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A Head-to-Head Test of Two Indoor Cycling Trainers

Down in the basement, work up a sweat-storm on one of these trainers.

Henry Phillips

We all want to ride outside. But as temps drop, weather worsens and the light dwindles early in the afternoon, hopping on the bike indoors begins to sound like a nice alternative to letting your legs wither like the fallen leaves.

At the end of the day, the cycling trainer is, at best, a necessary evil; but the two trainers below, which we tested head to head, offer both entry-level price points and a convenience not found in competitors. The Wahoo Kickr Snap gives resistance training typically found on much more expensive direct drive trainers, without costing over $1,000. The Kurt Kinetic Rock and Roll Smart imitates the motion found when actually riding, without the lack of resistance of rollers or the stiffness of a traditional triangular on-wheel trainer. They’re not the only options — CycleOps makes a worthy competitor to the Kickr Snap (the Powersync, for $900), and there are good offerings from Elite, Bkool and Blackburn — but the two we tested differentiate themselves in the segment in performance for the price. (Just don’t forget a proper fan.)

Wahoo Kickr Snap


A Stable Coaching Companion: The Wahoo Kickr Snap trainer’s dynamism comes from connectivity and a training-app integration. The on-wheel trainer syncs with smartphones, tablets and laptops and allows riders to not only track speed, power and distance (along with cadence and heart rate with additional monitors), but to also adjust the resistance of the flywheel. Wahoo articulates this resistance in multiple ways, giving riders the option to simply increase percentage of resistance (0 to 100 percent), adjust “power curve” (effectively percentage grade, from 0 to 4.5 percent), attempt to maintain a set watt amount (ERG), or simulate both slope and wind speed (where you can also adjust for a tri bike, road bike both in drops and out, or mountain bike). Analytics are displayed and broken down in multiple variations, and there’s plenty of data to go around. What it amounts to is a cycling coach in the palm of your hand, and when paired with Wahoo’s partnership with Carmichael Training Systems (at an additional monthly cost), it is a coach in your palm and on the phone.

Ride Feel: For logging productive workouts, this was the best way to work the legs. The ERG mode — where the resistance automatically adjusts to force the rider to maintain cadence — is particularly helpful, and the wheel resistance feels natural and surprisingly effective (even at high resistances, I didn’t get any wheel slip). The price is high, but this is not a simple on-wheel trainer. The experience is closer to what one would get from a programmable resistance direct-drive trainer, yet at a much more approachable price point. For the serious watt freak and for those most serious about getting the legs in shape in the off-season, this is your trainer.

The Gear to Get You There:
Kickr Snap $700
Kickr Floormat $70
RPM Cadence Sensor $50
Tickr Heart Rate Monitor $50
Total Cost: $870

Kurt Kinetic Rock and Roll Smart


Real Cycling, Spinning in Place: The Kurt Kinetic Rock and Roll goes beyond a standard on-wheel trainer by rocking and rolling, which gives a relatively accurate feel of riding a bike. The resistance is the standard progressive flywheel kind (the more you put in, the more resistance you get), but the setup allows for side-to-side motion common when spinning the pedals on the road. This allows riders to work on maintaining balance (you’re not simply locked in place), and leverage rocking for extra effort. It also allows riders to rise out of the saddle, a luxury while riding on a trainer. The Rock and Roll Smart also comes with the inRide Smart Sensor, a necessary accessory that syncs to the Kinetic app, which tracks power, speed, cadence and heart rate. There are also 12 different pre-prepared workouts (you can also make your own), but they’re more self-directed — not necessarily a drawback for the self-motivated cyclist, but something of a different mental experience from spinning along as the trainer adjusts automatically for you.

Ride Feel: There’s lots to love about rocking and rolling, especially being able to spin with natural rhythm out of the saddle. The app is clean and offers the nuts and bolts of data tracking in free ride, but to maintain the workout, you need to remain intrinsically motivated. There, Kinetic has done a good job of offering plenty of variety and thoughtful workouts (like the Beast Builder: “This 90-minute workout features a long warm up and two 20-minute intervals at 100 percent of FTP (Functional Threshold Power) with 10 minutes’ rest between intervals.”). This adds to the experience, but your performance is still dictated by controlling the pedals and your own level of resistance, rather than trying to overcome the challenge set by the trainer.

The Gear to Get You There:
Kinetic Rock and Roll Training Pack $735
(Includes: Trainer, Mat, Heart Rate Monitor, Turnable Riser Ring)
Total Cost: $735

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