Wahoo KICKR Review: Indoor Cycling Training With Power
The Wahoo KICKR Trainer has become quite possibly the leading smart trainer for cyclists of all disciplines, it’s lack of a rear wheel is most notable but that’s no place near this trainer’s best feature…
Wahoo Fitness landed a knockout blow to the rest of my trainers. My old gear took up probably 25 square feet of floor space. They’re all gone. This is all I need and possibly the best part of the KICKR is that this trainer literally keeps getting better as its fairly open source output allows one programmer after another to create newer / better / freshly interesting training software…
Generally speaking, I start most reviews with company, material and development info…
The founder’s story, the R&D guy, a bunch of photos of an HQ that’s either high-zoot techno or Old school euro style, followed by a few paragraphs about the product development, materials etc. And I’ll finish it off with how well all of this adds up to what is a good product (not so strange to understand why nobody seems to send bad product…).
This time I’m jumping right to saying “go buy this trainer” and telling you the nutshell version of why I think you should. Hell the whole damn review could be over in fewer words than it generally takes me to introduce a product.
So here it is:
The kicker is spinning substantial flywheel mass at high speeds, controlled by bigger magnets than virtually any other home trainer. And it’s running that mass, speed and control through a huge selection of training programs. That all combines to give you incredibly smooth “road like” operation and resistance variation over your digital terrain. Multiple companies are providing a wide (and getting wider) variety of highly adjustable / programmable, entertaining workouts and very usable info and tracking / training data. The power tracking precision and programming also make this a year round training tool that is, in some ways, far more effective at interval control than what you can get on variable terrain / conditions on the road. And it all happens without tire wear.
That’s it. Go buy this trainer…
Got one? K, good.
Now let’s start with why you’ll wind up agreeing with me. You’ll start noticing the KICKR is different from lots of other products right about the time you try and move the box around.
The KICKR is not light at 47 pounds.
In fact, the KICKR is actually a tad heavier than Kinetic’s massive Rock and Roll trainer despite having less than half the frame tubing and mounting hardware mass. A greater majority of this trainer’s weight is all in the business end of the resistance unit.
That said, the frame is very well designed for easy setup, solid operation and easy, compact storage.
From a fairly narrow storage profile, the legs kick out.
They lock securely in place (both in and out) with an easy to use push-pin.
And any wobble can be adjusted out of the base very easily by turning the feet (and holding the adjustment in place with the counter-washer/nut).
The unit is also adjustable for multiple wheel sizes (by an easy hand-adjustable bolt).
One of the easily recognizable features for this trainer is that it requires no rear wheel. This came with a 10 speed cassette attached… I removed it with the same standard tools you use on your wheels.
The free hub is 10-11 speed ready… You’ll not use the provided spacer if you jump to 11 (I zip tie things like this to the handle, rather than losing it…).
The install of the new SRAM 11 unit was exactly the same process as it would have been on a normal rear wheel.
Another adjustment that is available is the spacing standard for Disc / Mountain / Road. That’s handled fairly simply with the flip of a spacer on the opposite side of the cassette that gives you 130 and 135 (though the “R”(oad) and “M”(ountain) don’t really apply any longer).
Wahoo also provide a disc brake spacer. That’s a nice addition to help prevent potential caliper issues in the case you squeeze your disc brake bike without a wheel installed.
Zero worries and a safe secure set up for the new Custom Sarto Disc bike that just landed.
And yep, No tire wear…
Maybe that’s not a big deal for some, but when I’m strapped with Continental’s new GP4000S tubulars on a new set of Zipp’s Firecrest 303 Disc Wheels, I’m not a big fan of squishing that all into a trainer.
Sure, most folks don’t like to run their premium kit on trainers but the point here is that the KICKR just isn’t burning up rubber like any other trainer that requires tire contact.
You should expect this to be solid and well-built so let’s get to the good parts.
This unit’s smooth, “real road feel” is directly related to what makes it HEAVY. Where most trainers have one flywheel, this unit has 2.
