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I was looking for a good stationary exercise bike to use for days when I can't/don't want to take my bike out and train. I was convinced that a better option than a stationary bicycle would be a direct drive trainer. I know nothing about these. I went to my local bike shop and what they had in stock was lower-end, that is, it wasn't direct drive, and even they didn't recommend it compared to a direct-drive, higher end trainer. They recommended Tacx and Wahoo (which other people have recommended as well). But they had no specific model recommendations. I'm a bit lost here as to what model I want, and even how to judge what's out there (that is, what I should look for). If you have any advice on what to look for, and in particular, what models you'd recommend, I'd appreciate it.

I'd like to get something that I'll be happy with, that will give me a good workout (I ride daily, maybe 200km with 3500m ascent a week, and am in good shape), and that will last. Although my budget isn't unlimited, and saving money is always good, I don't want to get something "too cheap" and regret it down the road.

I'm not the most mechanically inclined, and my bike shop said that each time I have to put my carbon frame bike on the trainer and take it off I'd need to do a non-trivial number of adjustments, which even they thought would be troublesome. One can ride all winter here, so I'd probably be taking the bike on and off constantly, every time it rained, for example. So I am considering getting a cheaper bike to leave on the trainer, as this poster did, although perhaps not a Triban! If there's anything I need to look for in a bike (cassette, etc) to match your preferred trainer, that would be helpful too!

Lastly, does anyone know anything about Zwift's new turbo trainer that's about to come out? Should I wait and choose it over Tacx or Wahoo?

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    I voted to close as in it's current format, the question is both a shopping question and opinion based. Shopping questions are considered off topic because any trainer we recommend now will probably be discontinued/obsolete in 3 years time so the answers age very poorly. However i think there's the core of a good question in here - perhaps if it were reworded to focus more on the pros/cons of certain features associated with trainers
    – Andy P
    Sep 20 at 13:52
  • For what it's worth i have a kickr core that i've been very happy with - the first one broke after 2 years and wahoo customer service were excellent to deal with. They sent me a reconditioned unit as a replacement immediately
    – Andy P
    Sep 20 at 13:53
  • Also, as a side note: carbon frames and trainers are not good friends. There were some questions here about that, and IIRC the use of a carbon bike on a trainer may void the warranty.
    – Renaud
    Sep 20 at 14:18
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    I use my road bike with different wheel sets and a direct drive trainer each with a different casette size (28/30/32 max) without adjustments when switching (your mileage may vary). The Zwift Hub is a rebranded JetBlack VOLT, a mid-range trainer with decent reviews. At the "low" price it could be a bargain. However, I do not know of any final reviews of the Zwift Hub and Zwift has a history of removing features from hardware they resell (see MilestonePod -> Zwift RunPod)
    – linac
    Sep 20 at 14:46
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    @WeiwenNg Thx for pointing it out. zwiftinsider.com/trainer-use-warranty The article is old, I checked and for BMC and Cube (that are listed as "trainer unfriendly"). BMC authorize carbon frames on direct drives trainer, and Cube still excludes the use on the trainer for the warranty. If there's no technical reasons (at least when used with a direct drive), that becomes then a legal question (if you consider there's a risk). That being said, if you have a bike that authorize the use on a trainer, no worry to have.
    – Renaud
    Sep 20 at 15:44

2 Answers 2

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There are some aspects of the question that can be answered.

If possible, I would recommend stepping up to a direct drive trainer if you can, even if it's an entry-level one. With this type of trainer, you remove the rear wheel, and you put your chain on the trainer's cassette (you will almost certainly want to get a dedicated cassette for the trainer). You may or may not need to adjust the derailleur cable tension and limit screws when you put your bike on the trainer. My bike doesn't need adjustment.

In contrast, with a wheel-on trainer, you clamp the rear end of the bike in the trainer, and you put the trainer's roller in contact with the tire. These trainers are less accurate, and in particular they're more sensitive to how much pressure you put on the rear tire. In the Zwift racing community, there is a lot of dissatisfaction at people using wheel-on trainers who appear to generate implausibly high power numbers for their racing category (mostly a problem with new Zwifters in cats C or D, which are beginner categories). However, not everyone races, so this may not matter as much to you. Wheel-on trainers do generally offer a less realistic ride experience, i.e. it feels a bit different pedaling on the trainer than on the road, and they do wear your rear tire out (so many people use an old tire or a trainer-specific tire).

Direct drive trainers used to be a significant step up in price. The Zwift trainer you mentioned, which they are pricing at US$500, is a significant development, because it's from a major company at a very aggressive price point - although, as noted in comments, it is actually a rebrand of a trainer by a less-known company. By comparison, the Kickr Core retails for US$900. Two well-known reviewers are DC Rainmaker and GP Lama (the latter hasn't reviewed it fully yet). You can generally rely on them for comparative product reviews. The Zwift trainer may cause other companies to discount competing trainers (e.g. Wahoo's Kickr Core). DC Rainmaker seems to strongly recommend the Zwift trainer if the company can sort out some accuracy issues with a firmware update. He seemed to think that they should be able to do this. GP Lama was much more cautious on this issue, and he had reviewed the Jet Black Volt (which the Zwift trainer is a rebranded version of). So, those are the issues to consider with lower-cost entry level direct drive trainers, whereas I think the Kickr Core and equivalent trainers were mostly OK from launch.

For most users, most direct drive trainers should do what you need them to. The top tier trainers, e.g. the Wahoo Kickr (as opposed to Kickr Core), may not be a huge upgrade over the mid/entry tier for most users. The top-tier trainers will probably use a larger flywheel (better road feel). They may have more connectivity options, e.g. ethernet port to reduce wireless signal dropouts - believe it or not, if you race on Zwift or elsewhere, this is a thing. I've had my trainer lose connection right at the start of an event. The top tier ones may be quieter. They may be rated to higher accuracy than the mid-tier trainers (e.g. Kickr claims +/-1%, Core claims 2%, Zwift trainer claims 2.5%) - although some of us have power meters on our bikes, and the trainer can take its power reading from the meter rather than its own sensors (which measure flywheel speed, rather than strain on a bike component).

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  • Thanks! Very helpful info. Yes, a direct drive trainer is both what I want, and what was recommended to me.
    – Cerulean
    Sep 20 at 15:24
  • Another upside to DD is that they are typically much quieter. Wheel on trainers can be obnoxiously loud. Sep 21 at 15:00
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I've also bought an old beater bike that lives on my trainer full-time, and I recommend that approach (although I've abused mine so much that I will need to replace it sooner rather than later).

Another option you could consider if you are worried about locking your carbon frame into a trainer is rollers. There are resistance rollers, and there are "smart" rollers. Obviously rollers are very different from any other kind of trainer. They require a certain amount of skill, and you need to ride them attentively.

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