Turbo trainers buyer’s guide

Supercharge your cycling with a turbo trainer.

A turbo trainer can transform your kitchen, garage and spare room into your own personal gym. Simple to set up and easy to use, a turbo trainer is the perfect way to maintain and improve your fitness when it’s impossible to ride outside.

If you’re shopping for a new turbo trainer, or just interested in learning more about what indoor trainers are and how they work, this guide is for you. In our turbo trainers buyer’s guide, we compare turbo technologies and highlight some of the best models available today.

What is a turbo trainer?

Turbo trainers are static devices that provide a form of resistance that replicates the feeling of the road. You hook your bike up to the turbo either by resting the rear wheel on a platform or connecting the chain to a drive unit.

Turbo trainers allow you to vary the amount of resistance, which enables you to take control of your workout. You can simulate sprints, climbs or long, slow Sunday rides without leaving your own home.

You can cycle for hours at a time or for just a few minutes. A turbo trainer gives you the freedom to ride when you choose – at any time of the day or night.

What are the main types of turbo trainer?

There are two types of turbo trainer to choose from: direct-drive turbo trainers and wheel-on turbo trainers.

Direct drive turbo trainers

Direct drive turbo trainers are one of the best ways of recreating that outdoor cycling feeling indoors. They generally offer a smooth and quiet ride, with many having built-in power meters that measure your level of exertion. Most are also smart interactive, which means you can link to platforms like Zwift and benefit from all of the associated features. You can find out more about indoor training apps here.

To use a direct drive turbo, all you need to do is remove the rear wheel of your bike, place the frame onto the trainer and link the chain to the trainer’s cassette. Removing your rear wheel means that your tyre won’t become worn and it also creates a much quieter ride (something that your neighbours will probably appreciate!).

The trade-off for all these great features is that direct drive turbo trainers are at the premium end of the market, and their size and weight can be an issue if you’ve got limited space and need to pack your turbo trainer away after using it. If you’re working to a tight budget, then a wheel-on turbo trainer may be a more suitable option.

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Wheel-on turbo trainers

Wheel-on turbo trainers tend to be lighter, more portable and cheaper than their direct-drive cousins. They also tend to have an A-shaped frame, which means they can be easily folded away when you’re having a well-earned day off.

With wheel-on turbo trainers, you don’t have the fuss of having to remove your back wheel each time you want to do some training. Instead, your bike is attached to the turbo trainer at the rear skewer, which replaces your existing quick-release skewer. Your rear tyre presses against a roller (which is attached to the resistance unit) and turns the roller as you pedal.

The trade-off with wheel-on turbo trainers is that they can be pretty loud, not all of them come with smart compatibility, and the riding experience can feel a bit artificial. You’ll also probably need to invest in an indoor training tyre for your rear wheel, or you run the risk of wearing down your road tyre.

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Non-smart, one-way smart or smart interactive?

Both direct drive and wheel-on turbo trainers can be non-smart, one-way smart or smart interactive. But what do these terms mean and what’s the difference between them?

Non-smart turbo trainers

Non-smart turbo trainers are the most cost-effective option, but they don’t include any in-built sensors and so aren’t compatible with apps like Zwift. However, you can buy a separate speed and cadence sensor for your bike so that you can make use of training apps during your workout.

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One-way smart turbo trainers

One-way smart turbo trainers fall into the middle of the price bracket. They include inbuilt sensors to measure things like your speed or power output and have the ability to connect with apps like Zwift, usually through ANT+ or Bluetooth. However, the apps can’t control the resistance of the turbo trainer or react to the changing terrain in whatever app-based route you’re following.

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Smart interactive turbo trainers

Smart interactive turbo trainers are the most premium option. Like one-way smart turbo trainers, they include inbuilt sensors and can connect with apps like Zwift via ANT+ or Bluetooth. What sets them apart is that they also give apps the ability to control the resistance of the turbo trainer. So, if your Zwift route takes you up a steep hill, then your turbo trainer will make it harder to pedal and if you’re sailing down the other side then your trainer will sail with you.

If you’re looking for a turbo trainer that will give you the most realistic ride within the four walls of your home, then you’ll want a smart interactive one.

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What about bike rollers?

Bike rollers aren’t really a form of turbo trainer, but they are an indoor trainer, so they make it into this guide.

You place your bike on top of the rollers, but it’s not fixed in place. Rollers turn against your wheels as you cycle, but you’ll need to control your bike.

Traditional rollers don’t provide resistance; instead, you’ll need to go up or down gears to vary the intensity. More advanced models use rollers that move forward as you accelerate and back as you decelerate, so it’ll feel like you’re actually on the road rather than stuck in the house.

Although a turbo trainer does a great job of emulating an outdoor training ride, some riders prefer the natural feel of rollers. Both wheels are moving, and you can climb in and out of the saddle.

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Will my bike fit a turbo trainer?

Turbo trainers are designed to be used with road bikes and as long as you have a reasonably recent model, then you shouldn’t have any trouble hooking it up.

