Posts tagged virtual trainer
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!Click here for reviews and the latest discounts
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.
A 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.
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+)
The 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.
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!
We 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.
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
The 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…
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!
We’re big fans of some of the high-end trainers out there, especially the Kurt Kinetic and CycleOps models, but it looks like there is a new high-end trainer to rival these guys – the Bkool Pro Turbo Trainer.
Admittedly, the Bkool trainer isn’t just a trainer that you slot your bike in and then start pedaling away – it’s so much more than that! With an amazing FREE simulator you can connect up with your laptop or tablet and enjoy literally thousands of videos and riding sessions, as well as ride alongside your friends wherever they may be in the world!
Virtual training simulators are fast becoming the perfect solution for those of you wanting a totally realistic experience. And while we’ve cycled endless kilometers on our various trainers, the fun we’ve had with the Bkool Pro has taken our enjoyment levels up a level – or three! The simulator is downloadable from the Bkool website and is perfect for Windows and Mac computers, as well as iPad and Android tablets.
Who the heck are Bkool?
Great question! You probably haven’t heard of Bkool if you’re in the US, as they’re based in Europe, originally from Spain I believe. But they have fast become one of the bestselling models out there, at least in the high-end segment. And when you compare what you get with the Bkool versus other trainers in the same bracket, you’ll see you’re getting a whole lot of trainer for a whole lot LESS $$$!
Some of the major benefits out-of-the-box with this Bkool trainer:
- The simulator has an amazing 3D World, with almost every race route in the world for you to ride.
- It comes with some amazing features – see below for the full list.
- It’s HALF the cost of similar trainers pushing a virtual world, notably models like the Tacx iGenius.
- Your trainer comes with 1 year of Premium membership, which lets you team up with friends, enjoy thousands of sessions and routes, and other various features (see the full comparison between Premium and Basic here).
Here’s a taster of what the Bkool trainer is all about…
What impressed us about the Bkool Pro?
As we mentioned above, the Bkool Pro comes with a virtual training simulator that really does take the realism up a level. You might have been impressed with the Rock N’Roller from Kurt Kinetic, but this trainer is in another league.
But it’s not just the simulator we were impressed with.
First up, this new Pro model is an improvement on their Classic model, meaning it’s a little quieter, more stable (with extendable support legs), and has an in-built cadence system that eliminates the need for an external device (the Classic trainer needs an external device). There’s also an electromagnetic braking system to be impressed with, which ensures the Bkool software controls your resistance, especially useful when climbing hills.
Even setting up the trainer is easy. It just slots together; you replace the rear skewer in your wheel (as you do for any decent trainer these days), and then pop it on the trainer (it also comes with a front wheel support). You then just register on the Bkool website, download the simulator, and then plug in the trainer and connect with your supplied ANT and USB.
The USB lets the Bkool software and trainer wirelessly communicate with each other so that your ride data (your cadence and power) can be tracked and used by the software; in turn, the resistance levels are automatically adjusted according to the route you selected. Pretty impressive eh?
In addition to that easy setup, you’ve got a very powerful trainer; powerful enough to ramp up 1200W of energy on a progressive curve. It makes your riding session feel like you are out there on the road, which is what any of us indoor cyclists are really after, right? The electronics on this baby are quite impressive; basically it’s the result of combining biomechanical engineering with the most powerful cycling software.
And once you’ve wrapped up training for the day, it’s easily fold-able so can be stored away out of sight if needed.
It didn’t take us long to be convinced by this trainer!
Why you should consider the Bkool Pro Trainer
If you’re seriously looking to ramp up your indoor training sessions, then the Bkool Pro is as good as you’re going to get. We mentioned the iGenius from Tacx which is its equivalent, but the Bkool Pro is definitely better value.
It’s certainly high-end, which means you’re going to pay around $650-$700, but for a virtual trainer that’s pretty well unheard of.
It’s also easy to see how you can become addicted to indoor training with this baby; we played around with some of the very cool software and routes but there’s plenty more to discover and we have a feeling we’ll be enjoying this trainer long into Spring / Summer…
An awesome trainer, and highly recommended.
NOTE: We are aware that the European version of the Bkool website has a free trail offer, which ships you for free. However, this is not currently available in the US, though the guys at Bkool told me it is definitely on the cards. If so, I think this will make the Bkool Pro unbeatable.