Turbo Trainer Guide
When the days get shorter and the weather closes in, you can drag yourself down to the busy local gym, bravely face nature wrapped in countless layers or simply drop the bike into the turbo trainer and take a spin in the comfort of your own home. Not just for winter though, a turbo can be a great training tool all year round, and you can use one of the many indoor cycling apps such as Zwift, Sufferfest or TrainerRoad for a more immersive experience.
An indoor training solution
Turbo trainers allow you to ride your bike in any location, while stationary, making them a popular choice for recovery rides, pre-race warm-ups and training alike. Most trainers feature some level of adjustable resistance, helping to simulate “true” cycling when conditions prevent you from venturing outdoors. As such, they provide a perfect solution for those who wish to train aboard their own bike without the hassle and danger associated with riding in poor conditions, the dark or simply within a tight time frame.
As with most areas of cycling, there are a vast number of options available when it comes to turbo trainers, with various features affecting both the price point and its suitability for your individual needs. Before purchasing a trainer you should consider where it will be stored and whether it will be regularly transported, this is due to differences in weight and packability between models.
Smart Turbo Trainers
Smart trainers are one of the most popular choices out there, particularly if you’re looking for a more interactive experience. You get all the complex technical features of other top end options, but with the added ability to connect the trainer up to a computer or phone so you can get more out of each workout. They have the capability to connect with your smartphone via Bluetooth, FE-C or ANT, allowing you access to specific apps, namely Strava and Zwift, among others, that help create the most realistic indoor ride possible while displaying real-time performance data.
Trainers can use magnetic resistance (allowing you to adjust the magnet power from a remote unit on your handlebar), fluid (where power changes based on your pedalling effort) or a direct drive unit (more on the latter below), with higher specification models automatically adjusting to simulate the climbs and descents of your virtual reality route. Value wise, smart trainers sit across the board, with the method of resistance, connectivity and number of features impacting the price. It's worth noting that a smart trainer often isn't the best choice for race warmups as they can be reasonably heavy and some models require plugging into the mains to function.
Direct Drive Trainers
Direct drive trainers replace your bike's rear wheel. While this can sometimes mean purchasing a second cassette, although the Wahoo KICKR is actually supplied with one, it does eradicate the hassle of swapping out specific trainer tyres and skewers. The setup tends to be more stable, allowing you to get out of the saddle and confidently lay down some power. By eliminating the tyre-trainer interface, the direct drive system is the quietest option available, particularly important for those living in apartments as that droning sound can really travel. Another benefit is that power accuracy is improved. These trainers generally sit within the mid to high price point and are generally larger than traditional designs, often suiting those with a space dedicated to their training.
As described above, direct drive trainers are quieter and eliminate the need for a specific turbo tyre. So why would you choose a wheel-on trainer? Firstly, they tend to be more wallet-friendly. Additionally, if you’re looking to use a range of bikes on the turbo, there’s no need to consider cassettes - you just pop the bike in and you’re ready to go. Choose carefully, and you’ll still be able to find some excellent trainers, with solid, stable flywheels, good gradient simulation and high wattage outputs. It’s best to purchase a turbo tyre to reduce noise and prevent wear to your expensive road tyre - some people choose to use a different wheel, which is quicker to switch out than changing a tyre every time.
As the popularity of indoor training grows, technology becomes more and more advanced. Relatively new to the market, a whole host of smart bikes are now offered by a range of brands. Completely eliminating the need to use your own bike indoors, you'll prevent wear to expensive components, and won't have to lug a dirty bike through the house. Essentially, this new equipment makes it as easy as possible to ride, with a design that allows you to replicate your setup and easily change this to suit different members of your household, so there are no excuses not to train.
A smart bike streamlines the training experience and although different units offer different features, all will measure power, provide resistance and connect to your favourite training apps, some even have a tilting mechanism that physically simulates virtual changes in gradient. Obviously much heavier than a turbo trainer, the ride feel is stable and realistic, and operation quiet enough so you won't disturb the neighbours.
Which smart turbo trainer is right for you?
Depending on your needs and budget there’s a huge range of Smart trainers to choose from. Wahoo have four that serve different purposes for different budgets and riders.
