Saris H3 Smart Trainer Review

When it comes to smart trainers, there are really three that we consider top contenders.  The Saris H3 just might be our favorite of the bunch right now, especially when factoring-in the price tag.

A few big changes have happened at CycleOps over the past couple years, especially when it comes to smart trainers.  First, CycleOps went through a rebranding to more closely align with the parent company, Wisconsin-based Saris.  In other words, Saris = Cycleops.  

Then, Saris rolled-out a new and vastly improved smart trainer, the H3.  The H2 had been built and marketed for a few years, but while it was a good, reliable performer, it had a couple flaws.  The H3 fixed those.  

The bottom line:  The Saris H3 is now our favorite trainer on the market, when factoring in the price tag.

Find the H3 from REI, here.  Or, you can get it at Competitive Cyclist, here.

Saris H3 Competition

We believe the main competitors of the H3 are the Tacx Neo, and the Wahoo KICKR.  Both are great models that we review separately.  There are other smart trainers on the market, but we consider these three to be the ones that are most reputable and have stood the test of time.

Riding Experience

saris h3

A great overall unit, and a big improvement from the last version.

Riding on the Saris H3 is a very good overall experience, when compared to its main competitors.  We love several things about the model, not to mention its stability on the floor, the overall responsiveness, and the relatively quiet noise level. 

We are sticklers when it comes to a unit that is wobbly, connects poorly or loses its connection, or is too noisy.  While the old H2 model was highly-competent but had a couple shortcomings, we think the H3 addressed them all and is right up there with, if not above, the best of the best.

There are some who think that Saris just just kind of keeping pace with the competitive landscape, but we think the H3 is a product they should be proud of, and at the peak of the market in terms of performance.

The maximum power output is 2,000 watts, so more than enough for any avid cyclist.  If you are needing more than 2,000 watt capacity for your workouts, allow me to introduce you to the Olympic committee.

H3 Connectivity and Compatibility

The overall connectivity of the H3 to your favorite apps is pretty seamless.  We typically are trying to connect either to an Ipad tablet, or to an Apple TV device (in the case of Zwift).  Either way, the H3 recognizes the connection quickly, and no messing with the firmware is required.

After testing the unit for several weeks, we only noticed a couple dropped connections.  It was unclear if that was from the unit itself or from the receiving device.

Our conclusion is that, whether you are using Zwift, Sufferfest, Rouvy, Trainerroad, or another app, the H3 is going to find and connect to the app with ease.  This is consistent with the H2, which always had a great reputation for finding and holding on to the connection with the app or the Apple TV device.

The H3 is compatible with all major indoor cycling apps, including Zwift, Rouvy, Trainerroad, Sufferfest and others.  It is officially Zwift-certified, and actually comes with a free month of Rouvy.

Noise

The most noticeable improvement in the H3 when compared to the H2 is a no brainer.  It is quieter.  Way quieter.

We love that Saris took all the feedback on the “whine” that the H2 put out, and focused on fixing the problem in the H3.  Don’t get us wrong, the H2 is a great trainer and one that we rode LOTS of miles on, but there is a whine that is a little annoying at first.  You tune it out after a while.

The H3 has a new drive system that greatly reduces the sound.  The company says the sound is dampened by about 5 times, and that is feasible if you compare to the H2.  It may not have the silence level of the Tacx Neo, but there is a point where you can just say it is “quiet enough”.  And we think the H3 is definitely quiet enough. 

More exactly, Saris says that the sound output on the H3, at 20mph, is 59 decibels.  We don’t have a decibel meter, but can tell you that it is quieter than the H2 by a long shot.

Accuracy

The accuracy of the H3 appears to be very good.  The only true way to test the power accuracy is to ride the trainer at the same time as using a separate power meter, and we have not yet done that.  We plan to run that test in the next 30 days, and when we do we will post the results.

However, the wattage at the exertion levels we are familiar with appear to line-up to within 5% (or less) and the responsiveness has been very good when increasing or decreasing power.

There is some disagreement in the market on if running the unit hot vs. cold impacts the power readout by much.  However, the H3 has improved cooling capabilities, so we think this is less of a factor than it was in the H2, or in the KICKR which we have found to get pretty hot after running at higher wattage.

Likewise, the reading from any smart trainer when the unit is completely cold could always be a bit off.  Many prefer to ride the trainer for 10 minutes before doing any type of true calibration.  

Mounting and Drive

saris h3 setup sprocket cassette

You will need to install your own cassette on the H3.

An H3 is a direct-drive trainer, meaning the rear wheel comes off and you mount the bike directly into the trainer, with a rear sprocket on your trainer serving as the resistance.  Your chain then connects directly to that sprocket.  This is the way that the KICKR and Neo connect as well.

As with all the trainers except for the Wahoo KICKR, we wish that it came with a pre-package cassette or sprocket (perhaps you could choose from a set of options during the order process).  If you don’t have a sprocket wrench handy, or are simply not someone who likes to work on your bike, this might be the most delicate part of the entire setup.  Once you have the sprocket all set, mounting the bike to the trainer is a breeze.

Another nice advantage of a smart trainer, compared to a regular bike trainer, is that the mounting tension is much more relaxed.  I have known of many cyclists who cringe about clamping their carbon-fiber frame to the trainer, and the tension it puts on the seat stay and chain stay.  A smart trainer connects and fastens in a way that feels much friendlier to the frame.

Safety

Safety is an underrated factor of smart trainers, especially if you have young children around.  We know from experience, kids see you on the bike setup, hear the buzz, and are attracted to it.  You just can’t keep them away.

