Smart Trainer Recommendations Guide for Zwifters

Smart Trainer Recommendations Guide for Zwifters

UPDATE: for the latest smart trainer info and reviews, check out our Smart Trainer Index which includes top-rated picks for direct drive and wheel-on trainers.


Are you just getting started on Zwift, or considering a trainer upgrade? This post is for you! We’ve looked at the whole universe of smart trainers and narrowed the list to the best of the best.

About the Categories

We’ve broken this guide into three categories:

  • Wheel-On: affordable trainers which operate by putting friction against your back tire. These are less accurate, with less inertial “road feel” than direct drive trainers. On the plus side: they cost less than direct drive!
  • Budget Direct Drive: this is the most competitive category of trainers today. Direct drive trainers work with your back wheel removed and offer increased accuracy and improved feel over the wheel-on offerings. With prices ranging from $650-$900, this is where the most bang for the buck is found.
  • Premium Direct Drive: the cream of the crop, these trainers are built to be the best and priced accordingly. They typically offer increased accuracy and higher maximum wattage/gradient simulation than their budget brethren.

How We Made Our Picks

We made our selections using a variety of criteria, including:

  • Testing and Reviews: we’ve read reviews from the likes of DC Rainmaker, Shane Miller (GPLama) and many others. We’ve also done some trainer testing ourselves.
  • Zwift Certification: we’re only recommending trainers which are Zwift certified. This means Zwift has tested the trainer and ensured that it can:
    • Broadcast via BLE
    • Maintain at least +/- 3% power accuracy (although the Tacx Flow does not, even though Zwift says it is certified?)
    • Allow for spindown calibration
    • Support ERG mode
    • Automatically change resistance
    • Provide the user with a great experience
  • Market Research: we look at factors like product availability, the manufacturer’s reputation for quality support, and more.
  • Price: bang for the buck is always a factor!

A Note on Pricing

Price is a major factor in our picks, but pricing can vary by country, dealer, and day of the week. You may find a good discount on a trainer which makes it a better buy over some of our top pics, so we’ve included some notes for each category which mention solid trainers which did not make the list. If you can find those trainers for a bargain price, consider pulling the trigger!

With all that out of the way, let’s jump into our top picks.

Wheel-On Smart Trainers

Best Price: Tacx Flow Smart ($369USD)

The cheapest smart trainer around, the Flow made our recommendation list last year as well. It’s the least accurate of the recommended trainers, but you can’t beat the price.

Buy now:
Direct from Tacx/Garmin
Zwift
Amazon
Competitive Cyclist
REI
Clever Training

Best Feel: Wahoo KICKR Snap ($499USD)

With the price reduced by $100 from last year, Wahoo’s well-established wheel-on smart trainer is the premium pick in this bracket. Its flywheel gives it a more road-like feel than other wheel-on trainers, and it’s backed by a reputable, US-based company.

Buy now:
Direct from Wahoo
Zwift
Competitive Cyclist
REI
Clever Training

Category Notes

  • DC Rainmaker also recommends the Bkool Smart Go, but since Bkool made the decision to stop making trainers, we don’t feel this is a smart buy at this time. It is clear there’s a lot in flux at Bkool, and this trainer isn’t even listed in their store at this time.
  • The Saris M2 is a decent wheel-on offering as well, but without a flywheel and slightly worse power accuracy than the same-priced KICKR Snap. Saris needs to drop the price on this trainer just a bit to make it competitive.

Budget Direct Drive Smart Trainers

Premium Features: Wahoo KICKR Core ($899USD)

The KICKR Core is essentially a quieter 2017 KICKR. Sure, the frame is a bit different, but the internals, flywheel, and other specs are basically the same–yet it’s whisper-quiet. Also compatible with the Wahoo indoor ecosystem (notably the Climb), if that’s the sort of thing you care about.

Buy now:
Direct from Wahoo
Zwift
Competitive Cyclist
REI
Clever Training

Easy Value: Elite Suito ($799USD)

At $100 less than the KICKR Core with a cassette, the Suito delivers a lot of bang for the buck and it’s ready to go out of the box. Bonus for portability/ease of storage.

Buy now:
Amazon
Zwift
Competitive Cyclist
REI
Clever Training

Budget Performer: Tacx Flux S ($749USD)

$50 less than the Suito, but without a cassette, the Flux S is a bit more solid than the Suito and also more proven after going through a few model revisions.

Buy now:
Direct from Tacx/Garmin
Zwift
Competitive Cyclist
REI
Clever Training
Power Meter City

Category Notes

  • With a low price and solid test performance, Elite’s Zumo might have made this list, if it was readily available in the US market. Maybe next year.
  • Elite’s Direto X is a solid trainer in this category, but just a bit too pricey at $850, when you consider that the KICKR Core is just $50 more while being quieter and more capable.

