Heads up – Apr 11th, 2019 – Garmin Vector 3 deal! The Garmin Vector 3 power meter pedals are currently on sale for $100 off the dual-sensing pedals, and $50 the single-sided Vector 3S pedal.
I don’t see this as a sign of any new Vector product line, but rather more of a proactive effort on Garmin’s part tied to the annual Sea Otter cycling show that started the same day as this sale (where other companies oft make power meter announcements). If you’re in the market for Vector 3 – then this is definitely a super-rare deal on them. Full in-depth review here.
Like clockwork, Wahoo announced a new KICKR trainer at Eurobike this year – the KICKR 2018. Following an Apple-like release model, Wahoo has refreshed their high-end KICKR trainer each year, usually adding minor tweaks along the way that in culmination end up being fairly important if one skips a few years. And in some ways, this year’s change was probably the biggest yet: They made it silent.
Really, it’s actually silent.
Oh, and it’s got a significantly bigger flywheel for more inertia.
And that would probably be the headliner for any review except one minor complication: They also announced a new trainer – the KICKR CORE. And guess what? That trainer is silent too, costs $300 less, and has almost every feature the higher end model has. None of which takes away from this review of the KICKR 2018 unit – but it’s something that you should absolutely be aware of when making a purchasing decision. While I’ve ridden and tested the KICKR CORE (in this post), I don’t have a review published for it. That’ll happen in the coming weeks, assuming FedEx doesn’t lose any boxes this weekend. All of which I discuss in my summary section of this post.
In the meantime, this review is all about the full-blown KICKR – for those that want the very best Wahoo has to offer. Note that Wahoo sent over a loaner unit to try, which will get boxed up and shipped back after this and the CORE review. If you found this post useful, feel free to hit up the links at the bottom to help support the site.
With that – let’s dive into it!
What’s in the box:
Out of all the trainers I unbox each year, I enjoy unboxing the KICKR the most.
Well, not because I have some quirky like for the blue chevrons or the crazy dense packing foam. Nope, it’s because it takes me the least amount of time to get it up and working.
The Wahoo trainer is the only direct drive trainer that comes with a cassette installed. For some reason the other companies think we enjoy purchasing and installing a cassette separately. Not only that, Wahoo is one of the few companies that keeps the entire trainer as one pre-installed piece. So I don’t need to do an arts and crafts project to get it working.
(Manly men call that using tools, I call that a pain in the ass sitting on a dirty garage floor wrestling with a 50-pound hunk of metal with spinning parts)
So this is what you get when you turn that Wahoo box upside-down and remove the box contents:
Inside is the KICKR itself, alongside it is a small bag of extra parts as well as a power cable. I don’t have any photos of it, because I did a video unboxing of it. At least until the point that one of my cameras stopped recording about 80% of the way through.
The power cable is the same power cable as Wahoo has always used, which is dual voltage (110-220v), so you can take it anywhere without issue.
I do recommend cutting a Wahoo logo out of the manual and sticking it on the power block so you don’t mix up which is which. The Wahoo cord has no Wahoo logo on it otherwise.
Alongside the manual you’ll find the included Wahoo RPM cadence sensor. This works inside and out to give you cadence from the KICKR. Most other companies transmit cadence from the trainer itself, but the Wahoo units don’t do that – so they include a sensor as well.
Additionally, you’ll find axle adapters in the back, to be used for threading thru which axle type you have (quick release or thru-axle).
Finally, there’s the trainer itself:
As you can see, the cassette is already installed. An 11-speed cassette by default, but you can swap it out to whatever you need if required for other speeds. The freehub supports 9/10/11 speed cassettes, though only SRAM/Shimano. Like the 2017 KICKR, it does not support Campagnolo cassettes natively, but for those running 11-speed, it’s not really an issue as it’s compatible with mixed components (as this article dives into extreme detail on).
With that, let’s dig into the details.