Using a smart trainer vs. a regular trainer removes one of the main moving parts — the big rear wheel — from the equation.

One thing we really like about the H3 (and all of the Saris / Cycleops smart trainers) is that they also conceal their flywheel.  Everything is inside the casing.  That might make it less convenient when you need to work on it, which should not happen often if ever.  But it makes it MUCH safer around children, in our opinion.  A hot, exposed flywheel, like the one you get on a KICKR, has the potential to injure or burn someone who did not realize how fast it is moving or how warm it can get.

We think the H3s flywheel design is superior for this underrated but very practical factor.

As for other safety features, the H3 can handle riders up to 300 lbs.  Above that, you may want to talk to the company to be sure that you will be safe riding the trainer.

Durability

Because the H3 has only been on the market for a year or so, we don’t have lots of hard data on durability.  We love when we get to a point of being able to see an actual “mileage” that you can expect from your unit, or a failure rate.  We aren’t there yet.

We can say that the Saris / CycleOps brand is one we have had very good durability luck with over the years.  That goes for the H2 that has gotten many, many hours of riding, as well as the more traditional trainers which we put through the wringer.

A feature of the H3 that we have to think will aid in the overall lifespan of the unit is its internal cooling fan — something that smart trainers historically have not had.  This should keep the flywheel from operating at ultra-high temps, and we know that the hotter the temp, the more key components, bearings and friction points tend to wear.

Price Point

At $1,000, the Saris H3 is less expensive than the models that we consider to be its direct competition — the Wahoo KICKR ($1,200) and the Tacx Neo ($1,400).  Considering that the H3’s functionality is a big leap forward from the previous generation, being $200 to $400 less than the other brands models gives you a better overall deal.  The KICKR and Neo are great smart trainers, but the H3 is found a great price point for itself given its performance and features.

You can buy it here.

Saris H3 vs. Wahoo KICKR

The Wahoo KICKR probably provides the stiffest overall competition for the H3, largely because both brands have been around for a long time, and the Wahoo is priced just a couple hundred dollars above the H3.

Let’s start with that price topic.  For what you get, we think that the H3 is a better value for the money right now.  Both are good, reliable, responsive, and quiet smart trainers from companies who have been building them for a while.  But one is $200 less, and that one is the H3.

For a gadget-hound or gear-junkie, the KICKR still has a decided edge.  For additional $$, you can have the ability to simulate a climb by incorporating the indoor grade simulator on your front fork (we were skeptical of this when it came out, but it has been getting great reviews.)  And the KICKR Axis feet allow some slight side-to-side movement, further simulating a real, outdoor ride.  Plus, you can fully integrate your third party powermeter as another metric on your output.

But for the typical rider who is just looking to hop on Zwift or Sufferfest a few times a week, and get a good sweat, many of these features are optional.  We don’t want to tell you which features are important to you, but we think that for 80% of the riders, the functionality of the H3 is more than enough.

Additionally, we prefer the Saris concealed flywheel to the Wahoo’s exposed flywheel.  It is just safer with young children or pets around.

With all that said, I’m not throwing any shade at Wahoo.  We did a Wahoo KICKR Review and liked a lot of what we saw.  We have always liked the KICKR and would happily ride it (which you can find here).

Saris H3 vs. TACX Neo

The Tacx Neo is the smart trainer that you buy if you have a nice budget to work with, and really value something that is smooth and sleek.  

We’re not going to lie, the Neo is one cool unit.  First off, its design is stunning.  It is sleek, minimalist, and just looks like a next-generation rig sitting in your tacx vs. h3workout room.  Second, it is absolutely silent.  This thing is so quiet that you could probably use it in your baby’s bedroom while they are sleeping, and the only noise would be from you cursing at the screen.  Third, it packs a lot of functionality into that sleek unit, including the ability to simulate 25% inclines and crank out 2,200 watts if you need it.

But It all comes at a price:  That price is about $1,400.  That means it is a cool $400 more than the H3.  It is a superior unit in several respects, but in terms of the fundamental ability to make you sweat and get you in better shape, the difference is marginal.

If you have the budget, you gotta take a look at the Neo (here).  But if you are trying to get the best value, we think the H3 might suit your needs just fine.

Saris H3 vs. Saris (or CycleOps) H2

In case you are comparing the Saris H3 to the Saris (CycleOps) H2, we wanted to spend a minute on the two.  The fact is that you can pick up an H2 at discontinued model pricing, which means it might be $100 or more less than the H3 — making it an appealing way to get in to the smart trainer market.  You would have a new — albeit discontinued — product.

The benefits of the newer H3 are mainly in the quieter drive belt and drive system, which significantly reduces the noise from the unit, as well as the internal cooling fan.  The better drive belt will eliminate the “whine” that so many of us who have logged miles on the H2 can relate to, and the cooling system will theoretically help the unit last longer — but only time will tell.  When it comes to a $1,000 purchase, I really like to do a 3-year lookback versus over analyze things after a month or two.  Problem is, in 3 years, there will no doubt be a better model to review.

Beyond those two benefits, you are going to have the same reliable firmware — keep in mind that firmware is really not dependent on the model.  Saris’ firmware can be updated just like an app as the latest versions are released.  And it appears that the H2 and H3 have overall accuracy, similar stability, and a similar overall design and body.  We have put the H2 through hours of hard tests, and it is holding up well.  We have the assume that the H3 will have similar durability.

We think the H3 is worth an extra $100 over the H2, given the advancements.  If you start seeing the H2 for half the price of the H3, then it might be worth it if you are trying to save a few bucks.  But let’s be clear — the H3 is a superior smart trainer.

Get the H3 here.

 

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