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Best bike trainers 2020: Including the top compact bike trainers

Best bike trainers 2020: Including the top compact bike trainers
(Image credit: Tacx)

The best bike trainers have emerged in recent years to take this once excruciatingly dull activity (cycling inside) and elevate it to something that’s not only easy but super fun. As with the best fitness trackers, bike trainers have come a long way since their inception with direct-drive smart trainers, like those from Wahoo and Garmin. 

The best bike trainers have become more intuitive and easy to use too, ensuring you get your miles in with zero fuss. So what exactly is a bike trainer? Just like how the best treadmills enable you to walk or run in place, a bike trainer is a piece of equipment that transforms your outdoor bike into an indoor fitness bike. 

As such, you can cycle your heart out in a stationary position, and get a similar cardio workout to those achieved with the best exercise bikes.

The best bike trainers enable you to have a focused cycling session without having to leave home; perfect if the weather isn’t ideal, or if you live in an area where safe cycling outdoors isn't easily accessible. They’re also a great way to warm up or cool down before a big race. And if you’re short on room, a compact bike trainer also folds down easily for storage. 

Whether you’re looking for a piece of standalone kit or you want to add a new piece of equipment to an already established home gym, our guide to the best bike trainers will cycle you through all the options. These range from budget to beginners, and from portable to compact bike trainers, so that you’re armed with all the information you need to choose the indoor cycling trainer that’s right for you. 


1. Wahoo Kickr Core: Best bike trainer overall

Best bike trainers: Wahoo Kickr Core Bike Trainer

(Image credit: Wahoo)

Wahoo Kickr Core Bike Trainer

Setup is a breeze with this quiet and compact bike trainer

Connectivity: ANT+, ANT+ FE-C, and Bluetooth | Power: 1800W | Weight: 40lb | Type: Direct drive | Compatible platforms: Zwift, Kinomap, Rouver, Trainer Road, BKOOL and others | RRP: $899.99

Good value direct-drive smart trainer
Excellent quality and durability
Quiet, a muted version of the Kickr
No height adjustment

If someone had said a few years ago that you could get almost all of the performance of the Wahoo Kickr in a quieter model for a third of the price, you’d be wondering what the catch was. The good news is that day has arrived and even better? There’s no catch.

Say hello to the Kickr Core, the newest mid-range addition to the Wahoo family. With a power accuracy of +/- 2%, a 12lb flywheel, and a maximum output of 1,800 watts, this direct-drive turbo trainer is giving it’s big brother some serious competition when it comes to value for money.

You’ll love the near-silent performance of this trainer, which allows you to work up a sweat without worrying that your commitment to fitness is going to result in complaints from your neighbors. The ride quality is realistic and if you like your hills then you’ll be pleased to know this model simulates gradients up to 16% and is compatible with the Kickr Climb. 

Admittedly the Core lacks some of the bells and whistles of the original Kickr, it doesn’t ship with a cassette and it’s fixed footprint is less packable, but if you’re looking for an affordable trainer that will simulate the experience of an outdoor ride as accurately as possible, you can’t go past the Kickr Core.


2. Sportneer Magnetic: Best cheap bike trainer

Best bike trainers: Sportneer Magnetic Bike Trainer Stand

(Image credit: Sportneer)

Sportneer Magnetic Bike Trainer Stand

The wallet-friendly indoor cycling trainer

Connectivity: No smart connectivity | Power: Not stated | Weight: 19lbs | Type: Tire drive | Compatible platforms: N/A | RRP: $139.99

Six levels of resistance
Can be folded to half its size
Easy to assemble
Can be noisy with MTB tires

Fancy being able to workout while watching a movie but worried you’ll have to crank the volume up too high? Thankfully it’s Sportneer to the rescue with this budget-friendly, tire-on bike trainer that’s been specifically designed to include a noise reduction wheel that lets you pedal hard without the racket.

You’ll love that this bike trainer comes with six resistance settings, allowing you to simulate all cycling conditions and give yourself as easy or as challenging a workout as you want. And when you’re ready to take all that indoor training to the great outdoors, simply hit the press-down lever clamp to easily release and remove your bike. 

Weighing in at a mere 19lbs, we love how lightweight this trainer is and the five adjustable anti-slip rubber feet, wide-base and low-stance provide a ride that’s not only floor-friendly but also unshakably stable.

