BEST WHEEL-DRIVE SMART TRAINERS FOR INDOOR CYCLING 2020 – BUYERS GUIDE

Shaun George BOTS Guides, Reviews

Riding outdoors is always a fantastic experience, but under certain circumstances doing so may not be possible – one of the primary reasons why training indoors on an indoor turbo trainer is a great option for cyclists across the world. Training indoors 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.

Smart Trainers are trainers that 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.

These trainers can also 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.

WHEEL ON TRAINERS?

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

Unlike Direct Drive trainers, Wheel-on trainers have the full bike connected to the trainer (including the rear wheel) and tightened against the trainer roller which provides the resistance.

Wheel-on smart trainers are the more affordable option out of all other types of trainers. The great thing about these trainers is that they are relatively inexpensive, light, and generally fold down to a compact size.

However, there are a few issues to keep in mind. A regular bicycle tire heats up quite quickly and rapidly wears out the tire which may cause an issue when you’re out riding. Most riders end up investing a fair bit in good quality tires and shredding them on a trainer is not a good option. Regular bicycle tires also generate a lot of noise when used on an indoor trainer. Trainer specific tires address these issues, so if you’re looking to use this type of trainer it is recommended that you have a dedicated wheel or at least a dedicated tire for use on the trainer.

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. RESISTANCE UNIT

While Wheel-On trainers also have what is called a “flywheel”, you will have many manufacturers referring to them simply as “resistance units”.

They work in essentially the same way as flywheels do on Direct Drive Trainers. The resistance unit’s main job is to conserve kinetic energy. Quite simply, a bigger flywheel is 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. Due to the tire-roller contact patch, wheel-on trainers are on the nosier side when compared to direct drive trainers.

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 WHEEL-ON TRAINERS IN 2020

Here’s our lineup of the top Wheel-on trainer options in no particular order.

1. WAHOO KICKR SNAP

The Kickr Snap is one of the most sold units in our lineup. Wahoo has always been known for their no-nonsense super reliable trainer units – the Kickr Snap is no exception.

The Snap also has the best road-like-feel out of all the trainer’s thanks to the burly, well-calibrated 4.7kg flywheel.

Weight: 17.2kg
Accuracy: +/- 3%
Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.0 & ANT+
Max Resistance: 1500 Watts
Max gradient simulation: 12%
Flywheel: 7.25kg
Thru-axle compatible:
Yes

2. MINOURA KAGURA WHEEL-ON

The Minoura Kagura is an excellent value for money option offering top-notch build quality that you can always expect from Minoura, a very well known Japanese brand.

The main highlight with the Kagura is the two riding modes – Fixed & Gravity modes. The Fixed Mode is what you are familiar with. You place your bike on the trainer, tighten the knob, and apply pressure against your rear wheel and ride. Your bike stays in place and doesn’t move. Gravity mode, on the other hand, enables the rear wheel to sit freely on the roller. Your own weight – plus the bike – apply pressure against the roller and create its own resistance.

Accuracy could have been a lot better, but the trainer offers good levels of maximum resistance and grade simulation which are a definite plus for a few riders.

Weight: 17.6kg
Accuracy: +/- 5%
Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.0, FE-C & ANT+
Max Resistance: 2000 Watts
Max gradient simulation: 20%
Flywheel: NA
Thru-axle compatible:
Yes

3. KINETIC ROCK N ROLL

The Kinetic Rock & Roll is one of the most successful trainers sold by Kinetic in India. It’s a near-perfect package with the extra benefit of an unconditional lifetime warranty on the frame. The biggest selling point here is the Rock & Roll technology that lets this trainer rock from side to side when sprinting or climbing simulating a real-life feel of riding a bike.

The Kinetic, unfortunately, does not support two-way communications with third-party apps and does not come with a controllable resistance feature. Scaling a 10% gradient climb in Zwift – well the trainer will not automatically increase resistance to match the incline and make you grunt all the way to the top of your climb!

Weight: 18.5kg
Accuracy: +/- 5%
Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0
Max Resistance: 2000 Watts
Max gradient simulation: 20%
Flywheel: 2.8kg
Thru-axle compatible:
Yes

4. CYCLEOPS M2 WHEEL-ON

The Cyclops M2 trainer is a great choice at a very good price point as it is the most affordable wheel-on trainer that’s also packed with features on our lineup. The trainer offers a stable, compact platform for indoor training providing a maximum resistance of 1500 watts. The unit also has internally integrated speed, cadence, and power data and eliminates the need to purchase any extra external sensors.

The M2 does have the smallest flywheel here at a mere 1.2kg which is not the greatest considering what some of the contenders are offering. The small flywheel does not offer the best ride feel either.

This is the lightest trainer in its class at just 9kgs.

Weight: 9kg
Accuracy: +/- 5%
Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.0, FE-C & ANT+
Max Resistance: 1500 Watts
Max gradient simulation: 15%
Flywheel: 1.2kg
Thru-axle compatible:
Yes

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


There you go – our list of the top Wheel 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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