Tacx Flow Budget Smart Trainer In-Depth Review

DSC_3303

The Tacx Flow Smart is not new. Though, it might be to a lot of people. It’s the least expensive true smart trainer on the market – at least by any of the major players (or even medium players that I can find). Sitting at 249EUR/$ 369, it has full smart trainer connectivity and can control the incline and resistance based on what apps like Zwift and TrainerRoad. Still, despite this, it doesn’t tend to get a lot of attention.

So I decided to give it a whirl the last few weeks, riding structured workouts on TrainerRoad, and Zwift too, with a side-dish of GCN atop Kinomap too. Obviously, at that price point it’s not going to equal a $ 1,000 trainer. We’re not going to pretend that. But – is it ‘good enough’ for a lot of people? Or perhaps, does it even exceed my expectations (spoiler: somewhat). And key of all: Where does it suck?

Fear not, over the next pile of text that I know you have nothing better to do than read, we’ll dive into exactly that. But if you just want the easy button, in 14 minutes you can get all the details by clicking the play button below. All while you let the dough rise on your 7th attempt at making cinnamon buns:

Note, the Tacx Flow Smart is a media loaner from Tacx. Not that I didn’t try and buy it – I did. But none of the local stores around me had it in stock, nor the online ones that would deliver right now. But Tacx is actually still making this trainer model (I confirmed), and in fact you’ll see a shipment arrive in US stores this week. So poke around a bit, my guess is you’ll find it somewhere. Oh, and when I’m done with this, I’ll disinfect it (again) and have them pick it back up again. Just the way I roll. If you found this review useful, hit the links at the bottom to support the site.

What’s in the box:

DSC_3270

If you’ve ever picked up other smart trainer boxes before, you’d immediately think ‘Dang, this thing feels light!’, and indeed – it does. The base weight is a mere 20lbs/9KG (compared to about 50 pounds for most other higher end trainers). We’ll get into why that is later on, and what it actually means. On the flip side, unlike many higher end trainers, this thing comes almost fully ready to ride. First, slide the interior box out:

DSC_3281

Inside you’ll find all the parts, including a front wheel riser block. Again, many higher end trainers don’t include this, yet this one does. If we lay everything out, here’s what you’ve got:

DSC_3282

And in text form, that is as follows:

– Trainer frame (white thing)
– Trainer resistance unit (roundish grey thing)
– Front wheel riser blocker (grey/black thing)
– Two bolts and a hex wrench to attach resistance unit to frame
– Rear wheel trainer skewer
– Power cord
– Paper stuff

And here’s a closer look at things. The power cord is a bit short, about a meter, but doesn’t require any external power block. Still, I’d appreciate them going with a more standard 2-3m long power cable instead.

DSC_3286

Then there’s the paper stuff. Including both a manual as well as a free month of service to the Tacx Training App.

DSC_3289

There’s the riser block. This ensures that your front wheel is effectively level with the back of the trainer (since it lifts up your bike a bit). There’s no technical reason why you have to use one, but most people (including myself) do like them as it also keeps your wheel from wobbling around into a weird position.

DSC_3290

Then there’s the resistance unit and bolts. They’ll simply attach together, as I’ll show in a moment. Oh, and finally, the trainer. As seen, it’s folded up:

DSC_3291

With that, let’s go on with assembly.

Setup & Calibration:

DSC_3298

Seriously, this is silly simple to setup. First, take those two bolts and that mini wrench that’s included. Then, grab the resistance unit and place it against the trainer. You will notice there are technically two hole sets there, at slightly different angles. They’re for two different wheel sizes. So spend three seconds to look at the sidewall of your wheel and see which one you’ve got.

DSC_3300

Next, place bolts in (correct) holes and tighten up.

DSC_3293 DSC_3295

And…you’re done.

I mean, yes, you do have to plug it in too:

DSC_3518

Next, on your bike go ahead and swap out the skewer for the one that came with the trainer. A trainer skewer has a bit more metal on the ends to hold your bike securely in-place. Versus the one normally on your bike might just be plastic end-bits and won’t hold the weight of your bike. The good news is that you can use this new metal one all the time outside too. I’ve been doing that for over a decade. Don’t got time to swap it out (some might for races, to save a few grams). Note, if you’ve got a mountain bike or other bike with a thru-axle, check out GPLAMA’s video on that adapter.

