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.
It’s been almost precisely one year since I last posted about the Minoura Kagura DT (aka the LST9200). Almost all of which I had an unopened box of a Kagura DT sitting patiently in a corner. First in Paris, and then loaded into a moving truck and relocated to an Amsterdam storage unit. Then again relocated to the new DCR Cave in Amsterdam. Of which during that entire time the trainer sat untouched.
Why? Well, simply put: It wasn’t accurate then. I saw that from my first pedal stroke a year ago at Interbike. Thankfully, Minoura spent this entire time working on said accuracy – and this past summer it got to the point they were ready for me to take a closer look. And I’m glad I did. Cause I think they got it nailed.
The Kagura DT is Minoura’s wheel-on interactive smart trainer, which is a bit different than the powerhouse direct drive (Kagura DD) trainer they announced last week at Interbike. That unit I’ll dig into in a few weeks once it shows up (hopefully without the year-long delay this time).
I’ve been riding the Kagura DT since summer and now I’ve got a pretty clear grasp on how well it works and all the nuances behind it, as there are some nuances (both good, unique, and not so good). As you can see the company is clearly transforming themselves from what used to be the has-been of trainers on the trade show floors – to what very well might be the next rising star. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.
As usual I’ve got a media loaner, which I’ll send back to them this fall sometime after the Kagura DD unit arrives (so I can do side by side comparisons). If you find this review useful, there might be some links to Amazon or something at the bottom that you can hit up that helps support the site. Or, you can just buy Fruit Loops on Amazon using said links, it all helps. Your call. Onwards!
What’s in the box:
We’ll start with the box – which is actually one of the slimmest trainer boxes I’ve ever been sent. As is custom for many household products in Japan, space is of paramount concern. And that shows starting with the box:
Crack open the box and you’ve got the trainer very snugly fit inside, with the resistance unit detached and protected by the trainer frame and more foam.
Here’s all the parts set out on a table:
Assembly is actually super simple, as outlined by the manual. Essentially you’re just attaching the resistance unit (the round clunky thing) to the trainer frame. This is pretty much the norm for wheel-on indoor trainers.
The entire process only takes a second or forty-eight, given there’s only a single bolt to deal with. And one nut.
Oh, and in the box is the power cable as well. Typical 100-240v, so it’ll work anywhere in the world.
Once everything is assembled you’re good to go!
While the Kagura DT is a relatively simple trainer to operate, there are some interesting tidbits that I haven’t seen on any other trainer. Of course, to begin we’ll want to get the bike mounted too. You’ll use the included trainer skewer if you don’t already have one for your rear wheel. This ensures that the skewer is strong enough to hold the bike in position (most skewers included on bikes have plastic caps that will break otherwise). Then, simply slot the trainer arms and close the clamp:
Now, at the bottom of the trainer arms you may have noticed two weird metal thingies. These are locking mechanisms that allow you to use the trainer in one of two manners:
A) Locked – Fixed mode: This forces the rear tire against the wheel for good contact against the roller B) Unlocked – Gravity mode: This lets you utilize gravity to keep the tire on the roller
This second option serves approximately no logical purpose, since the second you do something like stand-up and sprint – the tire will skip on the roller, causing loss of resistance. Back in the day, Bkool used this design a bit though it was never much liked. In the documentation, Minoura says this secondary option can be used for extending tire life. Hmm, ok, I guess. And by ‘I guess’, I’m politely saying ‘Friends don’t let friends use gravity mode’. In any event, at least the first option is there – which is how you’ll want to keep it for the life of the trainer.
Now typically you’ll put your bike on the trainer and then you’ll need to adjust the roller height on the back to come into contact with the wheel and press into it a fair bit. If it’s too loose, your tire will skip (which again, is bad). So you’ll tighten it using the knob on the back.
