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A bit of time playing with the Tacx VR Trainer

Over the past few months I’ve received more and more e-mail asking what I thought about the Tacx trainers, and how I thought they compared to RacerMate’s CompuTrainer.  And it wasn’t until I started poking at the Tacx trainers that I became more and more impressed with their capabilities.

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Thus I was looking forward to being able to dig into them a bit more in person down at Interbike in order to understand what the product platform offered, as well as how it stood up to the ‘gold-standard’ CompuTrainer.

So, let’s dive into it!

The Hardware:

There’s a few (well, actually a ton of) different sub-models that Tacx offers.  But, sorta like cars, they can all be rolled up to two basic models.  First, is the VR Trainer – which is pretty much their top of the line product:

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Then, there is the Bushido trainer.  This has almost all of the features of the Tacx VR trainer (aside from steering), except that it doesn’t require cables of any sort.  Instead, it actually uses your power, to generate its power.  Sorta like the gym equipment you see sometimes.

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(Look ma!  No wires!)

In both cases, they leverage ANT+ to communicate…though in my discussions with them, it sounds like they’re not quite leveraging the technology to it’s fullest potential.  For example, while the Bushido transmits ANT+, the folks at the booth noted that you can’t actually have your Garmin device pickup the power or cadence data from it directly, as it has to be decoded using power tables on the head unit.

Speaking of head units – there are two options depending on the model your using.  First up is the VR trainer one:IMG_1006IMG_1011

Then we have the Bushido one power via ANT+, featuring a fully integrated display…again, note no wires:

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Finally, the last piece of hardware to note is the Fortius VR Trainer’s steering system – which allows you to actually steer the bike and have it steer the screen.  While I see this of more value in ‘entertainment’ scenarios than true die-hard training, the geek in me still thinks this is fun…even if it has no training benefit.

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The Software:

The real cool stuff though (aside from the lack of wires) isn’t the hardware – but actually the software. And this is what I was really interested in.  For me, I’m incredibly familiar with CompuTrainer’s software suite – both their current/legacy software, but also their newer software previewed at Interbike.  So I was interested in seeing how they would compare.

The first thing you’ll notice is that like RacerMate One, the TACX software suite is consolidate into one application with a number of different modules that cover different free and paid components.

On the left hand side of the screen you see the major components, the upper toolbar is for importing/exporting and general configuration, and the right side of the screen is for module-specific configuration.

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Since the above screenshot is focused on the ‘Real Life Training’ mode, we’ll start there.  This mode could realistically be relabeled ‘Google Earth Mode’ – since that’s exactly what it is.  But the concept is pretty cool.  In this mode you can create your own routes using a ride editor built into the app, as well as import in GPX/KML files from other sources (like your last long ride).  The system will then go ahead and allow you to virtually ride the route on the spot.

IMG_1012

While this in concept sounds similar to the GPX/KML file import that CompuTrainer does – it’s in fact very very different.  CompuTrainer isn’t allowing you to ride against satellite/3D data from Google Earth, but instead using the elevation data to generate a topography that’s identical to the route.  in effect, with the CompuTrainer you’re riding the elevation chart with turns, whereas with TACX you’re riding real satellite imagery.

Now, riding the satellite imagery can be a bit quirky. And it’s hardly like riding down the street.  The guy in the booth went ahead and zoomed in and created a short course in Washington DC.  Not knowing much about the area he choose the White House and went from there.  Aside from the obvious implications of probably getting shot while trying to bike across the front lawn of Obama’s pad, the concept itself is cool.

Here’s a video I took of the whole creation process and riding across the front lawn:

The next component is the Real Life Video’s piece – which allows you to ride actual courses/routes filmed in HD in the real world (not a virtual world).  This is best compared to CompuTrainer’s Real Course Video’s. When you pedal/go faster, the video plays faster, when you stop – it stops.  This allows you to ride an entire course – such as an cycling race – without ever having to leave your house.

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You can buy tons of these different Real Life Video’s, here’s just half of the pile of different titles they had in the booth:

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What’s cool is that like the 3D and Google Earth simulations, these also include altitude/elevation details as well.

Further, the VR edition can actually simulate the downhill portions as well.  Typically trainers (including the CompuTrainer) are only able to offer resistance, but the TACX trainer (not the Bushido however) can also spin your wheel as if you’re truly descending.

