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.
Squeaking in just under the wire for the 2018 Trainer Guide is the just announced Tacx NEO 2 Smart Trainer, the successor to the top of the line and now three-year-old Tacx NEO Trainer. This new model brings a handful of improvements, including new pedal stroke analysis, left/right balance transmission, and better internals, including components that are supposed to open the door to new features in the future.
Albeit, unspecified new features. But like seeing unknown wrapped presents under a Christmas tree, it’s still a present nonetheless. Or feature(s), as it may be.
The unit maintains all the things folks have loved about the NEO in the past including the virtually silent operation and the beast of a virtual flywheel to be able to replicate just about any wattage or incline. Though, as you likely visually noted by now – the color scheme has changed slightly to adopt the usual Tacx blue as the underside of the TIE-fighter trainer.
If you want the one-stop shop video, then look no further than my first test ride on it. From unboxing to riding with pumpkins, it’s all here:
With that, let’s dive into all the differences.
In many ways, as is the theme of most new trainers the last few years – the changes are more evolutionary than revolutionary. In fact, it’s somewhat difficult to show any of the major changes visually at this point. A lot of them are setting the stage for future features/changes, some of which are unannounced.
To start, let’s recap what the NEO is – since none of these things change:
– Direct drive trainer: This means you remove your rear wheel – Flywheel: It has a virtual flywheel up to 125kg, the largest of any trainer on the market. – Cassette: No Tacx trainers include a cassette, which will set you back $50-$60, plus $10-$20 in tools to install. – Sound: Identical to the original NEO, essentially silent. Only the sound of your drivetrain is heard, and a very faint hum of internal fans/electronics. – Handle and Folding: This unit lacks a handle, which continues to make it slightly awkward to move around. It does have foldable legs though for easy storage. – Protocol Compatibility: ANT+ FE-C, ANT+ Power, Bluetooth Smart Trainer Control, Bluetooth Smart Power – App Compatibility: Every app out there basically (Zwift, TrainerRoad, Rouvy, Road Grand Tours, SufferFest, Kinomap, etc…) – Skewer Compatibility: All the skewers and adapters you could ask for: Road 130mm, MTB 135mm, 142x12mm, 148x12mm – Max Incline: 25% simulated grade, the highest of any trainer out there – Max Wattage: 2,200 watts resistance – Stated Accuracy: < +/-1% – Power Cable Required: No, it can operate powered or standalone sans-power. – Pricing and Availability: $1,399/€1,299/£1,199 Shipping next week.
Ok, so as seen above, that’s the baseline and basically the same as the NEO 1. However, here’s what’s new/unique on the new NEO 2:
– Added pedal stroke analysis: Will plot out full pedal stroke, akin to some power meters. This was added to a degree last December in a firmware update for NEO 1 users, however, the internal changes for NEO 2 makes this more accurate. Additionally, this will also be broadcast to 3rd party apps for NEO 2. – Added left/right balance information: Will show distribution of power between legs, as well as broadcast this to 3rd party apps. – Increased cadence accuracy: Uses new magnetless object detection (more on that in a second) – New microcontroller and additional memory: This will improve ERG control Tacx says, and reduce vibrations – New communications controller: This will improve firmware update, and allows faster communication with apps (which would likely be used for real-time pedaling analysis) – Added extra axle adapters: A full bag of them as seen in video – New underside color: Blue versus previously black, also changed frontside text logo color to blue – Added internals for future features: None of which have been announced
As you can see, most of the changes are internal. Kinda like this year’s new iPhone’s, the changes aren’t really in new or exciting features, but mostly updating internal tech. The one big notable change is around the new pedal and stroke analysis features. The aim for this is to be able to create the various stroke analysis plots that you may have seen with certain power meters as well as some older trainers like the CompuTrainer.
To do so the company has created a magnetless cadence detection system inside the NEO that can detect objects passing by both sides of it. While it can detect all sorts of objects, the strongest object that passes by each pedal stroke is the spindle of the pedal, which allows them to start tracking the stroke and exact angle measurements. See the right side below of this screenshot from Tacx.
Above is a screenshot of how it looks in the Tacx Desktop Software, though the company says other 3rd party apps will support it soon, and some of the metrics will also show up in protocols that support it (like the ANT+ power specification, likely including the new cycling dynamics specification). That means it’d work on your normal head units as well. Both Garmin and Wahoo have plans to support that updated specification once released.
Finally, there are features which aren’t yet announced (I don’t know them either) that Tacx plans to implement using the updated technology inside the NEO 2. If you remember, Tacx actually rolled out pretty substantial features to the NEO 1 over the course of the years. First was the road feel components about a year later, and then quite a ways after that was the Isokinetic modes. So the company does have a history of interesting new features later down the road.
Now, I just got this trainer. Like…yesterday dinner-time type “just got”. It’s breakfast time now. So my time is limited to a single ride since then. And Tacx also noted before they dropped it off that there’s some final software bits coming in the next few days that’ll improve accuracy in certain high power scenarios. Also, they noted the fan gets its software updated to reduce the noise and run-time length.
Still, with that out of the way, I got things all hooked up and plugged into Zwift…for what would be my fourth trainer ride of the day.
Within Zwift, I went ahead and paired up the trainer. Quick and easy via Bluetooth Smart since I was on a Mac. If I was on a PC or with a bike computer I could have used ANT+ easily as well, via ANT+ FE-C.
