Wahoo KICKR AXIS Review – Indoor Training Just Got More Joyous
Wahoo's KICKR AXIS Gets PEZ'd!
You’d have to be living under a mushroom or in a cave to not know that indoor training is a “thing.” Previously something to do in the winter, lockdowns and isolation during COVID increased its popularity in warmer weather – largely thanks to smart trainers and Zwift. So much so that there’s now virtual bike racing, including the recent Zwift-sponsored men’s and women’s UCI Esports World Championships (I’m waiting for my compatriot Ed Hood’s next rant). COVID made it very difficult to buy a smart trainer in the spring and summer, and it’s still difficult now. Many online retailers are sold out and I know LBS’s in my part of the world can’t keep them in stock for more than a week.
So I felt pretty lucky to get a review unit of the new Wahoo KICKR AXIS smart trainer – the newest in the popular Kickr line up – designed to simulate real road feel on a stationary trainer by allowing the bike to rock and sway while pedaling.
Not a Christmas present from Santa, but a delivery from UPS
The latest and greatest KICKR
PEZ readers familiar with smart trainers will probably already know the Wahoo KICKR, which has been around since 2012 – you might have read our original review here. The KICKR AXIS represents the fifth generation of the KICKR. Appearance-wise the newest KICKR looks a lot the same like the previous generations. Which is to say it has a flywheel, encased resistance unit, carry handle, and folding tripod-like legs.
At first glance, you’d be hard pressed to tell the gen 5 KICKR AXIS from previous generation KICKRs
Here are the full specs (per Wahoo):
- Product Dimensions: 20x28x17 in (51x71x44 cm) with legs open
- Weight: 47 lbs (22 kg)
- Drivetrain: Belt drive
- Resistance type: Electromagnetic
- Accuracy: +/- 1%
- Connectivity: ANT+ FEC, Bluetooth
- Max user weight: 250 lbs (114 kg)
- Power requirements: 100-240V~1.5A 50-60 Hz
- Flywheel weight: 16 lbs (7.3 kg)
- Maximum simulated grade: +20 percent
- Minimum simulated grade: -10 percent
- Maximum power output: 2200 watts
- Rear wheel size: 24″ RD / 24″ MTB / 650c RD / 26″ MTB / 700c RD / 650b MTB / 29″ MTB
- Hub types: 130/135mm QR, 12×142, and 12×148 thru axle (adaptors included)
The handle makes it a little easier to lift and move the KICKR AXIS’s 47 pounds around
What Wahoo says is new:
- Increased accuracy (previously +/- 2%, but I have no way to measure/verify)
- Automatic calibration that precludes the need for spindowns (if you do your indoor training in your garage, important with temperature fluctuations that affect power measurement)
- AXIS feet that allow for subtle side-to-side movement (more later)
- KICKR direct connect port (for those who want to make a hard-wire ethernet connection rather than relying on wi-fi — an option that isn’t supported yet and will requiring spending more money on a “thingie” to use it)
What’s in the Box
The KICKR AXIS is well packed/protected with hefty styrofoam for shipping. In addition to the trainer itself, you’ll also find:
Power brick and cord
Adaptors for thru axles
10-speed cassette spacer and disc brake caliper spacer
Two other sets of different AXIS feet top caps
A SunRace 11-speed 11-28 cassette comes pre-installed but I swapped it for my usual 11-30 cassette
NOTE: The supplied cassette is Shimano/SRAM 11-speed compatible. Wahoo makes a Campagnolo freehub ($69.99) for the Italophiles and an XDR/XD freehub ($69.99) if you’re running a SRAM AXS drivetrain. At the moment, they don’t have a Shimano Mircospline freehub for Shimano 12-speed.
After consultation with Wahoo: “For Shimano 12-speed drivetrains, we recommend using a SRAM Eagle cassette, which is fully compatible with Shimano’s drivetrain and does not require a Microspline freehub. The KICKR certainly works with Shimano 12-speed.”
Getting the KICKR AXIS set up is relatively easy and straightforward. There are two parts: (1) physical set up and (2) software set up.