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In addition to real life and virtual reality, you can also play train across the Internet with friends via Multiplayer mode – even putting together online races:

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Finally, via the Catalyst software mode on the left panel you can train just like you would in CompuTrainer’s coaching mode…which is simply without any of the flash or fanfare of the other modes.  Just simple and easy to consume data around power, speed, cadence, HR, etc… Which honestly, is where I spend most of my time when using my CT.

Once you’re done in that mode (as well as any other mode), it’ll allow you to view your data using a fairly flashy graphs, tables and summaries within the Analyzer mode:

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After fawning over your bike skillz, you can go ahead and export it out to a few formats that in turn can be uploaded to different sites, such as Training Peaks…or you can just go to town on that CSV file in Excel.

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Finally…the pricing:

To say the software suite is cool would be an understatement.  But, cool also comes with a price tag – and like the CompuTrainer, it’s not cheap.  In the case of the full VR trainer, it’s coming in close to $1,200 – before you start adding in any Real Life Video’s (though notably cheaper than CompuTrainer ones).  But the full VR trainer is also cheaper than the CompuTrainer – so that’s a consideration as well.  Also, you should be aware there are numerous different variations in exact trainer model versions – so you’ll really want to do your homework and especially note some of the comments in the above review link above regarding different vendors including different pieces – as you can save a bundle (no PUN intended).

As for its comparison to CompuTrainer – it’s a bit hard for my to truly judge based on 30 minutes spent on a show floor with TACX.  If TACX were to send me a trainer to poke at for a few minutes I’d have a better feel for it.  The software did crash three times while I was in the booth – though I was told it was also running a new build that’s still in beta – 3.0 – which will be released in November 2010.  But by the same token – I’ve seen the CompuTrainer software crash just as many times as well in the same timeframe.

With that caveat out of the way – if I had to go out today (no, not two weeks ago…) and buy a new computer driven trainer – I’d probably be very seriously looking at the TACX VR trainer.  Even with the CompuTrainer updates in RacerMate One – it’s still a significant leap behind the TACX from a software standpoint.  I’d even go as far as saying I’d probably go TACX over CT if I got a bit more hands on time with it.

Now until someone drops a trainer on my front doorstep…I’d definitely love hearing TACX owners opinions on it!

Thanks for reading!

26 Comments

  1. I have a TACX Fortius and love it. With it I was able to put on 2000KM last Winter. Without it I would be forced to ride in -15C which means I wouldn't ride.

    The v2.0 software is OK but I am really looking forward to v3.0 after reading this review and seeing some of the announcements at Interbike.

    I don't use the 3D videos or simulations but with a pile of GPX files from this years riding and the ability to draw a map for future races in Google Earth I am almost looking forward to riding indoors again :)

    Reply
  2. Group rides during winter over the internet. Could be the best thing 've heard in a long time.

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  3. Hi,
    I've got an Bushido and the trainer itself ist great. No cables and cadence still works fine. For correct cardence readings you should pedal with some power.

    The Software, I'm using Tacx Trainer Software 1 and last winter also 2, is very buggy. Not starting correct, terminating itself and crashes are on very days agenda. The Tacx forum is full of those user experiances and bug reports.

    Tacx saw this problem and said, that the TT3 SW (releasing date november) is completely rewritten. They also says, that TTS2 (and of cause 1) will not get major improvments. And if customers would like to update to TTS3, the will be charged (between 50-100USD) for the update. So if you bought your Software one year ago, you will have to invest again...

    At the moment, I wouldn't recommend Tacx Software to a friend or clubmate.

    Kind regards from Germany
    Luke

    Reply
  4. CTguru

    Since there is so much comparing going on, it seemed only right to clue readers into the fact that this "comparison" is really only skin deep.

    Having personally dismantled and tested every tacx unit made so far, they really can't hold up to the abuse users will put into a trainer for 10 years (or more). Because of this, I feel, users voted recently (in a poll on SlowTwitch) what they thought by voting 53% in favor of CT. Even with the old pre-RacerMate One software. Tacx didn't even rate a close 2nd place.

