Wahoo KICKR Bike In-Depth Review

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 indoor bike, but actually an entirely different technological way of doing resistance within a ‘trainer’. While at first glance you may assume this 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 half months. I’ve got plenty of rides on it, as has 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 get a hold 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:L 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 straight forward. 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 levers 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)

rNote 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 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 components. 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 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 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 riders 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 as first. But this bike is replacing your outdoor bike, and on that bike you’ve got a specific gearing setup your 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 Frooming 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:

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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 problems, I’ve got plenty of those. I’ve set up the bike in three different configurations over the past few moths:

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 frozen 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:

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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:

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

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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/Feature Wahoo KICKR Bike Tacx NEO Bike Smart Wattbike Atom Stages Bike
Copyright DC Rainmaker – Updated December 9th, 2019 @ 3:37 pmNew Window Expand table for more results
Price for trainer $ 3,499 $ 3,199 ~$ 2,500USD $ 2,600-$ 2,800USD
Available today (for sale) Yes Yes Yes Q1 2020
Availability regions Limited Initially Global UK/South Africa/Australia/Scandinavia/USA Global
Power cord required Yes No Yes Yes
Flywheel weight 13bs/5.9kgs Simulated/Virtual 125KG 9.28KG/20.4lbs 50lbs
Includes motor to drive speed (simulate downhill) Yes Yes No No (but kinda)
Maximum wattage capability 2,200w @ 40KPH 2,200w @ 40KPH 2,000w 3,000w
Maximum simulated hill incline 20% (and -15% downhill) 25% 25%
Measures/Estimates Left/Right Power No Yes Yes Yes (actually measured independently)
Can rise/lower bike or portion thereof Yes No No No

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.

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Product Reviews – DC Rainmaker

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