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It’s the moment you’ve probably not been waiting for – the complete DCR Smart Bike Shootout! And by ‘smart bike’, I specifically mean one that’s an indoor resistance controllable unit shipping today-ish that’s also supporting all the appropriate industry standards (e.g. ANT+ FE-C, Bluetooth Smart FTMS, etc…). None of this propriety stuff here. I’m only reviewing bikes that you can run widely used apps like Zwift, TrainerRoad, The Sufferfest, and more on.
Within this post I break-down all the features of each bike and compare them side by side. Literally, they’re side by side next to me right now. Note however that I’ll give you a spoiler up-front: None of these bikes are perfect. For all of them you’re going to be making some tradeoffs. And some of them might not physically work for you.
Note, I’m going to abbreviate the Wahoo KICKR Bike as ‘Wahoo Bike’, and the Tacx NEO Bike as ‘Tacx Bike’, and just leave the Wattbike Atom as-is, because they were already two words and not three. Now, for the most part, this post isn’t about a competition or scoring. It’s about understanding the differences between the units so that you can make the right choice for you.
I’ll tell you up-front, there are no bad choices here. All three of these bikes are great, and you’d likely be happy with any of them. But all three bikes also have both upsides and downsides, and all three have quirks. All three are also first-generation products of their kind, despite each company’s respective long history in the indoor training segment. For Wahoo & Tacx it’s their first indoor bike, while for Wattbike it’s their first electronically controllable machine. All these companies are already learning from that.
Now – if you want the complete low-down in a single video (complete with more tech goodness than you can possibly deal with in a cup of coffee), then just click play.
I’ve divided up this entire post into a brief overview section, followed by sections for each aspect of the bike. Also, I’m specifically not including the Stages Bike in here because it’s not shipping till next year and I don’t have one in-house. Same goes for other units that are either not shipping today, not in-house, or not compliant with industry standards. Got it? Good. Onwards!
Oh, and note, you can find two out of three of my full in-depth reviews of these bikes on the pictures below. The KICKR Bike In-Depth Review I’ll release as soon as they start shipping. At present, that’s slated for next week. I’ve covered all the caveats I’ve seen in that bike within this post, so there won’t be any surprises there (short of it combusting randomly in the next week).
These bikes are expensive. There’s no way of getting around that. Though I think we’ll see a boomerang effect in about 12-18 months and things will start to plummet. Not unlike trainers. Part of the challenge with these bikes is shipping costs. Some of them have to be shipped as freight. And companies must account for returns and servicing within their margins, so they can’t just assume all bikes will make only a one-way trip.
What’s perhaps most interesting though is the variations of price here. And the reality that, depending on where you are, these could be dramatically different. Not to mention availability. So let’s break it out for now in the following way:
US Dollar Pricing & Availability:
Tacx NEO Bike: $3,199 – Already available
Wattbike Atom: Estimated $2,500 – Shipping from November 2019 [US – already shipping EU/UK]
Wahoo KICKR Bike: $3,499 – Shipping from November 2019 (extremely limited distribution)
European (GBP/EUR) Pricing & Availability
Tacx NEO Bike: £2,299/2,599€ – Already available
Wattbike Atom: £1,599/2,149€ – Shipping already [Mainland EU distribution mixed]
Wahoo KICKR Bike: Price TBA – Shipping in 2020
Beyond these regions, most of these bikes are largely unavailable. Wattbike does ship the ATOM into South Africa and Australia however. And Tacx says that they’ll be rolling out other countries pretty quickly with the Tacx NEO Bike. Whereas Wahoo is just a generalized ‘2020’ for anything beyond the US. And again, within the US distribution is incredibly limited until 2020. So much so that Wahoo has stopped taking pre-orders on their website, and asked retailers to do the same.
Oh, this is easy – Wattbike wins. Easily. I know, it’s not supposed to be a competition, but for this one it’s hard not to rate it – and when someone gives you a fully assembled donut versus a basket of ingredients to bake your own, it’s clear who the winner is.
The Wattbike Atom comes in a beastly box not terribly unlike that of a fridge having a Tinder one-night stand with an oven. But, within that box of joy is a near-fully assembled bike, with it taking a mere couple of minutes to slide in the seat-post and handlebars. You only need to affix the front aerobars to the handlebar piece.
Beyond the Wattbike, it’s mostly a wash between the Wahoo Bike & the Tacx Bike. The KICKR Bike sets up in slightly less time (about 20 minutes for me), whereas the Tacx Bike was closer to 30 minutes. However, the Tacx Bike comes in roughly a standard bike box, whereas the KICKR Bike box is a bit larger. Both will realistically require you be fairly creative with your assembly, or ask a friend for help. Especially notable when you want to get them up a set of stairs:
Once you’ve got them built, the Wahoo Bike has a much cleaner app-driven setup process for everything else. Whereas the Tacx and Wattbike units just sorta leave you hanging. I mean, sure they get you through the basics, but then it feels like it kinda ends. No natural segue into setting up things like gearing or such.
