When weather or timing just don’t allow for an outdoor training session, bike trainers give you the inside option. Here are the best bike trainers of the year.
As much fun as it is to get outside for a ride, sometimes that’s just not feasible. Especially during the winter months, a good indoor trainer is necessary for serious cyclists to maintain their fitness. In addition, a good portable bike trainer is a great way to get in an on-site warmup on race day.
These days, bike trainers are more connected than ever. With Bluetooth connectivity and ANT+, you can connect your trainer to smartphones, computers, and GPS devices. This lets you measure your heart rate and power output, program resistance, and even simulate rides down to the terrain style, incline, and (in some cases) wind resistance.
We searched out the best bike trainers in a variety of styles and features and found you the best bike trainers of 2021. Feel free to scroll through to see all of our recommended buys, or jump to the category you’re looking for:
The Best Bike Trainers of 2021
Best Overall: Tacx NEO 2T Smart Trainer
The NEO 2T Smart Trainer ($1,400) from Tacx claims the top spot on this list with its silent functionality and vibration-free ride. The redesigned magnets reduce internal air displacement, cutting noise and keeping a more accurate feel to simulate climbs and acceleration.
It mounts on your bike’s rear axle and is designed for use with a variety of bikes. Only 135×10 and 135×12 bikes need adapters.
The NEO 2T is compatible with cycling software like TrainerRoad and Sufferfest. It allows the app to control the trainer, allowing it to mimic the terrain presented on the app. You can participate in online races or simulate rides half a world away.
A great feature adds vibration to accurately simulate riding over gravel or cobblestones, so you can train indoors on the same surfaces that you train on outside. It also compensates for weight, speed, and incline to give you the most realistic ride possible.
The Ant+ cycling dynamics measures the exact position of your legs during your ride. With this feature, you can analyze your pedal stroke via third-party software like a Garmin Edge bike computer.
It’s also the only trainer that doesn’t require calibration, as its sensors are able to accurately measure your power output within 1%.
When you’re not using it, it folds away for easy storage or transport. It could use some handles, as carrying it feels a bit awkward.
- Type: Direct drive
- Weight: 47 lbs.
- Pros: Smooth ride, minimal noise, terrain simulation
- Cons: Price, spotty Bluetooth
Best Wheel-On Trainer: Wahoo Fitness KICKR SNAP
Wahoo Fitness’s KICKR SNAP trainer ($500) is a convenient, easy-to-set-up smart bike trainer that provides a realistic ride via an app or computer software. The convenient wheel-on design makes it easy to add a mountain or road bike and get your workout started without fuss. For hill climbs, the trainer adjusts to simulate inclines of up to 12%.
Once you’re in it, the high-strength carbon steel and wide stance keep your bike secure and stable while you train. The trainer works with flat-mount and disc brakes, as well as with quick-release axles.
The SNAP’s app works on smartphones, tablets, or computers to control the resistance via Bluetooth. The ANT+ lets you connect the trainer to GPS devices independently of the Bluetooth function.
This makes it possible to connect to smartphones and GPS devices simultaneously. LED indicator lights provide a visual indication that the SNAP is powered up, connected, and transmitting via Bluetooth and ANT+.
The broad compatibility means that the KICKR SNAP works with a wide range of training software, and it works with aftermarket power meters. It also works with the Zwift online platform, so you can track your workouts and train and compete in a virtual environment.
- Bonus: The KICKR SNAP is compatible with the KICKR HEADWIND for climate control. As you speed up or your heart rate increases, the fan speed does as well.
- Type: Wheel-on
- Weight: 38 lbs.
- Pros: Easy to install, compatible with a wide range of apps, LED indicators.
- Cons: Requires external power outlet.
Best Roller: Saris Aluminum Rollers
The simplest form of bike trainer is the roller. Basically a treadmill for your bike, a roller trainer consists of rolling tubes that your bike rides freely on top of.
This trains not only your fitness and endurance but also your balance and bike control, as you have to work to keep the bike on the rollers. The Saris Aluminum Rollers trainer ($300) is our favorite of this type for its combination of simplicity and sturdy design.
