Poor light, bad traffic, limited time. All can sap the enjoyment and benefit from junk miles. The result - it’s sometimes better to make the most of the time you have and stay indoors.
One of cycling's many weird contradictions, a degree of indoor training is a mainstay of most racers’ schedules. Safely cloistered away, this is because riding above a static turbo trainer allows users to wring the maximum benefit from their time. An hour on the turbo equates to an hour of quality exercise; with no punctures, traffic lights, or maintenance issues eating into your results. Certain drills, like high-intensity efforts or maximum cadence spin-outs, are also much easier to achieve when the responsibility for staying upright and on an even course is removed.
Formerly an ascetic pursuit, the boom in indoor training has been driven by devices that make the experience both more realistic and more sociable. The best smart turbo trainers can capture data and adjust their resistance automatically. Allowing users to follow precisely structured routines while measuring their progress, it’s now also possible to access virtual cycling platforms like Zwift. Using your power output to match up riders around the world, it’s a bit like playing a computer game, except rather than waste hours vegging-out on the sofa mashing a control pad, you mash the pedals and get fitter.
The other criteria worth weighing up is the format of trainer. Most popular are conventional on-wheel trainers, direct-drive (where the bike is mounted by the cassette) and full indoor bike setups. On our part, we believe in the added resistance, ease of use and lesser tyre wear of a direct-drive over on-wheel. As for fully indoor bikes, we'll cross that bridge a little later on.
Of course, to avoid becoming a freakishly fit yet exceptionally pallid cyclist, we recommend regular sorties out into the real world. However, when you want to get the maximum benefit from your training, or just don’t have the time to make it outside, you could do worse than spend some time plugged into one of these smart turbo trainers.
Tacx Neo 2T smart turbo trainer
Shop Tacx, £1,199
The blade-like Tacx Neo 2 Smart turbo trainer crams an incredible amount of tech into an eminently stashable package. Along with recreating slopes of up to 25% and providing resistance that tops-out at 2,200 watts, its dynamic inertia motor has a second clever party trick - it can provide the initially disconcerting sensation your bike has slipped its moorings and, rather than sitting on the floor, is instead chattering over some Flandrian cobbles or Kansonian gravel.
Matching this haptic feedback to terrain displayed on Zwift or through Tacx’s own training software, the effect is truly weird. The key specs are almost equally magical. Measuring your power output to within a class-leading 1% accuracy, unlike many turbos, it doesn’t require frequent calibration to manage this.
At the same time, it’ll also spit out data on the efficiency of your pedal stroke in the form of an elliptical graph. With isokinetic and isotonic modes, these allow riders to choose to train to a fixed speed or power level. Left unplugged, it’ll simulate a flat road with progressive resistance meaning it’s also ideal for warming up before real-life races too.
Elite Suito smart turbo trainer
Shop Elite, £649
Ready to rock out of the box, this keenly-priced smart turbo arrives with a Shimano 11-speed cassette pre-fitted. About five minutes away from logging you into Zwift, its easy set-up and compact stowability ensure it doesn’t make undue demands on either your time or floorspace. While we won’t bother listing its every accomplishment, in terms of connectivity and performance, the Suito does everything you’d expect of a modern smart turbo trainer. It’s quiet, it’s reactive, it’s direct-mount, and it measures all your key metrics, including cadence - which is clever considering it doesn’t require any additional sensors to do so.
With a built-in carry handle, it near-instantly folds down to the size of a stack of two large pizza boxes, meaning it’s less obtrusive and easier to manoeuvre than many of its rivals. So what do you miss out on? Accuracy is suggested to be around 2.5%. Class-leading turbos now manage to get within 1%. However, I would politely suggest neither you nor me are likely to notice the difference. (There are also Zwift-enthusiasts who would pay good money for a +2% boost...)
At 1,900 watts, the maximum level of resistance also gives away a little versus more expensive models. But again, unless your thighs are already so large you have to buy your trousers from a special shop, this won’t be a problem. Spend more if you demand class-leading accuracy and leg-breaking resistance. Alternatively, get the Elite Suito, save a couple of hundred quid and take yourself somewhere nice with the leftover dosh.
MagneticDays Jarvis Smart Turbo Trainer
Shop MagneticDays, £1,800 (in stock)
If your experience of the road outside normally comes mediated via bespoke Italian engineering, it’s a wrench to do without the same level of service when riding indoors.