Almost 20 years ago when spending four years learning Japanese, I don’t recall ever learning the Japanese translation for the phrase ‘Righty-tighty, lefty-loosey’. Which probably should have been a good sign that things might be different in Japan. In fact, the Kagura DT’s knob is opposite of that adage. You rotate left to tighten, and right to loosen. Practically speaking it’s not a big deal, but what is a minor nuisance is that the knob is so close to the ground that I can’t fit my giant Americana fingers under it to rotate it a full turn. So you end up rotating just the top portion a bunch of times.
Anyway, I know I’m nitpicking, but it’s these sort of nuances that separate really good trainers from just so-so trainers. For example, the CycleOps wheel-on trainers have a cool resistance knob that lets you tighten it as many times as you want, as it simply ‘clicks’ like a torque wrench when it has reached the proper resistance. It’s brilliant.
The next tidbit we have is a secret four-mode slider option on the back of the trainer. If you look carefully below the Japanese flag you’ll notice a red lever.
That lever slides left and right through four modes (all at 40KPH):
A) Mode 0 – Leftmost setting: Interactive trainer control mode B) Mode 1 – 100w C) Mode 2 – 200w D) Mode 3 – 300w
This function is actually pretty clever. It allows someone to use the trainer in a non-powered and non-app controlled manner at specific wattages. I don’t know how common the non-app controlled aspect is within the days of Zwift and TrainerRoad, but still, it’s a neat party trick. Here’s the graphic from the manual, in case the photo is a bit tough to see:
Speaking of that power cable, here ya go, a picture of the power cable. You’ll need it for interactive control:
Next, because it’s a wheel-on trainer you’ll definitely want to do a spin-down. This is because the accuracy of the trainer is 110% dependent on the exact tire pressure. If your tire pressure is low and you haven’t performed a spindown since the last time it was high – then your accuracy will be off. Not ‘might be off’, but ‘will be off’. This is identical to that of the Wahoo KICKR SNAP, CycleOps Magnus, and even the CompuTrainer. Any wheel-on trainer works the same way.
There are some tricks though. If you pump up your tires to exactly the same PSI each time, you can typically avoid doing a spin-down each time. Just simply make sure when you start your ride they’re the same.
Nonetheless when ready to do a spin-down you can do it through most apps, such as TrainerRoad or Zwift. You’ll spin up to 24MPH and then coast. The app will take care of the rest.
You can even do this with a Garmin Edge bike computer as well:
Now interestingly, the spindown calibration process isn’t actually supported in Minoura’s own app. Which, is a good time to talk about that app. If you stumble around the app store you’ll find it, and once downloaded you’ve got some basic pages. What’s funny about the app is that the user interface is a carbon copy of the Wahoo Fitness app. Here ya go, side by side:
And the control pages (Minoura at left, Wahoo at right):
Not that I care all that much. Instead, I care about functionality – and while the app does contain the ability to control the trainer (and it works just fine), it doesn’t have a lot of options beyond that. And the one option I wanted most – calibration – seems to be missing. Also, firmware updates are missing too – though Minoura says that’ll come sometime next spring.
Circling back to some other electronic tidbits, there are status lights that are visible on the back of the unit, enabling you to double-check that all is well:
And, I like that they include the broadcasted trainer name on a little sticker as well.
Also, for those curious on sound, it’s on par with other wheel-on trainers in the market today. So basically the same ballpark as the Wahoo KICKR SNAP, CycleOps Magnus, etc… That sound level will depend heavily (very heavily) on which tires you use, and the exact speed of the wheel. For all trainers, speed is the driver of sound volume, not wattage. The faster you go, the more noise it makes.
And in many ways, the same goes for road-feel. As one who spends the vast majority of time on direct drive trainers, it’s definitely a downgrade to go back to wheel-on trainers. If for no reason than just dealing with the tire pressure aspect. Still, road-feel isn’t bad here, but it’s also not amazing either. It’s basically par for the course for wheel-on trainers in this price point.
Finally, it’s worth noting that the entire frame can be folded down to make it smaller for storage:
And with that, let’s talk apps. It’s all about the apps.
