DC Rainmaker https://www.dcrainmaker.com Fri, 13 Dec 2019 18:07:14 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.13 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/images/2017/03/dcrainmaker-dc-logo-square-40x40.png DC Rainmaker https://www.dcrainmaker.com 32 32 Fisher-Price Smart Cycle Trainer In-Depth Review https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2019/12/fisher-price-think-learn-smart-trainer-review.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2019/12/fisher-price-think-learn-smart-trainer-review.html#comments Fri, 13 Dec 2019 17:29:01 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=107239 Read More Here ]]> vlcsnap-2019-12-13-15h04m18s639

We have arrived: The pièce de résistance of my five consecutive days of indoor smart trainer reviews. We started the week at $3,500 with the Wahoo KICKR Smart Bike, and yet we’re going to finish the week with an $89 smart trainer that somehow, inexplicably, has more features and broader app compatibility than that bike. No really, I’m not kidding.

I’ve been wanting to review this smart trainer/bike for quite a while, but getting it in Europe is challenging. Sure, Amazon will offer to ship it to you, but that more than triples the price of the bike. Fear not though, that’s what parents are for. I purchased the bike back in October and then suckered my parents into checking the beastly box as their luggage on a trip over in early November. Since then I’ve been testing it thoroughly, along with my two toddlers. The third peanut being only a handful of weeks old hasn’t gained certification to use it yet. Don’t worry, just give her a few more months.

Of course – I know of only one way to review a smart trainer, or an indoor smart bike. And that way I shall review. If you’re a regular here, then you’ll find this review on-point with my normal ones. If however you’ve just landed on this page due to the magic of Google, god help you. You have no idea what you just stepped into.

Getting it assembled:

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This is by far one of the most detailed boxes I’ve seen, externally speaking. Anything you want to know about it, it’s there.

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In total, assembly will take you about 8-10 minutes. Realizing you don’t have the right batteries will take longer. I actually shot a video of this entire thing, which one day might make a full video review.

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But I’ve gotta pickup the kiddos in far less time than it’ll take me to edit it. So, here’s two screenshots.

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Somehow, inexplicably, we didn’t have any AA batteries at the DCR Cave. So we had to find some of those. They go within the battery compartment at the rear of the wheel. It’s not terribly clear how many hours of battery life these will actually last – but we haven’t hit it yet.  Knowing that the device is primarily Bluetooth Smart driven, it should last quite a long time. There are some lights though that are leveraged, which would be a much bigger batter burn.

The Hardware Basics:

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Now that you’ve got it all assembled you’ll need to decide what device you’re going to use to connect with. If you left on the tablet stand, then simply load your tablet into it:

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The twirly knob at the back acts as a lock – however your 2-year old will easily defeat that. So I’d strongly recommend having a case around your tablet. We do, though I didn’t take it out for the photos.

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If using an Apple TV or other device, then you can ignore the tablet bit. Either way, it’ll all connect via Bluetooth Smart. So you’ll want to ensure the bike is actually turned on. That’s the little slider. If the light is green, you’re good to go. The blue light to the left is the active Bluetooth Smart connectivity light:

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The bike will go to sleep after a while if left alone. Because nobody is going to remember to turn it off. Ever.

Once you crack open an individual game, all the controls shift from the iPad or TV to the actual bike itself. This will undoubtedly confuse you and your child numerous times when you just want to tap on the screen. Nothing will happen. The bike has numerous controls:

A) Joystick: Mostly for navigating menus
B) Left handlebar button: Usually select, but also some in-game actions like horn honking
C) Right handlebar button: Also select, but also some in-game actions like jumping
D) Green Nav button: A way to change to different parts of the game, like hitting settings.
E) Steering: Rotating the handlebars steers the bike
F) Pedal: Pedal forward to go forward, backwards to go backwards

Got all that? Good, you’ll still probably try and press the screen. I promise ya.

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On sizing, the unit does feature an adjustable seat-post between three positions:

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However, this mostly adjusts the height of the seat comparative to the ground, and doesn’t seem to considerably shift the leg reach required. Our 2 year old can touch the pedals but not consistently make a rotation, whereas our 3 year old is able to no problems. This of course makes sense given the age range on the box is 3-6 years old.

The crank arms are 90mm, unchangeable.

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Also, one cannot change pedal types. So if you wanted to swap these flats for SPD’s or a Look-KEO cleat, you’re out of luck.

So how loud is this thing? Of course I’m gonna include that type of info. Can’t have a trainer review without it!

As for road-feel (or inertial feel)? It has approximately as much inertial road feel as a paper bag.

And finally, the tablet holder is easily removable:

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Simply press the two side buttons concurrently and then pull it out. It’d be challenging for a child to do it, but easy for an adult.

The App Ecosystem:

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As with all my smart trainer reviews, I detail 3rd party app connectivity as well as sensor functionality. Given that, there’s no smart trainer on the market that includes not only support for as many technology platforms as the Fisher-Price Smart Cycle, but more importantly – actually builds those darn platforms and apps themselves. Don’t believe me. No problem, here’s the list of apps they have:

A) Apple iPad (any size)
B) Android Tablets
C) Amazon Fire Tablets
D) Apple TV (any that support apps)
E) Amazon Fire TV (2nd gen+)
F) Android TV

For comparison, Wahoo merely has an Android and iOS app that simply records your power output. Or, Fisher Price says: “Aww, How cute – your app records numbers! Our app teaches you numbers across half a dozen platforms with graphics that somehow rival Zwift.”

Within this app ecosystem there’s essentially separate apps for each of the different ‘Think and Learn’ apps, which is Fisher Price’s branding for this entire segment. Each app has a them, such as being for STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) or reading, while concurrently having a kid-friendly themed wrapper around it (such as ‘Tech City’ or Barbie).

You’ll have to buy one of these apps, and each are $5 (payable as an in-app purchase via your app store). There’s the following apps:

– Tech City: Focused on letters/spelling/phonics/vocab
– Hot Wheels City: Focused on science, building, physics, counting/addition/subtraction
– Blaze STEM: Focused on math, engineering, science concepts like velocity and basic physics concepts
– Sponge Bob Deep Sea: Primarily focused on ocean animals, but also things like sorting
– Barbie Dreamtopia: This is more on the creative side, with focuses on music and colors, and building things (like track sections)
– Shimmer Shine Math: Counting from 1 to 100, shapes, sequences, number recognition

All of these apps support the Bluetooth Smart interactive integration to the Smart Cycle.

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You can download the apps free of charge, however, once loaded you’ll need to pay to unlock them. Interestingly though, first it requests you to pass an adult test:

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And then you’ll have to authenticate as normal with the app store to complete the purchase:

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In our case I bought a few different ones, but they seemed to enjoy the Tech City and Barbie ones the best. They actually don’t know what Barbie is at all, but they know what cupcakes, small dogs, and rainbows are, so that was a winner.

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Meanwhile, they know what dinosaurs are, so that was also a winner.

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I did find it somewhat curious though that for an entire game built around a bicycle, I haven’t found any actual bicycle avatars. Go-karts, hovercraft, monster trucks, and even drones. But no actual pedaling bicycles.

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Now generally speaking all the games have an educational purpose in life. There are very few modules within the games that are just meandering around doing nothing. You’re doing things like recognizing letters, doing math, or some other learning goal based on the theme of the game.

Here’s a game where the user has to collect the letters of the alphabet one after another:

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Most of this is driven by the steering aspect, which is simply rotating the handlebars – it seems fairly sensitive actually, so there’s a bit of granularity there:

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One nice thing about the games is that they don’t seem overly strict. Meaning, my daughter can happily recite the ABC’s, but doesn’t yet know which actual letters go to those vocal sounds. So while she’s supposed to collect the letters in a certain order, it’ll constantly tweak things so that she doesn’t give up entirely. In other words, it helps you complete the game one way or another.

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Of course, that only goes so far – but as long as you manage to keep pedaling, you’ll eventually end up finishing a module in most cases.

Right now, our kids are at the younger range of the spectrum, so a lot of the details of the games go over their heads. However, some they do understand, and it’s fascinating to see even in a handful of minutes how they quickly figure out what they’re supposed to be doing without much or any big human introductions. Undoubtedly if ones Peanuts were closer to the 4-5 yo range, more of the games would click faster.

Finally, there’s apparently up to 15 levels of each game (and about half a dozen main games, each with about 3-6 mini-games inside them). In other words, there’s far more levels, games, modules than all of Zwift combined. I’m not kidding. You could be like Level 50 on Zwift and still not have found the end of the cupcake Barbie rainbow here.

Zwift & TrainerRoad Integration:

Now technically there’s no direct 3rd party integration with Zwift (however, TrainerRoad is another story). First though, I’ve got buckets of sensors to solve any lack of Zwift integration, and to properly pair up with TrainerRoad. After all, I can’t have my daughters merely knowing how to read and do math equations. We need structured Ironman season-long training plans at age 2 and 3.

The challenge is that the Smart Cycle completely ignores the industry standards for speed, cadence, and power transmission. Here, let me recap:

ANT+ Power Meter Device Profile: Nope
ANT+ Speed or Cadence Device Profile: Negative
ANT+ Trainer Control (FE-C) Device Profile: Nuttin
Bluetooth Smart Power Meter Device Profile: Zilch
Bluetooth Smart Speed or Cadence Device Profile: Proprietary speed only, no cadence data
Bluetooth Smart Trainer Control (FTMS) Device Profile: Zero effs given

Feat not, I can solve this problem. Well, some of them anyway. Unfortunately, the pedals on the Smart Cycle don’t follow any industry standards for attachment, so I can’t just pedal-wrench on a pair of PowerTap or Vector pedals. And the ‘flywheel’ doesn’t technically move. The bottom bracket would be actually semi-viable with enough hot glue and sharp objects, had all the bottom bracket power meter companies not gone out of business.

So instead, I decided to go old school style: A magnetless speed sensor.

If you remember back to the day prior to smart trainers, most people were using basic trainers with a speed sensor on it. That sensor then transmitted speed to the app and the app had a power curve for that given trainer. It translated the speed into a power value. It was hardly perfect, but it’s still used today.

So I grabbed a pair of sensors. First off, no self-respecting cyclist parent is gonna let their kid train without a cadence sensor. So I tossed that on the left-hand crank:

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But the speed sensor is trickier. It’s normally designed to go on a wheel hub, rotating over itself constantly. The wheel doesn’t rotate on the Smart Cycle, and using it vertical like a cadence sensor doesn’t net any speed. However, turns out I can place it just fine on the other crank and it still seems to work without issue, giving me MPH/KPH. I did find that while it worked oriented just like the cadence sensor, that it seemed to reach higher speeds when placed on the end of the crank. If you wanted to commit to leaving the sensor there permanently, you could remove the rubber casing and just leave the inner plastic bit permanently epoxy’d to the crank arm.

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So first up was loading up TrainerRoad. The Peanut’s been listening to Coach Chad lately on the Podcast, and after totally ignoring his advise about Stroopwafels, she’s ready to get a hard workout in. So I pair up the speed and cadence sensor using Bluetooth Smart on an iPad:

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Then, I select to use VirtualPower, which uses the speed and a known power curve to determine wattage:

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With VirtualPower you need to select a known trainer type. No problem, from the brand I choose Fisher Price:

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And then I select my trainer:

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It has a known power curve for this smart trainer loaded into it, allowing a little-human to throw-down the wattage to compete with their bigger human peeps. With that – she was ready to begin the DCR 30×30 accuracy test:

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Unfortunately, it’s at that moment her sister came around with a Stroopwafel and all bets were off. Waffle 1, TrainerRoad 0.

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Getting things back on track, it was over to Zwift on Apple TV. First was the task of getting everything paired up. I had to fight the app numerous times to stop trying to pair to all my smart trainers and running power meters nearby. But eventually I convinced it to stick on the speed sensor:

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Next, I had to choose a wheel size. Zwift only allows a few variants here, and I tried a few variants, but it didn’t seem to have too much of an impact on the end-state watch. The challenge here is that ideally I’d want to totally tweak this to be right-sized.

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Next I’ve gotta choose a trainer. Surprisingly, choosing ‘unknown’ actually works reasonably well. In theory you’d want to choose a trainer that has an unusually low speed to power ration (power curve), but I don’t know of one off-hand.

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And with that, I was ready to race. I mean, The Peanut was ready to race:

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For realz, this actually works. If you use the default (unlisted) trainer, then most pedaling at normal toddler (or even adult) speeds nets you about 50-80w of power, not really enough to compete since you’re only going 8-15MPH depending on cadence.

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I tried toying with the wheel-size using the Garmin Connect Mobile app, but it appears that Zwift ignores that and applies its own wheel-size (that you’re forced to select), else the handicapping system would have worked better.

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Ideally Zwift would simply implement the Fisher Price trainer power curve like TrainerRoad did. After all, Zwift does have a Schwinn legit smart tricycle trainer in their lobby:

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In any event, The Peanut did quite like the concept  of racing against me on the bike, but did seem to prefer just using her rainbow course instead of Watopia. Sorta like concurrently riding TrainerRoad and Watopia to get XP’s…errr…Drops.

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Of note is that in the event you want to create your nut their own Zwift profile, the minimum weight you can enter for a rider is 99 pounds (44.9KG), with a minimum age of 14 years, and a minimum height of 4ft (1.22m).

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This does mean that their W/KG translation will definitely be far out of whack. But hey, that doesn’t seem to stop a bunch of racers in Zwift either.

Accuracy Testing:

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Normally I test trainers for power meter accuracy. However, the Smart Cycle lacks a power meter, or any power metrics. Something about trying to keep things fun or something.

But it does have a speed sensor via cadence. Technically it’s measuring cadence to drive the speed calculation. But I was curious – how accurate was that measurement? Or, more specifically, how granular was it?

Turns out…not very granular.

Best I can tell there’s 3 levels of speed. Meaning, no matter how fast you pedal it’ll fall into one of three buckets:

– Slow
– Medium
– Fast

It’s entirely plausible Medium and Fast are the same bucket in some portions of the app – there’s no way to tell since speed isn’t shown in any games I’ve found yet. The closest I can get to that is by trying the ‘Jump’ module within the Blaze app, which teaches you about “velocity”:

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Based on extensive jumps, I’ve plotted the speed curve as follows:

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And thus concludes the accuracy section of this review.

Product Comparison:

Naturally, I’ve loaded the Fisher Price Smart Cycle into the product comparison database. Given it’s a full featured bike (versus just a standalone trainer), I’ve slated it up against the Wahoo KICKR Bike, Tacx NEO Bike Smart, and Wattbike Atom. Obviously, those are all its natural market competitors. Note that you can make your own comparison chart to see how it stacks up against your own trainer, such as a Wahoo KICKR or Elite Direto, within the product comparison database.

Function/FeatureFisher-Price Smart CycleTacx NEO Bike SmartWahoo KICKR BikeWattbike Atom
Copyright DC Rainmaker - Updated December 13th, 2019 @ 11:21 amNew Window Expand table for more results
Price for trainer$89$3,199$3,499~$2,500USD
Availability regionsMostly USGlobalLimited InitiallyUK/South Africa/Australia/Scandinavia/USA
Power cord requiredNo (coin cell battery)NoYesYes
Flywheel weightRoughly 2.2LBS/1KGSimulated/Virtual 125KG13bs/5.9kgs9.28KG/20.4lbs
Can electronically control resistance (i.e. 200w)NoYesYesYes
Includes motor to drive speed (simulate downhill)Not exactlyYesYesNo
Maximum wattage capabilityN/A2,200w @ 40KPH2,200w @ 40KPH2,000w
Maximum simulated hill inclineAll the hills25%20% (and -15% downhill)25%
Ability to update unit firmwareMaybeYesYesYes
Measures/Estimates Left/Right PowerNoYesNoYes

And don’t forget you can make your own comparison charts here.

Summary:

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For the money, there’s no smart trainer on the market which delivers as much functionality as the Fisher Price Smart Cycle. App compatibility across virtually every larger-format screen you can think of, half a dozen themed apps with dozens of modules (courses) between them, and more alphabet games than there are letters. Now I know my ABC’s for sure.

Hardware-wise it appears well built. Even as an adult I could sit on the bike and it didn’t feel like it was going to fall apart. Albeit, I was unable to get my legs in the right position to pedal unless I used an accessory chair. Plus, neither the KICKR Bike or NEO Bike can steer, or go in reverse. Also, neither have horns or bouncy options.

About the only downside would be the global availability – it’s mostly restricted to the US/Canada unless you can find an importer. The Amazon Europe sites all offer it, but they also add hundreds of dollars of shipping costs. Maybe there’s a business model for bringing in containers of these bikes to sell to athletic DCR reading parents. What triathlete cave wouldn’t be complete without this?

With that – thanks for reading!

Found this review useful? Or just want to save 10%? Here’s how:

Hopefully you found this review useful. At the end of the day, I’m an athlete just like you looking for the most detail possible on a new purchase – so my review is written from the standpoint of how I used the device. The reviews generally take a lot of hours to put together, so it’s a fair bit of work (and labor of love). As you probably noticed by looking below, I also take time to answer all the questions posted in the comments – and there’s quite a bit of detail in there as well.

I’ve partnered with Clever Training to offer all DC Rainmaker readers exclusive benefits on all products purchased. Unfortunately, Clever Training doesn’t carry the Smart Cycle. So Amazon is the only option there. But, if you want to buy other big person trainers, you can read more about the benefits of this partnership here. That way you can pickup your own smart trainer through Clever Training using the links in those reviews. By doing so, you not only support the site (and all the work I do here) – but you also get to enjoy the significant partnership benefits that are just for DC Rainmaker readers. And, if your order ends up more than $79, you get free US shipping as well.

Fisher Price Smart Cycle Trainer (US – Amazon)

Thanks for reading! And as always, feel free to post comments or questions in the comments section below, I’ll be happy to try and answer them as quickly as possible.

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Kinetic R1 Smart Trainer In-Depth Review https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2019/12/kinetic-r1-smart-trainer-review.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2019/12/kinetic-r1-smart-trainer-review.html#comments Thu, 12 Dec 2019 20:26:18 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=107125 Read More Here ]]> DSC_9840

It’s been 16 months since the Kinetic R1 was first announced at Interbike 2018. That was back when Interbike still existed. Since then, Interbike has dissolved, Kinetic started shipping the R1, then stopped for half a year, then resumed again this past summer. Also, TikTok is apparently a thing now and has nothing to do with the sounds of time passing by delayed trainers.

The R1 is Kinetic’s first go of a direct drive trainer. While the company rode the wheel-on trainer bus far longer than almost anyone else (and quite well too), that era is slowly fading away. Certainly the company could have just created a standard direct drive trainer like anyone else, but they decided to incorporate one of their marque features: Side to side tilting, or in Kinetic parlance – rock ‘n rolling. The R1 borrowed that function from the company’s past “Rock & Roll” series of trainers which had a beastly tilting frame that gave such a motion as you pedaled away, especially in sprints.

But, as Kinetic has learned over the past year – the trainer bar has been raised. Trainers are now quiet, and consumers demand more accuracy than ever before. In fact, that’s been a core struggle for the R1 since its re-release this past summer: Firmware update after firmware update promised to fix issues, with each successive update fixing one issue only to cause another. Last week the company released what they believe is the most accurate firmware update yet – 2.40. So, once again I updated the R1 and completed all the required ancillary steps. With the intent that this time one way or another, this review was going out today before the clock struck midnight and Cinderella turned into a green pumpkin.

Note that Kinetic sent over a media loaner of the R1 to try out. As usual around these parts once I’m done with it here I’ll get it boxed up and sent back to them. If you find this review useful you can hit up the links at the end of the post to help support the site.

What’s in the box:

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I’m always excited when I get a new box design. Not so much the exterior, but rather the interior. And as you’ll see – Kinetic’s interior is definitely different than the others. In this case though, different is good.

Once you crack it open you’ll find three large blocks of cardboard. GPLama selected to use these as podcast dampening panels in his office. I might let the kids use them to cushion their landing jumping off furniture they shouldn’t be climbing on. Either way, they keep the entire assembly neatly in place while also being recyclable.

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Remove those things and you’ll find the R1 chillin’ there protected by a plastic bag, which you can remove as well:

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Meanwhile, there was a small side box in there that you took out. That’s got all this stuff in it:

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That would be the:

A) Power supply
B) Incredibly well illustrated manual
C) Extra cadence sensor
D) Promo stuffs for 3rd party apps

In addition, as of Nov 24th, Kinetic is also including an 11-speed cassette in the box. At some point in the next few months they’ll work to get that actually pre-installed, but hey – including it in the box is way better than not including it at all. In my case, I was pre that date, so I just went out and bought another. By now Wiggle assumes I’m laundering in cassettes.

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Here’s a closer look at some of those boxed pieces:

Oh right, I didn’t show the trainer yet. Look – it’s totally assembled out of the box:

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With that, we’re done on box shots. And it’s time to get it setup and using it.

The Basics:

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So now that we’ve got the trainer sitting there it’s time to get the cassette on. As noted earlier, in my case I just went out and bought a cassette. But these days it should be coming with one. Though it’s plausible that relatively new change is taking a little bit of time for all retailers to implement. And as I earlier mentioned, right now it won’t yet come pre-installed.

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So I went to my drawer of cassettes and found a previously loved one that I took off a trainer I had shipped back a few days prior, and got all the tools I needed. Now’s a good time to note that the quick release skewer comes pre-installed in the hub (seen above). Meaning, you’ll need to take that out to install a cassette.

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To install a cassette, you’ll need two tools. A lockring tool (or lockring + a wrench, in my case), and a chain whip. In this case, you need the chainwhip since you can’t get a good grasp on the flywheel.

The entire process only takes 2-3 minutes tops – super quick and easy …again, assuming you have the tools.

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Once installed it should look roughly like this:

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Next, you’ll need to circle back to that baggie of parts and find the correct adapter or quick release skewer for your bike. Or not. Because unless you did something horrifically wrong on the previous step, you’ll have just removed that quick release skewer. Assuming you didn’t lose it in the last 90 seconds, go ahead and stick it in. Or, if you’ve got a thru-axle bike, then put those adapters in instead.

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Next, grab the power cable. Here’s what that looks like:

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In my case, I did a quick arts and crafts project so I could figure out which power block is which in a few months:

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I’ve gotta ask – why is that not a *single* indoor trainer maker can find a way to label their power blocks so that we know what it’s for months or years later when it gets separated from its trainer as it always does eventually? Can’t someone just stick a sticker on it at the factory? This isn’t picking on Kinetic – as everyone else is exactly the same. Even the $3,500 Wahoo KICKR Bike and $3,200 TACX NEO Bike don’t have logos on the bricks. Granted, they are literally bigger than bricks. So I suppose it’s harder to screw that one up.

In any event, plug it in:

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You’ll see that USB port sitting there. Don’t worry, it’s not used for anything. Well, at least not any of the major apps.

I think PerfPro was or is using it, but Zwift and others aren’t. Which is too bad, as the idea that Kinetic had was that in wireless-dense areas where dropouts are of concern (or security of data, such as an esports event), that you could used the wired connection instead. Unfortunately, nothing has come of it.

Once you’ve got everything plugged in, you’ll go ahead and mount your bike to it:

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After that you’ll want to update the firmware. Definitely update the firmware (I talk about that in the next section). And then you’ll want to do their 20-minute calibration procedure. The company says you’ll only need to do this longer procedure once, using their app. It’s easy, but not quick – as the name implies.

