What's Cool In Road Cycling

Wahoo KICKR ROLLR – PEZ First Ride & Set Up Guide

Wahoo has combined the ride of rollers with the brains of a smart trainer for a different indoor riding experience. The pros used the KICKR ROLLR to warm up at Worlds in Flanders last year. Now they’re available to the public. PEZ takes them for a ride.

If you watched the 2021 Worlds in Flanders, you may have seen riders warming up on these:

What looks like high-tech rollers with a small flywheel as opposed to a wheel-off direct-drive trainer. A product Wahoo had not yet released. Their statement at that time was: “The Wahoo KICKR ROLLR is a new product we are developing and testing with the help of the UCI and the athletes participating in the Road world championship this year in Flanders. We currently have no set release date for the final product but expect it to be in the latter part of 2022.”

Well, that release date is today and PEZ was fortunate to get our hands (or is that wheels?) on the KICKR ROLLR  to give y’all a preview.

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Unboxing and Set Up
I was actually out for a ride on an unusually nice February day in Babylon on the Potomac when my wife texted me to let me know this was dropped at our front door:

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Needless to say, after I got home, showered, and changed, I was anxious to get it un-boxed and set up, which was a relatively easy and straightforward affair. I’ll let pictures do most of the talking.

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Like a kid at Christmas!

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Raise up the folding arm on the front tire gripper body

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You have to remove two screws on the front tire gripper body to connect it with the rear tire body

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Slide the “arm” of the rear tire body into the “sleeve” of the front tire gripper body and then screw the wheelbase adjustment lever in place

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Voila!

Installing a bike on the KICKR ROLLR is pretty easy-peasy.

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Put the front wheel into the tray

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Rotate the adjustment wheel backwards to open the tire gripper and forwards to close it tight enough to hold the front tire in place

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Finally, slide the rear tire body into place so that the rear tire contacts both rollers evenly and close the lever to hold it in place

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Don’t forget to connect the AC power adaptor to the KICKR ROLLR and plug it in to an outlet!

Riding Smart
Regular rollers (which I haven’t ridden in 20-something years) can be a little daunting for the uninitiated to first get on and learn how to ride (here’s a good beginner’s guide to rollers video from our pals at GCN). But because only the rear wheel is on rollers and the front wheel is stationary on the KICKR ROLLR, mounting up to ride is no different than a typical rear wheel trainer (smart or otherwise). That should alleviate any initial anxieties for roller newbies.

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My first go on the KICKR ROLLR was in “dumb” mode, i.e., without it plugged in, just to get an initial feel for it. The first thing I noticed is that it’s really secure/stable. With the front wheel clamped in, there is zero chance of either falling or riding off as could happen in a moment of inattentiveness on regular rollers. The second thing was the “riding a bike IRL” feel of the rear tire in contact with the rollers . But the difference with the KICKR ROLLR is the 10.5 pound flywheel providing weighted inertia you wouldn’t have with regular rollers. As with regular rollers, there’s a premium on having a smooth, even, fluid pedal stroke.

NOTE: Even though the front wheel is clamped in place, the bike isn’t perfectly rigid like a rear-wheel or direct-drive trainer. There’s some “play” that allows the bike to move around just a little bit, which actually makes the ride feel more “natural.”

But the real “magic” is riding the KICKR ROLLR in “smart” mode. To do that, plug the the ROLLR in and pair it to the Wahoo app (easiest to illustrate via screen shots).

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However, unlike a smart trainer that can accurately model power, the KICKR ROLLR by itself can’t. According to Wahoo: “With the free flowing rollers, it is difficult to accurately (<3%) model the power because of the movement of the rider on their bike.” So you have to pair an on-bike power meter to the KICKR ROLLR. In my case, I paired the new Wahoo POWRLINK ZERO power meter pedals, but any ANT+ power meter will work.

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According to Wahoo:

  • The KICKR automatically connects to the nearby power meter (over ANT+) and uses this as its true power source.
  • The trainer has all of the KICKR smart controls once it is connected to an external power meter. Without a power meter connected the trainer defaults to level 2 resistance.

Once you’ve linked a power meter to the KICKR ROLLR, you can ride it like any other smart trainer on your favorite riding app. Just remember that you’re connecting the power (and sometimes cadence) separately from the trainer control. I’ll illustrate with screen shots for Wahoo SYSTM, Zwift, and Xert.

