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Into Thin Air: Bkool’s New 2017-2018 Trainer Lineup

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While it’s traditional that most European trainer companies announced their new wares at Eurobike, Spain-based Bkool decided to eschew that for a few more weeks of prep and then launch their new trainer products at Interbike instead.  Unfortunately, that didn’t quite work out.

Still, I can attempt to run you through the lineup of what’s planned and what it all means.  They’ve definitely got some intriguing products in there – ones that certainly could have an impact on the industry if they can bring them to market.  Let’s dive right into things, with each of the three new models.

Note: They continue to offer the Bkool Smart Go, which is priced at $349USD.  I talked about that last year.  That’s an incredible value at $349 for a resistance controllable trainer with ANT+ FE-C in it.

BKool Smart Pro 2:

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This is their new premium wheel-on trainer, coming in at $589.  The new design resembles Pac-Man in both color and form.  Hidden in Pac-Man’s mouth is the roller which your rear wheel attaches to.  As part of that Bkool says the new housing makes it quieter than previous models (on the loud show-floor it’s impossible to tell for sure).  Though, with Bkool’s site claiming 68db, it’s hardly all that quiet.  That’s basically average (most trainers come in at 63-70db)

Like virtually all trainers you’ll read about here, it supports both ANT+ FE-C and Bluetooth Smart control.  This can be paired up to Bkool’s own cycling simulator software, which you’ll get a year’s worth for free.  Alternatively, you can pair it up to apps like TrainerRoad and Zwift.

The Smart Pro 2 though does pack in some solid resistance capabilities – supporting slopes up to 20%, and total wattage resistance up to 1,200w – that incline is more than most trainers in this price range.  The legs can extend outwards to make it more stable, or collapse to make it more storable.

I did get to spin a little on it – and it felt pretty normal for a trainer in this price range.  Meaning that the inertia was good, but nothing I would say that was any different than the KICKR SNAP or CycleOps Magnus.  Of course, this is $10 cheaper.

The only down-side was that the yellow color and finish easily showed off dirt and tire dust, making them appear perpetually dirty (though the booth staff did work to keep them wiped off).

The current plan is this will start shipping by the end of October.  And for the price, it’s certainly something to consider.  Unlike trainers from Wahoo and CycleOps (or Tacx or Elite), this comes with a full year of their premium training platform, so if you aren’t into other 3rd party apps – then this is a great way to get going without having to shell out for extra software.

Bkool Smart Air:

Out of all the trainers that had been rumored or shown in the last few weeks, few garnered as much curiosity as the Bkool Smart Air.  When the images first slipped out around Eurobike, many people did a bit of a double-take.  The trainer was set to look like your bike was just hanging by the rear cassette, floating in air.  The effect was cool, but many wondered how and where all the electronics and resistance goods would be packed into the small frame that was shown in the computer-generated imagery, seen below.

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After all, this is set to be a full premium resistance controlled smart trainer at $1,099.  It’d have ANT+ FE-C and Bluetooth Smart control packed in, along with the ability to simulate slopes up to 20% and wattage up to 2,000w.  Further, it’d be able to tilt left and right, providing a more realistic sprint-like experience:

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Interbike would be the first show the unit would be present at, so naturally many were curious about it.

Except, it didn’t show up.

And, to be fair, it wasn’t entirely Bkool’s fault.  They sent me the tracking link, and I can vouch for FedEx’s ability to screw up day in and day out for three days in a row.  Bkool wasn’t exactly having the greatest time with shipping companies this show, as their booth structure was sent to New Hampshire instead (basically, almost the furthest point you could get in the lower 48 away from Vegas).

However, at 5:45PM, just before show close on Thursday, FedEx came through and delivered a crate with the Bkool Air in it:

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Except, there were a long list of issues.  First off, the unit didn’t look like the renderings.  Second, it was a beast.  Seriously, you need to keep in mind that it almost matches the height of the wheel of the bike in front of it – and is up to the seat-post of the indoor bike behind it.  Also, note the legs extend out all the way onto the trainer mats next to it.

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Also, the legs didn’t fold/collapse as indicated in the press material.  And in fact, the unit didn’t really do anything.  There were no electronics inside this unit at all, nor the required hole or cord to plug it in.  The unit also didn’t rock side to side, it was welded solid.  Essentially, it was full of…air.

But that’s not entirely where my concern ends.  The site (which now shows a different image that more closely matches the prototype at Interbike), mentions a super quiet design coming in at 41db.  This would be mind-boggling if true, but seems incredibly unlikely.  The drive-train on a bike puts you in the ~45db range by itself, which this certainly needs as it has a cassette.  And that ignores any spinning of other parts within that blue frame.

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Of course – I’m more than happy to be proven wrong here.  Fear not, I have plenty of ways to measure audio, including at least 2-3 different decibel meters.

I do think that if they can execute on this in a form factor that isn’t gigantic, they’ll have a really interesting product on their hands.  Even more so if they can get anywhere near their noise claims.  Plus, they also claim to have a built-in power meter inside.

And for those that think I might be being hard on them, I’d caution that they sent out materials to the press on the unit representing one thing, only to show something different.  Further, the company is saying they’ll likely have product units available by the end of October.  Given that it’s the end of September now and they didn’t have a single functioning unit to send to one of the largest bike trade shows on earth for their launch event/show, I have doubts.  Though, having production occur within Spain nearby them will definitely help them some (versus overseas elsewhere).  Of course, I wouldn’t hold off purchasing decisions for near-term trainers either.

