Best Value Smart Trainer: Wahoo Kickr CORE$899 1 of 7
Photo Courtesy of Wahoo
The Wahoo Kickr CORE offers features found in direct-drive trainers costing hundreds of dollars more: through-axle compatibility, maximum resistance of 1800w, 16 percent maximum simulated grade, a flywheel weighing 12 pounds and a power meter with accuracy within two percent. The Kickr CORE connects to devices via ANT+ and BTLE and can be controlled with Android or iOS—or from an FE-C enabled bike computer. Plus, it's so quiet.
The Wahoo Kickr CORE is easy to set up: We had it unboxed and assembled with just a 5mm hex wrench, and paired with our phone and laptop, in less than half an hour. Although we liked structured workouts in "erg mode"—setting a specific power target so the trainer could match resistance with effort—we were quickly hooked on the Zwift experience. When paired with a Wahoo Kickr Climb, we had more fun than we ever thought possible when cycling indoors.
Best Value Fluid Trainer: Kurt Kinetic Road Machine$309 2 of 7
Photo Courtesy of Kinetic
We've been training with a Kurt Kinetic Road Machine fluid resistance trainer for nearly a decade. It's ultra-sturdy, has proven durable, stores nearly flat and travels well. The 12 pound add-on Kinetic Pro Flywheel exceeded our expectations for making a smooth ride even smoother when doing steady-state training sessions.
Best Value Magnetic Resistance Trainer: CycleOps Mag+ Trainer$199 3 of 7
Photo Courtesy of CycleOps
The CycleOps Mag+ Trainer features a linear resistance curve—as you go harder, the trainer "pushes back" predictably—a wired, handlebar-mounted shifter, leveling feet and can accommodate a wide range of wheel sizes—even those with thru-axles. The rear wheel resistance roller has been machined to be smooth, and ours has proven durable over several seasons of indoor training. The bolt-action lever makes fastening bikes a simple, single-step affair.
Best Accessory: Wahoo Kickr Climb$599 4 of 7
Photo Courtesy of Wahoo
The Wahoo Kickr Climb is the next best thing to riding outdoors. Re-riding outdoor routes (through GPX files loaded into a FE-C enabled bike computer, like the Garmin 520+) or when in a virtual cycling experience like Zwift, the Kickr Climb adjusted the angle of the front of our bike to simulate road gradient. We were amazed at how realistic it made riding indoors feel, simulating climbs and descents from negative 10 percent through 20 percent.
Best Indoor Trainer Tire: Vittoria Zaffiro Pro Home Trainer$35 5 of 7
Indoor trainers can wear tires quickly, so the best way to prolong the life of your racing tires is not to use them when riding inside. This means if you ride indoors a lot, you'll want to use a tire meant to withstand this kind of specific wear. The Vittoria Zaffiro Pro Home Trainer tire has lasted hundreds of hours and thousands of miles of hard use. It's a standard tire that can be mounted to the same wheel you normally use.
Pro Tip: If you find yourself frequently alternating between cycling indoors and outdoors, consider a dedicated inside ride wheel. Mount a trainer tire to this wheel with a new cassette, so you have only to swap wheels not tires when riding outside.
Best Indoor Cycling Experience: Zwift$45 for 3 months 6 of 7
What if you could get in a great workout and have all the fun when riding inside? The Zwift indoor riding experience provides so many great features that we were hooked after our first ride. You can hop in an organized group ride—and even feel you trainer's resistance decrease when drafting—or go solo.
It accommodates structured workouts and offers a library of pre-built training programs. If you are on a specific training program, you can build workouts right into Strava and ride the courses in erg mode if using a smart trainer. If you don't have a smart trainer, Zwift can translate speed and cadence (provided you have these sensors).
The true enjoyment is the gamification of virtual cycling and the constant adjustment of setting and achieving goals. The more you ride, the more routes are unlocked. Plus, as you earn "experience points," you'll also gain access to upgrades for your avatar's kit, wheels and bike.