Most of that is all nitpicking though – all three bikes are easy enough to set up, but as noted at the top, the Wattbike comes essentially fully assembled.
Bike & Rider Fit:
Now that the bike is built, it’s time to get it fit to you. Later on in the post I talk about multi-user considerations and swapping positions. Each bike offers the same ways to modify the position adjustments, however, the extent of each bike differs. In the case of the KICKR Bike however, the effective saddle height is actually two different components together: Stand over height + Saddle height. Don’t worry, it’ll make sense in a second.
All three bikes offer the following adjustments
1) Saddle height (up/down)
2) Saddle position (forward/back)
3) Handlebar height (up/down)
4) Handlebar position (forward/back)
Here are three galleries of those fit elements, one for each bike:
First, the Wattbike Atom:
Then the Tacx Bike:
Then the Wahoo Bike:
All three bikes use standard saddle rails, so you can put any saddle you want on there, and do standard saddle rail adjustments just like on a normal bike.
All three bikes offer measurement markers in centimeters for all measurements. In the case of the Wattbike Atom though, it offers those measurements on both left and right sides. Whereas the current Tacx and Wahoo bikes I have only have ‘rulers’ on one side. Hopefully they’ll add stickers to both sides, as it just makes it easier to do quick fit adjustments or movements between riders.
One minor note is that on the Wattbike Atom there is no quick adjustment lever for moving the handlebars forward/back, nor the saddle forward/back. Quick adjustment levers are only for seat and handlebar height.
In terms of determining how you should set up your bike, only Wahoo offers an app integrated fit guide (Wattbike has a site though you can reference). And it’s incredibly detailed, all driven via an app. You’ve got three options for how to set up the fit:
A) Take a photo of your bike, and with a tiny bit of assistance it’ll automatically replicate the sizing for the KICKR Bike
B) Utilize a well-known bike fit measurement system from GURU Fit System, Retul Fit, and Trek Precision Fit, which will give you the right measurements for the KICKR Bike
C) Enter in your height and inseam, as well as preferred position (relaxed/endurance/race) and it’ll give you the KICKR Bike measurements.
It’s the type of nuanced well thought through detail we frankly don’t see a lot of in the sports tech space.
Of course, sizing it to you is going to vary a bit based on your exact fit. And there’s no better example of that than the ‘thigh gap’ issue I talked about on Twitter recently. Which is that some of these bikes have rather large top-tubes, as such, you’ll rub your thighs against it while riding.
I rub on both the KICKR Bike and Tacx Bike, but not on the Wattbike Atom. That’s because the Wattbike Atom frame is super thin compared to the beastly Wahoo & Tacx Bikes.
But it’s not entirely black and white. See, while the Tacx Bike is thick, it only extends below the saddle, so for some people they’ll never touch at all because their legs extend forward beyond that point. Whereas the KICKR Bike there’s no escaping it – that’s the width all the way across. The only hope you have there is that your thighs gap enough by the time your leg length cross over the top-tube.
In some cases you might rub more when lazy pedaling, and less when your legs are working harder and more extended. Now, the brute-force way of determining whether or not you’d rub is simply take out a piece of cardboard and cut it to the measurement above, and then stick it on your bike and see if you hit it a bunch. Keep in mind though again that’s not perfect for the Tacx Bike, because if you look at the position of that measurement, it’s only to support the saddle.
Finally, there’s the crank lengths. They are as follows:
I’m rarely going to declare a winner in a category – but this one is easy: KICKR Bike. God it’s so good at shifting.
But let me step back and explain why, by first explaining how each one does shifting. Of course, in some ways this category is the most emblematic of how the indoor smart bike industry has learned from each other. In effect Wahoo built upon Tacx’s design, while Tacx built upon Wattbike’s design. And Wattbike had the first-mover privilege being there two years ago.
But first, you need to understand that none of these bikes have ‘real’ gears. Instead, they simulate them. The cool thing about smart bikes is the (theoretical) ability to simulate anything. You want a climbing setup, you can simulate a nice compact crank and well-geared cassette to go with it. You want to simulate a 1x gravel config? No problem – they can do that. Well, at least on the Tacx and Wahoo bikes. And eventually on the Wattbike (way eventually). More on that too in a second.
As for shifting, at its base these bikes allow you to shift through these virtual gears. Ideally with buttons on both sides of the handlebars, just like in real life. So two years ago when Wattbike entered the market they did just that. Buttons on both sides, duplicating the functions on both sides. That was fine, but it wasn’t great. In particular, my comments at the time were that it was hard to ‘feel’ the shifts like an outdoor bike. There was no audible click (it’s barely audible in a silent room, certainly not once pedaling with a fan blowing), no feedback from between your legs via the frame that you shifted gears. It was just instantly harder or easier – but you didn’t feel like you shifted a real bike. It just felt like resistance increased or decreased.
