It’s been a year and a half since we got our first glimpses of the now named Saris MP1 platform. Back then, Saris was called CycleOps, and the platform didn’t even have a name. It was just dubbed “The Thing” (for real). But here we are in early 2020 and ‘The Thing’ is now shipping and finds itself in people’s training caves around the world.
The MP1 (an acronym for Motion Platform 1) is designed as a new take on rocker plates. The concept of adding motion to indoor training is hardly new. Kinetic has been doing it for years with their Rock and Roll series of trainer products (and more recently their R1 trainer). Atop that there’s a vibrant community of enthusiasts and smaller companies that have made home-built platforms and beyond to varying degrees of success.
Still, there’s little question that the MP1 is different than the rest – perhaps namely, its forward and back movement. Or, maybe its $1,199 price tag. Or that it came from one of the major trainer companies.
No matter the case, I’m here to figure out how well it works and whether or not it’s worth it. If you want to dive right into the video, simply press play below. It’s useful in this review due to how much of the product is about movement.
Finally, note that Saris did send over a media loaner for me to poke at. Once I wrap up this review I’ll let them figure out the fun logistics of getting it back to them. If you found this review useful, hit up the links at the end of the post. With that, onwards!
Before we can unbox this beast, we need to start with getting this beast to the right place – since it was accidentally delivered to my home, and not the DCR Cave. So for that, I loaded up the platform into the cargo bike on a nice windy morning in Amsterdam, strapped The Peanut #2 to the back, and set out for a ride across town.
Oh, and because (just because), I decided to add another sail to the bike, this in the form of a table that also went to the wrong place. See, now we’re set:
The only caveat with this setup is that I didn’t fully think through the rotation radius of the handlebars, so…umm…I couldn’t exactly turn left very quickly. I was like a large cruise ship trying to make right turns. Thankfully, I only have three right turns to make on my route.
Still, got it down to the DCR Cave in one piece, and P2 had a fun time too.
With that, it was time to get it unboxed. Technically the unit came in a shell box (that you see above), and then inside of that was the prettier Saris MP1 box that you see below:
You’ll place it on the floor and then open it up to unbox it. If you place it in what you think will be the most logical manner, you’ll find that it’s actually upside-down. Thus, apparently the correct side of the box is the other side.
Next, remove some of the stuffs around the platform. The platform itself comes fully assembled. The only things you’ll add are the straps and wheel braces. So your job here is just getting the platform freed of the box.
While it’s somewhat heavy, it’s not as bad as you’d think actually. The platform weighs 62lbs/28kg by itself (which, actually isn’t that much more than most 20-23KG trainers).
Next, remove some of the accessory bits. This is ultimately what you’re left with:
You’ve got two paper things, a cleaning cloth, two straps, two riser blocks, and one wheel block. Easy peasy!
See, that was simple, wasn’t it?
Assembly & Compatibility:
The first thing to know is that yes, it’s likely compatible with your non-Saris/CycleOps trainer. In fact, Saris has an entire website dedicated to letting you not only look-up compatibility, but also the optimal placement for that trainer on the MP1.
With that FAQ question out of the way, let’s talk about the basics (don’t worry, we’ll get back to compatibility later).
The back half of the platform has four main channels in it, plus two front wheel channels and two rear channels near the back of the platform. These channels are where you’ll attach two straps to keep your trainer on the platform. Depending on the exact trainer, you’ll use some combination of the inner and outer channels.
For example, take the Saris H3 trainer. For this unit you’ll use the inner ride-side channel, with the outer left-side channel:
The reason being that the general goal of the platform is to keep your bike on the centerline. Whereas different trainers distribute the weight in different places, albeit, usually to the left of the bike.
The straps attach by a funky little mechanism that slides into the rail at one end, and then has these little notches the entire length of the rail:
Once you find the right spot, you’ll tighten the bolt part, and then use the Velcro on the trainer:
In any event, the front wheel is somewhat similar in implementation. They’ve included a wheel-block that keeps your front wheel from wobbling about. Technically speaking this isn’t 100% required, but it can feel a bit weird during sprints without it (I tried, for fun). I’d recommend using it.
Just be sure when doing the straps that the metal bits are positioned on the side of your wheels, and not right at the center/peak of your wheels (which would be bad rubbage).
With that, you’re done and ready to roll…err…rock..err…rock and roll. Oh wait – one more thing. There’s two riser plates. These are for the front wheel, and allow you to increase the stack height of the wheel. Some people do this because they’ve got a smaller wheel on a taller trainer so this positions the bike level, and other people do it to simulate climbing.
I didn’t need/want either, but you do you.
Now – let’s say you’re adventurous, and want to do another trainer. No problem, you can do so. As noted, the Saris site has guidelines for plenty of popular trainers.
