Wattbike ATOM 2020 Smart Bike In-Depth Review

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It’s been three years since Wattbike released their first true indoor smart bike (with app-controllable resistance), the Wattbike ATOM. This year, they’ve released the upgraded 2nd gen model – the ATOM 2020. While they look nearly identical from the outside, the internals are vastly different. It uses an entirely new resistance system, which is electromagnetic, and akin to that found on the Tacx NEO series and the Wahoo KICKR Bike. Such a system usually means far faster shifting and wattage changes.

But before we dive too deeply into this, it’s noteworthy that this is Wattbike’s second iteration, whereas all the other companies mostly just finished stabilizing their first generation smart bikes earlier this year. Now, in the case of Wattbike, what they’ve elected to do isn’t a major revamped new product. Sure, the resistance unit is a major change, but beyond that it’s virtually identical. That has its pros and cons. In terms of features and such, the ATOM 2020 isn’t as advanced as the other offerings (either in software or hardware). And, for the most part, its price reflects that. Thus as always, not all smart bikes are created equally (nor priced equally), so you’ll want to dig into the nuances to decide what bike (if any) is good for you.

Note that throughout this review I’m going to constantly compare the ATOM 2020 ($ 2,599USD) to the three other major players in this market and their offerings. I think that’s important, because when you’re spending $ 2,000-$ 3,500 on a bike that doesn’t go anywhere, the nuances can often be a big deal. And it’s things you don’t see or know about when it comes to marketing or just comparing specs. Having used all these bikes, I can speak to those seemingly tiny differences that are actually a big deal. In some cases, this will favor Wattbike, and and in others not so. That’s just life.

Wattbike sent over a media loaner ATOM 2020 earlier this summer, which I’ve been testing since through various firmware updates. They also sent over a second unit a few weeks ago, after the first one broke (it stopped shifting). They believe that was tied to an early production issue with a slipping sensor that they’ve long since changed/corrected. Once this is done I’ll get these two bikes back to them, plus the 1st gen ATOM they sent over this past spring to compare to the ATOM X they sent over (which has already gone back). Long story short, after this is done I’ll get back about a truckloads worth of space in the DCR Cave. I don’t keep any of these products.

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Unboxing & Setup:

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When it comes to bike setup, Wattbike wins the smart bike game every…single…time. Seriously, nobody in the business is easier than Wattbike (I suppose Peloton with their setup service would be…but you pay $ 250 for that). Unlike setting up a Wahoo/Stages/Tacx bike where you get to relive your Lego youth, the Wattbike comes fully assembled. The only thing to do is install the optional aerobars (which doubles as the tablet holder), and/or aerobar resting pads. Installing said aerobars takes approximately 25 seconds. The pads about 2-3 mins.

To get it out of the box you’ll attach it to a large automatic hoist lift, and simply hoist it up out. Or, you can just cut the side off the box. Alternatively, you can work with a friend to tip the box on the side with the wheels, and roll it out. I’ve done all three – the last friend-roller option works best if you still want to use the box for a fort later.

Once you open the box up, you’ll find the bike fully assembled inside, strapped down tight enough to withstand being pushed out the back of a C-130 with a parachute. Atop the pre-assembled bike is the power cord, flat pedals you’ll likely never use, the top of the aerobars, and the aerobar pads. There’s also a few hex wrenches for causing trouble, and some paper manual stuffs.

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Here’s a close-up on the parts:

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Once you’ve got it to the final resting spot, go ahead and grab that aerobar/tablet holder and stick it in the two holes, then simply tighten up the single screw on either side.

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Next, attach the pedals of your choice. Unlike the Wahoo/Stages/Tacx bikes, the Wattbike ATOM doesn’t have changeable crank length pods/holes, so you’ll be at 170mm no matter what you want. And the pedal spindles are standard issue, so stick whatever type of pedals you want in there.

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Finally, go ahead and plug in the power. Remember to flick that little red power switch on, else, nothing will happen.

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One minor note for existing ATOM users, is that they’ve relocated the power switch/plug bits to under the bike from the previous location on the outside lower back portion, which, I assume better protects it from sweat.

The Basics:

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For this section I’m going to be covering basics of the hardware itself, before diving into aspects like gearing/shifting, or general usage with apps like Zwift/TrainerRoad/etc.  As such, there may be some slight overlap from section to section, but each section then dives more heavily into the nuances as titled.

To begin, we left off in the last section by plugging the bike in. Here’s a closer look at that power brick. Include this photo in all my reviews, but more for my own purposes than yours. Since virtually nobody in the indoor trainer industry actually puts their own company name on the power brick (except Wahoo’s latest KICKR V5/2020), this is helpful in case you need to figure out exactly which one goes with your bike after a move:

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The power adapter is required for resistance and transmission from the ATOM 2020. Without it, apps won’t work and resistance won’t apply. There are no true smart bikes on the market that fully work sans-power.

