Wahoo Kickr smart trainer review

Updated: Sturdy smart trainer with excellent software interaction for virtual riding or resistance training

This article originally appeared on BikeRadar

The Wahoo Kickr is an excellent smart trainer for riders who want to tightly control power-based workouts or who are looking for real-time interaction with virtual software such as Zwift or TrainerRoad.

After riding the original Kickr for two years, I have been testing the new Kickr since late 2016 and sharing notes with my colleague Guy Kesteven. The new Kickr is just as sturdy as before, connects quickly via ANT+ or Bluetooth to smartphones, computers and bike computers, and the updates — such as refined power measurement, a more ergonomic grip, a more convenient plug-in location plus thru-axle and 11-speed compatibility — are welcome changes.

Wahoo says the new unit is quieter, but I can't tell the difference. My little iPhone decibel meter pegs it at about 70dB when riding steady at 200w and 80rpm. It maxes out at 81dB.

Compare this to the quietest smart trainer I've tested, the Tacx Neo, at 70 and 80dB, and the noisiest (but cheapest), Elite Qubo Digital, at 80 and 91dB, for steady 200w power and all-out sprinting.

With Bluetooth and ANT+, the Kickr pairs easily with smartphones, newer iPads and laptops, and cycling computers

You control the power — or let a third-party app do it

The Wahoo Kickr has a built-in power meter that allows you to not only accurately measure your efforts, but also control them. There are a few ways to do this.

The simplest way to control the Kickr is with Wahoo's app. With that you can set the exact level of resistance in watts and then pedal at whatever cadence and in whatever gear you like. Change gears or change cadence? No problem, the Kickr will adjust.

The better way to control the Kickr is with a program such as Zwift or TrainerRoad, which control the resistance in real-time to follow along with either a specific workout or a video course. As with the app, you can change your gears and your cadence, and the resistance will adjust to keep the prescribed power right on target.

You can use Zwift and TrainerRoad with a standard trainer or even rollers, but keeping the power level on target will be up to you. The beauty of smart trainers, and the Kickr in particular, is that you don't have to think about it — you just lock in the workout and pedal. 

Zwift is a great partner for the Wahoo Kickr. You can ride in virtual courses with either the elevation changes or specific workouts driving the Kickr's resistance

In this regard it is similar to CompuTrainer, but with two significant differences. One, Kickr is much cheaper. And two, Kickr's open platform means you can plug it into any software, provided you have the compatible hardware.

I tested the Kickr's wattage readings against pairs of power meters (SRM/Stages, Pioneer/Garmin Vector 3) and found the data to track within two percent.

On the plus side, the Kickr can be controlled by a variety of external sources: iPhone, iPad, Mac, PC and Android. On the negative side, the Kickr requires an external device to control it. That, combined with the fact that it needs an electrical power source, puts it on the opposite end of the spectrum from a standard resistance trainer that you can set up anywhere and just hop on and go.

I've used the Kickr on both Bluetooth and ANT+. Both are solid connection-wise. (I recommend using Bluetooth on any smart trainer.) Readouts are near immediate and changes to resistance take between less than a second and about three seconds, depending on the size of the change and the specifics of the software driving the Kickr. 

This is a screenshot from TrainerRoad, which controls the resistance on the Kickr for highly specific workouts. TrainerRoad has a deep menu of workouts

One frustrating thing about the Kickr and smart trainers in general is how they react if you stop pedaling for a few seconds during a controlled workout. When you resume pedaling the resistance feels like ten times what it should be until you can get on top of the gear.

Some programs have ways to overcome this; Zwift disables the erg mode when your actual power falls off the target power for a number of seconds and TrainerRoad lets you toggle down the target power with a keystroke.

Compared to other smart trainers — or even riding with a power meter outside — the Kickr reports incredibly smooth power output when used on erg mode. Wahoo has achieved this by taking acceleration out of the power equation. This means two things: one, you get unnaturally smooth reported power, which can be gratifying to look at in real time and on post-ride analysis graphs. But two, the reason you get these super smooth power lines is because the Kickr is ignoring short-term changes to speed in the flywheel.

So, when you try to accelerate quickly up to a much higher power, it feels absurdly hard. This is only an issue when doing short, very hard intervals (like 30sec on, 30sec off), or when you stop pedaling during any interval and try to get going again.

The rest of the time it's actually pretty cool, as you can change cadence or shift gears, and your prescribed power and actual power line up almost perfectly. In any event, Wahoo is preparing to give users the option of turning this acceleration measurement on or off (as it is now) when in erg mode.

The direct-drive style works well. Subtracting the rear wheel and tire from the equation eliminates both wear on those parts and the variability in power measurement that they can cause (if measuring/applying power at the tire). The trainer is very sturdy, with adjustable-height feet locking into place and a quick-release hub mount providing a familiar interface. Even when out of the saddle, the trainer simply doesn't move.

The sound is relatively subdued, but still plenty loud to annoy people in close proximity, especially at higher cadences. The Tacx Neo is a little quieter, but other smart trainers are about as loud. 

The new Kickr gets a better handle — which is good, because it's heavy!

Compatibility and portability

In terms of hardware, the Kickr adjusts quickly to preset heights for road, 650c and 29-inch bikes, and the hub spacing can flip between 130mm and 135mm for road and mountain spacing. No front wheel block is needed as the rear hub height matches that of the selected wheel.

On the plus side, the sturdy arms fold in nicely for relatively compact storage and the solid handle is useful. On the negative side, the thing weighs a ton. Okay, perhaps not a ton, but 47lb (21kg).

You are not bringing this thing to a race to warm up on; you are using it for riding Zwift or doing specific power-based training indoors. This is true of virtually all smart trainers.

The feet adjust for height and then lock in place. The trainer is very sturdy and does not wobble

Bottom line

The Kickr is an excellent if expensive tool. The lab-like ability to dial in exact wattage resistance is a huge training asset, and the controlled power output can be very gratifying — especially if you're the type to follow your intervals to the T. 

When paired with structured workout software such as TrainerRoad, it brings indoor solo training to a new level. And when used with Zwift, indoor riding can actually be engaging, as the resistance automatically adjusts to the virtual climbs, flats, big-group drafts and descents.

Wahoo also makes the Kickr Snap, a less-expensive smart trainer that uses the more traditional rear-wheel-on trainer configuration. 

Full Specifications

BikeRadar Verdict - 4.5/5

"Sturdy smart trainer with excellent software interaction for virtual riding or resistance training"

Specification

Name: KICKR smart trainer
Built by: Wahoo
Price: £949.00 / US$1,099.00 / AU$1,399.00
Colour: Black
Folding: Yes
Turbo Trainer Type: Magnetic 

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