Strictly speaking, only number 2 is called a Flywheel. It rotates around in the direction of the arrows. It is a heavy piece and it’s basically a bowl shape that makes it seem smaller than it is when compared to the typical flat disc shaped flywheels on most designs.
And it keeps rolling when you stop pedaling.
Flywheel 1 does have some weight to it, providing some momentum to the system when spinning (and some resistance on acceleration but that’s not the “big” thing about Flywheel 1.
The bigger benefit for Flywheel 1 is its “big-ness”.
Imagine for a second riding a bike with an 88 tooth front chain ring driving a single speed 11 tooth rear. Take a look at the picture above and you’ll see a 144 tooth large wheel driving an 18 tooth gear attached to the main flywheel.
The math there is 8 to 1 (88/11 in chain ring to cassette speak).
This makes up for the fact that there’s no rear wheel as is the case in most trainers because your rear wheel would turn the flywheel of most trainers several times per rotation. So “Flywheel 1″ is really big gear 1…
The other spinner, “Flywheel 2” (marked “Crank it Up”) is the one with all the weight… Roughly 12 pounds.
Relative to most magnetic trainers, 12 pounds is a lot of weight and this weight is rotating at fairly high speed.
It’s also important to note that this mass and speed are being controlled by relatively BIG magnets (most competitive resistance units use a fraction of the KICKR’s magnetic size/strength/capacity).
The end result of the gearing effect, high speed and big magnets is not just that this takes more work to get going but it alsotakes longer for your virtual wheels to spin down. Starting and coasting/stopping are just incidental feelings.
The more important end result is also that all of that speed and mass and control increases the capacity of the trainer to make much more fine/smooth adjustments in resistance (there’s more room for adjustment with a bigger speed / weight number) while you’re working on the bike.
That kind of precision control is what makes for the super smooth (“road-like”) transitions as you’re riding up and down your virtual hills or making the transitions during intervals. It also means that the power/wattage readings you get are quite accurate relative to a lot of trainers.
So why does this unit let me give away the other 3 trainers? (and why did I have 3 to start with?).
I had three trainers, because each had a top flight feature (or two) that the others lacked.
T1 was an easy to use trainer that had an elastomer roller / tire interface and was very easy to set up. It lacked any sort of real training software and had no resistance changes but it was simple to set up and chewed up tires less than my others. It got long use in front of the TV when no real goals where at hand other than to spin (and it was a relatively quiet fluid unit).
T2 was incredibly smooth with a heavy flywheel. It was great for intervals and had a good road like feel. It was also fluid based and fairly quiet. It wasn’t exactly easy to move around or store due to its weight and size. It also lacked any real software except for a wattage estimator that wasn’t really accurate (but was consistent, linear and semi-usable for training), had no resistance changes or control (except for changing gears) and no route or session programming and no real entertainment value (and metal on tire contact).
T3 was a computer tied unit that had a nice software package, tracking capability, programmable resistance, some on screen entertainment value like racing yourself, on screen digital pursuit and course creation. It changed resistance based on either manual button pushing or automatically following programmed changes but it had a tiny flywheel and good but not great resistance changes, smoothness and road feel. One of the biggest down sides was that it also required enough set up (bar unit wired, cadence wired, spin down calibration each use and all connected to a laptop that had to be brought out to the living room…) that pre-workout hassle had me choose one of the other two units that were very simply not as useful for serious training (and again, metal on tire contact).
The KICKR is better at each of the top features of all three…
– It only takes a minute to set up (as easy as T1 and T2 and far better than T3) and can be stored in a small space. It’s heavy, but the handle is well placed and with the legs retracted it’s not an issue to move.
– It is incredibly smooth rolling (with zero tire wear), the resistance is steady and resistance changes are smooth (better that T2, far better than T1 and T3). The changes are also unforgiving though, so be warned. If you program a wall in front of your flat, be ready to hit that wall.