There’s also no reason why you can’t use them with a hybrid bike or even a mountain bike. Just make sure you do some research before purchasing a turbo trainer to check that it’s suitable for your particular make and model of bike.

How do I choose a turbo trainer?

At Halfords, we have a range of turbo trainers from basic budget models to high-end professional trainers. To help narrow down the options, there are couple of decisions that you’ll need to make.

The first is whether you want a direct drive or wheel-on turbo trainer. Having a think about the following questions should give you a good starting point:

  • What’s my budget?
  • Does my trainer need to be portable?
  • Is storage space going to be issue?
  • How important is the noise level?
  • How do I want to attach my bike to the trainer?

The second decision is whether you go for non-smart, one-way smart or smart interactive. Again, it’s a good idea to ask yourself some key questions:

  • What’s my budget?
  • Do I want to use online training apps?
  • Do I want my online training apps to be able to control my resistance?
  • What features do I want on a turbo trainer?

The answers to these questions should help you to identify the right turbo trainer for you. We’ve also included some of our top picks in each price bracket below.

Best budget trainer: Halfords Turbo Trainer

  • Wheel-on trainer
  • Non-smart

If you’re looking for a sleek and simple turbo trainer to start on, you can’t go wrong with our Halfords Turbo Trainer.

You can choose from six levels of resistance, with the trainer capable of accommodating a range of wheel sizes, including 26”, 28” and 700c. It’s the perfect introduction to indoor training.

Best budget trainer: Halfords Turbo Trainer

Best mid-range trainer: Elite Novo Smart Turbo Trainer

  • Wheel-on trainer
  • Smart interactive

The Elite Novo is the best value smart interactive turbo trainer on the market and uses inbuilt Bluetooth to connect seamlessly with training apps like Zwift.

The experts at Elite have created a trainer that feels natural, can realistically simulate slopes of up to 6% and can measure performance to within 5% accuracy. It’s a Halfords exclusive, which means you can’t buy this turbo trainer anywhere else!

Best budget trainer: Halfords Turbo Trainer

Best premium trainer: Elite Zumo Smart Interactive Turbo Trainer

  • Direct drive trainer
  • Smart interactive

The Elite Zumo is a super-smart direct drive turbo trainer that’s also powerful, quiet and efficient.

The unit provides an incredibly realistic ride, can simulate slopes of up to 12% and has a power measurement accuracy of to within 3%. It’s fully compatible with all indoor training apps, as well as with your PC, tablet and smartphone, and comes with a free 12-month subscription to Elite’s My E-Training software (which features a range of training and test modes).

Best budget trainer: Halfords Turbo Trainer

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Turbo trainer extras

As well as a turbo trainer, investing in a few essential accessories can make indoor cycling a whole lot more fun. We advise some turbo trainer extras, including the following:

  • Turbo trainer tyre
  • Turbo trainer mat
  • Riser block
  • Tablet mount
  • Heart rate monitor

Turbo trainer tyre

If you’re thinking of buying a tyre-resistance turbo trainer, then you should invest in a turbo trainer tyre for your rear wheel.

Over time, the roller will wear down your rear tyre – a process that happens more quickly the more often you use your turbo. Specific turbo trainer tyres are built with a narrow, thick band of rubber where the tyre contacts the turbo trainer, which means they last much longer than a regular road tyre.

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Turbo trainer mats

One thing you’ll notice cycling indoors and in one spot is that your sweat doesn’t fly off onto the road behind you. That’s because there’s no wind to cool you down. If you’re working hard, then a turbo trainer mat is a wise investment, especially if you’re riding on carpet.

The other significant benefit of using a turbo trainer mat is the noise-absorbing qualities. Turbo trainers can get loud, so a mat underneath the trainer’s frame reduces vibrations, especially on wooden floors.

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Turbo trainer riser blocks

Lifting the back wheel of your bike onto a turbo trainer frame can result in the bike pitching downwards by a few centimetres. This can feel like the bike is falling forwards. Not only is this an inefficient way to ride, but it can also be unstable.

Riser blocks are moulded plastic mounts for your front wheel that raise it off the ground and keep it level with your turbo. They also provide a barrier between your front wheel and the floor, which avoids unsightly rubber marks on carpets, tiles and wood flooring.

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Heart rate monitor

A heart rate monitor is a great way to keep track of how hard your body is working. These monitors come in a range of styles, including chest straps, arm bands and wrist watches, and the majority will connect to any training apps you’ve chosen to use.

Find out more about heart monitors and how they work in our article on How to turbo train with a heart rate monitor.

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Get a turbo trainer at Halfords

At Halfords, we make buying a turbo trainer as simple as possible. You can shop our entire range of turbo trainers online from leading brands such as Elite, where you can compare specifications and stats to narrow down your search.

If you need any help or advice on selecting the right turbo trainer for you, visit one of our local stores and speak to one bike experts. They can talk you through the difference between models, and match your requirements to our comprehensive range.

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