Even before setting up, determine which caps you need for the AXIS feet. The KICKR AXIS comes with the medium size caps pre-installed. These are for riders 141-180 lbs (63-81 kg). The smaller size caps are for skinny climber types like me: 0-140 lbs (0-63 kg). And then there’s the larger “fat bastard” caps for those who weigh 181+ lbs (64+ kg). Wahoo do point out that the AXIS feet are recommended for riders of certain weights, but riders can also experiment with different sets to find how much movement they like and are comfortable with.
To change the caps on the AXIS feet: (1) unthread the outrigger foot from the let, (2) spin the blue locknut off, (3) use a 6 mm allen wrench for the bolt on the underside of the foot to spin the cap off, and (4) install the right size cap for your weight
To get the KICKER AXIS set up to attach your bike, first open up the legs (and make sure they’re locked back in place in the open position). Presumably your floor is relatively level, but you can fine tune the height of the two outrigger legs to get the trainer level. Next, adjust the height to fit the wheel size of your bike.
Push down to open or close the KICKR legs
The AXIS feet can be adjusted by loosening the blue lock nut, twisting left or right to raise or lower, and then re-tightening the blue lock nut against the KICKR leg
You don’t have to be a roadie to ride the KICKR AXIS
Putting leftover stuff from my daughter’s childhood to good use
Out-of-the-box, the KICKR AXIS comes set up for 130 mm rear wheel with quick release skewer (as well as the previously mentioned SunRace cassette already installed). If your rear wheel has 135 mm spacing or you have a disc brake with thru axle, you’ll have to undo the QR and insert the proper adaptors per Wahoo’s instructions.
If you have a standard road bike with 11-speed and QR rear wheel, you’re good to go out-of-the-box!
With the rear wheel off your bike, just attach your bike directly to the trainer (why it’s called a direct-drive trainer). Voila! BTW, here’s a pro tip from Wahoo: Lift the front wheel up while pressing down the saddle to ensure the bicycle is fully seated on the trainer.
Oh … and don’t forget to plug the KICKER AXIS in to a power outlet!
Software set up requires downloading the Wahoo Fitness App on your phone (I’m part of the Wahoo ecosystem with the ELEMNT Roam GPS bike computer and TICKR heart rate monitor so already had the app) and going through the motions of pairing the trainer to your phone and most likely a firmware upgrade. This took me all of 5 minutes … if that.
A word about your indoor riding set up
Indoor riding is more than just attaching your bike a smart trainer. I’m a big advocate of creating a good environment for indoor riding. Yes, you can do virtual training with your phone or tablet (like Alastair showed us here), but I say bigger is always better. I have a home theater projector (older, so 480p DVD quality not HD) so can experience indoor riding on an 82-inch screen. I have an Apple TV hooked up to my projector. If there isn’t a specific Apple TV app (currently the case with The Sufferfest), I can mirror from my iPad to Apple TV. Even though I’m lucky to have a basement with standard height ceilings that stays cool year round, I have a fan (and it’s always a good idea to turn it on when you ride) I have a second fan that I can use for longer sessions. I also like a good sweat guard to protect my bike from the drippings.
The KICKR AXIS Ride
The ride itself is what you would expect on a smart trainer. The 16 pound flywheel provides excellent ride feel. The resistance unit changes the load (up or down) to a prescribed power level or to simulate gradient – and those changes are relatively smooth. And the KICKR AXIS is very quiet — to the point where my bike’s well-lubed and pretty quiet drivetrain makes more noise.
Even though it’s hollowed out on one side, the flywheel still has enough heft
The resistance unit that’s the guts of the KICKR AXIS
One thing you don’t need to worry about are speed, cadence, or power sensors as the KICKR AXIS itself transmits speed and power data and calculates cadence. Wahoo indeed!
