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Bkool Exits Trainer Hardware Business, Shifts Focus to Training Platform

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The fact that indoor cycling company Bkool has just announced today it’s exiting the indoor trainer business isn’t terribly surprising. What is the most surprising thing out of the last 24 hours is the number of active users Bkool has on their training platform: 100,000. And – despite what you might think, the vast majority are actually not in Spain, but rather a wide number of countries.

With those two tidbits out of the way, let’s get to all the details. I sat down with the Spanish company’s CEO Wences Sevillano and CMO Javier Cepedano yesterday to get an understanding of why they’re making the shift they are, and to dive into the details of their online cycling platform that’s divided into the traditional hardcore cycling segment as well as the more casual fitness element. In other words, people who would Zwift as well as people who would Peloton.

Ending Hardware Production:

It’d be easy to simply write-off Bkool’s hardware decision as an example of a company discarding a loss-driving business segment. But that doesn’t entirely tell the full hardware story, nor how Bkool will need to position its software element going forward.

For those watching the industry for some time, it was well known that Bkool has long struggled to really break into the global smart trainer field. Which in some ways is ironic because they have had decent offerings for some time, though usually more in the budget range than their more recent higher-end offerings. Part of that historical challenge though was decisions made to lock some of these trainers down to just Bkool’s platform. Some of their trainers were totally open standards and worked across the board, while others had more restrictions.

And in some points in the past the company toyed with a subscription model that unlocked your trainer while subscribed, but locked it down to Bkool’s platform when not subscribed. Unto itself this wasn’t necessarily a horrible idea, but when competing against an industry that widely adopts open standards, it makes for a harder sell.

Add to that the growing number of indoor trainer apps in the market at the time – and people wanted guaranteed freedom to move around. Said more simplistically, Bkool got a bit of a bad rap over it – one that dogged their hardware lineup for quite some time.

So what exactly are they doing?

Well, essentially they’ve sold off the hardware business to a company focused primarily on the Spanish market (where trainer hardware appeared to do reasonably well previously).  That company, Zycle.EU was actually the electronics integrator for Bkool up until this point. However Bkool was manufacturing trainers elsewhere. And up until a few weeks ago, Bkool had planned to continue selling trainers through the 2019-2020 season (and then discontinue them next summer). But Bkool’s current manufacturing partner has run into some financial challenges of their own, and thus it hastened the decision to kill off the lineup.

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Going forward, Zycle will actually assume not just the trainer lineup/branding/etc, but also production via their own facilities as well. Atop that, some Bkool employees will transfer to that company as part of the sale. These are mostly employees in the hardware sales roles, as well as support.

Speaking of which, if you have a Bkool trainer already – the company says that the agreement covers support for all existing Bkool customers as well. So you won’t lose any support of your existing trainer.

As for Zycle’s plans for the hardware, they will be selling it not under the Bkool name, but under the Zycle branding with different logos and colors. They’ll be focusing exclusively on wheel-on trainers, so the direct-drive Bkool Smart Air and a planned Bkool Smart Lite won’t be continued. Longer-term, Zycle may get back into those product line-ups, but it’s not on the radar for this season.

While Zycle initially plans to focus on the Spanish market, they have the rights to sell wherever they want. For example, as you’ll see in the next section – Bkool has done reasonably well in other European countries, including the UK and Denmark. So it’s plausible that Zycle will look to entertain those markets as well.

In some ways, I think Bkool summed it up best in their letter to users today:

“Ending the production of our hardware was a difficult decision; Bkool pioneered the development of Smart Trainers. Despite our company’s size and resources, we have done a good job. But we do not believe that it is our place as a company to compete against Elite, Tacx, Saris or Wahoo, but to develop our simulator so that everyone can enjoy the best indoor cycling experience possible.”

I agree, I don’t think Bkool was really competing anymore with those trainer companies. The hardware simply wasn’t keeping up, and it was clear their focus was elsewhere. I don’t think Bkool was really driving prices down elsewhere in the market, and given the single-EU market, the Spanish pricing of Bkool wasn’t really lowering the pricing of Tacx or Elite products in the EU either.

Their Online Platform:

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So if not hardware, then what?

Well, their online training platform – which is something Bkool has spent significant time on over the years. After all, it pre-dated Zwift. It just didn’t get the same explosive growth as Zwift.

Still, to my surprise – the company is hardly a laggard in the online space. In fact, my napkin math puts them at either a solid #3 or #4 spot based on paying users (with the order being Zwift, then TrainerRoad, then either Bkool or The Sufferfest). During my discussion with them, they outlined the current subscriber numbers and they’re nothing to sneeze at.