With the KICKR all laid out on the training mat there’s actually one thing you’ll need to do – which is to ‘raise your seat post’. Actually, it’s not technically the seat post, but rather the post under the main portion of the trainer. This matches up to your specific bike size, so unless you’re riding the same small circus bike that my wife is riding, you’ll unlock the gigantic screw and lift it up.
While you’re at it, if you didn’t already – you’ll want to spread apart the two trainer legs. This keeps you from tipping over. Riding with them together would be a poor (but relatively short-lived) experience.
Speaking of to-do’s, you’ll want to insert the small skewer attachment in the sides of the unit. You’ll find these in that small baggy, and there are different ones for regular quick-release skewers versus thru-axles. The KICKR 2018 supports 130/135mm QR, 12×142, and 12×148.
Next, like most other trainers you’ll need to plug the KICKR into an electrical outlet in order for it to provide any meaningful amount of resistance. Otherwise, it’s like a limp biscuit and doesn’t give too much resistance or broadcast any power (or allow control). For those wanting to do car-side intervals at a race, you can pick up a car outlet adapter online and it’ll work fine, as it doesn’t draw much power.
The cable is a two-part design that allows it to break-off in the event you trip over it. Handy for the days you will undoubtedly trip over it. It also bends at the point going into the KICKR, again, handy for when you inevitably do trip over it.
The KICKR has two status lights on it – below the handle in the back. A red one for ANT+ connections/control, and a blue one for Bluetooth Smart connections/control.
The resistance control on the KICKR works in a few different ways, as well as by different applications/methods. But most of this all boils down to two most common core methods:
ERG Mode: Setting a specific power level – i.e. 225w. In this mode, no matter what gearing you use, the trainer will simply stay at 225w (or whatever you set it to). Simulation Mode: Simulating a specific outdoor grade – i.e. 5% incline. In this mode, it’s just like outdoors in that you can change your gearing to make it easier or harder. Wattage is not hard-set, only incline levels.
In the case of simulation (aka slope) mode, the KICKR 2018 can simulate from 0% to 20% incline, which is pretty high, though not as high as Elite’s Drivo II at 24%. But realistically, if you’ve ever tried riding up 24% inclines on a road bike, you’d probably fall over.
The key thing I look for in trainers is when it comes to either resistance controllable mode is how quickly it responds. The KICKR has a long history of responding very quickly, but it’s still something I dig into within the power accuracy section. You don’t want a trainer that takes forever to simulate a quick change in incline, or is laggy when doing intervals.
Meanwhile, as for the second mode (ERG mode), that’s when the KICKR can be specified to hold a given wattage (i.e. 300w) In that case the company claims up to 2,200w of resistance. They don’t specify what speed though, but it’s likely 40KPH or higher. Realistically though, you don’t care about that. I can only barely break 1,000w for a second or two, and even the strongest of cyclists out there can’t come anywhere near these numbers, let alone at these speeds. Said differently: The peak resistance numbers on trainers like the Elite Drivo 1/2, Wahoo KICKR, CycleOps Hammer, and Tacx Neo are really all for show. Nobody’s touching them, and it just doesn’t matter practically.
What does matter though is whether there’s a delay or not in changes to resistance, and with the KICKR 2018, I test that in my 30×30 test down below in the power accuracy section. So check that out.
Note: If doing similar tests on your own, be sure that in the default Wahoo Fitness app you deselect the ERG mode smoothing option. This option will artificially smooth your power data to make it look pretty (it’ll look crazy perfect), but doesn’t actually match what the KICKR is doing from a power measurement standpoint.
So what about road-like feel? Does the bigger fly-wheel make a difference?
Sure, I’m sure it does – but you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference, even riding them side by side. The thing is that the original KICKR’s flywheel seemed to please most people anyway. And while the new one might be better (I can’t seem to tell the difference in my workouts), it’s definitely not at the legendary (and now defunct) LeMond Revolution Pro trainer level. But of course that trainer was as loud as a jet engine and wasn’t resistance controllable. So comparing apples to cucumbers here.
