Few experiences are as exhilarating as gliding along the open road or speeding down the toughest trail with the wind whistling through your hair and the sun beating on your back. But bad weather and life commitments mean it doesn't always work out like that.
Thankfully, there is a way of getting close to the thrill of an outdoor ride without leaving your home - the smart turbo trainer.
Combining interactive technology with the latest indoor trainers, these smart-enabled devices can replicate the dynamics of an outdoor ride while providing a visual simulation of your session.
The technology has come a long way and continues to evolve, providing a vast range of options to suit all training needs and budgets. In this guide, we examine some of the best models to help you find the perfect partner for your indoor training requirements.
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 can connect directly with your computer, tablet or smartphone. Using the data from your performance it can replicate information such as pedal power, speed, and cadence onscreen in real time allowing you to cycle through a virtual world.
What sets the devices 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.
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 Direct Drive Smart Trainer below, you may also need an additional cassette. 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.
This is the top of the range in smart turbo trainers, and trusted by professional cyclists and top amateurs around the world.
Not only is it of the highest quality and exceptionally durable, it's also one of the quietest on the market. Its minimal moving parts make it resistant to unwanted vibrations and allow it to be compact, meaning you can store it away conveniently.
It's a direct drive model, meaning you attach your bike frame directly to the unit, compared to the classic 'wheel on' design.
One of its most attractive features is its 'real direct drive' technology that creates realistic inertia, giving you one of the most road-like experiences on the market.
The Tacx Neo Direct Drive also provides access to Tacx software using Bluetooth for simulated courses on your computer, while it is also compatible with a range of other smart trainer platforms such as the popular Zwift package, Kinomap, Virtual Training, BKOOL, and TrainerRoad.
The Kinetic Road Machine Smart Control is a common sight in the garages and back rooms of cyclists everywhere. A trusted workhorse, it's popularity is due to its durability, ease of use, and attractive price.
Its classic 'wheel on' design means your rear wheel is secured to the trainer using the rear skewer, with the tyre rolling against an electromagnetically-controlled flywheel assembly to create varying amounts of resistance.
This mid-range smart turbo trainer comes with a sturdy and foldable frame, and utilises Bluetooth technology to connect to its exclusive Kinetic Fit app for Apple or Android devices. It can also be used with other third-party software such as Zwift.
The Elite Qubo Digital Smart B+ Turbo Trainer is one of the best value smart turbo trainers available. It comes with a wirelessly-controlled electromagnetic resistance unit, offering eight levels of resistance, and can be paired with Android or iOS devices using either Bluetooth or ANT+.
It's also compatible with popular software such as Zwift, TrainerRoad and BKOOL and is fitted with speed, cadence, and power sensors.
Utilising the 'wheel on' design the Elite Qubo Digital Smart B+ Turbo Trainer is easy to set up and disassemble, once you've reached your target mileage or won your online race.
While it may not have the resistance power of some of the more high-spec models, the Elite is an excellent place to start for those investigating what a smart turbo trainer can help them achieve.