Direct-drive smart trainers provide the most enjoyable Zwifting experience since they are quieter and more accurate than wheel-on trainers. Of course, they’re also pricier!
After several years of trainer development and iterative improvements, the direct-drive trainer market is now broken up into two groups. The budget group is priced below $900USD, with power accuracy in the +-2% range and max wattage around 2000W. The premium group comes with higher prices but increased accuracy, power, and reliability.
Here are the top picks for premium direct-drive trainers. This list will be continually updated as new trainers are released and Zwifters continue to share their reviews.
About Our Selections
Thanks to almost 1000 reviews in our Smart Trainer Index, we’re able to crunch numbers and share crowdsourced buying advice on smart trainers. The trainers below were selected based on overall ratings, total number of reviews, and several other factors.
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Wahoo KICKR Gen 5 (2020)
While Wahoo’s latest KICKR has only been on the market since mid-August 2020, reviews are saying it’s the best KICKR yet. And that’s saying something, given that Wahoo’s KICKR is far and away the most popular direct-drive trainer on the planet!
The Gen 5 improves on the KICKR Gen 4 (2018) by delivering greater power accuracy, auto-calibration (no more spindowns!) and AXIS feet that allow the trainer to tilt a bit for comfort and a more realistic ride motion. And of course, it’s compatible with the Climb, which is a big selling point for some.
The KICKR is a well-developed platform backed by Wahoo’s industry-leading support and enriched by Wahoo’s indoor training ecosystem. All of these factors combine to make this the most obvious choice for anyone seeking a premium direct-drive trainer.
Tacx NEO 2T
The Tacx NEO platform has been consistently positioned as the gold standard of smart trainers since the original NEO launched in 2015. And that reputation was well-deserved, since the NEO delivers 1% accuracy without the need for calibration, in addition to unique features like road surface simulation and downhill drive.
But Tacx is now owned by Garmin, and NEO owners have been delivering mixed reviews of Garmin’s support. Additionally, the NEO 2T is priced $200 above the Wahoo KICKR, even though the NEO ships without a cassette. While the NEO vs KICKR debates have traditionally ended in a stalemate, the support quality and pricing/performance have placed the NEO in 2nd place for the timing being.
Here’s hoping Garmin/Tacx step up with improved support and reduced pricing soon.
As the third generation of the Hammer platform, the H3 is a well-evolved premium trainer with an appealing price point $200 below the Wahoo KICKR (albiet without a cassette included). Its accuracy isn’t quite on par with the KICKR or NEO, but its 20lb flywheel delivers realistic intertial feel.
Saris has certainly gained market share with their H3 since they’ve done a remarkable job of keeping the H3 available in stores in a year when other manufacturers are struggling to keep up with demand. But Saris users are also complaining that support has suffered badly, especially since COVID restrictions began.
We’re hoping Saris gets their support system back on track soon, because the H3 is a solid unit for the money.
Elite Direto XR
As the 4th Direto generation, the XR is built atop a well-evolved platform and priced lower than any other premium direct-drive trainer. Plus, it ships with a cassette!
When it rolled out in July 2020, the Direto XR actually replaced two of Elite’s trainers. First, it replaced the Direto X (and upgraded some of its specs). But it also replaced Elite’s top-tier Drivo II, because it made no sense for Elite to continue selling both lines when they were so similar in terms of specifications.
Previous Direto versions were priced $50 cheaper, but shipped without a cassette. The XR boasts a larger flywheel and higher max wattage than the Direto X, placing its specs firmly in the premium direct drive trainer camp. While it’s still early days for the XR, our guess is this will become a very popular trainer in the coming year.
Questions or Comments?
Got trainer questions? Want to let us know what you think of our choices? Comment below!