Once that was done, off I went. Watopia was the course du jour. Pumpkins included.
From there it was riding time. And to be honest, it basically just felt the same as any other ride on a Tacx NEO 1, except now it’s called NEO 2.
Like with the original NEO you get the road feels as well. So when I hit the wooden planks I got the feeling and slight sound of wooden planks. As with before, it’s super cool.
There is a small software bug where the road terrain for ‘dirt’ doesn’t do its thing correctly, so the sound/feeling is off. In talking with Tacx, that’s simply a software timing item that they’ll be correcting shortly. The way the NEO’s work to simulate various road terrains (cobblestones, wood planks, concrete sidewalks, etc…) is by ever so slightly stuttering the flywheel by a few milliseconds. When done correctly, it’s fantastically cool. But timing is everything, so a minor software bug simply just sounds weird if the timing is off. Again, I’m definitely not worried about this.
Anyways, moving along I threw in a few sprints, to the best of my legs’ abilities. No issues there from a feel standpoint. However, later on in the ride, I did notice the usual NEO slip if you go from a complete stop to sprinting. Meaning, when I was sitting on the side of the road and applied a crapton of force, you feel a tiny bit of slip. That seems the same as previous. But normal, on the road, sprinting is fine.
Essentially, this is the NEO you know and love, just with some new internals and features that aren’t yet available or announced.
Sound-wise, it’s just as quiet as before as well. The only nuance is that Tacx warned the fans wouldn’t turn off as fast as they should, and I noticed that after I stopped pedaling. They said the next firmware update (which sounds like a few days away) already fixes that. Thus, the only sound you hear while pedaling is the drivetrain sound and then a very low barely audible sound of the internal fans like before. Again, it’s why people have flocked to the NEO prior to other quiet trainers coming on the market.
Overall though, from a road feel and riding standpoint – it’s basically just like the previous NEO.
Looking very briefly at the accuracy, I slotted it up against the SRM EXAKT power meter pedals, and the Stages LR dual-sided crankset. Here’s the data from that quick initial test ride (again, this isn’t a full review, just a quick first look):
As expected, there’s a bit of variance in the high end sprints. They warned me about this firmware version doing that prior to sending the unit over (and interestingly, the variance is really only seen on the Bluetooth Smart side rather than the ANT+ side – both are shown below, with BLE recorded via Zwift). They say it should be fixed in the next version in the next few days. But otherwise, things are pretty darn close:
Remember, the NEO line doesn’t do or support calibration. It’s designed to ‘just work’, and beta spikes aside, it does exactly that. In my mind, that’s ultimately where all trainers should be at.
Looking at the new cadence sensor bits, that’s also very very close. You see a couple minor spots where it varies by 1-3RPM’s for a few seconds, but not too shabby.
When I asked the company about those variances, they said they believe they’re actually showing the true cadence since they’re doing it at a higher refresh rate than their competitors. I don’t actually have a good way to test/validate this at the moment that I can think of (with respect to nuanced changes like this). So I’ll have to take their word for it.
And to be fair – I’ve seen cases like this in the past when technology advanced forward and the bar gets raised. I don’t know if that’s the case yet, but I don’t have anything that says it’s not.
Overall though, aside from the known beta bugs, accuracy seems like before – solid. Obviously, I want to see the beta power surge thing fixed – but given they’ve done that for the past NEO 1 units, I don’t expect that to be a stopper here. I’ll update this post once I’ve got a firmware version that shows that corrected.
(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 for your own gadget comparisons, more details here.)
I’ve added the Tacx NEO 2 into the product comparison tool, though honestly, you won’t see much differences here compared to the NEO 1, since for the fields I track, they don’t cover more of the nuanced changes.
Nonetheless, here’s how it stacks up against the Wahoo KICKR 2018 and Elite Drivo II, which are the two trainers I’d mainly compare it against. For fun, I also tossed in the CycleOps H2, though I don’t really view that in the same league as the KICKR 2018 and Drivo II from an accuracy or quietness standpoint.
Many of you know that I’ve long used the first generation Tacx NEO as my go-to trainer, mainly due to the silence aspects combined with the lack of needing calibration. I like the idea of just jumping on and going (and getting accurate data), and it appears the NEO 2 will likely deliver on that as well. Oh, and I know it’s silly, but I like the road feel bits in Zwift. Hitting the wooden planks on the piers just adds to the realism.
For the most part, the new features as released today won’t likely impact me too much as a major driver, at least until head units and 3rd party apps support them. And not knowing what new magical features will come down the road via firmware update means it’s harder to assign value to them in choosing a trainer.
Therefore I really see this more as a minor update that removes doubt in people’s minds about choosing the NEO only to have it replaced by a new NEO days/months later. Many people have asked about a NEO refresh going into this summer, so this resolves that. Ultimately, the conversation is pretty much back to NEO with road feel or KICKR+CLIMB. Both are silent, and both deliver unique in-ride realism features to keep you distracted from the fact that you’re pedaling facing a wall going nowhere.
Like comparing iOS to Android, folks have their favorites between the two. Some prefer road feel of one versus the other. I suspect most wouldn’t be able to tell which one they were riding if they were blindfolded. Ultimately, you won’t go wrong with either. And I’d be happy to ride either as my main trainer this winter.
With that – thanks for reading, and feel free to drop any questions below.
Note: The Tacx NEO 2 should be available to pre-order by the end of the day from most places. I’ll add links once those go-live.
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