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.
Wahoo KICKR Gen 6 (2022)
The Gen 6 improves on the best-in-class KICKR Gen 5 (2020) by adding WiFi connectivity and other features. This is on top of already impressive features including 1% power accuracy, auto-calibration, and compatibility with the Climb.
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 now.
Here’s hoping Garmin/Tacx step up with improved support and reduced pricing soon.
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!