The Minoura Kagura follows most, albeit not all of the trainer industry norms you’d expect these days. It’s these norms that allow apps like Zwift, TrainerRoad, SufferFest, Rouvy, Kinomap and many more to work out of the box without issue or tweaks from either the trainer company or the app company. When that doesn’t happen, then it means more work for consumers (or me) to get trainers to work. Which, was exactly the case here.
There are exceptions of course. For example, Wahoo doesn’t support (yet) Bluetooth Smart FTMS control. Instead, they have their own proprietary Bluetooth Smart control variant that predates the FTMS standard. And since Wahoo is a giant in the trainer realm, everyone supports it.
But Minoura isn’t a giant – and as a result, it doesn’t work all that well on Bluetooth Smart, aside from Zwift. Luckily, it does support ANT+ FE-C, so that works fairly seamlessly in my testing, but that does limit you a bit to things that talk ANT+ (computers, some cell phones – but not iOS).
It’s these standards that allow apps to perform 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 Minoura Kagura 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 (no cadence). Bluetooth Smart Proprietary Control: This ONLY appears to work with Zwift and Minoura’s own app. 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, Magene, and Elite do support to varying degrees):
ANT+ Speed/Cadence Profile: This broadcasts your speed and cadence as a standard ANT+ Speed/Cadence combo sensor. Bluetooth Smart Speed/Cadence Profile: This broadcasts your speed and cadence as a standard BLE combo Speed/Cadence sensor. Bluetooth Smart FTMS: It has a Bluetooth Smart Control, but it’s not FTMS at this point.
From a data standpoint, aside from FTMS, the other missing ticket is cadence support. The ability to broadcast cadence from a trainer is mixed. For example, Wahoo and CycleOps don’t do it, while Tacx and Elite do have it. These days I think it’s becoming more and more important as a baseline, given the two current Bluetooth Sensor device (+remote) limitation of Apple TV. Thus effectively making you choose between cadence or heart rate for that secondary device (assuming the first device is the trainer control itself).
In my testing I initially used Bluetooth Smart on iOS and Apple TV for Zwift, and that worked great (aside from lack of cadence). Minoura and Zwift have clearly worked together a bit to implement things to make that cohesive. Aspects like calibration work just fine here.
However, when I went over to TrainerRoad on my iOS device, it only found the Bluetooth Smart power meter. That’s fine for seeing your power, but totally useless for controlling it. That’s because Minoura isn’t using Bluetooth Smart FTMS control (like other companies), nor doing something special-sauce on the side like they are with Zwift. You can see the difference below where the KICKR CORE happened to be powered on, nearby, and shows up in the left image as ‘Electronic Trainer’ instead of just a power meter.
Ignoring standards for a second, 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 (non-workout 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. Here you can see TrainerRoad paired as an ANT+ FE-C trainer with Windows (since the Bluetooth Smart trainer control connection didn’t work):
And one last time, here’s said trainer in Zwift, this time on my iPhone via Bluetooth Smart:
All of this worked without issues for me. As well as Apple TV For Zwift too.
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. For example, for my accuracy testing section, I recorded the data on a Garmin Edge 520 as well as the trainer apps. From there I’m able to save the file and upload it to whatever platform I like. I was able to go ahead and find the trainer just fine using this method:
However, it didn’t correctly take/set a calibration/roll-down using the Edge device. That’s not entirely unusual to be honest, I’ve found lots of trainers that fail in that matter. But it is kinda nice when it works. Either way, hardly a deal-breaker.
I reached out to Minoura to ask about Bluetooth Smart FTMS control plans, and they noted that they should have things sorted shortly – with both TrainerRoad and FTMS at large.
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. Keep in mind this trainer is rated at +/- 5% – which is roughly in the ballpark for other wheel-on trainers at this price point. As such you need to set expectations for accuracy. A 400w effort could be off by upwards of 20w in either direction (380w to 420w).
