10 of the best turbo trainers test, rated and reviewed

Best Turbo Trainers 2014Our latest round up of the best triathlon gear focuses on turbo trainers, something our northern test team has been spinning for nearly three decades.

We rode every trainer head-to-head for the clearest contrast between the performance.We dug deep with the data, using a PowerTap wheel for speed readouts of both minimum 50W resistance levels and high-load 500W levels, to show power spread.

We measured the ‘coast’ time from 20kph to standstill to gauge flywheel sustain. We also assessed noise levels, frame stability, storage, set-up, long-term durability and ride quality.

If you’re buying a new turbo trainer, he’s what to look out for:

Resistance engine
The simplest wind trainers rely on a (normally noisy) wind fan. Gel and hydro trainers use a propeller churning through a thick liquid. Magnetic trainers use a reversed electric motor.

Roller
The rear wheel uses a roller to drive the resistance engine. Metal rollers last longer but wear tyres out quicker than elastomer (rubber) rollers. Check the axle-clamp to roller distance can be altered for all bikes likely to be used.

Remote control
Some trainers have automatic resistance, others let you change the difficulty level. This may involve a crude cable-pulling dial, but some top-end machines offer a full ‘virtual reality’ experience.

Axle clamp
Most turbos use two screw-in cups that clamp a special steel quick-release skewer (normally supplied with the unit) like a vice. A lot of them include a cam-style device for easy opening and closing, too.

Flywheel
Adding a flywheel to your turbo trainer makes it spin around for longer if you back off your effort at any point in a session, meaning it will
feel significantly less choppy when you are pedalling along.

Frame
These vary from simple fold-out A-frame set-ups to cassette-equipped designs that replace your back wheel. What suits you depends on stability demands, storage space, what you can lift and the bikes you’ll use.

JetBlack S1 Sport TrainerJetBlack S1 Sport Trainer
£87.99
chickencycles.co.uk

The lack of any sort of quick-release system on the S1’s axle clamps makes set-up and removal a bit of a chore. Despite the wimpy appearance, though, it’s stable enough that you can give it full gas out of the saddle. It is however the noisiest trainer in this test at higher speeds. But that said it positively whispers along compared to the wind fan machines you would normally get at this price point. Despite a fairly firm start, the small magnetic resistance engine struggles to put up much of a fight unless you totally rev the brains out of it. There’s no real sustain from the tiny flywheel, so low-rev work can be a very choppy experience. Power levels are consistent between sessions though, with only very slight reduction in braking effect after about an hour at threshold pace.
50W: 15kph  500W: 60kph  Coast: 2secs  Noise: 80dB

Verdict
Choppy, with limited max resistance and basic frame, but still a bargain if it’s all you can afford.

Performance 2/5
Value 4/5
Overall 3/5

Minoura B60RMinoura B60R
£149.99
zyro.co.uk

Minoura’s cheap-and-cheerful B60 successfully defends its discount champ status for another year. The basic frame has a small footprint but, as long as the legs are fully locked out, it’s trustworthily sprint-stable. The driveside winder handle and fixed offside socket work really well. The chunky, cable-operated ‘tap’ lever that changes the resistance levels attaches securely to the bars and it’s easy to ‘emergency shift’ when you’re at the point of puking at the end of a long interval set. Initial resistance is middling but builds smoothly and quietly if you leave it on low. If you crank it up to maximum braking effect, it hits 500W before you hit 40kph, though with plenty still left to bring you to your knees. It’s definitely better spun rather than stomped, though, as the small flywheel makes it choppy at low revs.
50W: 17kph  500W: 38kph  Coast: 4secs  Noise: 70dB

Verdict
All you need for wide-ranging winter training  in a simple, reliable, affordable package.

Performance 3/5
Value 5/5
Overall 4/5

Elite Novo ForceElite Novo Force
£179.99
madison.co.uk

It looks smart, but the square frame of the Novo Force wobbles even on flat surfaces and all the plastic means it’s less sturdy than some of its rivals when it comes to accidental damage, too. The roller-engagement cam-switch that seems a neat idea when new also wears and becomes baggy and indistinct after a few months. On the plus side, the trainer folds up very neatly and it’s super-light to carry about. Frame grumbles aside, the urethane rubber roller is slip-free, quiet running and kind on tyres. It offers an easy start spin and the smooth flywheel gives it the longest coast on test. A five-position switch and high top resistance level mean the jumps between settings are big, so you’ll need to fine-tune torque through the gears.
50W: 20kph  500W: 34kph  Coast: 12secs Noise: 70dB

Verdict
Good-looking Italian starts smooth but plastic frame wobbles and ages rapidly.