DSC_3563

Now, go ahead and place your bike in the trainer. Before you do that, ensure the blue lever at the back of the trainer is in the up position, else, your life will be made much harder (since you’ll press it down to push the roller up against your wheel).

DSC_3515

When putting in the trainer You may need to tighten the holding bracket on either side, but it’ll probably fit just fine without adjustment. Then, push down the clamp lever to lock it in place.

DSC_3516

I love this design instead of a never-ending twister design. It’s just so much faster.

Meanwhile, back at the rear of the trainer, rotate the knob until it touches the wheel firmly. The knob sucks. It’s hard to rotate, and is easily the worst thing Tacx has ever designed. I can’t imagine a worse physical knob design, except one without any grooves at all. Still, you won’t have to dork with it too much after we get it setup.

DSC_3562

Now is a good time to ensure your tired is pumped up to something. I say ‘something’, because whatever it is, remember it. I selected 100psi, because it was a nice round number. Officially the manual recommends 6-8 bar.

DSC_3301

The secret trick to wheel-on trainers is that by pumping it up to exactly the same value each time you go to ride it, you can skip doing calibrations, assuming you don’t dork with that horrendous knob.

DSC_3310

Now you’ll press the lever down to lock it in place, and after that crack open the Tacx Utility app. It’s this app that we’ll do calibrations in. In neither TrainerRoad or Zwift did it offer the ability to do a calibration over Bluetooth Smart. Perhaps it does over ANT+ in those apps using ANT+ FE-C, I haven’t tested that. Also, since you’re here, now’s a good time to update the firmware on the trainer:

DSC_3306

To do a calibration, you’ll press the calibrate button and then pedal your bike up to 18.6 mph. After which you’ll stop pedaling and let it coast down to a stop. A second later it’ll tell you that you screwed up. And yes, it’s actually that hard to read in real-life.

2020-04-01 11.15.15 Calibrate1

The point of doing this calibration routine is to get that horrendous knob in exactly the right spot. The problem is that the Tacx utility app won’t tell you which way to turn it when you’ve got it really far out of alignment. Which is funny, because it absolutely should be able to do this (since it’ll either stop far too fast or far too slow). Instead, it just gives you the generic message above that says ‘Shrug?’.

So, if you get that message, then simply give it one turn to one direction and try again. Same message? Give it two turns the other way and try again. Repeat this until you finally get the colorful chart. Once you have that, then you can fine tune it.

Calibrate8 Calibrate7 2020-04-01 11.16.58 Calibrate4

Oh – but wait, it doesn’t tell you which way to turn the knob. And in reality, it’s *opposite* what you think. So, here’s my handy-dandy chart/text below of which way to turn it, based on where you are. Ideally you want to get to centerline, I’d go in quart-turn increments once within the general green area. It should only take 4-34 attempts. On average it takes me 4-6. At max…about a dozen. But I’m a professional….so 34 is totally viable for you.

Calibrate3 CalibrateWin

The good news here is that you’ll likely not have to do this again as long as you just pump up your tires to the exact same thing each time. Also, most other wheel-on smart trainers have to deal with this too, but most others give you better guidance. This is 100% a failing of the app to be useful at doing its job.

Ok, with that all done, it’s time to ride our bike, likely using an app. I talk about app compatibility below and all that nuance in that section. So we’ll get to the nuance, but for the moment let’s talk basics.

The Basics:

DSC_3457

It’s probably worth noting somewhere that this trainer folds up quite nicely. Useful for folks that want to slide it under a bed or in a closet when note using it. For comparison, here’s it next to my backpack all folded up. It takes two seconds to fold the legs under:

DSC_3538 DSC_3537

But back in the folded state and plugged in, you’ll find it available to connect to from any app. It will need some sort of app to control it. There are free apps and paid apps. And these days you can try just about any app for at least 30 days, if not longer. My full 2020 trainer app guide is here.

Once we’ve picked an app and paired it up, we’ll start pedaling. Given the Flow Smart 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:

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. This is the main mode that Zwift uses when not in a structured workout.
ERG Mode:
Setting a specific power level – I.e., 195w.  In this mode, no matter what gearing you use, the trainer will simply stay at 195w (or whatever you set it to). This is the mode used in apps like TrainerRoad.

In the case of simulation (aka slope) mode, the Tacx Flow Smart can simulate from 0% to 6% incline – which is on the lower end range of smart trainers. Most trainers in the $ 500-$ 800 range can simulate up to about 16% or so. While trainers in the $ 1,000+ range can go upwards of 20-25%.

