virtual trainers

My review of the Tacx Vortex Smart ErgoTrainer: an awesome smart trainer!

Tacx Vortex Smart ReviewThe Tacx Vortex Smart ErgoTrainer delivers an intuitive and effective indoor training experience, one you’re seriously going to enjoy!

I’d actually gone through a couple of cheaper smart trainers before this and was beginning to question what all the “smart” hype was about. But before I was ready to give up and dismiss the entire smart trainer craze as a passing fad, I decided to test out the Tacx Vortex and give the world of smart trainers a serious chance – and I was blown away!

This beast from Tacx has finally managed to help me get the most out of Zwift, and has seen my fitness considerably improve in the past month thanks to an awesome range of convenient customization options for your training program. It’s safe to say that this is one smart trainer I won’t be giving up on any time soon!

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Smart technology that doesn’t disappoint

My major gripe with previous smart trainers was the major connectivity issues.

My cycling buddies have been raving about Zwift for months, and my primary goal in purchasing a smart trainer was to jump on the Zwift bandwagon. However, with earlier products, the ANT+ connection either kept cutting out (frequently at the most exciting bits of a race) or was unbearably slow.

There were NO SUCH ISSUES with the Tacx Vortex ErgoTrainer. The connection was lightning-fast and the trainer was so responsive to the app, I was able to really immerse myself in the illusion of being on tour-like roads and racing along at breakneck speed alongside my best friends – even when a blizzard was raining down outside my window!

Which brings me to my next point – Tacx has clearly built this trainer with Zwift and other similar software in mind.

This isn’t your bog-standard indoor trainer with a computer tacked on, but a product which was clearly built to take full advantage of “smart” training technology. With a total of 16 magnets (8 of which are electro-magnets – unusually high for an indoor trainer in this price range), resistance changes in response to the built-in software are extremely smooth, making downhill cycling a particular pleasure.

Moreover, with a maximum resistance of 950 watts, you needn’t worry about your Zwift training partners leaving you behind. You’ll be able to have a workout just as punishing as the best of them, so you’ll have no difficulties keeping up fitness-wise. Furthermore, speed and resistance calculations are extremely accurate, contributing to the tremendous realism of the Vortex indoor training experience.

Finally, Tacx’s market-leading electro-brake technology really comes into its own when paired with a smart cycling app, registering changes in speed with impressive precision. It’s the kind of attention to detail Tacx has become renowned for in the cycling world, applied to the challenging platform of smart cycling technology.

Even outside of Zwift, the Tacx Vortex Smart Ergotrainer has plenty to offer. The inbuilt Tacx software is brilliant for training on your own as it contains some very comprehensive workout programs, backed up by reliable studies, designed to cater to just about every fitness goal imaginable. I actually shaved a full 20 seconds off my 500-yard sprint timing after slogging away at the Sprint workout for three weeks!

Physical qualities that complement the tech side

Of course, the most advanced software in the world would not compensate for a shoddily built trainer.

Realistic resistance shifts aren’t much use if you’re constantly worrying about toppling over! Fortunately, despite the affordable price tag (we’re talking around $500), Tacx has brought their trademark blend of style and sturdiness to this Tacx Ergotrainer.

Tacx Vortex Smart ReviewA 2 kg flywheel, solid steel support legs and anti-slip rubber grips ensure that your ride is stable and comfortable no matter how fast you’re cycling. Even during sustained sprints, the Vortex remained firmly rooted to the ground.

In terms of style, the Vortex delivers in spades. I’m not a big fan of the stark, minimalist look – indoor training is supposed to be fun, and the Tacx Vortex Ergotrainer manages to deliver a youthful, modern look without veering into amateur territory. It helps that the entire product is made out of premium materials, ensuring the little dashes of color liven up rather than clash with the professional look of the trainer. Scratch professional – I would say this is one smart, sleek beast!

So, how much bang for your buck do you really get with this Tacx smart trainer?

Smart trainers can cost well over a thousand dollars, and I know that that kind of price scares off many a rider. Personally, I’d rather invest it in my bike for when the cycling season starts.

For that reason, at around $500, the Tacx Vortex Smart Ergotrainer was well within my comfort zone in terms of price, and coupled with its category-leading performance represents fantastic value for money. There’s little wonder it makes our list of the 5 BEST trainers for 2017!

