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Zwift & Tacx launch ability to shake your trainer riding cobblestones. For real.

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So here’s the thing – every time I go to Eurobike, Interbike, CES, or some other trade show I’m always asked the same thing by virtually everyone in every booth I visit: “What’s the coolest thing you’ve seen thus far?”

And honestly, my answers are always kinda blah.  The reason isn’t that there isn’t cool products or neat stuff.  But rather it’s usually minor evolutions of existing things.  Innovations that those who follow the industry know are coming and it was merely a matter of the product being formally released.  Rarely are they game changers, and rarely do they deliver a ‘Holy crap that’s cool!’ moment.  Sometimes it’s more about the ‘Holy crap’ moment than a new data metric.

To give you examples of ‘holy crap’ moments for me over the last 3-4 years, we have the introduction of the Wahoo KICKR in 2012, which completely changed the trainer landscape. Then there was the 24×7 wearable heart rate/body sensor sticker two years ago at CES.  Both of those were totally different than the norm.  It doesn’t take away from the required innovation and pricing shifts of everything else, but sometimes something is just cool.

And this year I’ll finally have a decent answer for the question at Eurobike: The Tacx NEO Road Patterns.

Seriously.  This is without question the coolest thing I’ve seen all year.  Then again, Eurobike is still to come…

But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.  Let me explain what road patterns are.

TACX NEO Road Patterns:

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As of today, Tacx has enabled road patterns in the Tacx NEO smart trainer, which means that it can simulate the feeling of riding over different road conditions.  Yes, it actually shakes your trainer when you hit rougher terrain.  It uses the motor inside the NEO frame at millisecond frequencies to essentially shudder the trainer, providing the feeling of different road patterns.  It’s sorta like armpit farting – with enough creativity and speed, you can create wonderful works of art.  In this case, replica art of various road conditions.

The NEO can replicate the following nine road patterns:

Concrete plates
Cattle grid
Cobblestones (hard)
Cobblestones (soft)
Brick road
Off road (compact dirt)
Gravel
Ice
Wooden boards

Plus of course, no simulation at all – just standard pavement.  About the only conditions I can think of not covered would be mushy stuff – like mud, soft snow, and sand.  I suppose that leaves room for growth, right?

App developers can leverage these new modes via both an ANT+ FE-C and Bluetooth Smart API.  Further, each road pattern has an intensity level from 0 to 100%, thus allowing a developer to control how much cobblestone pain you’ll receive.

So how does it feel?

Surprisingly realistic.

At least some of them do.  For example, I find the Wooden Boards, Cobblestones and Concrete Plates to be the most accurate.  It’s an almost perfect replication of what each of those surfaces feel like.  For things like off-road (compact dirt), it’s a bit tougher since most of the time you get nuances to compact dirt such as divots and random variations that aren’t really replicable here.`

You may be wondering what training value it could bring.  If that’s your thinking, my guess is that you’ve never had to ride cobbles for extended periods of time during a race (you should feel blessed).  One could easily see how you could train using the harder cobblestone profile with higher intensities for longer periods during workouts.  This would be valuable if you didn’t live in a place with cobblestones (‘Merica) and then were planning a race where they existed (Europe).

But then again – why does everything have to have a specific training purpose?  After all, Zwift itself is largely entertainment built around the premise of cycling.  With this free update, Tacx is able to increase the realism of riding a trainer.  And I presume that people who buy $1,600 trainers want realism.  The road patterns can also be found within the Tacx Cycling app (Tablets) films, Tacx Training Software (PC) films and VR.

Note that other Tacx trainers lack the hardware to be able to pull this off.  All of those trainers have belts and other parts that simply can’t do what the NEO can in terms of creating a giant vibrator.

Zwift Integration:

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Speaking of Zwift, as of today they rolled out their support for NEO road patterns.  This means that as of this evening if you have the latest Tacx NEO firmware update you’ll get road patterns automatically as you ride over them.  So as you start your Zwift ride you’ll likely be on pavement, which means you won’t feel anything until you find some rough road.  But as you cross over onto another surface – such as compact dirt, cobblestones (like in the Richmond UCI course), or wooden boards (like in Watopia over the water) you’ll near instantly feel the shift by the trainer, which also will near perfectly match what you hear in the audio from Zwift.