To Tacx improved upon that. Their design adds a very small amount of audible (barely) noise each time you press the buttons, but far more importantly using their electromagnetic virtual drivetrain they simulate what feels like shifting between the legs. They stutter the motor for a split-second and remove all tension, exactly like what happens on a real-bike. The first time you feel the effect you might not realize it. Then go back to the Wattbike Atom and it’s like ‘Woah, I’m missing the rumble in the jungle!’.
So then we take Wahoo – and they kick it up another notch. They replicated the vibration between your legs, but atop that, they replaced the not-so-natural bike-handlebars shifting designs of Tacx and Wattbike, with actual road-bike style shifters. They look and feel like them. Well actually, they look and feel like this perfect blend of SRAM and Shimano. Just like that t-shirt I sometimes wear. And then behind the scenes they actually allow you to configure any shifting type you want. You want Shimano Di2? No problem – done, instantly, via the app. You want SRAM eTAP? Sure…done. You want Campagnolo EPS? No problem.
If there’s any specific reason to buy the KICKR Bike, it’s for their shifting. It’s just so far beyond what Tacx and Wattbike have. But of course, there’s so many other sections of this post as you’ve discovered by now.
So now that I’ve given you the landscape, let’s talk details. I’ve separated out both shifting and gearing into different bullets. They are indeed different for each bike, and technically are separate features.
Wattbike Gearing: As of today, Wattbike is set up in a 22-speed configuration that you can’t modify. Starting in a few weeks though they’ll roll-out an 11-speed configuration, which is a vast improvement. I’ve been using that since April and it’s just so much better than before because it allows you to quickly shift between gears. Yes, it’s a bigger step than all the steps of the larger group set, but practically it’s better given the shifter design.
Wattbike Shifting: The ATOM has two shifters on the right side to shift either up or down. It’s a linear system in that there’s no concept of front chainrings and rear cassette where like on a Tacx/Wahoo bike you can replicate the outdoor bike with shifting different parts. In the case of Atom you simply shift through gears 1-21, or 1-11 soon. Up/down, that’s it. There’s no meaningfully loud click when you do so, nor any feedback from the bike itself (except the fact that the amount of power required changes).
On-screen though, in Zwift and some other apps, you will however get shifting information displayed. There is no display on the unit itself to show your current gearing. Here’s how it looks in Zwift (upper left corner, below the blue box) – note this only displays over Bluetooth Smart and not ANT+:
Tacx Bike Gearing: The Tacx Bike allows you to configure both the cassette and front chainrings independently. You can select either 1/2/3 chainrings, and then the cassette cogs as well individually. You can choose any cassette from 1 to 12 cogs. Yes folks, you can actually make a single-speed if you want to! There isn’t a way to set up multiple bikes for any of these companies. But changing the setup only takes a few seconds. Here’s a couple of screenshots below.
Tacx Bike Shifting: The Tacx Bike does not allow any configuration of the shifting to mimic different manufacturers’ shifting elements. Instead, the left side shifter operates the front chainring, and the right-side shifter operates the rear cassette. There are two buttons per shifter, so they effectively go up/down the chainrings/cassette. Here’s how the shifters look, which are button-based:
Wahoo Bike Gearing: The Wahoo bike supports the ability to configure your gearing via Wahoo’s app. It’s the most versatile of the gearing setups, and is honestly the quickest to configure. It allows you to specify 9/10/11/12 speed cassettes, and then individually choose the range of the cogs in the cassette. For the front chainring you can choose 1/2/3 chainrings, and the sizes of each. Functionally it achieves the same thing as the Tacx NEO Bike, but practically the user interface is cleaner.
Wahoo Bike Shifting: Without question, the shifting on the Wahoo Bike is the star of the show on their unit. It’s so damn good. The feel of the shifters is awesome and feels just like shifting a real bike – whether you have Di2, Campagnolo, or eTAP – it can be configured the same way. Starting with the software side of things, you’ll choose which of the four shifting components you want. There’s also a little menu that explains them all, in case you aren’t familiar. You can’t do any of the complicated syncro-shift type stuff at this point – but I suppose there’s always something for down the road.
Again, it’s the star of the show – I can’t overstate that enough here. And here’s how the shifters look, which mirror that of real bike shifters:
Now, the one downside of the Wahoo shifting system is that the display is in a really bad place. As I talked about in the display section, it’s just not good. Atop that, Zwift isn’t displaying the shift data yet from either Wahoo or Tacx bikes. For Tacx bikes, it’s not as big an issue because you can see it on the display in front of you. Now, Wahoo actually does send this information over to Zwift in their data stream. In fact, FulGaz displays it today already:
Finally – it’s worth noting that none of these units support the ANT+ Shifting Profile at this time. While not a big though, it’d be cool if that data was transmitted and then recorded by apps or bike computers, just like it is on a real bike. I’ve gotta imagine that Tacx would be the first to do such a thing, given that Garmin now owns them and Garmin’s close ties to the development of that profile and ANT+. But, Wahoo also supports the ANT+ Gear Shifting profile on their ELEMENT/BOLT/ROAM bike computers.