    There are a lot of reasons for these results, I'm sure, but I will leave it up to you to research this. I just wanted to make sure people are aware that software is much easier to make (once you have a good team to work on it) than good, long-lasting hardware. CT's have lasted 25 years in most cases, not just a few.

    Reply
  5. Hi CTGuru-

    Thanks for dropping in - I definitely appreciate any and all thoughts. But since you work for RacerMate or their software dev company(or made a few accidental unintended gramatical errors on your other comment on the CT post using 'us' instead of 'them') - it's probably worth noting for others to realize.

    That said - I don't think anyone disagrees that the CompuTrainer is built to last - it's no doubt the mother of all rocks when it comes to trainers. There's a very good reason why folks have them for a decade or more, and why their resale value is so high.

    I would also counter however that the reason the Slowtwitch poll shows those stats is simply a numbers game of having more than a decades worth of units out there (no doubt, with many happy owners like my self), whereas the other options have had far less time.

    Again, really - thanks for stopping by - I always value everyone's input - but I definitely do prefer that vendors identify themselves if possible.

    Thanks!

    Reply
  6. I still think the virtual trainers like Tacx and Computertrainer for that sake fokus to much on the video part and less on the feel of the trainer.
    I haven't tried the Computertrainer but the tacx feels really unnatural when you pedal, and the Computertrainer is probably not far off when I look at the design. I personally think Lemond fitness' revolution is more in the right direction. I do not need a fancy video to look at - give me my SRM and some trancemusic and I am ALL SET ;-)

    Reply
  7. Graeme

    I have just started using my Tacx Fortius and I have enjoyed using it when the weather hasnt been great. The only gripe that i had was that i had to spend the better part of an evening updating the pre-loaded software tat comae with the unit to the current version.

    I havn't had any exposure to the Computrainer, but here in South Africa, the Tacx Fortius is almost 1/3 of the price of the Computrainer so the choice was a no-brainer.

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  8. I picked up a few tacx i-magic units off of ebay for very cheap and have about three years of experience with tacx. I would not recommend these trainers at all, or if you do get one get it for nothing at a garage sale and have low expectations.

    Probably the first thing you need to know about is tacx customer service. The tacx fortius was on sale for four years in north america in all that time the machine had a flaw in it that only allowed you to go 27 mph a limit that many people hit on downhills. Also on hills the resistance was very choppy. Flaws I can understand, but NOTHING was done about it for four entire years, there were no warnings no nothing, they just continued to take advantage of people who didn't know any better.

    When they finally figured out a fix, you had three months to contact tacx and then pay them $200 for the pleasure of getting the fix from them. If you didn't contact them in that three months you were shit out of luck. The fix was announced on their website and forum, nowhere else.

    For more years that that, they have sold a virtual reality upgrade head unit for their non-computer linked trainers. Those head units matched to the trainers give power readings that are off by either plus or minus 40%. To date there is still no fix for this, they put in a workaround in some of the software where you can reduce the calculated power by any percent you want. But this is only a valid workaround for those of us riding with power meters. If you don't have that you will have a distorted view of the power you produce either high or low by about 40%.

    This was all reported extensively both to tacx directly and also on the forum and well documented. There was never any answer whatsoever about it in any way.

    Now I see that tacx is releasing new software, version 3.0, that has bugfixes. This will be 3 years in a row they have updated the training software to fix bugs and each time the user gets to pay another $80 for the bugs to be fixed.

    And lastly, there is an actual study out showing that the tacx trainer is not consistent enough even within a single training session to be useful as a wattage training device.

    Stay away, get a computrainer and a copy of netathlon if you want internet racing.

    Reply
  9. I have a CT and ... I hate it !!! It is a machine of high technology but it feels and acts like a machine from the 90s... Too many cable, wires, the head unit is ancient and anwkward... Just a nightmare to use.
    Really looking forward to the bushido and i will upgrade to it soon.

    Reply
  10. Living in The Netherlands (home country of Tacx) I have experiences with both trainers. Bottomline:
    1) currently the software of Tacx is much more better than CT (not seen Racermate One yet except the review of DC rainmaker).
    2) On the other hand the current CT software is (almost idiot) proof but feeling and looking outdated (like if you watch todays StarWars movies).
    3) CT is more accurate as erg trainer to show and maintain Wattage.
    3) CT + ErgVideo3 is better than Reallife video from Tacx. Why? Due to the FTP possibility. But expensive and not so many ErgVideo's are available like for Tacx.
    4) CT completely lacking ANT+ technology. Tacx as described not fully up to ANT+.

