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.
Update: The CycleOps H2 has since been replaced by the Saris H3, though frankly, the only meaningful difference is noise. Here’s the link to my full H3 in-depth review.
This past summer at Eurobike, CycleOps somewhat quietly announced their new Hammer 2 trainer, more officially known as the H2. This trainer would take the existing Hammer 1 that the company released a few years back, apply a new coat of black paint on it…and…well…done. Technically they increased the accuracy claims from +/- 3% to +/- 2% as well.
That said, there is a slight bit of difference between the trainer I reviewed a few years ago and the new Hammer 2. Mainly via a long list of firmware updates. This has not only resolved various initial issues at launch, but also added new features – like cadence broadcasting from the trainer. An important feature for those on Zwift with Apple TV where the number of Bluetooth connections is highly limited.
I’ve had a media loaner unit since back in the November timeframe, though it was actually Des from DesFit that got in the first few rides on it while he was visiting Amsterdam for the DCR Cave Open House. After he was done breaking it in (though, not breaking it), I took over the reins and have been riding it for a number of my recent workouts. Once I’m done with the unit, I’ll get it packaged back up and sent back to CycleOps. Just how I roll.
With that, let’s dive into it!
So, funny story. About 45 minutes before the DCR Open House (two months ago), we realized we were short a trainer station. Not that I didn’t have plenty of trainers – oh now, I have dozens of trainers. But bikes…now bikes I was more limited. And when push came to shove, Des’s bike got volunteered to be on stand. Unfortunately, that was equipped with disc brakes and thus thru-axle. Given I don’t have any disc brake bikes, we all had a moment of ‘Well crap, where’d we put all those adapters?!?’
And then, sitting there quietly in the corner was the CycleOps Hammer 2. Trying to do its best ‘I’m not here’ impression, it quickly got drafted into service. Inside we found all the adapters we needed, and within moments the bike was set up on the CycleOps prototype rocker platform:
Unfortunately, given there were a million tasks to do 45 minutes prior to 200 people descending onto the space, a proper unboxing did not occur. Though, I will say straight-up it’s the most logical @#$# box ever made for a trainer. Seriously, it’s brilliant. It actually opens up properly, like opening up a laptop on a table.
Versus most other trainer boxes you have to find a way to wedge the trainer box between your legs while you try and extract the trainer from the box. Essentially, you look like you’re giving birth to a trainer. Whereas the Hammer 2 – you just open it up in a rather civilized manner. Brilliant!
Every other trainer company take note: That’s what I want to see next season for your trainers.
Inside you’ll find both quick release adapters (skewers) as well as thru-axle adapters for 130/135mm, and 142/148m. You’ve also got the power brick and the small front-wheel block, which keeps your front wheel straight. In fact, that little wheel block has a proper home under the trainer itself, it slides in nicely. Meanwhile, the trainer legs unlock and fold open, to form a three-pronged support platform – nice and stable:
As noted, the trainer does require being plugged in. The power is 110-240v compatible, so it’s good anywhere. It attaches to the left back side of the trainer.
On the side of the trainer are status LED’s, allowing you to validate the trainer is powered up as well as connectivity. Green means it’s powered on, while white equals ANT+ FE-C controlling. Blue indicates Bluetooth Smart related. If you’ve got a red light it means either the firmware is updating or something’s gone horribly wrong.
Like all trainers except the Wahoo KICKR, the H2 needs to have a cassette added. I typically buy Shimano Ultegra cassettes for my trainers (mostly for sound-testing consistency across videos), but I’ve also done a few SRAM ones and whatever else happens to be on sale from the bike shop. It generally doesn’t matter, except sometimes you’ll find some of the lower end cassettes (like a Shimano 105) don’t quite sound as quiet as mid to higher end ones.
In any case, with a cassette, you’ll need two tools. A lockring tool (or lockring + a wrench, in my case), and a chain whip. In this case, you need the chainwhip since you can’t get a good grasp on the flywheel. Whereas for a trainer like a KICKR, you can simply hold the flywheel to get the opposite tension you need.
The unit accepts cassettes of 8-11 speed Shimano/SRAM.