Sure, I would have loved for Tacx to include a USB ANT+ stick, and perhaps it would have been convenient if the Tax workout apps came pre-loaded with more films so I didn’t need to download them from the Tacx website. But given the great all-round package Tacx has delivered here, all this really is nit-picking. To anyone who’s yet to be converted to the smart trainer trend from the standard indoor trainers, or for a cyclist searching for an affordable first smart trainer, I would unequivocally recommend the Tacx Vortex.

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The 3 BEST top of the range bike stands to take your training to the next level

We’re big fans of the higher end indoor trainers, such as the Kurt Kinetic Road Machine or the CycleOps SuperMagneto Pro, but if you really want to improve your training and take it to the next level, you’ll want to get your hands on one of the three bike trainers listed below.

None of them are going to come cheap, but if your budget is big, then you can be rest assured that the technology and features that come bundled with each of the trainers (we’re talking venturing into the world of virtual training!) are also going to be BIG (and worth every dime).

Let’s have a quick review of the three very best bike trainers your dollars can buy…

Your addiction to indoor virtual training starts here: the CycleOps PowerBeam Pro (ANT+)

PowerBeam Pro 2015The CycleOps PowerBeam Pro will keep you in great shape over the winter months, of that there’s no question!

You’ll be up and running in no time with this baby, as it comes pre-assembled – all you need to do is unfold the legs of the unit, adjust the leg adjuster (only if your floor is a little on the wonky side), and attach the one-sided skewer clamp dial adjustment, with the included steel quick release skewer slotted through your bike’s rear axle.

The big bonus with this trainer is that it uses ANT+, meaning it displays performance data on ANT+ cycling computers for real-time analysis as you ride. Perfect for learning just where you can tweak and enhance your cycling performance. Note that there is a Bluetooth Smart version of this trainer, but we’ve heard that compatibility with 3rd party devices is a little problematic, so, for now at least, would recommend going with this ANT+ version.

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An integrated PowerTap power meter gives you some awesome metrics, including power in watts, power zones, peak power, caloric expenditure in kilojoules, cadence, heart rate, and much more. In addition, the Mini ANT+ USB stick (included with the trainer) lets you control the resistance from your computer (this means you can also use CycleOps’ Virtual Training app for auto-syncing sessions with virtual training routes)! We’re heading down the road of virtual training ourselves this winter, so this excites us a lot!

And if you were worried about this baby making too much noise – because let’s face it, some trainers do have an annoying hum – CycleOps states that this trainer maintains a reasonable 69-70 decibels when you’re riding at 20mph, meaning your partner or neighbors won’t be driven insane by an intrusive hummmmm.

You should be able to attach most road and mountain bike frames, and it supports 650b, 700c, 26 inch, 27 inch, and even 29 inch wheel sizes, with tires up to 2.25 inches wide. Just be aware that it doesn’t support the 120mm rear dropouts found on track bikes.

The CycleOps PowerBeam Pro will set you back around $1000 (although we’ve seen this on Amazon for as little as $700!), but is up there with the very best of them (it obviously makes our 2017 bestseller list), and can be seen as a true investment in your winter training (if you need to convince the wife or partner…). And to top it off, don’t forget that lifetime warranty from CycleOps!

Here’s a quick taster from YouTube

The virtually awesome BKool Pro Turbo Trainer!

bkool pro trainerWe took a good look at the BKool Pro trainer a while ago, and were just as impressed then as we are today!

The fun you’re likely to have with this trainer and its awesome FREE simulator make this an excellent option to consider. The ability to connect up with your tablet or laptop and enjoy a whole ton of videos and sessions, solo or with your friends, is pretty darned hard to beat (there are over 50,000 riders worldwide on the BKool system)! Best of all, the simulator is free to download from the Bkool website and is suitable for both Windows and Mac computers, as well as iPad and Android tablets.

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This Pro trainer from BKool is actually an improvement on their Classic model, which means you get a quieter more stable trainer, but also a in-built cadence system that eliminates the need for an external device. And the electromagnetic braking system is a definite winner in our eyes, as it ensures the Bkool software controls your resistance, which can be especially useful when climbing hills.

