5 of the Best Turbo Trainers
When I first took up cycling I had this notion that I would just be brilliant at it. Chris Froome and the rest of the Tour de France peloton made it look so easy on television that I figured as soon as I had a half decent bike I would be whooshing round the country lanes with relative ease in no time.
So it was, with much chagrin, that I found myself on my second or third ride out, panting and puffing up a very modest gradient, cursing my misplaced optimism in my talents. As a man at least fifteen years my senior glided past me, offering a cheery “good morning”, seeming not even the slightest bit out of breath, I quickly realised that if I was to be even half good at this I would need to put in some serious practice. And so it was that I looked to purchase a turbo trainer.
For the uninitiated, a turbo trainer is essentially a static frame onto which you mount your bike, effectively turning it into an exercise bike so that you can get some serious miles in at home when the weather is cold and the nights are dark – or, like me – if you just want to get a bit fitter before you humiliate yourself on the roads.
So here we present 5 of our favourite turbo trainers currently on the market. If you want more details on what features to look for in a turbo trainer or more information on how we selected these units, then you can find these at the bottom of the page. But otherwise, let’s dive right into our picks.
The Qubo from Elite is a fluid resistance turbo trainer that clocks in at the £200 mark. At this price, it’s really great value for money and has a bunch of features including an ‘Elastogel’ roller which reduces tyre wear significantly. But what we liked most about the Qubo was how simple it is to set-up and how quiet it is in operation.
The only real negatives are that it doesn’t come with a front wheel riser to elevate the bike to a level position and keep the front wheel sturdy. But when you can pick one of these up on Amazon for little more than a fiver – it’s really not a big deal in our eyes.
- Super-simple set up
- Quiet in operation
- No front wheel riser included
This Tacx Booster is the cheapest of the five models we’ve selected at around £155, so if this is your first turbo trainer this may be an ideal option. A great price doesn’t mean it compromises on features however. The Tacx offers 10 levels of resistance up to a maximum of 1050 watts. To put this into perspective, this data analysed a 13 second sprint to the line by John Degenkolb in the tour of California, during which he averaged 1120 watts – so the 1050 watts on offer here should be more than enough for any of us humans!
Assembly is pretty straightforward and unlike the Elite Qubo this comes supplied with a front wheel support, which is nice. We found it a tad noisy in operation and the handlebar mounted lever to change resistance level is plastic and feels a little flimsy – but all in all an excellet bit of kit.
- Excellent price point
- More than enough resistance
- A bit noisy and the handlebar resistance lever is a tad fragile
This CycleOps fluid trainer has a really natural feel to it – almost comparable to riding on the road. There is no need to adjust the resistance settings as the unit provides the ideal resitance based on your power to speed ratio.
As with many other fluid trainers, the CycleOps is extremely quiet in operation and feels really sturdy and solid. The only downside is that some users have reported the resistance levels don’t go quite as high as they would like, but this is unlikley to be a problem for the average user – certainly we had no issues with it.
- Extremely natural feel
- Very quiet
- Potentially not enough resistance levels for some users
This Kinetic trainer is a bit different from the others included on this list so far, in that it features an app that displays all of your cadence and power output data. The information is sent via bluetooth and results in an extremely detailed real-time performance log.
For some, this may be a bit excessive and unnecessary – but for data heads and power meter watchers this is a dream come true. The unit is bulit like a tank and feels really solid and durable – in fact it comes with a lifetime guarantee. Noise levels are also really good.
- Bluetooth and app to provide real time ride data
- Lifetime guarantee
- App and data readouts may be surplus to requirements for some
This is the most expensive model our list at around £330 – but that’s because it is the first direct drive unit featured. This also means it is the quietest on this list, so if that is an important factor for you then this would be the pick.
The Muin features progressive resistance which automatically increases as you up the speed level, offering a really realistic and natural feel, and can be used with mountain bikes as well as road bikes.
The main gripes would be that the resistance level may be a little high for some. Also, it’s not all that easy to setup – it took us about an hour – but all in all a really solid direct drive trainer.
- Super quiet
- Automatic, progressive resistance
- A bit fiddly to setup. Resistance may be too high for some cyclists.
What Features to Look for in a Turbo Trainer
The main consideration when choosing a turbo trainer is the resistance type. Turbo trainers work by adding resistance to your rear wheel – simulating the friction and inclines that you would experience on the open road – thus making it more difficult for you to turn the pedals and giving you a workout. With no resistance, you would just be freewheeling in thin air and it would be a piece of cake!
There are a few different ways that turbo trainers supply resistance to your back wheel, each has their pros and cons and we’ve briefly explained the most common types below:
Magnetic trainers, unsurprisingly, use strong magnetic fields to generate a resistance. Almost all models in this category will offer the user the ability to change the level of resistance via a lever or switch that is mounted to the bikes handlebars.
Fan, or air, trainers generate resistance by spinning blades in the air. Typically the resistance is controlled by the user changing gears on their bike. The main downside to fan trainers is that they can be noisy – so not ideal if you want to do your workout at night and the kids are asleep.
These models use a fluid-filled chamber to generate the resistance. A propeller sits in the fluid and creates the resistance as it spins. As with fan-based models, the level of resistance you are pushing against is controlled by the user changing gears on the bike.
With direct drive systems, you actually remove the rear wheel of your bike and mount the rear wheel dropouts onto the trainer itself. You then fit a gear cassette to the trainer – so you are riding a bike and changing gears as normal, but there is no back wheel! The obvious advantage of this is that you don’t wear out your tyres, but another plus point is that these units are generally super-stable and super-quiet.
How we Chose These Turbo Trainers
We had a few criteria for which turbo trainers would make our shortlist. Firstly, we decided that we would only be looking at turbo trainers here as opposed to also including rollers. We’ll save those for another review at a later date.
Secondly, we decided that we would only select models that were within a moderate price range. You can spend north of one thousand pounds for some of the high-end models such as this Tacx Neo Smart Trainer. And of course, that’s fine if you are looking for bells and whistles or you are a bit more competitive with your cycling. But for the average user, these items are probably a bit too expensive and a bit too ‘much’ – so we decided to exclude these models.