The company has 100,000 active users (defined as someone uploading twice in the past 12 months), of which 50,000 are paid premium users (in total some 250,000 users have tried Bkool). While the company is heavily known in Spain (likely due to being based there), it’s actually not entirely Spanish driven. Sure, 35% of users are in Spain, but 15% are from Denmark, 10% from Great Britain, 7% from France, and 6% from the US. After that, Germany and Colombia are each at 4%, while Italy and the Netherlands take home 2%. The remainder of the world holds 16%.

Many of you probably just went: Denmark?!? WTF chuck?!?

Nothing wrong with Denmark of course, but it would seem an outsized user metric for a platform based in Spain. Turns out though the company had focused on both Denmark and the UK as part of some distribution partnerships where they did special ‘experience’ centers, which did exceedingly well at driving growth in those markets.

So much so in fact that they’ve signed an agreement with the Danish Cycling Federation (downstream of the UCI) for indoor trainer racing this winter that will see the races split evenly between Bkool and Zwift. They are seen as equals in this venture, rather than it being a purely Zwift play. I’m super interested in seeing how that works out.

Of course – I probably should step back and explain what their online platform is. Well, it’s got two core halves:

A) The indoor cycling side: 3D World, Videos, and Maps (plus workouts)
B) The fitness side: Essentially a variant of Peloton, without the expensive bike

Most people know the indoor cycling side of Bkool with its ability to not just ride around in a virtual world that replicates real-life locations, but also to ride on outdoor videos (even ones you upload yourself), as well as a map view to ride anywhere you darn well please. And atop that, structured workouts. In a lot of ways it’s kinda like the diversified platforms of Kinomap or Rouvy.

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Then there’s the “Fitness” side of the house. This roughly mimics a Peloton experience, including in multiple languages. The difference is the classes aren’t live (yet, that’s coming), and instead are recorded. The company has 100 classes from a variety of instructors already on the platform, and another 100 on the way. The production quality of these is substantially higher than some of the other platforms out there, which I think is a key reason we look at why Peloton has had the success they’ve had. Within the fitness side of the house (it’s technically its own app, but a subscription covers both sides), Bkool has 10,000 active users (which is a subset of the 100,000 users).

Classes Instructor

While Bkool’s numbers are certainly strong – what’s changing going forward? In other words, how are they going to move the needle?

The company says they’ve started to focus on partnerships with trainer brands in the space. For example, they’ve put in place an agreement with Elite that starts to put vouchers for Bkool in every Elite box (akin to how Zwift puts 30-day trials in every Elite Suito box). In addition, with the Spanish distributor of Wahoo, users are given a voucher for Bkool there as well. From here, they want to establish partnerships with other trainer brands to make it more obvious that Bkool’s platform is an option to new consumers.

Further, unlike some of their rivals – Bkool says they’re going to actually have a dedicated certification division within the company to get trainers certified as compatible across all protocols. While standards like ANT+ FE-C & Bluetooth Smart FTMS exist, the unfortunate reality is incompatibilities exist between many apps and trainers for all sorts of weird reasons (trust me, I’ve stumbled onto them all). So Bkool wants to get ahead of those issues with a simple place users can look-up compatibility.

ZumoConnected JapanClimb

From an app standpoint, they’re also working on an Apple TV variant as well – though today they’re already cross-platform on everything else. And lastly, pricing-wise the company is 9.99EUR a month (but there’s an annual membership rate too), which gets you access to both the traditional cycling side of the apps as well as the fitness portions of the apps.

Wrap-Up:

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I think this is a smart move for Bkool, especially if they can find a way to grow that somewhat unique blend of having both the traditional cycling app aspect (riding a course, doing an indoor race, etc), as well as the more general fitness instructor-led classes. I know many people that may primarily ride on platforms like Zwift, but also like to occasionally mix it up with Peloton style workouts. Bkool seems to be really the only one that has this capability at the production levels people expect and the variety people expect. If they can find a way to make that message resonate – that could be a distinct advantage for them.

As many of you know, I’ll be doing another annual indoor app round-up this year (after taking a year or three break from it). Bkool is on the list of apps I’ll be digging into more deeply. Rather than trying to cover 20 apps like years past, I’m taking a more surgical approach with the top 5-7 apps out there, and then short mentions of everyone else. Otherwise it becomes this unsustainable juggernaut of a beast.

In any case, I’ve been ticking away at these apps as part of the never-ending indoor trainer reviews I’m working through, so it’s working out. In any case, expect that full app guide some time this month.

With that – thanks for reading!