Once plugged in you’ll want to ensure the cable is double-wrapped through the trip protector pieces. Though, I suppose that really just protects the bike, and not the cable. One would assume this basically means you’ll near instantly decapitate the cable as opposed to damaging the bike port. Ideally we’d see Wattbike shift to a breakaway type cable like seen on the KICKR Bike. Also, as mentioned earlier don’t forget to press that button and make sure the power light comes on.

The Wattbike ATOM doesn’t have any USB ports to power unfortunately (the only bike without them), so all power in the ATOM 2020 is used for the operation of the bike.

Now, let’s step back and approach the bike from front to back. I usually go back from front, but since we just talked about USB ports, the logical place for those in an ATOM v3 would b near the front. So let’s start there. This is where you presumably plugged in the aerobars, which form a tablet holder.

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It’s here that you can slide a tablet in, or even an iPhone vertically. It’s not my favorite tablet holder (Stages wins that on the SB20), but it’s better than nothing (non-COVID cough…Wahoo KICKR Bike). The only thing I don’t really like about it is that it’s not spring loaded, so it doesn’t quite grasp the tablet automagically like some holders.

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Still, I’ve never had any tablet or phone fall off it, even despite running into it a few times walking past it. So that’s a win.

Of course, you don’t have to install the tablet holder/aerobars. You’re free to leave it without. Also, if you want, you can install the aerobar pads. On the first bike I left mine in place, and then the second bike I didn’t bother installing them.

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Next we’ve got the handlebars, which include built-in shifters. These shifters actually have small coin cell (CR2032) batteries pre-installed in them, and then wirelessly connect to the rest of the bike. Additional top-buttons will soon be enabled for shifting too. There isn’t have any display of your shifting/gears anywhere on the bike, though there is on Zwift. But more on that all in the shifting & gearing section.

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Moving down the frame you’ve got two water bottle cages. Again, not all bikes include two spots – only Stages & Peloton have that. The rest only one spot.

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Also, since we’re looking at the frames side by side, here’s the two put next to each other. You can see some slight ‘tells’ of each one when viewed from a distance, in case you’re looking at imagery and want to creep spot which version someone has. Aside from the power panel being located on the underside of the 2020 edition (versus top-back of V1), there’s also minor trim differences such as on the junction near the front you’ll see a rubberized red material over the centerline of the frame. Or that the original Wattbike ATOM actually says ‘ATOM’ in a barely visible black font on the main portion of the bike (as well as up the lower portion of the seatpost area). And finally, the rear portion of the seatpost is wider on the 2020 ATOM to add extra textured bits.

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(Left – 2020 ATOM, Right – Old School ATOM)

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Both editions come with nice front wheels, among the better wheel setups out there, making it easy to roll around the studio. This is an area where the smaller wheels of the Tacx NEO Bike sometimes get stuck on things compared to the nicer larger wheels here of the Wattbike ATOM series.

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While the unit is heavy (97lbs/44KG), the reality is that once on the wheels it glides effortlessly around the studio. The only challenge you might have is if your bike front is super-close to a wall, since as you tip the bike forward to engage the wheels, it’ll extend the ‘reach’ of the bike’. It’s the same problem on all the bikes really. And ultimately you can just shimmy it into place if you need to (as I do).

Behind the crank arms (which are 170mm) is the new electromagnetic drivetrain system, which is a step up for the stepper motor system of the original Wattbike ATOM. That will result in faster shifts, and faster response time of the system to large wattage shifts in ERG mode. However, as I found, it also means more variability on those steps. But more on that later.

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Next, Wattbike has their own app for configuration of a handful of settings, including the gearing (11-speed or 22-speed), firmware updates, as well as pairing the shifters if they have to be changed. This is called the Wattbike HUB. You can also use that app to complete training sessions and run through structured workouts. I’ll talk about the HUB app more down in the App Compatibility section:

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When it comes to flexibility/movement of the bike, there’s none. Like riding the Tacx NEO Bike, it’s basically like riding a brick, whereas the perhaps slightly concerning ‘give’ of the KICKR Bike means it almost feels a bit like riding a mini rocker plate, since it sways a bit. Assuming that ‘give’ doesn’t lead to ‘snap’ over time, it’s a nice feeling in comparison. But if you’re used to riding a static trainer, then for the most part it’s not much different here – there’s no lateral or forward/back movement. We’ll cover all the rider/bike fit aspects in the next section.

Next, sound/volume. In short, the audible sound emitted from the Wattbike ATOM 2020 is basically identical to that from the original ATOM. Despite using a different resistance system, the overall internal drivechain aspects haven’t changed. You can hear this in a video I’ll upload shortly. Or, you can just listen to my initial Smart Bike Shootout video and hear the differences there (since it sounds the same).