But don’t despair yet. While 6% might sound low, one thing to keep in mind is that 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). See below how I’ve changed that setting to ‘Max’, whereas normally it’s in the middle. Read here on more about the setting and what it does or doesn’t do.

2019-12-10 17.37.49

Now, that doesn’t mean this magically makes the trainer capable of simulating those higher % inclines. It just means it reduces the demand to. With a budget trainer like this, if you try and go up a 12% climb, it’ll simply run out of resistance. One of the key factors for less expensive trainers isn’t just the incline, but the speed. At a high speed (like 24MPH/40KPH) a trainer can actually simulate higher grades. But since you don’t typically climb at those speeds, it’ll struggle to maintain higher grades at lower speeds. All trainers technically operate this way, it’s just that it’s only really noticeable on budget trainers.

So if you try and do that 12% incline, the trainer won’t catch fire or anything. It just won’t feel as realistic. Or, in some cases it may not put out enough power for you (especially if you’re a heavier rider). If you’re a lighter rider then it probably won’t be an issue at all.

The second mode the trainer has is ERG mode.  In that case, the company claims up to 800w of resistance at 40KPH. Most people that can hit 800w will know it. If you’re new to cycling, I wouldn’t actually worry about this too much. Myself for example, I can do 800w for a handful of seconds in a sprint, that’s it. But for all ERG/structured workout training, it just won’t matter as much, since you virtually never do ERG mode at that high of wattage.

Still, there are some other practical issues here.

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:

vlcsnap-2020-04-06-16h00m22s357

What I found here was way more than I expected. First, on responsiveness: In the right gearing, it responds just as fast as any high-end smart trainer. So that’s good! It took 3 seconds for it to go from roughly 140ish watts to 428 watts. I generally look for about 2 second response time for this type of range. You actually don’t really want it to do it in under half a second, as it’ll feel like hitting a brick wall. So again, this is good.

image

However, ability to hit the specified targets was challenging and required me to tweak the gearing a bit. Again, I outlined that in detail up above. Still, for completeness, here was the gearing I was using for each of those intervals:

Interval #1: Small ring front, middle of cassette in back
Interval #2: Small ring front, small ring in back
Interval #3-#6: Big ring front, small ring in back
Interval Recovery Periods #3-6: Notice how it’s too low here
Interval #7: Tried to shift at start of interval from small ring to big ring, shifting needs to be tuned
Interval #8: Shifted at start of interval from small ring to big ring

Now, if we look at the three intervals here you’ll see #1 was way below target (like, 200w). Yet, the recovery between #1 and #2 was spot-on. However, #2 was half-way to target, and the recovery started to be a bit higher. Midway towards #3 I shifted to the big ring to get speed, but the recovery rose higher than it should have been – however, interval #3 was spot-on. After #3, recovery is still too high.

image

I kept it this way for intervals #3-6, but then prior to #7 I tried to see if I could basically shift at the start of an interval, thus getting the best of both words (lower speed for recovery to get the power down, and higher speed for the interval). Only problem is that I’ve been meaning to tweak my shifting slightly, and I did a big-ring shift in a non-optimal way and it didn’t take (my bad). So #7 is a mess. But you can see on #8 I mostly got it nailed. With a bit of practice you could easily shift at the start of an interval and get the best of both recovery and interval.

Ultimately, in order to solve this I had to shift while in ERG mode. This wasn’t ideal per se, but again, for a budget trainer it’s not the end of the world. And it’s probably a good example of being spoiled on higher end smart trainers that allow you to ignore shifting entirely for the whole session. In my case, this test of 30×30’s is as demanding as they get (and even high end trainers can occasionally fail it in other ways). We’ll talk more about actual power accuracy later on in the accuracy section – so what about road feel?

It’s not horrible.

Look, I was expecting bad things from this trainer, but frankly it didn’t feel that bad relative to my expectations. When people talk about ‘road feel’, they’re really talking about ‘inertia feel’. How well does the trainer model an acceleration, and that feeling of your bike accelerating? How well does it model coasting? And no, on this trainer you won’t feel great acceleration or coasting feelings. But it also doesn’t feel like pedaling through mud – which I’ve seen on trainers more expensive than this one.

So for the money – absolutely, it’s acceptable. Again, I’ve done hours of riding on this unit over the two weeks – and the road feel was not a blocker or major consideration in any way. Other things, yes, but not road feel.

