Do you need a smart trainer? A smart cycle trainer is the next evolution in cycle training… Do you want one? I find out what is a smart indoor cycle trainer and how they can benefit you. Are they a good investment for your fitness and cycle training?
It’s been a long hard race, you’ve felt the pain, the burn of the hills, the exhilaration as you power along the flats and now the end is insight, one more push… You sprint for the line racing fellow friends and club members… all from the comfort of your home!
That is the dream! And a smart trainer can and does make it real. In fact it is so demanding and realistic that a new sport has been formed, with competitions and world tournaments which have arisen because of smart trainers.
They are not only used during the winter months but are now a yearlong viable training asset.
What is a smart trainer?
A smart trainer is a device that can talk wirelessly via Bluetooth or ANT+, to a cycle app on your laptop, mobile phone or smart device.
So a smart trainer coupled with an app such as Zwift can simulate a ride with hills (automatically makes more resistance and therefore the feel of riding up or down hills and inclines) or when you race against other riders you get the feeling of drift while in a pack but harder when you are at the front.
How is it better than a normal “dumb” trainer?
They make training indoors entertaining and challenging. Paired with a cycling app you can do virtual rides or races and the smart trainer because of its automatic variable changing resistance challenges you more and the virtual ride feels more realistic.
A smart trainer can make your structured training workouts more accurate and demanding. They accurately making you ride at a set wattage (the amount of energy you use) by either making the trainer more resistive to your pedaling or making it easier if you are pedaling too fast… so the energy you use is a constant, it is what you have programmed in. e.g. a constant 300watts.
But if you train on a normal non smart trainer you have to watch a power meter yourself and regulate your own energy output by pedalling faster or slower.
In short a smart trainer connected to an app can make your training more realistic and entertaining.
Can I turn my trainer into a smart trainer?
Not a fully interactive smart trainer. But you can still use a non-smart trainer to interact with training apps such as Zwift and others. You just don’t get the differing “realistic” resistance changes as you interact with the cycling app.
By fitting a power meter to your bike and the meter to the app, you can still follow cycle routes and exercise routines but you won’t get the interactive resistance changes that a smart trainer will give you.
See “How to make a classic / dumb trainer into a smart trainer” if you have a normal cycle trainer and wish to use Zwift or other Apps.
Why do you need a smart trainer?
What does it do?
A smart trainer on its own does nothing that a basic cycle trainer can do, but pair it with a device with a smart trainer app and you enter a whole new world of interactive training, virtual cycle routes, races with real or virtual riders, ride with friends and club members.
Because a smart trainer can adjust the resistance that you need to overcome while you pedal to match what you see on your screen, you are constantly challenged and motivated to train better and longer.
In short they are an entertaining way to train indoors and an improved if not essential training aid.
Do smart trainers come with their own software?
Yes, the majority do have their own software, but these are limited and in some cases not very “realistic” or pleasurable to use.
But get a modern app that is dedicated to improving your training experience and has a dedicated team constantly updating and improving their product and it becomes a whole new world of pleasurable training experience.
Examples of top smart cycle training apps are Zwift, TrainerRoad and The Sufferfest… These are just the most popular, there are many more.
Zwift at the moment is top cycle app and will be way better than the cycle app that came with your smart trainer. It is free to use for one month but then it is monthly subscription based.
Are there any drawbacks to a smart trainer?
Some smart trainers need to be calibrated every time you use it with a cycle app. These are usually the “on wheel” type that need to be calibrated, but the “off wheel” trainers are good to go right from the get go.
The price may put some people off as most smart trainers are more expensive than their normal “dumb” counter-part, but there are now cheaper models coming in (see below) that are reasonably prices and great value for money.
Most popular smart trainers
There is a smart trainer for all types of cyclist; these generally fall into 3 groups.
1. Top of the range “wheel off” smart trainers usually used by professionals and top amateurs.
These trainers are highest quality, silent and require no start-up calibration. They have fewer moving parts than a “wheel on” trainer making them less prone to vibration and also with no tire running across a roller they are virtually silent to you and those around you.
This direct drive setup creates the most realistic road-like experience of all cycle trainers.
The most popular wheel off cycle trainer in this group is the Tacx Neo smart direct driver trainer. You can find more information about this model on Amazon. I have a link here if you are interested. http://amzn.to/2IDMNZ7
2. Intermediate – This is the largest section of users with the vast majority being the avid cyclist wanting a quality smart trainer to keep fit, join friends in virtual competitions and rides.
The type of smart trainer in this group is usually a fluid resistor unit or high-end magnetic resistor type. These give good road-like experience and are fairly quiet, but you do suffer with the tire noise and vibration.
They are easy to set up and use, they are a durable, reliable and because of this are popular with many cyclists.
One of the most popular seen in videos and recommended by cyclists in forums is the Kinetic Road Machine Smart Control Trainer. I have a link to Amazon if you wish more information – http://amzn.to/2FWVLzb
3. The budget entry-level smart trainer for the cyclist just starting in-door training or looking to upgrade from their basic magnetic bike stand. But don’t knock these some are as good as the more expensive established smart trainers.
They are just as easy to use as the more expensive trainer but they are made a little cheaper and can be a little noisier, but they do give a great interactive riding experience when paired with an app such as Zwift.
After seeing the video below I would have no hesitation making this my upgrade smart trainer.
Smart trainer used is the Elite QUBO Digital Smart B+ link here if you want to check it out – http://amzn.to/2HP1Wpo.
What to look out for when buying a smart trainer
Beware: some of the cheaper “smart” trainers don’t have interactive resistance changes… They will connect to your computer and apps, letting you know the distance and power outage but don’t change the resistance like the more expensive trainers.
What do you need to connect a smart cycle trainer to Zwift?
It is very simple to connect your smart trainer to Zwift and you only need a few key components.
- Smart trainer
- One of the following with the Zwift app – Laptop / mobile phone / smart TV/ Apple TV/ iPad
- Heart monitor – This can also be paired with the Zwift
- Fan – Got to keep cool! See my post on best fans for cycle trainers
- Mat – See my post on best cycle trainer mats
Summary to what is a smart indoor cycle trainer?
- Not much more expensive than a good “dumb” trainer.
- Smart trainers hold their price. You will find used ones are still expensive.
- A great way to stop the boredom of indoor training.
- A smart trainer is a great help, giving more accurate information and readings for training exercises.
A few things to watch out for:
- Not all smart trainers equal – it is a case of you get what you pay for… The more expensive the better the riding / training experience.
- Update software regularly on the smart trainer. Software apps are continually being improved to feel more realistic and to keep up with these apps the manufacturers of your smart trainer also have to constantly upgrade their software to keep up… It will give you a better training experience.
I hope you have found this post helpful, here at BikeTrainerStands.com I hope to answer the most common questions about cycle trainer stands.
If you have any other queries check out the menu above and if you still cannot find the answer to your problems please let me know what it is in the comments below.
A popular problem to check out is how to make my indoor cycle trainer quieter.