Zwift Rolls Out Steering to Wahoo KICKR Smart Bike

Tonight’s Zwift update has enabled steering for the Wahoo KICKR Bike (which are actually in-stock these days). This long-awaited step finally makes it possible to use all features of Zwift in one of the most expensive smart bikes in the game. Previously, steering was only available in-game via the Elite Sterzo Smart accessory ($125USD), or, via your smartphone on one short test course. Obviously, that made things a wee bit awkward that the most premium of bikes didn’t have all the premium features.

But, that moment is now behind us – at least for one smart bike. More on the others in a moment.

Since I’ve already covered steering in general, I’m mostly going to skip that here. The quick and dirty of steering in Zwift is:

A) It’s more appropriately called veering: You stay within your half of the road, but can choose the placement within that surface
B) You can’t crash through people, in fact, you have to speed up/slow down to steer around them.
C) You can’t crash at all (Zwift as an application will crash on your behalf as it sees fit, but not your bike’s avatar)
D) Steering does save distance (and thus time) and can win you a race (also shown in my previous post)
E) Steering also saves distance even outside of races, such as on steep climbs
F) Steering is specifically enabled for certain races or group events, whereas it’s always available in free ride mode

Got all that? Good. Now let’s talk KICKR Bike.

The process is heavily streamlined for the KICKR Bike, and virtually impossible to screw up (which…is good).  To begin, you’ll need two things:

A) The absolute latest version of Zwift – the one released tonight
B) The latest Wahoo KICKR Bike Firmware – the one released in September 2020 (1.16.0)

Next, crack open Zwift. On the pairing screen you’ll pair up your KICKR Bike as normal, however, steering here will *ONLY* work right now when paired via Bluetooth Smart (not ANT+). Down on the lower left you’ll see the steering pairing icon automatically illuminates:

KICKRBikeSteering1

There’s no additional pairing in that steering menu, because the menu isn’t openable with the KICKR Bike. It just knows if you’ve got a KICKR Bike that you’ve now got steering buttons. You can however disable this if you want to by simply clicking on that blue steering wheel, which greys it out. Tap it again, and it enables it again.

Next, you’ll crack open the course you want to ride. You’ve got two basic options here:

A) Free-ride anywhere in Zwift with full steering
B) Choose an event that has steering specifically enabled. You can use ZwiftHack’s event planner to see which events have steering enabled.

image

Good. Now, you’ll also get yourself a nifty explainer the first time you load up steering on the KICKR Bike. There’s some minor differences here compared to the Elite Sterzo Smart page, but ultimately it’s all the same. You can’t crash other people, you can’t go off-roading, and you’re now in control of the draft – so if you go out of the draft zone, then…that’s on you.

KICKRBikeSteering2

Now to steer there’s two buttons, one on each side of the inside of your handlebars:

image image

You simply press those buttons just like a gamepad to go left or right. Here’s another shot:

vlcsnap-2021-01-22-01h28m30s001

For those that have been following the long game on this, you’ll probably remember I’ve long said I was curious (if not skeptical) on how well this would work in real-life. Specifically with the tactile feel of the buttons on different smart bikes, and whether it’d feel clunky, slow to respond, or such.

I’m happy to report that for the KICKR Bike specifically, the feeling is spot-on in terms of steering. It responded as I expected for the most part, and with the right amount, and virtually no latency. I’m still however skeptical on some other bikes, mainly due to the responsiveness of those buttons. But, I’ll be happy to be proved wrong.

In terms of steering, it’s more akin to veering. So a single tap basically shifts you one imaginary ‘lane’ over per the earlier explainer screenshot. Whereas if you hold it, you’ll steer yourself against the invisible wall that is the left and right lane lines. Center-line in most cases, and right breakdown line in most other cases. You can’t go beyond those points.

vlcsnap-2021-01-22-01h33m41s757

But, in my quick testing this evening – it all worked exactly as I expected. Also, one minor/positive aspect compared to the regular Elite Sterzo Smart solution is that there’s no getting your plate correctly centered or such. Everything is always correctly set to the default.