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You simply pedal aimlessly for 20 minutes, and then at the end of it you’ll spin up to 25MPH and coast down.

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At that point the company says any future calibrations can be done using the shorter spin-up/coast down calibration procedure. Also, calibrations are stored on the trainer. So if you do a calibration using the Kinetic App, then the calibration values will also be applied for 3rd party apps like TrainerRoad or Zwift.

Before we go into a bunch of other details – note that the Kinetic R1 actually has the ability to ride without power. You’ll have noticed that option right below the calibrate button in the left-most screenshot above. The way it works is that you need to specify the ‘position’ that the trainer’s resistance unit will stay in, once powered off. At which point you’ll ‘lock’ that position in 5 unit increments between 0 and 100 (though, I can’t find any documentation on exactly what those units translate to):

2019-12-12 16.53.35

Of course, using it without power implies either an impending apocalyptic trainer ride, or that you’re planning to travel with it. The R1 definitely isn’t light – in fact, it’s one of the heaviest (if not the heaviest) trainers out there. But it does have a handle on it for moving it around, which helps:

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Also, the legs fold under it.

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You’ll simply loosen the two screws at the back using your thumbs and then it’ll allow the legs to swing open or closed:

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Given the R1 is a smart trainer, it’ll change resistance automatically in a few different ways, primarily driven by different applications/methods.  But most of this all boils down to two core methods:

ERG Mode: Setting a specific power level – i.e., 230w.  In this mode, no matter what gearing you use, the trainer will simply stay at 230w (or whatever you set it to).
Simulation Mode: Simulating a specific outdoor grade – i.e., 7% incline. In this mode, it’s just like outdoors in that you can change your gearing to make it easier or harder.  Wattage is not hard-set, only incline levels.

In the case of simulation (aka slope) mode, the R1 can simulate from 0% to 20% incline – which is slightly above the competitors in this sub-$1,000 price point (crazy to say that, as even a year ago these specs at this price would have been huge). The Elite Direto X goes to 18%, the Saris H3 goes to 20%, the Wahoo KICKR CORE simulates up to 16%, while the Tacx Flux 2 is 16% as well. Honestly, there’s little reason most of this matters if you use the defaults in Zwift, because it automatically halves the values anyway. A 10% grade feels like a 5% grade. You need to change the ‘Trainer Difficulty’ level to 100% in order to feel it (and most people don’t bother to).

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The second mode the trainer has is ERG mode.  In that case, the company says up to 2,000w of resistance. Although, realistically, you don’t care about that. I can only barely (maybe) break 1,000w for a second or two, and even most front of the non-pro pack cyclists aren’t going to top 1,800w.  The pros would only be just a bit beyond that.  Said differently: Peak numbers in this competition don’t matter.  Instead, what matters is actually a harder metric to make clear – which is the ability to simulate high grades and lower speeds (especially if you’re a heavier cyclist).

I’ll cover all the ERG mode accuracy bits down below, including timing of responsiveness seen in this test:

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We’ll talk more about accuracy later on in the accuracy section – so what about road feel?

Like I always say – for me personally, it’s hard to separate the fact that I’m riding indoors from outdoors. It’s still a trainer, and I’m still looking at a wall in front of me.  My brain can only turn off so much of that.  Still, much of the road-like feel is driven by the flywheel, and be it physical or virtual, flywheel sizes tend to be measured in weight.  This impacts inertia and how it feels – primarily when you accelerate or otherwise change acceleration (such as briefly coasting).

All that prefacing done, the Kinetic R1 has reasonably good road feel. Not quite KICKR level, primarily around larger accelerations and decelerations, but for subtle shifts it responds well.

Except – that’d be ignoring the marquee feature of the R1, which is the side to side swaying (rocking). The entirety of the trainer will rock from side to side – essentially just like that of the Kinetic Rock & Roll base that they’ve had for years. The difference though is that this isn’t a detachable base like it was then. The entire structure is built from the ground up as a cohesive direct drive trainer that tilts. I’ll show you it in a second in a quick video snippet, but here’s a glimpse of the range of the tilt:

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Now to my surprise, it’s actually really hard to tip this thing over. In trying other tilty-type devices recently (and even some less than optimal trainers), it’s somewhat easy for a tall person on a tall bike to tip it. But not this. It might feel like it will, but it won’t. You can see how it tilts as you get on it – which takes a few tries to get used to as it tilts towards you:

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Once upright it should stay centered. Unlike the Rock & Roll series where you had a small adjustment screw, any left or right incorrect leanings are actually just adjusted with the feet:

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I’ve found that once you get on it, as long as it’s pretty close – then give it a minute or two of pedaling before you make any adjustments. For whatever reason I’ve found after I’ve relocated it that it seems to take a short bit of time to ‘settle’. Once in a static spot there aren’t any issues here. Usually just a simple single rotation of either of the left or right castors will solve the issue and get you nice and straight.

Now it’s easy to want to show this in a full out sprint. That’s what most people do – and sure, I’ll show you that too. But the real benefit for the R1 as well as rocker plates is that very subtle movement on long trainer workouts. Trek did a study around it and showing how much pressure that little bit of movement helps with over time (primarily on your butt). Which makes sense. Outside, your body is constantly compensating for slight changes due to the bike moving. But indoors on a rock of a trainer/bike, it doesn’t.

Here’s a quick clip of some of that movement from a few different angles:

As for sound? As you just heard, it’s not silent. Not even close. In fact, I think it’s probably the loudest trainer I’ve tested in 2019. It’s based on ‘older’ belt design, which is what ‘contributes’ to that voluminous sound:

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This trainer is also louder than your average fan by a long shot – so the typical mantra of ‘well, my fan is louder’, doesn’t apply here. Hopefully they can re-design the belt for 2020 (which would de a totally different unit though, as it was for Wahoo and Saris when they redesigned theirs). I suppose assuming that R1 means ‘Release 1’, that such a new trainer would be an R2. Though I suspect the earliest we’d see anything like that is Eurobike 2020 (late next August).

App Compatibility:

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The Kinetic R1 follows all of the industry norms as you’d expect from a smart trainer  As you probably know, apps like Zwift, TrainerRoad, SufferFest, Rouvy, Kinomap and many more all support most of these industry standards, making it easy to use whatever app you’d like.  If trainers or apps don’t support these standards, then it makes it far more difficult for you as the end user.

Though interestingly – the road to get to this point for the R1 was rather long. They started off on a different communications platform than most other companies, and with that they had to deal with a long list of early teething compatibility problems. These weren’t directly Kinetic’s fault – and in fact, one might argue they were paving the way for others. Still, it undoubtedly hurt them early on. Today though as a consumer (or even an industry insider), you’d never notice.

The R1 transmits data on both ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart, as well as allowing interactive resistance control across both ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart.  By applying resistance control, apps can simulate climbs as well as set specific wattage targets.

The unit supports the following protocols and transmission standards:

ANT+ FE-C (Trainer Control): This is for controlling the trainer via ANT+ from apps and head units (with cadence/power data). Read tons about it here.
ANT+ Power Meter Profile: This broadcasts as a standard ANT+ power meter, with cadence data
Bluetooth Smart Power Meter Profile: This broadcasts as a standard BLE power meter, with cadence data
Bluetooth Smart FTMS (Trainer Control): This allows apps to control the trainer over Bluetooth Smart (with cadence/power data)

Note that the cadence was initially in the R1 firmware, then removed, but it’s back now as of firmware 2.40 (which is what this review is based on).  Between all these standards you can basically connect to anything and everything you’d ever want to. Be it a bike computer or watch, or an app – it’ll be supported.

In the above, you’ll note there’s cadence data baked into the various streams. That’s handy if you’re connecting to Zwift on an Apple TV, due to Apple TV’s two concurrent Bluetooth Smart sensor limitation (plus the Apple TV remote).  This means you can pair the trainer and get power/cadence/control, while also pairing up a heart rate strap. Kinetic also ships in the box a cadence sensor – though I suspect they’ll stop doing that soon. To spoil a portion of my accuracy section later on, I see no issues with cadence accuracy on firmware 2.40.

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For me, in my testing, I used Zwift and TrainerRoad as my two main apps (which are the two main apps I use personally).  In the case of Zwift, I used it in regular riding mode (non-workout mode, aka SIM mode) as well as ERG mode (workout mode). Whereas in the case of TrainerRoad I used it in a structured workout mode (ERG mode). I dig into the nuances of these both within the power accuracy section.

Starting with Zwift, you can see the Kinetic R1 listed as not just a controllable trainer, but also within the regular power meter and cadence section. You’ll want to pair it up as a controllable trainer (which will also pair it as a power meter):

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You’ll see the trainer enumerated in a fairly similar manner on TrainerRoad as well:

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Also, TrainerRoad’s tips page on using smart trainers in ERG mode:

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I’d *strongly* recommend you either read that page, or just simply do two things:

A) Calibrate the Kinetic R1: No seriously, you absolutely positively must do this for the R1. For realz.
B) Ensure you’re using the small ring up front: This is for ERG mode specifically, shift into the small ring to get better control

As far as calibration goes, you can complete it easily from some apps. It worked for me in TrainerRoad on an iPad, but not in Zwift over Bluetooth Smart (Apple TV). You’ll see either a calibration prompt in the app (like TrainerRoad). For example, here it is doing the spin-down within TrainerRoad on an iPad using Bluetooth Smart:

2019-12-12 16.09.10 2019-12-12 16.09.17 2019-12-12 16.09.28

It’s super easy to do, you just pedal a bit fast for a moment until it reaches a given threshold speed, and then you stop pedaling. It’s going to measure how long it takes to coast to a stop. Super easy.

Next, Kinetic does have their own app as well – which includes both a free tier and a paid tier. I just used the free tier, which is where you can update the firmware as well as calibrate the trainer. Additionally, it allows you to do some basic workouts for free too. Starting off with the firmware update piece, you’ll find the Kinetic R1 chilling in the list of nearby sensors:

2019-12-12 10.52.35 2019-12-12 10.52.40

From there you can choose to update the firmware by pressing that green ‘Update Firmware’ box. I did find that sometimes this whole page was a bit finicky. It seemed to hinge on whether or not the app thought it had positive control over the trainer. Meaning that sometimes it would connect, but wouldn’t enumerate the device information section correctly. That usually corresponded with the ‘Has Control’ box not toggling when I requested it.

To solve that, I found that some unpredictable combination of putting my phone into airplane mode, killing/closing the app, and unplugging the trainer seemed to fix it. In other words, the same steps you take for just about every other connected smart device on the planet.

Once you’ve pressed the firmware update button, it’ll walk you through those steps – takes perhaps 2-3 minutes to complete, after which you’ll notice the firmware version is updated – in my case to 2.40 (the latest as of this writing).

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And finally, as noted earlier, their app actually has a ton of workouts in it, roughly 60 or so:

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Very few other companies have this much in it for free. If you want to pay their $9.99/month subscription, then you’ll also unlock training plans, 200 more workouts, custom workouts, support for other trainer companies, and the ability to stream YouTube Playlists, local videos, and Dropbox videos within the app framework. Again, I only used the free version, but still, they’ve done a solid job sticking a lot of things in here:

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You also get recorded workout history details too, and the ability to share it with all the apps you see above as well as iCloud and Dropbox (I connected my iCloud account to have the files end up there). Ok, with that, let’s talk accuracy.

Power Accuracy:

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Sigh.

Just sigh.

What sucks about writing this portion of the review is that all you need to know is in one word two lines above. But of course, I can’t just write that. Instead, I’ll detail just as I do on accuracy.

But it’s worth noting this is hardly my first go at this. In fact, I’ve been making goes at this for months now. Other people have been making goes at this since summer. One way or another, firmware update after another, things just aren’t accurate. Back in August it was overshooting sprints by hundreds of watts. Then they fixed that but undercut any decelerations, so you’d get mean/max graphs like this:

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That’s 50w lower than the other power meters.

Along the way they re-introduced cadence measurement (woot), and also added a new calibration procedure (meh). On firmware back in early November that calibration procedure made a massive amount of difference to point in time accuracy. A near 50 watt shift. The Yelp review of the calibration procedure would say: Must do, would ride again!

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But it didn’t fix the deceleration issues. That was supposed to be fixed in 2.40 – the most recent firmware released about a week ago. So I got that updated today and then did the 20 minute calibration procedure again, to exacting instructions using their app.

2019-12-12 12.01.14 2019-12-12 12.01.37

And then, I did my usual TrainerRoad 30×30 test.

But before that, note that over this testing period I’ve tested with three different configurations across two different bikes:

Canyon Config #1: PowerTap P2 dual pedals, Quarq DZero Power Meter
Canyon Config #2: Favero Assioma Duo pedals, Quarq DZero Power Meter
Giant Config #1: Garmin Vector 3 dual pedals, Stages LR dual-sided Power Meter

Ok, back to the 30×30 test. This test measures responsiveness as well as accuracy. The goal being to see how quickly a trainer can shift between a high and low wattage level repeatedly. In this case the 30×30’s have a recovery interval of roughly 150w, with a work interval of 428w. So…off I went, rinse and repeat over and over again:

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Starting off with the easy part – responsiveness. The trainer actually hit this no problem. Ignoring the first set where the higher wattage caught me by surprise (more on that in a second), the R1 easily hit the target wattage within 3 seconds each time. That’s pretty much exactly where I want to see things.

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So kudos there. And for the most part if I could keep my cadence steady, it also kept things pretty even too. But as you can see two screenshots above, I wasn’t quite as steady as when I usually do this test. As noted, it calls for me hitting 428w and holding it for 30 seconds. Over and over again. On most days that’s not a problem for the 8 reps I have (15 or 20 reps might be different).

But on this day I thought it was weird that I found the power a fair bit harder than I thought it should be. Not ‘gonna die right now’ harder, but more of a ‘Really, am I that much of a slacker?’ harder.

So, let’s turn to the numbers to find out why. Here’s the data compared against the Favero Assioma Duo pedals and the Quarq DZero power meter:

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Holy balls. It was underreading by upwards of 50w! Meaning, the trainer thought it was doing 428w, when in reality it was in the 480’s! No wonder my legs were grumbling. You’ll see a bit of variance between the Favero and Quarq. I’ve been having issues with the left leg on the Favero reading low lately, and thought it was fixed so I brought them back into service today, but clearly it’s not fixed yet. No big deal, the Quarq is dependable as ever, and you can see the break-out in the left/right graph showing the lower than normal Assioma left. Back into the desk he goes.

Of course, as the intervals wore on, I was having a tougher and tougher time. The gap at some points was 75w+, with the Quarq occasionally touching 500w versus the usual 428w.

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Now this test was done right after the calibration period, which was 22 minutes all-in. Plus I did some other easy pedaling before this too for a few mins. And I re-calibrated the other power meters again too. According to every bit of documentation I have, this should have been as perfect a setup as possible for the R1 to succeed. Also note that I recorded the signal on both ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart channels and it was identical.

Oh – and before we move on, cadence was perfectly fine:

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There’s two points it briefly drops out on the ANT+ signal, but stays perfectly accurate on the Bluetooth Smart signal – so that tells me it’s just some random transient wireless thing. Happens.

So with that test done I headed off to Zwift to check on SIM mode, which is regular simulation mode. I thought perhaps there’s some weird ERG mode accuracy quirk. It’s something I actually saw a few years back on the Elite Drivo early on. They fixed it quickly, but it’s a core reason why I always test across multiple control types.

In this test I rode the Zwift Titan’s Grove loop starting in the desert and back around again. This is a great test ground because you get high flywheel speeds throughout the flats of the desert, followed by the non-stop rollers of the climbing Titan’s portion, and then a few sprints tossed in too. Here’s that data set:

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Appropriately, the green line is the Kinetic. As you can see, it’s well below the others approximately the entire time. I was still doubting my legs as I did the first sprint. As I spun through the sprint line I appeared to struggle to hit my usual sprint powers. Sure, I just had been slayed by my 30×30’s, plus the calibration ride before that – but surely I could manage at least 750-800w?

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Nope. All I got out of that according to the R1 was a mere 600w. Frustrated I re-grouped again for a few seconds, which the R1 entirely dropped my power to zero watts, and then gave it another go. It barely broke 600w.

My actual power? Just about 800w on the dot. Right where I thought it felt like.

As we continue through this set the story is repeated, just at varying intensities. Every once in a while it gets close, but usually it’s 20-50w low. The entire ride I’m sitting there demotivated trying to figure things out.

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Sure, I was loosely watching the other GPS units recording the Favero and Quarq, but I figured it was just showing things slightly latent. It’s not till you get the full chart loaded up that you realize how bad it was. One of these days I’ll get some sort of system to show me these charts in real-time on a big screen TV or something. Until then, I’ll suffer the entire workout….for you.

Where it gets even worse is the non-stop rollers later in the route. Every time I’d crest a hill I’d get double-hosed. First, I get hosed by the fact that I didn’t get credit for my wattage. And then second, I’d get hosed because the R1 would bottom-out the power, meaning it went far lower than I actually went. Talk about getting kicked when you’re down.

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Finally, for my finishing act I decided three more sprints were in order. Because…I needed an excuse to start drinking. I don’t know.

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Seems pretty clear that didn’t work out well – I got shorted nearly 200w on each one.

I don’t know what to say at this point. I’m sure Kinetic would ask that I retest again, perhaps something went wrong with calibration. But how many times have I done that now? And that’s ignoring the months I waited for them to get their house in order.

If it was a simple firmware update that I could make, and then immediately see the results – it’d be one thing. But it’s not. It’s a firmware update followed by a 20-minute calibration ride. And then I can see the results. After which I’d still need to get in both Zwift and TrainerRoad rides again to cover both SIM and ERG mode.

I think I’ve given things more than their fair share here to get themselves sorted out. I know the Kinetic folks are trying hard, but I just don’t think they have the expertise to solve this problem. Everything seems to be two steps forward, one step back. Or two steps forward, 28 steps to the side. Each successive firmware update fixes one problem to break something else. Though, on the bright side – cadence is looking pretty good these days.

(Note: All of the charts in these accuracy portions were created using the DCR Analyzer tool.  It allows you to compare power meters/trainers, heart rate, cadence, speed/pace, GPS tracks and plenty more. You can use it as well for your own gadget comparisons, more details here.)

Trainer Comparisons:

I’ve added the Kinetic R1 ($949) into the product comparison database, where you can compare it to any trainer that I’ve reviewed or have in the DCR Cave. For the purposes of below, I’ve slated it up against the Wahoo KICKR Core ($899), Tacx Flux 2 ($899), Saris H3 ($999), and The Elite Direto X ($899). Or basically, the least expensive direct drive options for each of the brands. Of course, you can mix and match and create your own product comparison chart in the product comparison tables here. And of course, my complete Winter 2019-2020 Trainer Recommendations Guide as well.

Function/FeatureKinetic R1Elite Direto XTacx Flux 2Wahoo Fitness KICKR CORESaris H3 (CycleOps Hammer 3)
Copyright DC Rainmaker - Updated December 12th, 2019 @ 3:32 pmNew Window Expand table for more results
Price for trainer$949$899$899USD/€799$899$999
Trainer TypeDirect DriveDirect Drive (No Wheel)Direct Drive (no wheel)Direct Drive (No Wheel)Direct Drive (no wheel)
Available today (for sale)Ships Nov 1st, 2018YesYEsYesYes
Wired or Wireless data transmission/controlWireless & WiredWirelessWirelessWirelessWireless
Power cord requiredNoYes (no control w/o)YesYesYes
Flywheel weight14.0lbs/6.3kg4.2KG/9.2LBS7.6kg (simulated 32.1kg)12.0lbs/5.44kgs20lb/9kg
Maximum wattage capability2,000w2,100w @ 40KPH / 3,250w @ 60KPH2,000w @ 40KPH1800w2,000w
Maximum simulated hill incline20%18%16%16%20%
Measures/Estimates Left/Right PowerNo9EUR one-time feeNoNoNo
Can rise/lower bike or portion thereofNoNoNoWith KICKR CLIMB accessoryNo

And again, remember you can make your own comparison charts here for all trainers I’ve reviewed.

Summary:

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The Kinetic R1 trainer is on paper the trainer that everyone wants to ride. The whole notion of movement – be it large or small – while riding indoors will undoubtedly shift closer and closer to center stage over the coming years. Having it integrated into a trainer makes a ton of sense. Having reasonably good inertial road feel atop that is even better. Recent inclusion of a cassette as well as a drop in price make this unit super compelling – again, on paper.

However, I don’t live in a paper world. In my world how the trainer actually works matters. And while the motion aspects work really well to give that subtle movement feeling, the accuracy side of the house just can’t stick the landing. And that’s before we talk about noise. This is most definitely a garage trainer. You can’t ride this in the same room as someone else watching TV (no really, I tried, my wife gave up after 5 minutes and left). A few years ago that would have been fine, but this is 2019 going on 2020, I’m pretty sure this is the loudest trainer I’ve tested this year – by far.

I suspect, rather, I really want, Kinetic to sort out the accuracy issues here. But I just don’t know how long that’s going to take. Perhaps it’ll be a magic bullet next week. But it almost might not be till next year. Perhaps something just went wrong in my calibration this time that didn’t happen last time. I don’t know. But, if I of all people can’t get it to work – what are the chances you can?

Thanks for reading.

Found this review useful? Or just want to save 10%? Here’s how:

Hopefully you found this review useful. At the end of the day, I’m an athlete just like you looking for the most detail possible on a new purchase – so my review is written from the standpoint of how I used the device. The reviews generally take a lot of hours to put together, so it’s a fair bit of work (and labor of love). As you probably noticed by looking below, I also take time to answer all the questions posted in the comments – and there’s quite a bit of detail in there as well.

I’ve partnered with Clever Training to offer all DC Rainmaker readers exclusive benefits on all products purchased. You can read more about the benefits of this partnership here. You can pick up the Kinetic R1 trainer through Clever Training using the links below. By doing so, you not only support the site (and all the work I do here) – but you also get to enjoy the significant partnership benefits that are just for DC Rainmaker readers. And, if your order ends up more than $49, you get free US shipping as well.

For European/Australian/New Zealand readers, you can also pickup the R1 via Wiggle at the links below, which helps support the site too!

Kinetic R1 Smart Trainer (Clever Training – Save 10% with DCR10BTF)
Kinetic R1 Smart Trainer (EU/UK – Wiggle)

Thanks for reading! And as always, feel free to post comments or questions in the comments section below, I’ll be happy to try and answer them as quickly as possible.

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Fascinating Stats from Strava’s 2019 Year End Report https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2019/12/fascinating-stravas-2019-annual-report.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2019/12/fascinating-stravas-2019-annual-report.html#comments Wed, 11 Dec 2019 20:24:54 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=106925 Read More Here ]]> DSC_9822

Ahh yes, December – time for eggnog, pepernoten, and Strava’s year end report. But yes, of course, I’ll once again point out that the report technically only covers data from Oct 1st, 2018 to Sept 30th, 2019. I think for Christmas this year I’m going to send Strava a calendar to explain how years work. Probably this one, as I can’t find anything more perfect. Oh snap, except this one – it’s amazing! Wait, there’s a calendar of sloths? Still, despite Strava apparently having a imerologiophobia, the report is full of actual sports tech information – including devices, bikes, and shoes.

(I really will send Strava a calendar, further suggestions welcome in the comments.)

And in fact, I think this may be one of Strava’s best reports yet. Up till now they’ve always held back on some tidbits of data. For example – they never talked about how specific brands fared, always hesitant to upset the partnership apple cart. But maybe now they’re realizing that the people they need not upset are their users. Happy users will give more revenue.