The durable steel frame sports a 16-inch wheelbase that provides plenty of room for any bike size. Plus, it gives the rider a decent amount of room on which to move around.
Designed for indoor or outdoor use, the rubber foot pads make sure that the rollers are the only things that move. The precision-lathed aluminum rollers won’t warp when exposed to heat or direct sunlight. This makes it ideal for warming up right before a big race.
Also, because it doesn’t need any power to run (besides your own), the lack of a battery makes it extremely light and portable at under 20 pounds.
- Type: Roller
- Weight: 19 lbs.
- Pros: Price, portability, balance, and bike control training
- Cons: No adjustable resistance, no sensor connectivity
Best Bargain: Alpcour Bike Trainer Stand
The best option for riders on a budget, Alpcour’s Bike Trainer Stand ($220) provides a solid number of features in a surprisingly inexpensive package. The mag accommodates mountain and road bikes, while the magnetic flywheel provides six levels of resistance to simulate hills and intervals.
We like the handlebar-mounted cable controller, which lets you adjust the settings on the fly, so you can adjust your intervals and hills as needed.
The mag wheel has built-in noise reduction to minimize whir, while the reduced friction increases the life of your bike. The wide base and low stance provide a low center of gravity for better balance. The heavy-duty stainless-steel frame is mounted on anti-slip rubber pads to keep you in place while cranking up a simulated hill.
The mounting is fast and simple. Your bike clicks in via a quick-release lever, so the second the weather clears up, you can dismount your bike and hit the road.
It’s designed mostly for indoor use, but its portability makes it a good choice for race-day warmups. The trainer folds and can be stored and transported in the included bag, making it easier to haul around than most wheel-on trainers.
- Type: Wheel-on
- Weight: 20.2 lbs.
- Pros: Price, portability, handlebar-mounted resistance control
- Cons: No app connectivity, louder than others on this list
Best of the Rest
The quietest trainer that Saris makes, the H3 Direct-Drive Smart Trainer ($1,000) puts out 59 decibels at 25 mph. That’s less than the sounds of a normal conversation. This makes it a great choice for early morning workouts while your partner is asleep or in apartment buildings with finicky neighbors.
While the trainer is quiet, the features make a statement. The trainer can simulate up to a 20% climbing grade, which means your heavy breathing will likely drown out the trainer’s noise.
For gnarly workouts like intervals and hill work, the internal cooling system keeps the electromagnetic resistance system working and your measurements accurate to 2%. The Bluetooth and ANT+ capability make it compatible with indoor riding apps, letting you simulate well-known routes and track your training — even participate in virtual races.
You don’t need any external sensors with the H3, as the trainer measures your speed, cadence, and power while you ride.
- Bonus: The H3 is built with arms that fold in and an integrated handle. This makes it easy to transport and store if you don’t plan on leaving it out.
- Type: Direct drive
- Weight: 47 lbs.
- Pros: Low noise output, internal sensors, huge climb grade capability
- Cons: Cassette sold separately
While easier to mount and generally less expensive than direct-drive trainers, wheel-on trainers tend to make more noise. The CycleOps Fluid2 trainer ($300) is an exception to the rule.
With decibels in the mid-60s at speeds of 20 mph, this wheel-on trainer is barely louder than your average conversation. Its large, individually balanced flywheel gives a road-like feel and smooth resistance. And the patented fan design keeps the unit cool and lengthens its lifespan.
It fits common road and mountain bikes from 26- to 29-inch wheel sizes and up to a 2.0 tire. The quick-release level makes it easy to mount and unmount your bike quickly when the weather clears up.
The tension is adjustable via the clutch knob. However, there’s no way to adjust it midride, so pick your poison and go to work. We love that it’s compatible with indoor cycling apps, so you can track your stats with a speed sensor.
- Note: A trainer tire isn’t necessary, but highly recommended.
- Type: Wheel-on
- Weight: 21 lbs.
- Pros: Quiet for a wheel-on trainer, adjustable feet
- Cons: Disc brake adapters and a wheel block to level the bike are sold separately.