Premium Direct Drive Smart Trainers

Best Accuracy: Tacx Neo 2T ($1399USD)

The 3rd generation of Tacx’s Neo is the best yet, with more frame compatibility and brake power while maintaining industry-leading noise levels and power accuracy. It’s also got the Tacx “Road Feel” surface simulation feature, which no other trainer can claim.

Buy now:
Direct from Tacx/Garmin
Zwift
Amazon
Competitive Cyclist
REI
Clever Training
Power Meter City

Best Ecosystem: Wahoo KICKR 2018 ($1199USD)

Far and away the most popular smart trainer on Zwift, Wahoo’s 2018 KICKR version suffered some reliability issues early on which seem to be resolved. Built like a tank, with the best inertial feel available. Also compatible with the Climb!

Buy now:
Direct from Wahoo
Zwift
Competitive Cyclist
REI
Clever Training

Best Price: Saris H3 ($999USD)

This year’s most exciting new trainer, the H3 from Saris (formerly CycleOps) has performed well in tests and costs significantly less than the KICKR or Neo. Still a few firmware niggles to work out, but given its bargain price and bulletproof built this trainer has to make the list!

Buy now:
Amazon
Zwift
Competitive Cyclist
REI
Clever Training
Power Meter City

Category Notes:

  • Elite’s Drivo II is a great trainer, but it’s hard to recommend when priced the same as the slightly quieter, more full-featured KICKR.

Questions or Thoughts?

Share your input below!

About The Author

Eric Schlange

Eric runs Zwift Insider in his spare time when he isn't on the bike or managing various business interests. He lives in Northern California with his beautiful wife, two kids and dog. Follow on Strava

Subscribe
Notify of
guest
45 Comments
oldest
newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Chris Holton
Chris Holton (@bass_n_bass)
11 months ago

avoid the Zumo (if you could get one) if you use android – the resistance doesn’t work in sim mode over bluetooth

Donald ( GH70) Silas
11 months ago

Thanks Eric good research. My personal experience is that I had a $1200 wheel on a $300 wheel-on trainer. Not smart! Now, I have a budget direct drive CycleOps Hammer, less than $800. I’m still smiling, 4400 miles without a glitch.

Jeff Dyck
Jeff Dyck
11 months ago

You might want to clarify the uses of the term “road feel” – on the Neo 2T review you state “It’s also got road feel, which no other trainer can claim” then on the Kickr review say “Built like a tank, with the best road feel available” – those two uses of “road feel” don’t mean the same thing…

Rob GZ
Rob GZ (@robgrootzwaaftink)
11 months ago
Reply to  Jeff Dyck

Good point! I also was wondering about the difference.

Salvatore
Salvatore (@ciiciio)
11 months ago

Why isn’t Elite Direto X listed?

Jenny
Jenny
11 months ago

Hi, I am relatively new user for smart trainer. Can you please recommend me which model I can used for mountain bike and I want some resistance with it. Thank you

Simon
Simon
11 months ago

Maybe time for a specific category for smart bikes?

Chikken
Chikken
11 months ago
Reply to  Simon

Would love to see that myself!

Sabin
11 months ago
Reply to  Simon

The Wahoo Bike destroys everything else. That would be a short article.

David Cooper
David Cooper
10 months ago
Reply to  Sabin

Except the Kickr Bike is 3 grand. Thats puts it way out of my reach (for one). If there are others at a lower price point they might well be fundamentally less good overall, but at least affordable.

Chris
Chris
11 months ago

I don’t get why people are keen on cassettes included with the trainer. Chances are great that it doesn’t fit at all due to different number of gears, and even with the correct number of gears a recalibration of the derailleur could be necessary in case of different sprocket sizes than on the real rear wheel. Therefore I would always prefer to pay less for the trainer and purchase the cassette I need separately (which can be a cheap one since weight doesn’t matter). To add some personal experience: I’m very happy since half a year with a Wahoo Kickr… Read more »

Ross
Ross (@arkeele)
11 months ago
Reply to  Chris

I believe the Tacx Neo has a motor drive for decents.

David Cooper
David Cooper
10 months ago
Reply to  Chris

Good point … I can’t imagine the cassette provided would be compatible with my triple 8 speed out of the box.

Stephane Gingras
Stephane Gingras
11 months ago

Nothing on roller.
I love my Elite Arion Smart Trainer.

Not the best one but give you a better road feel

James Stevens
James Stevens
11 months ago

got the Elite Direto X for $595. I’d have to believe that would take the budget performer category!

Mark-S
Mark-S
10 months ago

Hi Eric – Have you checked out how the smart trainers work with a rear hydraulic disc brake caliper? We have problems fitting a Liv frame with a rear caliper to a Tacx Flux-S.