While there’s a lot to love about this affordable trainer, it’s worth noting that its quiet spinning experience is best achieved with road bike tires. If you’re a mountain bike lover then you may want to look elsewhere if noise is a factor. 


3. Tacx Neo 2T: Best bike trainer with app control

Best bike trainers: Garmin Tacx NEO 2T Smart Trainer

(Image credit: Garmin / Tacx)

Tacx Neo 2T Smart Trainer

Power meets accuracy in the most advanced bike trainer to date

Connectivity: ANT+, Bluetooth | Power: 2200W | Weight: 47.4lbs | Type: Direct drive | Compatible platforms: Tacx software, Zwift +, and others | RRP: $1,399.99

Great road riding feel
No cable required
Sprint and incline capacity
Expensive

It’s been a long wait but this updated version to the original Tacx Neo from Garmin was worth every minute. Striving to produce a more usable design, the Tacx Neo 2T achieves this thanks to a redesigned motor that produces some serious power, up to 2,200 watts with a 25% incline if you feel like really getting those legs burning. 

A further redesign of the magnets has also significantly reduced both noise and vibration so even intense sprints will struggle to get the decibel reading over 50. 

You’ll love the stability of this trainer, helped by the flex in the main-drive unit which allows the Neo 2T to follow your natural cycle movements. The improved axle compatibility with this latest version is a serious plus and we love how easy it is to set up. It’s also the only trainer that doesn’t need to be calibrated. 

The price is a drawback if you’re on a budget and at 47lbs with a large footprint when in use, this is a fairly hefty trainer. But if you’re happy to think of the Neo 2T as an investment and fold it away after use, then this gold standard in smart trainers will wheely put a smile on your dial.


4. Kinetic Road Machine: Best bike trainer for road and MTB

Best bike trainers: Kinetic Road Machine

(Image credit: Kinetic)

Kinetic Road Machine Bike Trainer

Turn your road or mountain bike into an indoor cardio machine

Connectivity: Bluetooth Smart, ANT+ | Weight: 28lbs | Type: Magnetic | Compatible platforms: Zwift and Trainer Road

100% leakproof guarantee
Works with road and MTB
Lifetime warranty
Heavier than most bike trainers

The Kinetic Road Machine is a fluid trainer, and guaranteed to be 100% leakproof. It also carries a lifetime warranty, which is uncommon in the bike trainer market.

The Road Machine can fit most 22-inch and 29-inch wheels, although it may not work quite as well with 700c. We were particularly impressed with the smoothness of the resistance, lending a road-like feel to your workouts, and the fact that you can purchase add-ons such as a heavier flywheel and Kinetic inRide Watt Meter. 

The heavier flywheel enables you to push yourself harder with a smoother increase, and the inRide Watt Meter enables you to connect to your smart device to track and evaluate your training efforts.

Another plus is that the Kinetic Road Machine includes an axle skewer, so you don’t have to purchase one separately. Unfortunately it doesn't come with a riser for your front tire. As with any friction resistance trainers, fluid bike trainers have contact with your rear tire. While this a good way to add resistance, it can be hard on your tire, wearing it out quickly. 

Using a separate smooth tire for indoor training can make riding on the Kinetic Road Machine more enjoyable, especially if you would otherwise be using the knobby tire from your mountain bike.

5. CycleOps Fluid 2: Best bike trainer for beginners

Best bike trainers: Saris CycleOps Fluid 2 Bike Trainer

(Image credit: Saris)

Saris CycleOps Fluid 2 Bike Trainer

The simple way to get started with indoor cycle training

Connectivity: No smart connectivity | Power: 800W | Weight: 22.5lbs | Type: Tire drive | Compatible platforms: Zwift, Rouvy, and others | RRP: $299.99

Fluid resistance unit for a quiet ride
Alloy roller for minimum tire wear
Lifetime warranty
No smart connectivity

New to the world of indoor cycling trainers? Then you’re going to love this reliable and affordable trainer from Saris. The setup is quick and the trainer is easy to operate. The steel frame is made from recyclable, non-rusting materials which make it incredibly durable while still being lightweight and the alloy roller reduces tire wear and slippage.