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’ve done this on every smart bike review to date). 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 like:

– Unboxing experience is on-point, by far the best/easiest. You’re up and running in just a few mins.
– No rubbing anywhere, easily fits me and my thighs (other bikes rub)
– Double water bottle cage holders
– Changing rider position is good for all positions except the seat height
– Power meter accuracy
– Wattbike Hub app includes free workouts and training plans
– No wires sticking out, meandering around to shifting

Things I dislike:

– The shifters aren’t great. Not horrible, but definitely not top-notch
– The lack of gear customization kinda sucks, everyone else has it except for Wattbike
– I find the seat height adjustment a bit finicky sometimes (prone to slippage if not super-tight)
– I’d normally put lack of gearing indicator here, but Wattbike is the only one that actually has Zwift gearing integration, so it’s not horrible
– No USB ports, so when I need to power tablet, I’ve got a long USB cord dangling to outlet
– ERG mode stability (as discussed in accuracy section)

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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Given the bike arrives basically completely built, the hard part is actually figuring out how to get it to fit you – the rider. Of course, if you have your exact measurements that’s a lot easier. And in the context of this as a bike review, I’m not going to tell you how to fit your bike to you. There’s smart people for that. Instead, I’m going to focus on the ways the bike can be tweaked for fit purposes.

With the Wattbike ATOM, you can adjust the bike in the following ways:

1) Saddle height (up/down) – quick release lever
2) Saddle position (forward/back/tilt) – hex wrench
3) Handlebar height (up/down) – quick release lever
4) Handlebar position (forward/back) – hex wrench
5) Seat tilt – hex wrench (technically also an extra +/- 10mm of slide fore/aft there too)
6) Aerobar positioning (side to side, forward/back, tilt) – hex wrench

There is no adjustment however of the crank length within the Wattbike ATOM 2020, the crank length on all Wattbike ATOM units is 170.0mm.

Here’s a quick gallery of all of those measurement bits.  One nice touch that sets it apart from Stages/Tacx/Wahoo is that Wattbike puts markings on *both* sides of the bike, whereas the others only put it on one side. Sounds silly, but super practical. Also, these markings are laser etched versus just a sticker.

Wattbike has a sizing website here, which is OK. It’s not as advanced as Wahoo’s built-in-app sizer feature that allows you to take a picture of your existing outdoor bike and it figures it out (or, lets you put in exact fit coordinates from a specific bike fit system). But nonetheless the site will do the job to get you pretty darn close using measurements you take:

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Afterwards, once you’ve got your measurements, it’s time to adjust things. For the two height-related positions (saddle & handlebars), you’ll use quick release levers. You simply twist left or right to tighten or loosen, and alternatively you can pull out to reset the angle to keep things nice and straight:

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These are OK in design, but less than awesome in execution. Like with my original Wattbike ATOM years ago, I’ve had some cases of seatpost slip, usually a handful of millimeters during a ride, but sometimes more. Wattbike has made some moderate changes here, you can see these side by side below – which include a crapton more grooving/texturing on the seatpost to prevent slip.

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At left the new 2020 seatpost, at right, the older ATOM seatpost. You can see the new seatpost is far wider, and has this gigantic grippy section.

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Still – despite the beast of the new grip bits, unless I crank down the handle crazy-tight, it’ll still slip. And I’m clearly not alone, it’s a frequent complaint of both new and old bikes on various Wattbike ATOM groups.  That said, while the front handlebar assembly height adjust post lacks the texturing, I haven’t really had much issues three, since it doesn’t really support the entirety of my ice-cream consuming body weight.

Now in each of my smart bike reviews I’ve noted an interesting challenge which is the ‘thigh gap’ problem. Basically, some of the bikes (namely Tacx and Wahoo) have seat posts or top-tubes that extend across where your thighs would rub. The Wattbike ATOM 2020 and Stages SB20 bike don’t have this issue.

If you look at this older photo I took of the previous ATOM (which is the exact same frame as the ATOM 2020, except the rear of the seatpost is wider on the 2020 to make the seat-post grittier against slippage), you can see that while it has a top-tube, that tube is substantially thinner.

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And then look at the measurements for those:

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Here’s the measurement for the Wattbike, coming in at 50.45mm, but also substantially lower down in the frame than the KICKR Bike.:

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Again, the exact same frame is used for both the Wattbike ATOM & ATOM 2020 (just like Peloton uses the exact same frame for the Peloton Bike & Bike+). It’s what helps speed development and lower costs.

Now, what about triathletes or time-trialists? Well, to begin Wattbike includes aerobars in the bike kit (the only company to do so). They’re what make up the tablet holder in fact. You can add the included aeropads to it, as well as adjust the exact fit. You can adjust tilt or position forward/back. However, because of the tablet holder design, you can’t adjust the width of the aerobars since it’s a single looped piece of metal.

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Of course, this particular style of aerobars might not be for everyone. As such, you can swap out and replace the aeorbars for your own. The Wattbike ATOM series uses standard 26mm bars. So putting on clip-on bars isn’t an issue. There isn’t any aerobar shifting with the stock or 3rd party bars anyway, so it’s sorta a non-issue in terms of swapping.