So I’ve been pouring through the stats today and here’s all the juiciest bits. I mean, there are non-juicy bits too – like goal setting. But you can read about that in the gallery.

First, we’ll start off with the top-line numbers. This includes 48 million athletes and uploading 19 million activities per week. Strava notes elsewhere that they continue to add about one million members per month, which has been a mostly constant rate for quite a while now (as proven by having 42 million back in July).

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Now, as with any math project – Strava or otherwise – you need to be careful about drawing too many assumptions using simple math. For example, this doesn’t mean that only half the members upload each week.  In fact, it’s far less than that. Roughly about 15% upload monthly, if looking across the entirety of all Strava members ever created.

This year Strava has actually split up reports by a bunch of countries. The main global stats are…well…global. But occasionally you’ll see secondary stats next to a flag for a given country. In the case of the below, the US. Still, if we look at this global stat for when people workout on week days, it’s interesting to see that people tend to go out earlier with groups. Also, that group rides tend to double the distance of solo riders.

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The next stat will surprise approximately nobody – people are riding indoors now more than ever. And more than that, they’ll riding indoors in the summer months more than before. 4 years ago, only 0.2% of people did rides indoors during the summer, versus that’s up to 4.9%. However, one nuanced tidbit here is that it’s not clear if these are technically just GPS-less rides, or rides actually marked as “Virtual Ride” – which is a specific indoor category that apps didn’t actually start to leverage till around late 2016 or so. Still, I’m pretty sure the point is mostly the same here.

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In totally unrelated news – what on earth is going on with Japan? Somehow 23.8% of runners completed a marathon or ultramarathon this year. Really? This seems like an absurdly high number. I’m sure the stats are correct, but at the same time it also tells you how little penetration into the Japanese market Strava must have. It’s clearly only attracting the most ardent of runners – as compared with US and UK share being 5.8 to 7.6% having completed a marathon.

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Now here’s some of the good stuff! Actual name brands. These shoes and bikes are what you can actually specify in your Strava profile. I don’t bother to update my shoes there, but my bikes are roughly correctly listed (I have a catch-all though for ‘Random Rental Bikes’, when travelling).

There’s even a section on the side with actual device listings. It’s almost like someone was channeling their inner DCR!

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Except there’s a huge catch. See that little text that says “Year-over-year growth”? Well, that makes this category mostly useless. And by mostly, I mean entirely.

See, the Edge 530, 830, and ROAM all came out in 2019 (within a week of each other in late April/early May). So, their YoY growth will be any value you want, since last year was 0% share. Running is much the same. All those devices came out after Oct 1st, 2018 (when this report started). The Polar Vantage M and Garmin Instinct started shipping last November, and the FR945 in May. It’s a peculiar way to present the data, since a far more useful would be to show that overwhelmingly old devices lead the way.

But that probably would upset partners. The way they’ve shown the data here basically aims to show brand diversity. As we know from numerous stats over the years (and this year too), otherwise this would overwhelmingly show Garmin and Apple domination. Not to mention that a non-trivial number of people upload their Apple Watch data with 3rd party apps that Strava doesn’t reflect as being Apple Watches.

Which is ultimately how we get to workout apps like Wattbike and Digme making the top 3 apps. Of course they aren’t. We all know that. They’re nowhere near that. But when viewed in the lens of ‘new things of sorta-2019 with 0 as a starting point’, then I guess.

Now, to Strava’s credit here – they did put useful information around the bikes and shoes. In this case in the appendix they listed the average ride speeds for the top 5 bikes. Of course, there’s many ways you can slice and dice this.

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For example, one would probably point out that the Canyon Speedmax is far more affordable/accessible in Europe than the US. And unless you live near a national park or similar land in the US, it’s likely that your rides will have more stoplights than many places in Europe, where there tends to be less suburban sprawl. Meaning, once you’re out riding unobstructed roads you’re out (aside from the fact that bike infrastructure tends to be far better in Europe).

I’m sure some people could dive into the nuances of that all day long. But still, it’s cool stuff to see.

Switching topics entirely – we’ve got got the hangover. It’s funny to see how much later people workout on January 1st after a night partying than the baseline for the rest of January. Inversely, when we gain an hour for daylight savings, many of us (certainly me) quickly shift to later rides and runs.

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Note however, this apparently doesn’t apply to you folks in the UK & Ireland. You appear to party much harder than the US folks and simply give up on working out the next day:

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Which is exactly what the French do as well:

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As with past years, you see the commuter stats skewed away from countries that have such regular views around bike commuting that they don’t even bother to record it with Strava. In this slide discussing the commuter gender gap they point out that Denmark has more females than males commuting. But more interesting is the Copenhagen stats.

They show about 27-31% of folks in that city will log their ride on Strava. However, we know that city-wide the actual measured number is much higher – around 62% of people commute daily by bicycle. Undoubtedly the number of athletic-focused Strava members is even higher than that. But like many other popular cycling cities – most people don’t log short commutes.

Here in Amsterdam, for example, I rarely see people logging their commutes within the city. I virtually never record my 2.8km long commute each way. I’d get laughed at if I listed that as public every single day, each way.

But, it also works the other way – if we’re looking at US numbers, then having 44% of Strava users in Portland, or 21% in LA commuting by bike is actually incredibly impressive. Way better than I would have expected.

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In any event, there’s a pile of other slides for those that want to go through them. I’ve uploaded the entire decks of a few countries into galleries below. First up is the US set:

And then here’s the UK/Ireland set:

And then since German readers are among the biggest groups here, here’s that set:

And finally, I’ve put up the others here: Brazil, France, and Japan.

As always, looking forward to next year. And of course, picking out just the perfect calendar for Strava.

Thanks for reading!

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4iiii Fliiiight Smart Trainer In-Depth Review https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2019/12/4iiii-fliiiight-smart-trainer-in-depth-review.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2019/12/4iiii-fliiiight-smart-trainer-in-depth-review.html#comments Wed, 11 Dec 2019 17:03:26 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=106897 Read More Here ]]> DSC_9806

The Fliiiight is a different kind of trainer on so many levels. First off – it doesn’t use any sort of traditional trainer resistance technology to provide resistance. Instead, it recreates gradients and wattage levels by moving magnets, which depending on how close they are to your metal wheel rim will increase or decrease the amount of work you have to put in. The primary benefit of this concept is that it creates exactly zero sound. At least the trainer itself anyway. Your bike’s drive train will still create sound depending on how clean you have it (or how good your mechanic/parts are).

This design isn’t new though. This past spring, 4iiii bought STAC, which previously made the STAC Zero trainer. That trainer had the same technology foundations, but lacked style (it was traffic cone orange) and was finicky to set up. You had to deal with alignment issues as well as installing these weights on your wheels. But once you got it all set up, it worked just fine. The new Fliiiight gets rid of the weights, as well as the alignment issues. Now it has this crazy cool robotic alignment system. Frankly, I could create and play GIF’s of it all day long.

However, beyond all the tech bits – this trainer is different in its target market. While not clear from 4iiii at launch (or even till I finally started testing it) – it was designed for a rider that could put out less. Power that is. Simply put – this trainer isn’t for most people at the front of the pack. Nor for many people in the middle of the pack. I’ll get into all that below – but 4iiii now says that this trainer is designed for someone with an FTP of about 200w – and I’d agree with that (though, with some more caveats that I’ll get into).

But before we get into all those details (and trust me, there are many details) – note that 4iiii sent me this media loaner sample to test. Once I’m done with it here for testing I’ll sort out how to get it back to them in Canada. Just the way I roll. If you found this review useful, feel free to hit up the links at the bottom to help support the site – I appreciate it!

What’s in the box:

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You’d easily mistake the 4iiii Fliiiight box for someone who managed to order a double-stack pizza. It’s actually almost identical to two pizza boxes stacked together. It’s amazing.

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Slide off the sleeve, and crack open the top – also, pizza box style.

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Inside you’ll find a sticker that’s your quick-start guide. It literally is as simple as this sticker implies.

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Open up the stickered level, and you’ll see the trainer just chillin’ there:

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And then here’s everything laid out for its maiden unboxing photo:

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There’s only a few parts inside, as seen below:

A) USB-C cable with nifty magnetic attachment thingy
B) Three spoke clasps (you only need one)
C) A trainer skewer

Here’s a closer a closer look at that:

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Those spoke clasps are used by the optical sensor on the trainer to detect your wheel speed. You simply just slide it around one of your spokes and you’re good to go. Just like giving your spoke a hug.

And that’s it. No wheel weights here, nor anything else. Oddly, not even a USB wall outlet adapter. Though you can use any USB adapter port you have sitting around your house. The trainer has a battery in it, which is claimed for 2 hours of usage. In my testing though I just ran it plugged in all the time to an older iPhone wall adapter. The way USB works it doesn’t matter what you plug it into.

The Basics:

So now that we’ve got it unboxed, we’ll get it setup. Which is equally as simple. First, unfold the legs and stand the trainer up:

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Next, unfold the rear arms. Its’ technically a two-level origami unfolding process. It takes approximately 3.8 seconds. Any slower, and you need to do some more reps to get your form down:

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After that go ahead and stock the spoke hugger on your favorite spoke. It doesn’t matter which spoke, but just arrange it so that it’s closer to the outer edge of the wheel.

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And finally, mount your bike using either your existing metal skewer or the included one. If you have a plastic skewer on your bike from your wheel, swap it out. Don’t worry, you can use the metal one for regular riding as well.

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Now’s a good time to mention that you do indeed need a wheel rim with metal in it. If you’ve got yourself a fancy carbon wheelset, that won’t do here. The magnets need the metal to interact with.

Oh – and even better is that you don’t even need to keep your tires pumped up, like this:

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You’ll want to ensure the bike is nice and snug. The entire robotic moving arm system works best when there’s no sway of the bike itself, as it’s already having to deal with the fact that your wheel isn’t true from the like 28 times you tried to jump the curb and failed.

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Finally, go ahead and plug it in to ensure it’s charged up. The trainer has a USB-C port on it, that charges its internal 2hr battery. But what’s cool is that 4iiii included a set of these tiny little magnetic USB-C breakaway adapters (you can actually buy them here). This means if you trip over the cable it won’t rip away from your trainer. You know, like Apple used to have on their MacBook’s before we all had to move to 4 ports filled with dongle adapters.

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I’d love to see more and more trainer companies shift to USB-C for standardized power delivery. If only because it’ll make my life easier having to keep track of which power plug is for which trainer. Most trainers don’t actually need that much power, and some of them even generate their own power. Obviously they’ll require more power than this lowly USB adapter below (such as a laptop charger) – but heck, at least there would be a standard.

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If you haven’t turned on the power switch by now, it’s a good time to do so:

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You’ll notice that as soon as you either power it on, or spin the wheel and stop pedaling the robotic arms will go to town. They’ll close up on the wheel and then release. This is the automatic calibration feature. Yup, that’s it – your trainer is now calibrated.

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What’s really cool about this is that it not only aligns itself across the entire horizontal length of the back of the trainer (in case you didn’t put your bike in centered), but also figures out your exact wheel width and position too. Seriously, just click play and watch the entire sequence – including the normal riding sound it makes towards the end:

Now let’s start pedaling for realz. You’ll notice as you pedal that the little robotic arms are constantly swaying in and out. This is because your wheel likely isn’t true (perfectly even). It’s using that spoke magnet to measure your wheel speed in real-time, and then countering for the variations in your pedal stroke in real-time as well. It’s almost as fascinating to watch as the calibration sequence.

As you request more power from the system (such as going from 150w to 300w), the arms will move closer and closer to your wheel rim, providing more resistance. The idea being that they never touch, else that’ll make some noise (but is otherwise harmless).

And remember that little spoke condom? That’s actually passing by these optical sensors right here. The white helps the sensor see it clearly compared to your spokes:

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Now given the Fliiiight is a smart trainer, it’ll change resistance automatically in a few different ways, primarily driven by different applications/methods.  But most of this all boils down to two core methods:

ERG Mode: Setting a specific power level – i.e., 185w.  In this mode, no matter what gearing you use, the trainer will simply stay at 185w (or whatever you set it to).
Simulation Mode: Simulating a specific outdoor grade – i.e., 6% incline. In this mode, it’s just like outdoors in that you can change your gearing to make it easier or harder.  Wattage is not hard-set, only incline levels.

In the case of simulation (aka slope) mode, the Fliiiight can simulate from 0% to 7% incline – which is below the competitors in this price point. The Elite Tuo goes to 10%, the Saris M2 to 15%,  the Wahoo KICKR SNAP simulates up to 12%. Keep in mind that by default on Zwift your gradient is halved (this doesn’t impact your speed or power required, just gearing). While I always use it at 100%, here’s what that setting shows by default at 50%:

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This means that by default a 10% gradient becomes a 5% gradient unless you change it to 100%. Which in the case of the Fliiiight is probably a good thing, given its relatively low ability to replicate grades.

The second mode the trainer has is ERG mode.  In that case, the company claims up to 2,200w – but there’s no way in hell it’ll ever hit that unless you’re doing like 900RPM. This is very low in the smart trainer world, even for a $500 smart trainer. And this probably gets to the core ‘challenge’ with the Fliiiight: It’s essentially designed for riders with an FTP up to about 200w. FTP is essentially how much wattage you can hold for approximately an hour. So if you can hold 200w for an hour, your FTP is 200w. If you can hold 285w for an hour, your FTP is 285w. There are various ways to test this that don’t require you pedal balls to the wall for an hour, just lookup FTP test or RAMP test.

In any case, let’s step through each of these very Fliiiight specific aspects one at a time. First being ERG mode responsiveness. Here’s my standard 30×30 test using TrainerRoad, which shifts between recovery at about 150w, and then intervals at about 420w. Repeating every 30 seconds. For this test I’m looking to see how quickly a trainer responds, as well as how well it holds the set point. We’ll get into the actual power accuracy portions (comparative to other units) in a later section. First tough, responsiveness:

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So you can see for the first set above, it was really low. Huh.

Turns out my cadence was around 85RPM. A bit lower than my usual 90’s or so, but hardly an issue on any smart trainer I use. As such, the trainer wasn’t able to supply the required power – short by some 50-70 watts, since my wheel speed wasn’t fast enough. You can see that as I brought up my cadence into the upper 90’s the Fliiiight was able to provide the power just fine.

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As such, for the next set I kept my cadence above 100RPM, and the trainer matched the required/requested ERG mode set point of 428w just fine (give or take a few watts, as is normal for most trainers):

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I eventually found that for these sets I could get away with approx. 98RPM. Any lower and it wouldn’t hold resistance.

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Why does this matter?

Well, if you wanted to do low-cadence drills you couldn’t do so – at least at these wattages. If you had a target of say, 300w, then sure, there’s no issues there. That’s where we get into the FTP bit of 200w. The trainer, as you can see, can certainly put out more than 200w just fine. But if you’re doing training sessions, then you’ll undoubtedly have parts of a structured workout that are higher than 200w. That’s how you get stronger. If you just train below FTP, it’s unlikely you’ll make meaningful training gains.

Now – I circled back to 4iiii on this to see if the challenges I had with cadence and getting more power were expected. Essentially they said they were. However, they also gave an option to tweak the distance buffer between the magnets on the arm and my wheel. Remember that controls how much power the trainer can respond with. Normally they have a bit of a margin of error to handle less than true wheels so they don’t rub. But one could reduce that margin through settings, and that’d, in turn, give you more resistance.

So I did that (it’s a feature of their upcoming Android app, but 4iiii Support has a website you can change it from as well). It allowed me to set the Motion Limit in closer. By the time this releases to the public it’ll be much prettier and probably have normal human terms. But to test the concept out, it worked just fine.

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I then tried TrainerRoad 30×30’s again. Good deal – much better in terms of top-end power. I was able to do the first set at 77RPM and it was coming in at 450w. Granted, the power was a bit higher than the set point, but I wasn’t super even in my stroke since I hadn’t entirely expected it to actually match me at 450w for 77RPM. I then did a second interval, this one in the mid 80’s, and it was still able to hold the power just fine.

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So ok – ERG mode is fine within that context of holding power, assuming you’re riding in the fastest possible gearing combination (big ring in front, smaller rings in back). Unlike other trainers in ERG mode, the 4iiii is the opposite. It *wants* wheel speed. The faster the better. All other trainers are the opposite (slower flywheel speed is more responsive/accurate). The downside though is that with this change the road-feel got worse. Substantially worse. Like pedaling through mud. But, at lower wattages (I also tried the mid-200’s and low 300’s), it was better.

What about SIM mode – meaning, regular Zwift riding? Well, in a nutshell it’s the same, except even worse. Way worse.

See, unlike in ERG mode where you can just put your bike in the fastest possible speed and it’ll be acceptable, you can’t do that in Zwift (or other road simulation type apps). You need to shift to deal with changes in terrain, or to catch-up to a breakaway in a sprint. So what ends up happening is you run out of gears to get the resistance you need, be it on the flats or even during climbs (with the default settings) – but more than anything else also on descents.

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Take the above screenshot for example – that’s as much power as the trainer would allow me to do – and that’s at a cadence of 100pm down a mere 2%.

On the flats, here’s me trying to sprint:

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Note that I’m in my hardest gear and the unit is only giving me 420w of resistance – at a pretty darn high 125RM.

The same was true trying to go through Titan’s Grove with the rollers. I simply couldn’t get it to give me the power I needed without having to hold a cadence of about 100+RPM throughout the entire thing (my natural cadence is more around 90-95RPM). For example this bit here I snapped a shot at 76RPM, but even up this 7% grade it could only do 158w. My legs at 76RPM should easily have been pushing 300+ watts in here in my hardest gear:

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Now I get it – I’m a more powerful ride than many. But not that many. My numbers are hardly epic. My sprints top out around 900-1,000w, and my FTP floats in the 285-295w range. So again, if you’re a less powerful rider, this would technically probably work just fine for you. For example, my wife could ride this trainer just fine from a power standpoint, her wattage isn’t above 4iiii’s thresholds.

Now – there were certainly times where I found just the right balancing of gearing and gradient that I was in a good spot. But on a rolling course like this it was few and far between.

But wait – what if I applied the 4iiii buffer app tweaks like I did for TrainerRoad? Would that help? Yes, somewhat. I was able to fairly easily hit the mid-250’s at only 65RPM. And, with all of my juices flowing I spun up to 140RPM and the trainer topped out at 716w. I suspect I could get it higher still.

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However, that gets into road feel a bit. In other words, how does inertia feel – do the accelerations feel like riding on the road? With the original STAC Zero trainer they added wheel weights to help with inertia. Sure, they were finicky to setup, but if you got them nailed – it was good. Not $1,200 Wahoo KICKR great, but good enough good. But the Fliiiight doesn’t have weights, instead trying to do it all with magnets.

And for at least my non-perfect wheel – it’s just not a great feeling outside of ERG mode (ERG mode is mostly acceptable, but not great). Now perhaps my wheel is super abnormal, but I suspect not. In fact, this metal wheel has only a handful of miles on it. I virtually never ride it since it came with one of my bikes and I virtually always ride other wheelsets I have with PowerTap hubs in them for power meter testing. So it’s not like this wheel has thousands of miles on it. My bet is that it has at most a few hundred miles, maybe even just a few dozen miles.

I wish I had a better story here, but ultimately I think that in 2019 going on 2020, the magnetic driven technology might be too little too late to compete with other trainers at this price point. Had they had this technology 4-5 years ago at this price point – absolutely. Trainers were different then. But these days with the KICKR SNAP and others at $499 with mostly good road feel (and zero of the power limitations above), it’s a hard sell.

Though, to be fair – the 4iiiii Fliiiight is certainly far quieter than anything else in this price point (by miles), and from a power accuracy standpoint (as I’ll discuss), it’s far more accurate than any other trainer in this price point (or even other trainers at double its price). It nails those two categories, but like Captain Kirk: Scotty, I need more power!!!

App Compatibility:

When it comes to app compatibility, the 4iiii Fliiiight follows the industry norms as you’d expect from a smart trainer in 2019.  As you probably know, apps like Zwift, TrainerRoad, Sufferfest, Rouvy, Kinomap and many more, all support most of these industry standards, making it easy to use whatever app you’d like.  If trainers or apps don’t support these standards, then it makes it far more difficult for you as the end user.

The unit supports the following protocols and transmission standards:

ANT+ FE-C (Trainer Control): This is for controlling the trainer via ANT+ from apps and head units (with cadence/power data). Read tons about it here.
ANT+ Power Meter Profile: This broadcasts as a standard ANT+ power meter, with cadence data
Bluetooth Smart FTMS (Trainer Control): This is for controlling the trainer over Bluetooth Smart from a variety of apps.
Bluetooth Smart Power Meter Profile: This broadcasts as a standard BLE power meter, with cadence data

In the above, you’ll note there’s cadence data baked into the various streams. That’s handy if you’re connecting to Zwift on an Apple TV, due to Apple TV’s two concurrent Bluetooth Smart sensor limitation (plus the Apple TV remote).  This means you can pair the trainer and get power/cadence/control, while also pairing up a heart rate strap.

In my case, I largely tested with Zwift and TrainerRoad – simply because those are the two biggest apps out there today.  Within that framework, I did both regular riding in Zwift, as well as ERG workouts in TrainerRoad. If you do structured workouts in Zwift, then those are identical to TrainerRoad, leveraging ERG mode.

Starting with TrainerRoad, you’d go ahead into the Devices area and find the Fliiiight listed:

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I went ahead and disabled PowerMatch, because for testing reasons I want to know it’s thinking for itself and not relying on another power meter.

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Now somewhat interestingly TrainerRoad still shows their boilerplate text for the Fliiiight upon pairing, which is actually incorrect. In this case, we need to do the opposite of what it says (go with a big gear and go fast):

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Next, I loaded up my usual 30×30 trainer test.  This is something I end up running on virtually all trainers as a great way to validate ERG mode responsiveness.  It starts off with a short two-minute ramp, and then it oscillates power at 30-second intervals between a low wattage (about 150w on this day), and a high wattage (~430w). You can run this same workout yourself here.

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Obviously we’ve talked about the results of that already up above, so no need to rehash that.

Next, let’s look at Zwift.  Here things are pretty darn similar.  You’ll start off by pairing to the Fliiiight trainer within the equipment menu:

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After that, you’re off and cruising in Zwift.  Of course, in regular (non-workout) mode, Zwift is transmitting the grade to the Fliiiight, which in turn automatically adjusts the grade on the trainer:

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And again, I’ve discussed how this all works up above in the ‘Basics’ section in terms of road feel and such.

Finally, 4iiii has their own app for some configuration bits of the Fliiiight trainer, including firmware updates. This app is available on iOS today and shortly on Android (but they have a support website that gets you the other functions in the meantime – in fact, even some additional features not on iOS, so fear not Android folks). From the app you can go ahead and check the battery status as well as update the firmware:

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You can also do a ‘calibrate’-like command (it’s just recentering the arms), as well as dork with some other settings you probably shouldn’t touch. And finally, you can also control the trainer in either ERG or resistance level, handy for super quick testing.

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All of this worked just fine for me, as well as did connectivity. I didn’t experience any Fliiiight specific dropouts, largely using Bluetooth Smart to both Apple TV and an iPad (and both an Android phone and iOS phone for configuration).

Power Accuracy:

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As usual, I put the trainer up against a number of power meters to see how well it handled everything from resistance control accuracy, to speed of change, to any other weird quirks along the way.