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37 Comments

  1. Andras Beck

    Hi,
    While I was surprised at first, the moves they are making actually strides on the market in a somewhat same and different direction in the same time than Zwift (the 800 pounds Gorilla in the cage atm).

    What they outlined makes perfect sense. It would made sense for VirtuGO and RGT as well, but hey, Bkool stepped up. I don’t think they’d have stand serious chance against Tacx/Garmin and Wahoo (and myriad others I know) on HW front.

    Very happy to see:
    1. UCI agreement – having multiple companies signing for our loved sport certainly makes the market more interesting!
    2. Certification lab – getting more and more mandatory to get this incompatibily issue out of the way we (users) experiencing on every forum. I understand, a few percentages, according to trainer companies, but that few percent shouldn’t even exist if we are talking about the same protokols 🙁

    • Jason

      I agree with you Andras. And thanks Ray for the article. I had not even HEARD of Bkool until now! I just got a trainer, and have been testing out different platforms. Right now I’m on Rouvy. I wanted to try Sufferfest, but they don’t do Android.

      I won’t try Zwift. I’ve seen the videos, and it seems too much like a game to me. Plus, I always favor the little guys vs. Goliath. I did NOT like hearing the UCI and Zwift were making all those agreements; I’m glad Bkool is doing this as well. Although the UCI itself is a cycling monopoly…

      I’m signing up for Bkool as we speak, and will go for a ride tonight. They made a good choice not competing on Hardware. It’s getting easier for riders to get a good or even great trainer at lower and lower prices these days.

  2. Jens Frede Rasmussen

    “So much so in fact that they’ve signed an agreement with the UCI for indoor trainer racing this winter that will see the races split evenly between Bkool and Zwift. They are seen as equals in this venture, rather than it being a purely Zwift play. I’m super interested in seeing how that works out.”

    Well i do need to comment that: The DCU (Danish Cycling Federation) have hired a project employee for the implementation of Ecycling as they call it, and this guy stems from the Bkool community. So probably a bit biased?

    • I don’t know. Seems logical to me. Why should indoor cycling at the federation level be tied to any one company?

      That’s not how it works in any other Olympic-level sport (and the UCI is the Olympic governing body for cycling).

      That’s the part I have the hardest time with, when it comes to the entire concept of Zwift and UCI or various national federation bodies. I don’t have an issue with a race being held on a given platform, but to hold a national championship on a singular platform seems incredibly bizarre.

  3. John Tomac

    Sincerely I was waiting for the closing or sale of Bkool a long time ago. As a spanish user, I have experienced firsthand the problems with its indoor trainers and training platform.
    The first models were limited to using them with their own training platform. Then they added the possibility of using the indoor trainers with other apps, but at the same time they limited the free functions of their training platform, so you were forced to pay a subscription.

    The application is not free of problems: connection issues, server crashes, problematic updates and a bad customer service. There’re forums on internet complaining about the problems they are having with their Bkool tainer and there’re thousands of Bkool trainers at sale on second-hand websites.

    According to what they have reported, they sold the manufacture of rollers to another company and they will continue with the application. If I were them, I would have sold the whole business, because their application without its trainers cannot compete against Swift, TrainerRoad, or Peloton. No matter how much they give away free 3 month subscriptions.

    • “because their application without its trainers cannot compete against Swift, TrainerRoad, or Peloton. No matter how much they give away free 3 month subscriptions.”

      Numbers say otherwise. 50K paid users is definitely competing.

      I don’t disagree Bkool (like any company) has issues. But the numbers they’re talking are way more than most people would have anticipated, especially the non-Spanish metrics.

    • Juan M. Casillas

      Zwift on the beta stage was 100 times better than BKool.
      The closed platform (you can’t get your data if you don’t pay the subscription), the roller issues (the people screw them to the floor because you can tilt them doing some pressure) and the application problems was a pity. I’m spanish, I’m very sad about that. The doesn’t listen to their users, and they paid it.

    • Jason

      Juan,

      So in Bkool, you can’t export your data unless it’s a paid account? But I assume if you have a paid account, you can easily sync with Garmin Connect, or at least Export your Bkool rides to a file or perhaps sync with an intermediary like Strava or Tapiriik?

    • Ramon

      You can link your account with Garmin Connect, Strava and Training Peaks. You can export any single ride you do to fit, gpx, etc.

    • inSyt

      Could the numbers be attributed to Bkool Fitness instead of Bkool Cycling?