Braking & Steering:
At present, no apps support either of these functions. Inversely, these bikes actually do support these functions. And in the cases of the bikes themselves, both Wahoo & Tacx support slowing the flywheel using the brake buttons. It’s just that nothing happens app-wise that’s logical.
Wattbike Atom: Wattbike does not have any brakes, but they do have two buttons that could be repurposed down the road as steering buttons on top of the handlebars (one per side) should an app support it. These buttons right now are used in gradient modes, but that wouldn’t be leveraged in a Zwift type scenario.
Tacx Bike: The bike has two dedicated steering buttons on the inside of the handlebars (one per side). These were put in place for eventual Zwift steering, once Zwift gets around to opening that up to 3rd parties. In addition, the Tacx bike has squeezable brake levers. These don’t feel terribly like real outdoor levers, but then again, much of the Tacx handlebars don’t feel like a real bike either. When you squeeze the brake levers today it’ll slow the flywheel, but won’t slow your avatar on Zwift, because that’s tied to power, not speed. You can actually throw down a sprint with the brake levers fully squeezed and your avatar will speed up –not slow down.
Note that normally that button is reserved for increasing resistance (incline), but in a virtual world, that’s already taken care of.
Wahoo Bike: This unit has two steering buttons, one per side, on the inside of the handlebars in almost the same spot as you’d find additional remote buttons on a normal set of Di2 handlebars. For braking, they’ve got levers identical to outside road bike levers that have a fairly similar feel to a real road bike. Like the Tacx bike though, nobody yet takes advantage of this. So…yeah.
Ultimately, for both of these companies and these features – this is really on Zwift (or other apps, but mostly Zwift) to support steering. The irony of this isn’t lost on these bike companies. After all, it was Zwift themselves that pushed so heavily for these companies to not only create indoor bikes but also create bikes capable of steering. And yet at the end of the day Zwift decided to prioritize its phone-based mountain bike steering experiment over utilizing what these companies built at the request of Zwift. Even more so notable since two other companies (Elite & JetBlack) developed steering plates for Zwift this past year. And unfortunately, you can’t leverage the phone-based steering with any of the indoor bikes because the handlebars are statically fixed.
All of the bikes are compatible with installing your own triathlon/TT bars, and all of the bikes use a standard 31.8mm handlebar. However, none of the bikes at this time support shifting (or any other functions) from TT bars. Wahoo has previously said they were looking at having a solution in place by the end of the year, though given it’s essentially November and we haven’t even seen a render of that – my guess is we’re talking 2020.
However, Wahoo’s proposed solution would be more functional than others, as Wahoo actually has two auxiliary ports near the front of the bike for expansion, inclusive of shifting from the aerobars.
Wattbike Atom: This unit actually includes aerobars within the box – in fact, they make up the tablet holder. You can remove these easily if you want, but it’s nice that they included them.
Tacx NEO Bike: This does not include any aerobars, but you can add your own. The only limitation here is that you’ve got the front display console that might potentially be in the way, depending on your exact aerobar configuration. For most clip-on aerobars, they tend to gain a bit of stack-height as part of the mounting system (versus integrated aerobars into a handlebar arrangement). That stack height is actually what ‘saves’ you here so that it clears the display console. That console has a width of 60mm at the handlebar point, though expands out slowly to 140mm at the edge of the M&M holder. Note though that the expansion, as you can see from this image rises over time – so it’s actually not equal to the handlebar height until roughly 22cm from the handlebar tube centerline. Hopefully that makes sense.
In any case, here’s what it looks like with my RedShift aerobars attached. Note those aerobars currently have both a waterbottle holder and a bike computer mount that you see attached to them.
Wahoo KICKR Bike: This does not include any aerobars, but you can add your own. There are no practical limitations here, as it’s just like a normal road-bike handlebar with a normal front stem. Attach your bars, and go forth riding. Again, down the road Wahoo says they’re going to offer some sort of integrated aerobar accessory kit, but there’s no pricing/availability/pictures of that at this time. Here’s my aerobars attached to the KICKR Bike:
Beyond the aerobar attachment, all other TT/triathlon-type aspects would really fall more under the FIT section outlined above.
Displays, Storage, and USB Ports:
When I first started riding the Wattbike Atom some two years ago, I couldn’t quite put my finger on what slightly annoyed me about the indoor riding experience compared to my trainer – but it finally clicked when I started riding the Tacx NEO Bike: There’s a storage & display console on the Tacx Bike.
You can put all sorts of stuff there from your phone (and charge it), to gels, to candy to pay-off your kids and buy you just enough time to finish that workout. Whatever’s your thing, you can put it there.