In my case I used two different bike setups, though the majority of time was spent on setup #2 below:
Canyon Bike Setup #1: Garmin Vector 3 (Dual), Stages LR (Dual), PowerTap G3 hub Canyon Bike Setup #2: SRM EXAKT (Dual), Stages LR (Dual), PowerTap G3 hub
This is all in addition to the trainer itself. In this case I was actually able to also use the PowerTap G3 hub/wheel, because it’s a wheel-on trainer. So it was kinda nice to get yet another power meter data point.
In my case, I was looking to see how it reacted in two core apps: Zwift and TrainerRoad. The actual apps don’t typically much matter, but rather the use cases are different. In Zwift within regular riding mode 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 Kagura achieved that level. Here’s the levels being sent by TrainerRoad (in this case via ANT+ FE-C on Windows) and how quickly the Kagura responded to it:
I tweaked my gearing a bit after the first one, which helped the trainer more quickly react to changes in power (as recommended by TrainerRoad). That’s why you see it being a bit quicker on subsequent ones. Still, I found it took about 4-8 seconds to fully stabilize (going from approx. 125w to 425w). That’s definitely a bit longer than most direct drive trainers. It’s not unacceptable, but it’s also a little bit slower than I’d like.
But let’s look at the accuracy side of that (as opposed to the responsiveness), here’s the full data set.
Now you’ll notice I’m recording the Kagura twice – once in TrainerRoad itself and one on an Edge 520. I often do that to validate the power numbers (and also in case something goes wrong).
What’s odd is here is that on the first one the Kagura reported a much lower power number than the three other trusted power meters actually measured. This is a tell-tale sign that in ERG mode Kagura is actually outputting a highly smoothed power value. Wahoo does the same thing by default (which I strongly recommend turning off if you want accurate power numbers). Nobody else does so.
If we set aside whatever wonkiness happened on that first interval, the remainder sets are fairly close to the actual values, though clearly it’s reporting the set-power rather than the measured power. All other power meters are reporting slightly less power.
But, all the units are within the stated +/- 5% accuracy claim. Speaking of which, here’s that claim on their website:
Now, it’s actually kinda a weird claim – because 0% clearly isn’t the case here (even against the PowerTap G3 listed). I suspect this is probably a weird translation more than anything else.
In any case, let’s look at another structured workout, this time over on Zwift. I like to vary platforms because I’ve found plenty of cases where one platform will do perfectly fine and the other craps itself. Here’s the data sets.
These were fairly hard 30-second long efforts, about 600-700w (well, they started that way anyways), with about 2 minutes of recovery. Let’s zoom into one:
You can see here that the Kagura and PowerTap G3 actually match almost perfectly the entire time. Oddly, the Stages LR (dual-sided unit) measured low by quite a bit. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Stages LR and PowerTap G3 disagree by more than a handful of watts. Both had zero offsets done not once, but twice before we started. So I’m not entirely sure what to make of that.
I will say that the Kagura did respond at about the same rate here as in TrainerRoad, in fact actually a tiny bit slower since the wattages were even higher. So I was looking at 8-10 seconds to go from 150w up to about 700w (the above graphs I’ve smoothed at 5-seconds to make it easier to see). Here’s the mean-max power:
Note that the SRM EXAKT pedals ran out of battery juice – so no data there unfortunately for this ride from them. Which is unfortunate as I’d love to have had another power meter to figure out whether the G3 or Stages was more correct.
Next, I want to briefly take an interlude to show you the importance of doing a calibration/spin-down with a wheel-on trainer. In this ride back in early September I was running behind and forgot to do a calibration/roll-down. But more than that, I had a very slow-leak in my rear tire – so my tire pressure was substantially lower than normal. You can see how offset the purple line is throughout the ride – as it’s definitely way off.
Now again – this is totally normal for wheel-on trainers, no matter how expensive. But it’s just something I wanted to point out in an ‘educational moment’.
