Product Review: Saris H3 Direct-Drive Smart Trainer

The Saris H3 Smart Trainer:

Coming from an on-wheel smart trainer in the Saris M2, the direct-drive H3 was a much welcomed upgrade.


After over 1700 miles of riding (over 2,000 Zwift miles), the Saris H3 Smart Trainer is still performing as well as the day I set it up. No more worrying about putting a trainer tire on my bike or getting flats in the middle of my ride. I set it up in under 5 minutes and have been sailing ever since.

Like you probably are now, I hesitated to buy this trainer. In fact, I didn’t just hesitate – I bought an on-wheel trainer instead. That worked great for a while. Then my tire failed, and I got flats, and my wheel started slipping on big climbs. Money and frustration added up to the point that my wife told me to get the direct-drive trainer. So I did, and my life changed forever.

Are you teetering on the edge of spending the extra couple hundred dollars on the direct-drive trainer? My advice: if you can wait a couple of weeks or months for the extra money, do it. It’s worth it. 100% it’s worth it.

The Pros

  • No more tire switching to ride inside.
  • No more flats from the tire getting too hot.
  • Calibration is only recommended monthly; not daily.
  • Handles up to 2000W and 20% gradient simulation – more than most of us mere mortals will ever need.
  • Saris claims a +/- 2% power reading accuracy, which seems true, but with a catch (see cons).
  • Whisper quiet (though my drive train is not). Still, quieter than an on- wheel trainer by a mile.
  • No tire slippage when climbing big hills or standing up for big sprints.

The Cons

  • The price. Obviously, direct-drive trainers cost more than on-wheel trainers. However, I think this balances out. You might save 300-400 by getting an on-wheel trainer, but you’re going to need to buy new tires as they wear out. Getting a trainer tire? $40. Tube pops? $5-10. It all adds up. Plus you have to spend more time calibrating, more time setting up the bike, etc. etc., so what’s your time worth?
  • The power accuracy caveat – the calibration has to be correct. A short story: After getting myself a pair of Garmin Vector 3’s, I was able to confirm that the power reading does seem super accurate. HOWEVER, that’s only assuming that your calibration works properly. Before getting the pedals I had done a calibration using the Rouvy app (as is suggested by Saris). It seemed to work fine (how would I know different). I did, however, see a bit of a power boost from my last trainer – about 20-30W. I figured it was the old trainer. Once I got the pedals, I noticed the difference. I re-ran the calibration and my power numbers flopped back down 20-30W. But after that, the average wattage for my next ride was within 2W of what the Vectors had (206W on the Vectors, 204W on the H3). As much as my ego suffered, I was happy to have consistent numbers. They’ve been perfect ever since!
  • The cadence sensor seems a bit slow to me. This got better after the re-calibration mentioned above, but it still doesn’t seem as smooth as a speed/cadence sensor set up on the crank arms and frame. It also appears to be the most likely to drop out of all the numbers – not that anything else drops out often.

The Smart Trainer Experience / Climbing Experience

Like Saris’ M2, the H3 provides a smooth performance with it’s Bluetooth-controlled resistance. Unlike the M2, the H3 can simulate up to a 20% gradient – more than I ever want to do on my tri-rig drivetrain. I did play around with 100% trainer resistance for a while, but I quickly got tired of grinding out 20-30 rpm up the big hills in Zwift and Rouvy. I found that 30-50% is a sweet spot for me when I want to feel the pain. Overall, I’m confident that the H3 is effectively simulating this resistance, and I couldn’t ask for more.

Road Feel

Like most trainers, what you’re not going to get out of the H3 is the ability to rock your bike left and right. However, what it lacks in left-right motion, it makes up for in stability. Unlike other trainers I’ve tried in the past, the H3’s wide base and weight left me with confidence that I wasn’t going to fall over when I stood up and laid down the watts. On my old on-wheel trainers, I’d sometimes lift them up when I really laid into the sprints.

As far as the flywheel goes, admittedly, I kind of liked the feel of the on-wheel trainers better. But that makes sense. With an on-wheel trainer, you feel and hear the wheel spinning. You even get a little vibration as you spin away. In contrast, the flywheel on the H3 is smooth. Getting it going is just like getting a bike going – you have to overcome inertia. However, that thing can spin. And keep on spinning. But, that considered, it still feels a lot like riding out on the road. And for the money and frustration saved on tires and calibration, I’ll take a slick flywheel each and every day.

Would I recommend it?

Absolutely! Go get it. Now.

Feedback for me

This is one of my first product reviews. Let me know what you think! What could be better? What more do you want to know? Thanks for reading!

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