Product review: Lemond Fitness Revolution trainer

Awesome feel and clever Direct Drive design but very, very loud

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Lemond Fitness's Revolution indoor trainer ditches the conventional tire-on-roller layout – and in fact replaces the rear wheel entirely – in favor of its own cassette and toothed belt driving an enormous resistance fan. One might think that eliminating that standard contact point wouldn’t yield that big of a difference but in reality, the Revolution's Direct Drive setup eliminates a surprisingly substantial source of power transmission loss and produces what is far and away the most 'connected', positive, and lifelike feel of any trainer we've ever used.

In comparison, conventional trainers feel like you're running your rear wheel in ankle deep mud. Don't believe us? Try it for yourself at a local shop and we've no doubt you'll agree.

In addition to the direct feel, tire wear is completely taken out of the equation so you can continue to keep your favorite rubber installed – which, coincidentally, also makes it ideal for pre-race warm-ups during 'cross season. And since there's no spinning wheel to worry about, the Lemond Revolution can set the back end lower to the ground than usual – thus eliminating the need for a front wheel riser block – plus it's safer around curious pets and children.

An included spacer on the quick-release skewer makes for quick mounting of most road and mountain bikes, too, and four rubber feet easily adjust for uneven floors and hold tight even on hard surfaces.

The resistance fan is indeed huge, measuring roughly 30cm (12") in diameter, but Lemond says the inflated dimensions were necessary to produce the desired effect. In all fairness, the weighty fan's circumferentially concentrated mass does lend an uncannily realistic inertia with minute-plus coast-down times even at relatively leisurely speeds. The giant fan blades expectedly churn a healthy volume of air, too, with a realistically progressive resistance curve that requires only a change of gears for a harder or easier workout.

That curve will vary slightly from reality based on altitude and humidity, though, and we noticed slightly easier resistance levels in our particularly dry and thin test environment, especially at the upper end of the range. Still, even stronger riders should have few issues producing a nice, deep quad burn.

Especially violent efforts will highlight the somewhat narrow footprint, though. Measuring 60cm (24") at its widest point, the Lemond frame is a full 10cm narrower than CycleOps' Pro-series frame and noticeably less stable as a result. While not necessarily tippy, it's definitely not as rock-solid as we'd like, especially for taller riders with higher centers of gravity.

Unfortunately, the combination of that giant fan, multiple bearings, and a resonant cast aluminum main mast produce an inordinate amount of noise to the point where watching television is wholly impossible without the benefit of noise-isolating or noise-cancelling headphones. Users in shared dwellings will want to make sure everyone else is gone and conversations with training partners sitting just inches away require you to yell.

Whether you describe it as a vacuum cleaner, a jet engine, a heavy metal concert, whatever – it's loud with a capital 'L' and despite the long list of benefits to the Lemond Revolution, potential buyers will have to keep that in mind before plunking down the credit card.

Much as we love the Direct Drive design (and are happy to see the admittedly old concept finally reach mass production), there are still some inherent drawbacks. For one, modern drivetrains' often-finicky personalities will likely require some slight cable tension adjustments for proper shifting and while Lemond Fitness does offer a Campagnolo conversion kit (a Shimano/SRAM-compatible body is standard), multiple user households that use both will find the swap to be prohibitively inconvenient.

At the very least, we'd like to see an extra-long cassette body included with a set of thin shims so that the cassette position can be perfectly matched to your actual wheel during initial setup.

The wheel-free design also precludes the use of a hub-based power meter, or any speed sensor whatsoever lest you get a little creative or spring for Lemond's pricy power and speed-measuring computer console. Lastly, the giant fan casing makes for a non-folding frame design and an awkward shape so it's tough to store and transport.

Price: US$549 (w/ 10-speed Shimano 105 cassette); US$499 (w/o cassette)
Pros: Awesomely connected feel, highly realistic levels of inertia, impressive build quality and construction, maintenance-free belt
Cons: Far too loud for shared dwellings, often requires slight derailleur adjustments to work properly, tricky computer mounting, expensive, awkward to transport and store, power curve flattens out at top end, won't work with mountain bike thru-axles
BikeRadar verdict: 3 stars
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