Heads-up: Huge Sports Tech Sale Underway – 20% Off All Smart Trainers!
There’s a massive sales on smart cycling trainers right now, plus plenty other sports tech. There’s 20% off the Wahoo KICKR, KICKR CORE, CLIMB, Headwind, 20% off the Tacx NEO 2T, Flux 2, and Flux S, 20% off Saris Hammer 3 trainer and Saris MP1 Motion Platform. Plus also 20% off the Elite Direto X and Suito too, even the new Sterzo. Plus even steeper deals including with the Kinetic trainers at 30% off.
Earlier this summer Elite announced the Direto, a direct drive trainer that’s fully integrated into the likes of Zwift and TrainerRoad. Priced at $899 it was initially targeted at the mid-range price market, but over the course of the last few months the target audience has widened to likely best some of the higher end trainers as well. And ultimately, I think it’s probably the ‘trainer to beat’ for 2017 for all but the most specific of use cases. But I’ll explain that thinking more later on.
(Sept 2018 Note: Elite has technically updated the name of the Direto to the Direto II for all units shipping from Sept 2018 forward. The *only* difference is that this new unit comes with a front riser block for your wheel, and they’ve changed the specification to be a claimed accuracy of +/- 2.0% versus +/- 2.5%. No physical hardware change has occurred.)
In the meantime, since earlier July when it first announced, I’ve shifted from a pre-production unit to a final production unit. Elite also started shipping units which have arrived on people’s doorsteps over the last week or so. Once I wrap-up this review I’ll be sending back both loaner test units to them and going out and getting my own through normal retail channels. Just the way I roll.
For those that want a bit of the basics, I cover almost everything you need to know about the Direto here:
Or, if video isn’t your thing, we can get onto the review itself!
To start, we’ll begin with the hefty box that contains the Elite Direto:
Cracking it open you’ll find the Direto inside, covered by foam and largely assembled.
It’s covered in plastic, to keep it pretty in the event there’s a foam catastrophe with your local UPS man:
And here’s all the goods laid out on the floor:
Ultimately, you’ll just want to hit up that manual though, which instructs you on putting together the three legs. Note in the upper right are the different options for axles, such as compatibility for 142×12 thru-axles.
These three legs need to be inserted into the base using this handful of bolts:
The entire process will maybe take you 3-4 minutes. Perhaps 5 minutes if you get distracted taking 58 photos of the whole scene:
Then you need to install your cassette. Remember that the Elite Direto does not include a cassette, so you’ll need to buy one. I generally just plop on the same model cassette on all my trainers, which is this Shimano Ultegra 11-speed cassette that runs for about $65. Of course, you can go SRAM if you have SRAM, Campy if you have Campy, and so on. You will need a lockring tool though to install the cassette, and ideally a chain whip. Though you can get away with an old glove in place of the chain whip.
Note that you can install Shimano/SRAM 9/10/11 speed cassettes without any extra accessory, however, for Campagnolo cassettes (9/10/11 speed), you’ll need an adapter from Elite.
After installation of the cassette and legs, we’ve got the entire thing sitting there looking pretty, all legs extended and cassette teeth smiling:
With that, we’re ready to start.
The first thing to know is that the unit does require being plugged into the wall. When doing so, you’ll end up illuminating the three lights on the side of the side/back that show you status. This status includes ANT+ status, Bluetooth Smart status, and overall power.
Some have asked what happens if you pedal without it plugged in, and it does provide some resistance. It won’t broadcast power/cadence/speed however, nor respond to resistance control from devices/apps. But it will provide about 220w of steady-state resistance, and you can sprint up to about 300w or so (but it’ll quickly settle back on about 220w within a few seconds). This will vary based on your exact gearing, but that’s the most I could squeeze out of it without power. Still, for those that might want to do a warm-up at a race on it, it may work for you. Or you could find one of those car battery converter things and plug it into your car’s power port.
When it comes to resistance, the Direto is a fully resistance controlled trainer, meaning that it can take commands from apps and devices to adjust the resistance according to the app instructions. So it can simulate slopes from 0% to 14%, as well as specific wattages up to 2,200w. This second piece is known as ‘ERG mode’, and is often used in structured workouts like those that TrainerRoad and other apps excel at.
The Direto does this by electronically moving a magnet inside the unit, allowing it to simulate pretty much anything most cyclists would want. So you can re-ride a famous climb watching a video in Kinomap, or execute Team Sky’s structured workouts on a Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT. Whatever floats your boat.