Finally – what about sound?

Well…it’s not quiet. Nope, not at all.

It’s a wheel-on trainer, and thus by virtue of that you’re going to have the noise of the tire against the roller. So yes, it’s easily the loudest trainer I’ve tested in years. But keep in mind, it’s a model designed a few years ago in an era when direct drive trainers will still somewhat new. These days most companies have shifted their mid and high range models to direct drive trainers, which have almost entirely cut out the noise (the Tacx NEO for example is virtually silent).

You can hear the exact noise in my video at the 9:52 minute marker (top of post, or linked to the exact point right here). Again, it is what it is, and up until a few years ago it was the norm for everyone.

App Compatibility:

2020-04-01 12.55.05

The Tacx Flow Smart follows the same app compatibility standards as previous Tacx 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 Tacx Flow 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, Tacx has really been one of the leaders in supporting the various standards – including ANT+ FE-C before anyone else.

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.

PairingFlow3

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 also used Kinomap in ERG mode. I dig into the nuances of these both within the power accuracy section.

Starting with Zwift, you can see the Tacx Flow 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):

PairingFlow4

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

IMG_8025 IMG_8030

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

2019-10-23 09.25.42

However, while this page is normally true for most trainers, it’s actually not accurate for the Tacx Flow Smart at higher wattages, as I outlined in the earlier section. Normally you’d put things in the smallest front chainring. But for the Tacx Flow it’ll likely be better for most people to use the bigger chainring.

As far as calibration goes, while most trainer support Bluetooth Smart calibration from within 3rd party apps like TrainerRoad or Zwift, that’s not the case here. It doesn’t work with either. I’m not sure if that’s a Tacx problem or an app problem, but either way you’ll need to do it with the Tacx Utility app on your phone as I outlined in the ‘Basics & Calibration’ section earlier in the post.

In general, you should calibrate every once in a while (perhaps every few weeks) – assuming you’ve kept the tire pressure the exact same each time you ride it (and haven’t changed the knob). While I’d normally recommend doing a calibration after warm-up, my testing here indicates that actually makes things dramatically worse. So…yeah, just do it before your ride and call it done. My guess is that Tacx has built-in some logic to counteract the heating that occurs at the tire.

Finally, as we saw earlier, Tacx does have their own app that you can use for a handful of functions, namely calibration and also updating firmware. But I already covered that above.

Note that the Tacx Flow doesn’t natively support ‘power match’ to a power meter on your bike, in the trainer itself like some other trainers do. However, you can still do that within certain apps like Zwift or TrainerRoad if you need to. As always though, I’d be cautious of doing that unless you really need to – sometimes that feature has responsiveness implications that aren’t always worth it. On the flip-side, I usually say that for trainers that are pretty darn accurate, whereas the Tacx Flow Smart has a lower claimed accuracy level.

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

Power Accuracy Analysis:

DSC_3505

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: Favero Assioma pedals, Quarq DZero, PowerTap G3 hub wheelset

This is all in addition to the trainer itself.  What’s cool here is that because it’s a wheel-on trainer I was able to use the G3 again to test accuracy – having a full three additional data sources to compare the Tacx Flow too!

I was looking to see how it reacted in two core apps: Zwift and TrainerRoad (Bluetooth Smart on Apple TV, and iPad, and Mac). 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 Tacx Flow Smart achieved that level. (yellow line).  Here’s the levels being sent (the blue blocks) by TrainerRoad and how quickly the Tacx Flow Smart responded to it:

image

Now as outlined earlier in the post, baseline responsiveness is solid and 100% acceptable for this price point.

So what about actual power accuracy then? Well, first, remember this trainer is spec’d at +/- 5% – as such, at 500w it’d be off by upwards of 25w. So just keep that in mind. But, still, how does it compare to other power meters for the power it reported it was doing? For that here’s a comparison between a Quarq DZero power meter, Favero Assioma pedals, and PowerTap G3 (data set here):

image

And ironically, it seems to hit that 5% bit almost spot-on. When it was reporting 428w, the others were about (on average between them) 450w. However, keep in mind that there’s at least 2% drive-train loses on this. So it’s going to report lower than the others (and in fact, the G3 hub was naturally lowest of the three in the mid 440’s).