Once that’s installed, you’re pretty much good to go (assuming you’ve plugged it in). Just place your bike on the trainer just like you would a normal rear wheel and start pedaling.
Resistance will be controlled via apps – such as Zwift or TrainerRoad. I discuss all that in the next section though. One of the two biggest questions I get with trainers is: How loud is it? Followed by: What’s the road-feel like?
We’ll start with loudness, as that’s simplest. Frankly, there’s no trainer on the market today that’s as loud as the Hammer 2 that I can think of. It’s not so much the direct volume as it is the tone/pitch of the volume – slightly higher pitched. We were laughing for the week after the DCR Open House, because since Des’s bike was on there already, when he/myself/Shane/Von were riding, it was like he was riding a jet engine in comparison to all of our much quieter trainers (KICKR 2018, NEO SMART BIKE, NEO2). Des is down in the corner, with his trainer cut-off.
Of course, if you had pressed the rewind button to 2-3 years ago, it wouldn’t have been that much different. But since the Hammer 2 is essentially just a black-painted Hammer 1, then we’re talking tech announced in 2016. Whereas all the other trainers we were using were this season.
To demonstrate this slightly, I attempted a sound-test showing the difference between a Hammer 2 and a Wahoo KICKR 2018. Of course, as irony would have it, I managed to break the KICKR 2018 mid-way through a sprint while filming this video. Thus, you get to hear what a normal functioning KICKR sounds like, and then what a broken KICKR 2018 sounds like. Seriously: I actually broke it mid-test.
Of course, you’ve probably seen my whole post on broken KICKR’s here. And if you want to see what non-broken KICKR’s sound like, I’ve put that together in other posts here too. As heard above, when the KICKR is working as expected, it’s far quieter than the Hammer 2. Though, when the KICKR 2018 craps itself, it’s like an annoying pinball machine and the Hammer 2 retains its aircraft like audio qualities. Pick your poison I suppose.
What about road feel?
Like I always say – 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 off so much of that. Still, much of the road-like feel is driven by the flywheel, and be it physical or virtual, flywheel sizes tend to be measured in weight. This impacts inertia and how it feels – primarily when you accelerate or otherwise change acceleration (such as briefly coasting).
And it’s funny – having been riding the Tacx NEO 2 most recently prior to the Hammer 2, there was a slight upgrade in road feel in one specific scenario: Spinning up to speed. Once at speed, I didn’t notice much difference. But for the first couple of seconds, especially if applying a fair bit of power (effort), then the real flywheel of the CycleOps H2 feels best compared to the Tacx NEO’s virtual flywheel. But again, once at speed it’s not really notable and the Tacx NEO has plenty of other reasons I prefer it (namely, zero calibration required and the road-like feel, plus it’s quiet).
Given the Hammer 2 is a smart trainer, it’ll change resistance automatically in a few different ways, primarily driven by different applications/methods. But most of this all boils down to two core methods:
ERG Mode: Setting a specific power level – i.e., 230w. In this mode, no matter what gearing you use, the trainer will simply stay at 230w (or whatever you set it to). Simulation Mode: Simulating a specific outdoor grade – i.e., 8% 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 Hammer 2 can simulate from 0% to 20% incline – which is so-so for this price point (some go upwards of 24-25%).
The second mode the trainer has is ERG mode. In that case, the company claims up to 2,000w of resistance at 40KPH. Although, realistically, you don’t care about that. I can only barely break 1,000w for a second or two, and even most front of the non-pro pack cyclists aren’t going to top 1,800w. The pros would only be just a bit beyond that. Said differently: Peak numbers don’t matter. Instead, what matters is actually a harder metric to make clear – which is the ability to simulate high grades and lower speeds (especially if you’re a heavier cyclist).
One core test I do with all trainers though is responsiveness: How quickly does it respond to ERG mode changes? I typically do that with my 30×30 test via TrainerRoad, though it doesn’t really matter what method you use as long as you’re looking at big shifts in wattage:
In my case, there were no issues with this test from a responsiveness standpoint – and I cover the accuracy bits down below. In fact, this produced one of the cleanest power tracks I’ve seen (though, that could be due to internal smoothing). But first, let’s talk app compatibility.