When it makes this adjustment in ERG mode there’s a slight delay that I discuss more in detail in the trainer apps section below. When in slope simulation mode there’s no delay for responsiveness.
A lot of folks ask about road-like feel. Road-feel generally comes from the weight of a flywheel. For the most part, the bigger the flywheel, the more road-like feel you get. Though there are creative ways companies can double or increase the flywheel ‘effect’ without increasing the weight, such as through additional gearing like the higher end Drivo, which has a 6KG flywheel but a two gearing system that doubles the effective flywheel weight to 12KG. And some like the Tacx Neo have no flywheel at all, it’s all simulated (and really good at it). So it’s not as clear-cut as comparing weights as you might think.
Either way, the Direto has a 4.2KG (9.24LBS) flywheel, which is about average for a mid-range trainer. Usually the higher end trainers (i.e. $1,100+ units) have about a 10-12KG flywheel. But again, size isn’t everything…it’s how you use it. Or something like that.
In the case of the Direto’s road-like feel, I’d rate it ‘good’, but not great. But like I always say – no matter how good the road feel is, I’m still staring at a wall in my basement. So it’s kinda hard to totally separate that for me.
Next, what about noise? The Direto is about middle of the road here as well. Noise on trainers is 100% related to speed, not power output. Especially in ERG mode because you can sit on 1,000w at a mere 6MPH or at 20MPH depending on your gearing. At 20MPH it will be substantially louder than 6MPH. I often measure noise levels with a combination of my decibel meter stoplight and a straight-up normal decibel meter, and my measurements agree with that of Shane Miller in his quick video he did on noise levels below:
Keep in mind though again that many factors impact noise level testing, including: speed, gearing, chain cleanliness, room design, room size, microphone placement, decibel meter placement (distance and angle from bike), room materials, other items in room, and tidal patterns. Ok, not tidal patterns, but seriously – I can make any trainer sound on video as loud or quiet as I want based on tweaking just one of the items above. So take everything with a boulder sized grain of salt. At the end of the day know that it’s no Tacx Neo, it’s just middle of the road. I do however find the sound more pleasant than the Tacx Flux, which to me has a bit of grinding sound to it (as you can hear easily above).
The Direto does actually contain a power meter, called OTS (Optical Torque Sensor), which is rated at +/- 2.5%. That’s the best claimed accuracy we’ve seen in a mid-range trainer, and only slightly below what we see in most high-end trainers which is usually +/- 1-2%. Elite recommends you calibrate this occasionally using a quick and simple roll-down procedure. Note that no other mid-range trainers have a power meter. Inversely, note that having a power meter doesn’t guarantee perfect accuracy. In fact, the KICKR 2 and KICKR 3 showed that ditching a power meter could improve accuracy since it was one less component to break during shipping (which is what was occurring for KICKR 1 folks). Either way, that’s not really an issue here with the Direto as you’ll see in the accuracy section.
Now I will say that while I calibrated my unit once at the start, I haven’t done so since and it’s remained incredibly consistent and accurate – far more than almost any other trainer I’ve seen (except the Elite Drivo, which also uses OTS…and the Tacx Neo). As such for this trainer, my gut feel is you can get away with doing calibration every few weeks, or when the temperature significantly shifts in your pain cave.
Finally, when it comes to movement/storage/portability, note that the legs do fold straight to the unit itself, enabling you to store it more easily:
There’s also little adjustable portions under each leg to allow you to further adjust the height of each leg individually in the event you have a wonky-ass floor like mine is.
With that – let’s get this thing connected to some apps and cookin’.
When it comes to app compatibility, the Elite Direto is technically the most capable trainer on the market today for 3rd party apps. Albeit, probably only a technicality. See, it’s the first trainer to start shipping that supports the new Bluetooth Smart trainer control protocol (FTMS: Fitness Machine Service). Of course, it also supports the more widely adopted ANT+ FE-C as well.
In total, here are all the ways the Direto transmits data to 3rd party apps:
ANT+ Speed/Cadence/Power (standard transmission) ANT+ FE-C trainer control (Fitness Equipment Control) Bluetooth Smart Speed/Cadence/Power (standard transmission) Bluetooth Smart FTMS (Fitness Machine Service)
So, to put this in practical terms, who uses all these things? Well, basically any app or device you have can leverage one or more of these options. For example, some common ones:
Zwift: Can use everything above TrainerRoad: Also everything above Garmin Edge head units: ANT+ variants, plus Bluetooth Smart broadcast for Edge 1030 Garmin wearables: ANT+ Speed/Cadence/Power, and Fenix5/935 on Bluetooth speed/power/cadence Polar devices: Bluetooth Smart speed/cadence/power Suunto devices: Bluetooth Smart speed/cadence/power
For all the apps out there, check out my full compatibility list within the annual trainer apps guide (to be updated in October, though all the compatibility data is largely still valid).
