Complete indoor training setup offers incredible realism, but with such high performance comes a high price
- Easy to set up
- Both hardware and software are widely compatible
- Incredible sense of realism
- Premium price
For the past few months here at Cyclingnews, we've been testing the Wahoo Ecosystem; a range of indoor smart trainer products from Wahoo. In addition to the Kickr smart turbo trainer, we've been testing out the Kickr Climb gradient simulator as well as the Kickr Headwind, a smart fan. We've been using them long enough to form an opinion on all three and to give you a clue on what we thought, we don't want to give them back just yet.
The Northern Hemisphere's winter is beginning to take its toll by now, and as many of you probably saw in the World Championships in Yorkshire, British weather can be particularly duck-friendly at times, so an indoor trainer setup has become part-and-parcel of a cyclist's inventory.
Whether an indoor trainer setup has crossed your mind due to the weather, the avoidance of other road users, or for the greater training structure it can offer, is the Wahoo Kickr a suitable choice? Read on to find out.
Wahoo Kickr review
The latest iteration of the Wahoo Kickr smart turbo trainer has been around a while already, first being launched in 2018, but with solid construction and regular firmware updates, many early buyers' reports confirm the Kickr is built to stand the test of multiple winters' use. At £999.99 / US$1199.99 / AU$1699.95 / €1199.99, there are plenty of alternatives out there that undercut the price, even Wahoo's own Kickr Core shaves £300 off the cost. The Kickr certainly isn't the cheapest Zwift setup, but what is it that makes the almost-thousand-pound smart trainer worthy of your credit card's three-digit security number?
Updates over the former Kickr were more evolution than revolution. These included a larger flywheel (12lb increased to 16lb) and refined power management, meaning should you stop pedalling while mid-interval in erg-mode, you don't need to do a standing track start in order to get the trainer moving again.
The Kickr communicates via both ANT+ & Bluetooth Smart, and the software compatibility list is so long that you're generally safe to assume that, whatever app you're considering using for your indoor training sessions, the Wahoo Kickr will support it.
Two key features, in our opinion, are the simple set up and the power responsiveness. The Wahoo app has an intuitive set-up process for all of its products, and once the Kickr was paired, it wasn't long before I was pedalling away.
The speed of the Kickr's responsiveness is what sets it apart from other trainers we've tested. The Kickr has long been renowned for being quick, and it's impressively quick to respond to changes in incline or changes in an interval session.
This is noticeable while riding, and makes for a less mentally taxing effort, especially during long steady-state intervals where I like to take my mind off the effort and allow erg-mode to dictate the wattage.
The Kickr uses a foldable three-leg base with adjustable feet for stability. A third adjustment option offers preset heights based on your bike's wheel and tyre size, which takes the guesswork out of height adjustment. Paired with the Climb, adjusting your settings in the app will raise-or-lower the bike's front end, ensuring the 0 per cent gradient has you riding level.
Unlike the cheaper Kickr Core and most other brands, the Kickr comes complete with a cassette installed. It's 11-speed by default, but can be swapped easily. Campagnolo users will have to purchase a separate freehub adaptor. There's also a range of axle adaptors included in the box, including 130/135 QR, 142x12 and 148x12 thru-axle.
The one downside to the design of the Kickr, most-noticeable when also using the Headwind, is the length of the power cable. If your power source is on the wall in front of you, the Kickr's distance from the wall is limited by the cable length. This in turn means the Headwind is situated too close to the front of your bike, and airflow is directed at your legs, rather than your body. It's a small flaw, and can be overcome with the help of an extension lead, but it's frustrating nonetheless.
Differences to Kickr Core
Besides the price disparity, there are a few substantial differences between the Kickr and the Kickr Core. The flywheel of the Kickr is 16lb, whereas the Core is the same 12lb weight as the previous generation Kickr.
The maximum resistance of the Kickr is 2200 watts, versus a still-out-of-reach 1800 watts on the Core. Gradient simulation is also higher, rising from 16% on the Core to 20% on the Kickr.
The structure of the Kickr folds and has a carry handle, whereas the Core does not, and the Core doesn't come with a cassette.
The Wahoo Kickr is a great indoor trainer, and if you choose to invest your hard-earned cash, you'll be far from disappointed. It’s easy to set up, it's almost silent, and it's compatible with every app imaginable. The accuracy and responsiveness are both great and the flywheel, at 16lbs, helps to offer lifelike road feel.
However, is it worth the price difference to the Kickr Core? For me, probably not, but it depends on how much value you place in those differences.
Wahoo Kickr Headwind review
The Kickr Headwind was the cause of much discussion at its release, with many baulking at the price for what is, essentially, a fan. However, Wahoo has worked a number of features into the Headwind that you'll come to appreciate.
The Headwind is a smart fan that adjusts its speed output based on a number of factors. You can either control the fan speed manually using the Wahoo app, or set the Headwind to adjust automatically based on virtual speed or heart rate.