Ultimately, the main reasons you’d steer in Zwift are:

A) To choose a better line for distance reasons (such as cornering)
B) To choose a better draft scenario, either dropping competitors off your draft, or chasing someone else’s draft

However, the downside to steering is that the opposite of the above are true too. If you’ve got steering enabled and get lazy, then you’re at a disadvantage because you’re no longer letting Zwift handle those things for you (namely the draft part).

Note that at this time the KICKR Bike steering will not work on the MTB Repack Ridge course. Zwift says that’s coming in a future update.

As for the other smart bike makers, we’ll have to see when they get things lit up. As I mentioned in my Wattbike ATOM 2020 In-Depth Review back this fall, they were planning on rolling that out soonish, pending Zwift. In order for steering to work with Zwift, Zwift has been requiring companies to enter into agreements to enable the technology. So in this case, both Wahoo and Wattbike have signed those agreements (as did Elite for their exclusive Elite Sterzo Smart agreement). It’s unclear if either Stages (Stages Bike SB20) or Tacx (Tacx NEO Bike) have planned dates for implementation (or…signed agreements). It’s late now (2AM my time), so I’ll circle back to those companies in the morning. However, ALL THESE COMPANIES have previously confirmed on numerous occasions that they had buttons set aside specifically for steering (since…years ago, Zwift asked specifically for that). So it’s more a paperwork formality now than anything else.

Ultimately, over time as more and more units become steering capable it’ll become a more integral part of the Zwift experience. I have no doubts that fast forward a few years to a planned Zwift Bike (which will undoubtedly have steering per their claim of being beyond today’s bikes), that it’ll be more common to have steering in high profile events than not. After all, it adds another layer of complexity to indoor cycle racing beyond just having big legs.

With that, thanks for reading!

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66 Comments

  1. Timothy Pearse

    Does it work on all generations of the KICKR?

  2. Ian Halliday

    Great! Can’t wait to try this!

  3. Bradley Tipp

    I used this an hour ago – before I noticed Ray’s post and saw the auto enable and the pop up to say I has Steering. It worked flawlessly in free mode with me on the Serpent 8 route on Watopia. However, and this may be nothing to do with steering being enabled, I did notice that my Garmin (which i use to capture alongside Zwift posting to Strava) was WAY out on distance compared to my usual rides on Zwift. Usually it is about 0.7-0.9 miles out in 25 miles. Tonight the ride was 18 miles on Zwift and 22.3 on the Garmin… I’ll need to try this again and maybe do a couple of rides (enabled and disabled) to see if this is the issue. I didn’t use steering that much on the ride tonight and while i might have expected it to be slightly more differentiated I didn’t expect that amount of drift…

    • Chris

      Gravel is slower in Zwift so if you don’t usually ride around the Jungle roads that may explain the difference (although I’m a little surprised they ever match)

  4. Mariusz

    And other KICKRs ? Any plans to implement it?

    • Bradley Tipp

      The regular Kick has no steering buttons, so unless Wahoo added this as some form of option then I don’t see how + you could already buy the elito steering device and use that.

      My guess is that you might see this as an addon to the Climb – but I should say I have NO info on that I’m just speculating based on how I would do this if I was Wahoo.

    • Andreas

      Unless they find a way tonadd hardware buttons on your bike’s handlebars via a software update – nope 😉

  5. David W

    Hi Ray,
    What happens if the Bike is configured for Campy shifting? It uses the same buttons.

  6. Kevin

    Looking forward to trying it out. Any idea if the other buttons on the kickr bike will be enabled for power ups or to change camera angles? That would be awesome!

  7. Nir

    How quickly can one veer between lanes? I can imagine race scenarios where the person in the front just keeps moving across the road to keep the person behind them permanently out of the draft. The second person then does the same, forcing the third to do so… Could steering completely eliminate the usefulness of drafting?

  8. Michael H

    Thanks for the info!
    I usually pair with ANT+ but that didn’t recognise the bike. As soon as I switched from ant+ on the PC to Bluetooth via the companion app it worked nicely.

    Wondering if this is a known limitation???

    • It is now known…but not documented anywhere from either Zwift or Wahoo. Sigh. Added it above now to post.

