Smart Trainers 2020: Direct-Drive Trainers

We recently took a look at the rear-wheel smart trainers on the market, and now it’s time to look at the other half of the indoor trainer field: the direct-drive trainers. Based on our polling late last year, these are the ones Slowtwitchers are most interested in.

Up until just a couple of years ago, there was a fairly significant gap between the rear-wheel and direct-drive models on the market from a price perspective. While rear-wheel smart trainers occupied the $500-600 range, the direct-drive trainers were in the $1200-$1400 range. The direct-drive trainers touted their quieter operation, greater accuracy, ability to simulate higher grades and greater wattages, and more responsive feel, but you certainly wouldn’t be wrong to ask if they were really twice as good as their rear-wheel counterparts. We’re just trying to get a decent workout in, right? Are they really worth twice the price?

More recently, we’ve seen the introduction of a few products that bridge the cost gap a bit. New direct drive trainers around the $800-900 mark have been introduced, providing some solid options for those who would like the advantages of a direct-drive without the high price tag. With this trend, we now have a field of direct-drive trainers that range in price from around $750 to $1400, with an average just above $1000. This means that we have smart trainer options available from $300 to $1400, with no huge price gaps throughout that range. We also now have more options when it comes to direct-drive trainers than we do for rear-wheel products, as there are 13 trainers on this list, compared to the 10 rear-wheel trainers we covered in the first installment. 6 of these are under $900.

In indoor cycling, these are exciting times. As we look towards 2020, let’s take a look at what the market has to offer.

Bkool Smart Air + Simulator - $999.99

Bkool’s Smart Air + Simulator is one of the more unique-looking designs in this group. It’s designed to look somewhat like the profile of a rear wheel, which makes for a somewhat artistic take on the direct-drive concept. When you look at the statistics, it’s an impressive unit - up to 3000 watts of resistance, a maximum grade simulation of 25%, and accurate to +/- 2%. A neat added feature is that it has 6 degrees of lateral movement built in, allow your bike to move with you a bit more naturally.

Elite Direto X - $899.00

Elite’s Direto X is one of 3 direct-drive trainers in their lineup, and builds on its predecessor, the original Direto. Improvements include an increase in accuracy (+/- 1.5%), increase in maximum simulated slope (up to 18%), and increased maximum resistance (2100 watts at 40 km/h). Elite uses their OTS (Optical Torque Sensor) to improve the accuracy of the measurement without being affected by temperature and to provide their Pedaling Analysis functionality. Overall this makes for a very impressive feature set at the $900 level.

Elite Drivo II - $1199.00

The Drivo II claims an accuracy of +/- .5%, which would make it the most accurate trainer on the market. The Drivo II achieves that accuracy through an even more advanced Optical Torque Sensor (OTS) than the Direto X. Rated at 2300 watts of maximum resistance, 24% max grade, and also containing a 13.2 lb flywheel, the Drivo II is an impressive unit, on paper.

Elite Suito - $799.00

Elite’s new $800 Suito comes in at the more affordable end of the direct-drive spectrum and even includes a Shimano 105 11-speed cassette to get you started. Claimed accuracy is +/- 2.5%, maximum grade is 15%, and maximum resistance is 1900 watts. The Suito doesn’t have OTS like it’s more expensive siblings and has a relatively light flywheel at 7.2 lbs, but does still include built-in speed and cadence sensors. At this price point, the Suito stacks up nicely compared to its peers and is worth a look.

JetBlack WhisperDrive Smart - $899

The JetBlack WhisperDrive Smart is unique in that it doesn’t require you to plug it in. Matter of fact, it will even charge your USB devices. JetBlack doesn’t specify the accuracy, but it is capable of producing 2500 watts of resistance and emulating a 16% grade. The 17.5 lb flywheel is the second heaviest in this bunch (the H3 has a 20 lb flywheel), helping to provide a more road-like feel.

Kinetic R1 - $1050.00

The R1 uses Kinetic’s Rock and Roll technology to enhance their first direct-drive trainer. In addition to Bluetooth and ANT+ connectivity, the R1 also provides a USB port, allowing for a reliable hard-wired connection and helping to eliminate interference. Kinetic describes their flywheel as “massive”, although doesn’t give specifics in regards to the weight. The R1 can provide up to 2000 watts of resistance and simulate up to a 20% grade.

Saris H3 - $999.99

We’ve spent some time with the previous generations of the H3 - the CycleOps Hammer and H2. The Saris H3 is built on these solid products, matching the specifications of the H2, but coming in $200 cheaper. For $1000, you get 2000 watts of maximum resistance, up to a 20% grade simulation, and accuracy of +- 2%. Saris is the only company to provide a noise level rating on their direct drive trainer, coming in at 59 dB at 20 mph, in case you are looking to get a workout in at your local library.