Performance 3/5
Value 2/5
Overall 2/5

Tacx Blue MotionTacx Blue Motion
£199.99
fisheroutdoor.co.uk

The Blue Motion’s low-height frame with broad, splayed-leg stance and cam axle-clamp holds the bike really well and it will fold up pleasingly neatly after your training session as well. The bar-mounted resistance lever is potentially fragile though if you try to get it off in a bit of a hurry or it gets caught up in cabling. So you need to be gentle with it or you’ll rip the metal pin through the soft, thin plastic. The easy start builds to a fairly demanding max power level through 10 consistent-increase steps. A long coast keeps it spinning between power peaks and at low revs too. Unfortunately though, the metal-sheathed urethane roller is very growly, with lots of vibration that gets increasingly worse the faster you go on the trainer.
50W: 20kph  500W: 34kph  Coast: 11secs Noise: 75dB

Verdict
Neat and tidy trainer with decent decimal-level engine, but undermined by roller feel.

Performance 2/5
Value 3/5
Overall 2/5

Giant Cyclotron FluidGiant Cyclotron Fluid
£274.99
giant-bicycles.com

The Cyclotron’s alloy frame is heavy, but it locks down securely enough to handle you throwing yourself at a full-on set of sprint intervals. It’s got a really heavy-duty start, which means you’ll have to use your lowest gears for a recovery spin. It then ramps up really steeply, hitting 500W at just over 30kph, so you’re going to have to do a fair bit of gear juggling to get a smooth, subtle change in pace. High resistance means the engine is growly, with significant vibration, found particularly at the high revs. There’s also very little run-on before the ‘gurgling plughole’ impeller stops the turbo dead, so a training session can become piston-style leg punishment much faster than on the other trainers in this test. It’s a minor gripe really, but the frame also holds the wheel very high.
50W: 12kph  500W: 31kph  Coast: 4secs  Noise: 75dB

Verdict
Heavy-duty, high-resistance but potentially jerky workout for power pedallers, not spinners.

Performance 3/5
Value 2/5
Overall 2/5

CycleOps Fluid2CycleOps Fluid2
£285
paligap.cc

The Fluid2’s tubular legs with adjustable hooves kick out wide to create a super-solid broad base. Rather than using screw-clamps, the offside axle cup is a simple yet effective two-position ‘gate’ with a spiral-lock driveside cam that clunks solidly into place. The big metal roller makes it less damaging on tyres than others on test and the engine is smooth. The non-adjustable ‘automatic’ incremental fluid resistance has a light start and a flat, consistent power curve. Get it into a big gear and spin, and it’ll deliver 1,000W-plus of leg-blending pain. There’s excellent sustain between surges and the overall action makes it as close to enjoyable as you’ll get for sprints or extended spin sessions. The fan flywheel adds some noise but is cooling. Plus the whole unit comes with a lifetime warranty.
50W: 20kph  500W: 55kph  Coast: 8secs  Noise: 70dB

Verdict
Minimum set-up fuss delivers a super-solid, luxuriously smooth ‘auto’-resistance workout.

Performance 5/5
Value 5/5
Overall 5/5

Tacx Flow T2200Tacx Flow T2200
£379.99
fisheroutdoor.co.uk

Tacx’s Flow has a neat frame and decent resistance engine, but overall performance is disappointing. The multi-cable set-up adds a real trip/crank-tangle hazard, and the rubber bar-straps on the big head unit barely fit 31.8mm handlebars, so it can fly off easily. Set-up of the computer needs patience to grasp, as does navigating between functions. It only offers gradient- and wattage-based engine management options as standard but heart-rate belt and ‘virtual reality’ computer upgrades are available. Noticeable frame bounce is designed to add realism, but not all of our testers were fans. A riser block is included. Medium starting resistance builds predictably and there’s potentially enough to break even the most powerful sprinters. There’s a lot of vibration and noise from the urethane roller, though.
50W: 17kph  500W: 35kph  Coast: 6secs  Noise: 75dB

Verdict
Upgradable, bouncy-framed e-trainer with cabling, head unit fitting and ride feel grumbles.

