Is a smart trainer really better than a dumb trainer? I look at the difference of smart trainer vs dumb trainer and which is best for the Zwift. Does a smart trainer give you a better experience when you can do it yourself on a dumb trainer?
Is a smart trainer only any good for virtual rides or can they really improve your performance and training sessions?
You don’t even need a smart trainer to use Zwift
You can use a cycle app like Zwift with a dumb trainer and a wireless power meter / speedometer connected to your rear wheel and it will make it look and feel like you have control over your virtual cyclist and ride. I show you how to make a dumb trainer smart here.
But what happens when you come to a virtual hill… You just make it harder for yourself and change gear. OK you are changing down instead of up as you would in real life but it still makes your virtual ride more realistic!
What about structured workouts… Yes you can do these also. Your wattage is shown on the screen and you just have to pedal to maintain the power output required by the app… No problem.
So why do you need a smart cycle trainer?
What are the differences between a smart cycle trainer vs regular trainer?
Let’s start with the differences between a smart trainer vs dumb trainer.
They are both look very similar, they even work the same. They both have a frame for the bike to be mounted on; they both have the same resistance unit to make it harder for you pedal.
The difference is that the smart trainer has its resistance adjusted electronically and it also has a power meter built-in.
At this point they both feel the same to ride on, it’s only when you connect your smart trainer to a device with a cycle app like Zwift that your smart trainer becomes something totally different.
The app can make your bike harder or easier to pedal and it can tell how much effort you are putting into your ride… That’s it! That is the difference between a smart trainer and a classic dumb one.
But the cycle app can work magic!
Why should you use Zwift?
A smart trainer changes the whole feel of the training session. No longer do you have to change gear and guess at the incline of the virtual hill to make the ride “harder”. The app via the smart trainer will slowly adjust the strength of the resistance until it reaches the required amount of energy you should use to get up the hill.
It also takes in to account the speed that your wheel is rotating and makes the “hill” feel much more realistic. For example if you approach the hill at a slow speed it will be harder for you, but if you approach it at speed you will get up the incline easier…just like on a real road.
The whole interactive virtual ride is much more realistic and therefore more enjoyable than if you were on your classic trainer guessing at how you think the ride should be.
Smart structures workouts
It’s not just about making your virtual rides more enjoyable or more challenging but a smart trainer really comes into its own with structured workouts (it’s what they were originally made for)
A smart trainer will automatically work out your wattage so you can train at a level you set and you can visually keep track of your improvements over the weeks.
Unlike a dumb trainer a smart one will keep the resistance at the level you set, automatically adjusting so you have to pedal at the set power level to keep moving forward. There is no guess-work or eyeballing it with a smart trainer… You have to put the work in to progress.
Finally there is virtual group riding
Racing or just virtual rides with friends, you can set the power level that you wish to ride at. If you are faster than your partner just up your personal Watt levels so you both put in the same effort but stay together, giving each other encouragement and motivation to push on.
Below is a video of one rider who has grudgingly moved on from his classic trainer to a smart trainer and gives his opinion to which is better.
Conclusion to smart trainer vs dumb trainer
I have shown that you don’t need a smart trainer to enjoy a cycle training app such as Zwift, but having a smart cycle trainer can certainly improve the feel of the training experience and also make your training sessions more accurate and productive.
Still in doubt? Imagine you have two bikes. One a cheap but very heavy foreign steel framed import and the other a state of the art, light weight, carbon beauty… Which would you chose and why?
I bet it wasn’t the heavy import… But it would do its job and you could ride on it, still you know it wouldn’t be as an enjoyable experience as the carbon bike.
And that is the main difference between smart trainer vs classic trainer it’s the improved training experience.