Tacx NEO 2T - $1,399.00

Tacx just introduced the third generation of their top-of-the-line NEO, the NEO 2T. At $1400, this is the most expensive trainer listed here. The NEO line has always offered some unique features that help it to stand out, including simulation of road surfaces such as cobblestones or gravel, built-in pedal stroke analysis, and is the only trainer on the market that will actually simulate a descent. On the ascent, it will simulate up to a 25% grade, and can produce a maximum of 2500 watts of resistance. The NEO 2T is only matched by Elite’s Drivo II in terms of accuracy, with the 2T’s +- 1% rating. Like the Kinetic R1 and the Bkool Smart Air + Simulator, the NEO 2T offers some lateral movement, allowing for a bit more natural ride.

Tacx FLUX 2 - $899.00

Tacx’s FLUX 2 is the next generation of their mid-level direct-drive trainer, coming in at around $900. The FLUX 2 improves on the FLUX S with improved accuracy at +/- 2.5%, 2000 watts of maximum resistance, and a maximum grade of 16%.

Tacx FLUX S - $749.00

While the FLUX 2 has been introduced as the next generation of the FLUX S, we'll mention the FLUX S here as it is still listed on the Tacx website and can be had for under $750, making this the most affordable direct-drive trainer on the market. For $150 less than the FLUX 2, you give up a bit of accuracy, maximum grade, and maximum resistance, but it’s still a lot of trainer for the money. One caveat is that the FLUX S doesn’t include the adapter for thru-axle bikes like the FLUX 2 does. Once you’ve dropped an additional $50 on that, the price delta decreases a bit more.

Wahoo KICKR - $1199.99

Wahoo’s KICKR is now on its fourth generation, and has become one of the first smart trainers to come to mind when conversing with other riders. The continued refinement over the years has made for a very good set of specifications, and we’ve spent a bit of time with this ourselves. With +/- 2% accuracy, up to a 20% maximum grade, and as much as 2200 watts of resistance, the KICKR might not lead the pack in any single metric, but it is near the top across the board. Wahoo’s ecosystem allows the KICKR to interact with some of their other accessories, such as the CLIMB wheel riser and HEADWIND fan, providing some opportunities to create the ultimate pain cave.

Wahoo KICKR CORE - $899.99

The KICKR CORE is a fantastic response to the indoor trainer market’s gap in prices, coming in at $300 less than it’s top-end sibling. As the name implies, the CORE is a somewhat stripped-down, back to the basics unit, with a simpler, non-folding stand and slightly more pedestrian specifications. Nonetheless, the numbers are still solid, with accuracy matching the KICKR at +/- 2%, up to 1800 watts of resistance, and a 16% maximum grade simulation. Like the KICKR, it still provides compatibility with their HEADWIND and CLIMB accessories, making for a compelling option for someone interested in training in the Wahoo ecosystem.

Worth a Mention

Not discussed above is another trainer reported to be coming soon the - Xpedo APX Pro. While better known for being a pedal manufacturer, Xpedo has their direct-drive trainer in the works. It’s not even on their website yet, so we’ll have to wait to hear more.

Stacking Them Up




BkoolSmart Air + Simulator$999.99+/- 2%25%3000 watts
EliteDireto X$899.00+/- 1.5%18%9.3 lbs2100 watts
EliteDrivo II$1200.00+/- .5%24%13.2 lbs2300 watts
EliteSuito$800.00+/- 2.5%15%7.2 lbs1900 watts
JetBlackWhisperDrive Smart$899.00TBD16%17.5 lbs2500 watts
KineticR1$1050.00+/- 3%20%2000 watts
SarisH3$999.99+/- 2%20%20.0 lbs2000 watts
TacxFLUX 2$899.00+/- 2.5%16%16.8 lbs2000 watts
TacxFLUX S$749.00+/- 3%10%15.4 lbs1500 watts
TacxNEO 2T$1399.00+/- 1%25%2200 watts
WahooKICKR$1199.99+/- 2%20%16.0 lbs2200 watts
WahooKICKR CORE$899.99+/- 2%16%12.0 lbs1800 watts


Like the rear-wheel trainers, every one of these trainers includes both Bluetooth and ANT+ compatibility, ensuring that you can use it with whatever indoor training app you prefer. Bike compatibility is a bit more of a challenge, as different axle standards and hub standards muddy the waters a bit. Compatibility has improved, overall, with most providing support for quick-release and thru-axle systems. These all come with a Shimano/SRAM 8/9/10/11-speed-compatible hub to provide support for many of the bikes out there. For those with Campagnolo hubs or SRAM XD Drivers, you’ll need to purchase the appropriate adapter. Most of these do not include a cassette, so that’s one more piece to consider when you buy.

Final Thoughts

It’s hard to put into words just how much is going on in the indoor training space - we’re in a really neat place right now in this arena. From a consumer perspective, we have more and better choices, with new products coming out alongside solid revisions of existing products. The manufacturers continue to battle it out, continuing to raise the bar on quality, and the real winners of this battle are us, the consumers. The future is bright.