As we slowly slide into fall (for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere), I’m working my way through updating various reviews and data sets on relevant indoor smart trainers and smart bikes. Especially in cases where previous reviews found issues with the product, and I want to validate if more recent firmware versions have fixed the issues (or, updated/later hardware versions in some cases). While I’m pretty much constantly using some trainer or smart bike year-round on the latest firmware (not to mention watches/bike computers/etc…), I’m not always testing every model every week.
In any case, long story short, I’ve had the Tacx NEO Bike Plus on my ‘Is it fixed yet?’ list for a while. Last year in my in-depth review, I saw some moderate issues in both surge power accuracy (free-form workouts), as well as ERG mode stability and overshooting the planned power value (structured workouts). Tacx had initially hoped an update would be available within a few months, but that soon dragged through winter and into spring. Nonetheless, it was finally released, and I wanted to test that. Likewise, over the past few months, the Tacx NEO Bike Plus also got an update to finally enable steering with Zwift. There are of course other more minor updates since then, but those are the big-ticket ones I wanted to validate.
After updating the firmware to the most recent version, I did a few test rides to validate that the power meter pedals were ‘bedded’ in on this crankset (basically, you do a bunch of sprints), as well as temperature had stabilized. I was using the Wahoo POWRLINK Zero pedals. I mix and match which pedals I use on different reviews/bikes, but find that I can generally trust the Garmin Rally pedals, Favero Assioma DUO Pedals, and Wahoo POWRLINK Zero pedals. All of them have their minor quirks, but those three are data trustable for power accuracy testing.
First up, I wanted to look at the surge behaviors. As a reminder, last year (power accuracy section here), basically anytime there was a surge, the Tacx NEO Bike Plus would undercut those surges – often by 50-75w. While there’s always a balance between how responsive a trainer’s power is (due to flywheel considerations), I think it’s fair to say 50-75w is too much.
In any case, here’s how things look now:
You can see while it’s still a little bit lower than the pedals on the slight surges, it’s closer to 25w or so – which is essentially the same ballpark as others. This doesn’t impact things too much.
Meanwhile, on the sprint side, we see really nice alignment there as well. Previously it would undercut in the 50-75w range, and now it’s nearly identical, save a little bit of differences in recording timing.
So next, was the bigger issue I saw, which was huge spikes in ERG mode – especially when changing wattages. This was most easily seen in 30×30 type efforts (30 seconds on at high wattage, 30 seconds recovery at easy wattage), but also visible in countless other workouts. It was overshooting the wattage by 100w in some cases previously, a massive amount (especially on already high wattage intervals). So, I went back to my tried and true 30×30 trainer test to see how things handled. And it’s much closer now:
(The random blip in that warm-up section was me changing to the camera app, and apparently that upset the TrainerRoad app…it recovered a few seconds later when I got back to the TrainerRoad app.)
The differences we see there are in line with most other high-end trainers/smart bikes on the market. You’ll notice that the overshooting at the beginning varies slightly each time, which is more a function of me than it. Basically, how ready for that interval was I, and did I potentially respond too aggressively to it. Whereas before, no matter how ‘gentle’ I tried to be, it basically spikes very high. You can see the first interval is really solid, where I wasn’t quite yet tired.
There’s still some fluctuating going on in terms of differences between the Tacx NEO Bike Plus and the Wahoo pedals. This can be a hard one to track down, as many smart bikes/trainers do smoothing a bit in this area, which is likely why we see the pedals a bit more ‘reactive’ than the trainer is. But these fluctuations are very small in comparison to where they were before (a 100w+).
All in all, I’m happy with these changes now. Good job. Now, I can clear some space out of my studio, at least temporarily. The Tacx folks are expected to pick this back up in about 20 minutes. Likewise, I’ve got the KICKR Bike V2 review from last year to finish up (after a few failed starts. TLDR, those accuracy issues are fixed too).
Steering in Zwift:
Next, a few months ago Tacx rolled out an update to add steering within Zwift using the buttons on the inside of the handlebars. I won’t rehash how steering works in Zwift, that’s been around for years now, in a variety of other devices/bikes/etc… The key thing here is now the Tacx NEO Bike Plus can steer too, using the two small buttons on the inside of the handlebars (right side seen above, next to my thumb). To pair it up, you’ll add it as a steering device within Zwift:
And then from there, you simply steer left/right across the lane like any other Zwift steering-compatible device. Press the left button to go left, press the right button to go right. Easy-peasy. You’ll notice the little steering icon in blue (below) above my name. Also, for the record, I did come back and take the green jersey not once, but twice on subsequent sprints.
Responsiveness and tactile feel was good here, it required a seemingly normal amount of force (some buttons on some devices can feel a bit hard, but this was good).
As with any product, it’s good to see updates address issues – and that’s no different here. When it came to the product itself, the power accuracy issues were really the only ‘broken’ things during my review. The rest of my review largely focused on things like how it felt riding and the new/higher price point.
Setting aside what I think is crazy-pants pricing across the board from Wahoo/Tacx/TechnoGym for these smart bikes (Stages and Wattbike are more reasonable, with Peloton in a different realm but also even more reasonable), I think that generally speaking the relative placement of price to features is in line. Meaning, you pay more for the Wahoo KICKR Bike V2, and you get more. You pay less for the Stages Bike SB20 or Wattbike ATOM 2020, and you get less. The tricky part is how you value each thing. For example, some people value the Wahoo KICKR Bike gradient simulation (that it goes up/down), yet others don’t care. Equally, some people like the Tacx NEO Bike tray for sticking stuff on the handlebars, others don’t care. And so on.
Broadly speaking, I’d like to see a bit more movement in the Tacx NEO Bike series. Wahoo has a bit more ‘give’ on their bike where it feels a bit more free to move slightly, albeit, that ‘give’ has also resulted in mechanical challenges over the years (primarily the V1 version, areas they focused on addressing in the V2 version). Like I said, always tradeoffs. Be it price, features, or reliability.
In any case, the point of this quick post was to simply update things on where accuracy and steering stood – for those looking to make trainer/smart bike choices for the upcoming winter. However, as I’ve said every single year for the last 15 years: historically speaking, buying a trainer or smart bike in September is generally a poor idea. While companies varied their release cycles during COVID, I think we’re seeing an alignment back to fall releases for new indoor training products. We saw that last year with Wahoo and Elite, and I think that’s kinda where companies want to be as well.
With that – thanks for reading!