The best bike trainers transform your road or mountain bike into an indoor cardio machine, enabling you to ride and train indoors during the off-season. Also called turbo trainers or smart trainers, depending on their features, these cycling gadgets attach to your bike relatively easily. They’re also simple to remove, and some can be used outdoors to help you warm-up before a race.
When it comes to bike trainers vs the best exercise bikes (opens in new tab) (great for guided, spin class workouts), the key considerations to make start with space and budget. Do you have room at home for both types of bike? Can you afford both? If not, you’ll better utilize your space and money with a smart trainer attached to your MTB or road bike. In terms of price, the best bike trainers start from under $130, so you can find cheap ones, especially old season stock.
Using your MTB or road bike with an indoor cycling trainer also better prepares you for reaching high speeds and building endurance for long road rides. The best bike trainers are made by Wahoo and Kinetic, but there are more affordable options, including the Sportneer Magnetic Bike Trainer Stand. To avoid spending more than you need to, write a list of the basic features your turbo trainer should have. Then progress from there.
Many indoor cycling trainers are also compatible with cycling apps like Zwift, plus fitness trackers (opens in new tab) and apps. This means you can gain some valuable real-time data on your ride and training session. Let’s take a look at the top-rated bike trainers now to see which one would be the best option for expanding your home gym (opens in new tab) setup.
1. Wahoo Kickr Core: Best bike trainer overall
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The Wahoo Kickr Core borrows many features from the more expensive Wahoo Kickr, yet comes in at a third of the price. Wahoo has designed it with a power accuracy of +/- 2%, a 12lb flywheel, and a maximum output of 1,800 watts. In short, this direct-drive turbo trainer offers very good value for money.
It's very quiet in use, so you can work up a sweat without worrying that your training is going to disturb your neighbors. There are plenty of scenic rides to cycle along with at home, and if you like your hills you’ll be be challenged with gradients of up to 16%. Naturally, the Wahoo Kickr Core is also compatible with the Kickr Climb.
Admittedly the Core lacks some of the bells and whistles of the original Kickr. For example, it doesn’t ship with a cassette and it’s fixed footprint is less packable. That said, if you’re looking for an affordable bike trainer to simulate of an outdoor ride as accurately as possible, the Wahoo Kickr Core is hard to beat.
2. Sportneer Magnetic: Best cheap bike trainer
Want to cycle indoors while watching a movie? Then it’s Sportneer to the rescue with this tire-on bike trainer designed with a noise reduction wheel. This means you can pedal harder without causing a racket.
The Sportneer Magnetic Turbo Trainer comes with six resistance settings, so you can simulate a variety of cycling conditions. Adjustable resistance also means you can give yourself as easy or as challenging a workout as needed. When you’re ready to take your indoor training outside, hit the press-down lever clamp to release your bike.
Weighing in at 19lbs, the Sportneer bike trainer is lightweight compared to other models in our best bike trainers guide. It also has adjustable, anti-slip rubber feet, and a wide-base to ensure a more stable ride.
While there’s a lot to love about the affordable Sportneer Magnetic Turbo Trainer, it’s worth noting that its quiet spinning experience is best achieved with road bike tires. So if you’re a mountain biker, may want to look elsewhere if you need a quiet indoor cycling trainer.
3. Tacx Neo 2T: Best bike trainer for app control
This updated version of the original Tacx Neo strives to produce a more usable design. The motor has been reconfigured to produce up to 2,200 watts of power, with a 25% incline to challenge you during hill climb training.
A further redesign of the magnets has also reduced noise and vibration. Stability is often a potential problem with indoor bike trainer stands. The Tacx Neo 2T aims to address this with added flex in the main-drive unit. This allows the trainer to follow your natural cycling movements.
It’s also the only trainer that doesn’t need to be calibrated beforehand, so it's easier to set up. The price is a drawback though, and at 47lbs with a large footprint when in use, this is a fairly hefty trainer.
Overall, we'd recommend the Tacx Neo 2T for anyone who is serious about cycling training and needs plentiful metrics to show them how effective their training is. If you don't need something this intense, look elsewhere in our guide for a cheaper bike trainer.
