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!
I love my Saris H3. I have had no issues and it was at a good price point. I highly recommend it.
Seconded. And support has been great for me, I overtightened the end caps and cracked a spacer (top hat between hub and trainer). I had zero issues getting a replacement sent even though it was my fault. Shipping may have to wait a bit if you are not in the US but definitely worth a look if you can find it on sale.
I’ve had similar good luck with my Saris H3. Very reliable and good road feel. Quite satisfactory for Zwifting.
I filled in review for original Neo. I’m super happy with it for several seasons. I didn’t select Helpful support because I can’t rate their support. I didn’t need it, Neo just works! 🙂 Previous owner of Wahoo and Direto.
I’ll say the same – my Neo 2T just working perfect and no need for Garmin support 😊
Well I purchased the wahoo kickr V5 last week and I’m still waiting to be able to do a ride that will save to Zwift, doesn’t register and when I go back into companion it says I’m still zwifting. Starting to get a bit peed off with it now.
It has nothing to do with Kickr.
So the 2020 KICKR has auto-calibration and “tilts a bit for comfort and a more realistic ride motion”, features the Neo has sported from day 1. Neo is also true direct drive (no belt), motors to simulate downhill inertia, measures cadence, and works with or without a power source. (https://www.bicycling.com/culture/a32084197/mirinda-carfrae-virtual-ironman-bike-unplugged-power-cord/ – not a KICKR, but it is just as vulnerable.) And Neo is number 2?!? Because it costs an extra $200? I know Eric is only aggregating and tabulating reviews that readers have submitted, but c’mon KICKR folks! After upgrading to the Gen 5 from an earlier unit, you would… Read more »
Thought the same PLUS the Neo is so cool looking! I have no idea how Garmin’s support is either because I haven’t needed to contact them!
I’ve heard enough stories from NEO owners to know that 1) they’ve got some design weaknesses that are challenging or impossible for a typical user to fix and 2) Garmin’s support of older models is lacking.
So that’s partly why I ranked them the way I did. The NEO is a great unit, but if it needs to be repaired you can be in for a heap of trouble right now.
And neo 2 has cadence and is slipping while on high power issues. My Neo was working perfectly, until I upgraded firmware and cadence stopped working correctly since then. You can revert to older firmware ,but still need additional ANT+ device. Before upgrade everything was working perfectly on my Apple devices. Evidently they screwed something up and are unable to repair.
Garmin’s support of older models is non-existent.
I like my Saris H3 a lot! Such a great purchase for Canadian winters. Its the only trainer I’ve used, so the quirks I experience might be similar across the brands, but I find that the power stops if I stop pedaling. It takes about 5 seconds of spinning my wheels before the power kicks in again. In Canada, they go for around $1300 CAD.
My wife and I bought one H3 each in August while we could still find them in stock. Now that the rainy season on the west coast is here we are all smiles. Power and cadence accuracy is an issue as I believe the unit is very sensitive to power and cadence fluctuation. Also, pedalling style seems to come into play. We use both Zwift and TheSufferfest and while it can be frustrating seeing the numbers jump around, at the end of a workout the averages for both power and cadence seem about right. Compared to the feel of the… Read more »
Have you updatet the firmware?
My H3, no such issues.
I’m intrigued as to how “accuracy of power” is measured? I guess the rest of the metrics are rightly so subjective.
This is a key question. I don’t think manufacturer power data can be trusted: 1% versus 1.5% versus 2%. The challenge is you can’t simply compare the results from a crank to results from the hub — there’s drivetrain losses between the crank and the hub. DC Rainmaker is the most prominent public tester of power meters, and he’ll typically do rides with power meters on his crank, pedals, and hub. Mostly he looks for consistency, both in the time series data and in the maximal power curve. But while you can directly compare a pedal to a crank, if… Read more »
You seriously left out the Kinetic R1? Are you kidding? An actual trainer that rocks side to side is much better than any of these on a rocker board. Been on it for over a year with no issues whatsoever and best direct drive I’ve used.
It’s terribly inaccurate. Just like the road machine, it’s plagued with flaws. They still haven’t updated support for android devices. So you’re forced to only pair with a Mac product, otherwise it drops signal in 5 or so minutes until you restart the thing. I broke three of the resistance units over the course of a year, and they kept sending replacements. They know their products are riddled with errors, yet they ship them out anyways. The Kinetic name doesn’t hold as much weight as older cyclists give then credit for.
Unfortunately, Kinetic is like the Kodak of smart trainers. They were great once, but took too long to get on the digital (smart) bandwagon, and when they did their initial offerings were pretty poor.
I agree that the R1 is their best yet. But there’s a reason why they’ve discounted it heavily. Check DC Rainmaker and GPLama’s reviews… power accuracy is lacking, among other things.
Kinetic totally sucks. That’s just the sad truth. I wish i had not thrown away my money the way I did and that I could be writing a much different review. But that is just not the case.
I upgraded to Tacx Neo 2 and couldn’t be happier. Accurate, quiet and plain awesome, their machines just work. No need for customer support.
I own two CycleOps H2 trainers that I used extensively for the past several years. Both recently failed within a short time of each other (November and December). I tried to contact Saris for support and have not received a reply to date. You cannot reach them by phone and they do not respond to messages. Not what you want from a company that you have been loyal to. I decided to purchase a new trainer and could not bring myself to purchase another Saris unit due to the non-existent support. I selected a Wahoo Kickr and could not be… Read more »
I love my Saris H3 with the exception of the sleep timer feature. I am trying very hard to find a way to remove this feature without any success so far. So if you know the answer please let me know. This feature drives me nut.
Bought a Direto XR-T, had an issue that the magnets working on the physical flywheel were touching the physical flywheel at higher inclines >12%. After communication with Elite and my retailer, I could return it to my retailer. Elite insisted I tried to work on the machine it self which I’d rather not do. My retailer send a new unit which arrived the next day. Unfortunately the exact same issue occurred and I went straight back to the retailer. They apologised and offered me a pick of trainers to chose from ignoring any price differences. I’d highly recommend to stick… Read more »
I also had an issue with my Direto XR-T when going up the Bonus Climb on Zwift. It resulted in a grinding noise when the gradient was over 14%. As soon as the gradient dropped below that, the noise disappeared. I contacted Elite support, and it turned out to be one of the magnets that was rubbing against the flywheel at higher gradients. They gave me instructions on how to fix it. It was a simple procedure that only required a screwdriver. After taking off the inspection cover on the flywheel side, it was just a matter of turning the… Read more »