In my case, I largely tested with Zwift and TrainerRoad – simply because those are the two biggest apps out there today. Within that framework, I did both regular riding in Zwift (+ workouts), as well as ERG workouts in TrainerRoad.
Starting with TrainerRoad, you’d go ahead into the devices area and find the Direto listed. In my case it showed up as DI:
I went ahead and renamed that to Elite Direto, and then also disabled PowerMatch, because for testing reasons I want to know it’s thinking for itself and not relying on another power meter. However, for most other people you’ll likely leave the default as enabled.
Next, I loaded up my usual 30×30 trainer test. This is something I end up running on virtually all trainers as a great way to validate ERG mode responsiveness. It starts off with a short two-minute ramp, and then it oscillates power at 30-second intervals between a low wattage (about 150w on this day), and a high wattage (about 470w). You can run this same workout yourself here.
From there, off I went, right into things. You’ll see there’s current power (465w), as well as target power (472w).
While ERG mode will maintain a given wattage, you’ll see slight differences if you quickly shift cadence or attempt to sprint. At which point the trainer will reign you back in, but it offers you a little bit of ‘give’.
When it comes to responsiveness, I was curious how quickly ERG mode would react to the shift in power (~150w to ~472w). And on average it took about 3-4 seconds to make that transition. This is pretty normal for a trainer. Some can do it a second or two faster, but you actually don’t really want to go from 150w to 500w in one second. It’d be like hitting a brick wall. So all in all here, I was happy with this.
You can see above on the yellow line how things reacted quickly compared to the blue blocks which are what’s specified in the plan. Note that different apps apply different levels of smoothing, and trainer companies also in turn enable different levels of smoothing. Further, some trainers have technological limitations to how fast they can shift power in an ERG mode configuration.
But for the Direto, I’m not seeing that be a big issue in my case. I suppose if you were doing ERG micro-intervals (i.e. 10-second long intervals), and perhaps at a bigger wattage differences (150w to 1,000w), the transition may be too long. But in my case, it wasn’t a concern.
Note that in the case of TrainerRoad, the Direto is also providing cadence and speed data as well.
Next, let’s look at Zwift. Here things are pretty darn similar. You’ll start off by pairing to the Elite Direto trainer within the equipment menu:
And then from there you’ll want to validate both speed and cadence are coming from the Direto, if that’s what you prefer. I personally would use a dedicated cadence sensor for the most accurate cadence data, if it were me. But sometimes I’m just lazy and don’t care.
After that, you’re off and cruising in Zwift. Of course, in regular (non-workout) mode, Zwift is transmitting the grade to the Direto, which in turn automatically adjusts the grade on the trainer.
This means that if you ride up a 6% climb, that it’ll feel like 6% – at least if you’ve got the realism setting enabled. That setting is by default set to 50% realism, so you’d want to tweak that in the settings to ‘get all the feels’. Note, this does not impact how fast you might race in Zwift, that’s all dictated from your actual wattage.
For things like responsiveness in sprints or climbs, I’ve had zero issues there with the Direto. It responds as fast as I can throw down the wattage (I top out around 1,000w). So I can’t speak for someone that may have far bigger legs than I. Though I haven’t heard of any issues with the Direto either. Note that I cover accuracy in these sprints in the next section.
When it comes to Zwift workout mode, the basics of pairing and such are all the same. However what differs is how Zwift handles the ERG function. Zwift will set ERG mode, but it’s not as strict as TrainerRoad is on holding the wattage. So with Zwift, you end up wobbling a bit more at the target wattage than TrainerRoad. Their idea being that it teaches you to hold power more accurately out on the road. And there’s some truth to that. On the flip-side, I personally prefer just having the trainer hold the wattage as set (after all, that’s why I bought an expensive trainer).
Still, those differences are merely belief-based more than technical. So they apply to any trainer you choose on either platform.
As far as apps go though on the whole, the Direto has you covered. One interesting item to note is that while the Direto does technically have their previous Elite-specific Bluetooth Smart control in it (it’s what Zwift uses), it’s not advertised. As such companies are heavily encouraged to leverage the new Bluetooth Smart FTMS standard. So I suspect we’ll see some quirks this fall as companies get that cooking in full.