      – Everyone seems to be going after Zwift’s 1? million subscribers, ignoring Peloton’s 1.4 million subscribers.
      – Cycling apps are priced between $10 and $15 a dollar while a Peloton subscription costs between $20 and $40.
      – Females are more inclined to choose Peloton over Zwift.
      – Peloton is a better choice for a 30 minute workout to lose weight.
      * when I say Peloton, I am referring to the software and video classes, not the overpriced spin bike.

  4. Dragan Vltovic

    Hi,

    Review of the Galaxy Watch Active 2 and Apple Watch Series 5?
    Hade a Garmin watch got to wait this long to get reviewed?

    Keep up the god work!

    /D

    • Yup, the Garmin Venu and Vivoactive 4 are also waiting without reviews, and they actually predate the Apple Watch Series 5 and Samsung watches.

      I have preview/hands-on/detailed posts of all of them, but frankly, the experience hasn’t changed in any way for any of the four watches since those posts.

    • Mike Richie

      That sounds like a pretty flimsy excuse, New Dad! On the other hand, New Mom says you are pulling your own, so there’s that. (Frankly, I don’t know how you get everything done, as it is. I can’t even keep up with all your posts. 😉

  5. Ken P

    There seem to be a lot of angry zwifters out there now posting about the latest update and reliability. That’s an opportunity for Bkool.

    Good luck to them… I’ll definitely part w an addl $10 (12?) for a month this winter to give them a try.

  6. Found a typo:

    “So you won’t lost any support of your existing trainer.”

    Should be lose

  7. Chris Benten

    I ride BKool (and Rouvy) as I became bored with Zwift. I ride primarily on a Trainer as I find 50% of the driving population has a phone to their ear (somehow, even with new vehicles, Bluetooth is not used…WTF???). Plus I live in a growth area (Austin/Cedar Park, TX) and the country roads from 10 years ago are now 4-6 Lane Blvds with traffic lights every 1/2 mile and 65 mph speed limits. I think it is safer in the garage.

    BKool is pretty good. A few dropped connections, which may be my issue, but it comes back. Perhaps I wish for a few more riders on a course but I am good riding alone. A major update a few weeks ago but I have not ridden due to surgery recovery. 2 more days and I am back on…

    I like BKool but I like Rouvy also. I think BKool might be a bit smoother in controlling the trainer but neither is very good with simulating momentum. I weight 230 lbs, On the road I can coast down a 5% grade at 30+ mph but not in the simulators. My biggest “gripe”.

    • Jason

      Hey! I’ve been trying Rouvy for the past 2 weeks and am going to try Bkool. Maybe the coasting problem is because most trainers have small flywheels? I only have 1 trainer to compare to, but I’ve read online that most trainers don’t really simulate coasting that well?

      But yes, with Rouvy and a Tacx Flow trainer, the changes from flat to hill or flat to downhill are very abrupt. I am learning to anticipate grade changes and just shift gears a bit faster than you have to in real life, or else the back tire stops spinning!

    • Chris Benten

      No problem that I perceive on uphill grade changes. Problem is downhill. When I have to pedal hard to maintain speed on 7%+ downhill grades…something is not right. I have a Gen1 Snap so not the best of trainers but it does pretty good in most aspects. For steeper downhills I should be soft-pedaling and I am not…

    • Dan G

      You need something with a powered flywheel. The Tacx Neo, perhaps.

  8. Count me intrigued! I’m very happy with Zwift but I’m always interested in trying other platforms. The one thing that would be almost required for me on any platform is training peaks integration. I’m very interested in this though!

  9. Jens Frede Rasmussen

    Minor correction: Technically the Bkool platform have only an agreement with the DCU (Danish Cycling Federation) and not the UCI.

  10. dan

    I use Bkool as a paid subscriber and I dropped zwift. what caught my eye was a velodrome…that’s what sucked me in and now I enjoy their “scenic” rides as well. I have no complaints, it controls my trainer fine and its relatively inexpensive, AND….they don’t care if I talk to anyone while I ride. It’s not a “social” platform it is a ride platform. There seems to be many courses to ride and while some have wonky camera work, most are just fine.

  11. Ramon

    Surprised about some spanish users not been happy with Bkool…. I am pretty sure they are talking about the beginning of the platform, not in recent years.

    I am one of those premium members, since the beginning of 2017, almost three years. Only had some minor cuts on the connection, at the very beginning. Really happy with it, since I can choose to have a “real life video”, or a simulation similar to Zwift.

    The only thing I am not full satisfied, is the Fitness part, which instead of leaving the same app I use on my windows PC with Ant+ antenna, I have to download an app on a tablet. This decision makes no sense to me.