In my case I used two different bikes set up in the following configurations:

Canyon Bike Setup: Favero Assioma Duo power meter pedals, Quarq DZero
Giant Bike Setup: Garmin Vector 3 dual-sided power meter pedals, Stages LR dual-sided crankset

This is all in addition to the trainer itself recording power. While I have PowerTap hubs for rear wheelset, all of those are laced into carbon-rimmed wheels, which aren’t compatible with the Fliiiight.

In any case, I was looking to see how it reacted accuracy-wise in two core apps: Zwift and TrainerRoad (Bluetooth Smart on Apple TV and iPad). The actual apps don’t typically much matter, but rather the use cases are different.  In Zwift you get variability by having the road incline change and by being able to instantly sprint.  This reaction time and accuracy are both tested here.  Whereas in TrainerRoad I’m looking at its ability to hold a specific wattage very precisely, and to then change wattages instantly in a repeatable way.  There’s no better test of that than 30×30 repeats (30-seconds at a high resistance, followed by 30-seconds at an easy resistance).

There’s two ways to look at this.  First is how quickly it responds to the commands of the application.  So for that, we need to actually look at the overlay from TrainerRoad showing when it sent the command followed by when the Fliiiight achieved that level.  Here’s the levels being sent (the blue blocks via the green line) by TrainerRoad (in this case via Bluetooth Smart on iPad) and how quickly the Fliiiight responds to it:

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On average, responsiveness time was actually OK. It took about 3 seconds once it received the command, to go from 150w to 428w – which is perfectly acceptable and normal.

So what about power accuracy? In this case, I’ve compared it to a dual-sided set of Vector 3 power pedals, as well as a single-sided Stages LR. Technically it was dual-sided, but only when you remember to swap out the battery when it dies. So it was more of a Stages R, than LR. Either way, it gives us another data point, though I think the Vector 3 are good enough for telling this story. Here’s this data set:

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As you can see, it’s pretty darn close. If we look at the 2nd interval where I stabilize a bit, you’ll see the wattages are within 5w of each other (at 440w) – or a spread of 1%, not too shabby. In theory, the Fliiiight should be the lowest value of the units here because it’s furthest down the drivetrain (for which there is still drivetrain loss), but in practice we see them all about the same value-wise this ride.

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It’s also notable that we see the power floor isn’t impacted much here – it holds accuracy at lower wattages just fine:

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And cadence you ask? Very close. Not exactly the same between all three – but within 1-2RPM of measurement across the entire range.

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And for fun, here’s the mean/max graph on that ride. You’ll see that the Fliiiight is slightly lower than the other units, exactly as it should be.

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Next, let’s slide over to Zwift. This file is from the Titan’s Grove course where I’ve been testing all trainers this season. I use this course because it allows me to do some high flywheel speed stuff early on with the desert bits on the flats, and then I climb up over a series of rollers and climbs before descending a bit. It’s very demanding of trainers, but covers a broad range of terrain. Here’s that data set:

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Accuracy wise that’s actually really really good. The three units are virtually identical. There’s a disconnect or two in here on both the Stages and briefly on the Fliiight side, so likely indicative of some wireless interference, but power wise these three are virtually identical when viewed at the full-ride level. We see this impact the mean/max graph later since one of the data dropouts was 18-seconds long during a harder effort.

So obviously, let’s zoom in on some sections – starting off with some early sprint attempts:

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Accuracy-wise though the power is very very close during the ramp and build. The Vector 3 measures slightly higher, and the Stages R is closer to the 4iiii Fliiight (but that’s doing only single-leg power capture at that point on the Stages).

Normally I do these sprints at about 900w. But as you can see, I topped out at roughly 500w. That’s as much resistance as the trainer would give me when I put it in the hardest gear possible on my bike. In fact, if you look below at my cadence, you’ll see that I was spinning at 129RPM in order to get those 500w.

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I repeated some sprints a bit later as well, but again it required me clearing nearly 130RPM in order to get the power above 500w:

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Now as you can see throughout other parts of the ride, the accuracy is actually really good. It’s very very close together as I swing through these rollers climbing up at 350w+:

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And finally, here’s a look at the cadence on this ride. Again, you can clearly see I’m struggling across all devices with WiFi interference and occasional drops:

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But from a cadence standpoint, all the units were almost always within 1RPM of each other, and occasionally up to 2RPM. More than good enough than even most higher end trainers this year.

Ultimately – from a straight power and cadence accuracy standpoint the Fliiiight is actually really good. That matches what we saw with the STAC Zero too. While the trainer may not be able to output a lot of power, it’s able to track that power very accurately across a broad range of riding scenarios in multiple apps. Good on them.

(Note: All of the charts in these accuracy sections were created using the DCR Analyzer tool.  It allows you to compare power meters/trainers, heart rate, cadence, speed/pace, GPS tracks and plenty more. You can use it as well for your own gadget comparisons, more details here.)

Product Comparison:

I’ve added the 4iiii Fliiiight into the product comparison database, where you can compare it to any trainer that I’ve reviewed or have in the DCR Cave. For the purposes of below, I’ve slated it up against the Elite Tuo, Wahoo KICKR SNAP and CycleOps M2 – which I think are fair comparisons. All those units are $499 and wheel-on trainers, and the Fliiiight is $499 right now on sale. Of course, you can mix and match and create your own product comparison chart in the product comparison tables here. And of course, my complete Winter 2019-2020 Trainer Recommendations Guide as well.

Function/Feature4iiii FliiiightElite TuoSaris M2 (CycleOps)Wahoo KICKR SNAP (2017)
Copyright DC Rainmaker - Updated December 11th, 2019 @ 2:08 pmNew Window Expand table for more results
Price for trainer$599$499$499$499
Trainer TypeWheel-onWheel-onWheel-OnWheel-on
Available today (for sale)December 2019Available November 2019YesYes
Power cord requiredNo, 2hrs battery capabilityYesYesYes
Flywheel weightN/A2.5kg / 5.5lbs2.6lbs/1.2kg10.5lbs/4.8KG
Maximum wattage capability2200w1,250 (40KPH)/2,050 (60KPH)1,500w @ 20MPH1,500W @ 40KPH
Maximum simulated hill incline7%10%15%12%
Can rise/lower bike or portion thereofNoNoNoWith KICKR CLIMB accessory
Includes temperature compensationYesYesNoYes
Support rolldown procedure (for wheel based)N/AYesYesYes

And again remember you can mix and match and create your own product comparison chart in the product comparison tables.

Summary:

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At first glance the 4iiii Fliiiight is everything I wanted the STAC Zero to grow up to be. Prettier, less finicky, USB-C charging – even nifty robotic arms and optical lasers. How can it get better than robots? However, the end-product is a bit more tricky than I expected – primarily for more powerful riders.

If you’re a less powerful rider – then I think the Fliiight is definitely an very valid option, especially if they continue to offer it at $499. To me that price point makes sense given the other contenders in the market are at $499. And there’s no trainer that’s quieter than the Fliiiight. Nor seemingly any that’s actually more accurate. Really, from an accuracy standpoint this thing pretty much rivals a KICKR or NEO any day. No issues there.

The challenge though is for more powerful riders there’s just too many compromises to make. In discussions in early November, 4iiii stated a target market rider FTP of 200w. However, in later e-mails they specified a range of up to 250w. I think the 250w FTP is really only valid if you’re more of a triathlete doing largely steady-state workouts (and only with the magnetic buffer tweak). But even all that considered, the road inertia feel isn’t great. Sure, it’s not terribly different than the STAC Zero was – but trainers and price points have moved on. The trainers of this year, wonky manufacturing and power accuracy issues aside, are physically better and more realistic than trainers of two years ago – but now hundreds of dollars cheaper.

Ultimately you’ll have to decide if the tradeoffs of this trainer meet your specific requirements. For myself, it wouldn’t be an appropriate trainer. However, for someone like my wife who is far smaller and needs less of a wattage ceiling – she’d be able to train on this just fine. All while still being super quiet.

Found this review useful? Or just want to save 10%? Here’s how:

Hopefully you found this review useful. At the end of the day, I’m an athlete just like you looking for the most detail possible on a new purchase – so my review is written from the standpoint of how I used the device. The reviews generally take a lot of hours to put together, so it’s a fair bit of work (and labor of love). As you probably noticed by looking below, I also take time to answer all the questions posted in the comments – and there’s quite a bit of detail in there as well.

I’ve partnered with Clever Training to offer all DC Rainmaker readers exclusive benefits on all products purchased. You can read more about the benefits of this partnership here. You can pick up the Fliiiight trainer through Clever Training using the links below. By doing so, you not only support the site (and all the work I do here) – but you also get to enjoy the significant partnership benefits that are just for DC Rainmaker readers. And, if your order ends up more than $49, you get free US shipping as well.

4iiii Fliiiight

Thanks for reading! And as always, feel free to post comments or questions in the comments section below, I’ll be happy to try and answer them as quickly as possible.

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34
Elite Suito Smart Trainer In-Depth Review https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2019/12/elite-suito-smart-trainer-in-depth-review.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2019/12/elite-suito-smart-trainer-in-depth-review.html#comments Tue, 10 Dec 2019 19:33:47 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=106764 Read More Here ]]>

It’s been about five months since the Elite Suito was first announced back in July. The Suito made a name for itself by essentially copying the same Elite formula as a few years ago: Offer a good medium-range product that undercuts everyone else on price. With the Suito the main selling point was that the cassette was included (saving you $50-$70 in costs, depending on whether you had tools) – plus the savings in time/hassle. The only other trainer in the market that did that was the $1,199 Wahoo KICKR.

Atop that, at the time, Elite also threw in a 30-day trial of Zwift – which then was actually unique (now, not so much). It also has a very small footprint for those that wanted to store it away (or under) something. And finally – it was designed to be entirely ready to ride by just pulling it out of the box – no assembly required. Great – so it sounds like the perfect mid-range trainer at $799.

But did it live up to that hype? Well, it probably depends on when exactly you got a Suito. Like every other trainer (or indoor bike) this season, Elite joined the ‘that was rough’ club for early adopters. And I’ll dive into that a bit later on, what went wrong, what’s different now, etc…

But before we do, we’ll run through all the usual in-depth review bits. From accuracy to what’s in the box, and plenty more. As always, once I’m done with this thing I’ll get a shipping label on this loaner unit and it’ll head back to Elite. If you found this review useful, feel free to hit up the links at the end of the review.

What’s in the box:

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The main ‘thing’ about the Elite Suito is the whole concept of ‘pull it out of the box, start riding’. But they literally mean to just pull it out of the box – no assembly, no dealing with random crap, just pull and pray. I mean, pull and play.

Here’s the components pulled straight out of the box and placed on the ground:

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The most notable thing straight away is the cassette on the Suito, complete with its little baggie protecting it. Or maybe it’s protecting you. Probably you.

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Typically a cassette will run you about $50-$60, and then you’ll need another $10-$20 in tools to install it if you don’t have them already. Plus any time you want to toss atop that. It’s not a big deal for most people, but it’s also not the best ‘Welcome to your new product’ thing either – especially for cyclists that aren’t as comfortable with shop tools.

The cassette is a Shimano R7000 105 11-speed cassette. So if you have a 10-speed bike, you’ll need to swap it out (but hey, you can sell this one instead). You can install any 9/10/11 speed cassette you want on it.

Next, there’s the free 30-day trial of Zwift. Back in July that was actually fairly unique. Though now this fall we’ve seen Zwift offer that with more and more trainers. My understanding is Wahoo has a virtual gift pack you get when you register a new trainer that also gets you free 30-days of Zwift. Still, I like the little card. It’s the only time you’ll feel like Zwift is paying you with a little credit card, versus you paying them with your credit card.

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Next in the package of parts is the front wheel block. This is also included, whereas with most trainers it isn’t. I personally prefer to always ride with a front wheel block, even on trainers that supposedly don’t need one (like a Wahoo KICKR). It’s simply that I like my front wheel to stay put. Wheel risers don’t cost very much ($5-$10 on Amazon), but hey, I’ll take it.

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You’ll also see above there’s the quick release skewer, and then inside the bag there’s the thru-axle parts for 142×12.

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And then you’ve got the power adapter. Initial production batches shipped with all-too-short 1-meter cables, but later batches changed to 2.5-meter cables.

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And finally, there’s some paper stuff. It’s a manual, and some flyers.

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Got all that? Good. Let’s get into the setup.

The Basics & Setup:

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Now stay with me here – this setup is gonna be pretty complex. It involves three steps:

1) Take plastic bag off cassette
2) Unfold two foldable legs
3) Place skewer through trainer, attach bike

Technically there’s also plugging it in. I’m not sure if that’s counted as a setup or not. Once you’re done, it should roughly look like this:

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Of course, your bike might not look as awesome as mine. And if you’re a lucky duck then your cable is the swanky new 2.5m one versus the 1.5m one I initially had. But all said, it should look about the same.

Now, some quick practical tips. First, there’s a handle. I know this sounds obvious but for some totally bizarre reason some companies still don’t include handles on their trainers. How is there not a handle on the Tacx NEO Series trainers – despite being the most expensive mainstream smart trainer on the market?

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Next to that handle is the status lights. These show the state of your trainer. Specifically whether or not it’s powered/plugged in, followed by whether or not there’s an ANT+ device, and/or then a Bluetooth Smart device controlling it.

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Speaking of power cords, you’ll want to run it through this little safety channel. That keeps it from decapacitating itself when you trip over the cable. Though honestly, I think it’ll probably still decapacitate itself…just at a lower point instead.

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And, in case you can’t remember which power adapter is which, here’s a closer look at the specs on this:

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Of course, that bit is mostly for my own benefit, when I mix them up and have to refer back to my own review to figure out which is which.

Down along the base are the foldable legs. They’ve got two small lock mechanisms to keep them closed shut:

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The idea with the Suito being to fold it up and stick it under something – like a bed. Or a really fancy Victorian couch or something. Regrettably, I have Ikea couches and Ikea beds, and none of them allow anything except puzzle pieces from the toddlers to be slid under them.

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So finally, with your bike on it, don’t forget to stick that front wheel block up there:

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Or, you could manage to get yourself one of those fancy new Elite steering devices that Zwift doesn’t yet support. Someday…someday.

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And now, we start pedaling.

Given the Suito is a smart trainer, it’ll change resistance automatically in a few different ways, primarily driven by different applications/methods.  But most of this all boils down to two core methods:

ERG Mode: Setting a specific power level – i.e., 210w.  In this mode, no matter what gearing you use, the trainer will simply stay at 210w (or whatever you set it to).
Simulation Mode: Simulating a specific outdoor grade – i.e., 10% incline. In this mode, it’s just like outdoors in that you can change your gearing to make it easier or harder.  Wattage is not hard-set, only incline levels.

In the case of simulation (aka slope) mode, the Suito can simulate from 0% to 15% incline – which is above the competitors in this price point. The Elite Direto X goes to 18%, the Elite Zumo to 12% the Wahoo KICKR CORE simulates up to 16%, while the Tacx Flux S is down at 10%. Honestly, there’s little reason most of this matters if you use the defaults in Zwift, because it automatically halves the values anyway. A 10% grade feels like a 5% grade. You need to change the ‘Trainer Difficulty’ level to 100% in order to feel it (and most people don’t bother to). Where it can matter though is at low-speed high wattage climbs up those 12% or beyond ascents.

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The second mode the trainer has is ERG mode.  In that case, the company claims up to 1,900w of resistance at 40KPH. Although, realistically, you don’t care about that. I can only barely (maybe) break 1,000w for a second or two, and even most front of the non-pro pack cyclists aren’t going to top 1,800w.  The pros would only be just a bit beyond that.  Said differently: Peak numbers in this competition don’t matter.  Instead, what matters is actually a harder metric to make clear – which is the ability to simulate high grades and lower speeds (especially if you’re a heavier cyclist).

One core test I do with all trainers though is responsiveness: How quickly does it respond to ERG mode changes? I typically do that with my 30×30 test via TrainerRoad, though it doesn’t really matter what method you use as long as you’re looking at big shifts in wattage:

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Note above the super hard to read green-line was actually the target, not the blue line. This is because TrainerRoad, after the workout, only shows the original workout specification, and not the adjusted target value. What you see though is that it’s occasionally a bit wobbly towards the end of each set, but overall about the norm during the sets.

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For the Suito it’s taking about 3-4 seconds to stabilize. Usually 3, but sometimes 4. The target power for this interval was 401w (not 428w, that was the original workout, I had scaled it down since I did three trainer rides that day). Either way, that’s acceptable to me and in-line with expectations.

We’ll talk more about accuracy later on in the accuracy section – so what about road feel?

Like I always say – for me personally, it’s hard to separate the fact that I’m riding indoors from outdoors. It’s still a trainer, and I’m still looking at a wall in front of me.  My brain can only turn off so much of that.  Still, much of the road-like feel is driven by the flywheel, and be it physical or virtual, flywheel sizes tend to be measured in weight.  This impacts inertia and how it feels – primarily when you accelerate or otherwise change acceleration (such as briefly coasting).

All that prefacing done, I’d say that it’s roughly the same as the Elite Zumo – which was OK.

I just put the two trainers side by side and went back and forth and best I can tell they’re basically the same. Which makes sense – the flywheel weights are pretty similar between the two.

I think we are seeing trainers at the top end getting better and better, and we are seeing trainers in the middle getting better too. It’s just that there’s still a divide there – primarily driven by that flywheel weight. The heavier the flywheel, the better it’ll feel (in theory anyway).

As for sound? It’s not silent – but is quiet – it’s on par with other ‘quiet but not silent’ trainers in 2019. I cover that in my original overview video here:

As Elite notes in the getting started guide/papers, you’ll want to apply a bit of oil to your chain to go ahead and get the new cassette all happy. If you don’t do that, you’ll find it a bit louder otherwise.

App Compatibility:

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The Suito follows the same app compatibility standards as previous Elite products, and essentially follows the industry norms as you’d expect from a high-end trainer.  As you probably know, apps like Zwift, TrainerRoad, SufferFest, Rouvy, Kinomap and many more all support most of these industry standards, making it easy to use whatever app you’d like.  If trainers or apps don’t support these standards, then it makes it far more difficult for you as the end user.

Thankfully, that’s not the case here.  The Suito transmits data on both ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart, as well as allowing interactive resistance control across both ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart.  By applying resistance control, apps can simulate climbs as well as set specific wattage targets.

The unit supports the following protocols and transmission standards:

ANT+ FE-C (Trainer Control): This is for controlling the trainer via ANT+ from apps and head units (with cadence/power data). Read tons about it here.
ANT+ Power Meter Profile: This broadcasts as a standard ANT+ power meter, with cadence data
ANT+ Speed/Cadence Profile: This broadcasts your speed and cadence as a standard ANT+ Speed/Cadence combo sensor
Bluetooth Smart Power Meter Profile: This broadcasts as a standard BLE power meter, with cadence data
Bluetooth Smart Speed/Cadence Profile: This broadcasts your speed and cadence as a standard BLE combo Speed/Cadence sensor
Bluetooth Smart FTMS (Trainer Control): This allows apps to control the Suito over Bluetooth Smart (with cadence/power data)

Between all these standards you can basically connect to anything and everything you’d ever want to. Be it a bike computer or watch, or an app – it’ll be supported. In fact, Elite’s really been one of the leaders in supporting the various standards – including FTMS.

In the above, you’ll note there’s cadence data baked into the various streams. That’s handy if you’re connecting to Zwift on an Apple TV, due to Apple TV’s two concurrent Bluetooth Smart sensor limitation (plus the Apple TV remote).  This means you can pair the trainer and get power/cadence/control, while also pairing up a heart rate strap.

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For me, in my testing, I used Zwift and TrainerRoad as my two main apps (which are the two main apps I use personally).  In the case of Zwift, I used it in regular riding mode (non-workout mode, aka SIM mode) as well as ERG mode (workout mode). Whereas in the case of TrainerRoad I used it in a structured workout mode (ERG mode). I dig into the nuances of these both within the power accuracy section.

Starting with Zwift, you can see the Suito listed as not just a controllable trainer, but also within the regular power meter and cadence section. You’ll want to pair it up as a controllable trainer (which will also pair it as a power meter):

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You’ll see the trainer enumerated in a fairly similar manner on TrainerRoad as well:

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Also, TrainerRoad’s tips page on using smart trainers in ERG mode:

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I’d *strongly* recommend you either read that page, or just simply do two things:

A) Calibrate the Suito: I found it did make a significant difference to do the roll-down, it only takes a few seconds
B) Ensure you’re using the small ring up front: This is for ERG mode specifically, shift into the small ring to get better control

As far as calibration goes, you can complete it easily from most apps – including TrainerRoad and Zwift. You’ll see either a calibration prompt in the app (like TrainerRoad), or a small wrench or such in the settings (like Zwift).  For example, here it is doing the spin-down within Zwift on an iPad using Bluetooth Smart:

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It’s super easy to do, you just pedal a bit fast for a moment until it reaches a given threshold speed, and then you stop pedaling. It’s going to measure how long it takes to coast to a stop. Super easy.

However, I tried to do it with TrainerRoad using Bluetooth Smart, and that failed:

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Hmm, and then I looked closely and it said “Spin up to 4.7MPH”. Which…would most definitely be wrong. So, I ignored it. And just kept on pedaling up to like 28MPH. And then it became happy.

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My guess is there’s some minor kinks to work out there between the two companies.

In general, you should calibrate every once in a while (perhaps every few weeks), or anytime you’ve moved the trainer some distance (like to a new home/etc…). Additionally, you should calibrate if you’ve had a major temp swing (such as if it lives in your garage and now the sweat puddle on the floor is frozen). I found this to be the case this past fall when I had warmer days and then shifted to much cooler locations/days (our home and office aren’t A/C equipped).

Again, you can also do these calibrations within Zwift, TrainerRoad, or most any other app. Easy stuff.

Finally, Elite does have their own app that you can use for a handful of functions, but I had no use for it here at any point in the testing cycle. And technically, there are two apps here. The first is their Elite MyE-Training app, which you can do calibrations from within:

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And then there’s the new Elite Upgrado app – which actually launched on the Elite Suito a bit over a month ago. This allows you to do firmware updates of the trainer (oddly something relatively new to Elite). Simply crack it open and let it search for nearby trainers:

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At present it’ll actually show all nearby Bluetooth Smart power capable devices, which is a filtering issue Elite is working on so that it’ll only show Elite trainers. There were some edge cases where initial filtering wasn’t working, so rather than hold it up for that, they’ll add the filtering later. Fear not, you can’t turn your Wahoo KICKR CORE into an Elite Suito even if you tried.

The actual upgrade process only takes about 4-5 mins, super quick and super easy. Just like most other companies’ trainer update apps:

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At present the most current firmware for the Elite Suito is 191 – which is what all my accuracy tests below are on, and my most recent rides as well.

Last but not least there’s a few configuration options within the Elite My E-Training app. Most notable of those options is what Elite calls Power Meter Link (PML). This means it can match up to an external power meter to provide more finite control of the trainer. Personally, I’m not a big fan of power meter matching/linking type technology from any company, as I often find it does weird things around delays in power. I’d rather the darn trainer be accurate to begin with. So I don’t use it.

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With all those things covered, let’s get into a look at how accurate the trainer is.

Power Accuracy Analysis:

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As usual, I put the trainer up against a number of power meters to see how well it handled everything from resistance control accuracy, to speed of change, to any other weird quirks along the way.