As I’ve long said – for me personally, it’s hard to separate the fact that I’m riding indoors from outdoors. It’s still a trainer, and I’m still looking at a wall in front of me. My brain can only turn that off so much. Overall I think the unit’s got a pretty good road-like feel. I’m not sure if it’s the absolute best out there (trying to compare them all over time is near impossible), but it’s pretty solid.
Finally – to briefly cover calibration – the KICKR should have a roll-down calibration done. Wahoo says it’s more like every once a while versus every time, but the key things would be when you move it around or change temperatures or do anything substantial to it. If it’s sitting in your living room at a stable temp, you can do roll-down calibrations far less often.
The process is quick and simple though. Simply hit the calibration command on your favorite app – and then speed up to about 22MPH, after which you’ll stop pedaling and let it coast down. It times how long it takes to determine the calibration factor, and automatically applies it.
Don’t worry though – I’ll talk all about power accuracy in later sections.
The Wahoo KICKR set the standard on trainer + app integration years ago when it was first introduced, and to this day that’s still mostly the case. Virtually every app out there is compatible with the Wahoo KICKR series, even Wahoo’s own competitors like Tacx/Elite/BKool that make apps are also compatible with the KICKR series.
That said, the Wahoo KICKR actually isn’t the most ‘universally compatible’ trainer these days. That’s because Wahoo has yet to implement the industry standard Bluetooth Smart FTMS trainer control protocol. But in some ways, that’s more of a technicality than anything, because as I noted – every app already supports Wahoo’s own trainer control standard over Bluetooth Smart anyway. So from an end user standpoint it has no meaningful impact to you.
The KICKR 2018 transmits data on both ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart, as well allowing interactive resistance control across both ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart. By applying resistance control apps can simulate climbs as well as set specific wattage targets.
In any case, the Wahoo KICKR 2018 supports the following protocol transmission standards:
ANT+ FE-C Control: This is for controlling the trainer via ANT+ from apps and head units. Read tons about it here. ANT+ Power Meter Profile: This broadcasts as a standard ANT+ power meter, with speed baked in as well. ANT+ Legacy Wahoo Trainer Control: Some older apps might still use this to control the Wahoo KICKR, it’s what Wahoo first started out on, but today most apps would use the FE-C variant. Bluetooth Smart Wahoo Trainer Control: This is Wahoo’s private method of controlling trainers Bluetooth Smart Power Meter Profile: This broadcasts as a standard BLE power meter with speed as well.
It DOES NOT however, support these protocols (which trainers from Tacx and Elite do support):
ANT+ Speed/Cadence Profile: This broadcasts your speed and cadence as a standard ANT+ Speed/Cadence combo sensor. Wahoo doesn’t do this for any trainers. Bluetooth Smart Speed/Cadence Profile: This broadcasts your speed and cadence as a standard BLE combo Speed/Cadence sensor. Wahoo doesn’t do this for any trainers. Bluetooth Smart FTMS: This follows the industry standard Bluetooth Smart FTMS control, which is basically the Bluetooth variant of ANT+ FE-C for controlling trainers. Wahoo doesn’t do this yet.
So basically, the only meaningful takeaway of the above is that you don’t get cadence data from the trainer itself.
However, as you may remember from the unboxing section – the KICKR 2018 comes with the Wahoo RPM cadence sensor for your crank arm. So in that sense you’ll get both ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart cadence data (assuming you install said sensor). Or if you’ve already got a power meter or cadence sensor on there, you can keep that as well.
Finally, It’s these same standards that also allow you to connect via head units too. For example the Wahoo ELEMNT/BOLT as well as Garmin Edge series support ANT+ FE-C for trainer control, so you can re-ride outdoor rides straight from your bike head unit to your trainer.