Wahoo KICKR SNAP
The KICKR SNAP is Wahoo’s wheel-on option. It may be their entry-level model, but its features mean it’s so much more, and many match those of their direct drive trainers. Extremely convenient in design, and easy to set up, the SNAP has a heavy 4.7kg flywheel so you can still climb and sprint with confidence in the unit's stability. The power numbers are accurate to +/-3% and the SNAP will measure outputs up to 1500 watts - plenty for the majority of riders. When it comes to climbing, the SNAP simulates gradients up to 12%, so you can still train for the mountains, indoors. Add the KICKR CLIMB to your set up for an even more realistic experience.
Wheel-on trainers are slightly louder than direct drive, but the SNAP comes in at a fairly impressive 60 decibels; in layman’s terms that’s about the volume of a normal conversation. No matter your bike, as long as it uses 24 to 29-inch wheels, it’ll be compatible with this trainer, although some will need a thru-axle adapter kit.
Wahoo KICKR CORE
The KICKR CORE is the baby brother of the KICKR, slightly simpler in design but still packed with technology and boasting power measurements of 1800 watts with +/-2% accuracy and gradient simulation of 16%. The flywheel weighs 5.4kg and noise outputs are approximately 50 decibels.
For riders who don’t need the all-singing, all-dancing features of the KICKR, this highly capable unit is ideal. The only extra you’ll need to purchase is a compatible cassette. The trainer is set to 700c wheels as standard but if you use a front wheel block or KICKR CLIMB it will level out any variances.
For riders looking to make their indoor training as effective as possible Wahoo have developed the magnetic, direct drive smart KICKR Turbo Trainer. The latest iteration uses an updated drive belt to provide the smoothest, quietest riding experience possible. Creating realistic feeling accelerations and decelerations when sprinting or tackling gruelling climbs, this trainer truly brings your outdoor riding into the comfort of your home.
Capable of replicating a steep 20% gradient and withstanding up to 2200 watts of power (accurate to +/-2%), this trainer is ideal for any serious cyclist craving challenges far greater than their local loop can offer. Whether you have a road or mountain bike you can train indoors on the KICKR with no need for any extras thanks to 24 to 29-inch wheel compatibility.
Wahoo KICKR Smart Bike Indoor Trainer
When you're after a more complete unit, the Wahoo KICKR Smart Bike Indoor Trainer is just the thing. If it suits your budget, this bike eliminates all the faff; no swapping tyres or taking out wheels, no pairing sensors, and no mud or grease on the carpet. This is cutting-edge technology at its very best. There's plenty to love about the KICKR Bike and it can be adjusted to suit any rider with any setup, thanks to the five-point adjustability system. Controlled by the app, your outdoor bike configuration can be mirrored using bike fit data, body measurements or even a photo of your bike.
Accuracy is as good as it gets, at +/-1%, and the unit is extremely powerful with a realistic ride feel. 2,200-watt readings will satisfy the sprinters, and climbers are catered for by resistance and actual physical gradient changes such as seen in the HEADWIND, up to 20% and down to -15%, so connect to Zwift or your preferred training app and fully immerse yourself in every session. Shifting is virtual and you can choose the ratios and controls you are most familiar with, be that Shimano, SRAM or Campagnolo. Alongside customisable geometry, you can use your own handlebar, saddle and pedals, making you as comfortable as possible for those long, tough indoor training sessions.
Depending on the variety of trainer used, there are various accessories available to enhance your experience. For non-direct drive trainers it's important to use a turbo tyre. Harder wearing, this will prolong the life of your expensive road tyre and greatly reduce noise levels.
If you are running a trainer tyre yet feel the noise is still too intrusive, a turbo trainer floor mat will be a good addition to your setup. The anti-slip, waterproof finish protects surfaces from sweat, energy drinks and grease, while the thick material further reduces noise and helps damp vibrations.
With the recent increase in popularity of disc brake bikes with bolt thru-axles comes another factor to consider, as these will be unlikely to fit into a trainer without a specific bolt thru-axle adapter. Mountain bikes, particularly 29” wheeled variants should also be fine to use in a trainer, but will require a slick tyre.
Specific to Wahoo, the latest three trainers are compatible with the Wahoo KICKR CLIMB, a device that physically adjusts the bike's position relative to gradients on the virtual route. The KICKR HEADWIND is a smart fan that can run and adjust automatically according to fluctuations in heart rate or speed, or manually, so you can take control of your environment.
A turbo trainer can revolutionise the way you train indoors, making it more realistic, more fun, and allow you to make the most of every session.
If you want to take your workout to the next level, Zwift is a fantastic platform to use. Read our guide to making the most of Zwift.