Best turbo trainer 2021: The best smart, direct drive and budget bike trainers

A turbo trainer allows you to transform your regular bike into a static exercise bike. In its most basic form, a good turbo trainer can be had for under £150. However, if you’re willing to pay a bit more, the best turbo trainers are a gateway into a world of digital coaching and massively multiplayer cycle racing.

But there are a few things to think about before you buy: Do you want controllable resistance? Do you want a smart trainer that’s compatible with apps such as Zwift? With so many turbo trainers available at a range of different price levels, the choice can be overwhelming.

Don’t worry, because we’ve done all the legwork for you (pun not intended). Here you’ll find a roundup of some of our favourite turbo trainers to suit all levels of cyclist, plus a buying guide to determine what type of turbo trainer you need.

Best turbo trainer: At a glance

The best turbo trainers to buy

1. Saris Fluid 2: The best “basic” turbo trainer

Price: £215 | Buy now from ProBikeKit

With a reputation for build quality, relatively quiet operation and easy setup, the Saris Fluid 2 (previously branded as the Cycleops) is something of a benchmark in basic turbo training. Many units at this price point use a magnet to create resistance, but the Fluid 2 uses paddles turning around in oil. Pedal faster and you get more resistance, and because it’s oil and not air being pushed around, the trainer is remarkably quiet.

The gradations of resistance are therefore theoretically infinite, and the power curve – your effort versus wheel-turning speed – feels incredibly smooth and natural, without the jumps associated with lower-end magnetic trainers. That said, you can’t choose the resistance in an indexed fashion, and there is no other built-in way of harvesting metrics, so a speed/cadence sensor or heart rate monitor (available separately) is a good idea to help quantify your effort. With said sensor, you can use the Fluid 2 with Zwift.

Key specs – Connectivity: None; Power source: N/A

Buy now from ProBikeKit

2. Tacx Vortex Smart: A taste of smart turbo training for under £400

Price: £350 | Buy now from Decathlon

The Tacx Vortex Smart offers entry into the world of interactive virtual training at an extremely good price. Compared to the well-loved Tacx Satori Smart, the Vortex offers twice the power reading accuracy at +/- 5%, and an electro-brake that can accurately change resistance to simulate virtual terrain as you ride it.

The Vortex broadcasts cadence and power data in ANT+ and Bluetooth, and can be linked up to multiple devices. It can receive data to change resistance, and can even generate ‘virtual speed’ to match the downhill terrain of a simulated course. The frame is pretty stable and folds away, and while the resistance unit isn’t the quietest, it is solid. Offering a resistance of 950 watts at a simulated 7% incline, it will prove challenging enough for most but may leave some elite riders spinning out on the hardest efforts.

Key specs – Connectivity: ANT+ and Bluetooth Smart (not ANT+ FE-C); Power source: Mains; Brake power: 950 watts

Buy now from Decathlon

3. Tacx Flux S: The best smart turbo trainer under £650

Price: £549 | Buy now from Wiggle