Setting up is a doddle; you replace the rear skewer in your wheel (as per any decent trainer these days), and then pop it on the trainer (which also comes with a front wheel support). You’ll then need to register on the Bkool website, download the simulator, plug in the trainer and connect with your supplied ANT and USB.

The Bkool software and trainer wirelessly communicate with each other via your included USB; this ensures your ride data (your cadence and power) is tracked and used to gauge just how much the resistance levels need to be adjusted according to the route you selected. Clever stuff!

It’s also a powerful beast, with the ability to power up 1200W of energy on a progressive curve. That power, and the awesome resistance control, makes it feel like you really are out on the road. There are also over 500 video routes in the BKool system, with more apparently added daily – by the way, the recently added free video editor software lets users create their own route!

You’re not going to get much change from $700, but for value, this has to be one of the best options out there, especially if you’re looking to get your hands on a virtual training system. There is a basic subscription plan available once you sign up (for free), or you can pay for a Premium plan, which gives you some impressive options.

Here’s a quick taster from YouTube

The Elite Real Axiom Trainer

elite real axiom reviewThe Elite Real Axiom trainer has been around for a few years now, but has been gaining a seriously good reputation with some seriously good upgrades over the years!

Another trainer that specializes in smart communications with your computer, the Elite Real Axiom enables you to get a glimpse into some serious real-world conditions on a variety of courses, mainly thanks to its computer controlled resistance (which adjusts per course and rider input). Race against a real human cyclist on your LAN, or alternatively try racing against a virtual competitor if you can’t find anybody online.

You can choose from 14 preset courses while there’s also a 4-week training program – you can also create your own custom courses! You also get to view personal ride stats, including speed, distance, ride time, cadence, heart rate and power output, and you can store them for your own training history, making those indoor sessions a lot more fun, which is what we think it should really be about.

The trainer comes with 2 DVDs; one of the Limoges climb from the 2004 Tour de France and the 2004 Verona World Championship course, both of which are synched with the resistance you create on the trainer to make it feel as if you’re really cycling the route. In addition, it comes with the My RealVideo app, which lets you record your own routes, and upload them to share and compete with other riders!

One thing we have to note about the Elite Real Axiom is that it is Italian made, and although support is good, there might be the odd language barrier problem to face, if you ever have any issues with your trainer. What is also a little disappointing is the lack of online guides and forums.

However, if you can get past that, this trainer is probably the best value of all the virtual trainers we’ve come across – typically selling at around $650 – and should probably be your preferred choice for kick-starting your virtual cycling career!

Here’s a quick taster of what to expect from the Elite Real Axiom trainer on YouTube

In Summary…

If you’re looking to enhance your winter training, any one of the three trainers above will take your training to the next level.

If it’s a question of price, I would have to go with the Elite Real Axiom, but if money isn’t an issue and you’re looking for something top-notch, go for the CycleOps PowerBeam Pro.

Oh boy, are you going to start enjoying those training sessions!

How to update a classic: the new mighty Kinetic Rock n Roll Smart Trainer with InRide Sensor!

kurt kinetic rock n roll smartThe Kinetic Rock n Roll Smart Trainer – complete with a unique InRide Sensor – is an absolute triumph, updating the timeless Kinetic Rock n Roll design for the smartphone age, while preserving the smooth, fluid trainer-powered cycling experience that has made Kinetic a stalwart in a competitive industry.

I was a little dubious myself, fearful that something that had worked so well before could be upgraded – but yes, this beast is a definite upgrade! I traded my old Rock n Roll trainer in for this smart trainer (it’s also known as version 2.0) a few months back and have never regretted it – my workouts are more realistic, fun and effective than ever before, with the additional smart technology making a world of difference.

Of course, the smart tech factor hasn’t had an impact on the price, which still hovers on the edge of pretty expensive (you can pick it up for around $550), but this trainer has to be on your shortlist if you’re looking for something that extra bit special… and especially if your cycling is on an upward curve.

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Smart technology to bring you rocking (and rolling – geddit?) into the 21st century!

Let’s start with the new stuff. The Inride Sensor is the centerpiece of the Kinetic Rock n Roll Smart Trainer’s “smart” offerings, promising precise data tracking and workout planning for the detail-oriented cyclist.