In my case I used one primary bike setup in the following configuration:

Canyon Bike Setup: PowerTap P2 Dual-sided pedals, Quarq DZero

This is all in addition to the trainer itself.  Note that because you remove the rear wheel I can’t use something like a PowerTap hub to compare as well (which I would use in power meter testing normally).

Also note that while I have lots of data all the way back to July, I’m just going to focus on the most recent firmware for the accuracy data (though honestly, it didn’t change much before – except fixing a few issues I saw this past summer).

In any case, I was looking to see how it reacted in two core apps: Zwift and TrainerRoad (Bluetooth Smart on Apple TV and iPad). The actual apps don’t typically much matter, but rather the use cases are different.  In Zwift you get variability by having the road incline change and by being able to instantly sprint.  This reaction time and accuracy are both tested here.  Whereas in TrainerRoad I’m looking at its ability to hold a specific wattage very precisely, and to then change wattages instantly in a repeatable way.  There’s no better test of that than 30×30 repeats (30-seconds at a high resistance, followed by 30-seconds at an easy resistance).

There’s two ways to look at this.  First is how quickly it responds to the commands of the application.  So for that, we need to actually look at the overlay from TrainerRoad showing when it sent the command followed by when the Suito achieved that level.  Here’s the levels being sent (the blue blocks)) by TrainerRoad (in this case via Bluetooth Smart on iPad) and how quickly the Suito responded to it:

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As you can see, it’s close – but still a bit wobbly. Like the Elite Zumo, it doesn’t quite nail the set point s as good as some higher-end trainers. But it’s also not terribly different from other trainers in this ballpark. In a perfect trainer world you’d see the yellow line very close to the blue line. Note – I’m not looking for fake data though, which is when the two precisely match. Your body isn’t a machine, so it’s always going to vary a tiny bit. Also note that being in the smaller chainring (up front) will help in this regard, and is exactly why TrainerRoad recommends using ERG mode in that configuration.

So what about actual power accuracy then? Meaning – how does it compare to other power meters? For that here’s a comparison between a Quarq DZero power meter and a pair of PowerTap P2 pedals (data set here):

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As you can see, the three are close – but actually not as close as I expect or usually like to see. The challenge is that I suspect there were multiple errors going on here. The PowerTap P2 pedals for example, if I analyze the left/right split, look oddly separated – far more than they should be (or my balance is). Still, it’s actually in the middle – and on this one the Quarq was high. I saw this happen for about two days of testing that week without any real explanation. And then it went back to normal.

On the bright side, at least all three are consistent throughout the set:

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And technically speaking, if you added up the margin of error for all the units, they’re actually almost within that, assuming you use the mean value as the baseline. Not ideal, but one can’t exactly blame the Suito here for what I actually think were very slight errors on Quarq/PowerTap.

Next, let’s shift to a ride on Zwift using standard SIM mode. In this case, I was still comparing against the Quarq and PowerTap P2 pedals, but they seemed better behaved this day. Of note for fun is that I left the two different recordings of the Elite Suito in the graph below. You’ll see one was recorded via ANT+ on an Edge 530, while the other was recorded via Bluetooth Smart on Zwift Apple TV. I noted that merely because even the same trainer will produce two different recorded files due to transmission and recording timing rates. A touch under a single watt in this case. Here’s that data set:

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This particular course on Zwift – the Sand to Titans Grove loop has become my defacto Zwift testing grounds. The reason is that it starts off on the flats for a while where you can play around in different gearings (such as high flywheel speed big rings), and then after that you’ll slowly climb over a long series of ever increasing rollers. These rollers are a beast on trainer responsiveness. I’m looking at multiple factors here. For example, how quickly does the trainer respond and match what Zwift shows on the screen (mostly good in this case), and then how accurate is it within that (also largely good here):

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Of course, the downside to this course is that visually it makes your head hurt when looking at graphs like the above. It’s just a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs. But if you squint a little bit you can see that they’re all tracking fairly darn closely. But again – you do see those slight differences between the data values recorded from the blue line vs red line (ANT+ vs BLE). Which has nothing to do with Elite per se, and more just the timing nuances of each. It’s like the Matrix: The Red Pill, or the Blue Pill.

But the Suito responded well. For example, check out these two moderate 600w surges I did – it easily nailed the wattage here:

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And then again at these 800w sprints I did – it’s virtually identical between the different power sources:

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If we look at the Mean/Max graphs for this ride, you’ll see the values are also super close across all the devices (and recording types):

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Nobody would quibble about those numbers, that’s for sure.

Oh – wait – cadence you ask? Sure, no problem:

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That’s actually…umm…flawless. The ‘drop’ you see around the 2 minute marker is simply where I stopped pedaling a second. But seriously, I actually haven’t seen a cadence chart that good this entire season. Finally, at least someone got it right. They may have wobbly flywheels, but at least the cadence is spot on.

So – where are we accuracy-wise? Basically in a better spot than summer. You’ll remember when I first looked at the Suito back in July there were a few quirks I wanted to see resolved. Specifically I wanted to see the sprints more accurate (Check, done), and I wanted to see ERG mode responsiveness better (Check, better – albeit not perfect). For this price range, the accuracy with the latest firmware (V191 from ~Oct 20th) is perfectly fine in my opinion for both power accuracy and cadence across a broad range of tests and conditions.

(Note: All of the charts in these accuracy sections were created using the DCR Analyzer tool.  It allows you to compare power meters/trainers, heart rate, cadence, speed/pace, GPS tracks and plenty more. You can use it as well for your own gadget comparisons, more details here.)

Early Shipping Struggles:

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As I’ve noted countless times this indoor trainer season, it’s been a rough one. Nobody has been spared failures in their new products, almost entirely around two core areas:

A) Manufacturing quality control
B) Power/trainer accuracy

And in most cases, most companies decided to take a twofer approach – hitting both issue groups instead of just taking one serving. It didn’t matter whether you were Elite, Tacx, Kinetic, or others. Even Wahoo and 4iiii also ran into struggles this season. It just hasn’t been very strong for all but a handful of trainer models.

Elite Suito users were mixed. Some were perfectly fine, while others had entirely unusable trainers. The source of those issues varied though. Some were manufacturing driven (lack of quality control), while others were software bugs – including one rather unique bug. In any case, here’s the rough rundown of issues people saw:

Accuracy problems: While this was somewhat rare in the grand scheme of things, it did happen. And the cause of the accuracy was oddly an incorrect bit of code within the Elite E-Training app (specifically inside the Advanced Configuration page), that would solidly hose up the trainer. The app has since been updated, and in almost all cases of this Elite was able to get users trainers fixed remotely without having to send them back to Elite.

Ticking noises: Elite says this was caused early in production by a wrong bearing assembly procedure being used. They say it was only present in the first production batches and thus any trainers made since September shouldn’t have this issue.

Wobbling Flywheel: By far this is the most common issue people have seen. However the impact of it varies from totally innocuous to un-ridable. Either way, whichever variant you have you’ll know it within seconds. It doesn’t get worse over time. Essentially the flywheel wasn’t as true as it could be. Mind you, that actually isn’t unusual. For example, Wahoo SNAP’s were known for quite some time to have some trueness issues in their rollers. And you’ll see imperfections in trueness on other trainers too. As long as you, the rider, don’t feel anything – then it doesn’t really matter.

However, in Elite’s case it was impacting rider feel for some people, causing vibrations. Elite says they first made a fix for it in September, but that it didn’t seem to address the problem as well as they thought. They made a secondary change in early October that they believe has fixed it for all units since then. Again, if you’ve got a unit and don’t feel anything – then you’ve got one that’s fine. Overwhelmingly people know right away whether they’ve got a bad unit.

But here was the real challenge for Elite (and every other company): Shipping lead times.

Remember, a unit produced in early October doesn’t mean a unit you buy in Seattle in late October is fixed. Nope. Generally speaking there’s about a 4-6 week delay in distribution from Elite to shops in the US. That includes spending a number of weeks on the water in cargo ships crossing the Atlantic, plus time on both sides funneling through logistics and distribution networks. Thus despite Elite ‘fixing’ the issue in early October – people kept getting less than awesome trainers into November.

And – because when it rains it pours, some retailers would undoubtedly have extra stock still. So they might still be on earlier stock.

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That said, Elite has been pretty active in swapping out trainers. Apparently taking a lesson from Wahoo’s grand fiasco last year. If folks that are seeing wobble contact support  (or really any hardware issue not solvable on the phone), they’ll get it swapped out immediately. Though even that has caused some confusion.

Elite has switched to a new return/replacement system in the US this year whereby for online retailers are having consumers ship return/RMA trainers directly back to their distributor – rather than the retailer. The reasons are simple:

A) It saves money
B) It saves waste shipping trainers twice (once from consumer to retailer, and then again from retailer to distributor)

So, if an issue arises, the consumer is given details to ship it straight back to the distributor, which in turn directly sends the consumer a trainer. I’ll admit the first time I heard that consumers had to deal directly with distributors, I was a bit annoyed. However, once they explained the logic behind the system and how it works – it makes complete sense. There’s no good reason to double-ship large boxes full of trainers around.

I guess the question is: Is the Suito fixed?

I think so. But I also think there’s still going to be people who are going to get some of that initial stock – especially in North America where it may be sitting on shelves still. Elite’s got a pretty efficient process for dealing with that should you run into a bum unit. But there is that element. Of course, on the flip side it seems we’re still somehow running into people that are having Wahoo KICKR Core issues too – despite being ‘solved’ for many months. So ultimately, I think the key thing is ensuring you’re buying from a retailer who has your back if you run into significant troubles. Though – the comments are pretty strong that both Wahoo and Elite support have been sorting people out fairly well.

Trainer Comparisons:

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I’ve added the Elite Suito into the product comparison database, where you can compare it to any trainer that I’ve reviewed or have in the DCR Cave. For the purposes of below, I’ve slated it up against the Elite Zumo, Wahoo KICKR CORE, and Tacx Flux S. Or basically, the least expensive direct drive options for each of the brands. Of course, you can mix and match and create your own product comparison chart in the product comparison tables here. And of course, my complete Winter 2019-2020 Trainer Recommendations Guide as well.

Function/FeatureElite SuitoElite ZumoTacx Flux SWahoo Fitness KICKR CORE
Copyright DC Rainmaker - Updated December 11th, 2019 @ 5:05 pmNew Window Expand table for more results
Price for trainer$799 (incl cassette)$699$749USD/€599$899
Trainer TypeDirect Drive (No Wheel)Direct Drive (No Wheel)Direct Drive (no wheel)Direct Drive (No Wheel)
Available today (for sale)YesYesYEsYes
Availability regionsGlobalUSAGlobalGlobal
Power cord requiredYes (no control w/o)Yes (no control w/o)YesYes
Flywheel weight3.5kg/7.7lbs4.2KG/9.2LBS6.7kg (simulated 25kg)12.0lbs/5.44kgs
Maximum wattage capability1,900w @ 40KPH / 2,900w @ 60KPH1,150w @ 40KPH1,500w @ 40KPH1800w
Maximum simulated hill incline15%12%10%16%
Can rise/lower bike or portion thereofNoNoNoWith KICKR CLIMB accessory
Supported accuracy level+/- 2.5%+/- 3%+/-3%+/- 2%

And again, don’t forget you can make your own charts in the product comparison tables here.

Summary:

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Elite set out this summer/fall to create a Direto redux – at least from a popularity and sales standpoint. You might remember that two years ago when that trainer came out it completely dominated sales in the mid-range, backordered for months. Elite had redefined the pricing for that category and completely owned sales that winter. So much so that the following year Wahoo had to counter with the KICKR CORE at the same price point.

This winter things are a bit different. There are far more competitors in this price range (+/- $100) than there were two years ago. And the offers are somewhat close. Still, I think Elite has differentiated enough. Inclusion of a cassette, and a ‘just pull it out of the box’ mantra makes a lot of sense in this ever-expanding market. People want a high ‘just works’ factor. And on paper, Elite had that.

Unfortunately, in practice for the first few months of the season – it was rather variable due to initial production hardware and software issues. While it does seem that Elite has resolved those issues, it’s also probably not accurate to assume that nobody will still run into units. After all, there are clearly still some earlier production units out there. Elite is handling anybody who runs into issues through simple and quick replacement, but there’s still a chance.

Though – as I’ve said already, given the mess that this season has been for all trainer companies – I’m not really sure that any option is perfect. All options seem to be taken with a small rock sized chance of a bad unit. Of course like years past it’ll continue to get better as production normalizes. And the reality is that the vast majority of people are fine.

In any case – assuming we’re past the worst of the early production issues for Elite and the Suito, I think it’s a really solid mid-range trainer for the price and the simplicity of it.

Found this review useful? Or just want to save 10%? Here’s how:

Hopefully you found this review useful. At the end of the day, I’m an athlete just like you looking for the most detail possible on a new purchase – so my review is written from the standpoint of how I used the device. The reviews generally take a lot of hours to put together, so it’s a fair bit of work (and labor of love). As you probably noticed by looking below, I also take time to answer all the questions posted in the comments – and there’s quite a bit of detail in there as well.

I’ve partnered with Clever Training to offer all DC Rainmaker readers exclusive benefits on all products purchased. You can read more about the benefits of this partnership here. You can pick up the Suito trainer through Clever Training using the links below. By doing so, you not only support the site (and all the work I do here) – but you also get to enjoy the significant partnership benefits that are just for DC Rainmaker readers. And, if your order ends up more than $49, you get free US shipping as well.

Elite Suito (US – Clever Training – Save 10% with DCR10BTF)
Elite Suito (EU/UK – Wiggle)

Thanks for reading! And as always, feel free to post comments or questions in the comments section below, I’ll be happy to try and answer them as quickly as possible.

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Wahoo KICKR Bike In-Depth Review https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2019/12/wahoo-kickr-bike-in-depth-review.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2019/12/wahoo-kickr-bike-in-depth-review.html#comments Mon, 09 Dec 2019 20:36:30 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=106619 Read More Here ]]>

At $3,500 the Wahoo KICKR Bike is Wahoo’s most expensive product. And one of the most expensive indoor training products you can buy. It’s also the company’s first go at creating not just an indoor bike, but actually an entirely different technological way of doing resistance within a ‘trainer’. While at first glance you may assume this is basically just a KICKR+CLIMB melded together on steroids, the reality is that technologically it’s vastly different internally.

The flywheel is a new electromagnetic design that’s akin to what Tacx has used in their NEO series for years, while the CLIMB portion no longer uses a belt, but is fully linear actuator driven. Not to mention creating an entirely flexible shifting system that can replicate your outdoor bike, from SRAM to Shimano to Campagnolo. All while trying to adhere to the normal industry standards around communicating with apps on ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart.

While the KICKR Bike just started landing in people’s homes a week or two ago, I’ve been riding the Wahoo KICKR Bike for about two and a half months. I’ve got plenty of rides on it, as have numerous visitors to the DCR Cave during that time period. Be it people at the open house to GPLAMA and DesFit, not to mention my wife… all of whom have put mileage on it. So plenty of time to find the good, the bad, and maybe a bit of ugly.

As usual, once I’m done here shortly with this media loaner I’ll get it all boxed up, tumbled down the stairs, and pushed out the door back to Wahoo. Just the way I roll. If you find this review useful, feel free to hit up the links at the end of the post to help support the site. With that – onwards!

(Note: At present Wahoo is only taking orders for bikes to the North American market. The company has previously said they expect to start on the European market in early 2020, however, given the delays with only a handful of bikes just recently delivered to the US market, I don’t expect we’ll see European sales come online anytime soon. Wahoo has also ceased taking new orders as well until they can make some progress on the huge pile of existing backorders. Due to the weight and size of these products, virtually all distribution from Asia occurs via oceanic cargo ship – which compounds the delays.)

Unboxing & Setup:

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Someday I’ll get around to editing the funny VLOG-style video I shot getting this bike out of the clutches of FedEx and the Dutch customs authority. But what you need to know is that I got it out. That’s all that matters here! And then, like any true resident of the Netherlands, I pedaled it home via bike from the airport: Smart bike atop cargo bike, held only by a daisy chain of bungee cords.

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Once back in the DCR Cave, it was time to unbox it. Albeit, a job partially done by the customs authority. The entire top of the box lifts off, revealing the contents inside. The main portion of the bike is pre-assembled, leaving you a box of parts and then a secondary support piece below the flywheel:

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Here’s a look inside that box of parts:

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And here’s the contents spread out, which includes the handlebars, seat post, power cable, a spare set of pedals you’ll never use unless you host an Open House, as well as the bike feet/frame support posts. Oh, and the manual.

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And a quick close-up gallery of those pieces:

Assembly is pretty straightforward. First, you’ll attach the legs:

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Then, you’ll attach the handlebars – just as you would on a real bike:

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Don’t forget to plug in the two cables to the ports at the base of the front stem:

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Then take the seat-post and stuff that in the hole:

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While this seat-post does have a special ruler on the back of it, you can actually swap it out for any seat-post of your liking. This allows you to have two saddles (perhaps for two family members) and easily swap them. I suspect some day Wahoo will also offer secondary seat posts as accessories in an online store or something.

Then there’s this giant-ass warning card:

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It asks to install these two washers:

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The point of these washers is to keep your pedals (after going through the crank arm hole) from hitting the frame of the bike:

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Go ahead and plug your bike in:

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Oh, wait, don’t forget to double-check your feet levelers are in a happy spot so you don’t get any undesirable wobble from the base:

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Then send out the Roomba to clean-up the mess you’ve made:

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With that, we’re ready to cover some basics before we start into the whole bike fit bit.

The Basics:

For this section I’ll cover some of the basics of the hardware, before we get into setup of rider fit as well as things like gearing and shifting, plus app connectivity. All of which are detailed in separate sections.

We’re going to start where all things start: The wall.

Yup, your power outlet. Like most smart trainers, this bike needs power to function, and comes with a beast of a power block (and a pile of appropriate international wall connectors). Here’s a close look at the power brick specs:

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Once you’ve got it plugged in, you’re pretty much ready to use it. You’ll notice that the small display near the front of the bike is lit up. This display shows your current gearing, with the most forward number indicating your virtual chainring, while the rear number indicates your rear cassette:

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Below that little display is a single 2 AMP USB port. You can use it to plug something in, though there isn’t really a great place to put whatever you plugged in:

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Next to that are two ports, these are where you (should have) plugged in your shifters. There’s an extra port though for auxiliary accessories. That might be triathlon bar shifters some day, or it could be some sort of other accessory. Either way, the expandability is there. in fact, the reason you see the cables as all in disarray as that Wahoo wanted people to be able to make any adjustments in size/fit and not have to deal with re-doing the cabling. While I do appreciate that sentiment, I think they could have done a bit more cleanup there.

That display though will also show your current incline using the integrated CLIMB functionality, which tilts the bike up and down. And you can manually control the CLIMB’s functionality by pressing the two buttons on the left side.

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The CLIMB can recreate a +20% incline and a –15% decline. And it’s a bit different than the existing KICKR CLIMB, because in the case of the KICKR CLIMB it replicated that by raising and lowering your front fork. Whereas here it’s actually tilting the entire bike, so the pivot point is in the center of the bike (as happens on a real hill), versus just the front. That means you feel the downwards a bit more since it’s effectively raising your seat too. Here, this video snippet demonstrates it well:

(I had to very slightly tweak the playback speeds since the KICKR CLIMB and KICKR Bike have different specs, so they’d start/end at the same time)

Note though that certain bike fit positions will max out the CLIMB’s downwards incline capabilities to a lesser number (such as –10%). Also note that even when you set Zwift to 100% trainer difficulty, for some bizarre reason Zwift still halves the downhill gradient for the CLIMB position. So a 10% decline becomes a 5% decline, which means you don’t really feel it.  Other apps like FulGaz don’t have this artificial limitation, and hopefully it’s something that Zwift will eventually fix (it was there on the KICKR CLIMB too).

Next, there’s the flywheel, which is the big round thing at the back of the bike. That’s where the inertia comes from that replicates the feel on the bike. It’s somewhat quiet, though it is louder than the Tacx Bike. It can replicate downhills too by spinning the flywheel forward, making it feel like you’re coasting down a hill, based on the information Zwift sends it. The overall road inertia feel is quite good on the KICKR Bike.

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Now I said ‘somewhat quiet’ above, because this bike is like a jungle when it comes to making sounds. Ya never quite know what it’s gonna come up with next. But, I’ll roughly categorize them here:

A) Regular riding: For normal riding there’s a constant hum that’s not too bothersome, roughly akin to a fan on low
B) Riding at certain cadences: If at 63-64RPM you’ll hear a metal-sounding resonance that increases in volume the longer you stay at that RPM (to a surprisingly loud level). Another range seems to exist in the 78-79 RPM too, albeit more of a high pitched sound. Wahoo says the resonance is normal.
C) Harder efforts/sprints: With certain fit positions/movements, I’ve found this specific bike creaks a lot – like a bed when doing the horizontal shuffle. This seems to happen mostly at higher wattages and harder efforts, but not always. I listened to DesFit for nearly an hour the other day riding it, and he managed to creak the bed bike the entire time. I didn’t ask if he always rides like that, but he seemed to enjoy himself.

Wahoo believes the creaking is fixed on newer bikes, and have offered to send a newer bike over to see if that solves it. I’m going to guess it will be solved initially, but I’m curious to see how it handles longer term. There’s no question that as more people have gotten more riding time on this specific unit, it’s gotten louder and louder.

Now, for normal riding, here’s a comparison between the three bikes on the market. Again – this is exclusive of any funky sounds:

Now, to wrap up this section I’ve got a quick little summary of things I do and don’t like about the bike from a basics standpoint. I hesitate to call this a pros and cons list, though that’s more or less what it is. I’m sticking it here in the middle of the review so people that just skip to the end without reading will miss it (and thus hopefully read the whole review to make an informed decision – nuance matters). I’ll ignore any accuracy likes/dislikes in this section and keep it more on practical things, also ignoring spec-specific things too. Basically, this is more of a practical list of likes/dislikes:

Things I really like:

– The integration with CLIMB is awesome, feels better than KICKR+CLIMB (due to angles)
– The road feel inertia is great, especially ramping up
– The app for initial bike setup is awesome
– The app for configuration of gearing/shifting is even more awesome
– The actual execution of the shifters is the best in the industry

Things I really dislike:

– How the eff is there no place to put your phone/tablet/M&Ms/etc?
– You put a USB port there for what purpose if there’s no place to stash/connect anything?
– The gearing/incline display is in a useless position. Who looks at their crotch while riding?
– The front-end wiring looks ugly (even if it’s for extendibility)
– Single water bottle cage

You’ll see the same list formatting on all my indoor bike reviews. With that, onto the details of rider setup, and then shifting

Bike & Rider Fit Setup:

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Now that the KICKR 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. The KICKR Bike offers plenty of adjustability, which, depending on the width of your crotch, should cover virtually every possible scenario. Don’t worry, I’ll get back to your crotch again later. Or, my crotch as it may be.

At a glance, you can adjust the bike in these five ways (plus more if you include loosening the handlebars and changing the orientation there):

1) Saddle height (up/down)
2) Saddle position (forward/back)
3) Handlebar height (up/down)
4) Handlebar position (forward/back)
5) Stand-over height adjustment (up/down)

In the case of the KICKR Bike, the seat height is actually two metrics blended together: Stand over height + Saddle height.

Here’s a quick gallery of all of those measurement bits. One odd quirk that both Wahoo and Tacx have duplicated is only putting the rulers on one side of the bike. Heck, there’s even grooves in there for both sides. Seriously folks, just do both sides – I’ll pay you an extra $1 if you really want to apply the stickers on both sides.

