Smart turbo trainers are revolutionising indoor training but if you're completely new to this world of virtual cycling then you're in the right place.
Combining an interactive experience with the classic indoor turbo, these 'smart' devices make winter training fun and sociable - a welcome advance from the isolation of the traditional pain cave.
The technology has come a long way and continues to evolve. There are options to suit all training needs and budgets and, in this guide, we examine some of the best models to help you find the perfect partner.
What is a smart turbo trainer?
Before we begin, let's take a look at exactly what a smart turbo trainer is.
Smart-enabled turbo trainers connect directly with your computer, tablet or smartphone. Using data from your performance, you cycle through a virtual world in real time (depending on which platform you choose) with the programme replicating your real world pedal power, speed, and cadence onscreen.
What sets the experience apart is that onscreen climbs or declines are fed back into the trainer, automatically adjusting the resistance to give you a dynamic experience similar to a real-life ride.
So, as you pedal through the simulated course, you can feel every incline and downhill section.
Now you can perfect hill attacks, sprints, and surges in the virtual great outdoors, or even link up with other users across the internet to compete in online real-time races, all without leaving your home.
What you will need to get started
Once you have a smart turbo trainer, you don't need much to get going.
The first essential is a computer, tablet or a smartphone, but larger displays will help create a more immersive experience. Then just pick your preferred platform and install it. Most require a monthly fee of £10 to £20.
Next, you need your smart trainer and, as with most things, you get what you pay for. The higher-spec the trainer the more connectivity will come installed, with most mid-range trainers featuring a full suite of sensors allowing you to just plug in and play.
To connect with your display, many smart trainers will come Bluetooth enabled, while others use the ANT+ USB adaptor to allow your computer and trainer to interact.
As with all turbo trainers, it's recommended you also have a mount to bring your front wheel to the same height as the rear, and a large mat to keep noise levels at a minimum.
Another tip is to carefully read the specifications for each unit before you buy to ensure your bike is compatible. With direct-drive units, such as the Tacx Neo 2 Direct Drive Smart Trainer below, you may need to check the compatibility of your cassette. For example, the Neo 2 is compatible with 142x12mm and 148x12mm axles, straight out of the box, so you should be good to go.
For more traditional 'wheel on' units, consider getting a training wheel to save your rear tyre from wear.
Now all you need is a room big enough for your bike and a way to keep cool.
Which smart turbo trainer should I choose?
Whether you're looking for the best on the market, or a starter set-up, there's an extensive array of options to suit all needs and budgets. Let's take a look at just a few different smart turbo trainers to help find the right trainer for you.
Trusted by professional cyclists and top amateurs around the world, the Tacx Neo 2 is a technological beast. Tacx claim that this is also the first truly silent trainer - a perfect choice if you don't want to fall out with the rest of the household.
With features such as Road-Feel, Dynamic Inertia and Descent Simulation, the Neo 2 works to make every stationary session as true-to-life as possible.
It also uses an enhanced Pedal Stroke Analysis system to measure your power distribution and leg positioning through sensors on each pedal.
The data compiled from the sensors allows you to see how you can improve or maintain your performance, keeping you in top condition all year long. And it provides a completely immersive online experience when hooked up to Zwift, Rouvy, or others.
Designed to feel as close to outdoor riding as possible, Wahoo's latest KICKR delivers the ultimate indoor training experience. Smart enabled, you can connect to your phone and other third party systems to access online platforms like Zwift, Rouvy, or Trainer Road.
The large flywheel makes this one of the quietest trainers out there and AXIS feet technology to replicate the feeling of momentum when you climb out of the saddle or get into the drops for a sprint.
Optional extras include the KICKR Climb which raises the front of your bike to simulate gradients and the KICKR Headwind to simulate a refreshing gust.
Elite Direto-XR T Direct Drive Smart Trainer delivers an interactive and immersive training experience in a compact and easy-to-use package. With the 12-month subscription to Elite's My E-training App included, you'll be ready to start training from day one.
Elite's proprietary OTS (Optical Torque Sensor) technology gives you a power reading that's independently certified to a class-leading 1.5% accuracy. Plus, you'll be able to replicate inclines of up to 24% and the Direto can even produce over 3,600 Watts of resistance at 60 kph - if you ever want it to.
The Direto-XR T utilises the new generation ANT+™ FE-C and Bluetooth technology for a stable connection to whatever training app you use.
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