    • Michael H

      The lovely photo that you posted gave me the clue, I could see you had used Bluetooth. So thanks again!

    • It’s funny, I had gone to get my ANT+ stick last night, because Zwift was being a PITA finding the KICKR Bike on Bluetooth Smart, but by time I walked back to the trainer it had found it. Otherwise I would have stumbled into it as well.

    • usr

      ANT+ is assuming that both ends of the connection are battery powered on a tight energy budget and want to aggressively save energy by restricting communication to a premeditated schedule. If for example you press a key on an ANT+ remote the event will be delayed for up to a quarter second (assuming perfect transmission, of if there is a radio disruption from a competing device it will wait another quarter, or another, or…) until the next scheduled communication opportunity.

      BLE assumes that some/most/all (I don’t know which exactly) listeners have enough energy allowance to listen the whole time (ANT only does when pairing or explicitly checking for new connections with the already paired) so BLE keyboards and the like are free to send immediately. The race positioning feature surely would not work acceptably with keypresses delayed into a 250ms grid (before network latency!).

    • Michael H

      So I paired with Bluetooth, then switched to ANT, in the pairing screen, it held the steering. So I’m guessing ANT works but it needs to recognise the hardware and is only currently doing that on Bluetooth.

    • usr

      I doubt that the steering has switched away from BLE. They just don’t show you all the status details in the UI. Most plausible explanation (entirely unsurprising actually) is that they simply don’t have an UI to set up that BLE steering protocol (likely generic HID) separately from the BLE counterpart of FE-C.

    • Elite noted way back last summer that they had both versions (ANT+ & BLE). It’s simply that Zwift implemented BLE first since it was on all platforms.

    • usr

      It’s not in the thisisatnt.com device database (I believe all devices that went through the mandatory plus certification are) and the packaging has the ANT logo without +, so custom protocols only. A custom ANT protocol might actually be allowed to leave the confines of scheduled communication intervals energy saving (2x AAA is plenty for a chip that can go for years in e.g. an HRM belt with scheduled communication frugality under typical usage patterns), but it could also be that Elite just made that work with the implied extra latency jitter.

      But Zwift has no reason to implement both if the ANT one is so custom that it won’t ever appear in a device without BLE and Zwift wants it to work on an e.g. Apple TV as well. I’ll stand corrected rof someone switches to ANT after connecting, then pulls out the Bluetooth adapter on a PC without integrated Bluetooth and then steering still works, but I claim that this is very, very unlikely.

    • technocynic

      aargh
      I watched your YouTube, and shane’s, very soon after they were posted but no chance to try it out till today.

      wasted some time today trying to figure out why Zwift wouldn’t enable steering for me. gave up and did my ride without it. then thinking about it later I wondered in ant+ might have been an issue.
      googled it and ended up on your website which confirmed it. Thanks for the clarification. No thanks to Zwift for incomplete info

  9. Nuno Pinto

    Hi Ray, among the millions thing you have to do, please try to find some time to ask TACX when they plan to have steering…
    Anyway, do you think this is on ZWIFT side, or also on smart bike manufactore to release a new firmware ?

    • Yup, already shot them a note a few hours ago. Will let folks know as soon as I hear back.

      As for who’s side it’s on, it’s mostly both. The smart bike companies have to know which specification to adopt to. In this case, Wahoo gave Zwift the specification, and Zwift enabled it in-game. So now it’s up to everyone else to use said specification. Given the compatible firmware version is from all the way back in September, said spec has been around quite some time…

    • German

      Hi!, Could you send the same note to the Stages (SB20) team as well please? Left/right buttons are ready to be used as well.
      As usual really appreciate all this info.
      Germán

  10. Justin

    Hi Ray,

    Can you use to to decide which way to go when you are given a choice of left / right / straight on for example?

    Looking forward to giving it a go just as soon as I’ve got my 3rd warranty replacement Kickr bike set up.

    • No route turn selection at this point.