Wattbike Atom: There’s no storage here, nor any USB ports. Nor any display. Display of gearing metrics is done via some apps, such as Zwift. Check out the gearing section below for more details on that. It does however have a tablet holder that’s part of the in-box setup. This allows you to stash your phone or tablet up there.
Tacx Bike: This has a storage area that’s roughly big enough for a phone, plus a few gel packets. It’s also got a silicone liner, so if somehow those gel packets meet a horrible ending, it’s easy to stick in the dishwasher. Below that is two USB 2AMP ports, which is awesome. This means I can charge my phone if need be – but also charge a tablet. Oh, that’s right. It has a tablet holder, easily big enough for most tablets on the market these days. Below that tablet is a display that’s leveraged differently depending on which apps your in. In all apps it’ll display your exact gearing, whereas in some apps/modes it’ll also display your heart rate, incline, cadence, etc… And, to round things out, this thing even has fans. Granted, the fans aren’t awesome – but they provide a nice breeze.
Wahoo Bike: There’s no tablet holder, no storage, and no fans. There is however a single USB port located below the tiny display that shows which gearing you’re in. The first number is the gearing for the front virtual chainring, and the 2nd number is for your cassette gearing. Next to that is whether or not the CLIMB portion is locked or unlocked. And below all that is the singular USB port. Now, while Wahoo’s design gives you slightly more flexibility with respect to attaching aerobars (see my other section on that), it means that the display is in a mostly useless Froome-style location, and the USB port in an even worse location. Where exactly am I supposed to put anything I connect to it? There’s no tablet holder here either.
As is probably clear – Tacx is the clear winner here. It’s not even close. But, there’s plenty of opportunity for Wahoo to upsell accessories here. They’ve got an extra aux/expansion port on the front of the bike that could be leveraged for a connected display/holder/etc that you attach to the handlebars. But first Wahoo has committed to putting together some sort of triathlon bar addition, which would include connected shifting.
Ride Feel & Simulation:
For the most part, ride feel is most applicable in SIM mode, as seen in apps like Zwift, FulGaz, and others. It’s less applicable in ERG mode, though there’s still some nuance there, specifically around how fast a unit reacts.
When people talk about ‘ride feel’ on indoor trainers or bikes, it’s essentially looking at how well it replicates inertia of outdoors. The easiest way to explain that is that if you’re just riding along with a group at a nice talkable pace, and then someone in your group surges ahead – how does that surge feel. Not so much an all-out sprint, but the nuance of ride feel is best seen (or compared) in a light surge. It’s because you’ll quickly feel two things back to back. First is that you’ll feel how the bike reacts to acceleration, and then you’ll feel how it reacts as you stop accelerating.
Does it feel like that initial burst keeps going for a tiny bit after you let off the power? That’s how it would feel outdoors. So you want that indoors. Here’s how each feels – keeping in mind that at the end of the day you’re staring at a wall in front of you, you can’t replicate everything. Your brain still knows it’s indoors.
Wattbike Atom: While the regular Wattbike series that are wind driven can do some interesting things with road feel, the ATOM is more akin to a traditional trainer with a stepper motor (the commercial-focused ATOM X however is electromagnetic like the KICKR Bike & Tacx Bike/NEO series). All of which is to say that it’s OK. It’s not fantastic, but if you didn’t know any better you’d say it felt just fine.
Tacx Bike: The bike is built atop the NEO series, and by and large the NEO 1/2/2T and this bike all act about the same in terms of road-feel, which has largely been on-par with the Wahoo KICKR trainer series. Like politics some people prefer one over the other. The feeling on this is pretty darn good, and that ignores the cobblestone and such replication I talk about later in the ‘Party Tricks’ section. Though realistically, one should talk about that since when you add in those effects across differing terrain, I think as a package it actually edges out the KICKR Bike for road simulation. Whereas if you remove those effects and focus just on inertia, it’s a very solid 2nd place.
Wahoo Bike: Unlike the existing Wahoo trainers, the KICKR Bike is an entirely different design. It’s more akin to a Tacx NEO series than a KICKR (and by ‘more akin’, I mean, it’s basically a Wahoo NEO). However, while mechanically the two designs may be very similar, there’s nuance to implementation that makes it different. And the acceleration/deceleration pairing on the KICKR Bike just nails it a tiny bit better. Though, it lacks the road-feel, and I don’t feel as though the downhill drive replicates the experience as well as the Tacx Bike.
Speaking of which, downhill drive is basically when the trainer spins the flywheel forward to replicate the rear-wheel continuing the spin as you go down a descent. The Wattbike for example, won’t do that. Whereas the Tacx and Wahoo bikes will. In the case of the Tacx Bike it appears to keep a higher speed up, which makes the effect come alive a bit more. On the KICKR Bike the rear still spins, but as I found yesterday in a case of descending out of the Zwift Volcano, it didn’t feel quite right. It felt like that flywheel was moving far too slowly for how fast I was actually going.
