good inertial feel. The fact that this direct-drive (ie. wheel off) trainer weighs in at 35 pounds puts it on the lighter side of the category, and the little handle and foldable legs make transport and storage pretty simple.

Wahoo KICKR (5th Gen) Smart Indoor Bike Trainer

Best Bike Trainer For: A Realistic, Comfortable Ride

$1,200, wahoofitness.com, 2200W max, 20% slope max, ±1% accuracy, ANT+ FE-C and Bluetooth

Category Rating
Power o o o o
Accuracy o o o o o
Construction o o o o
Portability o o o
Connectivity o o o o
Noise Level o o o o

As the priciest of the smart trainers in this roundup, the latest generation of the KICKR also boasts near-perfect accuracy, rock-solid setup and connections, and a few other little fun features to set it apart. Much like the other trainers listed, the KICKR does speed, power, and cadence without external sensors—as well as simulated virtual uphill/road feel—but unlike the others, this unit also has up to five degrees of adjustable movement side to side. While this might not seem like a big deal (or even a good thing), it actually creates a much more comfortable ride. The KICKR won’t move as much as the Saris MP1 Nfinity platform or a Kinetic Rock and Roll, but even a little movement can go a long way to helping your rear. This new update is also calibration free and weighs in at a hefty 46 pounds with a big 16-pound flywheel for best-in-class ride feel and inertia. We also love the rock-solid connectivity and how solid the construction feels, but of course that burliness comes with a price, as this is a tough one to lug around and/or store.

Check Out Our Full Wahoo KICKR (5th Gen) Unboxing Here

Read Full Wahoo KICKR (5th Gen) Review Here

Stages SB20 Smart Bike

Best Bike Trainer For: Die-Hard Indoor Warriors

$2,900, stagescycling.com, 3000W max, ±1% accuracy, ANT+ FE-C and Bluetooth

Category Rating
Power o o o o o
Accuracy o o o o o
Construction o o o o o
Portability o o
Connectivity o o o o
Noise Level o o o o o

In terms of smart indoor riding devices, Stages’ SB20 is probably near the top of the competitively priced heap in the smartbike pile. With a monstrous wattage ceiling, excellent left-right power measurement, ride feedback, and a staggering 50-pound flywheel, this smart bike has just about everything you’d ever need, plus a few things you never knew you did. Like a few other smartbikes in this category, the SB20 features super-customizable shifting buttons (not levers, though the bike does have braking levers that slow the flywheel). Using the Stages app, you can create a “virtual bike” that lets you choose any gearing you’d want to match to your real bike setup or play with different options on different virtual courses. Better yet, triathletes can get additional aerobars with shifter buttons to help simulate the real thing. Keep in mind this is not only a big investment, but a really big device, and it’s not the easiest to move around—though it’s the best possible solution if sound is a concern. If you’re for sure a die-hard indoor convert, this is a better choice for serious triathletes than something like a Peloton.

Read Full Stages SB20 Smart Bike Review Here

Best Bike Trainer Accessories

Saris Mp1 Nfinity Trainer Platform

$1,200, available at amazon.com

While the price of this trainer platform eclipses all but one of the smart trainers in this guide, this substantial piece of furniture is actually a fantastic addition to anyone who’s looking to get more out of their indoor riding experience. With two-directional movement (side to side and sliding forward and backward), not only does the MP1 work on more core and stabilizer muscles than a static trainer, it also considerably increases comfort while riding inside. By allowing movement from the bike underneath the rider, the entire bike moves with your body, preventing saddle sores and hotspots that occur often on stationary trainers. Fortunately this platform works with 99% of trainers on the market—smart or otherwise—attaching quickly and simply. The only downside to this striking tri-centerpiece is its heavy weight and extreme difficulty moving it, making it more of a permanent fixture.

Check Out Our Video Of The Saris MP1 Nfinity In Action Here

Elite Sterzo Smart Steering Block

$60, elite-it.com

If you pick an option from the list of best bike trainers, you’ll need a rider block. It helps keep the bike level and it keeps it from sliding around and scuffing up the floor, but it doesn’t do much else. This new ANT+ and Bluetooth-compatible block connects wirelessly with virtual training environment, Zwift, to give in-game feedback while steering in real life. The battery-powered connection is easy to set up, and the spring-to-center return ensures that your front wheel isn’t just flying around wildly, but bear in mind that as of this writing in-game features are not perfect just yet. While it does allow virtual steering around riders, taking tighter lines, and working in and out of the draft, Zwift doesn’t enable it in all of it’s races, so you may find yourself steering more often in workouts than in online competitions (where there is a distinct advantage).

Check Out Our Unboxing Of The Elite Sterzo Smart Steering Block

Read Full Elite Sterzo Smart Steering Block Review Here *Note: This review is exclusive for Active Pass Members*