Lastly, what about multi-user scenarios in terms of software settings? Well, frankly, about the only thing you can change gearing/settings-wise as we discussed is just the 11-speed versus 22 speed. So that’s something that can be easily toggled in the Wattbike HUB app (prior to then pairing it to an app like Zwift). It’s not ideal, but I suspect most people will stay on 22 speed anyway, so there isn’t any other factors that are per-user beyond that.

As I’ve said in the past, I’d love to see apps like Zwift, FulGaz, etc, be able to send your smart-bike customizations straight to the bike from your account profile. That way it’s just there for whoever jumps on the bike. 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.

Overall though, though, flexibility on the Wattbike ATOM on a per user standpoint is pretty much the norm for smart bikes, with the added benefit of being the old bike that includes an aerobar/TT setup.

Shifting, Gearing, and Steering:

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The Wattbike ATOM (original) was really the first bike in this category to introduce shifting for apps like Zwift, and with that, somewhat had to pioneer how that should work. Given that was three years ago and with other competitors onboard, you’d expect some updates to things for the ATOM 2020 edition. Unfortunately, the updates are relatively minor, consisting entirely of speed improvements, but not button/feel or design improvements.

With the ATOM/ATOM 2020 you’ll shift by pressing up or down on two buttons on the right side, on the front of the handlebars.

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This either increases resistance or decreases resistance, by iterating through a drivetrain. There’s no concept of front chainrings/rear cassette, rather, it’s just one linear progression set of gears – either 1 to 11 gears, or 1-22 gears, depending on your preference. With 1-11, the jumps are bigger, whereas 1-22 the jumps are smaller. To begin, you’ll configure that preference within the Wattbike HUB app:

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In my case, I prefer 1-22, since it gives me a bit more control/nuance. It’s not perfect though, and I find I basically tend to just float between Gear 11 and Gear 15 for the vast majority of my ride on flat or rolling terrain. The lower the value (e.g. 1), the easier it is to pedal, the higher the value (e.g. 22), the harder it is to pedal. So for climbs you’ll be in the single digits.

For some apps, namely Zwift, the exact gearing is shown on the screen in the upper left corner each time you shift. It then disappears a second or two later. Keep in mind when in ERG mode (where a set wattage is selected), then there is no concept of shifting, as it just maintains the exact wattage the entire time. This is the same on all smart bikes.

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Now one of the best features of both the Tacx and Wahoo bikes is small vibrations that occur each time you shift. This helps you to confirm that your button press was actually registered. In the case of Wahoo, their shifters are real-world bike shifters, so, it’s a mechanical click as well as a tiny vibration stutter from the electromagnetic drivetrain to simulate the load shifting between gears. Whereas with Tacx, the shifters are like those on the Wattbike ATOM and basically rubber buttons.  Unfortunately, Wattbike doesn’t have any shift feedback in the form of vibrations, which is ironic because the  ATOM X actually does.

While the handlebars might look the same from the outside, the Wattbike ATOM X (that’s the commercial model) has wired shifters that deliver power to it internally, and thus, is able to supply power for vibrations in the shifter. Wattbike says that doing that with the coin cell battery powered ATOM 2020 shifters would mean you’d burn through batteries like crazy.

And that probably true. But what’s also true is that home users on Zwift are far more likely to use/want shift confirmation than commercial users in a gym using some random app (or the Wattbike Hub app on the Android display). And this is all because without the Zwift gear indicator, you wouldn’t be able to confirm if a shift occurred or not.

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So one of the main complaints of shifting with the original Wattbike ATOM was speed. Much of that was actually solved through software in the first 3-6 months of the original ATOM being out. With then another bike update to the 22-gear shift range a year or so ago. However, all of that still depended on the stepper-motor design of the original ATOM, which required a physical part in the bike move to a new position each time a new virtual gearing or wattage step occurred.

With the new electromagnetic design of the ATOM 2020, would that be faster? The simple answer is yes, but demonstrating that is really darn tricky actually. See, there’s three parts to this:

A) Pressing the shift buttons.
B) You feeling said shift actually occur, and it reaching the proper level.
C) Zwift (in this case) receiving the commands and display the new gearing (indicating the shift registered)

With data, I can easily demonstrate A & C and the timing of that via video. That’s trivial. What’s far more challenging is layering in Step B, to show exactly how long until a given shift registers and resistance is applied accordingly. That’s really tough because I have to then cross the invisible line between a video production with a few cameras into video + data overlay and synced within a split-second realm. Maybe I’ll get bored and do that some day.

