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The Best Turbo Trainers: Which Direct Drive, Magnetic And Smart Indoor Trainers Are Worth Buying

Buying Guides
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Cycling is one of the most enjoyable ways to keep fit and when the sun is shining, there’s no better feeling than whizzing along a quiet country lane and exploring the great outdoors. But come winter, there’s every chance that rain, sleet, wind or snow will derail your riding plans.

Enter the turbo trainer, which transforms your bike into an indoor cycling machine. It’s a great way to keep your weekly mileage up even when the weather’s not playing ball, or for completing a training session you don’t want to attempt on open roads. There are also smart turbo trainers, which can connect to training apps so you can cycle with or against others in virtual worlds.

Turbo trainer prices range from two to four figures and the options can seem overwhelming to the uninitiated. To help, we’ve broken down how the main types of turbo trainers work, the advantages and disadvantages of each. We’ve also recommended our favourites.

Turbo Trainers Buyer’s Guide

Magnetic wheel-on

The most basic kind of turbo trainer. With this design, your bike’s back wheel is mounted on a roller and the resistance is adjusted by a dial that clips to your handlebars. Magnetic wheel-ons are the cheapest style available, but there are two downsides to consider: they are noisy and they will wear out your back tyre. The wearing problem can be solved by using a dedicated turbo trainer tyre, but that can quickly become a hassle if you plan on using your bike for both indoor and outdoor training.

Fluid wheel-on

Fluid wheel-on trainers are similar to magnetic wheel-ons, but differ in the way they manage resistance. Rather than the user manually adjusting the difficulty using a dial, resistance builds progressively – the harder you pedal, the greater the resistance.

Direct drive

These are the most expensive type of turbo trainer and are fundamentally different to wheel-on options. Rather than mounting your rear wheel on a roller, you remove it entirely and secure your bike’s frame to the unit, connecting your chain to a cassette that’s installed on the turbo trainer’s flywheel. It results in a more realistic experience and generally delivers more resistance than a wheel-on trainer. Direct drive trainers are also pretty quiet – ideal if you live in a flat or don’t want to annoy your whole house when you train.

Smart

You can get any of the above types with smart features. All this means is that the turbo trainer broadcasts an ANT+ or Bluetooth signal to communicate with training apps such as Zwift, Sufferfest or FulGaz to make training far more engaging than staring at a wall. Some smart direct drive turbo trainers take things up a gear, translating in-game gradients into increased resistance, providing a more immersive experience.


The Best Turbo Trainers

Halfords Turbo Trainer

Buying Guides

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While some serious cyclists might scoff at this entry-level magnetic wheel-on model, there’s more to like about Halfords’ in-house turbo than just its sub-£100 price. If you’re new to indoor cycling, the six levels of magnetic resistance should offer enough of a challenge, although the fact its maximum power tops out at around 465 watts means you might be left wanting during some all-out sprint efforts. It’s worth remembering that you will need to invest in a specific turbo tyre too, although these are relatively inexpensive (Halfords’ is £15).

Buy from Halfords (opens in new tab) | £99 (currently reduced to £69)


Tacx Flow Smart Turbo Trainer

Reasons to buy

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Buying Guides

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What does an extra £200 or so get you over the Halfords trainer? A much more capable piece of kit, which feels sturdier to ride on and is a lot quieter than your standard wheel-on set-up too. The big benefit, though, is its smart features. You can connect it to apps such as Zwift and TrainerRoad, where resistance can be modified either by simulating a gradient (up to 6%) or a specific power output (up to 800 watts). It’s the ideal bit of kit for someone who’s looking to get into data-led training without a sizable investment.

Buy from Wiggle (opens in new tab) | £269


Elite Tuo

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Another smart wheel-on trainer, the Tuo by Italian brand Elite is ideal for those who want a stylish and streamlined piece of kit. Its maximum 550 watts of output and 10% gradient simulation will be enough for riders who are looking to keep their fitness ticking along over winter without too much of an outlay. Plus, when you’ve finished with it, its legs fold away neatly, leaving you with a compact piece of furniture that doesn’t scream “turbo trainer”.

Buy from Wiggle (opens in new tab) | £444.99 (currently reduced to £338.99)


Buying Guides

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This American brand led the smart turbo trainer revolution, which turned indoor cycling on its head. While its Kickr takes all the headlines (the latest version, the V5, will set you back a grand), the Kickr Core smart trainer is the hidden gem in its collection. The average cyclist probably won’t notice the difference between the Core and the top-tier version – a 16% maximum gradient and 1,800 maximum power output is more than enough for most of us. The downsides to the Core are that it’s not as compact when folded down as some competitors and you will need to install a new cassette (or use your bike’s one) before you can get started. But, at £300 less than its big brother, they’re probably downsides you can stomach.

Buy from Wiggle (opens in new tab) | £699.99 (currently reduced to £594.99)


Saris H3

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Investing in a smart direct drive turbo trainer doesn’t necessarily mean buying a piece of kit that’s more expensive than the bike being used on it. The H3 from Saris is a great example. At a significantly lower price than the top-end offerings from Wahoo and Tacx, it does everything you could want from some hi-tech training equipment – maxing out at a whopping 2,000 watts and slopes of 20%. It doesn’t come with a cassette, but is still one of the less expensive ways to add some realism to your rides on Zwift.

Buy from Halfords (opens in new tab) | £749 (currently reduced to £599)


Buying Guides

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Want to truly recreate the experience of riding your bike outdoors, to the point of feeling the vibrations of virtual cobblestones and gravel? The Tacx Neo 2T smart trainer has your name written all over it (well, not literally, unless your name happens to be Tacx). The Garmin-owned brand’s top-tier turbo is a pioneering piece of kit, and is able to simulate slopes of up to 25% and a maximum power output of 2,200 watts (that’s professional track cyclist territory), meaning you’re never going to outgrow it. Throw in the fact it’s so quiet that you can ride it in your bedroom while your partner sleeps, and you’ve got something that will leave you both happy – although it won’t silence your grunts of pain as you take on the Alpe du Zwift.

Buy from Wiggle (opens in new tab) | £1,199.99

Charlie Allenby is a journalist with a passion for pedalling. He contributes features and buying advice about cycling, and is participating in RideLondon in 2022 as well as covering it for Coach. 


As Charlie is also training for a triathlon, he has become Coach’s chief whey and casein protein powder tester, trying as many brands as possible.


Charlie’s first book, Bike London (opens in new tab), is out now. He has written for The Guardian (opens in new tab), The Independent (opens in new tab), BikeRadar (opens in new tab) and others.