If you don’t want to wonder whether your bike will fit a wheel-on trainer, the Rock and Roll Smart 2 from Kinetic ($400) is the one to go with. This cycling trainer is nearly universal thanks to its quick-release system, adjustable hub, and a host of add-on adapters if needed. It will fit 22- to 29-inch wheels, bikes with thru-axles, and internally geared hubs. It even has an adapter for small wheels.
The frame is engineered to provide a road-like feel, and the precision-calibrated fluid resistance unit adds to that feel. That frame also comes with an unconditional lifetime warranty, which means it’s built to be tough because they don’t plan on having to replace those bad boys.
The beefcake is no dummy, though. The preinstalled inRide 3 power sensor uses ANT+, ANT+ FE-C, and Bluetooth FTMS to connect to smartphones, tablets, and laptops. So, you can send your data to your apps without any added sensors needed.
- Bonus: The unconditional lifetime warranty means you can beat this trainer up all you want. Just be kind to the sensor, since it only has a one-year warranty.
- Type: Wheel-on
- Weight: 47 lbs.
- Pros: Tough frame, no added sensors needed
- Cons: Getting the inRide sensor to initially connect to your devices can take some tweaking.
One of the best direct-drive trainers for the price, Tacx’s Flux S Direct-Drive Smart Trainer ($750) can hit inclines up to 10%, which is enough to train for the Alpe d’Huez (it only hits 11% for a kilometer). It’ll provide up to 1,500 W of resistance, which is plenty for top-tier cyclists.
The Flux S also sports all the features of a smart trainer. It can connect to a wide range of apps via its ANT+ and Bluetooth capability. It works with apps like Zwift, TrainerRoad, Sufferfest, and Strava, as well as its in-house software to give you workouts, simulate routes, and allow you to virtually race your friends.
Even without the connected features and software, the Flux S is plenty smart. The trainer follows a progressive power curve, increasing resistance as you ride faster, replicating the feel of riding on a flat road.
The Flux S works with roadies, tri-bikes, and mountain bikes, and it’ll fit 130mm rear forks on race bikes and 135mm rear forks on mountains. If your bike has a different width, adapters are available.
- Type: Direct drive
- Weight: 47 lbs.
- Pros: Smart drive works without added software, tons of add-on accessories
- Cons: Arms don’t fold, so storage can be a pain.
It can be difficult for beginners or cyclists on a budget to find a decent bike trainer for under $200. But the Sportneer Bike Trainer Stand packs a solid number of features and a surprisingly quiet ride for only $150.
The smooth-spinning wheel is designed to be used with your regular tires. Sportneer’s specialized noise-reduction wheel reduces friction, which can wear your tire down over time. Plus, the trainer’s quiet whirring will be a huge benefit for any potential roommates, significant others, or cantankerous neighbors.
Setup is simple — once you swap out your rear wheel locking pin for Sportneer’s, the big red level handle locks your bike in and you’re good to go. It also comes in handy when the weather clears up or you just want to get outside. Just pull up the lever, and your bike disengages.
A cable with six resistance settings runs from the hub and attaches to your handlebars, letting you switch between settings on the fly. The stand is set wide, and the feet are adjustable to minimize shaking and increase stability.
- Type: Wheel-on
- Weight: Not listed
- Pros: Noticeably quiet, especially for a lower-cost trainer, wheel block included
- Cons: Only fits bikes with 26- to 28-inch wheels.
If you want a trainer that will put you through the wringer, the Suito Interactive Trainer from Elite ($800) will happily do so. With a 1,900W power output and the ability to simulate slopes up to 15%, you’ll be able to prep for whatever mountain rides are in your future. This direct-drive trainer sports a preinstalled Shimano 105 11-speed cassette and sports a quick plug-and-play setup, meaning you’ll be on it and riding in no time.
The steel frame and wide support base provide stability and durability, while the streamlined design allows it to work with a wide range of bicycle models.
On the tech side, ANT+ FE-C and Bluetooth capability let it interact with any app or device via iOS, Android, macOS, and Windows. As a bonus, Elite has partnered with Zwift to provide buyers with a free 1-month subscription to Zwift and a free 12-month subscription to My E-Training.
The Suito has built-in sensors that measure power, speed, and cadence, so you don’t have to apply any sensors to your bike as well.
- Type: Direct drive
- Weight: 1 lb.