The CycleOps H2 follows the industry norms as you’d expect from most trainers these days. As you probably know, apps like Zwift, TrainerRoad, SufferFest, Rouvy, FulGaz, Kinomap and many more all support most of these industry standards, making it easy to use whatever app you’d like. If trainers or apps don’t support these standards, then it makes it far more difficult for you as the end user. In fact, the CycleOps Hammer 2 goes slightly further than the Hammer 1 did at time of release – by now broadcasting cadence data within the metrics from the trainer.
The CycleOps Hammer 2 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 Hammer 2 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 and cadence baked in as well. Bluetooth Smart FTMS Trainer Control: This broadcasts as a standard Bluetooth Smart FTMS trainer (which is the Bluetooth version of the ANT+ FE-C protocol). Bluetooth Smart CycleOps Trainer Control: This is CycleOps’ private method of controlling the trainer. This is primarily for older apps that may not properly support FTMS yet. Bluetooth Smart Power Meter Profile: This broadcasts as a standard BLE power meter with speed as well as cadence.
The key takeaway from this is that it not only supports everything you’d need from any apps you’d need – but also transmits cadence within the signals, making it easy to pair up to an Apple TV. Tacx, Elite, and Kinetic also do this – but Wahoo remains the odd man out that doesn’t include cadence transmission.
Baked in cadence data is handy if you’re connecting to Zwift on an Apple TV, due to Apple TV’s two concurrent Bluetooth Smart sensor limitation (plus the Apple TV remote). This means you can pair the trainer and get power/cadence/control, while also pairing up a heart rate strap. Whereas on a Wahoo trainer you don’t get cadence with the data stream from the trainer, so you need to choose between heart or cadence as your second sensor type. Sure, you can technically use the Zwift companion app to bring in 3rd or more sensors – but I find that’s finicky as heck and rarely works well (if at all).
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 themselves. From there I’m able to save the file and upload it to whatever platform I like.
While CycleOps used to have a strong partnership with Rouvy (then Virtual Training), that seems to have evaporated in recent years. With Rouvy now basically going it alone as a more independent offering. I wouldn’t really tie CycleOps to Rouvy/Virtual Training anymore, and instead look at the H2 as a bachelor in terms of picking which apps you want to use (to be clear, you could always use 3rd party apps before as well).
For me, in my testing, I used Zwift and TrainerRoad as my two main apps (which are the two main apps I use personally), with a side dish of CVRcade for this round of testing. In the case of Zwift, I used it in regular riding mode (non-workout mode), whereas in the case of TrainerRoad I used it in a structured workout mode. For CVRcade it was in regular simulation mode (same as Zwift). I dig into the nuances of the TrainerRoad and Zwift data within the power accuracy section. Here you can see the Hammer 2 paired as a Bluetooth Smart trainer in Zwift on Apple TV:
And here in TrainerRoad using Bluetooth Smart on an iPad:
Using the free PowerTap mobile app you can check firmware and status of the unit:
However, you can’t seemingly do a calibration from there (you have to use the Rouvy app). So instead I used other 3rd party apps to do that. For example, here’s TrainerRoad. In this case you simply tap on the ‘Calibrate’ option and then from there pedal up to 24MPH. It has a nifty gauge showing where you are within that:
Once you reach that speed you can stop pedaling, after a number of seconds if you give a spindown time. At which point the calibration is complete.
In my testing I didn’t find this necessary every time – things seemed to be surprisingly consistent for me. Still, my general recommendation here would be that anytime you move the trainer, or if there’s significant shifts in temperature in the spot you’re operating it in (such as in a cold wintery garage), to do a calibration about 10-15 minutes in, just to be sure. That’s pretty consistent with what I’d recommend for any trainer except the Tacx Neo 1/2, which require no calibration (and don’t even have the option to do so).
Finally, some will ask about Wahoo KICKR CLIMB compatibility. No, the unit is not compatible with the Wahoo CLIMB, and it doesn’t sound like there’s any plans to make that happen (from either the Wahoo or CycleOps side).