How accurate is power and cadence? I can’t verify Wahoo’s specs. But I can tell you that I have a 4iiii Precision left-side crank arm power meter that calculates power output from my left leg and simply doubles it for total power output. When riding The Sufferfest (a little more later), the cadence on The Sufferfest (calculated from the KICKR) and the cadence on my Roam (transmitted from the 4iiii power meter) were mostly spot on and any variance was almost always within 1-2 rpms of each other. The variation in power (when they weren’t the same) was more like 3-5 watts, with an occasional wider fluctuation. Differences in power output could be due to different power averaging measurement (my Roam does 3 second averaging and I don’t know for The Sufferfest). For the type of riding I do, close enough for government work. And they’re both either relatively accurate or relatively inaccurate to more or less the same degree. If nothing else, it tells me that I have a relatively balanced pedal stoke.
How Well Do the AXIS Feet Work?
The new AXIS feet are designed to allow the bike to rock and sway when pedalling so that the feeling is more like the real experience of riding a bike. This is my first experience with a Wahoo trainer, so I can’t really compare it to the previous versions with “fixed” feet.
The feet, instead of being rigid, are made of an elastomer-like material that can compress and rebound to allow the trainer to move a little. Is it 5 degrees of side-to-side yaw movement as Wahoo claims? I have no way to measure. But I can say that it’s not like riding something like a spin bike that’s fixed in place with virtually no movement. It’s subtle, but noticeable. I could tell that my bike wasn’t locked rigidly in place on the trainer and could feel the bike move under me. Where I really noticed it was when applying more force to the pedals to overcome resistance (which also usually involved spinning faster) or was pedaling out of the saddle. It’s not exactly the same as the “sway” of a bike under me, but there’s some “give” to the ride.
The real benefit of the AXIS feet may be that by providing even just a little bit of cushion they make indoor riding a little bit more comfortable. #marginalgains If you’re riding on a hard floor like concrete in a garage, my guess is you’ll notice a difference. In my case, I’m riding in my basement on carpeting with padding underneath. And I’ve placed the trainer on interlocking foam squares (similar to these so not quite 1/2-inch thick). So I’ve got three layers of comfort.
Also, there’s an intuitive analytic part of me the believes that small movement provided by the AXIS feet creates less stress on the dropouts.
BTW, for those of y’all with older KICKRs, you can retrofit AXIS feet for $79.99.
One way to ride is by using the Wahoo Fitness App to control the trainer. Open the app and from the workout screen, swipe right to get to the appropriate page to control the KICKR AXIS:
- LEVEL: Just like riding on a fluid or wind trainer, the faster you go, the harder it gets. The level you select determines the progression of your power curve.
- RESISTANCE: This allows you to set the resistance of the brake anywhere from 0 to 100%. Regardless of the speed, the brake will remain set until you decide to change it.
- ERG: Set your desired power, the KICKR will increase or decrease the resistance to maintain a constant power output, regardless of speed.
- SIM: Enter your weight, bike type, riding position, headwind, and grade and the KICKR will accurately model the power curve just as if you were riding outdoors.
Use the Wahoo Fitness App to manually control the trainer
If you have an Wahoo ELEMNT bike computer, you can connect it to the KICKR AXIS via ANT+ FEC and use it to control the trainer just like the app. The one difference is that SIM mode allows you to load a route onto the ELEMNT and then ride that route with the KICKR AXIS adjusting resistance based on the terrain map of the route. So a virtual ride without the visuals.
ANT+ FEC and Bluetooth to make all the connections you need
Not yet ready for prime time is the port that’s not an Ethernet port (you’ll need an RJ25 to RJ45 adaptor) to hardwire the KICKR AXIS to the internet
But if you’re spending the kind of coin it costs to own a KICKR AXIS, you probably want to do more than just ride “manually.” Except for those mentioned at the beginning of this article (living under a mushroom or in a cave), everyone knows about Zwift.
One of the things included when you buy a Wahoo smart trainer (KICKR SNAP, KICKR CORE, or KICKR AXIS) is a free 2 month subscription to Wahoo SUF (Wahoo acquired The Sufferfest training program — a favorite of PEZ’s resident literary critic Leslie Reissner — in 2019). So in addition to Zwifting I’ve been Suffering a little. I’m currently in “decompress” mode at the end of the riding season so my riding on The Sufferfest has been easy endurance and recovery rides.