In the case of the KICKR 2018, these easily pair up that way. You can also use it for recording data as well too. For example, for my accuracy testing section, I recorded the data on a Garmin Edge 520 and a Wahoo BOLT. From there I’m able to save the file and upload it to whatever platform I like.
For me, in my testing, I used Zwift and TrainerRoad as my two main apps (which are the two main apps I use personally). In the case of Zwift, I used it in regular riding mode and workout mode, whereas in the case of TrainerRoad I used it in a structured workout mode. I dig into the nuances of these both within the power accuracy section.
But ultimately, the Wahoo KICKR series is the most widely supported trainer out there from an application standpoint. I’m aware of no trainer apps (out of the 20 or so that I track), that don’t support the KICKR. Everyone does, and usually across both ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart variants.
The Sound (or lack thereof):
Let’s just get this out of the way nice and quick, like pulling off a band-aid: The KICKR 2018 makes no sound.
I’ve seen lots of funny comments around this topic, almost doubting it, but really, it’s silent. The only thing you’re going to hear is your drivetrain, and at super-high volumes a very faint whirring sound of the flywheel spinning.
The design of the Wahoo KICKR 2018 has been changed from previous years to remove the sound (obviously). The first portion of that was changing the belt type (again), to entirely eliminate the sound. But with the belt-type change was also a mechanical change to accommodate the new belt type. Meaning you can’t just swap these new belt’s on old KICKR’s because the grooves are different, and it’d be like trying to run a train on the wrong gauge of track (i.e. freight train versus inner-city subway).
This same change was also implemented on the new KICKR CORE as well. And thus, that too is also silent. Again, I want to reiterate this point because I’ve seen some confusion on it: The sound/volume levels are identical on both the KICKR 2018 and the KICKR CORE (also introduced the same day – July 8th, 2018).
Really, they’re identical.
What’s not identical of course between those two trainers is the flywheel weight and the frame that holds up the trainer. But neither of those impact volume and both of those are things for a later section of this post.
Just to illustrate this point I included a sound section in my YouTube video about the KICKR 2018. But, I also recorded this separate snippet as well so you can hear it nice and close with just a phone:
Now – there is one slight downside to the new KICKR 2018 and sound (as you might have heard if you listened above), and that’s what happens if you stop pedaling. With the new KICKR 2018 the flywheel is metal, which doesn’t mean a whole lot per se, except that the metal reflects the noise of the freehub slightly more. So as you stop pedaling you hear the freehub sound as you normally would, but that noise appears to reflect a bit louder off of the metal exterior of the flywheel than it did in previous models. Still, it’s barely noticeable.
In the grand scheme of things, this is hardly a big issue – you have a freehub on all quiet direct drive trainers as well – like the Tacx Neo too. It’s just the way the sound bounces is slightly more here. Speaking of which, here’s a complete comparison video I put together between the KICKR 2018, KICKR CORE, and Tacx Neo:
Of course, the answer to this one is simple, Finding Nemo like: Just keep pedaling, just keep pedaling.
Power Accuracy Analysis:
As usual, I put the trainer up against a number of power meters to see how well it handled everything from resistance control accuracy, to speed of change, to any other weird quirks along the way.
In my case I used two different bike setups, one half of my time on one, another half of my time on the other:
Canyon Bike Setup #1: PowerTap P1 (Dual), WatTeam G3 (Dual) Canyon Bike Setup #2: Stages LR (Dual), SRM Exakt (Dual)
This is all in addition to the trainer itself. Note that because you remove the rear wheel I can’t use something like a PowerTap hub to compare as well (which I would use in power meter testing normally).
In my case, I was looking to see how it reacted in two core apps: Zwift and TrainerRoad. The actual apps don’t much matter (at all), but rather the use cases are different. In Zwift you get variability by having the road incline change and by being able to instantly sprint. This reaction time and accuracy are both tested here. Whereas in TrainerRoad I’m looking at its ability to hold a specific wattage very precisely, and to then change wattages instantly in a repeatable way. There’s no better test of that than 30×30 repeats (30-seconds at a high resistance, followed by 30-seconds at an easy resistance).
