At the most basic level, a turbo trainer is just a stand for your bike that provides some form of resistance for you to pedal against. In most cases that amounts to little more than a frame, a clamp, a roller and a resistance unit. But the turbo trainers on test here are not those from the most basic level; a more accurate description of these units’ level would be deluxe.
The five turbos on test here are machines that sync to your smartphones, tablets and computers; that provide all your speed, distance, power and cadence data; that devise tailored training programmes for you to follow; and that can connect you to other riders to compete against on simulated routes. They are, in short, top of the range, full-monty models. They’re turbos with all the bells and whistles and, obviously, the prices to match.
So while they are indulgences that you could at a push make do without, if you’re spending winter upon winter training on a turbo (and, as top Ironman pro Lionel Sanders shows), then you want it to entertain you, to let you crunch a vast array of data and assess your bike improvements
At ‘just’ 500 quid, the Bkool Smart Pro 2 is something of a bargain compared to the other turbos here. It relies on a magnetic resistance unit controlled remotely by Zwift, or BKool’s own free-to-download Simulator software, allowing you to turn your sessions into a videogame. There’s also a Premium version of BKool’s Simulator software, with greater functionality, for £7.99 a month. It’s built around a ‘classic’ design that presses your rear wheel against a roller, rather than a direct drive system, and although it’s got a wide footprint it’s not the most stable ride. The problem is the swing arm that holds your bike has nothing to brace against, so it can bob about when you start to work hard. It’s not the smoothest ride, as the roller is knurled, which causes a rough sensation as you pedal and makes the noise levels seem louder than they are (around 70db). bkool.com
Verdict: Reasonable price, reasonable range of functions, pretty poor ride 75%
Buy from www.wiggle.co.uk
In the context of this test, there are two ways of looking at the Minoura Kagura LST9200: tolerably basic or refreshingly simple. Either way, it’s the low-tech option – you can even run it without having it plugged into the mains. Resistance is provided by a magnetic unit with three settings, which equate to 100W, 200W or 300W at 40km/h – easily enough for a hard workout. Switching between them, however, is where the basic nature of this turbo comes to light – you have to do it manually using a slider on the back of the unit. It’s comparatively quiet, you’ll struggle to get the noise level above 70db, but it’s not the most stable; there’s noticeable wobbling even when the ‘gravity’ stand is locked down. There’s no dedicated Minoura app but, if you want to plug the Kagura in, you can run it with Zwift or get your data transmitted to Ant+ bike computers. zyrofisher.co.uk
Verdict A decent, fairly quiet and ‘simple’ turbo but not the most stable 65%
Buy from www.evanscycles.com
If you’re tempted by Tacx’s Neo Smart but can’t stretch to the £1,200 asking price, its ‘little brother’, the Flux Smart, is an appealing and more affordable alternative. It may lack a few of the flourishes of the Neo Smart but the functionality is fundamentally the same and it offers the same rock solid platform and near silent (by turbo standards) ride. Even hard efforts are barely enough to tip the noise level above 65db, the rest of the time it rarely registers 60db. It runs on Tacx’s own app but is compatible with a range of alternatives, including the Zwift, Sufferfest and BKool apps. But if you can live without the variable resistance, you can happily run it without plugging it in as the flywheel is heavy enough to make pedalling a challenge. The fly in the ointment is the need to supply your own cassette and the tools to fit it. zyrofisher.co.uk
Verdict A classy, practical and well-priced unit, even without a cassette, 80%
Buy from www.tredz.co.uk
The Kickr earns about as many ticks in the various test categories as it does crosses. But when it comes to noise level, it gets both a tick and a cross. It gets a tick because as long as you’re pedalling it hums away at a reasonable 60db, putting it on a par with the other trainers here. But stop pedalling for any reason and the freewheel mechanism combines with the spinning flywheel to create a racket – with enough speed you can easily top 80db. That’s a niggle that’s easily overlooked when you consider the ticks the Kickr earns for its stability category, responsive resistance unit and the fact that it comes with a cassette. The other crosses against it are its price and it being unable to provide any practical resistance without being plugged in and synced to either Wahoo’s app or one of its compatible companions (Zwift, Sufferfest and so on).
Verdict: Decent enough but sadly as many bad points as good, including the price, 73%
Buy from www.chainreactioncycles.com
All of the turbos here are expensive but the Technogym takes it to another level. The justification boils down to the personalised training programme the app can produce for you, based on the results of fitness tests carried out on you. There’s also the ability to analyse your pedal stroke and highlight any imbalances between your left and right legs. Other than those two things, there’s nothing that really separates it from other cheaper turbos. So the question becomes would you rather buy this or something less expensive and spend the money you save on a real coach? Buy this and you get a stable, direct-drive unit that spins smoothly, is controlled with what might be the nicest smartphone app and whirrs away between 60-75db. Buy a cheaper alternative, however, and you won’t be missing out on anything especially remarkable. technogym.com
Verdict: big name, big claims, big price but no big benefits over its rivals, 78%
Buy from www.technogym.com
The overall verdict
When it comes to turbo trainers, take any manufacturer’s claims of being able to accurately reproduce the sensation of riding on the road with a generous pinch of salt. The five smart turbo trainers on test here may be able to provide you with similar levels of resistance, but they never feel anything like riding on the road. But ‘road feel’ is not why you buy a turbo; you buy one so you can train when it’s too horrible or dark to go out, and so you can control your effort during a session without having to worry about traffic or topography.
The other thing to bear in mind is that turbo training is boring. Any distractions you can find to make the time pass quicker are welcome, which is why these smart trainers include so many in the form of data tracking, routes and simulations. So which of the smart trainers featured here is worth parting with your cash for?
You can largely ignore the Minoura and the Technogym turbos. The latter is unjustifiably expensive and the former, although its simplicity has some appeal, is outclassed by the BKool unit, which also happens to be cheaper. The trouble with the BKool unit, however, is its rough and noisy ride. The Kickr’s okay but has some niggles that would make you regret paying the asking price. Which leaves the classy and cheaper Tacx Flux Smart as the clear overall winner.