To adjust any given bit you’ll simply slide open the lever for that particular component. It’s quick and easy and works really well:

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The only issue I’ve seen with this is that the manufacturing tolerances around the seat-post assembly aren’t great. In particular of the back seat post (horizontal movement), where when extended out towards the max there’s easily 1-2mm of play there. Wahoo says this is by design.

Wahoo offers an app integrated fit guide, 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

To get started, you’ll crack open the Wahoo App, and then choose the FIT Method that you prefer. For example, if you choose the Retul Fit option, it’ll ask you for those five specific metrics, and then you press continue:

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After which it’ll give you the specific five measurements you should configure the KICKR Bike for.

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Next, if you’ve got a bike that’s already configured, you can take a picture of it:

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It’ll show you how to line things up:

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And then you go around and place dots on various parts:

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Afterwards you’ll measure the distance between the two wheels, and input it into the app. In theory, it gives you the measurements, but somehow that didn’t quite work for me (nor did a do-over). Perhaps I need to get a better bike fit…

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And finally for the last FIT method, you can enter in your specific height and inseam and it’ll spit out the correct sizing numbers as well:

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And then here’s all the data and instructions it’ll give you back – which was incredibly close to my normal bike fit:

Either way, beyond my specific photo-sizing issue issue, 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. Here’s an example of the slight bit of rub on the KICKR Bike:

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.

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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 on 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.

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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 to 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.

While I do rub on both the KICKR Bike & Tacx Bike, I’ve gotten used to it and it doesn’t bother me appreciably. It seems to impact me more when I’m easy pedaling than pedaling hard. Each person will be different here depending on your fit. For lack of anywhere else to stick it, the Q-Factor on the Wahoo bike is 150mm (Q-Factor is basically the distance between your feet, measured to the point the pedal touches the crank arms), which is about 10mm more than my road bike (but 10mm less than the Wattbike Atom). As I’ve said many times before, I think the debate around Q-Factor is hilariously overthought. After all, people swap between mountain bikes and road bikes throughout the season (or even the week) without any issue, which have dramatically different Q-Factors.

Next we’ve got crank length, which is adjustable to the following settings: 165/167.5/170/172.5/175mm. To adjust the crank length you want you simply put your pedals into the appropriate hole of this crazy 5-holed crank-arm design:

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It may look a bit…bear-paw…but, practically speaking it works great. I like simple solutions, and this nails it.

So what about triathletes? The KICKR Bike 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 RedShift aerobars attached to the KICKR Bike:

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Beyond the aerobar attachment, all other TT/triathlon-type aspects would really fall more under the rest of the FIT section above. Given the flexibility here, I imagine most folks will have no issues finding their right fit here.

Finally – what about multi-user scenarios? Well, not today. But soon.

Wahoo’s working on the ability to create multiple bike profiles with the app. The idea being that you can customize the exact gearing and shifting setup you want, and then label them. For example perhaps one for a general road bike setup, another geared more towards climbing, TT, etc… But that doesn’t directly solve the multi-user scenario.

Instead, Wahoo says that the plan is that once any user connects to the bike with the app on their own phone, it’ll push down that configuration to the Wahoo bike, inclusive of the rider’s weight (which is super important for correct road feel). That should roughly work, though I’d love to see a bit more thinking around that concept. Since the KICKR Bike lacks a meaningful display, there’s no way to know (or even confirm) it’s got the correct rider profile details. What’d be an interesting solution for that is to update the name of the bike as broadcast over BLE & ANT+, so that when you paired it Zwift it’d say “Ray’s KICKR Bike – TT” or “Bobbie’s KICKR Bike – Road”. Or perhaps that equation is driven more from the apps like Zwift itself – able to change all these settings based on who is logged in.

Still, it’s a general problem that hasn’t really been solved for the industry yet, but with Zwift looking to build their own bike – it’s something that’ll need to get solved sooner or later.

Shifting, Braking, and Steering:

There’s no bike on the market, indoor or outdoor, that has nailed shifting and gearing as well as the KICKR Bike. It’s not that it feels better than an outdoor bike per se, but rather that you’ve got endless customization of the shifters. Want to ride eTAP? No problem – done. Switch it up tomorrow for Shimano Di2? Sure. How about go all Italian with Campagnolo? Sì.

And that’s before we even talk things like chainring and cassette customization – or the planned upcoming multiple bike profiles.

But stepping back a second – the purpose of adjustability to shifting in an indoor bike may not seem obvious at first. But this bike is replacing your outdoor bike, and on that bike you’ve got a specific gearing setup you’re used to. Be it the shifters type (such as Di2), or having a different gearing combination (like a compact crankset). If you’re going to do an app with lots of climbing, you’ll want to replicate that compact crankset (or, change into such a crankset).

And while the software side of the Wahoo bike’s shifting realm is by far the star of the show for the entire bike, it’s equally as much the actual hardware. You’ll find these shifters feel like real outdoor shifters – this seemingly perfect blend of SRAM and Shimano shifters, all with some semi-hidden buttons on the insides that could be used for later functions. You can even squeeze the brakes if you’re bored (it won’t immediately stop your avatar in Zwift though).

First, let’s start on the app. The Wahoo bike supports the ability to configure your gearing via Wahoo’s app. 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. Note that functionally speaking what you see below is virtually identical to what Tacx does on their bike, but practically speaking it’s faster/easier to configure than Tacx.

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Next, there’s the configuration of the shifters themselves. It’s here where you can specify Shimano (Di2 or Mechanical), SRAM eTAP, SRAM Mechanical, or Campagnolo.  Once you select a given shifting type there’s also a little menu that explains them all, in case you aren’t familiar. You can’t do any of the complicated synchro-shift type stuff at this point – but I suppose there’s always something for down the road – it would be a mere software update.

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Again, the shifting setup is the star of the show for the Wahoo bike – I can’t overstate that enough here.  And here’s how the shifters look, which mirror that of real bike shifters:

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Now, the one downside of the Wahoo shifting system is that the display is in a really bad place. As I talked about elsewhere it’s just not good location-wise, since you’re always Chris Froomeing trying to see it.

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Atop that, Zwift isn’t displaying the shift data yet from the Wahoo bike (only the Wattbike Atom at this time). 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:

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It’s worth noting that none of the indoor bikes today (including wahoo) 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. This really shouldn’t be that hard and I’ve yet to think (or hear of) any technical blocker here. Wahoo already supports this ANT+ profile in their ELEMENT/BOLT/ROAM bike computers.

So what about steering? Well, physically it’s there – but there’s nothing hooked up yet software-wise. Like other bikes on the market, the KICKR Bike 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.

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When you hold the brake levers, it’ll stop the flywheel at the back of the bike. But it won’t actually stop your avatar in Zwift immediately. And in fact, if you try and pedal while holding the brakes, it’ll actually make your avatar go faster.

The reason is that Zwift is looking at power output to drive your avatar’s speed. So when you apply the brakes, it simply stops the flywheel – it doesn’t control the speed within Zwift (and Zwift has no concept of integrated braking yet). And extending that further, if you apply the brakes while pedaling, that (understandably) spikes your power, which in this power-driven world means it actually makes you faster (versus in the real-world you’d still slow down).

Ultimately, for all these companies – these features are really on Zwift to implement. The gearing shifting data is already there and documented/broadcasted by Wahoo (as seen, FulGaz has implemented it). Zwift has already implemented a variant of this for the Wattbike Atom on certain platforms. But nobody is using any standards here, which is somewhat ironic because there actually is a gear shifting standard, so it’s unclear to me why the indoor bike and app companies just wouldn’t use that (and funnel it over BLE, akin to what Tacx did back in the early days of ANT+ FE-C over Bluetooth Smart).

Still, I’m going to continue to give Zwift a hard time on this.  They’re the industry leader here on the trainer app side, but lack any sort of cohesive hardware integration team or even a single individual that ensures these sort of features are lit up when companies bring them to market (at the request of Zwift no less). I could write an entire novel on all the Zwift hardware integration stumbles there…and that’s just from this year alone.

Nonetheless – the good news for Wahoo is that once Zwift decides to do something about it, it’s not hard for Wahoo to implement it. Hopefully for people spending $3,500 for this bike – that’s sooner rather than later.

Apps Compatibility:

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The Wahoo Bike follows some but not all of the industry norms you’d expect from most trainers these days.  As you probably know, apps like Zwift, TrainerRoad, SufferFest, Rouvy, FulGaz, Kinomap and many more all support most of these industry standards, making it easy to use whatever app you’d like.  If trainers or apps don’t support these standards, then it makes it far more difficult for you as the end user. And while I used the term ‘most’, the reality is that the leftover bits not yet following the industry standards (Bluetooth Smart FTMS) are handled by most apps supporting Wahoo’s own Bluetooth Smart protocols anyways (and Wahoo says early 2020 they’ll implement FTMS).

With the latest firmware, the Wahoo Bike transmits data on both ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart as well, allowing interactive resistance control across both ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart.  By applying resistance control, apps can simulate climbs as well as set specific wattage targets.

To be specific, the Tacx Bike supports the following protocol transmission standards:

ANT+ FE-C Trainer Control: This is for controlling the trainer via ANT+ from apps and head units. Read tons about it here.
Bluetooth Smart Wahoo Trainer Control: This is Wahoo’s private method of controlling the trainer. At this point it does NOT yet support FTMS, but that switch-over is planned in early 2020 according to Wahoo last week. I suspect the issue is the same as Tacx not supporting it, in that the FTMS standard doesn’t support a way to configure the rider’s weight, which is important for correctly applying the ride feel.

Note: At this time (Dec 2019) the KICKR Bike does *NOT* support transmission of standard ANT+ or Bluetooth Smart power meter data streams, like all past Wahoo trainers. The company says this is coming shortly – perhaps as soon as the end of this year, but it may slide into early next year. The ramifications of this are most apparent if you use a watch or head unit to record your training data for training load/recovery purposes. That’s not available at this time.

The Wahoo bike includes cadence data for any of the connections, so that data is baked into the power meter and trainer control streams. When you go to pair an app to the KICKR Bike you’ll see the cadence channel shown as well:

2019-12-09 16.08.58 2019-12-09 16.09.14

It’s these same standards that also allow you to connect via head units too. For example the Wahoo ELEMNT/BOLT as well as Garmin Edge series support ANT+ FE-C for trainer control (or Wahoo Bluetooth Smart trainer control), so you can re-ride outdoor rides straight from your bike head unit to your trainer. But you can’t yet pair it as a regular power meter, only a trainer.

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(In case things are still a bit confusing: You can connect to the trainer via ANT+ FE-C, but just not as a regular power meter. Meaning if you want to re-ride an outdoor ride on your Wahoo/Garmin unit, no problems. But if you want to do a Zwift ride and then just record a copy of your data to your Garmin for training load/recovery purposes, that’s not yet possible like it is on every other trainer/bike in the market.)

For me, in my testing, I used Zwift and TrainerRoad as my two main apps (which are the two main apps I use personally). In the case of Zwift, I used it in regular riding mode (non-workout mode, aka SIM mode), whereas in the case of TrainerRoad I used it in a structured workout mode. I dig into the nuances of these both within the power accuracy section.

In any case, here in TrainerRoad using Bluetooth Smart on an iPad:

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What you may notice though is that the calibration option is actually present. In reality, if you try using it, it’ll fail. This is by design, the Wahoo KICKR Bike doesn’t require any calibration (nor does it support it) – that’s identical to how the Tacx NEO & NEO Bike series works.

Beyond all of the gearing/shifting features we discussed in the app, as well as the rider fit options, there’s not much else app-wise for the KICKR Bike. Except firmware updates of course. These usually just take a couple minutes. Quick and easy.

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Note that the Wahoo KICKR Bike does have downhill drive simulation, which means that as you go down a hill it’ll drive the flywheel forward so it feels like you’re going down a hill. I’d say this is OK, but it’s not quite as realistic a feel as Tacx’s. Something about the speed doesn’t quite feel right. Though inversely, I feel like Wahoo’s flywheel realism while you’re pedaling and specifically accelerations feels slightly more realistic than Tacx’s.

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On the flip side, Tacx has their ‘road feel’ on the NEO & NEO Bike, which simulates cobblestones and such. Wahoo could look to implement that as well in the KICKR Bike (assuming no patent issues from Tacx). That feature works by stuttering the flywheel at just the right frequency (we’re talking milliseconds here) to replicate the different road conditions/patterns.

Remember, this is a very different technology than on a typical Wahoo KICKR. This is an electromagnetic flywheel (essentially the same as the Tacx NEO series), versus a more traditional flywheel found on a Wahoo KICKR trainer. That’s the direction I suspect you’ll see the entire industry take for mid to higher-end trainers, going into 2020. The point being the potential for how Wahoo decides to tweak/leverage that is just beginning.

Power Accuracy Analysis:

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As usual, I put the bike up against a number of power meters to see how well it handled everything from resistance control accuracy, to speed of change, to any other weird quirks along the way. In the case of indoor bikes it’s a bit more tricky to have 2-3 other power meters, since you typically can’t swap out the crankset or rear hubs. So you have to rely upon other power meter pedals.

No problem, I’ve got plenty of those. I’ve set up the bike in three different configurations over the past few months:

Config 1: With Garmin Vector 3 pedals
Config 2: With Favero Assioma Duo pedals

Within this timeframe I’ve also seen multiple firmware versions, with most of the data below from either the most recent or version prior to it. The most recent firmware version adds in the ability to turn off ERG mode smoothing, which gives us more granularity for measuring ERG mode power accuracy.

We’re going to start this parade with today’s ride actually, a Zwift Race. Or, well, it was supposed to be a race until the Zwift Apple TV app froze as the starting line clock struck zero. Again. So, I just rode instead. In any case, here’s that data from a high level against the Favero Assioma pedals:

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For the purposes of the above chart, I applied a 10-second smoothing factor simply so you can see through the haze of constant shifts in power as I bridged various groups. Here, this is what it looks like for just a small couple minute section without smoothing:

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It is actually really quite close – with the only differences being at the single-second level (meaning, second to second there might be variances due to recording/transmission timing rates). If we smooth the above chart to a 5-second rolling average, here’s what it looks like:

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There’s some very slight shifts in who has a higher power versus the other – usually within a couple watts, which is within the spec of both units. Even on a bike like this there’s still going to be some very slight drivetrain losses. So in theory the Favero Assioma pedals should be marginally higher than the KICKR Bike power.

Here’s a look at a casual sprint. For sprint closeness – this is actually astoundingly close. Very rarely do I see two power meters/trainers this close when we’re talking 1-second power (the below is not smoothed), let alone at these power levels.

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And cadence accuracy? It seems incredibly close to the Favero Assioma – albeit, always 2 RPM offset (lower):

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Whereas on another ride comparing against the Vector 3 pedals, it’s precisely the same:

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So let’s shift to that other ride. This one another Zwift ride up/around the Volcano – a race I believe. This set is compared against the Garmin Vector 3 pedals. Here’s that data set:

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Again, this is so silly close it’s barely worth analyzing. The only times it isn’t close are where I’m having some sort of ANT+ drop issue on the head unit connected to the Vector pedals. It might be the pedals, though I saw some other drops this week on other devices too – so my guess was something was interfering with ANT+ signals in the DCR Cave that week from a WiFi standpoint. When it happens, it seems to happen in rashes.

In any case, here’s a random snippet – as you can see, crazy close with zero smoothing applied:

image

Ok, because the Zwift simulation mode bits are boring, let’s shake things up a bit and head over to TrainerRoad. In this case I’m using ERG mode (the fact that I’m using TrainerRoad is irrelevant here from an accuracy standpoint – it behaves identically within Zwift). We’re gonna start with my famed 30×30 test. I do this for *every single* trainer I test, and the KICKR Bike is no exception. It’s simply a repetitive interval of 30 seconds hard, 30 seconds easy. This tests how quick the trainer responds (or bike, in this case), and how accurately it does so.

Not only am I testing for underlying power accuracy, but also the ability to hit a given wattage target correctly within a specified timeframe. Typically I target about 2-4 seconds to ramp up from approx. 150w to approx. 400-430w. Note this is with the latest firmware that now disables ERG mode smoothing (so we can see the actual power info):

Here’s the workout and results from TrainerRoad:

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Well…huh.

That’s not terribly ideal.

What’s not ideal you ask? This isn’t ideal:

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It’s overshooting the intervals (and the undershooting the exits of intervals). My cadence on these was crazy constant. Like, robotically perfectly constant. Yet, the trainer has a really hard time holding the correct initial setpoint wattage for the first 1-3 seconds. That’s 40 watts over (468w vs 428w). That’s basically the *exact* same issue I saw with the NEO 2T and Tacx NEO Bike when they first launched (since solved on the NEO 2T, and slightly less pronounced of an issue on the NEO Bike, at least in the above test…more in a second).

In the case of Tacx, their issue was that their flywheel was so powerful they hadn’t refined that swing in power yet. A brute that hadn’t yet learned finesse. Now, before I show it getting worse, let’s talk about the responsiveness – did it get to the set point (even if correct) efficiently?

Yes it did. And it did so smoothly too (smoother than the beast of a Tacx Bike). It felt right. So good work there, just gotta stick the landing next time.

And what about the actual power meter accuracy side of the house? Well, that’s pretty good too. The Favero Assioma and Wahoo KICKR Bike are very very close once I apply a 3-second smoothing to take care of any recording latency type issues. Here’s the data:

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So ok, power accuracy is fine. And responsiveness is fine. But what if I try a different ERG mode workout?

Thus I pulled up Adams, which has a bit longer sustained efforts.

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Holy fuzz line balls Batman!

Now – at this point I’m sure a bunch of Wahoo employees are saying:

“But DCR, you disabled ERG mode smoothing, of course it’ll be fuzzy! That’s why we wanted to keep you from disabling it!”

And sure, that’s correct, but that’s also missing the point. It shouldn’t look like this. Period. It doesn’t for *any* other trainer or bike I test. More work is clearly needed here to find the right balance. But, that’s actually not what I’m concerned about.

Instead, it’s these spikes at the start and end of every interval that are the problem:

image

Yes folks, that’s 130w over the actual set point. Mind you, the others aren’t magically better. They’re only better by comparison. The others range from 50w to 75w over the set point.

And, lest you think this is just an ‘ERG Mode Smoothing’ setpoint thing, check out the underlying data:

image

The Favero Assioma is showing the exact same power. Meaning – my legs really are having to put out more than 100w higher than what the workout specified. Coach Chad of TrainerRoad (or my own Coach Alan) would be displeased at this. But on the bright side, at least the bike is accurate.

Note that I’m seeing this behavior on the latest firmware across all ERG mode workouts, be it TrainerRoad or Zwift.

Ultimately from a power accuracy standpoint though, the KICKR Bike seems pretty much spot-on within all my tests. However, folks on TrainerRoad (or Zwift) will at this point notice the overshooting and undershooting of the unit in the first few seconds of any structured ERG mode workout. While the actual power is accurate, the KICKR Bike is not correctly hitting the right target outputs – usually by 50-75w high, but as high as 125w.

As noted, this is essentially the same issue as seen by Tacx with their new NEO 2T/Tacx Bike flywheel design. And I suspect it’s gonna take Wahoo a bit of time as well to sort out their issues there too. This is more noticeable on shorter intervals of higher intensity than longer ones. On the bright side, at least the power itself is accurate – even if the set point isn’t. But again, I suspect they’ll be able to sort this out.

Note: All of the charts in these accuracy sections were created using the DCR Analyzer tool.  It allows you to compare power meters/trainers, heart rate, cadence, speed/pace, GPS tracks and plenty more. You can use it as well for your own gadget comparisons, more details here.)

Indoor Smart Bike Comparisons:

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. I’ve also included the new Stages Bike in there, though that won’t ship till Q1 2020.

Again, just go visit my massive shoot-out post for a more detailed dive between them.

Function/FeatureWahoo KICKR BikeTacx NEO Bike SmartWattbike AtomStages Bike
Copyright DC Rainmaker - Updated December 10th, 2019 @ 5:13 pmNew Window Expand table for more results
Price for trainer$3,499$3,199~$2,500USD$2,600-$2,800USD
Available today (for sale)YesYesYesQ1 2020
Availability regionsLimited InitiallyGlobalUK/South Africa/Australia/Scandinavia/USAGlobal
Power cord requiredYesNoYesYes
Flywheel weight13bs/5.9kgsSimulated/Virtual 125KG9.28KG/20.4lbs50lbs
Includes motor to drive speed (simulate downhill)YesYesNoNo (but kinda)
Maximum wattage capability2,200w @ 40KPH2,200w @ 40KPH2,000w3,000w
Maximum simulated hill incline20% (and -15% downhill)25%25%
Measures/Estimates Left/Right PowerNoYesYesYes (actually measured independently)
Can rise/lower bike or portion thereofYesNoNoNo

Oh, and before you ask why I haven’t included some products into the above – here’s the quick and dirty answers:

Peloton Bike: It’s not a ‘smart’ bike in the sense of the above, it doesn’t allow you to set a specific power level (it does tell you the current power level). Rumors are Peloton is working on such a bike, but nothing today.

SRM Bike: I just don’t see this as a competitor in this space. At $5,000, it’s mostly for various research purposes and is designed in that realm.

True Kinetix Bike: It’s not really shipping globally (just in the Netherlands), and by their own statements is still in a bit of a pre-production state.

VirtuPro: It could also get escalated into the above chart, I’ve talked about it in the past. But I need clarity on when they’ll (actually) ship it with ANT+/BLE support, and realistic timelines to that. Else, it’s a proprietary solution that doesn’t really fit what the tables are designed for (the rest of the bikes here are compatible with all industry protocols).

Again, I’m more than happy to add products into the database. In general, my rule of thumb is I want hands-on time (or butts-on in this case), and I want some realistic level of clarity on delivery time frames.

Summary:

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For a first go of a smart bike, what Wahoo has done is pretty darn impressive. While I disagree slightly on the practicalities of some aspects of the bike, the actual execution of much of the details for the riding experience is spot-on. As I’ve said numerous times in this post and elsewhere, by far Wahoo’s shifting and gearing setup is easily the best in the industry. It’s not just the software, and not just the shifting hardware – but the blend between them. It’s what everyone should be aiming for as a starting point going into 2020, anything less just won’t be acceptable. And the Wahoo KICKR CLIMB integration into the frame is the cherry on top (even if downhills while at 100% trainer difficult are still halved by Zwift for no logical reason). The natural sway and movement of the bike is much appreciated too, it just feels more like a bike. It rides more like a bike, than the others.

Still, Wahoo made the choice to replicate an outside road bike, indoors. Whereas Tacx in their decision tree essentially upscaled a trainer into a full-fledged indoor bike. In the case of Wahoo, that gained them things like the natural movement and shifters, over Tacx. But it also meant that simple things like ‘Where do I put my phone?’ or ‘Why is the gearing display in such a bad spot?’, seemingly were incomplete afterthoughts. One of the big strengths of the Tacx bike is the entire display console that doubles as a place to store things and hold tablets (with multiple USB ports). Sure, I could add a $250 Wahoo KICKR desk, but even that is clunky due to the CLIMB portion going up/down. I’d love to see Wahoo create some sort of KICKR-bike specific tray off the front to hold phones/tablets/gels/etc – all the things you use on an indoor bike versus an outdoor bike.

And certainly, some of you will think that’s a funny thing to complain about. And then I’ll ask to see pictures of your cave setup and find you using a $35 hospital bedside tray jury-rigged next to a $3,500 indoor bike – to hold your gels and phone carefully strung to the USB port of your bike going up and down, for that long trainer session. And then it won’t seem like such a trivial thing.

