Buyer's Guide to Smart Bike Trainers
What is an indoor smart bike trainer?
Indoor smart trainers are slightly more advanced than just a regular bike trainer with electronically controlled resistance—they also offer the ability to connect to a smartphone app to track performance or a virtual riding world software program like Zwift to automatically adjust resistance and give you the feel of being in the peloton. With the popularity of these virtual riding platforms, most new bike trainers are considered “smart” and with that, they are getting more affordable as they become the norm.
There are a few different types of smart trainers on the market today, including ones that are direct-drive or others that are powered by friction. While there are some similarities the different types share, there are also some distinct differences that could matter to your decision on which to buy.
Direct-Drive Smart Trainers
Direct-drive smart trainers are the most common type of bike trainer and the one you’ll most likely find among our selection. They connect directly to your bike’s rear dropouts, replacing your rear wheel, and providing a connection to the resistance unit.
These smart trainers require a cassette to be functional and despite typically being on the higher end of the price range, they are the most accurate and capable of providing the most resistance while training. If you’re an experienced cyclist and want the feel of a competitive race in the confines of your home, a direct-drive smart trainer might be your best option.
Here’s one of our favorite direct-drive smart trainers:
Friction Smart Trainers
Friction smart trainers are also another common type of smart bike trainer and a great option for cyclists dipping their toes into indoor cycling training for the first time or experienced cyclists who want a bike trainer that is light and portable. These smart bike trainers place a roller against the rear wheel and utilize either magnetic or fluid resistance. While they tend to be a tad less accurate and sound-dampening than direct-drive smart trainers, they are also generally more affordable.
Here’s one of our favorite friction smart trainers:
Indoor smart bikes have gained popularity in recent years as training software like Zwift has taken hold in the cycling community. While similar to indoor stationary bikes, smart bikes use comparable technology to other smart trainers in their ability to offer accurate power measurement, automatically-controlled resistance, and a road-like feel to the cycling experience. Many of these smart bikes also offer a custom feel as they offer a range of adjustments including saddle height, handlebar position, and more.
Here’s one of our favorite smart bikes:
Why get a smart trainer?
There are numerous reasons for a beginner or seasoned cyclist to get a smart trainer, chief among them being the ability to train and bike indoors when the weather outside is less than satisfactory. You might also want to get a smart cycling trainer if you feel safer biking indoors, are needing to keep a consistent riding schedule, or just prefer it.
What to look for in a quality smart trainer
There are quite a few features that make a quality smart trainer stand out from the rest. Here are a few that we like to keep in mind when purchasing a smart cycling trainer.
Unless you are looking for a smart bike, you’re going to want to make sure the smart trainer you buy is compatible with your current bike. A few things to keep in mind when it comes to the compatibility of a smart trainer are the axle attachment methods of a friction smart trainer and the free-hub options for a direct-drive trainer. It’s always best to know before you buy, just in case the option you are interested in requires additional add-ons.
You’re not likely to have a crash on a smart trainer but when you are pushing yourself to the limit to beat your PR, you’re going to want to know that the bike trainer is stable enough to support your effort. In general, the wider the trainer’s base, the more stable it will be. However, another option to keep in mind is the ability to level out uneven surfaces.
This might not be a big deal to many cyclists interested in training indoors, but for riders who live with other people they don’t want to disrupt, a quiet smart trainer might be an important feature. For direct-drive and friction smart trainers, you’ll want to think about the noise output from the drivetrain of the bike trainer. For smart bikes, you’ll want to look into whether it features a fan and how loud that fan is.