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Since COVID-19 confinement was decreed, there have been two things that are tremendously sought: a drug supplier and a bike trainer to train at home. I can't help you with the former, so I'll try the latter...
Taking a look at the cycling sales groups on Facebook these days is to see ads for "I buy roller in Murcia", "I buy roller in Madrid", "I buy roller in Barcelona", and so on with all cities. Undoubtedly it is the most sought after by all and, right now, who has a roller has a treasure.
But before you turn crazy when buying a second hand (or new) bike trainer, I'm going to set out some guidelines for what to look for.
Update March 19
If you are looking for a roller, you have less and less to choose from. Almost everything is already sold out. And all of them are high end (the most expensive ones). Here's a quick summary of what's available at the moment:
Types of bike trainers
I will focus exclusively on smart bike trainers. Today, if there is a reason to use a bike trainer is to do it with external apps. The bike trainers on which you have to adjust them manually make little sense today.
A smart bike trainer allows an external app to adjust the hardness of the bike trainer. Therefore simulators such as Zwift or Bkool will make it harder when we face a climb, training apps like TrainerRoad or SufferFest will make it harder or softer depending on the intervals that the training program marks, or you can even download the training that your coach has designed in TrainingPeaks and let a Garmin Edge control the resistance.
In short, the possibilities offered by this type of bike trainers are far superior to those that are not smart, and the difference in price is not so much.
From there we can establish three types of bike trainers:
- Bike rollers: These are the lifelong rollers in which you do not take out any wheels. There are not many options within smart rollers and it is an option that is not for everyone. It's not that they're dangerous, but obviously if you're not aware of what you're doing, you can fall from it.
- Wheel-on bike trainers: The most economical option. On this type of bike trainer you will simply have to mount the entire bike, and you will be using your rear wheel. You can choose to use the same wheel and tire, or have a specific one for this use.
- Direct drive bike trainers: It is the ultimate wave in bike trainers. In this case you remove the rear wheel and the bike is placed on the bike trainer. A few years ago it was an option only reserved for the most expensive ones, but now they have fallen to the mid-range. If you want a quieter option and with more real road feeling you should opt for a bike trainer of this type.
Technical aspects to consider when selecting a bike trainer
As I am going to focus exclusively on smart rollers (I do not recommend anyone to buy a "dumb" roller), it is time to talk about one of the most important parts of the roller: connectivity. Of course it is not the only one, then you have to consider whether the roller has a potentiometer or estimates the power, up to what power it reaches and maximum slope that simulates, etc..
But for all that to work satisfactorily, the first thing to take into account is that the trainer connects with the apps we are interested in.
As with sensors, in bike trainers we find the same types of connectivity: Bluetooth Smart and ANT+. Through either of these two standards the trainer will transmit speed, cadence and power to the device (s) with which it is connected. Any Bluetooth or ANT+ compatible device can receive these signals (Garmin, Polar, Suunto, apps...).
Within these connections we can look specifically at ANT+ FE-C and Bluetooth FTMS. If the roller has both communication methods we can be sure that it will be possible to use it with any device.
Then, in the Bluetooth part, things can start to get complicated. FTMS is a relatively new standard so before its existence each manufacturer used a private communication channel. This is where we may encounter problems if the trainer does not support Bluetooth FTMS and its Bluetooth communication channel is not compatible with applications.
This is what happens for example with the Zycle bike trainers (the old Bkool). They have no direct support in Zwift using Bluetooth, only on Bkool. The trainer comes with an ANT+ adapter to be able to use on your computer (that way it would be compatible with Zwift); but whether you want to use it with an iPad, Apple TV or similar, we will be complicating life needlessly.
Recommended bike trainers
Here I will create categories by price, because I suppose that is the fundamental aspect that will make you decide for one option or another. Everything will depend on whether you only want it to use these days of confinement or you will continue to use it in the future (believe me, it is a very interesting option to do quality workouts in a short time).
Cheap bike trainer
Tacx Vortex Smart
Undoubtedly the Tacx Vortex Smart is the best option right now if you want to spend little money. This trainer allows to simulate up to 7% incline and 950W of power. That power limitation can be a drag if you're interested in making very explosive intervals in a short time (sprints), but if you just want to roll on Watopia, you won't have any issue.
