Best cheap smart trainers 2024: get connected without the cost

The best cheap smart trainers will get your indoor training going without breaking the bank

Image shows cyclist riding cheap smart trainer
(Image credit: Future)
Best Cheap Smart Trainers 2023: Jump Menu

Wheel on indoor trainer shoot outside

(Image credit: Future)

The best cheap smart trainers will kick start your indoor training without the expense of many of the best smart turbo trainers. As indoor training has increased in popularity, trainer makers have trickled their products down to lower price points. Once a premium product, the best budget smart trainers offer similar functionality at a more reasonable price.

Indoor cycling doesn't just allow you to avoid adverse weather outdoors, it offers many other advantages. Indoors is a more controlled environment where you can concentrate on your riding, not the traffic. The gradients come to you, rather than you needing to seek out a hill to train on and a smart trainer will track your efforts and output without investing in a power meter.

The best indoor training apps make the experience a lot more immersive too, with the best budget smart trainers letting you ride and compete with other cyclists in on Zwift and other online cycling platforms, rather than just staring at a series of ramps to overcome.

Here, we've rounded up our pick of the best cheap smart trainers, so you can begin your indoor journey. Trainers come in two principal varieties: wheel-on and wheel-off, also called direct drive. In general, direct drive trainers are more expensive than wheel-on models. We'll start off with cheap wheel-on options and then look at the budget direct drive variety. At the bottom of the page our buyer's guide to affordable smart trainers will help you decide what to look for.

The Quick List

Wheel-on

You can trust Cycling Weekly. Our team of experts put in hard miles testing cycling tech and will always share honest, unbiased advice to help you choose. Find out more about how we test.

Direct drive

Best cheap wheel-on smart trainers: our picks

1. Best wheel-on overall

Wahoo Kickr SNAP

(Image credit: Rachel Sokal)
Best wheel-on trainer overall

Specifications

Connectivity: ANT, ANT+ FE-C, and Bluetooth Connectivity
Smart Max Resistance: 1,500W
Max gradient simulation: 12%
Flywheel: Electromagnetic
Rear axle compatibility: 130mm and 135mm Quick Release and 12x142 Thru-Axle with adapter (sold separately)
Weight: 17kg / 37.5lb

Reasons to buy

+
Price
+
Maximum power, incline and power accuracy specification
+
Easy set up
+
Great ride feel for wheel-on trainer

Reasons to avoid

-
No cadence sensor included
-
Spiky power readings
-
Our testing found greater than claimed variation in power accuracy at lower intensities

It seems a bit unfair to compare a wheel-on smart trainer to its high end direct-drive stablemate, but the specification and performance of the Wahoo Kickr SNAP make it hard not to do so. After all, maximum power of 1,500W and a 12% simulated incline are figures that are much more usually seen on direct-drive machines. 

The SNAP has a great planted feel and is one of the smoothest wheel-on trainers we've ridden. No, it's not as smooth as a direct-drive turbo but that's a small price to pay given it retails at a third of the price. 

At low powers we found the accuracy to be less than the claimed +/- 3% but this improved at higher intensities where these things matter more. Power readings can be a bit spiky, although this largely seemed to be due to an absence of excessive smoothing that more expensive machines are capable of rather than a variation in resistance. There's also a bit of a lag in resistance change at the turn of programmed intervals which we've picked up in other similar-priced machines.   

Read our full Wahoo Kickr Snap wheel-on smart trainer review

2. Best value wheel-on trainer

Image shows the Tacx Flow which is one of the best cheap smart trainers

(Image credit: Andy Turner)
Best value wheel-on smart trainer

Specifications

Max Resistance: 800w
Max gradient simulation: 6%
Claimed accuracy: ±5%
Flywheel: 1.6kg
Weight: 10kg

Reasons to buy

+
Budget price
+
Easy to set up
+
Consistent power readings

Reasons to avoid

-
Thru-axle adapters are an extra cost item
-
Awkward calibration
-
Not as accurate as direct drive

The Tacx Flow is easy to set up and lightweight and can be used unpowered for warm-ups at events. It's very stable, with wide legs and it offers BLE and ANT+ connectivity to transmit speed, power and cadence data to a head unit.