Again, it’s a minor thing. All-in, I’d say that depending on which aspect of road-feel/simulation you judge, you could go either way between the Tacx and Wahoo Bikes. In short – Wahoo wins for pure inertia simulation, but I think Tacx takes a slight edge for the entire outdoor simulation package aspect.
Sound & Noise:
So how quiet is each bike? Well, the short version is that the Wattbike is roughly on par with non-silent trainers of 2019 (so something like an Elite Direto or Tacx Flux), whereas the Wahoo and Tacx bikes are on par with the silent trainers of 2019. The key difference though is that the Wahoo & Tacx bikes don’t have your bike’s drivetrain (which is what actually causes noise on most trainers). As such, it’s pretty darn quiet.
That said, the KICKR bike is the louder of those two in a few core areas. First, just generally speaking it’s louder (though, still at basically library whisper most times). The exception to the ‘most times’ aspect is specifically around 60-65RPM, where the KICKR bike has a surprisingly loud shimmering resonance that occurs. While you might not normally pedal at 60-65RPM, that’s actually the sweet-spot for most people soft-pedaling (such as descending while on Zwift). So it happens more often than you think.
Wahoo says this is somewhat by design, but they’re also sending someone to check my bike in person next week to see if it’s within limits. For me, it’s beyond what I’d accept from a $3,500 bike. The below video does not capture audio from that snippet, but rather just regular riding.
Finally, the below audio was shot in a single successive take. That means that all factors were identical, with the camera equidistant to all of them (about 3 meters/9-10 feet away). It’s using the camera’s onboard mic which is statically set (so it’s not dynamically adjusting between each bike). I simply spliced the three rides into a single video and then I show on-screen which bike you’re listening to. It turned out better than I expected. I do both casual riding (about 200w), and then I sprint upwards of about 700-800w.
Finally, as part of the final Wahoo KICKR Bike In-Depth Review, I’ll include the metallic shimmering sound if Wahoo determines that is of ‘normal’ volume. If not, there’s a second bike at the studio I’ll unbox and see if that exhibits the sound at the same level.
App Compatibility/Integration (3rd Party):
All three of these bikes work with all major training apps, including Zwift, TrainerRoad, Rouvy, SufferFest, and many others. All three of these bikes support ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart, however, not all three of these bikes operate in the same way in that manner. Here, let me explain with a handy-dandy table:
Yes, what you see there is actually correct. As of this writing, Wahoo does not support normal broadcast of ANT+ power or Bluetooth Smart power (nor cadence or speed via those channels either). They only method Wahoo supports right now is ANT+ FE-C for control, and Bluetooth Smart control for control. That’s it.
That means that you can’t simply pair your Garmin, Wahoo, Suunto, Polar, or whatever device to record the power as a power meter passively, such as to capture training load. You can pair your Garmin or Wahoo device to it as a trainer, but you only want to do that if you’re actually controlling the trainer from that bike computer. Whereas if you’re riding on Zwift and just want to capture that ride on your watch or bike computer so that it adds to your training load for the day, you can’t do that.
Additionally, at this time Wahoo does not support the ability to turn ERG power smoothing off for the KICKR Bike. This means that if you do a workout in ERG mode, it’ll only report the ‘set point’, and not the actual power. Luckily, power accuracy seems to be good – but still, this will produce charts which look fake (because they technically are), like what you see below:
Wahoo says they’ll be looking to add the toggle (like the rest of their trainers) to turn off ERG mode smoothing, but that won’t happen this year. There’s no timeframe for when they’ll start broadcasting power as a standalone signal.
Ultimately, this means that Wahoo is by far the least compliant of the bunch when it comes to standards. A somewhat ironic situation given it was Wahoo that pioneered open standards on trainers when they first entered the market.
So, what if you’ve got multiple users in your household? How well do these bikes work in practice when switching them between different rider profiles?
Well, the answer is all about the same, and all mostly suckily so.
The first question is whether or not the bike ‘fits’ the rider in question, which I covered in the earlier section. So let’s set that aside and assume the bike fits the rider from a functional standpoint. From there the question gets to how easy is it to change the fit positions on the bike on a day to day basis, and then secondarily – how easy is it to update the bike to know of the new rider.
See – that second part is actually far more important. In the case of both the Wahoo & Tacx bikes, they need the rider weight inputted into the smartphone app in order to correctly model the inertia. For a difference of only a few pounds/kilograms, you realistically won’t notice. However, for something more substantial – you definitely will.
Take for example myself and my wife. I stand at 6’2” (188cm), and her at 5’2” (157cm”). Not only is there a foot of height difference, but also about 80 pounds of weight difference. That’s a massive difference to the feeling of the bike. Trust me, I tried. If I leave her weight in the bike’s app settings, it feels weird. It doesn’t feel right.