    For the rest, I am really happy, and really have fun using their platform with my Elite Drivo for almost 3 years now, and I have tried Zwift, Rouvy and others in beta stage…

  12. inSyt

    They should use proceeds from the sale to acquire talent from VirtuGo. But the distance could be an issue. Maybe they should set up an office down under.

  13. usr

    A bold move, or perhaps desperate, but it makes sense: when a company makes both hardware and software, one of them inevitably becomes a sideshow to the other. Even if they actually excel at both (not saying that Bkool did), public perception will still select one as the identity-defining branch and the other will be perceived as second fiddle. Brand integration can have positive effects, but it can also be negative. Until now, Bkool “was” (to me, anyways) a trainers company that also happened to have some software to go along with the hardware, an afterthought. The software side will clearly look more serious now, more ambitious in the positive sense. Meanwhile the spun off hardware side can also win, because they are now free to cooperate with other software exclusives like Zwift and won’t be seen as competition by them, e.g. Zycle would be far mote likely to be added to the list of trainers offered on zwift.com (Wahoo, Tacx, Elite and Kinetic) than an integrated Bkool could ever be.

  14. Brent

    I think they need to do a much better job marketing as this is a perfect mix of apps such as Rouvy, BingRing VR, Tacx with the Virtual world of Zwift. I was using the non zwift ones as I was able to train on real roads but now that BKool has both, I am 100% switching. Wow, very impressed with what they have put together and they should be 1st or 2nd based on market share based on what they offer, and I am not saying that because my own initials read BK and I think I am Kool 🙂

  15. Paul

    I have been a bkool user for the early days, I’ve enjoyed useing it, no more -6 winter riding for Me…but the last software up date had ruined the trainer, there s lot of people trainers are ruined and not working correctly…mines stuck on 146 rpm won’t go any higher…hit a 5% climb speed drops to 4mph..wild top speeds wattage inaccurate..it’s no good when competeing against others., ust ruins the trainer. bkool need to put a calibration tool in the menu like the others have.I have contacted them twice now, slow service! Still waiting..

  16. Don Rhummy

    Ray, sorry for the tangent, but do you know why Zwift still has not added ANT+ HR to their Android app? Could you ask them? They’re ignoring the hundreds of users on their forum.

  17. John Tomac

    MaximumTrainer is closing also. link to maximumtrainer.com

  18. Tijmen

    That is a pity, but it results in reduced prices for their trainers. Is 349 EUR for the Bkool Smart Pro 3 a good deal?

  19. SteveC

    First, if any of you would like a good intro to Bkool, you can find my generally decent quality 3D routes under Sessions > Routes and entering “STC” in the Keyword search box. I don’t work for Bkool and have no incentive other than pride in a job well done if people enjoy my routes.

    I’ve been a Bkool subscriber for a number of years. I use Zwift, too – but I keep coming back to Bkool. I’ve found the software continues to get better, as does customer service. A number of my suggestions/rants over the years have made it into the product.

    I have a soft spot for Bkool because of their ability to turn any valid/reasonable GPS track into a virtual route. What they are doing and how well they are doing it is pretty unique. I can draw a GPS track anywhere in the world and with a little time, effort and luck, Bkool will turn that into an interesting and well-rendered virtual route. In many cases, terrain and landmarks are actually more than a little recognizable.

    I’m using a TACX Neo and contrary to what others have said, I find coasting and downhill to be a little too aggressive/fast. With the powered descents on the TACX, you have to work really hard to put out any power. That said, the quality and feel of gradients on a good route (emphasis on “good route”) are very similar to Zwift.

    PROS

    o Beautiful 3D rendering engine if you’re on decent hardware
    o Ability to upload your own video and gps tracks
    o Millions of routes (see CONS, though)
    o You’re supporting an underdog whose core technology is really cool
    o At least as stable as Zwift, especially in the last year or so

    CONS

    o Group rides are difficult to coordinate – the platform’s social features are minimal. Plus, there just aren’t thousands of users online at any given time like Zwift.
    o Millions of routes. 😐 A high percentage of video and 3D routes on Bkool are garbage, and you really have no idea until you ride one. The ratings system was completely broken for a long time and can’t be relied upon.
    o One of the reasons there’s so much garbage on Bkool is that YOU CANNOT DELETE ANYTHING. It’s like they completely forgot about the concept of deletion, which I’d argue is key functionality of any software system. I’ve complained about this incessantly, but I expect the train is so far out of the station that actually implementing deletions would be a huge rework of the platform.

    I’d be surprised if Bkool survived too much longer as an independent entity, but I really do hope their technology lives on in some form — they’ve done a very cool thing.