There's a bit of a lag in ramping up resistance both when controlled by Zwift and using ERG mode, which can result in sudden increases when performing certain workouts.

The wheel-on design gives you more limited climb simulation than a direct drive unit at up to 6% and maximum resistance is 800 watts, with accuracy of +/- 5%, although we found the Tacx Flow read lower than comparison power meters.

Read our full Tacx Flow wheel-on smart trainer review

3. Most stylish wheel-on trainer

Elite Tuo which is one of the best cheap smart trainers

(Image credit: Andy Turner)
Most stylish trainer on test

Specifications

Max Resistance: 1300w
Max gradient simulation: 10%
Claimed accuracy: ±5%
Flywheel: 4.7kg
Weight: 10.3kg

Reasons to buy

+
Smart looks
+
Accurate power measurement
+
Smooth in ERG mode

Reasons to avoid

-
Needs a flat surface
-
Cadence measurement is slow to respond

With wooden legs and a square drive unit, the Elite Tuo looks smarter than most trainers. It folds up very small and is lightweight. It's easy to set up your bike on the trainer and thru-axle adapters come with it rather than being an extra.

Elite claims power accuracy of +/-5 per cent, with simulated gradients of up to 10% and 1,300 watts maximum resistance. The ride feels very smooth, with no skips from the roller and power and cadence were accurately measured except in short, high-power sprint efforts. 

Read our full Elite Tuo wheel-on smart trainer review

Best cheap direct drive smart trainers: our picks

1. Best value direct drive trainer

Image shows the Zwift Hub turbo trainer

(Image credit: Future)
Best value direct drive trainer

Specifications

Max Resistance: 1,800W
Max gradient simulation: 16%
Claimed accuracy: ±2.5%
Flywheel: 4.7kg
Weight: 15kg

Reasons to buy

+
High spec for its price
+
Good connection stability
+
Quality ride feel

Reasons to avoid

-
No carry handle
-
Legs don't fold for storage

Zwift's entry into the world of training hardware is easy to get started with. It's simple to mount your bike and connect via ANT+ and BLE. You can also use it as a bridge from a heart rate monitor or other device to a head unit. Its resistance stats are good and it has a 1.7kg flywheel. It also comes with an 11-speed Shimano-compatible cassette ready-fitted.

We rated the ride experience both when linked up to training software (you're not restricted to Zwift) and in ERG mode. It's relatively quiet and adequately stable, despite the parallel legs. There's no carry handle, although the trainer's weight means that it's not too hard to move around anyway. The legs don't fold though, so it's not as easy to store as some other options.

Read our full Zwift Hub review

2. Best overall direct drive trainer

Image shows the Tacx Flux S which is one of the best cheap smart turbo trainers

(Image credit: Future)

2. Tacx Flux S

Best budget direct-drive trainer overall

Specifications

Max Resistance: 1,500w
Max gradient simulation: 10%
Claimed accuracy: ±3%
Flywheel: 7kg
Weight: 22.8kg

Reasons to buy

+
Super stable
+
Very smooth on virtual climbs and in erg mode

Reasons to avoid

-
Virtual gradients and power accuracy won’t be high enough for Zwift fanatics
-
Difficult to move about

First off, this is a really great turbo trainer. But that’s what makes this one a little frustrating, as it is just so close to being the obvious go-to for pretty much everyone. But, as it is, there will be some people for whom it’s not quite the right model – let’s go through the performance.

With the heaviest flywheel on the test, the Flux S also comes in as the heaviest trainer overall. Couple that with its unique footprint and you’ve got an incredibly stable platform – I’d say even potentially a little more stable than its big brother, the Tacx Neo 2T, which I tested last year.

Likewise, the resistance and ride feel of this entry-level model is impressively close to that of Tacx’s flagship trainer. Changes in gradient were fast and smooth, whilst the resistance remained steady even when climbing at a low speed and low cadence – a challenging combination for a trainer.

