BEST DIRECT DRIVE TRAINERS FOR INDOOR CYCLING 2020 – BUYERS GUIDE

Shaun George BOTS Guides, Reviews

While riding outdoors is fantastic, training indoors on an indoor turbo trainer has its own advantages and is a great way to stay fit, improve your riding, and also open up new dimensions to your cycling lifestyle.

An indoor trainer is essentially a piece of equipment that makes it possible for you to ride your bicycle indoors while it remains stationary. They are commonly used to warm up before races, or when riding conditions outside are not favorable.

Some trainers have the ability to share speed, cadence, and power readings with external devices like your cyclo-computer, smartphone, computer, or smart TV using wireless communication technologies such as ANT+ and Bluetooth.

Aptly called Smart Trainers, these trainers have the ability to connect and interact with applications such as Zwift and TrainerRoad using which you can ride virtual worlds complete with realistic hill climbs, headwinds, group rides, sprint races and claim KOMs! These training apps can also guide you through power-based interval workouts and help you improve your cycling without having the need to venture out onto busy roads.

DIRECT DRIVE TRAINERS?

Indoor Trainers are primarily of two kinds – Wheel-on and Direct drive trainers.

Direct drive trainers require you to remove the rear wheel and connect your bike directly to the trainer whereas Wheel-on trainers have the full bike connected to the trainer with the rear wheel tightened against the trainer roller which provides the resistance.

Direct drive trainers are heavier and end up being more expensive than wheel-on trainers, but they have a number of advantages over wheel-on trainers.

  • Accurate Power Measurement
  • Quieter
  • Realistic, Road-like ride quality
  • Easy to install

Read our Guide on HOW TO CHOOSE INDOOR BICYCLE TRAINERS if you want to know about all kinds of trainers in more detail.

FEATURES TO CONSIDER WHILE BUYING A TRAINER

1. POWER ACCURACY

Most trainers these days measure power and highlight their power accuracy ratings with the more accurate trainers being a lot more expensive. While it does not matter how the trainer measures power, accuracy is critical.

Most indoor trainers will require regular calibration to ensure consistent and accurate power readings.

2. MAX RESISTANCE

This refers to the number of watts the trainer can use to push against your legs, which is most noticeable when climbing or sprinting. Resistance changes based on rider weight and speed – this works particularly well when using trainer software such as Zwift or Trainer Road.

You don’t really need to look for a very number here. It really depends on the kind of rider that you are. If you’re particularly good at sprinting or are a powerful rider then a maximum resistance wattage upwards of 1200 Watts is good enough.

For example, the Wahoo Kickr Core has an advertised maximum power output of 1800 watts, while Wahoo’s lower-end Kickr Snap goes to 1500 watts.

3. GRADIENT

The gradient indicates the maximum incline a trainer can simulate. This is measured in percentage, exactly like we measure gradients while riding on the road.

A lower figure does not really affect your training but it simply means those trainers won’t be able to simulate the virtual world perfectly whenever the training/virtual-world gradients go beyond what the trainer is capable of.

4. FLYWHEEL

The flywheel is essentially the rotating “disc” at the back of your trainer. It’s a device that spins, conserving energy and momentum. Flywheels closely emulate that road feel in modern trainers where momentum carries you forward.

When you stop pedaling on a flat road, the bike will still continue forward for a short distance. It’s kinetic energy that is simulated by the flywheel that replicates this on a trainer – the heavier the flywheel, the more realistic the effect.

A flywheel on the bigger and heavier side is considered better.

5. CONNECTIVITY

Since these are “smart” trainers, there needs to be some way for them to communicate with apps and other devices. There are certain protocols and communications through which these trainers talk – ANT+ & Bluetooth are the most widely used communication protocols with trainers these days.

Virtually all devices use one or both of these low-power technologies to transmit and capture information such as heart rate, power, speed, cadence, and more. We consider this a baseline specification that you absolutely must have on a trainer. The Bluetooth feature will also enable it to easily connect to your smartphone, laptop, smartphone, or any other smart device.

6. NOISE

While trainers can be noisy there have been vast improvements made in this regard. Wheel-on trainers are still typically louder than direct-drive trainers, but the gap has narrowed considerably.

A quiet trainer is critical, especially if you want to be able to train indoors and early in the morning or late at night. Worth the extra bucks to find a trainer that is extra quiet.