So, for fun, here’s what a Wahoo KICKR looks like:
Then a Tacx NEO 2T:
Then the Elite Suito:
And finally, the Kinetic R1 trainer:
There wasn’t actually a guide for the Kinetic R1. I just freestyled it. Which, is roughly what it’s like when you combine a rocking trainer with a rock and roll plate. I’d strongly recommend against it, fwiw. I tried riding it. It was oddly actually ok feeling while sprinting (not great, but passable), but was totally wonky just riding steadily. Obviously, having two platforms double-move is bad-bad. But I had to try it for science.
Oh, wait, one more bit of sketch: The Wahoo KICKR + a Wahoo CLIMB:
Yes, this wasn’t ideal. I had to roll my own strap combo by re-using the front block system and sticking the two ends together. The challenge here is that the KICKR CLIMB actually pivots on the base. So the straps have to have enough give to allow that pivot, which means it’s just loosey-goosey in certain positions. Plus, the alignment means the CLIMB sits a bit funky on the front metal channels.
Somewhat interestingly, the first Saris/CycleOps prototype platform actually did work better with the KICKR CLIMB, because there was no narrow front end. When they narrowed it out (for logical reasons, namely to make it more usable indoors), it reduced the room for the CLIMB. Anyway, no biggie. Technically speaking I suspect someone could come up with a better mount for it, then you’d be mostly ok again.
In any event, what about an indoor bike you say? No problem. Here’s the Wahoo KICKR Bike:
But, I should probably mention that on Saris’s site, they don’t recommend this. Obviously, I made it my goal to ignore this advice. All of it.
I actually did an entire workout that way. It’s a…umm…unique experience. The motion largely felt fine, but this feels super high up, especially when the KICKR CLIMB portion goes up.
Oh, and in case you’re curious – the max weight of the platform is 350lbs/159kg, which was technically enough for me and the KICKR Bike to bobble along safely within spec.
Meanwhile, the Tacx NEO Bike didn’t really fit, with the front end teetering over the edge:
Nor did the Wattbike Atom:
Ok, enough fun for now. Let’s get onto normal use.
How it works and usage:
Before we talk the horizontal shuffle, we’re going to talk something even more exciting: Grip tape.
Yup, the platform has anti-slip grippy stuff placed in just about every area that you’d either place your feet to step, or place a trainer. All of which is in the name of minimizing a slip.
And it works great in that sense. Though, I’m guessing that if you spilled a bunch of nutrition gel (or a piece of pizza upside-down), it’d probably be hell to clean versus a more wipeable surface. You’ll have to do that test on your own – my supply of cleaning and sanitizing tools is reserved for more important tasks these days.
However, to spoil a bit of this review, about the only thing I’m not a fan of on this platform is the wood look. It’s just a personal preference thing, but it’s not my cup of tea for my training cave. For others, it might fit in great. Also, while the birch wood (it’s real wood) is treated to resist sweat, I can’t help but wonder how long it’ll hold up after years of abuse. It could be just perfectly fine, but I can’t test/review that one way or the other
With the boring stuff out of the way, the platform moves in two core directions: Front/back movement, and side to side tiling.
In the case of front/back movement, the platform is essentially rolling on a shallowly curved metal track. The harder you move the further you go. Here’s a nifty little animated GIF showing that movement as I rock it back and forth:
But by having the curved nature of it, it takes more effort to move it further, since your body + trainer + platform weight wants to drive the rollers back to the center point.
In many ways, this front/back movement is really the secret ingredient over most rocker plates that just tilt left/right. It means that every pedal stroke generates 3D movement – front/back as well as tilting side to side.
Note though that it does not tilt front/back however (as seen in the animated GIF above). In total, the track allows you to move 24cm/9.5” forward, or 24cm/9.5” backwards from the center point.
Next is the tilting motion, which is side to side. What’s happening below is that the entire platform is actually tilting on a single piece of metal. Here are the three main positions – all the way down right, centered, and all the way down left:
You can also see the little rollers on the underside of the platform as well here in the back, thus, there are actually four different rolling points on the trainer (one front, two sides, one center).
In the side to side tilting motion vector the platform tilts up to 6° at the base of the platform, which is most easily seen when I stand on one edge:
Out of curiosity, I then placed the level up higher – on my saddle. Would that result in any greater tilt angle (given the higher altitude)? Not really, it recorded 7° there:
To my satisfaction, this tilt didn’t result in any lack of stability in getting on the bike, or tipsiness while using it. In fact, I tried to tip it – and can’t. Which isn’t to say that a person with more creativeness (or balls) won’t figure out a way. But I leaned as far as I could towards the wall while on the bike and couldn’t get it to tip.
Also, I stood on one side and pulled the bike towards me, and couldn’t get it to tip over without jerking the entire platform with me.