Cloned Goat
Cloned Goat
10 months ago

Best budget wheel on is by Kinetic. You don’t mention them at all…

spiro spyratos
spiro spyratos
10 months ago

yesterday , o3/27 , was the end of the promotion. I got an email saying if I become a VIP , I’ll get the Wahoo Kickr for 20% off. so when I went to check out after shelling out for the VIP, I was duped. it told me the trainer didn’t qualify. I tried reaching out to customer service but they are never available no with this virus thing. I want my monty back.. if they don’t uphold what they told me, I might as well buy it full price and support my LBS. s anyone else have this problem?… Read more »

Nedgar Mevers
Nedgar Mevers
4 months ago
Reply to  spiro spyratos

Hey Spiro. I was wondering if you would join a class action to sue these sheisters. I feel like we were fleeced as the same thing happened to me.

Brian Martinez
Brian Martinez
10 months ago

how do we get free VIP for Clever Training . It is asking me to pay.

Diego Rost
Diego Rost (@diegorostn)
10 months ago

Hi Eric, great article! quick one… Wahoo Kickr Snap its sold out everywhere, the only viable option is the Saris M2 for the same 500USD… I need to start training indoor with this whole virus! Wahoo will only be available mid-may in stores (month and a half from now)

Should I just go with the Saris M2?

Thanks!
Diego

Dana
Dana
10 months ago

Hi, I have a road bike I would like to use for indoor training and connectivity to Zwift. I would like to be able to ride standing as well as sitting. Could you please suggest the setup I need to accomplish this goal? Thank you

John Piasecki
John Piasecki
9 months ago

I just started racing on Zwift and really enjoy it. I have an old Kurt Kinetic Road Machine and use a Wahoo SC sensor. I noticed that Zwift Power states using z-power disqualifies you from winning the race. I am thinking about upgrading my trainer to a Wahoo Kickr Snap but don’t know who the Snap calculates power. If it sends z-power to Zwift I need to look for another model. Do you have any recommendations for me?

John Piasecki
John Piasecki
9 months ago
Reply to  Eric Schlange

Thanks!

Mathias Ritter
Mathias Ritter
9 months ago

Hi Eric. I am battling to choose between the Tacx or Wahoo. The Tacx Neo looks amazing but so is the price. For the Flux S Smart, do you think the climb gradient is limited? I am a keen rider (MTB mainly) with biggest targets being stage races around the African region. I also do a fair bit of intervals, therefore on stability of trainer which one would you recomend, wahoo or Tacx?

Mathias Ritter
Mathias Ritter
9 months ago
Reply to  Mathias Ritter

Sorry should have precised that I am tossing between the top two of each brand. Therefore Neo and Flux for Tacx and kikr and kikr core for wahoo

Mathias Ritter
Mathias Ritter
9 months ago
Reply to  Eric Schlange

Thanks a lot for your help. Cheers.

Anilr
Anilr
7 months ago
Reply to  Eric Schlange

Will 2020 see a refreshed Wahoo Kickr ? Similarly torn between Tacx Neo 2T and Wahoo Kickr and after riding on Cyclops M2 trainer wheel on trainer looking to move to direct drive. Liked Tacx for 1) no calibration required every time you ride and road feel

Csabi
Csabi
5 months ago
Reply to  Eric Schlange

Hello. Are you Still Saying Wahoo KICKR is the best trainer? I am about to buy a new indoor trainer and I planned to buy Tacx Neo 2T. Now I am thinking about Wahoo KICKR. Thank you.

Alex
Alex
24 days ago
Reply to  Eric Schlange

Hi Eric. Where would you place the Saris H3 compared to the 4 trainers you listed above?

Patrick Seurinck
Patrick Seurinck
9 months ago

Better read this before you buy an elite Suito: https://forums.zwift.com/t/elite-suito-power-readings/113091/23
Tested it today against a power2max power meter. Lower watt readings are accurate, @450W, the suite is 10% lower, @750W, the suito gives more than 20% lower values.
Which makes it very problematic for racing on zwift or for combining indoor training with outdoor training with a powermeter on the bike.

Julian
Julian
9 months ago

I’m between the wahoo kickr core and saris H3…. having in mind I wont buy the kickr climb witch do you think is better?

thanks 🤙

Julian
Julian
9 months ago

I’m between the wahoo kickr core and saris H3…. having in mind I wont buy the kickr climb witch do you think is better?

thanks 🤙

Kristaps
Kristaps
9 months ago
Reply to  Julian

Same for me! Can’t choose between CORE and H3.

Philippe Maltais
Philippe Maltais
2 months ago

Hello. Has anyone tried Think Ryder. I believe it is a Aliexpress version of the Wahoo kick

William Randolph
William Randolph
28 days ago

Whats better Saris M2 Smart or Wahoo Kickr Snap

45
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x