4. Kinetic Road Machine: Best bike trainer for MTB
The Kinetic Road Machine is a fluid trainer that comes with a 100% leakproof guarantee. 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. The resistance is designed to feel smooth, lending a road-like feel to your workouts. The heavier flywheel enables you to push yourself harder too.
The Kinetic Road Machine is bundled with an axle skewer (but check wheel compatibility before you buy), but it doesn't come with a riser for your front tire. As with any friction resistance trainers, fluid bike trainers are in contact with your rear tire. While this a good way to add resistance, it can be hard on your tire, wearing it out more 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 knobbly tire from your mountain bike.
- Read our Kinetic Road Machine review (opens in new tab)
5. Saris CycleOps Fluid 2: Best indoor bike trainer for beginners
New to the world of indoor cycling trainers? Then you’re going to love this reliable and affordable trainer from Saris. The steel frame is made from recyclable, non-rusting materials. This should make it durable while still being lightweight, with an alloy roller to reduce tire wear and slippage.
The precision-balanced flywheel on the Saris CycleOps Fluid 2 means you can easily switch gears to customize your ride. A self-cooling fan design helps the trainer last longer, so you get your money's worth.
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. The CycleOps Fluid 2 isn’t reliant on external or battery power sources either, so it’s a simpler option when you’re just getting started.
If you’re someone who enjoys longer rides of over three hours, you may want to invest in a trainer wheel. That's because, even with the fan, the heat of the fluid can accelerate tire wear. That aside, the Saris CycleOps Fluid 2 is a great beginner-friendly trainer offering some useful features at a more affordable price.
6. Kinetic Rock n Roll Smart 2: Best bike trainer for a realistic ride
Popular since its original incarnation back in 2010, the free-moving Kinetic Rock n Roll Smart 2 Bike Trainer gets you close to a realistic riding experience. There are far more bells and whistles on this updated version too, thanks to the pre-installed inRide3 power sensor tech. That enables the trainer to connect and communicate with a variety of third party fitness and cycling apps.
The precision-calibrated resistance unit and 6.25lb flywheel work together to create as realistic a road-riding experience as possible. By putting a block of rubber between the base and the rest of the trainer, the bike and rider are free to move around. The wide, bolt-together U-frame base should provide added stability.
The resistance level can be controlled by you speeding up or slowing down, so you won't have to dive into the app to adjust this. The Kinetic Rock n Roll Smart 2 Bike Trainer isn’t the most compact, but if you’re prioritizing a realistic road-like feel and ease of use, we'd recommend looking closer at this one.
7. Omnium Over-Drive: Best bike trainer for travel
If you love to train while traveling, or you have a small space for training at home, this compact bike trainer could be your dream machine. Easy to set up, there’s no removing of the back wheel or messing with gears here. Simply remove the front wheel and connect the front fork to the fork stand and you’re good to go.
Best of all, the FeedBack Sports Omnium Over-Drive doesn’t require any tools. The greased and sealed trainer bearings make this a zero maintenance trainer too - perfect if you’re after something simple.
Don’t let its ease of use fool you though, as 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. This, in turn, increases resistance and gives you the challenging workout you’re looking for.
Keep in mind that this isn’t a smart bike trainer. While those can be a great tool, they aren’t always the most practical option if you travel often. If you compete regularly in triathlons or find yourself frequently staying in hotels where riding outdoors may be difficult or unsafe, this smooth, quiet and compact bike trainer ensures you can get the miles in no matter where you are.
8. CycleOps Wind: Best wind bike trainer
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 20mph, 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. It's also backed with a lifetime warranty.
- Read our CycleOps Wind review (opens in new tab)
Today's cheapest prices on the best bike trainers for indoor cycling
Best bike trainers FAQ
How do bike trainers work?
Bike trainers are designed to attach to your mountain or road bike. Once your bike is secure inside the trainer stand, your bike will remain stationary, enabling you to cycle how you would on the road, only indoors.
Although smart trainers can differ in terms of the intricacies of design, there’s always a frame with a clamp that holds your bike in place. A roller presses up against both or one of the wheels of your bike. There’s also a mechanism that applies resistance so you can mimic the feel of cycling up a hill.