- Pros: Folding arms and built-in handle make for easy storage and transport.
- Cons: Fits on bikes with 26- to 28-inch wheels.
Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose a Bike Trainer
Types of Resistance
There are three main types of trainers: roller trainers, wheel-on trainers, and direct-drive trainers.
Roller trainers are the OGs of the trainer world. Basically a set of three rollers within a frame, your bike sits right on top with nothing to connect it.
As you ride, the two back rollers that contact your rear wheel spin. They attach to the front roller that sits under your front tire so that it spins along with your back tire. This not only gives you a solid workout, but it also forces you to work on your balance and bike control while you train.
It takes some practice to get used to — we recommend setting it up next to a wall, so you can brace your hand against it while you get used to the balance. It’s the simplest, least expensive, and most portable option, and it’s a great way to get a better feel for your bike. However, it’s not recommended for people who want to just put their heads down and grind.
Wheel-on trainers are trainers on which you mount your bike via the rear wheel pin. The rear tire meets the roller hub, which provides resistance.
Wheel-on trainers are more stable than rollers. They also provide a varying amount of resistance, so you can adjust your difficulty to suit your training style. These come in A-style frames, and most models can be folded for easy transport and storage.
Direct-drive trainers are the most stable kind of trainer. The bike’s rear wheel is removed and the bike connects to a rear-wheel cassette that is attached directly to the trainer (hence the name direct drive). They offer a more realistic ride than wheel-on and roller trainers.
Many direct-drive trainers are smart and have built-in power meters, can mimic inclines, and can connect with devices and apps. In some cases, they even mimic different types of roads like gravel and cobblestone roads. These are often the most expensive trainers, but the benefits outweigh the cost for those who can afford them.
Bluetooth & Training Apps
Many trainers — particularly direct-drive trainers — sport Bluetooth and ANT+ capability to work out with apps like Zwift, Sufferfest, and Strava. These apps will do everything from tracking your ride stats like power output, distance, and cadence, to allowing you to participate in virtual group rides and races.
They can even let you ride real routes around the world from your garage, mimicking the distance, inclines and, in some cases, even the texture of the road. Many apps also will put your virtual ride on screen, letting you see the views that you’d be seeing if you were out on your ride. Which is much better than staring at the tile floor in your kitchen for hours on end.
Realistic Road Feel
Road feel tends to increase as you go up the price ladder. Rollers are the most basic, providing little resistance as you ride. A few models will add some resistance as you sprint, but the power will be limited. The realism on rollers comes from you having to balance and control your bike to keep it on the rollers while you ride.
Wheel-on trainers offer more resistance to provide more resistance, letting you mimic sprints and, to an extent, inclines. While the balance that you get from rollers isn’t there, the added power for resistance is a huge plus for cyclists looking to increase their fitness.
Direct-drive trainers go the distance when it comes to simulating the feel of riding on a road. Smart trainers will connect with apps to put you on predetermined routes, allowing the trainer to automatically adjust the resistance and incline to mimic sprints and hills.
Some companies, like Tacx, go the extra mile by adding Road Feel, which automatically recreates the feel of riding on different roads during your ride. Depending on where your training app takes you, Tacx’s trainers can simulate concrete plates, cobblestones, brick, dirt, gravel, and even ice.
The best trainer in the world is useless if your bike won’t fit. Roller trainers are the most versatile, as they only have to consider the distance between the front and back tires.
Wheel-on and direct-drive trainers are more limited in their compatibilities, so make sure that your bike will fit within a trainer’s parameters if you’re thinking about buying it. And if it doesn’t fit and you really like that trainer, check the company’s website to see if there are any adapters available that will make it compatible.
One of the biggest issues that people have with bike trainers is the noise they generate, especially if you live with someone or work out in a space that shares walls with neighbors. By far the loudest are wheel-on trainers that use fans to provide wind resistance.
Those fans can create a racket that you need to shout over to be heard. You’ll find these in gyms more often than in homes for this reason.
Fluid and magnetic wheel-on trainers can cause a ruckus as well, but the better ones incorporate sound-dampers to lower the noise. Some of the better ones will put out decibels in the mid-50s at 20 mph, which is roughly the sound of indoor conversation.