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 one primary bike setup as follows in two configurations:
Canyon Bike Setup #1: Garmin Vector 3 pedals (dual-sided), Stages LR (dual-sided) Canyon Bike Setup #2: PowerTap P2 pedals (dual-sided), Stages LR (dual-sided)
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 (Bluetooth Smart on Apple TV and iPad), but I also did some work on CVRcade with it via ANT+ on Windows – so there’s that for you. The actual apps don’t typically much matter, 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 H2 achieved that level. Here’s the levels being sent (the super hard to read green line) by TrainerRoad (in this case via Bluetooth Smart on iPad) and how quickly the H2 responded to it:
(The blue graph part is off-set higher because I lowered the target prior to the workout slightly, but TrainerRoad doesn’t record what I told it to do, only what is set in the workout. So just compare green to yellow).
But that doesn’t tell us accuracy. Instead, it just tells us responsiveness – which is very stable. Power jumps were right spot-on quick, within about 2-3 seconds. It’s actually kinda neat to see how TrainerRoad starts the power ramp 1 second prior to the interval officially starting, so by 2 seconds into the interval I’m at the correct wattage:
It was also spot-on in terms of holding wattage well. No wanderings or oscillating as I ramped into/out of it. Just spot-on. Well done. Note that TrainerRoad did remind me that when using a smart trainer in ERG mode that the best responsiveness will be achieved with the bike in the small ring in the front:
So, what about actual accuracy? Well, for that we need to compare against the other units. Here it is compared against the Stages LR dual-sided system and a PowerTap P2 pedal set. Note you can dig into all these sets via the links before each one, including downloading the files. Here’s that set:
Overall things are quite close. There’s a bit of variance from the Stages LR in the 3rd set, and then one random spike right after the fourth set. In fact – that’s when I had a weird connectivity failure to the Hammer 2. It’s the only time I’ve ever seen it happen, but the unit stopped responding on Bluetooth Smart control to TrainerRoad, and also appears to have stopped broadcasting on ANT+ as well to the Edge 520 that was connected to it. So I don’t think the failure here was TrainerRoad’s fault since it showed up on two different devices concurrently. It’s an oddity, but it’s also the only time I’ve seen that. And it could have just been a random transient connectivity item too. Anyway, FYI.
I’d note that generally I’d have expected to see the Hammer 2 be below the PowerTap P2 pedals (due to placement within the drivetrain equation), however, the difference at +/- 2% of the Hammer 2 on 400w, in this case, means that by and large it was within the margin of error for both units combined (actually, I wouldn’t even had to have combined the margin of error for most of these).
Next, here’s a bit of a Zwift race I did – lasting about 50 minutes or so. I wasn’t taking it super serious, still, I kept the wattage up through most of it. Here’s that set:
At a high level, things look pretty good. Everything seems to roughly match. If I smooth the power at 5-seconds, it’s a bit easier to see what’s going on. I wouldn’t say it’s rock-on perfect, but it’s reasonably close in most cases. I do see a bit of separation between the three units at some steady-state efforts, whereas it seems to track more closely when I ramp into harder efforts.
Still, in some cases when it appears I’m carrying a bit of momentum it seems to overshoot just slightly, and then extend the spring slightly more than reality. Not terribly unlike when the Wahoo KICKR CORE came out. You can see how that green line below overachieves a bit. I suppose beneficial for some in a sprint.
You can see how this manifests itself on the mean-max graph whereby it’s really close till about the 1-minute marker, but then as intensity increases on this workout, it starts to separate out a bit.
Speaking of separation – one of the new features released with the H2 model is the ability to transmit cadence from the trainer. Of course this sort of thing is rarely perfect, so my bar for trainer-transmitted cadence tends to be ‘Good enough, that’ll work’, rather than ‘Spot-on perfect’. In my testing I see continued examples where the trainer incorrectly calculates cadence when you back off wattage, like all these green drops below:
This is somewhat common for trainers, and I occasionally see smaller amounts of it on the Tacx trainers too. Here’s another workout below, this time with the Hammer 2 in brown – and you can see how the cadence drops are more common since my power was more variable as part of a bit of a Zwift Tour of sorts keeping within a group (so surges of power on/off). Note these are not ANT+ drops, as they would have impacted both power and cadence channel. Instead, they only impacted cadence, meaning they are algorithm failures.