Tacx announces that it has an accuracy of +/- 5% because it has no power meter and the flywheel is only 11.8kg, but for 249€ (239€ with the code NEWES if you're a new customer or create a new account) we can't ask for much more.
Mid-range bike trainers
Without a doubt it is in the middle range that you will find more interesting options because that is where the fight is right now. And although there are still wheel-on trainers in this price range, I consider the direct drive trainers to be much more interesting.
As in previous cases, the differences between one model and another will be in precision, power and maximum inclination and the weight of the flywheel. It is in this last factor where there may be differences in sensations, because the greater the weight of the flywheel, the more similarities with road use we will find and the more "real" you will feel the pedaling.
However, beyond the maximum power, I am sure that if we did a blind testing of four or five trainers in this price range, no one would be able to tell which is which.
Tacx Flux S
Within this category both Tacx Flux S and Elite Suito are among the most interesting options. However with Suito we have a problem: right now there is no stock. And since we need it yesterday because we're going to go crazy being locked up in the house, we have no choice to wait.
Within the Tacx direct drive trainer range there are two Flux: the Flux S I'm talking about and the Flux 2. The S is basically the original Tacx Flux but at a cheaper price and with redesigned internal parts.
Allows up to 1,500W of power and 10% of incline simulation. The flywheel is 6.7kg (but simulates 22.8kg) and has an accuracy of +/- 3%.
Wahoo KICKR CORE
Wahoo is one of the leaders in terms of indoor training trainers. It's where the company was born and where it has earned all the reputation it has. The KICKR CORE is a silent trainer that is also compatible with KICKR CLIMB, an accessory that you can place on the fork to simulate the inclination of ascents and make it even more real.
It simulates an incline of up to 16% and allows to reach up to 1,800W with a 5.4kg flywheel. Wahoo usually has refurbished units with up to €200 off, so if you hunt any, it's a very good option for a very well made trainer.
High-end bike trainers
In this range we find maximum exponents of each of the brands. What today represents high-end is what tomorrow will be mid-range, so it is a very interesting category to follow even if our budget is not enough for any of these models.
The price difference with the mid-range models does not justify the extras we receive, unless you are interested in having the best of the best. They are somewhat quieter, somewhat more accurate and have better road feel, but it's not an abysmal difference.
In the high-end segment the Tacx Neo is king. It has everything: good construction, good reliability, good feeling... and also has vibration to simulate different terrain surfaces (earth, wood, stones, etc.).
The feeling is not the same as doing the Paris-Roubaix, but it encourages the change of terrain in the training sessions of Zwift.
Within the Tacx Neo range we have been seeing several models. The Neo 2 came out after the original model, the latter being the Neo 2T. The truth is that there are no big differences between any of them except small internal differences that have been corrected over time. I use the original Neo and I have no problem nor see the need to renew it with either of the two new additions.
It is true that the original model has the problem that it can "slip" if we make a very abrupt change of power. It is as if the rear wheel slips. But the truth is that I have only "suffered" in some Suffer Fest training, but in normal use even with intervals is something that does not appear.
Otherwise it is a trainer in which precision (+/- 1%) prevails and supports up to 2.200W and a maximum inclination of 25% in its current 2T version; but above all its silence. When I pedal on it the only thing I hear is the drivetrain, there is hardly any noise coming out of from the trainer.
It also has a function in which it simulates descents, accelerating when the incline is negative. To do this it has to be plugged in, because that is another possible option offered, operation without connection to the mains powered exclusively by pedaling.
Along with the Tacx Neo, the other model that comes to mind when you think of a high-end roller is the Wahoo KICKR. It doesn't have as many additional functions as the Tacx, but it's built like a tank.
It is equally reliable, quiet and accurate, and although it does not have the ability to vibrate simulating surfaces, it supports CLIMB.
Like the Neo 2T, it supports up to 2.200W but its maximum incline simulation is 20% (more than enough). The accuracy advertised by Wahoo is +/- 2%.
As in the case of the KICKR CORE, there are also refurbished units to save a little money.
There you have it, a good number of bike trainers at different prices to be able to spend these confinement days pedaling at home. I have tried to select models of which I have found units in stock for immediate delivery. Of course there are more models of different brands, but it all depends on the price and stock of the moment.
If you have any questions about these models or about any other, do not hesitate to make use of the comments you can find below.
And with that... thanks for reading!