For example, TrainerRoad worked over the summer to get things ‘ready’ for the Direto on FTMS, and launched that last week. They’re also working hand in hand with Tacx to ensure when Tacx lights up FTMS shortly, that things work without issue there too. As each company navigates the slightly uncharted waters of FTMS, each one is doing it slightly differently. I don’t expect this to be a long term problem, and it’s great to see that Elite decided to pave the way here as it really helps out consumers and smaller app makers long term to all be on two core trainer control standards: ANT+ FE-C and Bluetooth Smart FTMS.
Power Accuracy Analysis:
Next up, let’s dive into some of the power accuracy figures for the Elite Direto. In the case of the Direto, they claim accuracy within +/- 2.5%, using their OTS power meter. In order to validate that I’m comparing against a number of ‘known good’ power meters at once on the same bike.
In the case of testing the production Direto over the last month, I’ve been comparing it against the following power meters concurrently:
When it comes to testing, I generally focus on 2-3 core apps, and then a few scenarios within that. Keep in mind that while every app will impact slight differences in responsiveness of the trainer, it won’t impact the underlying accuracy. In all cases, I’m recording the power data stream directly from the Elite Direto, not via the app. I record these streams to a pile of Garmin Edge devices via ANT+ (usually a blend of Edge 520’s, 820’s and lately an Edge 1030).
With that, let’s dive right into things with the 30×30 testing you saw above via TrainerRoad. This is my defacto test for trainers and looking at accuracy between multiple power meters. Here’s the overall test:
While I talked about how this is testing responsiveness, it’s also testing the accuracy in large power shifts. And at the end of this test I tossed in two quick sprints to almost 900w. First though, we’ll start with the 30×30 sections by zooming in (but leaving zero smoothing on):
Here you see things look really good actually in that they all jump together at exactly the same rate and to almost the exact same place. You’ll see very slight differences in 1-second power (as seen above), due to recording/transmission rates on the protocol. If I add a 3-second smoothing to the graphs, it helps to show how similar they are:
All of them are within a few watts, though the Power2Max NG ECO does briefly go slightly higher for a few seconds and then settles out. Whether it’s being more sensitive or not it’s super clear to me. Again, large shifts in power is always somewhat tricky to match perfectly across units.
Either way, the rest of the 30×30’s were all essentially the same. The only variability you see in the power levels is due to me shifting cadence dramatically, which causes trainers to take a second or two to re-stabilize. Though accuracy doesn’t shift any during that.
Looking later on in the workout I did two random sprints for fun:
These came close to 900w and you can see all three power meters essentially mirrored each other within a few percent, which is what we’d expect. We also see the Elite Direto show as the ‘lowest’ value of the three, which is also as expected, given it’s measuring power furthest from the source (my foot). So all good in TrainerRoad on 30×30’s on the iPad using Bluetooth Smart control.
Meanwhile, here’s another TrainerRoad workout, this time using FE-C to control things from a Windows computer.
The numbers are so close it’s crazy. To the point it’s not really worth digging into in a pile of screenshots, seriously, they’re almost identical. Really solid.
Again, not to belabor things, but it once again looks really solid here. Let’s start by looking at those two bumps of intensity earlier on:
You can see all three units track within a few watts of each other the entire time, and find the same point after the initial sprint within two seconds. As expected there’s very slight variability between the units second to second, but they all trend almost atop each other.
If we look at one early sprint just shy of 800w, you’ll see everyone matches very closely:
But check out as I stop pedaling for 15-20 seconds what happens (below): There’s a very slight delay for the Direto to zero down the power, about 5 seconds longer than the others. This isn’t uncommon for trainers to see this kinda taper. While not ideal, I can’t think of many scenarios it’ll matter in real-life. If I stop pedaling entirely, I’m unlikely to complain about a slight taper of that power to 0w. Though to each their own.
Speaking of another imperfection: Cadence on the Direto. While most people probably won’t care about this either, I do find oddities here and there – little spikes. You can see this below:
Same goes for another ride with the same spikes:
What’s interesting is these don’t correlate to any major efforts for the most part, but rather significant shifts in power, usually downwards (i.e. after a sprint). Having cadence oddities on trainers isn’t unusual, you’ll see wobbles in implementations by Tacx (Wahoo and CycleOps don’t do it at all). If you’re using a separate cadence sensor, then that’ll override the trainer and all will be well.
In any event, as for power accuracy – all seems quite well here. Certainly for the price, it’s awesome. And you can see why I think this challenges the $1,200+ trainers that claim higher accuracy levels. Best I can see the Direto is matching those accuracy claims, proof and all.