Zwift can actually leverage both control mechanisms for enabling/disabling the road patterns on the NEO.  You can either pair your trainer using Bluetooth Smart and the mobile app, or ANT+ in the desktop app.  Either way, road patterns will work.  You may notice slight differences between the two modes in terms of when you cross the threshold between pavement and off-road.

In trying the desktop ANT+ variant out, it was switching on/off in about half a second, so plenty fast.  As you might imagine, Zwift has an advantage compared to other apps in that it knows/tells the road surface at all times.  Whereas an app that may simulate riding a video shot in the realm world would have to painstakingly transcribe the road conditions for the entire ride.  For example, do you enable every little section of concrete pavers when you cross over a crosswalk or other brief change?

No worries, I suppose that’s for app developers to decide as they implement it.  In the meantime, we have Zwift and it works great there.  Tacx noted that Zwift was able to enable this within their platform in only a single evening of coding, so it’s pretty straightforward for developers.

Here’s a quick look at how it works on Zwift in this video I put together:

Wait…there’s more!

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Wait, they weren’t done at making your life miserable by shaking your bike over cobbles.  No, you’ve now also got the ability to enable Isokinetic and Isostatic modes.  Or at least apps now have that ability.

I know, you’re now asking yourself: What the heck are those?  Is that like iodine?

No, it’s not.  Though both if used in excessive quantities can cause you pain in training.  Here’s the definitions of both:

Isokinetic Mode: This is used for training at low RPM with high wattages, but at a set speed. The trainer will keep you from accelerating above the set speed and thus force you at very low RPM’s with lots of wattage (which is typically tough to do on trainers).

Isostatic Mode: This is also for training, and forces you to apply even/constant force around the entire pedal stroke.  It’s really a bit of a mind-boggle when you try and pedal as it can be very difficult if you don’t apply even resistance the entire way around.

With these Iso modes, Tacx isn’t yet making them available directly to end consumers.  Apps however can leverage them today.  Tacx is working to figure out the best way to bring the new modes to their own apps in terms of training benefit, and they’re working with various coaches to sort that out.  But again, 3rd parties can use the API today to access these.

Also, Tacx has been rolling in various Neo firmware tweaks recently too, these include/add:

– Increased flywheel inertia feeling
– Power mode faster at set point
– Faster standby mode to switch-off internal fan

And finally, if you’re just buying a NEO, there’s been some minor tweaks along the way.  First was to resolve some initial quality control tweaks last fall (so those changes are way-old now), but also more recently they’ve adjusted the external case/shell on the NEO to be compliant with more bike frames.  There are no differences otherwise in those models internally and unless you knew what to look for on the shell, you wouldn’t likely be able to tell the difference.

Oh – and in case you’re wondering on future models from the company, Tacx says that they believe this is the most advanced trainer for the 2016-2017 season (either from them or the market at large).  While we have yet to see what the rest of their competitors bring to market at Eurobike in late August, it certainly stands to reason this will certainly be one of the top trainer for consumers – if not the top model.

With that – thanks for reading!

[Note: My ‘Everything you want to know about the Tacx NEO post can be found here.]

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62 Comments

  1. Husain

    So the Neo can perform a artful melody of armpit farts by acting as a giant vibrator?

    :)

  2. CLB

    [Checks the date twice to be sure it’s not April 1.]

  3. Kim M.

    How cool! Thanks for the update! Looking forward to checking it out after work tonight!

  4. Asaf

    So the obvious question: can KICKR match in theory this breakthrough with the present hardware?

    • No, they have a belt system and lack the required hardware to make it work.

    • Anton Peterson

      What about the up and coming Elite trainers. Do they have the hardware to integrate road surface feel too? By the way I think you need to change a word.
      ‘Whereas an app that may simulate riding a video shot in the (realm) world would have to painstakingly transcribe the road conditions for the entire ride.’

    • Dean Bowen

      Hello, what turbo do you use your self to train
      on daily?

      Thanks

  5. Brandon L.

    So Ray, would you consider this to be your recommended trainer at this point (if it is even possible to recommend just one for the entirety of your readership)?

    On a related note, is it possible for you to keep a chart, or something similar, that lets you update your gadget recommendations in real time, as new products are launched throughout the year?

    Waiting for the annual winter gadget recommendations post is not easy, and for those of us who stagger different purchases over time, having constantly updated recommendations would be amazing.