Or, I’ll just time it with my head. And the easiest way to do that is just iterate through the entire virtual drivetrain cassette super quick on the flats of Watopia at a constant cadence with bikes back to back. Here’s how long each took in a 22-gear drivetrain configuration:

Shifting through from 0 to 22 gearing maintaining 90RPM:

Wattbike ATOM original: 4-6 seconds seconds
Wattbike ATOM 2020: About .75 seconds

And now, from something a bit more normal, gear 10 to gear 14 (maintaining 90RPM):

Wattbike ATOM original: 4 Seconds
Wattbike ATOM 2020: About .75 seconds

I also did this test in reverse (22 to 0, and 14 to 10), and found the results were the same. What was interesting though in doing this test a few times back to back for each unit, is that it was always Zwift showing the gears that’s most delayed. So for my timings above I was using the stabilization/attainment level of the resistance from the ATOM as the primary driver. And unquestionably the ATOM 2020 is far faster.

But why it’s faster is actually just as interesting. What I realized was that the original ATOM has a clickier feel to the buttons. Which, sounds and feels better. However, it rebounds far slower than the newer (less clicky) ATOM 2020 buttons. As such, I simply couldn’t get (in terms of pushing buttons super fast) through the full range anywhere near as fast as I could on the ATOM 2020. But even setting that aside, the reaction level of the Wattbike ATOM 2020 is crazy fast in comparison. Every time.

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Now just to be clear in case it wasn’t by now, there’s no shift/gearing customization beyond the 11/22 speed option. Meaning, while all the other bikes allow you to setup unique gearing combinations to replicate your own real bikes (including virtual front chainrings and rear cassettes), the Wattbike ATOM series doesn’t have that. Wattbike has said for a long time that it’s been on their planned features list, but that statement has, as noted, been that way for a long time. I’m sure they’ll eventually add it (they’ll have to), but I don’t see any near-term timeframe for that.

Additionally, while you can see the gear display in Zwift (and perhaps some other smaller apps I’m unaware of), there’s nothing on the bike itself to indicate what gearing you’re in (since you can’t simply know or feel it otherwise). Since I predominantly use Zwift, this hasn’t been a major issue as it’s shown on the screen. But still, having an always-present gear indicator like on the Tacx or Wahoo bikes would be handy.

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While we’re talking about shifting, note that as mentioned somewhere else in this wall of text, there’s no auxiliary shift ports, or secondary shifters possible here. Meaning, the Stages bike has aux ports to add shifters to TT bars (or anywhere else), but that’s not an option here.

Next there’s road feel.  By road feel, I’m specifically referring to how the bike accelerates and decelerates, and whether than feels realistic or not. In general the road feel of the ATOM is OK – and it doesn’t really feel that much different than the existing ATOM, despite being a different drivechain system. So it’s not as good as the other bikes, but those bikes all cost more. That said, with an electromagnetic system that Wattbike has, that’s definitely something they can tune over time.

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Finally, note that at this time neither steering or braking is available from the ATOM 2020 in Zwift. You may remember that Zwift rolled out steering via the Elite Sterzo this past summer, and with that, promised that steering would come to smart bikes at some point too (using buttons, as all smart bike companies have long since planned for). However, that hasn’t happened yet.

On the bright side, it does sound like that’s near-term. Wattbike is saying likely within the next month or so, and they would likely be one of the few companies (if only company) rolling it out. From talking to various people around the industry, at present Zwift is requiring that smart bike companies commit to exclusivity to only enable steering for Zwift (meaning, they don’t want these bike companies to also implement steering in other apps, such as Rouvy or RGT). Of course, that’s not really a good thing for consumers (or competition). But, it might at least get steering up and working for existing smart bike buyers in Zwift now. We’ll see.

In any case – it’s not here today, so I can’t test that bit to see how using buttons to steer compares to twisting the handlebars like with the Sterzo Smart.

App Compatibility:

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The Wattbike ATOM 2020 follows all of the industry norms as you’d expect from most trainers/smart bikes 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.

The ATOM 2020 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 ATOM 2020 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. This also includes speed.
ANT+ Power Meter Profile: This broadcasts as a standard ANT+ power meter, with cadence data as well
Bluetooth Smart FTMS (Trainer Control): This allows apps to control the ATOM 2020 over Bluetooth Smart (with cadence/power data)
Bluetooth Smart Power Meter Profile: This broadcasts as a standard BLE power meter with cadence

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. This is actually notable because the Wahoo KICKR Bike & Tacx Bike don’t actually do proper Bluetooth Smart FTMS. Practically speaking, it doesn’t matter a ton since most apps support their proprietary variants.

The ATOM 2020 also bakes in the cadence data (like everyone else). This is 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).  While you can use the Zwift mobile companion app for additional sensors, I find that can be sometimes a bit flaky.

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It’s these same standards that also allow you to connect via head units too. For example the Garmin Edge, Stages Dash L50/M50, Hammerhead Karoo, and Wahoo units, all support ANT+ FE-C for trainer control, so you can re-ride outdoor rides straight from your bike head unit to your trainer. For example, for my accuracy testing section, I recorded the data on a Garmin Edge 830 & 1030 Plus, as well as the trainer apps.  From there I’m able to save the file and upload it to whatever platform I like.