The precision-balanced flywheel means you can easily switch gears to customize your ride and the self-cooling fan design helps the trainer to last longer. As with many tire-drives, this isn’t a smart trainer but you can add speed or cadence by pairing it with a training app like Zwift. You’ll also love that this trainer isn’t reliant on external or battery power sources so it’s a simpler option when you’re just getting started.

If you’re someone who likes long rides of over three hours then you may want to invest in a trainer wheel as even with the fan the heat of the fluid can accelerate tire wear. That aside, this is a great beginner-friendly compact bike trainer that offers some solid features at an affordable price.


6. Kinetic Rock n Roll Smart 2: Best for a realistic ride

Best bike trainers: Kinetic Rock n Roll Smart 2 Bike Trainer

(Image credit: Kinetic)

Kinetic Rock n Roll Smart 2 Bike Trainer

Wobble while you work out with Kinetic's best trainer

Connectivity: ANT+, ANT+, FE-C and Bluetooth FTMS | Power: 1400W | Weight: 29lbs | Type: Tire drive | Compatible platforms: Kinetic Fit, Zwift, TrainerRoad, Rouvy, Kinomap, The Sufferfest and FulGaz | RRP: $399

Progressive fluid resistance
Stable, sturdy and durable
Lifetime warranty on frame
Quite heavy and bulky

Get your Kermit on with the free-moving Kinetic Rock n Roll Smart 2 Bike Trainer fluid trainer. Popular since its original incarnation back in 2010, this upgraded version still gives you the closest thing to a realistic riding experience but with more bells and whistles thanks to the pre-installed inRide3 power sensor technology. That enables the trainer to connect and communicate with a variety of third party apps.

You’ll love that the precision-calibrated resistance unit and the 6.25lb flywheel work together to create a riding experience almost identical to if you were cycling out on the open road. By putting a block of rubber between the base and the rest of the trainer, the bike and the rider are free to move around, while the super wide, bolt-together U-frame base provides great stability.

Unlike with some of the more advanced smart-trainer models, the Kinetic Smart 2 transmits your metrics but allows you to control the resistance by speeding up or slowing down rather than having the app do it for you, great if you’re a beginner.

Now, unlike Kermit this green machine isn’t the most compact but if you’re looking to enter the virtual cycling world from a brand that’s reinvented the wheel when it comes to giving a realistic road-like feel then this reliable workhorse is tough to beat.


7. Omnium Over-Drive: Best bike trainer for travel

Best bike trainers: FeedBack Sports Omnium Over-Drive

(Image credit: FreeSports)

FeedBack Sports Omnium Over-Drive

Cycle any time, anywhere with this lightweight portable bike trainer

Connectivity: No | Weight: 14lbs | Type: Tire drive | Compatible platforms: Zwift, The Sufferfest, TrainerRoad, Rouvy Virtual Power, vPower and Kinomap | RRP: $429.99

Quick and easy to set up
Progressive resistance
Quiet in use
No electronically controlled resistance

If you love to train while you travel or want to smash out a cycling session in a small space, then you’re going to love this compact and portable bike trainer. Easy to set up, there’s no removing of the back wheel or messing with gears, simply remove the front wheel and connect the front fork to the fork stand and you’re good to go. 

Best of all it doesn’t require any tools and the greased and sealed trainer bearings make this a zero maintenance trainer, perfect if you’re after something simple.

Don’t let its ease of use fool you though, this is no slouch in the bike trainer department. While the magnets inside the four-inch drums won’t give you that ‘road-feel’, as you increase your speed the gap between the magnets and the drum wall begins to decrease, which in turn increases resistance and gives you the challenging workout you’re looking for.

This isn’t a smart bike and while those can be a great tool, they aren’t always the most practical option if you travel a lot. If you compete regularly in triathlons or find yourself frequently staying in hotels where riding outdoors may be difficult or unsafe, then this smooth and quiet compact and portable bike trainer ensures you can put in the miles no matter where you are.


8. CycleOps Wind: Best wind bike trainer

Best bike trainers: CycleOps Wind Bike Trainer

(Image credit: CycleOps)

CycleOps Wind Bike Trainer

If you can handle the noise, this is a fun indoor bike trainer

Connectivity: No | Weight: 18.25lbs | Type: Wind | Compatible platforms: N/A

Simple to attach
More affordable than others
Lifetime warranty
Noisy in use

The CycleOps Wind is a reasonably priced bike trainer that is easy to use. There are three types of bike trainers – wind or fan, magnetic and fluid. The CycleOps trainer is a wind trainer, which means its roller is driven by fan blades.