    • Nick

      Seconded! That’d be ideal to get a sense of the best products out there at any given time rather than trying to weigh whether a new product would supersede the previously recommended ones

    • I think at this point it’s the one I’d recommend if you want the best consumer-level trainer out there. It has great versatility and works with the vast majority of apps (there are undoubtedly some edge case apps left, but I can’t imagine they are mainstream if they don’t work either via FE-C or direct BT to any Tacx trainers).

      That said, I’d really wait till Eurobike the last week of August. We know we have more units coming out. But I suppose that’s my annual rule: Never by a trainer during the summer pre-Eurobike.

      The annual gadget one is tough. I do have plans to get a summer version out (sans-trainers), but I find that typically speaking most trainer changes happen between Aug and September (or really, just between Eurobike and Interbike).

  6. Very cool update to change the game on hardware we already have.

  7. Casey

    I like to see a review on this top model beauty. Nice if it had road patterns too. The Bitelli bike trainer –Hydraulic tilt, 65in screen and wind fans creating a fully immersive experience.

  8. Jimbo

    Pretty cool. I guess everyone else has to take a back seat for most realistic road feel.

    (I think in the paragraph TACX NEO Road Patterns: you mean shudder, not shutter – unless it’s go and cover up windows now as well)

  9. Frankenzen

    Good stuff. Seems like a great step forward for the Neo. I wonder what other capabilities are to come over the next few years with these smart trainers? I’m surprised that there’s no mainstream offering that adjusts the height of the front wheel in tune with the gradient on the screen, or one allows you to steer with the front wheel. You could combine both features into one accessory that would probably work with most existing trainers.

  10. Brett

    How has the Tacx software (and firmware) been so far? That always seems to have been their weak point in the past (e.g., Bushido, their 3D training software).

  11. Joey

    When I’m out riding and I get on cobbled it’s the front wheel that impacts first then it transmit to the bars. Being the tacx is on the rear how does it go about transmitting the impact to the front first?

    • Patrick Myers

      There is literally no way they could do that. Any vibration they generate is going to originate with part touching the trainer (i.e., the dropouts and stays) and thus it’s going to start in the back of the bike.

      This is like a scratch and sniff sticker. It will simulate the sensation so your brain will say “this reminds me of…” but it is not, nor intended to be, a substitute for the real thing.

    • Nigel

      So it’s just a gimmick, really?

    • One could argue Zwift at large is just a gimmick – no? It’s something designed to keep you preoccupied rather than the realization you’re on a boring trainer.

  12. Tony

    Hi Ray,
    Did Tacx mention plans for other direct drive future models but at a lower spec? (and hopefully lower price).
    Thanks

  13. Patrick

    Ray, which support for the laptop are you using?
    Thanks

  14. Jon Niehof

    I’m not sure I’d want to try the cattle guard simulation…throws you to the ground with a one in ten chance of death?

  15. Chris

    Is there any way of knowing when they started shipping the newer framed version?
    I’ve been told my 2013 cervelo P5 is damnnn tight and rubs depending on tolerances but have been wanting to get one of these since it was announced.
    Is there a model number change to save me buying one and finding it not fitting and then knowing whether I’ve gotten the latter case?
    Any advice appreciated

    • ms

      Tacx has not started shipping the new version. My understanding from an email exchange with Tacx Support is that they will not start to get stock of the Neo v2 until sometime in mid to late August.

    • Chris

      Many thanks! I hope they market it clearly so one knows which one they are getting

    • I checked with Tacx on this. The new NEO’s with the different shell for broader bike compatibility will be recognizable on the packing by having a ‘2017’ snippet on the SKU.

      It won’t be a separate SKU however (useful for online ordering), but you could at least call the retailer and ask. Once they get units in, I’ll have Clever Training validate once all units are 2017 ones.

      Again, it’s merely the shell. So if you’re bike is already compatible (and most are), it won’t matter which version you have.

      Pic attached of new barcode label.

    • Bruce L

      I think you might be refering to the yet-to-be-announced V2 Neo, a less expensive, lower resistance unit coming out in late September, early October. I got this info from a reliable source.

    • Jacky Wong

      Thx, bro. This is the info that I needed.

    • Bruce L

      The new direct drive trainer is the T2900 Tacx Flux.

      1000W resistance, fixed frame.Downhill drive? Simulated incline? Perhaps 7%, consistent with Vortex 950W.