    • Hobe Scholz

      Huh? This is literally the only thing I would want it for. I’m one of the guys who just rides for some cardio minutes and likes to feel like I am exploring (Still waiting on that low level touring bike with panniers by the way) why would they implement lane changing and not allow you to pop into the “turn lane” within the selection period? Not that any of it will matter until Garmin/TACX figures out what they are doing I guess.

    • Alex

      Wow. Route turn selection is the biggest thing I’d want to use the steering buttons for. Hope they add that soon.

  11. RSTL13

    Hey Ray,

    Thanks for covering this. A big win for those of us who spent big for a best in class trainer.

    question… does this work for the mtb routes? They seem very much novelty, but being from a mtb background, it may be fun to veer off into the woods from time to time.

  12. Bernard

    Sure the explainer pops-up *only* the first time you start a ride with steering enabled? With the Sterzo it pops-up every single ride again and by now I don’t think of it as all that nifty any more.

    I would argue there are two more main reasons why you’d steer in Zwift:
    C: to be able to ride the off-road course hidden in Wattopia
    D: to be more engaged with your exercise – and have it go by quicker

    Does any of the indoor bikes actually have the ability to point the handlebars where you wanna go, or will they all use a set of buttons like the Wahoo bike?

    • Hmm, mine didn’t pop-up the second time. I only know this because I had to restart a few times and happened to take a screenshot the first time around by chance.

      None of the indoor bikes have twistable front handlebars.

      For the off-road course, are you talking repack ridge? As that’s not supported currently with the KICKR Bike.

    • Bernard

      Repack ridge is not supported? That’s a shame. I did it with the Sterzo a few days ago and that worked fine.

  13. Barry

    Happy for the people that own these bikes. Not sure about steering itself. Since Zwift doesn’t have realistic cornering physics, it’s a simple choice of just hugging the inside line on each corner to cut the distance. On the other hand, concentrating on following someone in the draft could help one think about something else besides suffering in a race. Would be great if combined with a RGT style draft meter.

  14. Andrew Linquist

    I rode today and the steering is fantastic on the Kickr Bike. The other Kickr Bike users I was riding with also owned Sterzos for their wheel off trainers and felt the Kickr Bike steers much smoother. Like all things Kickr Bike, when it works it’s the best. But just keep your fingers crossed that it will actually keep working.

  15. Jonas

    Why aren’t they using a standard game controller profile. WHY invent the wheel again… Must be easier for all parties involved, and also anyone can use it for whatever purposes they want (for example the GTA bike mod)

    But I guess it’s better to lock everything into your own ecosystem 🙁

  16. scott g.

    So now that we have steering, are we getting potholes, dogs and opening car doors too?
    What combo of button will bunny hop, need it for sprint zone road furniture ?

  17. S. Savkar

    Excited to try this out this afternoon on my KICKR bike, but I am a little worried (probably too strong a word) of one thing – namely that I already find when holding onto the hoods that I often have my thumbs pressing against the side of the hoods. which on my normal bike doesn’t create any issues but with the KICKR Bike i have noticed over last couple of days i accidentally do often hit those same buttons for steering.

    So suspect I will look like a drunken cyclist once in a while as I accidentally hit the two buttons. Sigh.

    Too bad you can’t just turn the front and have that be the basis for steering. Version 2 anyone?

    • Andrew Linquist

      I wondered if I’d do the same thing but you’ll get used to it fast. I’d rather have it with the buttons than the front turning. You hardly ever turn the front more than the slightest bit outdoors. The buttons work super smooth. My guess is you’ll love it.

    • S. Savkar

      Agreed. I am still trying to get a better sense of what gear I am in with the bike given the inability to look down and see my chain rings and cassette. Very weird feel and I worry I will develop bad habits because of it when I translate to going outside.

      As for physically turning as an alternative agreed if they ever added it would have to be done in a way not to cause instability as you won’t have the gyroscope effect that stops you from moving left and right constantly.

  18. Richard Livingstone

    The FutureWorks steering screen just popped up for the first time when using my WattBike Atom (new one). I’m confused – there doesn’t appear to be any support for it on my WattBike though.