THE BEST DIRECT DRIVE TRAINERS IN 2020

1. WAHOO KICKR

Arguably one of the best Smart trainers in the market – the Kickr is the top-of-the-line model offered by Wahoo. It offers a fantastic ride feel, thanks to its relatively large 7.25kg flywheel. It is also one of the quietest indoor trainers in our list.

Set up is quite simple, as Wahoo has included an 11-speed cassette and a generously sized power cable in the box – you won’t need to invest in a cassette for your bike. Once set up you will definitely appreciate the super-accurate readings that it gives out. As a bonus feature out of the box, the Kickr can provide you with cadence data that none of the other trainers can do out-of-the-box (in this list).

If you’re looking to train indoors often using third-party apps then the Kickr is your best option.

Weight: 21.5kg
Accuracy: +/- 2%
Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.0 & ANT+
Max Resistance: 2200 Watts
Max gradient simulation: 20%
Flywheel: 7.25kg
Thru-axle compatible:
Yes

2. WAHOO KICKR CORE

The Kickr’s younger sibling sits in the middle of Wahoo’s Kickr series and is one of the cheapest Direct Drive Smart Trainers in the market.

The Kickr Core’s claimed power accuracy is +/- 2 percent, which is as good as the higher end Wahoo KICKR model. It is also slightly more compact. It doesn’t come with a cassette like the Kickr and does not fold up nicely like the KICKR.

Weight: 18kg
Accuracy: +/- 2%
Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.0 & ANT+
Max Resistance: 1800 Watts
Max gradient simulation: 16%
Flywheel: 5.4kg
Thru-axle compatible:
Yes

3. MINOURA KAGURA DIRECT DRIVE

The Minoura Kagura DD currently has the heaviest flywheel in the market, providing a very consistent and realistic ride feel. Noise is also kept in check by the flat-belt design used by Minoura. The Kagura is a great option for those who have a restricted budget but want a direct drive that can compete with the hotshots on this list.

The trainer is fairly accurate but we hope to see some improvements in this front later on with software updates.

Weight: 21kg
Accuracy: +/- 3%
Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0, FTMS, FE-C & ANT+
Max Resistance: 2200 Watts
Max gradient simulation: 25%
Flywheel: 10kg
Thru-axle compatible:
Yes

4. ELITE DRIVO 2

The Drivo 2 is Elite’s top-of-the-range smart trainer that is capable of simulating gradients up to 24 percent and an astonishing claimed accuracy of +/- 0.5 percent!

The only minor drawback is the Drivo’s size – it’s rather bulky and can be a hindrance to store.

Weight: 19kg
Accuracy: +/- 0.5%
Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.0, FE-C & ANT+
Max Resistance: 2300 Watts
Max gradient simulation: 24%
Flywheel: 6kg
Thru-axle compatible:
Yes

5. ELITE TURNO SMART

The Elite Turno Smart comes in at a great price point for someone looking at a smart trainer with a constricted budget. It’s fairly accurate for the price and offers what you can expect at this price point. It’s important to note that this trainer uses internal fluid resistance.

One drawback we see is that this trainer isn’t as sturdy as some of Elite’s other higher-end offerings. It also has a rather low max power threshold.

Weight: 17kg
Accuracy: +/- 4%
Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0, FE-C & ANT+
Max Resistance: 700 Watts
Max gradient simulation: NA
Flywheel: 5kg
Thru-axle compatible:
Yes

6. KINETIC R1

Something to take note of immediately is the fact that the Kinetic R1 is the only smart trainer in the market to feature Kinetic’s Rock & Roll technology. This basically allows the rider to swing the bike and trainer side to side while off the saddle and sprinting. It’s a very realistic feeling and is great for those intense training sessions.

We would’ve appreciated a little more accuracy out of this brilliant machine to fully complement the package as a whole.

Weight: 21.5kg
Accuracy: +/- 3%
Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0, FE-C, FTMS & ANT+
Max Resistance: 2000 Watts
Max gradient simulation: 20%
Flywheel: 6.3kg
Thru-axle compatible:
Yes

Read our post about the Top 5 Accessories for your Indoor Trainer


There you go – our list of the top Direct Drive Smart Trainers for 2020. It’s a good list of sharp-looking fellas – all waiting to power up your next riding adventure indoors. While each trainer has a special feature or two, we’re sure none of them will disappoint!

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