Smart turbo trainers are revolutionising indoor training but if you're completely new to this world of virtual cycling then you're in the right place.
Combining an interactive experience with the classic indoor turbo, these 'smart' devices make winter training fun and sociable - a welcome advance from the isolation of the traditional pain cave.
The technology has come a long way and continues to evolve. There are options to suit all training needs and budgets and, in this guide, we examine some of the best models to help you find the perfect partner.
What is a smart turbo trainer?
Before we begin, let's take a look at exactly what a smart turbo trainer is.
Smart-enabled turbo trainers connect directly with your computer, tablet or smartphone. Using data from your performance, you cycle through a virtual world in real time (depending on which platform you choose) with the programme replicating your real world pedal power, speed, and cadence onscreen.
What sets the experience apart is that onscreen climbs or declines are fed back into the trainer, automatically adjusting the resistance to give you a dynamic experience similar to a real-life ride.
So, as you pedal through the simulated course, you can feel every incline and downhill section.
Now you can perfect hill attacks, sprints, and surges in the virtual great outdoors, or even link up with other users across the internet to compete in online real-time races, all without leaving your home.
What you will need to get started
Once you have a smart turbo trainer, you don't need much to get going.
The first essential is a computer, tablet or a smartphone, but larger displays will help create a more immersive experience. Then just pick your preferred platform and install it. Most require a monthly fee of £10 to £20.
Next you need your smart trainer and, as with most things, you get what you pay for. The higher spec the trainer the more connectivity will come installed, with most mid-range trainers featuring a full suite of sensors allowing you to just plug in and play.
To connect with your display, many smart trainers will come Bluetooth enabled, while others use the ANT+ USB adaptor to allow your computer and trainer to interact.
As with all turbo trainers, it's recommended you also have a mount to bring your front wheel to the same height as the rear, and a large mat to keep noise levels at a minimum.
Another tip is to carefully read the specifications for each unit before you buy to ensure your bike is compatible. With direct drive units, such as the Tacx Neo 2 Direct Drive Smart Trainer below, you may also need an additional cassette. For more traditional 'wheel on' units, consider getting a training wheel to save your rear tyre from wear.
Now all you need is a room big enough for your bike and a way to keep cool.
Which smart turbo trainer should I choose?
Whether you're looking for the best on the market, or a starter set-up, there's an extensive array of options to suit all needs and budgets. Let's take a look at just a few different smart turbo trainers to help find the right trainer for you.
Trusted by professional cyclists and top amateurs around the world, the Tacx Neo 2 is a technological beast.
With features such as Road-Feel, Dynamic Inertia and Descent Simulation, the Neo 2 works to make every stationary session as true-to-life as possible.
It also uses an enhanced Pedal Stroke Analysis system to measure your power distribution and leg positioning through sensors on each pedal.
The data compiled from the sensors allows you to see how you can improve or maintain your performance, keeping you in top condition all year long. And it provides a completely immersive online experience when hooked up to Zwift, VirtuGo, or others.
The Kinetic Road Machine Smart Control is a common sight in the garages and back rooms of cyclists everywhere. A trusted workhorse, it's popularity is due to its durability, ease of use, and attractive price.
Its classic 'wheel on' design means your rear wheel is secured to the trainer using the rear skewer, with the tyre rolling against an electromagnetically-controlled flywheel assembly to create varying amounts of resistance.
This mid-range smart turbo trainer comes with a sturdy and foldable frame, and utilises Bluetooth technology to connect to its exclusive Kinetic Fit app for Apple or Android devices. It can also be used with other third-party software such as Zwift.
With eight levels of magnetic resistance and high power output (750 watts at 35 km/h.), this wheel-on trainer offers exceptional training benefits for the money. Smart enabled, you can connect to your phone and other third party systems to access online platforms like Zwift, VirtuGo, or Trainer Road. The frame is extremely stable and the elastogel roller reduces noise by 50% and tyre wear by 20%.
The trainer also comes ANT+ and Bluetooth ready.