The ATOM 2020 also transmits left/right balance, as seen below after a workout paired to the Garmin Edge:

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It does not however transmit torque effectiveness or pedal smoothness…but you’ll probably never use those anyways.

However, when using the Wattbike Hub app, you’ll get additional pedal smoothness related data in the form of the so-called ‘peanut’ chart, which shows your pedal stroke:

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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), 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.

Here’s an example of Zwift paired on an Apple TV, you can see it shows the sensors as a controllable trainer, a regular power meter, and a cadence sensor:

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I had zero issues when it came to using the ATOM 2020 in Zwift in terms of connectivity or such. Everything worked as expected, including gradient responsiveness. You’ll notice in the screenshot below you can see the gear indicator, which is shown anytime I switch gears, for about a second or so, and then disappears.

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And here paired up in TrainerRoad using Bluetooth Smart on an iPad:

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And it’s here that I spent considerable time since summer, trying to understand the ERG mode functionality, which I’ll cover (inclusive of issues) in the accuracy section. But from a functional/technology standpoint, the ATOM 2020 and TrainerRoad worked just fine in terms of controlling power and changing resistance levels.

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The issue I ran into though with TrainerRoad is more specific to ERG mode in general. Specifically, the ATOM 2020 has a really big engine and they haven’t figured out how to control it yet. So, it overcommits and under-commits constantly. You can see this quite visibly below in a more recent workout on the most recent firmware version:

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Here, let me zoom in a bit – notice how the target for this interval is 319w, yet it’s at 394w.

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(Note: If you’re trying this at home, be sure you’ve turned off TrainerRoad’s display smoothing, else you’re basically covering up the results. Your legs still do the hard time/crime, but you just don’t realize it otherwise.)

I’ve been trying beta/pre-production (as well as production) firmware versions for moths, as Wattbike tries to address it, but ultimately, as of today they haven’t been able to do that yet. It’s still far more wobbly than any smart bike or trainer on the market. But again, I’ll dive deep into that in the accuracy section.

From a practicality standpoint though, the main issue is that you end up working harder, since while the overall average is very close to the target for that interval, you’re still having to put out significantly power meter for a second or three at a time. The secondary power meters I use clearly show that. So it’s effectively a never-ending micro-interval workout rather than a single consistent one. It’s more noticeable on longer workouts, or workouts where you’re at the edge of your capabilities, than easier workouts.

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Shifting topics slightly, the ATOM 2020 requires no calibration, nor has any provision for calibration. This is akin to other electromagnetic trainers and smart bikes (like the Tacx NEO series, or Wahoo KICKR Bike). So these options won’t show up (or if they do, they won’t function) in trainer apps, since calibration doesn’t exist.

For example, within TrainerRoad when you go into the settings, there is no option to trigger a calibration for the Bluetooth Smart FTMS connection of the bike. That’s fine – it’s something you won’t likely have to do often in my experience:

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Now there are still some things to dork with for geeks in the Wattbike Hub app, which you can install on a smartphone/tablet of your iOS or Android choice. For example you can validate firmware level and exact usage stats:

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And then within the advanced settings you can pair/de-pair the left/right shifters if you needed to, as well as reset all the settings. Plus change the earlier mentioned 11 or 22 gear option. You can’t modify/customize the gears, just choose which one to use.

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Ok, with that I think we’ve covered all the app aspects, let’s dive a bit deeper into the power accuracy bits.

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 had the bike set up with two main configs over the past month:

Config 1: With Favero Assioma Duo pedals
Config 2: Another different set of Favero Assioma Duo pedals
Config 3: With Garmin Vector 3 pedals

Within this timeframe I’ve also seen multiple firmware versions. I include rides on the most recent production firmware version. The only changes related to accuracy over the last few months have been specific to ERG mode responsiveness/targets (not blanket power accuracy). I cover both topics here. Point being, I’ve literally tried just about every Wattbike ATOM 2020 beta and production firmware since July, but it actually doesn’t impact any of the results here –and I show the most recent versions as well.

Now when evaluating accuracy there’s really two things I’m looking at:

1) Overall power accuracy: If the unit says it’s doing 250w, is it actually doing that?
2) ERG target power stability/accuracy: If a structured workout has a section that goes from 150w to 250w, how long does it take to get to 250w, and does it stabilize properly?

There are different things, but I group them here because sometimes they’re related.

Now, to spoil some of this section, the TLDR here is:

1) Overall power accuracy: Great, zero issues on the ATOM 2020.
2) ERG target power stability/accuracy: Not great, many issues on the ATOM 2020

So, let me explain. First, let’s look at overall power accuracy. For that we’ll start with one of many Zwift sessions, which use SIM mode whereby the grade goes up and down dependent on the terrain (if in a structured workout then it uses ERG mode, just like TrainerRoad). You can see here:

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Frankly, this looks great. I had put the pedals on at the start of this ride, so there’s a tiny bit of settling in the first chunk, and then we see it nails it nicely. This despite the fact that I’m all over creation in terms of power, since this was a Zwift Race.