Rollers are generally quieter than wheel-on, but you still have the tires moving on the rollers, which can get loud.
The least noisy are direct-drive motors. They’re more built-up, with bigger, enclosed consoles that usually sport sound-damping methods to ensure that the machine itself won’t make any noise. More importantly, there’s no sound from the wheels moving against rollers, as the bike’s drivetrain is attached directly to the trainer itself.
If you don’t want to spend the money on a direct-drive trainer, you can get a trainer tire to use when you ride indoors. Trainer tires are designed specifically for use with a roller, built with softer compounds than standard road tires, so they grip the roller better.
The smoother tread also minimizes the noise coming from the tire when you train. Trainer tires work for outdoor road riding, but the road wear will eventually cut the tire’s lifespan short.
If you tend to alternate between indoor and outdoor riding, having a separate wheel with a trainer tire on it will make it a lot easier to switch between indoor and outdoor training.
Weight & Storage Size
Storage and portability of your trainer is a huge consideration if you don’t have a dedicated space for your trainer. Many companies don’t specifically list their trainer’s weights, but most wheel-on and direct-drive trainers tip the scales at roughly 50 pounds.
Roller trainers are by far the easiest to transport. Basically a frame with three aluminum rollers in it, they tend to weigh around 20 pounds and are easy to carry around. This makes it especially handy if you want to take it with you for a quick on-site warmup on race day.
When looking at a wheel-on trainer, look for one with a collapsible frame. This minimizes the space it’ll take up in a closet or your garage. The same goes for direct-drive trainers. Our favorites have stability arms that will fold into the body, as well as a carrying handle so you can pack it into your office when you’re done with it.
Ease of Setup
When it comes to setup, the more complicated your trainer, the more setting up is involved. Rollers are by far the easiest since it’s basically a treadmill for your bike. Just put your bike on the rollers, hop on the bike, and get pedaling.
The most complicated part of using a roller is getting the timing and balance right. This may take a few attempts, but most cyclists catch on quickly after the first few times.
Wheel-on rollers take a bit more work, but you can still set your bike up in a few minutes. Simply adjust the clamps to fit your bike’s rear hub and lock it in. Then adjust the roller so that it meets the rear wheel. After that, you’re ready to (not) roll.
Direct-drive systems take a little more work. This is because you have to remove the rear wheel and attach the bike to the trainer’s cassette. This takes a bit of familiarity with bike mechanics. Also, smart trainers require an initial setup to connect with apps and devices on their first use.
Traditionally, the fewer moving parts that a machine has, the fewer things can go wrong. The same holds true with trainers.
Thanks to their simple design and construction, they can last for years without any issue. Just make sure you don’t accidentally drive over it when pulling into your garage.
With wheel-on trainers, heat buildup can be an issue. Many units have cooling features that minimize failure due to heat buildup over time.
The sturdy aluminum frames are practically bombproof. Some companies are so confident in their frames that they’ll offer unconditional lifetime warranties.
Direct-drive trainers are the most complex, which means more things can go wrong. The build quality is generally the same as with wheel-on trainers. The issues that pop up with these tend to be in a machine’s smart features. A smart sensor going out or Bluetooth not connecting are common complaints.
Most trainers are built to last, so it’s hard to go wrong when choosing a type. Try to buy one from a reputable, well-known company.
Many trainers have a good warranty and/or replacement policy, so look online to see what’s covered. Also, be sure to check out any online bike trainer reviews for durability issues.
Bike Rollers vs. Trainers: Which Is Best?
The question of rollers versus wheel-on or direct-drive trainers depends on how you specifically want to train. How much you are willing to spend is also a factor.
Roller trainers are great for their simplicity and mobility. They’re great for riders who ride indoors and outdoors in equal measures because there’s no installation required. They tend to last a long time, they’re inexpensive, and they are easy to store and transport.
The simplicity comes at a cost, however. Rollers do not have the power or incline capabilities of their more complicated counterparts. They also don’t have the ability to connect with your electronic devices or track your stats.
On the other end of the spectrum are direct-drive trainers. They are on the top end of the price spectrum, and they’re often double the weight of roller trainers. They also take a bit of mechanical know-how to apply your bike.