The splendidly named MagneticDays Jarvis is the connoisseur's choice for indoor training. Meticulously designed and manufactured in Tuscany, it uses steel, aluminium, and carbon fibre in a design whose key elements are easily beautiful enough to be left on show. At its heart is a dual flywheel design which provides a significant slab of smooth and natural feeling resistance to push against. Belt driven, this ensures that just as its superior aesthetics are unlikely to upset the unity of your living room, so its incredibly silent operation won’t trouble you or your neighbours either.
Capable of powering itself solely through the efforts of its user, its smart feature set is every bit as highly polished as the mechanical elements and includes built-in wireless connectivity via Wi-Fi, Bluetooth low energy or ANT+. Allowing you to jump straight into Zwift via a smartphone or tablet, purchase of the Magnetic Days Jarvis also includes the creation of a suite of bespoke training plans created using your harvested data. With ongoing support, these can be adapted as your progress improves.
Unlike almost all its rivals, the Jarvis is also able to measure your heart rate, giving you both power and bpm. Created with Rouleur, this special edition features subtle detailing that’ll be recognisable to fans of the finest cycling publication in the world.
Tacx Neo Bike Smart Indoor Trainer
Shop Tacx, £2,299
There was a time, not very long ago, that turbo trainers were for cyclists, and static bikes were for gym-goers. Alas, no more. Tacx’s Neo Bike may seem like an elaborate solution, but for Zwift obsessives the Neo provides no-fuss use alongside highly technical and interactive performance.
The Neo uses Retul style fit adjustment, meaning that multiple users can jump on and get set to their perfect fit dimensions quickly (cycling couples out there will understand the struggle), and imitates realistic gear changes for Shimano, Sram and Campagnolo groupsets. That's alongside all the bells and whistles of the Tacx Neo 2 smart trainer listed above.
The stability is strides ahead of standalone turbo units and it can even tilt up and down to simulate ascents and descents from +20% to -15%. With 2,200 watts of resistance and a maximum torque of 85Nm, the Neo could also put André Greipel in a spot of bother.
It’s a sizable chunk of space, and money, but it offers a rare holistic solution to high-end indoor training.
Wahoo Kickr Smart turbo trainerShop Wahoo, £999
The Wahoo Kickr majors on class-leading specs while remaining fabulously user-friendly in set-up and operation. The brand’s top-end smart turbo, the Kickr Smart V5 can produce 2,200 watts of resistance via a 7.25 kg flywheel, enough to stall even the most tyrannical of sprinters. Measuring whatever you manage to crank out to within 1%, it also provides a level of accuracy previously reserved for riders with lab access.
Along with both its mechanical and electronic functions, this latest V5 model manages some pleasingly low-tech cunning too. Recently updated with snazzy Axis compression feet, these little bumpers sit under the turbo and allow a naturalistic 5-degrees of side to side movement when pedalling.
Considering the amount you cough up, unlike the practices of some other brands, it’s also nice to see an 11-speed cassette arrive pre-fitted. Besides the turbo itself, Wahoo will also flog you a host of extras. First, the smart Headwind fan which can automatically adjust its output according to your speed or heart rate. And secondly, the Climb axle-stand which will simulate gradients by transforming your bike into a very sedate version of a fairground bucking bronco. Both might well be filed under the heading of ‘slightly silly’. Still, both make it onto our pain cave wishlist.
Stages Smart Bike
Shop Stages, £2,700
What is that thing and why should I let it in my house? Not a turbo trainer, this smart bike from noted power meter makers Stages makes a good case for annexing a chunk of your living space. The key benefit of this type of machine is the ability to hop aboard without any delay. With no set-up time and no wear to your road-going bicycle, it’s also incredibly quiet and low maintenance.
Readily adjustable to replicate everything from your saddle position to your crank length, its contact points can even be swapped out to exactly match your real-world set-up. With electronic buttons in the shifters, these can be used to change gears, or control in-platform features when using Zwift or other training programmes.
At the same time, its virtual gearing can even be matched to your ratios, transferring the feel of your racing bike into virtual reality. Incredibly solid, at the heart of the Stages Smart Bike is a 26kg flywheel which twinned with its electronic resistance can generate up to 3,000 watts at 120pm - enough to crumple Robert Forstemann. Unsurprisingly for a company known for its measuring devices, the included Stages G3 Dual Sided LR Power Meter provides accuracy to within 1.5%, while the front of the machine contains a natty holder that’ll keep a firm grip on your tablet regardless of how much you thrash about.