    At the end CT + ErgVideo3 does the job for me. However if Racermate does not come quickly with state of the art software (Racermate One at least at the same level as Tacx) and within 1 or 2 years with ANT+ techology they will be an obscure local brand in the North America and other brands will take over the marke especially in Europe.

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  11. Hi Im Phil from the Tacx Forum (hence Im biased towards the Tacx range of very cool trainers ;-),

    There were some hardware issues with the Fortius related to US voltage in the early models some years ago but this was solved. As for how long a tacx trainer like the Bushido/Vortex or Fortius will last you, I have no idea, they are very new. But we do have a good warranty service & if you buy from a Tacx dealer your going to be looked after very well, if you break something it can & will be replaced. Many Early Tacx Excel trainers (from the 90s) are still going strong & these have the same break as the i-magic. Obviously the new trainers have a lot of very expensive kit inside them.

    The software at the show like you said is Beta, making it stable has become priority number one & Im fairly sure by this winter like Computrainer we will be away from the teething troubles of the show version. The software will continue to improve. The older Fortius software which had several versions with tools & features added over time is rock solid now & I expect the same will come for TTS3. As per normal we have a very long list of cool stuff to add to it...

    Tacx is looking at the various ways to use the Ant+ frequency ;-) ! There should be something to show this winter.

    Reply
  12. Another point missed although it's maybe only a small point is that every frame of the Tacx real life videos is also linked to the Google Earth display so you can get the birds eye view as well as the HD video. So if you pass a house in Google earth the video should show what the house looks like for real. Not a huge training effect to be had here but it all adds to the value of keeping you on the trainer!

    When selecting a ride or route the same GPS data is used to create the top down view which can really help pinpoint your location.

    Reply
  13. Jon

    I bought the Fortius in 2006, so I guess that's 4 years. Mostly use in the off-season.

    As far as durability.. not so hot. The plastic piece which you push to close the wheel, broke and so now I deflate and inflate the tire to get it in.
    The head unit no longer works properly, most likely due to a lot of swear.
    Customer service TACX.. sorry Phil.. ZERO!!!!
    I purchased from a dealer in Germany because at the time it was the only place I could find it. I live in Italy. I wrote multiple times to Tacx both in the netherlands and in Italy and NO RESPONSE!!!!
    As far as how I use it.

    1) Steering wheel/Virtual reality. Steering wheel is totally useless and don't know why I bought it. Used VR at the starting but abandoned it.
    2) Real Life Video. Have used them a lot. It's hard to get the wheel at the right pressure and hooked up to deal with 17% slopes as it starts slipping. More or less I can manage to get it on right. At the starting there is no question that it's neat and the most attractive of the features. I've done entire DVD's, such as the Gavia, on the trainer, and there is no way in the world I would have been able to stay on a trainer for multiple hours without something like the Tacx and real-life video. Having a goal to reach at the end keeps you motivated.
    3) Catalyst. This is the main thing I am using now. It's easy to use and program. Probably for serious training this is the most useful, but perhaps the least feature promoted because it's the least spectacular.
    4) Real Life Training. I don't have this in my software and don't know if it's available for an upgrade, but looks really neat because it could be used to train on a course you are going to race on, or at least get an idea of what the course is like before racing. I'm looking forward to getting it.
    5) Power calibration. Hmm. I run the calibration before I use it everytime, and normally I try the calibration many, many times but am never able to get the same result.
    6) Software. It's well done. I'm a programmer myself. I think they have done a pretty good user interface, the graphics are nice and the features are good.

    Overall opinion. I have no experience with the CT, and even if I mentioned negative points, I do like the Tacx and would buy it again if I didn't have it. It's useful for my training. Real Life Video good for long rides, Catalyst for structured workouts and testing, Real Life Training for race course preparation?

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  14. Phil, maybe you can put a word in with the Tacx sales department to send DC Rainmaker a unit for testing. I plan to buy soon an interactive bike trainer and, like for many, many other people, a big factor in my decision would be DC Rainmaker's review. Honestly, each time I plan to buy an expensive piece of equipment for my triathlon addiction, the first website I visit is http://www.dcrainmaker.com to help me with my decision.