Still – I think Wahoo has set the bar for the ride feel and execution of the pedaling part of the bike. Aspects like the bearpaw style crank length system ‘just work’, and the app integration around bike fit are also exceptionally well done.  And hopefully one day the aux ports will mean shifting on the bar ends of triathlon/TT aerobars too. Of course, I do worry about shipping timelines, and early production issues (which based on early regular user reports, don’t seem limited to my sample).

If Wahoo can sort out those early product quirks, then they could be in a very strong position in mid to late 2020 to crown themselves the best indoor smart bike king. Until then – I think it’s a bit early for anyone to carry that title. But, Wahoo’s bike on paper is the closest to it.

Found this review useful? Or just wanna save a bundle? Here’s how:

Hopefully you found this review useful. At the end of the day, I’m an athlete just like you looking for the most detail possible on a new purchase – so my review is written from the standpoint of how I used the device. The reviews generally take a lot of hours to put together, so it’s a fair bit of work (a labor of love). As you probably noticed by looking below, I also take the time to answer all the questions posted in the comments – and there’s quite a bit of detail in there as well.

I’ve partnered with Clever Training to offer all DC Rainmaker readers exclusive benefits on all products purchased.  By joining the Clever Training VIP Program, you will earn 10% points on this item and 10% off (instantly) on thousands of other fitness products and accessories.  Points can be used on your very next purchase at Clever Training for anything site-wide.  You can read more about the details here.  By joining, you not only support the site (and all the work I do here) – but you also get to enjoy the significant partnership benefits that are just for DC Rainmaker readers.  And, since this item is more than $49, you get free 3-day (or less) US shipping as well.

Wahoo KICKR Bike (US)

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Thanks for reading!

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48
Garmin Venu GPS Smartwatch In-Depth Review https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2019/12/garmin-venu-smartwatch-sports-review.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2019/12/garmin-venu-smartwatch-sports-review.html#comments Fri, 06 Dec 2019 11:33:42 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=106449 Read More Here ]]> Garmin-Venu-In-Depth-Review

It’s been a bit over three months since the Garmin Venu came out, and since even before the announcement day it’s been on my left wrist – day in and day out. It’s definitely been one heck of a long review cycle, largely elongated due to it being in the middle of indoor trainer review season. So these last few weeks I’ve been circling back to getting some of these leftover wearables reviews knocked out, as seen with the Apple Watch Series 5 last week.

The watch is notable because it’s Garmin’s first wearable with an AMOLED display, aka: A pretty screen. Beyond that it mirrors all the same new features as the Vivoactive 4, with music capabilities coming standard now (including both Spotify and Amazon Music offline access), as well as a pile of new features related to other workout types like yoga & Pilates with animated step by step workout move instructions, 24×7 respiration rate tracking, estimated sweat loss, and finally hydration tracking.

Within this review I’ll cover all the good, the bad, and the little bits of ugly (spoiler: there’s really not much ugly). Just as I always do. Also, this media loaner unit will finally get shipped back to Garmin, as I’ve already got my own unit I ordered. Just the way I roll. If you find this review useful go forth and hit up some of the links at the end of the post. With that, let’s get cookin’.

What’s New:

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The Venu is a progression of the Vivoactive lineup. It and the Vivoactive 4 share virtually every feature, with the only differentiating aspects of the Venu being those that are specifically display driven. So such things like higher quality animations and better quality watch faces. In discussing the features with Garmin, there are no non-display associated features that are in Venu that aren’t in Vivoactive 4, or vice versa.

The other thing to note is that previously there were separate editions of the Vivoactive lineup – one for music (e.g. Vivoactive 3 Music), and one for non-music (Vivoactive 3); now that’s all under a single umbrella with music – whether you have Venu or Vivoactive 4. On the flip-side, you now have two different sized units, and things cost more. The pricing is as follows:

US Pricing:
Venu: $399
Vivoactive 4/4S US Pricing: $349

EU Pricing:
Venu: €349 & €379 depending on bezels/buttons
Vivoactive 4S: €279 & €299 depending on bezels/buttons
Vivoactive 4: €299 & €329 depending on bezels/buttons

With that, let’s talk all the new offerings in relation to the past model – the Vivoactive 3:

– Music now standard: Including Spotify, Amazon Music, Deezer, and iHeartRadio
– Venu features 1.2” AMOLED display: Super vibrant, lots of colors
– Venu also adds ‘always-on’ mode despite AMOLED display
– Added ambient light sensor tied to new display
– Added new ‘Live’ Watch faces with small animations
– Added secondary button to side: Used for lap, back, menu access
– Added hydration tracking to manually track liquid intake with widget and app
– Added Estimated Sweat Loss post-workout
– Added Respiration Rate for all-day and sleep metrics (and certain workout types)
– Added Breathwork Exercises (way different than simple breathing stress features)
– Added Workout Animation functionality: For Strength, Cardio, Yoga, Pilates
– Added new Yoga and Pilates Built-in workouts: Includes step by step animations
– Added ability to design Yoga workouts in Garmin Connect: Complete with step by step pose animations
– Added ability to design Pilates workouts in Garmin Connect: Complete with step by step animations
– Added PulseOx for 24×7 blood oxygen tracking
– Revamped health stat widget akin to latest Fenix/Forerunner models
– Switched to Sony GPS chipset like remainder of Garmin 2019 unit lineup
– Switched to Garmin Elevate V3 optical HR sensor
– Connect IQ Developers will have access to create live watch faces
– Battery life at 5 days standby, and 6 hours of GPS+Music

As you can see, the vast majority of new features on the watch are far less focused on the swim/bike/run athlete that’s more common in Garmin’s Forerunner and Fenix lineup, and instead focused on a bit more of the lifestyle athlete that may be more varied in their day to day activity – which to be fair, was always the strength/target of the Vivoactive lineup, as this is within that family.

For those not familiar with the Vivoactive lineup, here’s all the baseline features found on both the Venu & Vivoactive 4:

– GPS tracking of activities (no reliance on phone)
– Workout tracking of range of sports including running, cycling, pool swimming, skiing, golf, gym and many more (full list down below)
– Structured workout support via downloadable workouts
– Quick on the fly intervals
– Training calendar support
– Optical heart rate sensor in watch
– 24×7 tracking of steps, stairs, calories, and distance
– Smartphone notifications from iOS/Android
– Garmin Pay for contactless payments

Since release, many of these new features have also worked their way into the Fenix 6 lineup, and some also the FR945 and FR245 (as recently as an update today in fact – for respiration rate). As is common with the Garmin ecosystem, I would not expect any of these new features to make their way back to the Vivoactive 3. Of course, bits like the screen are hardware driven. I would, however, expect that the Venu and Vivoactive 4 will stay largely lock-step in their firmware updates/features.

The Basics:

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If you’re looking for a complete user interface overview, simply hit the Play button below. I go through everything from the basics of activity tracking to guided yoga workouts to music and payments. Plus much more.

There’s no better place to start than the display. After all, it’s why you’re paying $50 more than the Garmin Vivoactive 4. The Venu’s AMOLED display means that it now at least looks the part of a higher-end smartwatch. Sure, Garmin has had color displays of varying levels for years, but this is similar to what you’d see with a Fitbit Versa or Samsung watch. The Apple Watch displays appear a bit higher quality (and certainly a higher refresh rate), but without detailed specs of all of them that may be more perception than reality.

The key change we’ve seen in 2019 though from almost all watchmakers is shifting to always-on AMOLED displays. Previously, most AMOLED displays were on-demand, which means they turned off when not looking at them. But this year we saw Fitbit, Apple, and Garmin – join Samsung in that department.

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Still, atop paying more cash for this display you’re also paying a battery life price. Garmin claims 2-3 days in always-on mode, and upwards of 5-7 days without the always-on display.  In three months of usage I’d agree with those numbers – they nail it. I’d routinely make it about 2.5-2.8 days (inclusive of usually 1-2 workouts) before Venu would die, when in always-on mode. While with the always-on option turned off I’d be pretty close to covering a week.

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As part of the higher-end display they have new ‘live watch faces’, which are mostly shortly animations that iterate each time you raise your wrist, just like below:

And then, after the animation is complete, when in always-on mode it’ll continue to show the time atop blackness:

However, where Garmin is way behind here is the number of live/active watch faces they have: A whopping four in total. Of course, unlike Apple, Garmin allows 3rd party developers to create watch faces. And there are hundreds – if not thousands, available all for free within Garmin’s Connect IQ App store:

2019-12-05 14.54.54 2019-12-05 14.54.38

Still, I’d really like to see Garmin make more live watch faces. The NYC short time-lapses watch face I’ve been using is nice, but there’s zero reason Garmin can’t go to some stock libraries and get time-lapses for any of the major cities around the world and release a new one each month.

DSC_9562 DSC_9561

Now while Garmin leverages the term ‘Always-on’, they do cheat a little bit if you use the default settings. When you hit your evening ‘Do not disturb’ settings (such as midnight to 7AM), it’ll actually turn off the display entirely. Note, this is optional – but it is the default. That’s fine though, as it saves a bit of battery life at a time I don’t really need it. I can simply tap a button to see the time at 4AM when the baby wakes up again (as was the case this morning).

Now – another change here compared to the Vivoactive 3 is that the Venu has two buttons. Previously it just had one. This is of course in addition to the touchscreen. I find the two button shifts a huge upgrade. I was never a fan of the singular button design. But the two buttons are spot-on for their purpose, especially in sports (to have a dedicated lap vs start/stop button).

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Moving along, like most other Garmin wearables you’ve got various widgets for displaying various stats (and these can be extended too with 3rd party apps).  For example here’s the Garmin Health Stats one, which allows you to see things like heart rate, stress, body battery, and breathing rate in one quick glance:

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Or the ‘My Day’ widget, which summaries most of your basic fitness metrics:

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You can dive into a pile of these down below in my little mini gallery of them:

Anyway, back to the basics and new features. There’s the new hydration tracker widget. The way this works is that you define three ‘vessels’ (or cups, as you see them), and each of these are basically custom containers. So Cup #1 could be an 18oz bottle, cup #2 could be an 8oz cup, and cup #3 could be whatever else you want. Anytime you tap on that cup it automatically adds the appropriate amount of tracked liquid. Presumably it’s water, but perhaps you’re going for an extensive bar hopping adventure in Ireland and really want to know how many pints you’ve drunk.

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All of this can be customized to metric instead of cups, by the way. And you can add water within Garmin Connect Mobile and it should merge together (right now that’s not working for me). The whole point of this is largely water tracking. For those trying to lose weight, one of the best ways to support that is drinking lots of water (for a variety of reasons that Google can help on). You’ll see your goal progress (as defined in settings on the app) around the outside, and a little animation when you achieve it.

If configured, the Venu will remind you every 2 hours (10AM, 12PM, 2PM, etc…) to log how much you’ve drank. For me, I’ve become an expert dismisser of this notification. I could just disable it, but I’m lazy.

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Garmin is approaching this feature much like the female menstrual tracking functionality they added this past spring in that it’s technically a Connect IQ widget that’s pre-loaded onto the Venu/Vivoactive 4 watches, but expect to see it expanded quickly.

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Next, there’s the new breathwork features. Now, unlike typical “slowly breath in and out” features we’ve seen on various watches, this is at an entirely different level of breathwork, often called mindful breathing. For you endurance athletes, think of this like the mother of all structured workouts. And in fact, you’ll find it under the workouts section:

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It’s here you can choose a specific breathing technique:

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Once you’ve done that, it has all the steps listed. Seriously, some of these have repeats that list ‘35x’. Imagine if you had a track workout that said ‘Repeat 35 times’. Yikes. And then it’ll guide you through those steps, with the count-down timer around the edge.

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Now in certain activities you’ll also get the new respiration rate data. The new respiration rate feature does not require a heart rate strap, and is working constantly behind the scenes within the optical HR sensor to measure respiration rate (basically, breathing rate). You can see it on a dedicated widget on the watch – inclusive of trending over the last 7 days:

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And here’s the data from within Garmin Connect Mobile:

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The Venu and Vivoactive 4 also have PulseOx measurement as well, joining the growing list of Garmin watches that have the capability. You can toggle it to automatically measure 24×7, just at sleep, or only on demand:

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As with my past experiences with this, I’d take this with a grain of salt. However, if you do take measurements you should roughly follow exactly as would be done in a medical setting: Keeping it snug, while seated, and not moving.

Beyond these features, you’ve got smart notifications just like on past Garmin watches. You can see some emoji displayed here:

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But not all; for example on this next text message, both the plate and pot of food emoji failed to show up, leaving me with just a box of blocks:

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Note that the watch isn’t just limited to text messages. You’ll get anything you’ve configured on your smartphone for notifications. You can see a Strava notification here as well as some YouTube ones:

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Finally, there’s also calendar sync too – which automatically syncs to the watch from whatever calendars you’ve got setup. As does weather too. All of which are up in the widgets gallery a bit earlier.

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With that – let’s get onto the sports bits.

Sports Usage:

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While many of the new features are within the general aspects of the watch (like hydration), a huge pile of them are technically under sports (including some of the breathing features I talked about in the previous section). We’ll first look at these new features, and then from there dive into more traditional sports like running and data field configurations.

But first we’ve gotta talk animations. No, not like Dory and Nemo, but rather workout animations. Other watches, most notably Fitbit, have been doing this for years in the strength and core workout realm. But there have been plenty of others including Adidas and Polar that have tackled this as well. In Garmin’s case there are four workout types (Strength, Cardio, Yoga, Pilates) with some 41 different structured workouts between them. Within that, there are small little animated peoples that you can see the exact steps of the workout.

Here, let me show you. Let’s pick a yoga workout, first by going to the sport menu and choosing Yoga:

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And then by swiping up to ‘Workouts’. It’s here that you’ve got a handful to choose from:

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Pick one of them, Sun Salutations in our case because it’s early morning right now and the sun is rising, and then press to view the 53 steps of the workout:

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You’ll see each step listed with the number of seconds next to it:

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If you tap on a given item, it’ll go ahead and show you a short animation of that action:

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But let’s go ahead and actually start the workout. When you do that it’ll walk you through each step, with a timer around the outer edge of the step, and the inside for the pose itself:

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You can swipe down for a timer that’ll show you a count-down, or just wait for it to buzz for the next step instruction, with it giving the name of the pose, and a pie-chart style countdown clock:

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You can see your heart rate on that clock page above, but also within a regular data field you can set up on a data page:

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In fact, you’ll notice both the stress and respiration rate data fields are actually available there – something new on Garmin wearables and is specific to Yoga. After you’ve finished the workout the summary screen will even list the poses, as well as your breathing rates.  Now the overall poses/animations concepts are essentially the same whether you’re in yoga, Pilates, cardio, or strength. Obviously the specifics for each workout are different, but the way the Garmin unit works is the same. With strength training, you’re also getting rep-specific information too.

However, where it really starts to get interesting is that you can create your own workout  from Garmin Connect/Garmin Connect Mobile:

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Though, at present you don’t see the animations on the device – hopefully things get there.

Let’s switch gears now back to more traditional sport features. The Venu has piles of sports you can choose from. Many of these are customized to the specifics of the sport. For example, running is pretty straightforward, but something like downhill skiing/snowboarding will actually automatically count your runs and vertical, pausing correctly each time you take the lift back up.

To start any sport you’ll simply tap the upper right button once and select your sport, such as Run, from the list:

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The GPS status and heart rate lock will also show up top; if you’ve got any sensors paired, it’ll show that too.

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Oh, and sensor-wise it supports: heart rate, headphones, cycling speed/cadence, running footpod, Tempe (temperature sensor), ANT+ cycling lights, ANT+ cycling radar, as well as golfing club sensors. Note for most of those above it’ll support both the Bluetooth Smart & ANT+ variants of them.

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Back on the starting screen if you wanted to execute a custom workout you’d just swipe from the bottom to access the workouts section:

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And if you want to customize any of your sport screens you can do so within the settings on the watch itself (still not on phone app). You get three customizable screens, each with up to 4 data fields on them. You’ll also get a heart rate gauge screen too.

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You can further configure bits like auto lap (distance based), auto pause, auto scroll, and the GPS type (GPS/GPS+GLONASS/GPS+GALILEO):

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The Venu uses the same Sony chipset as every other Garmin watch released in 2019 (and every other watch released in the last year+ from Suunto, Polar, and COROS). We’ll get to GPS accuracy later.

Once you’re ready to run, you’ll just press the upper right button again. It works just like any other Garmin watch in terms of showing you your running stats such as time, distance, pace, and anything else you’ve added.

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While there is auto-lap, there’s also manual laps, which can be done by simply pressing the lower right button to trigger a new lap. To start/stop your workout you’ll press the upper right button. After which you’re given the option to save or discard.

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Once saved, your workout summary stats are shown – though it’s disappointingly super basic. There’s so much Garmin could do here with this screen.

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However, it’s also transmitted to Garmin Connect/Garmin Connect Mobile using Bluetooth or WiFi (depending on where you are). This allows you to pull up piles more stats there:

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And if you’ve got your account setup to sync with Strava, TrainingPeaks, MyFitnessPal or any of numerous other sites  – it’ll show up immediately there as well.

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Finally, it’s worthwhile noting that the Venu contains Garmin newish Safety & Tracking features. These are roughly in two buckets:

– Incident Detection: If you crash your bike, or fall while running and walking (you can configure individually)
– Assistance Alerts: Will send an emergency alert to predefined contacts with your live GPS location

The assistance alerts are loosely based atop Garmin’s LiveTracking features, which are also available as well (so you can share your live location with friends/family each time you start a workout). Again, the main goal of assistance alerts is if you’re somewhere you feel unsafe and want to semi-discretely let someone know you may be in trouble – holding that upper right button for three seconds will start the alerting process. However, all of these require your cell phone be within range (since it uses that for cellular connectivity).

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For the crash/incident detection, I’ve only had it false trigger once in three months – when I stopped quickly on a road bike after a small drop off a curb, just this past week actually. The algorithm is looking for a high-g impact event followed by no movement (I was waiting for friends to catch-up). Still, you can simply cancel it within 20 seconds. For safety assistance alerts, you’ve only got 5 seconds though (those require holding it for 3 seconds though).

So about now you may be wondering how the Venu/Vivoactive 4 differs from a sports standpoint compared to something like the Forerunner 245/245 Music. The main thing is around the physiological tracking – so bits like training load or recovery, which aren’t tracked on the Vivoactive/Venu series. Additionally, there’s also course following (so the ability to follow a specific route navigationally).

However, inversely, the Venu/Vivoactive 4 actually has a barometric altimeter, while the FR245 doesn’t. A slightly odd quirk in Garmin’s watch hierarchy. In addition, the FR245 doesn’t have the advanced yoga, Pilates, or related animations either. In other words, it’s still a bit of a confusing mess to figure out which watch has which features.

Music:

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The Venu joins Garmin’s other recent wearables in having music support built-in. This means you can pair it up to Bluetooth headphones (or even a Bluetooth speaker) and play back music or podcasts anywhere without a phone nearby. The Venu has 4GB of music storage on it (though slightly less usable space), and supports the following music streaming services for offline playback:

– Amazon Music
– Deezer
– Spotify
– iHeartRadio

In addition, you can of course drag your own music files on there, as well as configure podcasts to download. Though, the podcasts bit is mostly a mess – since it requires you to connect to your computer. Instead, if you want podcasts, it’s better to do so within Spotify – which is what I do.

Everything else works great though. And the Venu is leagues ahead of the Vivoactive 3 in terms of music connectivity. Dropouts are exceedingly rare here, even with AirPods or PowerBeats Pro.

From a music standpoint I’ll show Spotify, but all the streaming services work pretty similarly within the Garmin framework. First, you’ll get your account authorized. This is basically pairing your watch to Spotify. It only takes a second. After which you’ll be able to add new music from the watch. You’ll see you can choose from playlists, albums, podcasts, and playlists that were made for you or predefined by Spotify (such as workouts):

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Once you’ve selected something to download it’ll ask to sync the music via WiFi. This takes a bit of battery, so it’ll ask you to plug in your watch.

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After which the music is available for you to play back with headphones. You can connect just about any Bluetooth headphones. In my case I largely just used the Beats PowerBeats Pro:

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You can pair multiple pairs of headphones as well if you’d like, which is kinda handy.

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From there you’ve got simple music controls on the watch, as well as from certain headphones that use standardized controls like volume up/down or skip track.

I didn’t run into any frequent droppage issues either in the studio or out on runs with the Venu, which seems to be the general theme with Garmin’s 2019 watches, after first introducing music connectivity in 2018. During that time period they’ve noted how much forward progress they’ve made around connectivity and compatibility, and it seems to show.

GPS Accuracy:

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There’s likely no topic that stirs as much discussion and passion as GPS accuracy.  A watch could fall apart and give you dire electrical shocks while doing so, but if it shows you on the wrong side of the road?  Oh hell no, bring on the fury of the internet!

GPS accuracy can be looked at in a number of different ways, but I prefer to look at it using a number of devices in real-world scenarios across a vast number of activities.  I use 2-6 other devices at once, trying to get a clear picture of how a given set of devices handles conditions on a certain day.  Conditions include everything from tree/building cover to weather.

Over the years, I’ve continued to tweak my GPS testing methodology.  For example, I try to not place two units next to each other on my wrists, as that can impact signal. If I do so, I’ll put a thin fabric spacer of about 1”/3cm between them (I didn’t do that on any of my Apple Watch Series 5 activities however, all workouts only had a single device per wrist).  But often I’ll simply carry other units by the straps, or attach them to the shoulder straps of my hydration backpack.  Plus, wearing multiple watches on the same wrist is well known to impact optical HR accuracy.

Next, as noted, I use just my daily training routes.  Using a single route over and over again isn’t really indicative of real-world conditions, it’s just indicative of one trail.  The workouts you see here are just my normal daily workouts.

I’ve had quite a bit of variety of terrain within the time period of my Garmin Venu testing.  This has included runs in: Amsterdam (Netherlands), French, Italian, and Swiss Alps, and Mallorca (Spain).  Cities and mountains, trees and open-air, plus waterways and seas. It’s hit them all.

First up we’ll start with something relatively easy, a run south from Amsterdam. On this initial test I’ve got a mere five GPS devices, three of which are attached to a running stroller, and the remaining two (including the Garmin Venu and Apple Watch Series 5) are on my wrist. Here’s that data set:

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At a high level, things look mostly fine. But let’s dig into the weeds. No, really, the actual weeds. To the right of these tracks is a pasture where horses hang out. In the below case, the Garmin FR945 is almost perfectly atop the running path. You’ll see the Garmin Venu is off to the right, while the Apple Watch is off to the left. The Garmin Venu is slightly more offset than Apple, but Apple cuts more corners.

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If we got a bit further in the run, you can see this play out again. That white line is the actual path I ran on (and if I toggle to satellite view, it matches there, it just makes this picture harder to see due to the trees). You see that the Venu is super close here, whereas the Apple Watch cuts the corners nonchalantly. Which isn’t as bad as the COROS Vertix and FR945 being offset entirely (way into the woods).

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You’ll see below that the FR945, COROS Vertix, and Garmin Venue all substantially cut the corner (all on Sony chipset) The Apple Watch Series 5 and Garmin FR935 (not on Sony GPS chipset) didn’t cut the corner.

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And again this mess of a loop here. Apple cuts the corners, and Garmin Venu is off in the drink. Equally bad, just bad in different ways.