As a semi-serious cyclist with nearly two decades of experience, I simply can’t over-emphasize the importance of conscientious data-collection. The off-season, during which your competitors are piling on the pounds and losing fitness by the day, is the perfect time to get a head-start for spring races. However, careful planning is sooo important if you are to make the most of this vital period. I saw that the Inride Sensor collected mountains of data on everything from speed and heart rate to cadence, ensuring I was able to keep track of my progress as well as design training programs that pushed me hard while still allowing adequate recovery time.

If the Inride Sensor is adept at data compilation, Kinetic’s inRide app is absolutely outstanding when it comes to making good use of that data. It goes beyond mere number-crunching, but actually makes helpful and informed workout suggestions, modifying its built-in workout programs according to the data the sensor provides.

If those aren’t to your liking, the workout creation program offers a handy customization option, which even tech neophytes like me will find easy to navigate thanks to the intuitive user-interface. As the name suggests, the inRide app is even useful mid-ride, providing real-time interval graphing to monitor your performance right down to the last second, ensuring that you don’t inadvertently slack off and miss out on gains.

Finally, the new “smart” options are so easy to use, they pretty much do all the work for you. Other than connect the Kinetic Rock n Roll Smart Trainer to your mobile device (which literally just involves switching on both devices’ Bluetooth connections) the machine did all the work for me. Even updates (for paid users only) are automatic, ensuring that you can invest all your time and energy in working out instead of fiddling around on your touch screen or fussing about with knobs and dials.

Some top notch tech specs

This baby fails to disappoint – here’s a few reasons why:

  • Supports wheel sizes from 700×23 up to 29 inch mountain bike tires
  • Weighs 33 pounds (due to its quality build, see below)
  • Lifetime warranty from Kinetic
  • inRide sensor is pre-installed for wireless power-based workouts and fitness tests (there’s a free iOS app, Android is still in beta)
  • App features built-in workouts; measures power, speed, cadence, distance and more

OK, but how does it handle?

If you’ve never used a Kinetic Rock n Roll indoor trainer before (such as the original classic Road Machine), you’re in for a real treat.

Kinetic has always justified this product’s premium price tag by reference to the Rock n Roll training experience, and it’s gratifying to see that the Rock n Roll Smart Trainer does not disappoint at all when you take it for a ride.

The sway of the trainer feels even more realistic than before, particularly when you’re pedaling against high resistance – when you stand up and pump those quads, the machine’s subtle and precise responses make it easy to pretend you’re out in the open on your favorite cycling route.

This not only makes for a more engaging training session, but also ensures your technique doesn’t take a turn for the worse in the winter months. Many cyclists who use substandard indoor trainers in the off-season come back as fit as ever, but find that their cycling technique, particularly on steep slopes, has regressed. Not so with Kinetic Rock n Roll users!

One quality-packed trainer…

Cyclists used to cheaper trainers are often shocked by the weight of Kinetic products, because this company does not skimp on building materials.

Every inch of these machines is crafted with welded steel or reinforced aluminium, for a robust construction that is built to last. Moreover, the pivot points (frequently the first component to give way in a vigorous workout) are made with car-grade elastomer for enhanced durability.

Another upside to the Kinetic Rock n Roll Smart Trainer’s uncompromising focus on heavy-duty building materials is increased stability. Whenever I tell laymen I’ve bought a Rock n Roll trainer, they inevitably ask whether a trainer that prides itself on its ability to rock and sway as you pedal is safe to use.

The answer, as all Kinetic fans know, is yes – so long as your trainer is built to take a beating. This smart trainer certainly is. The new ABS plastic contact points, with a thick rubber coating, provide an even firmer floor grip for superb anti-skid performance, contributing to the great overall balance of this trainer.

In summary: why you’ll want one of these Kinetic smart trainers!

As you probably can tell, I’m a huge fan of Kinetic’s long-awaited smart offerings. The Rock n Roll series has now been updated for the smartphone era, and what a gorgeous, high-tech product it is! It’s not cheap, but what smart tech enabled trainer is these days (but hey, the similarly priced Smart ErgoTrainer from Tacx is also an option to consider – see our review).

All in all, this is a quality trainer guaranteed to ramp up your training sessions. Highly recommended.

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