At the heart of The Sufferfest is the 4DP four-dimensional power profile that goes beyond just FTP — the other three dimension are Neuromuscular Power (NM), Maximal Aerobic Power (MAP), and Anaerobic Capacity (AC) — to identify your strengths and weaknesses, tailor your workouts and determine what kind of rider you are: Sprinter, Attacker, Pursuiter, Time Triallist, Climber, or Rouleur. 4DP sounds very similar to Xert that I’ve been using for the past year and I’d be interested in hearing PEZ’s Dr. Stephen Cheung‘s take.
Riding The Sufferfest is different than Zwifting. Whereas with Zwift you’re in the pixels as an avatar in what amounts to a video game world riding in Watopia or one of the other Zwift worlds, The Sufferfest is all about structured training. Instead of riding in a virtual world, The Sufferfest sets power output targets for the workout, controls the load on the trainer, and combines video with music to keep you engaged and entertained as you suffer.
And this just in: Wahoo SUF has released a new Inspiration category featuring iconic bike videos specifically paired to professionally designed workouts. It’s like Netflix and chill. But with more spandex. And less chill. Some of the videos:
- Rising from the Ashes: A Rwandan cycling team — formed of those who were left orphaned and traumatized by the genocide a decade earlier — has the dream of getting riders to the Olympics.
- Half the Road: Explores the world of women’s professional cycling, focusing on both the love of sport and the pressing issue of inequality.
Chasing Legends: The story of how the HTC-Colombia team – and their star sprinter Mark Cavendish – made a dramatic impact on the Tour de France.
- The Holy Week: Through the eyes of riders and team staff, The Holy Week tells the story from the eve of the Tour of Flanders right through until the tense finale on the Roubaix velodrome.
- Crescendo: Documents the final chapter of the 2018 Giro d’Italia.
- Wolfpack Insider – Running with Wolves: Behind-the-scenes as the Quickstep professional cycling team runs the gauntlet of spring classics.
- Colombia Connection: How an upstart group of Colombian Cyclists captured the hearts of the public during the Giro d’Italia.
Is the KICKR AXIS for you?
If you’re in the market for a smart trainer, you’d be hard pressed to go wrong with the KICKR AXIS. Wahoo is an established brand with a solid track record in a competitive market segment with its KICKR smart trainers. I wouldn’t say that the addition of the AXIS feet make it a game changer, but they’re a nice improvement.
Adding to the KICKR AXIS’s cred is the recent announcement that Wahoo is the new Official Smart Training Technology Supplier to the UCI World Road Championships for at least the next two editions. Additionally, Wahoo will be supplying KICKR trainers and other equipment to the UCI World Cycling Center in Aigle, Switzerland and its trainees around the world, as well as the Continental Centers and National Federations to support their development activities.
If you want to go Full Monty and accessorize your KICKR AXIS, you can add the KICKR CLIMB grade simulator that attaches to your fork to raise the bike as much as 20 degrees and lower it as much as 10 degrees; KICKR HEADWIND smart fan that adjusts airflow based on how hard you’re riding; the KICKR Desk that makes it easy to position your laptop or tablet in front of you while riding; and a KICKR Floormat to protect your floor and help deaden the noise, which — if you live in an apartment — your downstairs neighbors will appreciate.
Are there reasons not to buy the KICKR AXIS? I can only think of two. The first is if you routinely intend to ride Vuelta-esque climbs like the feared Angliru that have steep ramps in excess of the KICKR’s maximum 20 percent gradient. The second is if you are capable of consistently riding in excess of the KICKER’s maximum of 2,200 watts — a power output number that isn’t unheard of for track racers.
But assuming you’re a mere mortal like me, if you’re shopping for a smart trainer and can find a Wahoo KICKR AXIS from a trustworthy online retailer or at your LBS, you probably don’t want to hesitate too long as it’s likely to be bought up in the blink of an eye.
I haven’t decided yet whether I’ll do Freezing Saddles again and brave outdoor winter riding, but even if I do I’ll definitely be spending plenty of quality time on the Wahoo KICKR AXIS indoors
• Shop the Kickr Headwind Fan here.
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