There’s two ways to look at this. First is how quickly it responds to the commands of the application. So for that we need to actually look at the overlay from TrainerRoad showing when it sent the command followed by when the KICKR achieved that level:
So let’s zoom in one one of the intervals, showing the ramp in power from approximately 140w to 428w. As you can see below, the timer shows 4:02, meaning 4 minutes and 2 seconds, that specific interval started at 4:00. Thus, it took two seconds to ramp between those two.
That’s right about perfect. As is often the case, I slightly overcommitted in the first two seconds, going to 472w before the KICKR wrangled me back into the 420’s. That’s totally normal for most trainers as there’s usually a surge and slight cadence shift. Also, you don’t really want 0-seconds either, as that’s like hitting a brick wall.
In this case things look very close, with the WatTeam tracking about 12-18w higher at ~430w. That’s right about normal for two power meters at totally different parts of the drive-train. Perhaps the WatTeam is a tiny bit higher, or the KICKR a couple watts low. We won’t know for this specific one with only two power meters. But that’s why I have other rides anyways with more power meters. Either way, throughout this you don’t see any bizarre spikes or drops, especially during the shifts of power.
Now obviously at a high level these are all very close. We see a little bit of lower-separation from the SRM pedals, which appears to be an issue with the left-side pedal specifically (potentially still installation, calibration, or just life status – unsure). But the Stages LR and KICKR track really nicely.
If we look at some closer sections – for example these surges here (all this data I show smoothed at 3-seconds), you’ll notice that mostly the KICKR is below the Stages from a power standpoint, which is where it should be. However, you do see in some of the peaks of these sprints that the KICKR very slightly overcommits on the power. This is a semi-common problem on some trainers when you quickly pull back the power after peaking. It’s barely noticeable, but it’s there for those that want to nitpick.
You can see it again during this sprint – just barely reaching over the top of the others, when it should be at least equal or below the other two:
But to be clear – we aren’t talking much. If you look here it’s only about 13w on 720w, which is well within the margin of error for these devices collectively, especially once considering different placements on the bike/drivetrain.
Finally, let’s look at another Zwift ride – just for the heck of it. In this case it’s compared against the PowerTap P1 pedals (dual), and the WatTeam Gen3 (dual as well). As you can see at the high level – overall pretty clean.
If we look at the sprints on some of these, you’ll see the KICKR is reading barely high at the peaks as well – matching the WatTeam. But again, the difference to the PowerTap P1 is only a mere 14w on 660w – so pretty small and also within the margin of error.
One thing I do appreciate and want to point out is that it doesn’t overcommit drastically when I pull back the power. That’s a more common issue where some trainers can’t seem to control their flywheel when you do this and it overshoots your power (I’ve seen the KICKR SNAP do this in the past for example), but that doesn’t appear to be the case here.
Finally, in the event you want to look at any more data, here’s one more ride you can crack open and look at. It’s a bit messy because Zwift crashed half-way-through and thus Zwift loses data/control until I restarted the app and split it across two rides. But, if you do check it out you’ll notice the power values match the other power meters – so that’s what counts.
Ultimately, I’m not seeing any issues here. I know certain folks will harken back to the days of the original KICKR, which had issues with its power meters (primarily getting dorked up during shipping, as explained a few years back here). But this is a 4th generation KICKR, far removed from those days – and these days I simply haven’t heard of people having any meaningful Wahoo KICKR accuracy issues in the last 2-3 years since they made that shift.
For fun, I mostly treated this KICKR like crap – to see if perhaps shipping-type things would occur again. Specifically, I dragged it to Eurobike. It sat un-tethered in the ‘trunk’ of the RV as we drove across and around Europe, bonking around about 2,000KM of driving, being whacked against things and constantly dragged out/moved around. I did rides after that (as seen by yesterday’s ride), and all seems well.