Performance 2/5
Value 2/5
Overall 2/5

Elite Qubo DigitalElite Qubo Digital
£399.99
madison.co.uk

The Qubo’s gloss-plastic frame looks smart but wobbles about, even on flat ground. The way it’s designed to bounce to recreate a ‘real riding feel’, while a commendable idea, didn’t agree with all of our testers either. The urethane roller means no tyre slip and the roller on our year-old Elite test unit hasn’t worn at all. The ANT+ wireless head unit keeps the bike area clear of cables and it is heart-rate belt and cadence meter compatible, too. A relatively firm start builds up quietly to potentially massive levels of resistance via a 16-level fine-tune through the head unit. There’s also an ‘auto adjust’ sustained wattage feature and 10 preset training programmes, ranging from recovery to incremental intervals. A fluid-engine non-digital version of the Qubo is also available, for £270.
50W: 16kph  500W: 29kph  Coast: 5secs  Noise: 70dB

Verdict
Quiet, mostly wire-free enhanced-info trainer, but bouncy feel won’t suit everyone.

Performance 4/5
Value 3/5
Overall 3/5

BKool BCyclingBKool BCycling
£429.99
i-ride.co.uk

BKool’s simple frame uses bike weight to maintain roller tension, with a solid axle-lock cam for steady sprinting. The ribbed metal roller helps grip but there’s noticeable buzz and our sample had a noticeable bump in the roller that thumped every rev. The ducted resistance engine is pretty noisy and labour intensive to get going, but there’s plenty of spin to keep things smooth once you’re up to speed and the range of resistance is massive. Once you’ve worked your way through set-up, registered online and paid your £80 annual (monthly costs less) subscription, the BSim website provides a massive range of training sessions, videos, multiplayer online racing and detailed workout feedback. You can also download routes and training plans that feed directly into the engine and onto your PC screen.
50W: 16kph  500W: 40kph  Coast: 9secs  Noise: 75dB

Verdict
Adequate turbo, but lots of entertainment value and data capture at an impressive price.

Performance 4/5
Value 4/5
Overall 4/5

Kinetic Rock and Roll IIKinetic Rock and Roll II
£464.99
2pure.co.uk

This unique unit is heavy and bulky, making it problematic to move and store. It needs levelling carefully as any off-centre tilt will be amplified by the rubber mounting. The two-tone rubber knobs and quick-release latch mean good bike security in the upper frame. The two-piece, rubber-cushioned frame is very tall so Kinetic’s rotating riser block (£39.99) is worth getting. What you get in return is a genuinely unique suspended ride feel, where your bike is free to tip and tilt sideways as you power out of the saddle. The engine is good, with a labour-intensive start but smooth and quiet once rolling, and it has good sustain between short bursts. Shallow resistance increases mean it’s ideal for more subtle extended sessions as well as your smash-and-grab intervals.
50W: 14kph  500W: 42kph  Coast: 8secs  Noise: 70dB

Verdict
Unique ride feel adds bulk, cost and weight, but has fans and the engine’s smooth and subtle.

Performance 4/5
Value 3/5
Overall 3/5

CycleOps Fluid 2

Winner – Value Award: Minoura B60R
Winner – Performance Award: CycleOps Fluid2
Overall Winner: CycleOps Fluid2

Turbo trainers have been around for decades, most are made by specialist manufacturers and the instrument’s task is simple. But we’re often disappointed with the results turbos deliver.

Giant’s Cyclotron sounds like something from a Japanese monster movie and gives an appropriately Godzilla-style workout. Elite’s Qubo gives information-rich semi-wireless training. Kinetic’s unique Rock and Roll II trainer builds smooth resistance into its ‘Free Range’ suspended ride feel. JetBlack takes underdog honours for delivering a cheap and cheerful unit. The BKool BCycling is a bargain too (presuming our egg-shaped roller was an anomaly). The value-for-money Minoura B60 merely gives you a plastic ‘pain tap’ for your handlebars, but that’s all you need for a diverse range of training sessions.

Nothing comes close to the CycleOps Fluid2. It’s solid and smooth, and the complete lack of variable resistance, head units, levers or other distractions is a big advantage for pure training. Add a lifetime warranty and you’re onto a winner.

Check out more of our  best triathlon gear reviews