Your Picks: Top-Rated Premium Direct-Drive Smart Trainers

Your Picks: Top-Rated Premium Direct-Drive Smart Trainers

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 5 (2020)

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.

Key Specs

  • MSRP: $1199.99 USD
  • Accuracy: +-1%
  • Flywheel: 16lb
  • Max Wattage: 2200 W
  • Max Incline: 20%

Overall Rating

(21 reviews)

Easy setup
100%
Accurate power
95%
Realistic inertia
95%
Well-built
100%
Helpful support
57%
Portable/storable
67%
Quiet
90%
Budget-friendly
5%

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.

Saris H3

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.

Key Specs

  • MSRP: $999.99 USD
  • Accuracy: +-2%
  • Flywheel: 20lb
  • Max Wattage: 2000 W
  • Max Incline: 20%

Overall Rating

(28 reviews)

Easy setup
100%
Accurate power
86%
Realistic inertia
79%
Well-built
82%
Helpful support
21%
Portable/storable
50%
Quiet
86%
Budget-friendly
57%

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!

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

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Richard Marzec
Richard Marzec (@10158111776450990_anonymous)
6 months ago

I love my Saris H3. I have had no issues and it was at a good price point. I highly recommend it.

Johnny 5ivetherobot
Johnny 5ivetherobot
6 months ago
Reply to  Richard Marzec

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.

Kim S
Kim S
3 months ago
Reply to  Richard Marzec

I’ve had similar good luck with my Saris H3. Very reliable and good road feel. Quite satisfactory for Zwifting.

tomas.grygier
Member
tomas.grygier (@tomas-grygier)
6 months ago

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.

Steen Joergensen
Steen Joergensen (@steen-joergensen)
6 months ago
Reply to  tomas.grygier

I’ll say the same – my Neo 2T just working perfect and no need for Garmin support 😊

Hilary Nock
Hilary Nock
6 months ago

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.

Michal Wozniak
Michal Wozniak (@michwoz)
3 months ago
Reply to  Hilary Nock

It has nothing to do with Kickr.

Scott D
Scott D
6 months ago

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 »

Liz Hayes
Liz Hayes (@trikitty)
6 months ago
Reply to  Scott D

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!

PawelS
PawelS
6 months ago
Reply to  Eric Schlange

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.

Sara-Marni Hubbard
Sara-Marni Hubbard
6 months ago

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.

Barry McKee
Barry McKee
5 months ago

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 »

Kent
Kent (@kentkkoch)
5 months ago
Reply to  Barry McKee

Hi.
Have you updatet the firmware?
My H3, no such issues.

Regards
Kent

Steve Reynolds
Steve Reynolds
5 months ago

I’m intrigued as to how “accuracy of power” is measured? I guess the rest of the metrics are rightly so subjective.

Dan Connelly
5 months ago
Reply to  Steve Reynolds

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 »

VolFan
VolFan
3 months ago

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.

Tay
Tay
3 months ago
Reply to  VolFan

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.

Fran
Fran
3 months ago
Reply to  VolFan

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.

Bruce Saddler
Bruce Saddler
2 months ago

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 »

Pierre Babeu
Pierre Babeu
26 days ago

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.

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