Best Bike Trainer

Best Bike Trainer

by Joseph Wells - Last Updated: October 21, 2020

Riding indoors is boring!  Until now. Your next trainer should be interactive like the Tacx Neo Smart Trainer our pick for best bike trainer.

Buying an indoor bike trainer is a long term investment.  They last for years, perhaps decades. But, one of the drawbacks is the monotony of riding indoors.  Really, bikes are meant to be outdoors, but with the advent of interactive trainers like the Tacx Neo Smart Trainer, that isn’t the case any longer.

Top Pick of the Best Bike Trainer: Tacx Neo Smart Trainer

The Tacx Neo Smart Trainer offers a number of ways to interact. The Tacx trainer is compatible with Zwift, an online arena that offers rides, races, and workouts that will challenge all riders, from beginners to pros. You can even ride with pros at any time from all over the world.

In general, trainers can be used with nearly any bike, especially derailleur type bikes.  The Tacx Neo Smart Trainer is no different. You will remove your rear wheel, and set your bike onto the unit. It has its own gears, so with a few slight adjustments to get the height and shifting right, you are ready to roll, but indoors.

Using a tablet, you connect to the trainer to get sensor data of speed, and power, which is then transmitted into a variety of software.  Whether you use Zwift or any number of other programs, you will find something interesting to do. Overall, it is quite simple to use and ultimately, have fun with. That is why the Tacx Neo Smart Trainer is our pick as best bike trainer.

Other Cool Trainers

A competitor to Tacx is the Elite Direto. The Elite comes in at roughly the same cost but has a slightly different design. Overall, the Direto is an excellent alternative with much to offer.

In general, interactive trainers work in two modes. ERG and power/resistance controlled. The easy part first, resistance is pretty simple. Give settings to pedal at and go for it. Kind of like riding outdoors. Well, really this is how a trainer mimics riding your favorite roads.

ERG mode differs as it is purer to structured workouts.  The goal with ERG is to have a pyramid of work, generally based on wattage numbers.  Something like an interval would be done in ERG mode.  Resistance mode would be riding the Crater Lake ride, where it has flat, up and down at given times just like that actual road in the Oregon mountains.

The Elite Direto can handle over 2000W of rider input, which is pretty stout.  It is hard enough to sprint at 1500 watts outdoors, or on a steep hill.  To do so indoors takes some determination.

With all that being said, one of the big plusses with the Elite Direto is the excellent road feel.  Very few trainers use a significant flywheel of any weight.  The Direto does, and also works to capitalize on centrifugal force to double the weight.  This translates to a more outdoor like feel.

Ok, perhaps all this interaction is a distraction. Look to the Cyclops Fluid2 trainer. With such a low cost, the Cyclops Fluid 2 trainer is a go-to for avid riders.

The big plus with this trainer is portability.  If you are traveling, or perhaps at a cycling event and want to warm up, this trainer is easy to carry, lightweight, and fairly quiet.  This simplicity allows you to concentrate on getting your body and mind ready, rather than a complicated trainer.

Additionally, the Fluid 2 is the choice for seasoned riders since there are fewer failures. When you need to depend on a trainer to get your workout in, this is the go-to device. Many of my friends have this trainer and a dedicated bike setup at all times in their basement.

Riding Online?

Bikes are supposed to be outdoors, on the roads and the trails. How can you ride online? Newer trainers are offering more than just basic adjustable resistance to their models.  This interactive element has developed over the years into something much more.

By measuring more than just speed, it is possible to draw a better picture of the efforts on the bike.  To do this we measure power. By capturing the instantaneous wattage output that we are pedaling at, we have an effort to compare with.

Interactive trainers can vary the resistance that we pedal at quite precisely.  With that, they can record outdoor rides and then mimic the efforts necessary to complete the ride.  By measuring speed and effort it allows riders to interact more, especially if they are doing the same workouts.

Check with a local shop in your area and see if any offer Zwift or similar online sessions either on-site or with a group of local friends.  They are popping up more often.  With that friends can ride virtually together.  It sure beats playing video games together, you can race in the middle of the night!

What’s the Best Type of Bike Trainer?

There is much discussion in regards to how to improve your fitness with indoor cycling.  Some argue that structured power workouts in a controlled environment are the way to go. Others are more old school.

In this study, researchers compared 3 groups of cyclists with the goal of improving their time trial times.  Ultimately, the question for all of us, what makes us faster? One group rode standard trainers, another roller. And finally, a control group that trained outdoors.

The researchers found that the group that used rollers, had the largest time improvement, some 20 seconds faster than the control group.  Trainers worked well but lagged behind by 6 seconds over the rollers.

Okay, so what in the world are rollers?  This trainer type is one of the oldest designs available and features 3 drums that you set your bike on top of.  2 drums support the rear wheel as if it was in a cradle, and one drum is under the front wheel.  As you pedal, the drums rotate due to friction from your tires.  The faster your wheels move, the more stable you become due to the gyroscopic effect that all bike wheels have while spinning.

What makes rollers superior?  Since your bike is floating on top of drums that are roughly 16″ wide, you work to control side to side movements. Basic physics holds that the fast way from point a to b is a straight line. This doesn’t change on a bike, where wasted movement slows you down. The use of rollers conditions the rider to control their movements, making them smoother, riding straighter, and ultimately more predictable.

The other cool thing with rollers is the physics involved.  If you desire natural resistance, choose a roller model with smaller drums.  I personally use a 3″ aluminum drum.  I ride several of my bikes on them, but love using my track bike.  With the fixed gear, I get a different workout challenge since I can’t coast and have to maintain speed in order to keep my balance. I highly recommend for all riders to use a fixed gear bike on rollers, your riding buddies will enjoy your bike control and predictability.

Bike Choice is Important

A key train of thought toward indoor cycling is the position. In some training, having a specific position is important, such as for time trials. Alternately, if you are after overall fitness, a specific precise bike fit may not be as necessary.

If you visit your local bike shop, many mechanics will tell you about the worst bikes they have seen come through for repair.  Generally, those are bikes that spend their lives on trainers. The sweat wreaks havoc on the frame, parts, cables – effectively the entire bike.

Using your best bike on the trainer has some logic to it, but perhaps causing damage to it is not the best thing.  If you are after fitness, mimic your best bike fit with an inexpensive model.  Take a look at our article about inexpensive starter bikes. Many times you can grab a bike like this and leave it on your trainer permanently.

With a few measurements, then adjustments, you can get pretty close to your best bike fit, and then your trainer is set just for you. The key is to achieve comfort, perhaps with a more upright position, but have your saddle height and fore-aft position in the same general position as your outdoor bike.  If there is too much overall change between bikes, your body struggles to be efficient on each different bike.

Conclusion – The Best Bike Trainer

It could be said that there is no clear winner for the best bike trainer. There are so many choices and opinions, how do you decide?

I chose the Tacx Neo Smart Trainer as my pick for best bike trainer because it does so much more than be a basic indoor trainer.  From fitness training to joining your buddies from around the world for a ride around London, a smart trainer should be a part of your cycling collection.

The Tacx Neo Smart Trainer is a great choice for all riders as there is so much flexibility with the trainer that you can always find a way to include it into your training on a daily basis.  Some riders prefer to do intervals indoors so they can concentrate on the effort rather than the road.  Some training efforts can be better indoors.

Additionally, when you train at home, your family and loved ones are more secure in knowing that you are safe.  Whatever the trainer you decide upon, realize there is more than just the basics at hand.  There are a few intangibles that training at home will provide.

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