This is easily adjusted in all three apps and only takes a second. The one catch though to the Tacx & Wattbike units though is that the Bluetooth connectivity is single-channel, whereas the Wahoo bike is dual-channel. As such, if you have Zwift or another app already opened, the Tacx/Wattbike apps can’t connect to the bike to update the setting. Whereas in the case of Wahoo they support multiple connections so it can make that background connection without issue.
From a physical change standpoint, on average it’ll take you about 20-30 seconds to change the configuration for all changeable settings (combined) for either the Wahoo or Wattbike. And a few seconds longer on the Tacx bike because the handles are annoying.
In the grand scheme of life, this isn’t very different. The main driver for the Tacx Bike taking slightly longer is the way the handles work. I’d also note that in the above times, I’m getting the Tacx bike handles to be as ‘clean’ as possible from an alignment standpoint, but not going to the trouble of also using a hex wrench to get them picture-perfect for a magazine aligned on 90* angles.
Note that none of these bikes pass your weight (or height) to apps like Zwift or others that leverage this information. Inversely, those apps don’t pass that data to any of these bikes. This is a prime example of Zwift needing to step up and lead the way on the bikes they’ve asked the industry to build for them. This is the sort of integration that matters, and the sort of integration that automatically occurs in the Peloton world that Zwift sees itself competing with on a per-family dollar for bikes type scenario.
For our last major section, we’ll cover some brief party tricks that each of the bikes has. For some, these features might be critical – or the specific reason you purchase a given bike. Whereas for others they might just be more fun/silly features. Either way, they are features nonetheless that don’t otherwise fit into the above categories without making up a category to single-sidedly benefit one product over another.
Wahoo KICKR Bike Integrated Climb – Incline/Decline Simulation: The Wahoo KICKR Bike replicates that of the KICKR+CLIMB, which means that it can tilt you upwards to 20% incline, and downwards to -15% decline. Though, the bike will automatically limit you to lesser angles if the FIT is in certain configurations. The sensation is different on the KICKR Bike than a KICKR+CLIMB because the pivot point is different. On the KICKR+CLIMB combo, it’s simply lifting your front fork upwards (or downwards). Whereas on the KICKR Bike the pivot point is roughly below your crotch, so the feeling is actually greater. Here’s what it looks like on a KICKR Bike:
This movement occurs automatically since apps already send gradient to the trainer as part of the trainer control profiles. It’s how it knows how difficult to make the trainer gradient. So there’s nothing an app has to do otherwise. If you want to lock it (so it doesn’t move), then you can press the side button next to the display. Additionally, you can manually control/override the grade using two buttons on the handlebars to go up or down as you see fit. You can combine that with the lock, so that you can just keep yourself perpetually pointed skywards or downwards.
Tacx Neo Bike Road Feel Simulation: This was first introduced back some three years ago on the Tacx NEO series, and since the NEO Bike is part of said series, it gets it too. This essentially replicates the road/terrain feel through the trainer. It’s fascinatingly cool the first time you feel it. Take for example cobblestones, as soon as you hit them in a game like Zwift, you’ll feel them in your legs shaking you. It’s an incredible feeling. There are other surfaces too – like the wooden planked piers/bridges in Zwift, or even the gravel. Some road surfaces are better than others (cobblestones and planks are great, icy roads less so). Here’s the full list:
Still, it’s super cool. The unit does this by essentially stuttering the electromagnetic flywheel for a few milliseconds.
Tacx Neo Bike Lighting: Look, there’s a reason this item is the very last thing I mention. I get it, it’s not critical. But this section is about cool fun things – not critical things. So, it’s worth at least noting somewhere in this overly long post that you can throw your own disco party. The unit has both a flywheel light as well as a downwards facing light emitting out of the base of the frame that will light the ground below you various colors depending on how hard you’re going. If you’re throwing down a wattage bomb, it’ll be brilliant red. Whereas just cruising along it might be blue or purple. Essentially it’s like the Philips Hue of bike lighting.
Wattbike Atom: I can’t think of any party tricks here. No flashing lights, vibrating seat, or tipping sensations here.
While some will shun these features, the reality is that most actually enjoy them. It’s just a question of which features you enjoy most, and whether or not those features are worth the cost.
You didn’t see this section coming, did you?
Well, I think it makes sense here. Though admittedly our sample sizes are small. But I think that’s OK, because it’s less about the sample size and more about what’s likely to happen over time.
For this section, I want to talk about manufacturing quality. I think it’s important for a $3,000 product (well, it’s also important for my bag of $2 M&M’s too, for that matter). Of course, as I say often – quantifying this is really tricky, if not impossible. I’m roughly having to wait for people to report issues and see if those issues are growing or shrinking. And see if they’re impacting everyone. In most cases, they aren’t – making it more difficult to determine them. Still, I think there’s some trends here.