(Note: All of the charts in these accuracy sections were created using the DCR Analyzer tool. It allows you to compare power meters/trainers, heart rate, cadence, speed/pace, GPS tracks and plenty more. You can use it as well, more details here.)
I’ve loaded the Elite Direto into the product comparison tool, so you can compare it against other trainers that I’ve reviewed (which is pretty much any trainer out there these days). In order to best understand where the Direto fits in, I’ve compared it against a few other ones in the same rough price range. Note that you can mix and match your own product comparison tables here though.
For the purposes of below, I’ve compared the most-like competitor, the Tacx Flux, as well as the KICKR SNAP. There’s obviously units significantly higher in price that I believe it very much competes against in most categories (namely the Wahoo KICKR, Elite Drivo, and CycleOps Hammer…and to a lesser degree the Tacx Neo), depending on what you want.
Some of you will ask whether I’d recommend the Direto or the Flux. And my personal preference at the moment is this, if only for the slightly improved accuracy. While Flux did decrease their accuracy to +/- 3%, I’d argue that Elite’s real accuracy on the Direto is probably closer to +/- 1%. And I’d even bet that are saying +/- 2.5% in an attempt not to undercut sales of their higher end Drivo at +/- 1%. Said differently: My suspicion is that both units actually have the same OTS in them (despite being theoretically named differently) and that accuracy is likely identical on both. That’s (mostly) just a gut feeling.
Of course, the Flux is actually easily found now (and last year’s teething troubles are long ago history), whereas the Direto will be supply limited for probably a few months. The sound is a tiny bit louder on the Flux than the Direto, but I prefer the ‘cleaner’ sound on the Direto than the Flux.
I also prefer the fact that the Direto can easily fold up and be moved around, whereas the Flux lacks that capability. But again, to each their own.
Expect my full annual round-up of trainers in the week following Interbike (so Sept 25th), as I’d like to see how the new Bkool and Minoura offerings look in person. But neither company is introducing anything that impacts this specific category.
So as I started off this post, I noted that I think the Direto is the ‘trainer to beat’ for the 2017-2018 trainer season. Obviously, that can be a somewhat confusing statement. Surely it’s not the highest end consumer trainer (I’d award that to the Tacx Neo, or perhaps the Wahoo KICKR+CLIMB combo). But it’s by far the best value, and virtually matches those other trainers when it comes to accuracy (at $300-$700 less for the base trainer). And that in my mind makes it the best all-around trainer of 2017.
Said differently: If my Dad were to ask which trainer to buy, this would be it.
Sure, it could be a tiny bit quieter (but still, it’s not much different than any other trainer). Or I suppose it could be certified as +/- 1% accuracy instead of +/- 2.5% (but really, all the data I see seems +/- 1% anyway). Or I suppose it could take 2 seconds instead of 3 seconds to shift 400w of range in ERG mode. But I don’t think that really matters to most people. It responds instantly in Zwift for racing, and it gives you plenty of money left over for purchasing other bike goodness. Or buying your significant other gifts. Your choice.
For those that want the absolute quietest trainer (Tacx Neo), absolute most road-like (Elite Drivo, KICKR or Neo), or most automated incline like (KICKR+CLIMB), then certainly there are other options at a significant premium. But for everyone that wants a fantastic trainer at a fantastic price, the Elite Direto wins this round.
With that – thanks for reading!
Found this review useful? Or just want to save 10%? Here’s how:
Hopefully you found this review useful. At the end of the day, I’m an athlete just like you looking for the most detail possible on a new purchase – so my review is written from the standpoint of how I used the device. The reviews generally take a lot of hours to put together, so it’s a fair bit of work (and labor of love). As you probably noticed by looking below, I also take time to answer all the questions posted in the comments – and there’s quite a bit of detail in there as well.
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Here's the thing, some people like front wheel blocks, some don't. I'm one of the ones that do. I like my front wheel to stay put and not aimlessly wiggle around. For $8, this solves that problem. Note some trainers do come with them. Also note, I use a riser block with *every* trainer.
This is a Shimano 105 cassette (thus, slightly more budget compared to the Ultegra), in most cases, you probably won't notice the difference. Ensure that the number of speeds matches your bike (e.g. 11-speed, 10-speed, 9-speed, etc...).
I've had this for years, and use it in places where I don't have a big screen or desk, but just an iPad or tablet on my road bike bars.
Or, anything else you pick up on Amazon helps support the site as well (socks, laundry detergent, cowbells). If you’re outside the US, I’ve got links to all of the major individual country Amazon stores on the sidebar towards the top.