Cow-tipping aside, what does the side to side feel like for riding? Well, it’s good…as long as you’re not sprinting. See, for each pedal stroke you make you’ll get a bit of that side to side movement. It’ll feel natural at this level, because it’s not overly dramatic. That movement is good.
However, where things get a bit messier on the MP1 (and every other rocker plate) is sprints. In this scenario, the movements indoors on the rocker plates (and MP1) are opposite what happens outdoors. See, outdoors when you’re right foot/leg goes down, your bike/body will naturally lean to the left. But on a rocker plate by default, the opposite happens, the bike leans right – it’s hard to see it in a still shot like below, but super easy to see in the video at the start of the post.
As anyone in the rocker plate community or industry will quickly remind you, you can fix this by ‘learning’ how to sprint indoors on a rocker plate, which roughly involves using your arms to counterbalance. And that’s OK– to an extent.
I think it’s completely fine that the experience of sprinting indoors is different on a rocker plate than the real world. Just like racing a crit in Zwift is different in various ways than racing a crit outside. There are things you must account for inside in Zwift that you don’t account for outside. And vice versa. So, if one wants to learn how to sprint properly indoors – that’s totally cool.
However, where I have an issue is when a company/individual represents a rocker plate product as being “just like outdoors”. Which, it isn’t. That newly learned skill to sprint/climb indoors won’t translate outdoors – because your body already knows how to ride a bike outdoors (hopefully). Thankfully, Saris hasn’t actually made any claims like that here. They’ve been open about the fact that there are differences between those two.
And again – don’t misunderstand me: Go forth (if you want) and learn how to sprint on a rocker plate. I have zero issues with that. Just don’t tell other people that they “need” to learn how to do that. Got it? Good.
So about now you might be asking – why bother with movement at all? Aside from a cool-factor, what does it actually do? Well, in short, it keeps your butt happy and forces your core to work more. Those micro-movements the platform provides means that your contact points (primarily your butt onto the saddle) are constantly adjusting, just like they would outside on the real road. As a result, the impact to longer trainer rides is more significant.
For ‘fun’, earlier this week I did a 2hr 10min trainer ride. Just because.
And upon stepping off that trainer ride, my butt was basically just like ‘shrug, no big deal’. Not because I do long trainer rides often (nope, this is by far the longest I’ve been on a trainer in a single session in years) – but I’m guessing because of some of that movement.
Did I back that up with a bunch of secondary non-platform 2hr and 10min rides? Nope – I’ve got better things to do than sit on a trainer again for 2 hours. But again, you do you.
Saris has shown studies they did with Trek on this concept (specifically the contact point hot spots and differences) at past media events where they talked about the MP1. I’m going to try and get them to publish some of those studies, as I think it’s interesting. [Update: Some of it posted here.]
Until then – I’ll just use my anecdotal evidence that I’d much rather have some slight movement for any long trainer rides than not. Which admittedly is hardly a very new or profound claim – that’s been the case for most trainers for years.
I don’t think there’s any question in my mind (or really anyone else’s) that the MP1 is a good product. It is. The subtle movement while just riding along is super nice, especially for longer workouts. But even on shorter workouts, that slight bit of movement is much appreciated. I’m going to be sad going back to more stationary situations. More specifically though, I really think the front/back movement is the secret sauce here. Having ridden a handful of other random rocker plates at trade shows/events/etc, they all accomplish some element of side to side movement.
But it’s that normally shallow front/back movement that somewhat completes the 3D aspect of this in your brain. And it’s not moving a lot. While just rolling through intervals in ERG mode, it’s only slightly rocking back and forth (forward/back) a handful of millimeters each direction. But your body notices that. Or at least, my brain does. Of course, the MP1 doesn’t realistically simulate outdoor sprints, but neither does any other rocker plate/platform either.
The primary challenge with the MP1 largely isn’t technical or product based. It’s price. It’s just too darn expensive. At $1,199 the conversation is no longer about the product, it’s about people making jokes about the price. While the same was somewhat true of the Wahoo KICKR CLIMB when it first came out (at half the price – $599), the difference with that trainer accessory is that a large percentage of people (at announcement of price) still said they wanted it. Partially because they liked riding plastic horses in grocery stores, and partially because $599 was still less than the cost of their trainer. With the MP1, it actually costs more than the Saris H3 smart trainer you might place atop it. Or for that matter is more than the vast majority of trainers on the market (only the Tacx NEO series is more expensive, and the Wahoo KICKR is price-matched at $1,199).
So my hope is that Saris finds a way to get that price closer to the popular KICKR CLIMB ($599 or below). If they can do that, then I think they’ve got a runaway success. Otherwise, I suspect it’s going to be a hard accessory for a lot of people to get approval from their household accounting division – no matter how good it might actually be.
With that – thanks for reading (and good luck with your accounting department appointment)!
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