WattBike Atom: There’s no question that at this point the Atom has the least issues in terms of manufacturing quality type stuff. In fact, issues are mostly non-existent by now. That makes sense – they’ve been making them for two years, and have made bikes for many years before that. They’ve been around this block many times. It also helps that the Atom simply has less parts to break, and less ‘challenging’ engineering aspects to it. Said differently: It’s simpler.
Tacx NEO Bike: Tacx has had some teething issues as new units have gone out, though most of these issues seem related to the inventory they had been stock-piling over the summer. The most common issue being an overheat warning, which depending on the cause requires either a simple firmware fix or replacement of the entire unit. The number of people reporting this has seemingly evaporated over the last week or two, and Tacx has said they’ve fixed this particular issue already, but that early stock may have been impacted. Beyond that, the quality of the tiny little washers that go into the crank arms is questionable, though doesn’t really impact day to day usage. Tacx says they’re working on better material there, and that’s easily sendable to people in a single envelope if need be.
Wahoo KICKR Bike: Now this one is tricky, because they aren’t shipping yet to real consumers. Only reviewers have had them. If I look at my case specifically, there’s been a number of manufacturing build issues that Wahoo says were tied to early production runs – primarily with moving or creaking parts. For example, the entire seatpost assembly has a few millimeters of wobble play when extended closer to the limits. Which may not seem like much unless you think about your seat post on your normal bike actually shifting like a see-saw 2-3mm. There’s also a weird resonance sound at lower cadences. Both of these are by design, and Wahoo says may impact some but not all users once people start receiving them. While some of the other manufacturing issues I’ve seen they say they’ve addressed already. So I’m going to put a solid ‘Don’t know’/’We’ll see’ on this one. I suspect at the end of the day in a few months they’ll sort all these issues out. But it’s going to take time, just like it took an extra year for Tacx to sort all their things out.
Note that this section is aside from any feature gaps. This is simply about whether or not the products coming off the line are likely to have support issues afterwards, or not meet your expectations from a build standpoint. To sum that up – I have zero concerns about a Wattbike off the line. On the Tacx Bike, I think if you’re getting a newer unit (which, you would because they’re all sold out otherwise), the chance of an issue is highly diminished. For the Wahoo bike, it’s going to be wait and see.
And finally, in the case of both Tacx and Wahoo we don’t have much long-term public data there. Both companies have had beta people on bikes for upwards of a year, but what happens after 1 year or 2 years we simply don’t know yet. In the case of Wattbike, I’m just not seeing any comments around Atom’s breaking down the road. That’s either because they’re not having issues, or because they’re just not shipping in big enough quantities for those comments to bubble to the surface of the interwebs.
Product Comparison Table:
Here’s a complete spec comparison between the three bikes. Though, many of the nuances of above aren’t necessarily captured in the tables below. Instead, these tables focus on the major specs between them. Still, they’re good for a quick glance.
In addition to these three bikes, I’ve also loaded the Stages Bike in there too, and soon the True Kinetix bike as well. All of which you can view over at the product comparison tool page.
Just like last time I did the power meter pedal shoot-out post, this thing kinda got out-of-control long. And I even cut a few sections from it. Maybe I’ll add those in over time, or if there’s other sections people are interested in.
So which is the right bike to get? Well, that’s tough on so many levels. First, there’s the more practical aspect of availability. These bikes are kinda hard to get unless you live in the US or Europe. Next, there’s pricing. They’re damn expensive. And that’s where some of the challenge I have is right now.
Yes, they are good bikes. But they aren’t amazing yet. All of them have quirks. I think if I were a regular buyer in this category, I’d probably wait a bit. I’d probably wait to see both the Wahoo & Tacx early production teething pains dissipate. I think the Wattbike Atom is a solid deal in the UK/GBP primarily, and still a bit in EUR pricing. But it’s a tougher pitch in the US at the current price points. On the flip side, it’s a well-proven design.
Still, I think these types of bikes will eventually come down in price. Not this year, and unlikely for any of these specific models next year. Seriously, the Tacx and Wahoo bike aren’t going to get cheaper in 2020. I could see a scenario where the Wattbike Atom does. However, what is far more likely is that we’ll see other entrants. For example, we already know Stages will start delivering their less-expensive variant in early 2020. And I think we’ll see others dive into this market as well with viable options. For example – could we see Saris revive their indoor bike lineup with a blend of the Hammer? Or could we see Elite offer a consumer version of the yacht bike. Who knows, but I can almost guarantee you they’ll be cheaper – there’s no reason any of these companies will try and compete at the higher price points with Wahoo & Tacx. They’ll fail, and they all know that from past experience.
Now – don’t take this summary as being negative towards this market. Hardly. The three bikes are great to ride – and there’s something awesome about jumping on a bike that’s ready to roll at any moment. There’s no fussing with mounting the bike to the trainer – it’s just on and standing by.
With that – hopefully you found this interesting, thanks for reading!
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.