– None of the three get any place near the operating / training systems available with the KickR. T1 has no training interface at all, T2 has a rudimentary interface BUT T3 has an interface that literally set a benchmark for the industry with multiple features, multiple data points and some entertaining competitive features. But the KICKR beats T3 hands down.
Wahoo’s interface with compatible devices (in a couple of transmission standards) and its production of its own wireless sensors make for a training tool that has redefined the home trainer product class.
Beyond hardware, the news for most of Wahoo’s competitors gets worse because these competitors are fighting several different tech driven companies (competing with each other, but all united with Wahoo) that are constantly improving the multiple very good programs already out there as well as creating new programs as we speak.
This is a small shot of the training partners that Wahoo have.
And the list is really boring compared to how these tools really look and perform.
As relates to entertaining training, have a look at KINOMAP.
Here’s real footage rolling up Alp d Huez and the trainer is adjusting itself. Of course it needs mentioning that while the trainer is adjusting very smoothly, this is still Alp D Huez. The KICKR is adjusting the resistance without any mercy or compassion.
There are a host of screens available to show power data, position on the road etc… The point being that this is fantastically entertaining but also no slouch for training info.
Another example is from TrainerRoad.com.
They go for a much more clinical training interface where you can program your training sessions with very specific goals in mind AND the interface is simple to use.
And Wahoo have their own Segments App program that will allow you to get your ass stomped in a sort of “virtureal” time (my word) by Ned Overend up MT Washington OR kick the crap out of one of your own buddies as it takes real course information from Strava and lets you race thousands of routes against thousands of times, all adjusted automatically as you ride them.
Wahoo also has its own basic program that is actually OK as a clinical kind of tool.
I generally use this page…
Lots of info and options here, but my one gripe is that Wahoo’s app DESPIRATELY needs to put a resistance up/down button on ALL of the training information screens. Given the number of programming supporters and the quality of the products they’re supplying, Wahoo are best left to product design and function versus programming.
[There are so many good programs with so many cool features that naming them and showing you even one screen page would make this article too long and unfocused. I’ll try and run down a few of them separately later in the year as I get more miles into them… Sorry]
There’s also lots of accessory hardware available, but we’ll limit it to just a couple of pieces. They’ve updated their cadence sensor to a wireless unit that needs no magnet.
Instead it has an internal accelerometer that knows where it is in a crank circle without needing you to glue / strap / bungee anything to your frame. The RPM cadence pod works with iPhones and Android devices, and is ANT+ and Bluetooth smart compatible. ($49.99)
And they just launched some VERY slick new Heart Rate monitors that get the family naming treatment as TICKR. The base TICKR provides heart rate and calorie data, while the TICKR Run and TICKR X have built in accelerometers to add motion analysis to heart rate measurement. The TICKR Run analyzes various indicators of running form, while the TICKR X adds cycling cadence, lap/rep counting, and memory to the device. They’re doing a vibration function as well for use without a smartphone.
All three units will speak multiple languages so that your ant+ AND Bluetooth smart items will be able to understand what the TICKR is saying. The base TICKR retails for $59.99, the TICKR Run for $79.99, and the TICKR X for $99.99.
Wahoo Fitness are not just bike/fitness freaks. They’re more a bunch of tech-geeks (said in the enviable/positive sense of the word) that have happened to focus a portion of their geekness on cycling / sports performance… It’s better for all of us. The stuff they’re making is fantastic and not firmly planted in what can be the narrow mind of cycling product development.
I’ve been a fan of the gear as its progressed and they keep making sensible (AND EASY TO UPDATE) revisions and they’re designing the product to be as future proof as possible which should save us all money while giving us better and better versions of already very good kit.
You can check out the entire lineup of products at The Wahoo Fitness website.
The KICKR is ready to go now and the SRP is $1099. Not cheap, but then you’re getting exceptional hardware competitive with units at and above this price and you’re getting the swarm of available operating systems that is currently unmatched in the industry…
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 we test here. Only the manufacturer can provide accurate and complete information on proper use and or installation of products as well as any conditional information or product limitations.
Send your comments to : [email protected]