The best smart bikes for Zwift - a direct comparison test (2023)

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Zwiftdid not create the indoor training or the concept of the training software, but it has pushed a rapid expansion of the interactive hardware available to drivers to make indoor driving more fun. Smart bikes are the newest category of interactive exercise equipment. They combine the measured and dynamic resistance of smart trainers with the comfort of a dedicated indoor bike.

I've tested a few dozen smart trainers over the past three winters, and this winter I've tested four smart bikes: the WattBike Atom, the StagesBike, the Tacx Neo Bike, and the Wahoo Kickr Bike.

It's important to note that smart bikes are different than a regular indoor bike like you might have used at a gym or even the high-end electronic home models like a Peloton. The main difference is that Smart Bikes are cyclist-focused, performance-based tools designed to integrate with third-party software such as Zwift, TrainerRoad, and FulGaz. Peloton, NordicTrack and others have their own closed ecosystem for workouts and classes. These can be great tools for the gym crowd, but if you're looking for performance-based training and virtual racing, they won't work.

I tested each of the four Smart Bikes in Zwift group rides, workouts, and races. I've racked up 5,300 in-game miles on a variety of smart trainers, so I have a good feel for the options out there.

Each Smart Bike has its own quirky personality, and the differences between bikes far outweigh the differences between similarly priced Smart trainers. The stability, fit, adjustability, displacement and accommodation for tablets and phones are very different.

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Conversely, I've found that all four bikes provide reliable measurements that I'd like to use for training, with less variation from one to another than some smart trainers. As a performance reference II used a set of Garmin Vector 3 pedals, which I in turn tested against gauges from Shimano, Quarq and Stages. In terms of noise too, all four Smart Bikes are relatively quiet, in the range of 60 dB at 200 watts at 90 rpm.

Wattbike Atom |2.599 $

Advantages:Outstanding stability, good legroom, integrated tablet holder

Disadvantages:One (170mm) crank length, no accessory tray or USB charger, Allen screws required for many adjustments

The best smart bikes for Zwift - a direct comparison test (1)

Britain's WattBike has long been popular with national teams. The US Olympic Training Center, for example, has a fleet of these machines. The original WattBike had a large resistance disc, similar to an exercise bike. The Atom features shift knobs that work linearly, with 22 virtual gears, not like a replica Shimano or SRAM shifter. WattBike has integrated with Zwift so you can briefly see gear changes on screen as you shift, which is nice, but the gear changes themselves feel a bit vague compared to the crisp shifts found on the Wahoo Kickr Bike and Tacx Neo.

The stability of the Atom is excellent, even during hard sprints. Adjustability is good, but not always easy; Hash marks make fit traceable, but some adjustments like stem length require Allen wrenches instead of a simple dial like other bikes. The front/rear saddle is the worst and requires users to loosen the saddle rails enough to tilt the saddle up before accessing the front/rear bolt.

Another downside is the single crank length of 170mm, which is ideal for trackies and some smaller riders, but not necessarily for the rest of us.

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StagesBike |2.899 $

Advantages:Outstanding stability, best frame clearance and easy adjustment, integrated tablet holder, tablet and USB chargers

Disadvantages:Shift feel is vague compared to Wahoo and Tacx, no gear indicator

The best smart bikes for Zwift - a direct comparison test (2)

Before Stages started out as a power meter company in 2012, the team behind the technology worked in the indoor market, developing indoor bikes for national gym chains as well as the power meter technology. So, in a way, the company had an edge over the competition in building a smart bike.

When it comes to stability, the StagesBike is rock solid, yet easy to roll around. The smartphone pad and tablet holder come in handy for indoor rides, as do the two USB charging ports and two water bottle holders.

Stages has the best frame clearance of the four bikes thanks to the seat tube design that sits behind the rider and not between the legs.

Similar to the WattBike Atom, the StagesBikes has shift knobs that work sequentially and don't mimic standard outdoor shifting. The gear indicator in Zwift isn't available yet, but is coming, we're told.

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Tacx Neo Bike |$3.199

Advantages:Surface treatments, realistic shift feel, integrated computer with gear display, good stability

Disadvantages:The short, wide frame causes leg friction for many riders and the cockpit is too short for some riders

The best smart bikes for Zwift - a direct comparison test (3)

The Neo Bike was the first smart bike presented at the Eurobike 2018 show. With a long history in running shoes and smart running shoes, Tacx has brought some cool things to the bike, namely surface treatments that replicate rough surfaces with micro-stuttering in the electronic brake, outdoor bike-like shifting, an integrated dashboard with a gear indicator and basic Training metrics as well as the ability to work with or without a wall outlet.

The base of the Neo Bike is sturdy, but the small tray cockpit extension and tablet holder can wobble a bit if you really yank on the bars. Two small fans kick in when you pedal, but don't really cool you down.

The main flaw of the Neo bike is the frame; With a width of 6 cm, the seat tube rubs on the insides of the legs of many riders, and the seat support beam can also chafe. Finally, the fully forward position of the bar may not be stretched enough for some riders. For example, I came up 1cm short trying to replicate my position on a 56cm bike with a 120mm stem.

Wahoo Kickr Bike |3.499 $

Advantages:Best-in-class shifters for function and ergonomics, unique interactive +20/-15 incline feature that is forgiving of ERG interactivity

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Disadvantages:Least stable and most expensive of all

The best smart bikes for Zwift - a direct comparison test (4)

At the expense of a good outdoor bike, the Kickr bike is the only one on the market that offers automatic elevation changes to mimic incline waves on Zwift courses. The bike tilts from -15% up to 20% and can also be adjusted manually with knobs on the tops of the levers, which are best-in-class in terms of feel and function. You can program the buttons to work like Shimano, SRAM or Campagnolo electronic shifters. As with the Tacx Neo, shifting feels crisp.

Wahoo clearly benefits from years of collaboration with Zwift and offers excellent interactive resistance with the Kickr Bike. Like the Kickr smart trainers, the Kickr bike keeps the resistance incredibly smooth (okay, a smoothing algorithm is used here) during your workout. But better than the Kickr, the Kickr Bike is more forgiving if you fall behind with your cadence during a workout. Some smart trainers will essentially attack you for taking the "power = rpm x torque" formula very literally. The Kickr bike will back up quickly when you start punching, then allow you to get back on the cog before it snaps back into place.

Likewise, the ride experience when freeriding or racing in Zwift is smooth and predictable.

The Kickr Bike's main downside - aside from the price - is that it's the least stable of the four Smart Bikes. You won't knock the thing over, but it's not too hard to initiate a small rock. Also, there is only a single bottle holder and due to the articulated nature of the bike, there is no place for your tablet or phone.

Conclusion: The Kickr Bike and the StagesBike are my favorites

None of these smart bikes come cheap, but all are good exercise machines that integrate nicely with Zwift. If I were to buy one I would go with either the StagesBike or the Kickr Bike.

(Video) Stages Cycling SB20 Smart Bike Review: Still Worth Getting?

The StagesBike has the most user-friendly construction as it's easy to set up, has great stability, doesn't even have the ability to rub someone's legs, and gives you stable places to put your tablet and phone and charge them. Power measurement is reliable, and ERG mode keeps you on track for structured workouts, but is forgiving of mistakes.

The Wahoo Kickr Bike is the coolest and most engaging option due to the interactive incline, premium shifters, and overall feel of the bike when used for freeriding and ERG training. Just be aware that you can wobble a little while sprinting.


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