You can see the constant surges within the pack here every 30-40 seconds, and the power is spot-on with Vector 3:

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And the cadence looks super close, within 1RPM.

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And here’s the mean-max graph – virtually identical.

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Next, another more recent ride. This one with Favero Assioma pedals. Now in this case, I had just installed these pedals as well (this was a replacement bike), and you can see that over the course of the ride there’s clearly some separation. However, as we get to the end it gets closer.

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I’m starting to wonder if Favero Assioma’s need more settling time than they used to after installation on a new bike. Either due to newer firmware changes, or perhaps just my pairs getting older. I could historically count on a few strong sprints before the ride, another calibration, and then I’m good. At worst 5-15 mins of riding before they settled. Now, it’s a bit longer.

And maybe it’s just my left pedal. We see it lower throughout, way beyond my usual left/right balance differences:

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However, as the ride goes on, it settles in more and more.

Anyway, that’s neither here nor there for the moment. There’s nothing that I’ve seen that indicates power accuracy is an issue on the Wattbike ATOM 2020’s new drivetrain, which is exactly what I saw on the same drivetrain installed in the also new WattBike ATOM X – accuracy is solid, especially on Zwift.

Oh, and before I forget for this ride – cadence is beautiful.

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But, let’s step back and look at ERG mode. It’s here that there’s unresolved trouble (something which Wattbike agrees with). Here’s a simple workout from last month. It’s a 45 minute TrainerRoad session that’s relatively stable:

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But let’s zoom in one of the sets. It doesn’t much matter which one, every interval I’ve done over the las few months shows roughly the same thing.

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What you notice is that it’s constantly oscillating. It can never settle down, like a hyperactive child. Typically we see most trainers maybe have a blip the first 2-4 seconds of a major interval shift in power (e.g. 150w to 300w+). but in this case, no matter the wattage level, it just can’t settle.

And we’re talking substantial differences here. In some cases, upwards of 70w over. But most of the time it was ‘only’ 40-50w high (or low).

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Mind you, my usual tolerance for the initial bump is max 15-20w, and then I expect a smart bike/trainer to hold within a few watts – assuming your cadence is steady. My cadence (as seen in the white line), is crazy steady. This wasn’t a hard workout for me, and thus, I had no issues holding perfectly steady cadence.

Here, just for comparison – the KICKR 2020/V5, a workout I did. The ‘biggest’ difference I can find is 13w, and that’s on a workout that’s actually more challenging for me because the wattage floor is 365 for these intervals.

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And again, for comparison a Tacx NEO 2, max difference about 8-10w.

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But back on the Wattbike ATOM 2020, here’s the same workout as I started this section with, but a month earlier. Sure, most of these are ‘only’ 20-30w off, but that’s just crazy high given how much you’re paying here:

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Now, for some good news – I am seeing good power accuracy in ERG mode in terms of how it compares to both the Vector 3 & Favero Assioma pedals. For example, take a look at this set:

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The two are basically identical the entire time, off by a few watts at most. Even when it can’t nail the correct target resistance/power as specified by an app – it does at least know what it’s power is correctly. Think of it like a runner that’s trying to hit a target pace for a marathon. The runner knows half way into the marathon their own pace, and they know it accurately. But…they also know it’s nowhere near where they need to be to hit their goal.

It’s the same thing here. The power values broadcast by the Wattbike ATOM 2020 are accurate. What isn’t is its understanding of where it needs to be when it’s to to be at a given level.

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Oh, and cadence is fine too – all within 1RPM:

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This matches all the other data sets I have. Over and over. Except a few data sets on both Favero Assioma and Vector 3 where my left leg is reading oddly low for a bit. In fact, I actually assumed one of the pedals was wrong, so swapped it out for the other brand to find the same. Except, I’m actually confident enough that I think both sets of pedals are wrong there or something else is up that isn’t the fault of the Wattbike ATOM, as I’ve seen it a few times on one set of Favero Assioma I have.

In an case, as far as power accuracy goes for the Wattbike ATOM 2020  – overall the actual accuracy of both power and cadence is great. What’s not great is its ability to correctly maintain a given wattage in ERG mode for structured workouts. In other words, if you’re using it for Zwift and not in a structured workout – life will be perfectly fine. But if you plan to use it for TrainerRoad (or Zwift Structured workouts), I’d wait until they get it to settle down.

(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:

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Above you see the full ATOM series lineup, from left to right: Wattbike ATOM X (with the tablet), Wattbike ATOM original, Wattbike ATOM 2020. They’re all incredibly familiar, but realistically, as a consumer – you’re only gonna buy on: The Wattbike ATOM 2020. Here’s the quick high-level differences:

– ATOM X: This is the commercial/gym version. It’s got a bit beefier frame/structure, and has a different locking mechanism for the seatpost/handlebar assembly. Most notable though, it has a tablet built in, using Android. It’s not super powerful though, and wouldn’t be capable of running Zwift. Also, it’s tiny – about the size of a normal paperback book (with a gigantic bezel). It does though have vibration for the shifters, which is great. Finally, it has the same electromagnetic drivetrain of the ATOM 2020.