You can see though that it’s variable based on the the wheel-speed. For the lower wheel speed of the first highlighted section below means it was really darn close. Then I shifted a bit for the 2nd highlighted section below, and it went a bit askew. And then the fourth mini-highlighted section I shifted again and it went further out (to a higher wheel-speed).

image

But again, all of these were technically within spec (especially since accounting for drivetrain losses).

Next, let’s switch over to Zwift. This was a hilly route with lots of shifting (both in big and small ring), as well as some flats. Also, you’ll see the purple Quarq line at the end just flat-line. That’s simply because the Wahoo BOLT I was recording on ran out of juice. Nothing to do with the power meter…just my inability to remember to charge it. Data set here:

image

So…at a high level it’s not horribly. You see a bit of variance towards the beginning especially. However, it’s not until you overlay the speed that you realize how it matches up. When the speed goes crazy high, the variance goes higher too. At least initially. This didn’t happen later in the ride, indicating there’s clearly some relationship between the trainer warming up and the accuracy at higher speeds. Here’s the first 20 mins:

image

image

Now, by and large the accuracy is pretty stable across the entire set, again, for the price. However, the one area it really struggles is sprints. And it’s a pattern I saw again and again, and it makes sense when we think about speed here. During each of these 800-900w+ sprints, the unit never showed higher than about ~700w:

image

Again, for most people this won’t matter unless you make a habit of Zwift racing and sprinting to the finish. If so, then this definitely isn’t the trainer for you. That’s because once the speed goes up dramatically, the accuracy goes out the window.

But again, for large middle sections here, it’s well within spec:

image

Cadence however…well…that’s just a dumpster fire:

image

Friends don’t let friends use the Tacx Flow Smart cadence reading. No reason to analyze that further. It’s a disaster. Yet, here’s the cadence from that TrainerRoad ride, which was all but the mis-shift that it tracked perfectly fine.

image

So let’s look at another app, this time Kinomap. Same pile of gear, but Kinomap doing a virtual climb within a GCN video collaboration they did. The structure was effectively ERG mode within a structured workout. Here’s that data set:

image

Two administrivia notes: First, at the 8 minute marker the Quarq/BOLT combo decided to take a vacation. No idea what was up there, it just dropped out…then came back. Further, at the 13/15/17 minute combos the iPad running Kinomap and the Tacx Flow smart decided to follow the Quarq/BOLT lead and take a vacation also. As you can see, the power drops out entirely. Note that I never saw this drop-out again. So my guess here is that during this section I was having some sort of transient connectivity issues.

Which doesn’t have anything to do with power accuracy, so I’ll ignore it in this section. As for the accuracy though…hmm…mixed. In some sections, it’s nearly spot-on. Yet others, it’s high or low without any specific reasoning.

image

Per the spec, it’s a tiny bit above it in some cases, but well within it in others. Again, comparing speed you see there’s virtually no change in my wheel speed (the bumps at 13/15/17 mins are the dropouts, not a change in wheel speed). However, this is where there’s a difference between real and virtual wheel-speed. See the purple line below? That’s the real-world wheel-speed as reported by the PowerTap G3 hub wheelset. However the green line is the virtual wheel-speed during the climbing in the Alps in this app, much lower.

image

Still, there was no meaningful shift in wheel-speed across this chart, so basically, we see that given that constant, the only shifts in power accuracy seemed to occur based on wattage levels. And as for cadence on this ride? Perfectly fine:

image

Finally, one last tidbit I discovered is that doing a spin-down calibration after 15-20 minutes of riding doesn’t seem to help. In fact, it seems to hurt it. Both times I did that after or mid-way through my rides (when things would have stabilized temp-wise), it skewed my results quite a bit. This is contrary to how virtually every other smart trainer works. I’m not sure why it works this way, it might be some calculations baked into the Tacx Flow Smart that are designed to account for temp (many trainers do this). Still, pro tip: Just calibrate before and leave it alone.

Ultimately – the accuracy for the Tacx Flow Smart is roughly inline with their specs. Most times it’s at or under +/- 5%, with the defining factor largely being wheel speed. When the wheel speed is lower, the accuracy is very good. When it’s higher, it tends to be a bit towards the edges. But again, for the money, it’s pretty darn good. I’ve seen higher end trainers 2-3x the cost that frankly can’t get this close on accuracy.