    Ray, thanks again for taking the time to write this review.

    Reply
  15. Anonymous

    TACX - SEND HIM A TRAINER! Your potential customers want good independent and CURRENT reviews. As someone who is on the fence at the moment, I've read about every review out there (or so it feels) and there aren't many good recent and impartial reviews out there. Most of them talk about out dated software glitches and poor support. If you are confident in your product, this would be a great place to have it reviewed SERIOUSLY!

    BTW - I have only stumbled upon DC Rainmaker's blog recently while researching VR trainers and have found it to be a very good resource so far.

    Reply
  16. Tony

    Phil, what do you mean with that: Tacx is looking at the various ways to use the Ant+ frequency ;-) ! There should be something to show this winter ???

    I've a Fortius BUT the plan is to upgrade at Bushido (waiting for more info/news about ANT+ communication and implementation by the way) to be fair i'm looking forward to buy the new software TTS 3 and i hope they've improove the performance and RLV data field "personalization" since i would be able to visualize power, avg 3" power like my Garmin does, TSS and IF.

    Reply
  17. The Fortius wheelspinning feature is a bit overlooked in the comments. I bought my Fortius when it first came on the market and I found the motorbrake a huge improvemnt over the traditional brake system, the weelspinning gives a much more realistic feel to the riding. Very steep climbs are not for the Fortius but also not for other trainers in my opinion.
    I almost exclusively use Real Life and Ergo video for training and there is 3 party software on the market which allows to to modify the elevation profiles or to combine multiple sections of RLVs in such way that you can program your own training even with the cool Real Life video's.

    Reply
  18. Anonymous

    I had a TACX Fortius that I purchased last year, and after two months of trying to get it to run correctly, I returned the unit. The main problem was the choppiness that resulted during simulated climbs. I spoke with everyone-including Phil--and NOTHING cured this problem. In the end, it took all the pleasure out of riding on this trainer. Second, the software crashed on a fairly regular basis. The latter issue will be fixed in V.3, I suspect. But if the climbing is so choppy that it departs dramtically from the sensation of "real" riding, the trainer has, IMHO, questionable value. I'd be interested to know whether the choppiness problem is being addressed. --Andy

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  19. Thanks for the Great Review DC Rainmaker. I am currently looking at different VR Trainers to set up a multirider center as part of a sports performance lab and it seems that the Tacx fortius multiplayer trainer and the computrainer are my main choices. The fancy software on the Tacx looks great and has good potential for attracting riders to the center.
    However I was just wondering if anyone can comment on the accuracy of the Tacx power readings compared to the computrainer. For maximum power I read somewhere that the Tacx is upto 1000 watts. So wondering how this would work with shorter intervals if developing stength and power. How functional is the coaching software on the tacx and ability to utilise the power data for baseline testing and setting power zones? Can anyone comment on the use of the Tacx in a testing center where we would look at lactate curves, VO2 max testing and setting power zones. The Velotron looks like the gold standard here still but how does the Tacx compare?
    Finally can anyone comment on the multirider set up for the Tacx? How many bikes can you link together to a single computer and how well does the multirider feature work compared to the computrainer?

    These are questions I will be asking to Tacx as well but real field feedback is invaluable!

    Thanks!

    Reply
  20. Anonymous

    DC, did TACX get you a trainer yet?

    Like Anonymous (October 5th post -- btw Anon, did you make a decision?), I too have been spending hours researching trainers online and quite frankly, the dated and less-than-impartial reviews are not inspiring. Your judgment of a product seems to be justly valued DC, so I do hope TACX recognizes soon the wisdom of getting a VR trainer in your hands.

    I will say that it seems to me, even with my limited experience, that no product currently on the market has it all. I would love see someone deliver a trainer with the realistic feel of the Direct Drive LeMond Revolution (without the noise), the side-to-side motion and sturdy build of the Kurt Kinetic Rock & Roll for out of the saddle training, the longevity and accuracy of the CT and the RLV, motorbrake and wireless option of TACX.

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  21. Hi Anon-

    No, they have not unfortunately provided a unit to test. I'd love to put it through it's paces, but it's been the sound of silence.