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Now…some of this is nitpicking. No doubt about it. And at first glimpse it might not seem so bad. But then you look at the total distance you can see how the variations can add up for the different units. In this case the Apple Watch was way over, while Venu was about in the middle of the pack.

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Note that I normally hate showing total distances, because you can be wrong 100% of the time and still get distance right (via enough corners/overages). But generally once we get this many units at once, there’s definitely something to patterns.

Next, let’s look at something a bit simpler: A track workout.

Technically it’s both a track workout and testing the ability of this watch to draw a straight line. The path I ran down is precisely straight. Crazy straight in fact. I take it every single day to and from work. It’s great…and goes under a gigantic ring highway that loops around the city – perfect for testing GPS re-acquisition. Here’s the high-level overview, and data set from just a few days ago.

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Let’s zoom in first to that massive bridge set. This includes two railroad bridges along one of the busiest rail corridors in Europe. Plus two highway overpasses. It’s hundreds of meters wide. And, for the most part all three units handled it just fine. The Venu did stumble very slightly coming back out one direction, but not significantly.

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As for the straight section? Hmm…not so hot for both Venu and the Apple Watch. At least not initially. From the outside they were a bit rough, but as they returned an hour later, they were much closer. This path is technically tree-lined on both sides, so that probably wasn’t helping matters.

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So the big moment – the track itself? For this, I stayed exactly in Lane 1 (there was nobody else there), and round and round I went. About 10KM of round and round worth. I want to point out three things. Actually, four things, but with three arrows.

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First off, before I do that – note that no matter how good your GPS is, in 2019, I still recommend doing track workouts by just counting distance. At least for the specific sets. Meaning, you should be looking at the markings on the track to know when you’ve run 400 meters, 800m, and so on. I merely use my watch for historical data purposes on a track, as well as managing heart rate and time. I don’t generally use it for pacing via GPS (or footpod). I just do mental math.

That said, these three arrows show us four things:

1) All units were pretty darn close. Nobody was off out of the property or anything weird.
2) The Garmin Venu took a few brief dips into the lower right infield of the pitch
3) The Apple Watch was slightly offset to the left, you see that left-most arrow in the woods pointing at the Apple track.
4) The FR945 seemed to favor being slightly on the upper outer edge, meaning it was slightly offset a touch bit north

All in though, these results from a GPS track (as in, the line itself) are perfectly acceptable to me for historical record keeping for running.

In addition, I have dug through my GPS tracks from outdoor bike rides as well (including some mountain areas), and found it pretty much fine.  For example, here’s this ride in Mallorca (Spanish island) through very rocky/mountainous terrain. Here’s that file.

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Even in one spot where the Apple Watch/iPhone combo struggled, the Garmin Venu mostly nailed this track through the mountains and cliffsides:

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Now – as I look back on months of GPS data, there’s roughly a pattern that emerges: The Venu GPS is mostly good – and largely acceptable for the vast majority of people. You’ll likely be able to pace your training or racing efforts just fine with it (as I have these last few months). However, there are still GPS quirks likely related to the Sony chipset that keep popping up.

Just this past weekend for example while running a loop around the outside of a stadium for the DCR Open House, I had one portion of the track cut through the side of the stadium. Sure, it’s a stadium – a big honking thing that blocks GPS quite well. But at the same time, to the side there was nothing but air for hundreds of meters.

On the flip side, as you can see just above, it handled exceptionally well in the mountainous terrain above. So, sometimes it’s just hit or miss when it has an issue. Though I’ve never seen massive jaw-dropping issues. They’ve always been little things that make you kinda scratch your head. Still, as I said – my job is to nitpick this stuff, and most of my concerns are nitpicks.

(Note: All of the charts in these accuracy sections were created using the DCR Analyzer tool.  It allows you to compare power meters/trainers, heart rate, cadence, speed/pace, GPS tracks and plenty more. You can use it as well for your own gadget comparisons, more details here.)

Heart Rate Accuracy:

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Next up we’ve got heart rate accuracy.  This roughly falls into two buckets: 24×7 HR, and workout HR.  As is usually the case with most devices these days, I see no tangible issues with 24×7 HR.  It works well across both normal daily routines as well as things like sleep.  Speaking of which, I talk about RHR values and 24×7 monitoring here and why it’s interesting.

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Before we move on to the test results, note that optical HR sensor accuracy is rather varied from individual to individual.  Aspects such as skin color, hair density, and position can impact accuracy.  Position, and how the band is worn, are *the most important* pieces.  A unit with an optical HR sensor should be snug.  It doesn’t need to leave marks, but you shouldn’t be able to slide a finger under the band (at least during workouts).  You can wear it a tiny bit looser the rest of the day.

Ok, so in my testing, I simply use the watch throughout my normal workouts.  Those workouts include a wide variety of intensities and conditions, making them great for accuracy testing.  I’ve got steady runs, interval workouts on both bike and running, as well as swimming – though, I didn’t focus on optical HR accuracy there.

For each test, I’m wearing additional devices, usually 3-4 in total, which capture data from other sensors.  Typically I’d wear a chest strap (usually the Garmin HRM-DUAL or Wahoo TICKR X) as well as another optical HR sensor watch on the other wrist (lately the Polar OH1 Plus, as well as the new Mio Pod lately).  Note that the numbers you see in the upper right corner are *not* the averages, but rather just the exact point my mouse is sitting over.  Note all this data is analyzed using the DCR Analyzer, details here.

In any case, first up is a nice run south out of Amsterdam. Nothing too tricky here to begin with – relatively stable, except also pushing a stroller (which can be challenging for optical HR). Here’s data against the Apple Watch Series 5 (optical HR sensor on other wrist), the Garmin HRM-DUAL chest strap, and the Mio Pod strap on my upper arm (data set here).

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The Garmin Venu is the red one. Though of course, you can’t really see that – because they’re all virtually identical.

We do however see a bit of variance briefly from the Garmin Venu where it stumbles a bit within a 60-second span at the 6-minute marker. This could be due to the pressures from pushing the stroller, or could be anything else. Either way, all three are very similar.

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So…let’s kick it up a notch.

Interval time!

Here’s a track workout I did, a bunch of 800’s and then a bunch of 200’s. Plus a warm-up and cool-down. Here’s that data set, Garmin Venu optical HR is in purple:

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Let’s zoom right into those first few minutes, where you see a bunch of interesting things. First, the Garmin Venu seems to roughly get the trajectory right as I build up. In fact, it gets it more right than the chest strap in green – which spikes to 180bpm during a slow moving and casual warm-up. That’s common for dry fall days. Once I run enough a few minutes I get some sweat, probably adjusted it slightly, and life is fine.

So in this realm the Venu was most correct, right alongside the Polar OH-1 (and eventually the Apple Watch Series 5 after it finishes flat-lining, which I highlighted below).

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So, into the 800’s we go:

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Frankly, these are pretty darn good.

I can nitpick that the Apple Watch seems a bit too high at times, and might be doing some occasional cadence-lock in some cases. And the Garmin Venu appears to be a bit slow on the recovery in some intervals. The Polar OH1 also seems a bit latent in a couple of them too. But again, by and large – any of these would be more than accurate enough to pace/train by.

So, the 200 sprints?

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A bit rougher on the first one, it’s like it caught everyone by surprise. Which, is fair. It’s how I felt too. The Venu missed the boat, the chest strap nailed it, and the Polar OH1 was slow. And the Apple Watch skipped around a ton missing lots of time here.

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Aside from the HRM-DUAL, none of them were really acceptable for the first interval.But after that the remaining intervals were just fine. And realistically it wouldn’t materially impact most people during training, since nobody doing hard short 200m sprints is actually checking their heart rate during the sprint.

Next, let’s shift to some indoor cycling. This was actually a pretty intense indoor trainer workout. For context, here’s what the power output looked like:

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And then here’s the matching heart rate data:

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What you can (boringly) see is that all these sensors were virtually identical. The Garmin Venu struggled during the first 60 seconds or so, and then everyone settled in nicely. There were a few seconds here or there that different units briefly disagreed, but even during the sprints, the HR plots were very very close.

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Finally – what about cycling? Well…that’s less optimal, and is roughly what I often see from wrist-based optical HR sensors. In general these work better in summer months than cooler winter months. Here’s a ride a few weeks ago. Look at this ride in three parts: Outbound, middle chunk, return. The middle chunk is throw-away, I was filming some drone stuff (and doing lots with my hands). But the outbound and return are normal riding.

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So let’s zoom in on that first main riding chunk:

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What we see here is that while things are mostly close – the Venu seems to be a bit spikey compared to the chest strap and the Apple Watch Series 5. It’s not massively overshooting in most cases, but is about 2-4BPM high quite often. There are a handful of times when it’s more than that, but that’s the general trend. I’d recommend that for winter riding where you want really accurate HR data on the Venu, to just use a paired chest strap.

Garmin’s ELEVATE optical HR sensor tech has come a long ways over the years. And it’s getting closer and closer to the point where it seems to mostly work for the majority of people. Just as with chest HR straps – there are always outliers. Be it individual people, or individual scenarios (such as cool dry days) – but I think we’re getting closer and closer to the point where things are mostly working for the vast majority of workouts and people.

Still, as noted, it’s not perfect. But the fact that on a cool dry fall day it can handle a hard track workout just fine is a good indication of the progress they’ve made.

Product Comparison:

I’ve added the Garmin Venu into the product comparison database, allowing you to compare it against other products that I’ve reviewed in the past.

For the purposes of below I’ve compared it against the Apple Watch Series 5, Fitbit Ionic, and Samsung Galaxy Active Watch 2 –  which are the ones most people will be comparing it against from a sports/fitness standpoint.

Note that with all these watches – but especially the Apple Watch, there are many cases below where “with 3rd party apps” can be used.  The same is largely true of Garmin, Samsung, and somewhat with Fitbit.  But the Apple Watch tends to offload more core fitness functionality to 3rd party apps than the others. I’ve tried to thread the needle of apps that I roughly know exist where I’ve listed that.  But it’s not perfection in terms of knowing every app on earth.  Ultimately, I don’t think any consumer does (or should). Plus, we’ve actually seen a pulling back of wearable apps from companies over the last year (basically, they stop updating them). Making it even harder to know an up to date app from a dysfunctional one dying on the vine.

Function/FeatureGarmin VenuApple Watch Series 5Samsung Galaxy ActiveFitbit Ionic
Copyright DC Rainmaker - Updated December 10th, 2019 @ 5:05 pmNew Window Expand table for more results
Price$399$399/$499 (cellular)$199$229
Product Announcement DateSept 5th, 2019Sept 10th, 2019Feb 20th, 2019Aug 28th, 2017
Actual Availability/Shipping DateSept 5th, 2019Sept 20st, 2019Mar 9th, 2019Oct 1st, 2017
Data TransferUSB, BLUETOOTH SMART, WiFiBluetooth SmartBluetooth SmartBluetooth Smart
Waterproofing50 meters50m50 meters50m
Battery Life (GPS)20 hrs (just GPS), up to 6hrs GPS+Music6hrs GPS on time (18hrs standby)Undeclared (claims 45hrs non-GPS)10 hours
Recording Interval1s or Smart RecordingVaries1-second for GPS, 1-minute for HR1-second
Satellite Pre-Loading via ComputerYesYes via phoneYesYes
Quick Satellite ReceptionGreatMost timesYesGreat
AlertsVibrate/VisualVibration/Audio/VisualVibrate/VisualVisual/Vibrate

And again – don’t forget you can make your own product comparison charts comparing any products using the product comparison database.

Summary:

After three months of usage, I have little question that this display type is the future of Garmin wearables. Not all wearables, not immediately anyway – but certainly the future for sure. Battery tech and display tech moves so fast. The display we see today in the Venu would have been spec’d out and determined well over a year ago. Same goes for the batteries used, as well as all the other components relying on that battery that are also getting more and more efficient.

I could easily see a scenario where Garmin looks to offer a AMOLED variant of the next Fenix version (note: I have no insider information here). The market is clearly there, and while many readers of this site may skew towards wanting to eke out every last hour on an ultra race, the reality is that probably 98% of Fenix purchasers will never need that type of battery life – likely close to 99%. Garmin will easily sell a million units of each Fenix series they produce – and having a higher-end display continues to be a major request. I don’t think they’re far off here.

However, as for the Venu – I don’t think they’re leveraging that screen enough. Things like the lack of watch faces is a prime example. I’d have hoped that by three months on we’d see more options there. I’d have hoped they’d use that screen to better enumerate emojis (which I’m still finding missing ones on a daily basis that just show up as empty squares). And I’d hoped that maybe some of the minor GPS quirks would be sorted.

I continue to think the mark was missed on pricing. And I suspect Garmin is learning that as we speak, with the price reduced to $299 from the usual $399 for the holiday period (and it selling quite strongly). I don’t think $399 is competitive. However, I think $299 for Venu is very competitive, and $249 for the Vivoactive 4 is equally strong. Like it or not, Garmin has to compete with Apple Watch Series 3 at $199 (and lower). While Garmin can point to Apple Watch Series 5 at $399 all they want, they’ll almost always lose that battle in the minds of most of the general public.

Still despite the above two paragraphs – I think it’s probably the best all-arounder watch that Garmin has ever made. While it’s not the most accurate GPS-wise, it seems to find the balance between having the features that hardcore sports folks want (like structured workouts, skiing/snowboard run tracking, and others), as well as more general lifestyle or health bits (such as offline Spotify and Amazon music, as well as detailed Yoga/Pilates support). It’s the most well rounded competitor to an Apple Watch Series 5, but with a clearly sport/fitness slant.

Found this review useful? Or just want a good deal? Here’s how:

Hopefully you found this review useful. At the end of the day, I’m an athlete just like you looking for the most detail possible on a new purchase – so my review is written from the standpoint of how I used the device. The reviews generally take a lot of hours to put together, so it’s a fair bit of work (and labor of love). As you probably noticed by looking below, I also take time to answer all the questions posted in the comments – and there’s quite a bit of detail in there as well. 

I’ve partnered with Clever Training to offer all DC Rainmaker readers exclusive benefits on all products purchased.  By joining the Clever Training VIP Program, you will earn 10% points on this item and 10% off (instantly) on thousands of other fitness products and accessories.  Points can be used on your very next purchase at Clever Training for anything site-wide.  You can read more about the details here.  By joining, you not only support the site (and all the work I do here) – but you also get to enjoy the significant partnership benefits that are just for DC Rainmaker readers.  And, since this item is more than $49, you get free 3-day (or less) US shipping as well.

Note: Clever Training USA has stock of most of the Garmin Venu series already (to ship out today), Clever Training UK is expected to receive stock today and tomorrow for a number of models.

Garmin Venu AMOLED GPS Smartwatch
Garmin HRM-DUAL (dual ANT+/Bluetooth HR strap – review here)

Thanks for reading! And as always, feel free to post comments or questions in the comments section below, I’ll be happy to try and answer them as quickly as possible.

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DCR Open House Winter 2019 Photo Recap! https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2019/12/house-winter-photo.html https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2019/12/house-winter-photo.html#comments Thu, 05 Dec 2019 12:29:30 +0000 https://www.dcrainmaker.com/?p=106317 Read More Here ]]> 2019-12-05 10.59.53-2

This past weekend we held our 6th annual DCR Cave Open House (now the 2nd winter one in Amsterdam, or 3rd counting our first summer edition this past July). It was once again a sold out crowd, for both the morning run as well as the evening festivities at the Cave. These events are so much crazy bigger than our first one six years ago! All in, between the run and the evening open house, we had nearly 200 people show up!

People came from all around the world, though largely from within Europe. They came from England, Scotland, Ireland, Belgium, Germany, Czech Republic, Russia, France, Spain, and many more. A few different people from the US as part of other trips, and one from Taiwan. Plus of course GPLAMA from Australia and DesFit from Colorado.  And then a large pile pedaled their way in from around the Netherlands. Woot!

Here’s a quick recap to all the goodness!

The Morning Run:

First up on the docket was the morning run. This has been a tradition since the first open house, and the goal is to get in a few of the sights of the city for those from out of town, as well as to catch-up with everyone at a nice leisurely pace. Like last year, All4Running – a local running shop here, helped out on the morning of by not only providing a place for us to meet and store stuff, but also goodie bags for everyone and drinks afterwards. They’re awesome!

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We then did a quick intro outside, giving a couple more minutes for any folks running a wee bit behind to catch up. Of course, our group pic got photobombed by a cyclist. Welcome to Amsterdam!

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After that, it was into Vondelpark as one giant conga line!

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The Girl was out on the Urban Arrow (with Peanut 3 actually under her coat). She’d pedal ahead to get some group shots:

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I think my combination of cold fingers with early morning light netted me a large collection of slightly fuzzy running photos. Sorry y’all!

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Our primary stop was in front of the Rijksmuseum for a big group shot! Or twelve shots.

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I’m not sure exactly what The Girl was doing – but I just found this in the pile of photos:

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And then some tourists decided they wanted to get in the shot too. Obviously, the more the merrier!

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Of course, after posing in front of the museum, it was time to run through it!

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After that, it was back onto the roads as we traversed the town!

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In fact, repeat Open House attendee WayeOfLife was also Plogging, which is where you pickup/collect discarded street trash along the way. For this run he focused on picking up cigarette boxes.

 

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#dcropenhouse morning run. Even better turnout than last year’s @dcrainmaker open house. This morning was the run. Tonight the goodness of the sports tech cave he has The cohosts @getdesfit and @gplama were there too if course. . I am trying to minimise my impact with this event. So went there via bike-bus-run .. didn’t take the freebie water bottle (have enough) and also plogged. . @all4runningstore were awesome hosts!.. I did take the shirt that gave everyone as it is perfect for our son to use for gym.. woohoo. . I also plogged on the run itself but tried to restrict myself to cigarette packets only (to avoid impacting the large group of runners). But a friend joined in and helped me. That was so cool. . Today’s total is 37 with all stages combined #nicotinenovember @onepieceafteranother . The last day of the #2minbcphotochallenge10 is here and it is #sparkletrash for this I will simply point out my sparkly running shoes that I used during all the plogging . Photo/video details 1. It was a big group! 2. Ok everyone. Synchronise GPS.. Now! 3. A tourist taking a selfie of Ray taking a selfie of us all 4. All 4Running were perfect hosts 5. Sparkly shoes 6. Plogging on way to event 7. Together we collected loads of cigarette packets! 8. That many! 9. Such a great event . . . . #trashtag #litterpicking #ploggingnederland #ploggingnetherlands #litter #savetheearth #plogga #running #runtoinspire #runnerland #runplanet #borntorun #plogging #runlovers #zwerfafval #zwerfie #plantbased #vegan #hardlopen #garmin #garminrunner #recycle

A post shared by Paul Waye: Plog/Run Long/Vegan (@wayeoflife) on

He also recruited a few volunteers, and they had bags full of them by the end.

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Soon we found ourselves doing a loop around Olympic Stadium.

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I added this purely because I thought it’d look cool on Strava afterwards:

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Only problem? I didn’t take into account the fact that my GPS track would also track me running out randomly to get photos of the group from a distance. Huh. Or, that the GPS itself would decide to go through the stadium.

As we worked our way back, the Banana Car went driving by on the bike path. Our very long snake of a line of runners stretching off into the distance behind me:

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And then it was back down the canals before crossing one last bridge back to the start:

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Once back at the shop, All4Running got bags of goodness for everyone, plus some refreshments.

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A huge thanks to everyone who came out for the morning run. Some of you weren’t able to make the open house portion later that night, so it’s awesome to at least get to go for a run with ya in the morning. Plus, we all lucked out (once again!) on the weather. It was great for this time of year – sunny and a bit chilly. Perfect!

The Evening Open House:

Later that evening it was time for the main event – the Open House! Heck, this year we even had a tent outside for check-in via an iPad. Slowly but surely we’re getting this event planning thing figured out! Though, not enough that I actually have a picture of said tent or check-in.

In any case, here’s the downstairs at some point during the evening:

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In the back we had a bar that The Girl was operating – complete with Peanut #3 attached to her in a carrier for the evening. P3 was great the entire night! And in fact wasn’t the only baby there. I saw at least two more little ones enjoying the evening.

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Up at the front we had a bunch of food, as well as food on tables. I also didn’t think to get a picture of that either. I really sucked at getting photos this time. In fact, come to think of it – I don’t think I even ate anything other than grabbing a single piece of something off of a tray as it went across the floor. Eeks!

Downstairs we had a Wahoo KICKR+KICKR CLIMB station setup, though, the iPad it was attached to was struggling with battery issues for some reason. On the opposite side we had an Elite Suito + the new steering device setup. That was running FulGaz on a big screen:

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Also floating around was the Oreka bike treadmill-like trainer, but we didn’t have that rideable for the evening since I’m pretty sure that’d have ended poorly.  And of course in the back was the ever-growing fleet of trainers.

Meanwhile, upstairs was where most of the action was:

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It’s here in the main studio/shooting room where folks were able to jump on the three indoor bikes I currently have in-house: The Wahoo KICKR Bike, Tacx NEO Bike Smart, and Wattbike Atom. Side by side – perfect for seeing how they feel one after another (and many many many people did just that).

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I took a photo of the screens at the end of the night (don’t worry, we discarded the mileage). The TACX NEO Bike accumulated 27.5mi (44.25km), while the KICKR Bike was at 33.5mi (53.91km). I didn’t have enough big screen TV’s for the Wattbike Atom. Things to sort out for next year!

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Next door was the main storage room, where endless rows of bins kept all the gadgets semi-organized. Plus the main office areas to sit and relax and chat. Maybe it’s time for another DCR Cave Tour – now that it’s been a year since the last one. It’s so much different now! Though, actually, GPLAMA did a quick tour right before the Open House this year, which he put up on his channel within the Team Lama Members section.

After everyone got settled it was time to give away a few things and record the FIT File Podcast. In fact, we even did a video of it this time. Actually, not only did we do a video, we even had three different camera angles. And get this: They all actually worked. I mean, sure, there were three of us figuring this out – but hey – every once in a while the blind squirrel finds a nut.

You can watch the whole thing right here:

After that, we gave a bunch of goodness away. GoPro Hero 8, Wahoo ROAM, Polar OH1 Plus, Garmin FR945, and a few smaller Garmin FR35’s. All sent over from Clever Training. Plus a bunch of goodie bag packages of tech running shorts and other assorted fitness bits.

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Here’s a selfie I took towards the end, of one chunk of the group:

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After that, I was able to continue catching up with many of you chatting all things sports tech. And yup – Harry was able to punch his ticket for the longest streak of DCR Open House attendees – going 5 straight annual winter events strong (including the Paris ones):

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After that – folks stayed for many hours (till 1AM actually) chatting up the night. Oh…and trying to their best to take on our beer supply. And while they came close – we still have a few bottles left from our nearly 800 servings of alcohol we had on-hand. Good effort folks…try harder next time!

Speaking of which, we’re looking forward to putting on another summer open house next summer. We haven’t quite finalized the date or time frame yet (it’ll likely either be closer to the Tour de France time range, or later in the summer around Eurobike) – we should know by early February

Oh – also – if you’re headed to the Tour Down Under, then we’re also doing a big meet-up down there one evening mid-week. Bike, Tech, and Beer! We’re just finalizing the last bit of logistics, but be on the lookout for that soon! GPLama will be there of course, and I think we’ve even suckered DesFit into making the trip as well.

And again – a huge thanks to everyone who came to the event, and the many of you I got to chat with. Another great night for sure!

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