Meanwhile, backtracking slightly – here’s the power graph for that particular ride. Overall, things are actually pretty close there.
Again, to nitpick (since that’s what I do in this section), the trainer overcommits on the sprints, by about 100w or so. While I don’t expect absolutely perfect max power between different devices for a 1-second basis, I like them to be a bit closer.
And it is true that if I remove the 3-second smoothing I placed on the above graph, you can see it does some of that. It gets within 50w for a 1-second point within that realm. Still would have expected it to be closer, but, I don’t think the algorithms are capturing the momentum right at the top-end – primarily above 500w or so. Below that, it doesn’t seem to struggle.
Which again, I realize this is definitely nit-picking. And every trainer I review has seen some oddities. Even the recent high-end Tacx NEO 2 showed some sprint oddities at the sprint end, and the Wahoo CORE had some early teething pains as well in those same sprint and coming off of sprint moments.
I don’t think the cadence is as good as the Tacx or Elite cadence algorithms, though, it’s better than Wahoo’s. Because…you know, Wahoo doesn’t have any cadence. And I suspect for most people just wanting a quick real-time validation of cadence within Zwift or TrainerRoad, then you’d be able to use this, no problem. Whereas if you were doing specific cadence-driven drills, then I’d look to invest in a secondary cadence sensor.
(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.)
Nonetheless, here’s how it stacks up against the Tacx NEO 2, Wahoo KICKR 2018 and Elite Drivo II, which are the three trainers I’d mainly compare it against. Obviously the NEO 2 is more expensive than the others – and you could easily substitute the NEO 1 in there too (which can be found in a few random places still).
In many ways, the Hammer 2 is remarkably unremarkable. By most competitive aspects, it’s behind the times – primarily in the noise department where it’s by far the loudest trainer I’ve tested in the last 12+ months. But as we’ve seen (especially in the last week), sometimes unremarkable is good. Whereas some recent KICKR 18 and CORE users are battling it out with a variety of issues, best I know – that’s not happening for Hammer 2 users. Of course, it’s also potentially a numbers game. Wahoo is simply selling probably 50-75x more trainers than CycleOps is these days.
Still, when I look at things like ERG mode responsiveness, the Hammer 2 is spot-on solid – one of the best. I’ve got no complaints there. And whether it be via slightly visible power smoothing or via just straight-up good ERG accuracy, the plotted power by the Hammer 2 also looks quite nice (though perhaps a bit more wobbly in Zwift-like simulation scenarios). And lastly, the road-like feel is good, certainly better than a Tacx Neo 1/2 when it comes to low-speed sprints (such as going up a hill and throwing down wattage).
The challenge CycleOps has though is simply the noise. It’s annoyingly loud by today’s standards. At that price point ($1,199) there are other options that make less noise (the KICKR 2018 being silent and the Elite Drivo 2 being quite a bit quieter). Both being equally powered trainers. And, assuming you fall into the claimed 97% of people not having issues with the Wahoo CORE, then that trainer is $300 cheaper and also silent (save drive-train noise of course).
If I was CycleOps, I think it’d take a slightly different tact with the Hammer 2. I’d drop the price to $999. I’d do it for a bunch of reasons. You can undercut Wahoo by $200 for a trainer of equal power, while also delivering something that is a bit of a known good. Next, you could undercut Kinetic and their R1 trainer (which rocks) – again, features CycleOps doesn’t have (while Kinetic is working out early kinks). Additionally, for the handful of Tacx Neo 1’s out there on sale, that’d undercut those too. And finally, breaking below that $1,000 barrier is important – especially since this trainer (unlike Wahoo’s) doesn’t include a cassette (an added $60 cost plus tools).
Ultimately, it’s a solidly built trainer in terms of accuracy and functionality, but a tough pitch in 2019 against the competition.
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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 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.
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.
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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 2019 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.