Wind trainers are the least expensive type, and they are also the noisiest. At 20 mph, the CycleOps’ noise level is 84-86 decibels, which means you’ll need headphones if you want to listen to music as you ride.

This bike trainer fits both road and mountain bike frames and has a simple, compact design. It’s good for beginners because it is sturdy and inexpensive, and it has a quick-release skewer to help you release your bike wheel after a ride. 

It also has three settings for rear dropout spacing, and its resistance rollers accommodate multiple wheel sizes. The CycleOps Wind is compatible with CycleOps VirtualTraining software. CycleOps backs it with a lifetime warranty.


Best bike trainers: The different types

Ask any long-time rider what their first experience of indoor cycling was like and they’ll probably shudder recalling those nightmare days when the old clunky stationary bike was their only option. 

Thankfully, technology and innovation have brought us a long way in recent years and the horrors of indoor cycling days gone by are now happily relegated to the past. 

With a variety of different kinds of bike trainers now on the market, we take you through the pros and cons of each so that you can feel comfortable in purchasing the best bike trainer for your needs.

Wind Bike Trainers
Along with being durable, wind trainers tend to be the least expensive and the most lightweight. They also tend to be more durable than magnetic trainers. Pressing on the pedal causes the fan on the trainer to spin. The amount of air getting scooped into the fan generates progressive resistance while you bike.

This is not the ideal choice for someone living in an apartment or shared living space because the wind bike trainer tends to be the noisiest option.  It is also possible to exceed the maximum resistance available, which can be frustrating if you want to increase your resistance tolerance.

Magnetic Bike Trainers
A magnetic bike trainer, such as the Sportneer model discussed earlier, uses a magnetic flywheel to create resistance. Some have fixed resistance, which requires you to manually shift gears to increase difficulty levels. Others have progressive resistance.

Most fixed-resistance models have toggle switches or handle-bar-mounted shifters, allowing you to increase resistance while you pedal. However, to increase resistance on some fixed-resistance trainers, you will have to dismount and manually change the setting, which can be frustrating when you want a long, uninterrupted ride.

This type of trainer is less noisy than wind bike trainers, making this style more apartment-friendly, but on the flip side they can also be less durable so longevity may be an issue. 

Best bike trainers: a man and women use the Kinetic Rock n Roll Smart 2 Bike Trainer in their garage

(Image credit: Kinetic)

Fluid bike trainers
Fluid bike trainers, like the Saris CycleOps Fluid 2, have a reputation for having the best road-like feel, which includes simulating inclines. On the fancier models, you can adjust the resistance electronically while you’re biking. 

Fluid bike trainers have a shell connected to the flywheel that houses an impeller and fluid. As the impeller turns, the liquid heats up and makes it harder to push the pedal. This design makes these trainers much quieter than magnetic or wind types.

In the past, fluid bike trainers had a potential for leaking when the fluid overheated, but as updated and improved machines keep coming, this is less of an issue.

Bike rollers
The build of a bike roller differs radically from the other trainers we have discussed. These machines typically have three rolling drums or cylinders your bike rides atop, rotating these cylinders as the front and rear tires spin. Generally, these machines tend to be longer than the average trainer. Fortunately, one of the best portable bike trainers, the Omnium Over-Drive, folds up and weighs only 14lbs, making it compact and easy to store.

Unlike the magnetic, fluid, wind and direct-drive units, which securely hold your bike in place, the roller design forces you to use your core muscles to balance yourself. It also teaches you to maintain an even pedal stroke to maintain a smooth ride. 

Unfortunately, bike rollers don’t tend to be beginner-friendly. If your pedal stroke is not smooth, the ride will be jerky and you may end up falling off or needing to stop and start frequently. Since your bike is elevated higher by riding atop the roller, mounting and dismounting are more difficult. 

High-end rollers are typically quieter than low-end rollers, but low-end rollers are typically louder than most other trainer resistance styles. It is also easier to max out resistance on these trainers, keeping you from pushing yourself further in your training.

