Best Value for Money - Cheaper Smart Trainers

I started cycling this year with the goal of getting into triathlons. I’ve been pretty casual/inconsistent so far about training and have mostly focussed just on getting out on the bike and used to riding. However, going into winter I want to be more structured about my training and looking at getting a Smart trainer to facilitate that.

What do people recommend that will give me the most value for my money? Things like the Kickr etc, though they look lovely, are massively beyond my budget. I’m (in the UK) looking for something around or, ideally, under the £200 mark.

Any suggestions/advice?

Picked up a Tacx Flow smart from Halfords two years ago, on offer and with BC discount just over £200. Afaik it will be difficult to get a smart trainer below that. You could try buying a used trainer? It has issues that are common to cheap smart trainers, like wattage floors and ceilings, but generally works ok.

To be honest I find I can do without the smart bit, I keep it switched off at least half of the time (which turns it into something like a fluid trainer I think), so buying again I’m not sure if I’d go for a smart model.

I have an Elite Qubo Digital B+ Smart. It was @dcrainmaker’s budget recommendation in 2015. I have no confidence that the power readings are correct, but it’s internally-consistent enough that I can train with it.

(For what it’s worth, his current budget recommendation is the Tacx Flow Smart that @splash mentioned , which is in roughly the same price range.)

I have the Tacx Flow TT2240 which can be picked up cheaply from Halfords as @splash noted. Its also on Ebay quite cheap. For that price and to do structured training it seems good enough.

I do switch between manual and ERG however for sprints but other than that works well enough.

I bought an Elite Volano for less than 200€ used. It is a dumb fluid direct drive trainer, which works like a charm in conjunction with my power meter and TR.

I opted for direct drive because it is more convenient and for a fluid trainer as it is quieter. Plus, I can warm up with it before races.

I’d suggest a second hand kickr snap - there is one on ebay UK at the moment with a buy it now of £300 - you can probably pick one up a bit cheaper if you wait. I know that’s slightly over your budget but totally worth the extra IMO

I’ve used other cheaper ones (mainly Tacx) but the snap feels like it’s a step up in quality I’m assuming you don’t have a power meter on the bike - I find the snap matches my bike power meter fairly accurately.

you’re might already be aware of:

also bear in mind that it’s the big eurobike show in a couple of weeks and I know a lot of the manufacturers are announcing new trainers although probably not so many at the lower end of the market - the advice at this time of the year is WAIT unless you get an amazing deal

…and welcome to TrainerRoad

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Tacx Vortex. I think they’re cheaper on your side of the pond. It’s probably the cheapest entry level smart trainer you can get

I have had a kickr snap for a whlle now and it works good without most of the bells and whistles of a wheel on trainer.

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probably 1st generation smart training s/h for that price

Used computrainers are the best bang for buck IMO

Fair warning, the Computrainer is not supported in the latest version of the TR app. You can still use the older ‘Legacy’ app, but it lacks all the new features.

Smart trainers are a nice way to spend some spare money on your sport, but I don’t think they are the “best value for the money.” For indoor training, the first priority is pretty much any “decent” trainer, second is a power meter. You can do quite well without a power meter going off TrainerRoad’s estimated “virtual power” based on your trainer and setup, and then having a power meter helps you compare trainer rides with outdoor rides.

Seconded. I got the Vortex Smart a few months ago, my first indoor trainer ever. I zeroed on this one after a ton of research about potential problems of different trainers (in this budget) with regard to the usage, compatibility with different training apps etc. The main problem with the Vortex seemed to be the clicking noise (which Tacx themselves seem to admit). The super-glue fix was something that I could see myself doing easily if the issue occurred, so I went ahead with the purchase. They are on sale right now on ChainReactionCycles and elsewhere online.

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Bought my g/f a TacX Boost recently and it’s brilliant for her because she doesn’t need to remove the wheel, and the mounting process is simple (no need to twist the clamp on to the bike, then twist the roller onto the wheel. It’s very quiet!

Its power curve is supported by TR (and other platforms).

I personally use an Elite Turbo Muin 2, wheel off fluid trainer. It’s far more stable than the TacX (it really is a heavy beast) and the resistance is great for climbing training and intervals. A bit louder than the TacX but still very quiet (particularly if you have a well maintained drivetrain)

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I bought a used Kurt Kinetic Rock and Roll Road Machine (on wheel fluid trainer), which can also be paired with the Kinetic inRide 3 as a cheap but accurate power meter. Depending on where you live, you may be able to buy a used Kinetic + new sensor for under $150. The Kinetics are built to last forever and are known for great road feel. I’ve had mine for a few years now and originally bought it used for $200 - no issues.

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Mine came with a click noise problem. Out of warranty. 2nd owner. They sent a replacement part and now it runs nice and smooth! Don’t know if that’ll happen now that they’ve been acquired by Garmin… But it was in January 2019 that it happened for me!

With a low budget, I’d personally much prefer a quality fluid dumb trainer than compromising with a sub-par cheap smart trainer.
If you’re just beginning, I’m sure you’d be happy with a regular trainer.
My Elite Qubo fluid trainer is rock solid, but you’d probably need a power meter as well to get the best out of it.

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Agreed. Plus, if you want to get into triathlons, you’ll need a power meter to pace your efforts anyway. Right now, there are quite a few used dumb fluid trainers, starting from Kurt Kinetic to models from Elite, which are currently a bargain. (Probably Kurt Kinetic is easier to get in the US and Elite more abundant in Europe.)

When it comes to wheel on or wheel off trainers on the used market, I did not really find a meaningful difference in cost here, once you factor in that eventually you’d need to get a training wheel so that you don’t use up your good tires on a trainer.

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I started with a Tacx Booster which I got secondhand for £50 and Virtual Power. Then I got a power meter (secondhand P1 pedals). Finally I got a Tacx Bushido Smart (secondhand for £170).
The dumb trainer has a bigger flywheel so it was a bit smoother to ride, but I only ever use the smart trainer now because you don’t have to shift to try to hit the spikes and the valleys. If you have a limited budget and you want power outside, you’re better off getting a cheap dumb trainer and a power meter IMO. If you don’t need big power spikes then you could even use a set of rollers, though they are no cheaper secondhand than a dumb trainer.

I’ve said above that I could do without the smart part of the trainer, and I don’t think you really need it to train. However it’s worth mentioning that if you like Zwift, afaik a smart trainer makes it a much more interesting experience, because the Zwift course will set your resistance, as opposed to you having to do it manually. I don’t use Zwift, and I don’t mind shifting to hit an intervall, but just think that people who do like the virtual world will have more fun with a smart trainer.