Wahoo SYSTM

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Zwift

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Choose the power meter, not the ROLLR

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Xert

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Chose the power meter, not the ROLLR

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For all three riding apps, I found the trainer control of the KICKR ROLLR to be on par with other direct-drive trainers I’ve ridden, such as the KICKR AXIS. Meaning when the resistance unit changed the power (up or down) to a prescribed power level or applied the braking force to simulate gradient, it didn’t feel any different than riding a direct-drive smart trainer.

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If you’re curious what my power file looks like riding the ROLLR on Zwift’s Everything Bagel — nothing out of the ordinary

Best of both worlds

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But the riding experience is … well … different. Because the rear wheel is in contact with the roller drums and can move naturally from side-to-side, it just feels more like real riding. And the weight of the flywheel creates “rolling resistance” for “road feel.” I know watt are watts, but there’s a difference — however subtle and nuanced — of pedaling and transferring power directly to a flywheel that’s electronically controlled and transferring power to a wheel that’s in contact with a riding surface. The latter is more “real.” “Better” is in the eye of the beholder, but IMHO Wahoo have managed to come up with a “best of both worlds” indoor trainer. The “smarts” of a smart trainer with the wheel in contact and rolling on the road feel of rollers.

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So is the KICKR ROLLR the right smart trainer for you?
One thing to consider is that out-of-the-saddle efforts, e.g., sprints, are going to result in the wheel loosing firm contact with the rollers and it’s possible you might experience some “skipping” and the power numbers are likely to be off. That said, because the front wheel is held place, you can sprint (as well do out-of-the-saddle climbs). But if that’s what you primarily need a smart trainer for, then a direct-drive smart trainer is probably a better choice (ditto for the hardest of hardcore Zwifters for whom every watt registered matters).

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Another consideration is that the KICKR ROLLR isn’t an all-in-one smart trainer. If you don’t already have one, you’re going to need to buy an on-bike power meter. So that will push the total cost up … probably to at least over $1,000 USD (with the least expensive single-sided crank arm power meter that you can find on sale/discounted). But that’s in the same ballpark as a lot of direct-drive smart trainers. And the power meter you can ride both indoors and out, so that part of the investment would be prorated.

If you’ve always wanted to ride rollers, but have been too scared to try … the KICKR ROLLR is probably the ‘droid you’ve been looking for.

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No hands is no problem on the KICKR ROLLR

If convenience is what you’re looking for, the KICKR ROLLR is that. You pretty much just roll your bike on it to ride. No having to take your rear wheel off. No need for another cassette for a trainer. It certainly makes a lot of sense if you have more than one bike that you ride indoors (or if there are multiple riders in your household). NOTE: If there’s one “drawback” to riding on rollers (regular ones or the KICKR ROLLR or any rear wheel-on trainer), it’s that you’re going to wear down your rear tire relatively quickly. So you might want to consider riding on either a “cheap” tire that you won’t care about wearing out or a trainer-specific tire (that’s intended to last longer than a regular tire).

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Switching out my bike for my wife’s took less than a minute (including re-adjusting the wheelbase)

If you’re serious about your pre-race warm-up, the KICKR ROLLR is portable enough (but does require some dis-assembly and re-assembly to transport) to take with you to the races to use as “dumb” rollers and there’s that convenient-to-use thing. Plus you’d have bragging rights that you’re warming up on the same equipment as the pros at Worlds.

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Decisions … decisions …

For me, I keep coming back to the rollers part of the KICKR ROLLR. The ride is smooth and just sublime. And riding rollers is one of the best ways to learn how to pedal smoothly — it’s not just about the power you can put down but how you do it. So riding the KICKR ROLLR has the potential to improve both your power output and your pedal stroke — maybe not so important if you’re only riding in the pixels, but can definitely pay dividends riding on real roads.

Should you ditch your current smart trainer? That’s probably not financially feasible (or likely to gain spousal approval) for a lot of people. But if you’re in the market for a smart trainer (especially if you already have an on-bike power meter), the KICKR ROLLR should be on your shopping radar. The combination of rollers for a more natural IRL-like ride with the brains of a smart trainer so you can Zwift and train to prescribed power is a winner IMHO.

 

• See more info at the Wahoo Website here


Note: If you have other experiences with gear or something to add, drop us a line. We don’t claim to know everything (we just imply it at times). Give us a pat on the back if you like the reviews or a slap in the head if you feel the need!

PezCycling News and the author ask that you contact the manufacturers before using any products you see here. Only the manufacturer can provide accurate and complete information on proper/safe use, handling, maintenance, and or installation of products as well as any conditional information or product limitations.

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