Interbike Trends: Smart trainers leave the stratosphere

Tumbling prices makes smart trainers a more realistic possibility for everyday riders, but the opportunities to spend big remain

There is perhaps no greater indication of the explosive growth of indoor cycling than the pricing decline of smart trainers. So as we head toward the winter months, it’s time once again to think seriously about dusting off the wheel block, box fan, and 10-year-old rollers. Or, you could pick up a new smart trainer and enter the virtual realm, since they’re almost affordable now.

When these fully-connected trainers hit the market, prices were astronomical, reflecting the technology packed within; ANT+ and Bluetooth connectivity that lent a more real-life feel to indoor riding. But if the showings at Interbike 2018 are any indication, prices will continue to fall so consumers can take full advantage of connected indoor riding, without spending as much as you might on a high-end bike.

The CycleOps M2, for example, costs only $600, compared to a top of the line Wahoo Kickr — the best smart trainer out there, according to our testing — which costs twice that. Granted, the M2 is not a direct drive trainer, which means you’ll leave your rear wheel on and the tire presses against a roller. Still, you can hypothetically get into the smart trainer game at a much lower price point than even a couple of years ago, even if you factor in a $15 a month subscription to Zwift. The smart trainer game suddenly seems like a real possibility for everyday Joes and Janes who have to combat long stretches of winter weather.

For those that are into the finer things in life, you can still go well overboard with accoutrements, like Wahoo’s Kickr Climb — which simulates grades by lifting the front end of your bike in real time — and the Kickr Headwind (which, let’s be honest, is a really fancy box fan). These cost $600 and $250 respectively. Wahoo has also responded to customer demands for more affordability by offering the slightly less fancy direct drive unit, the Kickr Core, which knocks about $300 off the top of the line Kickr’s $1,200 price tag.

Tacx, Elite, and BKool have also expanded their lineups of trainers to appeal to a broader audience. BKool’s Smart Go trainer costs just $400. It’s clear that the virtual riding environment Zwift has taken trainers out of the pain cave and into the entertainment world. No longer do you need to stare at your washing machine in your dank basement; instead, you can race, train with friends on the other side of the world, or try your hand at some of the most famous climbs in cycling. If nothing else, a smart trainer can bring some sanity to your winter workouts. (But as soon as the sun comes out and the snow stops falling, you’ll still find us outside.)

Of course, for many consumers, spending money on any trainer, let alone a smart trainer with a high price tag, is akin to signing up for that gym membership you’ll use two or three times and then forget all about. It’s best to be clear and honest about your goals and motivations before plunking down cash on such setups, particularly if you live in a climate that’s more accommodating of winter riding.