(Note: All of the charts in these accuracy portions 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 for your own gadget comparisons, more details here.)
I’ve added the Wahoo KICKR 2018 into the product comparison database. This allows you to compare it against other trainers I’ve reviewed. For the purposes of this table I’ve compared it against the Elite Drivo II, CycleOps Hammer, Tacx Neo and the KICKR CORE.
I know that’s a lot for one table, but it’s kinda the important blend. One one hand you have the higher end units (Drivo II/Hammer/Neo), but the KICKR CORE is essentially just a KICKR 2017 that’s quiet. So if you had done this two weeks earlier, you’d have compared that as a trainer that cost $300 more.
So here’s the thing – the Wahoo KICKR is the best trainer Wahoo’s ever made. It’s quiet, works with every app out there, is easy to use, and doesn’t require an arts and crafts project to get it up and running. It’s spot-on accurate, reacts quickly, and the flywheel is the best Wahoo has ever offered. All of that is great, Wahoo has no reason to be ashamed of it.
Except one minor problem: KICKR CORE
It’s the younger sibling that realistically most people will want instead. It’s $300 cheaper and is still just as silent. It’s got the same flywheel from last year (which is the same from every previous year) and all the electronic functions that the KICKR 2018 has. The only hardware difference aside from flywheel is that the legs are static, versus going up and down. That’s it. If you had told anyone before July 8th (when the KICKR 2018 was announced) that they could save $300 to not make the legs go up and down and get a silent trainer – everyone would have taken you up on it.
Now it’s easy to say Wahoo shot themselves in the foot here – but that’d be missing actual reality: They had no choice. Both Tacx and Elite were already eating Wahoo’s lunch with their $899 Direto and Flux units over the last two years. Except neither of those units was as good as a KICKR, and neither was totally silent. So Wahoo basically just one-upped both of them with the CORE.
But again, this isn’t about the CORE, it’s about the KICKR 2018.
The only downside here is that I think Wahoo isn’t super competitive when compared against the Tacx Neo from a features standpoint – such as being able to operate without any power or being able to simulate things like cobblestones. Of course, generally the Neo costs more so that’s probably OK – but for those countries where it’s a wash, I’d likely go Neo. Also note that everyone has varying opinions on which has better road-like feel, Neo or KICKR. That’s as political as it gets. I’m good with both. Of course, if you want to use the KICKR CLIMB, then you’ll need a Wahoo trainer.
In any case – hopefully this helps you to decide. If not – drop a comment down in the comments section and I’ll do my best on helping you flip that virtual coin. Thanks for reading!
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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 the 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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You probably stumbled upon here looking for a review of a sports gadget. If you’re trying to decide which unit to buy – check out my in-depth reviews section. Some reviews are over 60 pages long when printed out, with hundreds of photos! I aim to leave no stone unturned.
I travel a fair bit, both for work and for fun. Here’s a bunch of random trip reports and daily trip-logs that I’ve put together and posted. I’ve sorted it all by world geography, in an attempt to make it easy to figure out where I’ve been.
The most common question I receive outside of the “what’s the best GPS watch for me” variant, are photography-esq based. So in efforts to combat the amount of emails I need to sort through on a daily basis, I’ve complied this “My Photography Gear” post for your curious minds! It’s a nice break from the day to day sports-tech talk, and I hope you get something out of it!
Many readers stumble into my website in search of information on the latest and greatest sports tech products. But at the end of the day, you might just be wondering “What does Ray use when not testing new products?”. So here is the most up to date list of products I like and fit the bill for me and my training needs best! DC Rainmaker 2018 swim, bike, run, and general gear list. But wait, are you a female and feel like these things might not apply to you? If that’s the case (but certainly not saying my choices aren’t good for women), and you just want to see a different gear junkies “picks”, check out The Girl’s 2018 Gear Guide too.