Still, the company says they hope to get me units to the DCR Cave in about two weeks.  So I’m eagerly awaiting that for sure!

Bkool Smart Bike

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Finally, we’ve got the indoor cycling bike, the Bkool Smart Bike.  This follows along with the larger industry trend (heavily at Zwift’s prodding) to roll out indoor bikes.  We saw Tacx show off their vision, as well as Wattbike roll out their actual product that’s almost ready to ship.

The Bkool Smart Bike is essentially a more simplistic version of both of those, and as such, is at a reduced price of $1,199 (compared to the Tacx offering estimated to be $3,000).

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The Bkool Smart Bike has both ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart in it, and can transmit power, speed, and cadence.  Further, it’s compatible with 3rd party apps like Zwift, TrainerRoad and more.  It can resist up to 1,500w at 120RPM, and at 45KG  (99 pounds) it’s definitely stable.  Though it has little wheels to allow easy moving around.

It’s got quick adjustability of the seat post height, handlebar height, and handlebar horizontal positioning.  Oh, and it’s got an emergency brake option.

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But here’s the thing, I’m a bit ‘intrigued’ on one specific claim here: That it’s resistance controllable.

To be clear, that’s the functionality Bkool has stated in all their marketing material and via e-mails that apps can control the resistance.  Be it an ERG workout or simulating incline.

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Unfortunately, the bike at Interbike didn’t have this functionality, there was no control on that unit.

When I rode the unit, it was identical to an indoor spin bike with the large flywheel, whereby the cranks can’t stop until the flywheel stops.  This is very much unlike either the Tacx or Wattbike offerings that more closely resemble a bike in that you can stop pedaling and the wheel will keep spinning.

Of course, there are technical ways to achieve what they are referring to.  They could use movable magnets or brakes inside the unit, since it didn’t have a resistance knob like an indoor spin bike might.  That would imply that’s baked inside.

Still, without that piece working it’s impossible to know how things feel once resistance is added.  It may feel incredible, or it may feel sluggish.  The heavy flywheel would, in theory, make it feel amazing – but since everything is connected to the crank arms, I didn’t quite get that road-like feel of inertia as you ease back on the power.

Again though – the current plan is to start shipping in late October, with hopes of having a unit in my hands in early October.

Ultimately, I think almost everything here is definitely a case of wait and see.  Also of minor note is that Bkool has opened up a US division of the company now, which should help on both the fulfillment side as well as the service/support side.  But that’s all pretty fresh – so it’s going to take a bit of time to get things fully streamlined.  Still, it’s good to see – and something that I think others like Tacx and Elite could also look at instantiating, again, mainly to ease support type issues when it comes to replacement handling (versus forcing customers to go back to retailers).

With that – thanks for reading!

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14 Comments

    • byDesign

      Kool, but not cool. Also, “And in fact, the unit didn’t really anything.” is missing a word – “do”?

      It seems like they should take a bit more time to get it all together, collect their wits, and put forward something worthy of their work and not half-a** it, or present it as a prototype, etc.

  1. Chader

    Seems like they are trying to stay relevant, but lacking on the actual progress compared to the events they want to join.

    That’s an odd position as a brand. I’d rather be late to the party, but fully dressed compared to showing up in my undies.

  2. Sylvester Jakubowski

    Been a while since we have had a DCR-style smackdown on companies trying to pull one over, glad the axe is still sharp :)

    • ScottE

      Exactly, making assurances by giving the FedEx tracking number only to show up with vapor ware is disengenuous at best. They are lucky the full force of D’Rain didn’t let loose on them.

    • I got the very distinct feeling that the local folks here were surprised by what arrived… I could use a lot of other words for ‘surprised’, but I’ll just go with ‘surprised’ for now. :)

  3. Graham R

    I have to say the small wheel on unit interests me – very unobtrusive one the bike is off. I look forward to seeing the shakedown of all these.

  4. funkright

    Bkool Smart Bike, now that’s the trainer, if it has the resistance feature working, that will be in my workout room ASAP. Thanks for the heads up. I look forward to your review once they’ve provided you with a fully functional unit!

  5. Kim F

    Into thin air? Just like Bkool’s service and support and equipment reliability. Steer clear.

    • D_C

      Not that I’m a fan of them or anything, and in fact I’m considering upgrading to a Direto…
      But my experience in one year with the Bkool pro has been pretty good.
      Support called me when I got it to remotely check the firmware and calibration upon my request and since then I had a solid year of more than 100 trainerroad workouts and a few months in zwift without problems…
      I’m super lucky or is your comment a hyperbole at the very least?

  6. John

    Really disappointed to discover that the “Smart Air” is vaporware.

  7. Holmes

    Doesn’t look like it’s going to be what their promised and vaporware is one of the worst ideas for a company… but let’s see, if they come out with something just CLOSE to ehat they claim in terms of noise and just screwed up with a late-stage prototype it’s going to be worth it. I subscribed to their mailing list to see how this ends up (and of course will see when Ray gets the final piece of hardware)

  8. Spiro

    Wow. Great start to a company that has essentially provided a lot of fluff . Stick to the known

  9. Jim

    They would have been better off just sticking with the “it’s lost” line.

    The Bkool Pro 2 looks functionally the same as the old one expect for the yellow cover.

    All the “strange” marketing aside I can’t complain about my Bkool Pro – I picked one up second hand very lightly used for 350AUD – haven’t had any issues other than some flaky updates with their software connections dropping out