Choosing The Best Smart Trainer For Riding Indoors

Over the years that I’ve been cycling, I’ve had a little bit of experience with indoor trainers. My first experience was through the blog when I chose to hire an indoor turbo trainer as part of my training for L’Etape London. Then I bought my own (wheel on) indoor trainer at Tour of Cambridge as they were selling them hugely discounted after one weekends use by the pros. 

Turbo Trainer or Smart Trainer?

I ended up lending that turbo trainer to Sophie who was on my original Red Bull Timelaps team and I got another from Giant for my own training which didn’t end up turning up on time. Anyway, eventually, I decided using a wheel on turbo trainer wasn’t gonna give me the experience that I craved indoors. 

I’ll be honest; when it comes to cycling, I’m struggling with the motivation to ride. There was even a point a few weeks ago where I considered packing it all in because of other people. Then I was reminded why I do what I do and why I shout about it – when I was a kid, I needed to see women who looked like me cycling. Dammit, I still need that today if I’m honest. So I’m committed to being on my bike and to encouraging other women to do the same. And if riding indoors is gonna keep me on my bike, I’m here for it!

The recent weather in the UK hasn’t helped much either. And I feel that if I had a decent enough indoor training set up I would be willing to roll out of bed and onto the bike. No need to choose weather appropriate clothes, no need to worry about nutrition being an arms length from my kitchen and technically, with a platform like Zwift, I wouldn’t even need to ride on my own. 

So I set about researching indoor trainers and believe me, I’ve been at it for months. If you’re a super bike geek then you’d prob be better off hitting up a blog like DC Rainmaker but personally, the reviews on there made my brain switch off. But his site did come in handy when I took delivery of the Elite Direto X and wanted some info in plain(ish) english. 

What I looked for in a smart trainer:

I now knew I wanted a direct drive trainer, where you take the rear wheel off and attach the bike to the trainer. Using a wheel on trainer will wear out your bike tire so to avoid that, you would need to purchase another wheel and use a tire made for indoor trainers. 

The footprint of the trainer and size were also important for me to consider as I live in a one bedroom flat. I wanted something that could be put away in a cupboard when not needed for periods of time. 

When I asked for recomendations, the top brands were:

  • Wahoo 
  • Tacx 
  • Elite 

Figure Out A Budget 

I weighed up all the available models based on price, functionality and reviews. The direct drive trainers from these brands ranged between £500 and £1000. Unlike a ‘dumb’ trainer, no other accessories are needed to get your turbo system up and running (bar a cassette in some circumstances).

Wahoo didn’t win for me based on the number of people that reported faulty units. I’d not heard of Elite before I started my research but the feedback was good. Then while away on triathlon training camp, an email dropped in my inbox with a good price on the Elite Direto X. I took it as a sign.

The Elite Direto X 

The Elite Direto X is an upgraded model from Elite, announced in Autumn 2019. It’s a direct drive smart trainer with power meter. I’d been keen on training using power in 2020 and had wanted to switch from riding a Liv Avail to the Langma (with power meter) but that wasn’t meant to be.

As with all the smart trainers available, the Elite Direto X has it’s faults (you can read the detailed review on DC Rainmaker here) but things like a max power of 2000w were never gonna be an issue for me. Also, chatting in a women’s cycling group, one of the ladies made a great point when she said:

“If it does the job, why pay more …its not like I wanna ride more on it, it’s just to keep fit during winter months and do my structured training!”

Good point Laura!

The Elite Direto X doesn’t come with a cassette, so I purchased one along with a few tools. Firstly, I assumed that I would need the exact same cassette as was on my bike but chatting to the guys in Cycle Surgery, I learnt this was not the case.

My Avail Advanced Pro 2019 has a Shimano Ultegra, 11×34 cassette on it, but on the turbo I have a Shimano 105 R700 11 speed (11×32) cassette installed. The Shimano 105 was a heck of a lot cheaper too so saving some cash was a bonus. Apparently, if the bike is 11 speed, then the cassette just needs to be 11 speed. You live and learn.

The tools needed to install the cassette were a lock ring remover, adjustable wrench and chain whip. I actually borrowed the lock ring tool from my local Giant store in Loughton but I will purchase this set from Amazon as going forward, I’ll need to have them handy.

Setting Up on Zwift

I’d previously tried Zwift without a smart trainer and tbh, I didn’t love it. So I was pretty excited to try Zwift using a smart trainer. The Elite Direto X comes with a 30 day trial which starts from your first official ride (after the introductory ride).

I thought Zwift was complicated when I first ever tried it and not much has changed. It isn’t a particularly intuitive app and it takes two devices to get the best experience; one with a decent sized screen to see “where” you are riding and then a phone to run the Zwift companion app which allows you to connect and communicate with other riders.

I found connecting my smart trainer and heart rate monitor to Zwift was quicker and easier through the companion app than it was directly with bluetooth. I’m not sure I’ll ever post a review of Zwift on the blog as I think it will take me quite some time to get my head around it, but hit up the Zwift Insider blog or Facebook group for all the tips and tricks.

Tip – if you’re on Zwift search for me – Elle Linton – and let’s ride together!

    Accessories For Your Pain Cave

    Well, I say pain cave – for me it’s more like pain corner of the room! But I’ll take that. Either way, whether you have a whole room or just enough space to fit your bike and turbo, there are a few accessories you might consider purchasing to make your rides all the more enjoyable.

    • A mat – this will help dampen the sound if you have downstairs neighbours like I do, as well as protect your floor
    • A fan – I’m not even the sweaty type but I need a shower after every turbo session.

    While ‘Zwifting’ I either have my music up loud via my google mini, or have Netflix streaming some trash series to keep me occupied! The Zwift companion app is also fab for chatting but whenever I’m on that typing, my focus reduces and my legs stop pedalling as fast / hard so I try to make it short and snappy!

    If you’re on Zwift, you can follow me – search Elle Linton – and maybe we can catch up on a ride?! One day when there are enough of us, I’ll create a club or something! Till then…

    Ride On!



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