On the other hand, they offer just about everything you’d need to optimize your training. The power output for resistance is spectacular, and they can simulate inclines (we’ve seen some that go to 15%).
Smart ones work with apps to allow you to participate in virtual races. You can also access training, track your workout statistics, and even replicate roads down to the texture. This is a huge bonus for cyclists who want to mimic riding outside.
Wheel-on trainers are in the middle range in price and features. They are heavier and generally louder than rollers, but not as expensive or complicated as direct-drive trainers. Wheel-on trainers tend to hit the sweet spot between price and utility for most cyclists.
The mounting system is usually quick-locking, so you can take your bike out with minimal fuss. The rollers can generate more resistance than rollers, and there are smart options if you want to connect your devices.
Are Trainers Bad for Your Bike?
In a word, no. Roller trainers are basically bike treadmills, so the only risk to your bike is you falling off the trainer. Wheel-on and direct-drive trainers put different forces on your frame than riding on the road or trail. This has caused concern about its effect on bike frames.
In fact, Specialized used to specifically say that its carbon bikes were not designed for use with a trainer. The company has changed its stance since then, citing new testing protocols. The most severe issue we’ve seen is wear on our rear tire after a winter of riding inside.
Which Is Better — a Fluid or Magnetic Bike Trainer?
Magnetic and fluid bike trainers can look the same as the bike trainer stand looks the same. Once you get them up to speed, the difference is apparent.
Magnetic bike trainers use a magnetic flywheel to provide resistance. The flywheel has a set of magnets that create resistance as they’re engaged. This lets you choose the amount of resistance by rotating a dial on the wheelfly hub. Some options let you do this via a cable that mounts on your bike’s handlebar.
Fluid trainers have an inner chamber that is filled with fluid that thickens as the flywheel picks up speed. This provides a smoother power increase as you ride and is a closer simulation to road riding. Fluid trainers are generally quieter than magnetic trainers as well.
Fluid trainers tend to cost more than magnetic bike trainers for the reasons listed above. When choosing a wheel-on trainer, weigh the options between your priorities and the cost.
If closer simulation of road riding is your priority, the price could be worth it. If you want to put in miles or ride in your garage, the cheaper option might be ideal.
Can You Use a Bike Trainer on Carpet?
You can use a bicycle trainer on carpet, but there are a few things to consider. A carpet and the padding underneath can stabilize your bike better than tile or concrete, as the trainer’s feet can sink into the material.
Therein lies the main problem to consider when riding on carpet — the combination of bike, trainer, and cyclist adds up to a significant amount of weight. Over a long enough amount of time, your trainer can leave permanent dents in the carpet.
Also, you’re going to sweat a lot when you work out. Eventually, enough sweat will leave stains on a carpet. This can leave unsightly discoloration if you decide to move your trainer.
A good, sturdy mat under the trainer and bike will spread out the weight and minimize permanent dents. It’s also much easier to clean sweat off a mat than out of a carpet.
Which Bike Trainers Work With Zwift?
There are plenty of trainers that work with the cycling app. Zwift’s website has a list on its support page that shows trainers that support the app. It conveniently separates the trainers into four categories: direct-drive trainers, wheel-on trainers, indoor bikes, and even rollers.
Indoor Trainer vs. Stationary Bike: Which Is Better?
This really depends on what you’re hoping to achieve. For people who want a road bike trainer to train specifically for cycling, an indoor trainer is the better option.
Indoor trainers mimic the feeling of riding an actual bike while riding on a stationary bike stand. They can simulate the hills, sprints, and even road textures that riding outside entails.
Indoor trainers also let you use your own bike, so you’ll be more prepared to ride outside when the weather clears up. They’re also lighter and more portable, so you can store them when they’re not in use.
If your goal is to get in shape and you aren’t necessarily concerned with your cycling performance, a stationary bike is a great option. They’re generally quieter, they don’t require you to use their own bike, and there’s no setup required after the initial setup: it’s always ready to ride.
They take up more space, however, so if you don’t have a spot in your house specifically for working out, this may not be the option for you.
Have a favorite bike trainer we missed? Let us know in the comments below for future updates to this article.