Does it mean that I personally will be using this trainer for power meter accuracy testing of other devices? No, of course not. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t get fast on it. If you did any of these workouts day after day, you’ll get faster. Sure, it’d be nice to be +/- 1%, but you don’t need that to get faster or stay fit. Just…well…don’t try and pick anyone off at the sprint line to the finish with the Tacx Flow…it won’t end well for you.

(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.)

Trainer Comparisons:

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. Now, that’s a bit tricky in that there’s pretty much a big gap to the $ 500 price point in trainers. Minus a few sales here and there. So, it’s not an optimal combo dish to display below, but it’s the dish I got.  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/Feature Tacx Flow Smart 4iiii Fliiiight Saris M2 (CycleOps) Wahoo KICKR SNAP (2017)
Copyright DC Rainmaker – Updated April 6th, 2020 @ 9:29 amNew Window Expand table for more results
Price for trainer $ 369USD/€249 $ 599 $ 499 $ 499
Trainer Type Wheel-on Wheel-on Wheel-On Wheel-on
Available today (for sale) YEs December 2019 Yes Yes
Power cord required Yes No, 2hrs battery capability Yes Yes
Flywheel weight 1.6kg (simulated 11.8kg) N/A 2.6lbs/1.2kg 10.5lbs/4.8KG
Maximum wattage capability 800w @ 40KPH 2200w 1,500w @ 20MPH 1,500W @ 40KPH
Maximum simulated hill incline 6% 7% 15% 12%
Can rise/lower bike or portion thereof No No No With KICKR CLIMB accessory
Includes temperature compensation Yes Yes No Yes
Support rolldown procedure (for wheel based) Yes N/A Yes Yes

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

Summary:

DSC_3275

I came away testing the Tacx Flow Smart a bit more impressed than I thought I’d be. It is, best I can tell, the least expensive mainstream smart trainer on the market. I’m sure there’s some trainer none of us have ever heard of that might rival its price in some country. But in terms of trainers that most of the readers here will be able to get (and get support on), this is the least expensive option. And while I had played with one a number of years back, I never had a chance to really dig into it.

And ultimately it’s perfectly fine for the money. In fact, it’s incredible value for the money. The fact that it’s got a bit less inertia than higher end trainers or that it isn’t quite spot-on accuracy-wise as a $ 1,400 Tacx NEO 2T doesn’t mean it won’t make you faster. It doesn’t mean you won’t have a good time on Zwift, or suffering on TrainerRoad or whatever other app you want. You can easily do all those things and if you’ve never owned a higher end trainer, you’ll probably be perfectly happy with your decision. If someone told me tonight that was the only trainer I could use for the next month, my response would mostly be ‘Shrug, not what I’m used to, but sure – no biggie’. And I’d go about riding like normal.

Which isn’t to say it gets a pass on everything just because of price. The entire hot mess of a calibration procedure needs attention. That’s an easy thing they can fix today, in just a simple app update. Similarly – I’d like to see spin-down calibrations supported in the major apps. And since we’re asking for things, I’d like a power cord longer than a piece of fettuccini. And while I’d love to see improved accuracy – I’m also realistic on where this technology can get to without a significant re-architecture.

Still, this is a overwhelmingly solid trainer for the money. And while at this time trainer companies have sold out of everything they have, cheap or expensive, I’d like them to remember that these types of truly functional basic smart trainers are what can usher people into the indoor training realm. And once they’re in, then maybe in a few years they’ll go and buy that $ 1,200 KICKR or $ 1,400 Tacx NEO. All too often I’ve seen people in the industry (apps and trainer companies) wonder aloud how they can “increase participation” from the larger cross-section of cyclists, and then they go off a day later and build a $ 3,000+ smart bike or only market $ 1,000+ trainers. Well, this is how. Start making – and marketing – these sorts of trainers. You’re welcome.

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 $ 99, you get free 3-day (or less) US shipping as well.

Tacx Flow Smart

And finally, here’s a handy list of accessories that most folks getting a trainer for the first time might not have already:

Product Amazon Link Clever Training Link (Save 10% with DCR10BTF) Note
Basic Trainer Mat This is a super basic trainer mat, which is exactly what you’ll see me use. All it does is stop sweat for getting places it shouldn’t (it also helps with vibrations too).
Tacx Tablet Bike Mount I’ve had this for years, and use it in places where I don’t have a big screen or desk, but just an iPad or tablet on my road bike bars.

Thanks for reading! And as always, feel free to post comments or questions in the

Product Reviews – DC Rainmaker

Leave a Reply