      The T2900 Flux is listed in the Tacx Firmware patch site.

    • Dieter W

      Hi Ray,

      As it’s 99,9% certain now, that Tacx won’t release a new top-end trainer like the Neo, except for the Magnum treadmill, I’m thinking of buying one.

      You say it’s merely the shell but for people with disc brakes calipers that might be in the way for the Neo housing, that can be important. Can you explain what exactly changed?

      Thank you very much!

  16. Louis Matherne

    How reliable have these been? There were some issues when first launched. Have the bugs been worked out?

    • Rikard

      Tacx still have problems with quality control. I recieved a new Tacx neo smart two weeks ago that made the same grinding noise reported by some previously.

  17. John Warner

    Hi Ray watt excitement hey. Just one question on the Neo. Having read that the load generator is magnetic, in ERG mode, is there any load delivery delay like there is with the Kickr? Or is it almost instantaneous like the CompuTrainer? I ask out of interest for its suitability for short intervals such as microbursts and sprint training.

    • Changren Y.

      My experience with one workout – my first workout in Zwift – last night was there’s a serious delay issue with the Zwift/NEO combination. Instead of being able to stick to one gear and one cadence, during the workout, I had to constantly switch gear because I was having problem maintaining the targeted power. I have no such issue using the NEO with TrainerRoad.

  18. Ben

    Hi Ray,
    Is the isokinetic and isostatic options just for Neo as well? Or can that be done on other Tacx Smart trainers? Thanks!

  19. Mark

    “It’s sorta like armpit farting – with enough creativity and speed, you can create wonderful works of art”

    Without a doubt the best analogy I have ever read, in any review, ever.

  20. Ibeti

    The isokinetic and isostatic options sound absolutely horrible to use … the Neo was allready at the top of my list for a smart trainer this Fall and these new alternatives for enhanced suffering sound like a welcome thing indeed.
    One question though – what are the implications of Road Patterns for wear on the drivetrain (and possibly Frame, as the stress would be much less varied than riding actual cobblestones)?

  21. Chris

    Next thing they are going to simulate is a flat. You can ride with it, it shakes and decreases the power/speed ratio until you take the bike off the trainer for like 2 minutes or something stupid like that.

  22. Tom

    Another useful mod would be mounting for a fixed gear bike and an eccentric training mode where the trainer drives the pedals backwards and the rider resists the motion.

    There is only one such trainer on the market (Cyclus 2) and it is rather pricy.

    link to cyclus2.com

    • Anton Peterson

      The Cyclus 2 maybe expensive, but it is worth the price for what it does (V02 max test and other tests) as well as having lateral movement of the bike. Now-a-days with controllable trainers you could create your own V02 max test by having the trainer increase resistance at every interval. With all that being said it does have a place in the market and is not given enough credit in the world.

  23. Robert

    Hi Ray,
    Can you get a list of compatible software for the Road Patterns.
    Zwift and Tacx plus … ?
    Thanks heaps.

  24. Fernando

    Hi Ray
    I have a Computrainer and I’m thinking of buying the Tacx Neo Smart.
    Do I need to buy the “Upgrade Smart” to use the Zwift simulator on my computer?

  25. Gunnar

    Ray, (or someone) a bit off topic, but I’m moving the U.S. to UK. Are the Tacx trainers 120/240 volt? I know I would need to change the cable if it is….

    • Jacky Wong

      Voltage is no a problem, the device supports difference voltage in the world. However, the plug is in difference sharp, you have to buy a cable or using traveller adaptor.

  26. Khoa Tran

    Does Road Feel work in Zwift workout mode as well?

    • Wolfgang

      Yes, road patterns also work in Zwift workout mode.

    • Changren Y.

      According to Zwift support, Road Feel is supposed to be automatically disabled in workouts. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case for me when I tried a workout in Zwift last night. In addition to Road Feel being enabled during my workout, when riding on the gravel/wooden board sections of the course, riding at the same cadence actually resulted in much higher power generated (that is, more effort), causing me to go way above the targeted power.

      link to support.zwift.com

  27. Hi Ray,

    Watching your video, I noticed how you store 2 bikes along the wall. Can you tell me more about the system you use to fix the bike at the wall? It looks very lean and the bikes don’t allocate a lot of space in your cave.

    Markus

  28. Pontus

    I got very interested in these Iso-modes. Any idea which software support them so that I can try them out?