  19. Ryan

    While steering is great, I’m more interested in Zwift pushing the smart bike virtual gearing to the screen (like is already done with the Watt Bike). Is doing so for the Wahoo, Tacx, and other smart bikes really that difficult? Or is Zwift dragging their feet? It would seem showing the gearing info would be easier than implementing steering.

    Thanks for all you do!

  20. Dean

    Now if Wahoo would sell BT buttons that one could attach to the hoods so that it’s compatible with the Climb too – I’d grab that for sure!

  21. Stuart Lynne

    The good news (for racing) is that you save some distance by taking better lines which may give you an advantage.

    The bad news (for racing) is that you spend a little more time out of the draft when you are beside the group in your better line, making you work harder overall than you would have.

    The end result is a slight advantage that comes with a small cost.

  22. jolaca

    Great to know atom bike is almost there with steering!!
    Ray, for us with an Stages SB20, did stages respond to your note??

    • No, sorry I forgot to send them a note. Just sent it over to Stages now. Usually they’re pretty early birds, so I suspect I’ll have an answer mid-afternoon Europe time.

  23. Andrew M

    Would it be possible to use the Shimano wireless unit to enable steering with the di2 hidden buttons?

  24. Andy K.

    Has anyone else noticed that this Jan 21 update is very unstable?

    My mates and I have repeatedly experienced that the app crashes after we cross finish line in a private meet-up. Some of us also experienced signal dropouts (Ant+ and BLE). This seems to affect all platforms (Win 10, Android, IOS).

  25. Matthew

    Am I reading this correctly, that unlike the Sterzo which has analog steering, the Wahoo Kickr Bike only has digital steering? So is this like “steering” in the same sense as on the cross country skiing tracks in real life?

  26. Johanne

    I think it’s worth highlighting, that for whatever reason, actual steering has been by default, disabled from all Zwift events — including group rides or workouts which aren’t competitions. Currently that means a lookup using the filters on Zwifthacks Events, shows that out of over 1700 posted cycling events, only 20 of these have steering allowed. The other ~99% of events show up as steering NOT allowed.

    Per Zwift Forums, evidently ride event organizers have to go thru hoops of contacting HQ to request steering to be enabled.

  27. Joseph cannavo

    But there is a catch for MTBrs. Once you pair you can’t get on repack ridge. And this brings me to a great hack I will soon put on youtube. When I was trying to decide between Kickr Bike and wahoo trainer, I was worried about the fact that steering with smart phone running ZC (Zwift Companion) would only work with wahoo trainer. And as a MTBr I want to ride trails! (Repack ridge) But with an engineering and fabrication background I had a feeling there would be a Kickr bike hack I would come up with. And so I got the bike, and lo and behold there is! Create Moveable handle bars. I tested the concept by loosening the screws attaching stem to head set Post, applied some high viscosity lubricant, mounted the phone on handle bars with ZC running, and it works: handle bars move, and you can ride repack ridge and steer with Kickr Bike! If have since fabricated my own stem, headset assembly that does this more permanently-no harm done to Kickr bike as I just swapped the parts. Note however that with the recent update to add steering buttons for road riding, I could no longer get on Repack. I discovered that all one needs to do is decline steering on initial pairing when entering Muir and Mountain, then turning on to Titans grove the turn onto Repack again appears (shortly after bear climbing tree). So do not pair the steering buttons on initial setup if you wish to ride Repack on Kickr Bike. BTW this “hack” works incredibly well. latency is not bad, and it really makes for great virtual mountain biking and a great workout. So If Wahoo engineers are listening: Make an add on handle bar set with freely moving steering to pair with ZC with smart phone attached. Or better yet, use encoders in the head stem assembly and team up with Zwift for Kicker bike steering. In the meantime I’ll continue to use this mountain bike steering hack! It’s friggin awesome!
    Joe

  28. Peter Higgins

    I Zwift on an old computer without BTSmart/bluetooth 4.2/5.0, so I have relied on ANT+ to connect.
    Bought a BT 5.0 dongle on line, but having trouble connecting to WAHOO KICKR bike. Not much luck with WAHOO folks.
    Is BT 4.2 a better idea?
    Any guides/suggestion on switching from ANT+ to BTSmart?