    Thanks!

    Reply
  22. Anonymous

    That the software crashed 3 times during a demo is something you can expect from every version of the Tacx Trainer Software. Not only is the software completely unstable, the "patches" that Tacx send out tend to make the Software run worse. I am not kidding. I would invite ANYONE considering a Tacx trainer to virst visit Tacx's website, and go to the forum. There you will see innumerable posts regarding the deficiencies of Tacx Trainer Software.
    Don't get me wrong, the PROMISE of Tacx is phenomenal, but having been with Tacx since 2003, and having invested well over $2500 in their equipment, i have nothing to show for it other than aggrevation. Do yourself a favor, go to the tacx forum and make your own decision.
    Finally, not only is Tacx (as an organization) completely dismissive of its customers, it compounds the injury by ACTUALLY REQUIRING ITS LOYAL CUSTOMERS TO PAY FOR UPGRADES THAT SIMPLY DO NOT WORK! Tacx will tell you that thousands of users experience no problems whatsoever with their software, but again, I would respectfully direct any reader to the Tacx forum and judge that claim for yourself.

    Reply
  23. Hi,

    Have you ever heard something from bkool?
    It´s a recently launched university proyect and it could be an alternative to Tacx.
    I´m a tester of that product and the mechanical part works well, better than others. Maybe the software needs improvements but it has high potential.
    The multiplayer mode is striking!

    More information on http://www.bkool.com
    There´s little information in english, only I´ve found that:
    It´s a social site with facilities such as uploading circuits and specific training plans as well as the standard functionality of other social networks.
    BKOOL's main features are:
    * A mechanical part (BCycling), PC steered, which simulates the resistance of an indoor stage program to be held by a group of participants.
    * A simulator where participants can observe on a screen (with avatars) the placing and progress of each one of them during the race.
    * A card with antennas (BConnect) that collect and record information from the sensors useful for monitoring the sports activity (speed, distance, pedaling cadence, heart rate monitor, …)

    BConnect captures up to 4 sensors simultaneously ANT + and a Polar chest band to the (encrypted or not) or a generic breast-5kHz band uncoded.

    ANT + possible sensors that can capture BConnect are:
    Strap chest.
    Cadence Sensor.
    Speed Sensor.
    Power Sensor.
    Any other sensor that meets the ANT + standard.

    Reply
  24. Andre

    I also have a Tacx Fortius and still love it! My unit was one of the first ones sold (bought in the Netherlands) and I had a lot of trouble getting it to work properly. As I was one of the first I almost had to solve every problem myself because, just like Jon said Tacx Customer Service is.....

    I think i've experienced almost every problem on the Forum, but still I love my Fortius, weird isn't it? I probably would have returned any other product but not this one.

    What I still don't understand is the bad release policy. In the last few years they have released a few new software (3) packages which you will have to pay for every time!! You can't stay with the old one because they mostly still have a lot of bugs in them. Like the TTS3 you saw crashing. TTS3.0 was full of bugs but still they sell it for 99 Euro? Now after 4 updates it's finally running quity good and I am happy.
    Best part, finally got my own trainingsvideo's to work so I won't have to cycle Alpine Classic etc anymore!

    Reply
  25. I have the TacX Flow with PC Upgrade and I wrote my own review on it here;
    link to putrajayaeasyriders.blogspot.com
    Despite you having a few minutes with the TacX trainer, you wrote a much better review.

    Reply
  26. Anonymous

    Hi, this is an older thread, but I can't help offering my experience. Tacx certainly has had issues with their software in the past, but I'm running TTS 3.5 in a decent PC (4-5 years old, Core 2 Duo, but with 4 GB memory and a separate video card) and in general it's working perfectly and satisfying me. I'm using an i-Magic (low end) unit I bought used on eBay -- outdated maybe in Tacx's product line, but it is opening up a new world of training (I'm in Toronto, so we have a long winter season) -- it's really helping me improve my lactate threshold, I'm getting much more aggressive training rides in that I do in season with my riding buddies. The RLV's are great, and third party vendors in the Netherlands and Germany sell good videos at very low prices. So, notwithstanding all the gripes and issues you might see on the Tacx forums, I give them 2-thumbs-up and a strong recommendation.

    Reply

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