15 things you need with a smart trainer (and won’t regret)
An Ant+ dongle
An ANT+ dongle is highly recommended to connect smart trainers. Though many popular cycling apps support Bluetooth (such as Zwift), not all Bluetooth devices are compatible. Indeed, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) is required for Zwift to work properly. On this matter, smartphones are more often equipped with BLE than computers. Many PCs or Macs have Bluetooth but not BLE. In this case, they need an external dongle.
Another reason to consider an ANT+ dongle is Bluetooth interference. As the use of connected devices became popular, Bluetooth signals may be all over the place, especially in urban areas. ANT+ uses a slightly different frequency than Bluetooth does. Thanks to that, ANT+ is less prone to interference and thus more reliable. I have a dedicated article on this topic: Do you need an ANT+ dongle?
When riding indoors, you will provide as much effort as you would outdoors with a major difference: the wind. Cycling through the air is also a way to cool off, decreasing your temperature. Riding indoors you won’t have this advantage and you will feel warm very quickly. A fan may seem like a dumb accessory at first, but it is a key piece of equipment to own with a home trainer.
You can opt for the Wahoo Kickr Headwind which simulates wind according to your speed and heart rate. Personally, I opted for a regular fan. It may not be connected, but it is cheaper and does a good job. I recommend this model from Honeywell.
A sweat guard
When riding indoors you will sweat much more than outside because of the lack of wind. As crazy as it may sound, many people experience corrosion on their bikes. Buying in a sweat cover is not that much of an investment considering what you may save in the long run.
Moreover, some sweat covers can also act as a nice phone handler.
As you will sweat a lot because of the absence of wind, towels are very much necessary. Some to protect your handlebars from corrosion and another to sweep over the sweat from your face and hands from time to time.
A cycling app
To make the most use of your smart trainer, you will need a cycling app. Most require a subscription fee but you can also find some for free. These apps will make you progress in virtual roads or replication of real places. They then simulate what you see in these places in your legs, making the ride more fun and interactive.
These cycling apps come with ways to communicate with other riders, training exercises, competitions, etc. Some, like Zwift, also come with nice gamification features to keep you motivated. It can really be a social experience around cycling.
You can also have other apps that won’t focus on virtual worlds but are dedicated to training. These apps are also really great to keep you motivated thanks to many metrics and real objectives.
I have a dedicated article going through both paid and free apps to consider with your smart trainer.
A phone and/or a computer
As the name implies, smart trainers are connected devices. They need a host to communicate with thanks to dedicated apps. A smart trainer can run with only a smartphone, but the best experience is with a computer that runs simulated worlds (like Zwift). The best is to have both: a smartphone and a computer. The computer runs the virtual world while the phone can be used to communicate with other players or be used as a bridge for your sensors. It can also be used as a remote for the app running on the computer.
A phone mount
To have access easily to your phone at any moment, I recommend having a phone mount. This way the phone is easily accessible without taking the risk of damaging it by an unwanted fall. I really like the quadlocks’ phone mount which is also safe to ride outdoors with it.
A standing or fitness desk
A standing desk is a really nice addition to improve your riding conditions. First, it will allow you to get your computer screen closer, increasing the immersion. But its main benefit is to be able to put things on it: towels, energy bar, water, etc. Anything you would like to have close to your hands. Personally, I like to have my TV remote nearby because I usually watch series while cycling.
A large display
A large display is great to improve the immersion. Especially if you have a standing or fitness desk to bring the display closer. The virtual worlds coupled with the simulated resistance can be really enjoyable with a large screen. Or you can use it to watch series while riding like I do.
A rocker plate
A rocker plate is an accessory that gives your trainer the possibility to tilt on the sides as you would outdoors. It’s a great device to improve immersion but also your skills. Indeed, it’s way more natural to cycle with a rocker plate and will prevent you from developing a bad pedaling form that many indoor cyclists have.
If you are looking for the best rocker plate, I did an article just on this topic here.
A mat to reduce noises
Smart trainers can sometimes be noisy, especially on wooden floors. A mat will dampen the vibrations of your smart trainers, reducing noises. You can find recommendations for mats to reduce vibrations here.
A dedicated cassette, tire, or wheel
Some smart trainers come with cassettes and some others don’t. Wheel-On trainers will deteriorate your bike tire quicker than it would outside. Hopefully, it exists dedicated trainer tires. They are usually cheaper than normal ones and also deteriorate slower. You can read my guide about trainer tires here.
A reliable internet connection
The best way to enjoy your smart trainer is in a virtual world with friends. To do that a reliable internet connection is highly recommended. Otherwise, you will struggle to stay in your friends’ wheel to benefit from the draft. Though it is possible to connect a trainer to apps that do not require internet, you will miss most of the experience without it.
An electrical outlet
Apart from the Tacx Neo, most smart trainers need electricity to run. So if you plan to put your smart trainer in your garage, make sure you have an electrical outlet available.
Do I need a wheel or riser block for my smart trainer?
A wheel riser is necessary for many smart trainers. Without it, you will slide on your saddle and have a very uncomfortable position. It will also add strain to your arms and shoulders. Hopefully, most recent home trainers come with their own wheel block. Otherwise, a pile of books will do.
The only case where you may not need a wheel riser is with large wheels. The best is to try with and without books to determine if you may need a wheel block.