Direct-Drive Trainers
The drawback to the types of bike trainers we’ve discussed so far is that the amount of resistance placed on your tire can cause it to wear out quickly, which isn’t ideal if you like to cycle indoors and out on a regular basis . Instead of attaching your axle and back tire to the trainer, direct-drive trainers, such as the Wahoo Kickr Core, require you remove your rear tire and directly connect the trainer to the bike frame and chain. 

Since there is less equipment between your bike and the device, more of your power goes directly into your workout and doesn't get lost in the friction between the two machines. This also makes the direct drive a quieter ride. Direct-drives tend to be the most expensive trainers on the market due to their complex build but when balanced against the longevity of your tires they can be a great investment.

Smart trainers
If you fancy racing virtual routes with friends or breaking a sweat in a serious power-based training session that sees you taking on the same challenging climbs as competitors in the Tour de France, then a smart trainer that simulates on the road riding is a great choice.

Smart trainers, like the Tacx 2T Neo, can be any combination of the resistance types discussed above but their one difference is that they connect and communicate wirelessly with third party apps that provide feedback straight to your trainer so that it can automatically modulate resistance.

While the cost of smart trainers is at the higher end of the scale, their increasing popularity is helping prices fall so you can now score a basic smart trainer for under $500.

Choosing the best bike trainer for you

We reviewed bike trainers ranging in price from under $100 up to $1,300. While many people search for trainers priced below $100, you’re more likely to find a higher quality one with better features if you spend around $300 or more. 

You'll quickly notice that bike trainers with wind resistance are the least expensive, while trainers with fluid resistance are the most expensive. Here's what to keep in mind when choosing the best bike trainer for your off-season training and cardio exercise goals...

Ride feel and resistance
Higher-end bike trainers give your exercise a more realistic road-like feel than basic models. Fluid and direct-drive bike trainers ride smoother than others, and the more road-like conditions make indoor training as close to outdoor riding as possible. If you’re looking for a simpler ride without changes in elevation or deliberate resistance adjustments, a less expensive wind resistance trainer is an option. 

But if you need a trainer for more intense off-season workouts, we advise investing in a product that creates a translatable experience. Part of that is choosing a trainer with a compatible resistance-adjusting style to the kind of rides you desire. If you want a simulated hilly workout, choose a trainer that can switch resistance levels quickly as opposed to one with manual resistance shifting.

App connectivity
Bike trainers that are compatible with training and smart devices help you take your workouts to the next level. It's a bonus if you can connect directly to your tablet or smartphone to control resistance via an app, on top of tracking and storing your stats through software and apps.

The biggest downside to some of these smart bike trainers is they must be plugged into an outlet for their features to work. Also, as with most smart devices, buggy software can sometimes make apps and programs unresponsive or delayed. This all depends on the brand. Tacx has a reputation for making dependable smart software for its trainers, and the Tacx Vortex is one of its best models with smart compatibility.

Storage
Bike trainers are often foldable and storable and usually weigh between 15 and 30 pounds. Most are small enough to store under a bed or in a closet when not in use. This is the clear advantage the best indoor bike trainers have over full-size exercise or spinning bikes, which take up a lot of room. We found the Bike Lane Pro to be lightweight and low profile, so it's easy to store.

Wheel wear
Riding on a trainer wears out your wheel faster than road riding does. For this reason, it is a good idea to have an extra smooth tire specifically for trainer riding. Most bike trainers are designed for a quick-release bike wheel.

This is common on road bikes, and comes with a special quick-release skewer to help you connect the back wheel to the machine. Although less common, some machines also come with a thru axle, which is a typical wheel attachment for high-end mountain bikes.

Noise
If you live in an apartment or any other noise-sensitive environment, a wind trainer is not the best choice. Magnetic trainers are also quite loud. Beyond annoying your neighbors, noise may affect the quality of your workout if you want to watch TV or interact with others while you pedal away. 

This is amplified in a small space, especially as indoor workouts last longer than a few minutes. One way to mitigate noise is to make sure you use the smoothest possible back tire for all but direct-drive trainers, as tire treads can cause extra noise. If you’re curious about a specific trainer’s noise emission, we found a lot of videos online for most products that demonstrate them in use.

Looking for further health and fitness content? Take a look at our guides to the best treadmills for running and walking indoors, and the best elliptical machines.