The ERG mode coped well with even large differences in power. The resistance would ramp up quickly whilst also not crushing my cadence in the way the Zumo did. Another point of contrast is that when riding without the ERG mode on or not up any virtual gradients, I was able to push a comfortable cadence at 250w with plenty of sprockets to spare – no danger of spinning out.

In terms of the virtual ride feel and stability of the turbo, this was the best on test – and is better even than some turbos at a higher price point - the Elite Direto unequivocally and, for me, also the Wahoo Kickr – but we’ll get into that in more detail later on.

In having swept up on the fundamentals, it’s fair to ask whether it goes on to clear any of the higher bars – is there any point in buying a more expensive model? Sadly, yes there is. But only for people with quite specific use cases. 

First, the accuracy. Rated at ±3% this is the same as the Zumo. But it’s worth pointing out this doesn’t meet the ±2% cut-off for the upper echelons of Zwift racing. For most people, this isn’t a consideration – the majority of Zwift users aren’t racers, and it’s only a very small subsection of them who would be racing in those categories, but it’s worth being aware of.

Similarly, for challenges such as a ‘virtual’ everesting, the rules stipulate that the realism must be set to 100%. If you’re planning on using the Alpe du Zwift for your attempt, then you’re going to fall foul of ‘the rules’, as the maximum gradient there is 14%.

Again both these points won’t matter to most people, and is part of the reason why this is the trainer that we would recommend overall. But just because this trainer is so good, it is worth being aware of exactly where the limitations are, so that there aren’t any surprises. 

The other consideration is that this is not a trainer for moving about or stowing away. The legs don’t fold and it is really very heavy.

Image shows the Wahoo Kickr Core which is one of the best cheap smart trainers

(Image credit: Future)

3. Best direct drive trainer for data

3. Wahoo Kickr Core

Best for data driven indoor riders

Specifications

Max Resistance: 1,800w
Max gradient simulation: 16%
Claimed accuracy: ±2%
Flywheel: 5.4kg
Weight: 18.0kg

Reasons to buy

+
Specs on a par with more expensive trainers
+
Ride feel especially good for midweight to lighter riders

Reasons to avoid

-
Expensive
-
Not so stable

The Wahoo Kickr Core and the Tacx Flux S line up for a particularly interesting contrast. It’s almost like a Venn diagram, but where the two circles have been pushed together so that it’s just a thin sliver on either side where there isn’t any overlap.

We’ll blast through the fundamentals pretty quickly again because, like the Tacx Flux S, the Wahoo Kickr Core executes these so well that it’s worth spending a bit more time on the hair-splitting points of differentiation.

Starting with the ride feel, I’d actually argue that the Core does better (in some aspects) than the flagship Kickr V5 I tested last year (although this model has now been surpassed by the V6).

How can this be? Well, my assumption is that it’s down to the weight of the flywheels. With the Kickr V5, it always felt like there was a great deal of inertia to spin up when accelerating – for me, it was a little less like riding out on the open road and a little more like that of a ‘spin bike’, with their huge fixed-gear flywheels.

True, the Tacx Neo 2T itself boasts an electromagnetic flywheel that can simulate a weight of up to 125kg, but it’s not simulating that all the time, and, in my opinion, it has more of a ‘road feel’ than that of a Kickr V5. 

Coming back to the Kickr Core, with the flywheel being 5.4kg compared to the 7.3kg of the V5, the sensation of accelerations felt just that bit more natural for me. Although this should be heavily caveated with the point that if you’re a heavier rider, you might well find the opposite.

In terms of the response to sudden changes in gradient and interval sessions with large differentials of power in ERG mode, the resistance changed smoothly and quickly. It also didn’t have a particular propensity to ‘death spiral’ and force you into pushing an ever lower cadence – all very good and very similar to the Kickr V5.