The way indoor cycling trainers work depends on the type. There are many kinds, and they hold onto your bike and create resistance in several different ways. A wind trainer uses air to create resistance and tends to be cheaper and noisier. Magnetic turbo trainers have magnets and a conducting flywheel. Others use liquid to generate resistance and tend to be the quietest and most expensive turbo trainer options.
Some indoor cycling trainers clamp onto your front or back wheel – or both – and others come with handlebar attachments, allowing you to control resistance without having to stop.
Are bike trainers worth it?
If you enjoy cycling outdoors only, an indoor cycling trainer isn’t worth it for you as you simply won’t enjoy using one. However, if you like the choice and versatility of cycling both indoors and outdoors, and have the room for just one type of bicycle, one of the best bike trainers can be an excellent workout companion – especially if you have a bike already.
Even if you love cycling on the road, turbo trainers can build your cycling skills and strength in a controlled space without the interruptions and considerations of outdoor riding. These include poor weather, unsafe hours of the day, or accessibility challenges. You can also effectively mimic a real-life cycling experience with a bike trainer. For example, no hills nearby? Fake one with a smart trainer.
What’s more, if you plan on cycling outdoors, it makes sense to buy a bike and a smart trainer rather than a spin bike because it’s a better way to get used to the design and position of a regular bike. Using a bike and a turbo trainer requires a different technique to a stationary bike and gives you a more realistic ride, even if your bike is stationary.
What are 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 isn't the ideal choice for someone living in an apartment because wind bike trainers are noisy. It is also possible to exceed the maximum resistance available, which can be frustrating if you want to increase your resistance tolerance.
What are 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, so you have to manually shift gears to increase difficulty. Others have progressive resistance.
Most fixed-resistance models have toggle switches or handle bar-mounted shifters so you can increase resistance while you pedal. However, to increase resistance on some fixed-resistance trainers, you have to dismount and manually change the setting. This gets pretty annoying when you want a long, uninterrupted ride.
Magnetic bike trainers are less noisy than wind trainers, but they can also be less durable, so longevity might be an issue.
Fluid bike trainers vs direct-drive: Key differences
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 riding.
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 wind or magnetic bike trainers.
In the past, fluid bike trainers had a potential for leaking when the fluid overheated, but as improved machines keep coming out, this is less of an issue.
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. Instead of attaching your axle and back tire to the trainer, direct-drive trainers, like the Wahoo Kickr Core, require you to 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 due to their complex build, but when balanced against the longevity of your tires they can be a great investment.
Are all bike trainers considered smart trainers?
In a word, no. 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.
How to choose the best bike trainer for you
While many people search for trainers priced below $150, you’re more likely to find a higher quality one with better features if you spend around $300 or more. Here's what to keep in mind when choosing the best bike trainer for your training needs...
Ride feel and resistance
Higher-end bike trainers give your exercise a more realistic road-like feel. 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.
Bike trainers compatible with 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 stats through various apps.
The biggest downside to some of these smart bike trainers is that they must be plugged into an outlet for their features to work. Tacx has a reputation for making dependable smart software for its smart trainers, and the Tacx Vortex is one of its highest rated models.
Bike trainers are often foldable and storable and usually weigh 15 and 45lbs. Most are small enough to store under a bed or in a closet when not in use. This is a clear advantage when considering whether to buy a bike trainer or a bigger cardio machine.
Riding on a bike 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, so setting up shouldn't take ages.
This is common on road bikes, and comes with a special quick-release skewer to help you connect the back wheel to the machine. Some machines also come with a thru axle, which is a typical wheel attachment for high-end mountain bikes.
If you live in an apartment, stay away from wind trainers. Magnetic trainers are also quite loud. Noise is amplified in small spaces, especially as indoor workouts last longer than a few minutes.
One way to mitigate noise is to ensure you use the smoothest possible back tire for all but direct-drive trainers, as tire treads cause extra noise.
Looking for more fitness guides? Take a look at our round-ups of the best elliptical machines (opens in new tab) for full body workouts, and the best online fitness programs (opens in new tab) for guided cycling classes.