Ok, back to accuracy sets. Here’s a ride from yesterday. I was actually trying to determine how well the calibration feature worked, and in particular if it was correctly applying the calibration factor from both an Edge 520 and Zwift. The wonky-ass spike you see in the middle there is when Zwift did a calibration and the Edge 520 was ‘watching’ it. Sometimes you see trainers report weird values during calibrations, and this is one of those cases. Just ignore it.
So let’s zoom in on the first 20 minutes to begin:
Yes, there’s a whole bunch of stuff going on here. Welcome to my life.
But the general trend is that the Kagura is reading a slight bit higher than everyone else. Picking some random points for example, the Kagura is at about 242w while the other power meters are clustered in the upper 220’s. So about a 20w spread. That’d put it a bit beyond the +/- 5% spec, no matter how you slice it. That’s why I was interested in doing some recalibrations again later on.
Again, you can see here in the second half that things don’t really change much – it still reads high (I closed entirely out of Zwift, using the Edge 520 to calibrate it, since again, there’s no option within the Minoura app itself).
But it doesn’t really seem to make things a ton better. If we look at the last few minutes, it’s just mushy – now below wattage:
If we give it the benefit of the doubt and use the lowest reading of the other three power meters (363w) on some of those sections, the Kagura comes in at 335w (a 28w difference, beyond the +/- 5%).
I’m not entirely sure why I’m seeing differences here between ERG mode and non-ERG mode accuracy-wise on Zwift. I will say that when I’ve got 3 other power meters agreeing, it’s pretty easy to spot which one is the odd duck out. What’s somewhat interesting is this reminds me a bit of the issue I saw with the Elite Drivo II this summer (albeit that was in ERG mode, whereas this wasn’t) where accuracy went all wonky in Zwift in one specific mode versus the other. Zwift eventually fixed something on the backend according to Elite, but it’s unclear what exactly was fixed.
Perhaps that’s the same here. As you saw, accuracy within ERG mode was seemingly on-point in most scenarios, whereas once out of that it kinda goes sideways a bit.
I’ve added the Minoura Kagura DT into the product comparison database. This allows you to compare it against other trainers I’ve reviewed. For the purposes of this review, I’ve compared it against the Wahoo KICKR SNAP, Elite RAMPA, CycleOps Magnus, and Tacx Vortex Smart. I figure these are the most applicable competitors, but of course, you can make your own comparisons using the product comparison database.
It’s always great to see new entrants into the market. Or in this case, old entrants re-inventing themselves. I like the fact that Minoura is doing some unique things with their trainers (such as the red slider mode that lets you use the trainer without power at preset wattage levels). All good stuff.
However, there still seems to be some accuracy quirks left to solve. I think some of that may be my expectation with slightly higher priced trainers these days and the norms now being +/- 2% to 3%. Whereas this at +/- 5% and some of the spikes and out of alignment areas are more obvious (and also just beyond +/- 5%). I think there’s some weird quirk going on in particular with Zwift free rides – but I don’t know whether that’s Minoura’s fault or Zwift’s. It doesn’t appear to happen in structured workout modes. Again, hopefully this is an easy fix – and if so I’ll report back here once they update it.
I think the bigger challenge Minoura has for US markets is why someone would choose this over the other sub-$600 options. Most other trainers in the comparison table above are $599 and have slightly better real-world accuracy as well as wider compatibility. Though, none of them have the ability to work sans-power at that price point. And none of them have the magical gravity mode. Still, it’s a tougher pitch compared to the just announced Direct Drive unit at $899 that has a far higher max wattage figure than their competitors.
If Minoura can sort some of the outlier items and get the price just a wee bit lower (like $549 USD or so), that might help them quite a bit in that market. Of course, I also recognize that as a Japanese company, they’re likely able to compete far better in their home market than some of the US/European companies can. Which is one of the other reasons I’m really looking forward to testing out the Kagura DD when it’s available.
With that – thanks for reading!
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