As mentioned, the Kickr Core does manage to hit points that the Tacx Flux S has missed. With an accuracy of ±2%, this is one of the cheaper entry points to high-end indoor racing. Plus, with a maximum gradient of 16%, you’ll be able to cut your vEversting teeth on the Alp du Zwift and feel every ramp. It’s also an easier trainer to move around than the Flux S and takes up less space.

However, there are points which do let it down in comparison to the Flux S. First is the stability: these two-bar designs are much less stable than three leg versions – and the Flux is particularly solid. 

Then there’s the price. £100 more might not be too much when choosing between bikes, but it’s a sizable chunk when it comes to turbos.

Image shows the Elite Zumo is which one of the best cheap smart trainers

(Image credit: Future )

4. Elite Zumo

Blends price and performance

Specifications

Max Resistance: 1,350w
Max gradient simulation: 12%
Claimed accuracy: ±3%
Flywheel: 4.2kg
Weight: 13kg

Reasons to buy

+
Great stability
+
Easy to move around
+
Fast and smooth response to virtual gradients

Reasons to avoid

-
Low resistance when not in erg or climbing
-
Erg mode can feel like hitting a brick wall

 The Elite Zumo’s spec sheet totally belies what a well-rounded trainer this is. The cheapest trainer on test, it’s also the lightest and has the lightest flywheel, the claimed accuracy is joint worst at ±3% and the maximum resistance is the lowest at 1,350W. The slope simulation stands out as being second shallowest at 12%.

Most of those points are immaterial, though. The max gradient of 12% is still more than enough for all your low cadence/high power interval needs – it’s just that you’ll be pushing a slightly larger gear than with a Tacx Neo 2T or a Wahoo Kickr. Plus, if you haven’t fiddled with the default realism settings in Zwift at all, the maximum gradient of 22% will be reduced to 11% and within the trainer’s capabilities.

The maximum resistance of 1,350W is worth a little more of a consideration than that of the other turbos on test as it’s not a number that’s unfeasible for amateur riders to top. But as an amateur rider who’s never once topped 1,300w, I still haven’t been able to test its limits.

With that out of the way, let’s get onto the more important bits. First, the ride feel. Despite having the lightest flywheel on test, the sensation of riding was really very smooth - much better than the Jet Black Volt 2, which we’ll get on to later. Riding around the Sand And Sequoias map on Zwift, it responded to the gradient changes quickly and proportionally with barely any lag.

So far so good, but the flipside to this is that when riding in ERG mode and doing a session such as 20/40s or 10x1min – anything where there’s a big power differential – you can quite easily end up in something of a ‘death spiral’ of ever-increasing resistance as you struggle to spin your legs up to speed.

This is something that’s true of all trainers to some extent, it’s generally a good idea to spin up your cadence just before entering those intervals to give yourself a bit of a buffer. But this was a particular issue for the Zumo – and was also a problem for the higher-end Direto that we tested last year, so it seems that this is a more general problem for Elite.

And speaking of general problems for Elite, when doing turbo sessions without ERG mode, I found it was quite easy to end up running out of gears and spinning out. Even with a 50x11t combination – actual road, not gravel – I had to pedal uncomfortably fast to hold 250W. 

This isn’t an issue if you only free-ride in events and the like with the realism on, and it’s not an issue if you only ride in ERG mode (plenty of resistance can be provided there). But this is an issue for those who like the mental challenge of consciously holding a set wattage, and this is also an issue that Elite turbos have had problems with in the past – not the aforementioned Direto, which was fine, but the lower-end wheel-on Tuo.

In all, the Zumo is super portable thanks to its carry handle, foldable legs and general lightweight build. At the same time, it’s very stable thanks to its wide footprint and the resistance is very nicely controlled and feels very smooth despite the smaller flywheel.

It’s let down by the propensity to ‘death-spiral’ when doing interval sessions with large power differentials in ERG mode – an issue shared by its big brother, the Direto. It’s also let down by the low resistance when riding without the ERG mode or any realism, spinning out at about 250W – an issue shared by its little brother, the Tuo.