– ATOM 2020: This improves upon the original ATOM by beefing up the traction on the seatpost, and re-designs the drivetrain to be electromagnetic. They also swapped the power panel to the underside of the frame. Beyond that, it’s basically the same as the original.

– ATOM (original): This is the baseline for all the brothers above. While it’s shifting isn’t as fast as its newer siblings, it’s ERG mode is super consistent – far better than the X/2020 with the new drivetrain. I’m sure eventually they’ll sort that out, but for now that’s the one advantage it has.

Stepping back to the larger landscape of smart bikes, here’s a blow by blow spec comparison between them. In this case for this table, I’m focused on the bikes capable of 3rd party app integration. For example, you can’t pair a Peloton bike directly to Zwift or TrainerRoad, so that’s not here.

Function/Feature Wattbike ATOM 2020 Stages Bike (SB20) Tacx NEO Bike Smart Wahoo KICKR Bike
Copyright DC Rainmaker – Updated October 22nd, 2020 @ 2:36 pm New Window Expand table for more results
Price for trainer $ 2,599 $ 2899 $ 3,199 $ 3,499
Availability regions UK/South Africa/Australia/Scandinavia/USA Global Global Limited Initially
Power cord required Yes Yes No Yes
Flywheel weight 9.28KG/20.4lbs 50lbs Simulated/Virtual 125KG 13bs/5.9kgs
Includes motor to drive speed (simulate downhill) No No (but kinda) Yes Yes
Maximum wattage capability 2,500w 3,000w 2,200w @ 40KPH 2,200w @ 40KPH
Maximum simulated hill incline 25% 25% 20% (and -15% downhill)
Measures/Estimates Left/Right Power Yes Yes (actually measured independently) Yes No
Can rise/lower bike or portion thereof No No No Yes
Can directionally steer trainer (left/right) Planned late 2020 Yes (with compatible apps) YES (WITH COMPATIBLE APPS) Yes (with compatible apps)

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). But nonetheless, look for my review very shortly! It’s actually written in text, but I’m waiting on a calibration kit from Peloton to see if I can get things just a bit closer accuracy-wise.

Peloton Bike+: Now this could legitimately be added above. However, it has no 3rd party app compatibility, so it seems odd to add it above for now.

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: I’ve had this bike for a bit, then returned it while they sorted out technical issues. It’s currently only shipping mostly in the Netherlands, so that’s probably less appealing from a widespread standpoint.

VirtuPro: At present this bike isn’t compatible with any 3rd party apps, and in nearly a year since I last chatted with them, I haven’t seen any concrete evidence that’s changed.

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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The ATOM 2020 is both an incremental and major upgrade from the original ATOM 2020. But figuring out which is which can be tricky. Under the hood is a major upgrade, with a sweeping change to how they handle resistance. That’s a change that long term will pay dividends for the company, and is ultimately the direction all smart trainers and smart bikes will end up. There’s little debate in the industry on that. So Wattbike being ahead of the curve there is good news. And aspects of that are already paying dividends, the gear shifting is vastly faster side by side than the original ATOM. The other tiny changes, such as swapping the power panel to the underside of the bike, are good as well. Even if minor.

The challenge though for Wattbike is that while the resistance is is already paying dividends for those racing in Zwift, it’s a concurrent setback for those using ERG mode for structured workouts. Simply put – it’s far worse than before. The stability just isn’t acceptable for a product of this price point. Just like it wasn’t acceptable to me on the Stages Bike (SB20) when it came out, nor the spikes we saw on the Tacx Bike when it came out. Unfortunately, all of these bikes have bumpier roads than I’d prefer.

Now – will Wattbike be able to address this? Probably, eventually. But I don’t expect a major breakthrough tomorrow. After all, I’ve had this bike three months now, and they’ve been hard at work trying to tweak the firmware to address this issue specifically. And yes, compared to July there have been some improvements. Mostly in the realm of overshoots/undershoots on huge jumps in power (it used to be off by 130w!), now the initial surge is much more tapered, but we’re still left with the constant oscillations. So while I think they’ll get there, I’m hesitant to say it’s soon.

Ultimately though, the Wattbike ATOM 2020 is the least expensive of the smart bike options, and so to some extent there’s a tradeoff for what you pay, and what you get. Like any other product for the most part. That’s mostly seen in features, but occasionally we see it elsewhere.

Which doesn’t mean it’s a bad product – far from it. The changes to shifting are very real, and very responsive. And overall, Wattbike has put together a solid smart bike offering to consider. And that ignores the benefits of their free app with training plans and workouts, which the other companies don’t offer.

With that – thanks for reading!

Product Reviews – DC Rainmaker

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