What is the difference between direct drive & wheel on turbo trainers, and which model would be best for me?

For those new to turbo trainers, this is an important question: there are many differences between the two options, but the end objective – effective year-round bike training – remains the same. We know you have questions, so we have compiled the most frequently asked along with our responses…

Wheel on turbos and direct drive turbos 101 – how do they work with my bike?

A wheel on turbo clamps around the quick release skewer of a bike’s rear wheel suspending it in an A-frame. This frame positions the rear tyre so that it sits on a roller, and as you pedal and spin your rear wheel the roller turns too. The direct drive turbo trainer model requires you to remove the rear wheel and cassette from your bike and attach it to the cassette built into the turbo trainer, so it is a more integrated approach. On paper, the set up of a direct drive turbo does sound tricky and for those new to cycling it might be off-putting, but here at Turbo Trainer Hire we are happy to help set up the correct cassette onto your turbo and make this transition as easy as can be. Like with any new sport, these things do all become second nature, and knowing your way around your bike in order to set it up can only, in the long run, be a positive thing for the keen cyclist.

There is more than one cyclist in our house…

If you’re going to have multiple users of your turbo then the wheel on turbo might be an easier option for you. Not every direct drive turbo is compatible with every bike cassette, so you may find that the one you have hired or purchased won’t necessarily work with the multiple cyclists in your house who would like to use their bike on it. If you do go with a direct drive turbo for a multi-use household, make sure that you choose a model that is compatible with all the bikes using it.

I don’t have a lot of time to set it up…

Some lucky folk have a more than one road bike and so are happy to leave one of them set up all the time as their “turbo bike” – in which case we would suggest that the direct drive would provide the most optimal turbo experience. However, for those with just a solitary bike you may wish to consider both turbo options and then also your skill at removing bike parts and setting up the turbo before every use. This is not to say that the wheel on option is an uber quick option:  time saved in set up may most likely be spent in checking tyres are clean, tyre pressure is optimal and roller tension is satisfactory. With both options you are going to need to expect to spend a little time getting your turbo set up to enhance your home cycling experience.

Can I use smart technology on either option, and is it worth it?

Yes you can (and YES it is), although whilst all direct drive turbos are compatible with smart technology, not all wheel on options are – so check before you hire or buy. Zwift, TrainerRoad and the many other smart options have absolutely revolutionised the world of turbo training with their realistic landscapes, multi-cyclist racing and even National Cycling eRacing Championships taking place. You can become a world cycling champion without stepping foot outside the front door. The cycling world is your oyster.

When optimising use of smart technology, the response speed from the direct drive turbos is superior to that of the wheel on turbos, and performance data is significantly more accurate. This makes for a very real cycling experience. Whether these aspects clinch the deal would really depend on your individual preference – how important is it for your turbo to be at peak performance, and, if it wasn’t, would you actually notice?

What about the price tag?

Direct drive turbo trainers are not cheap to purchase and can easily be more expensive than your bike itself! Add onto this the extra costs - such as cassette, tools and your virtual training app memberships - and it is not a cheap hobby. Here at Turbo Trainer Hire we want to offer a more affordable solution, hence we offer the option to hire a model for those more unpredictable winter months. If you go down the wheel on option it is much more affordable, so something to consider if you are just starting out on the turbo trainer route and aren’t sure if it’s for you just yet. Our most inexpensive wheel on hire option is just £25 for a two week hire block, so a pretty small outlay if you just wanted to try it to see. We also stock some superb, high performing direct drive models too, so something for everyone. Take a look at the options: https://turbotrainerhire.co.uk/.

Are they portable?

Yes – but wheel on turbos are much lighter than the direct drive models: 10/12kg for the wheel on versus 20/22kg for the direct drive. Wheel on turbos also often fold up smaller, so if storage and size/weight is a consideration for you then this is worth thinking about. If you hire from us we arrange a courier to deliver your turbo straight to your front door and then, when it’s time to return it (unless you choose to purchase it at that time), we can also arrange a courier to collect and bring it back to our warehouse.

What about Smart Indoor Bike Trainers?

The newest of technology – smart bikes have really bridged the gap between turbo trainers and road cycling. However, this innovation doesn’t come without a hefty price tag and a few considerations. With a smart bike – Peloton or Atom being the most well known options – you are essentially buying a stationary bike, like one you’d use in a spin class. Being the whole unit, plus the inbuilt technology, you are looking at spending upwards of £1,000 for an entry level model with an ongoing commitment to purchase a monthly Zwift, Peloton or similar plan. Long term, knowing that you are going to use a turbo trainer on a regular basis, this may be the dream, but it is a huge outlay, and it is a large, heavy (the Wattbike Atom weighs 44kg) piece of kit to keep out year-round. In my view, a real bike frame is more aligned to your road experience and reflects a better approach to training. But something for the 2022 wish list, perhaps?

All in all, choosing which model of turbo trainer comes down to personal preference with regards time, space, price and performance. Here at Turbo Trainer Hire we know all about turbo trainers – they are our thing – so have a chat with us before you commit and we will provide the information you need to help you make your decision. And, knowing you can hire one on a term as short as two weeks, what do you have to lose?


Sporting Regards

The Turbo Trainer Hire team


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