I've tried all three, and output based on heart rate seems to make the most sense as your heart rate is most likely to align with your body's temperature. Speed data would, of course, be a more realistic experience offering a greater 'headwind' as speed increases, but I would rather opt for some extra cooling when pushing 190bpm on a steep, slow climb. Output in line with speed might work well for time trial efforts, but less so for Zwift races or sprint intervals. I quickly learned that keeled over the bike gasping for air after a sprint is not the point I'd like the fan to disengage.
The heart rate or power at which output increases can be adjusted on a sliding scale. It takes a bit of fine-tuning to get it at your preferred level, but once there, it makes for a considerably more enjoyable experience. (Top tip: Understate the max heart rate level to get the maximum fan output sooner as your heart rate rises).
Wahoo claims the maximum fan speed is 48km/h (30mph). I've no reason to doubt this claim, but with the focussed airflow, it shifts enough air to keep you cool, even at the highest of effort levels.
The approximate weight of the Kickr Headwind is 5kg, which makes for a stable, yet portable unit. An inbuilt handle simplifies transport further still, and the retractable power cord and cord wrap mean there's no separate power brick to carry around.
On the base, the rear sees two adjustable legs that fold, lowering the direction of airflow should you want to place the headwind on a desk or table in front of you. Personally, I wish there were two legs at the front as well, which would raise the direction of airflow. To get the airflow to point at the body - rather than the legs - the Headwind needs to be positioned approx 120cm from the front of the bike, which is not always possible given the length of the Kickr's power cord.
The front of the Headwind sees a small touch screen control panel, which features a simple on/off switch, LED indicator lights, and two manual buttons to increase/decrease the fan's output based on four incremental levels.
Whether it's worth the £199.99 / US$249.99 / AU$399.95 / €229.99 is likely to be a decision based on personal circumstances. There's no question it's a luxury addition to your indoor ride, but in winter, where you're more likely to be using it, starting an indoor session with a fan turned up to 11 is uncomfortably cold, and we've all experienced underwhelmingly weak airflow. The Kickr Headwind makes deciding between too cold now or too hot later a thing of the past, and in the largely-unpleasant world of indoor training, that small improvement is well received.
Wahoo Kickr Climb review
The Kickr Climb is a device that raises and lowers the front of your bike, simulating climbs of up to 20%, and descents of -10%, in a bid to replicate the outside experience as closely as possible. For just shy of £500, it's likely to be a highly-considered investment.
For me, where the Kickr Climb comes into its own is in highly specific training sessions, and during competitive Zwift events. During Zwift workouts, the Climb is locked, but during open efforts such as races or just free-riding, it can be a good physical warning of an upcoming climb. Note, you'll need to turn the trainer difficulty setting up to 100% in Zwift for it to adjust on a 1:1 ratio. A trainer difficulty of 50% will adjust at a 2:1 ratio (meaning for a 10% in-game gradient, your Kickr will simulate 5%) and so on.
I'm not someone who knows every Zwift course by heart, and it can be particularly easy to miss an upcoming ascent, especially when using an iPhone as I often do. The number in the corner is small enough on such a screen to be difficult to consume while racing and, as such, the Kickr Climb's instant adjustment is the best indicator that hard times are coming, enabling you to attack the effort and stay on top of your gear - something that's particularly helpful in racing situations.
The other major benefit, for those with a target event, is the Kickr Climb's up-to-20% gradient. Rather than just adding resistance to simulate gradient, the literal gradient forces you to use the muscle groups that will be stressed come race day.
It's tough to find a long 20% climb in most areas of the world without travelling or riding to get there first. If you're training for a hilly sportive, the national hill climb championships, or just your upcoming holiday in the Alps, the Kickr Climb's ability to immediately set you at the necessary gradient of your event will enable quick, effective, and structured workouts.
Like the Kickr turbo trainer, a selection of wheel adaptors is included with the Climb. These include QR, 12x100mm, 15x100mm and 15x110mm, and the shape of the frame is recessed to allow for disc-brake caliper clearance.
The Kickr Climb is quiet, too, there's a faint whirr when the motor is in action; certainly not enough to wake your housemates, and most of it is drowned out by the sound of your drivetrain anyway.
The construction itself is solid; there's a heavy, rubberised base which makes for a planted feel, even when out-of-the-saddle sprinting or at the maximum 20% incline. The base is curved, too, which basically means there's no fore-aft stress put on your fork as you transition through the gradients. That said, the base of the Climb does work itself back and forth over time as the incline changes. The higher it goes, the further back it moves.
There's a pretty hefty external power block which makes for an untidy aesthetic - a small issue, I know, but one worth considering for such a premium product.
The rise-and-fall of the front end comes courtesy of a sliding carriage which is operated by a motor and a toothed belt. The top of the Climb includes a port for the wired remote control, which can be removed and extended on a coiled wire and affixed to your handlebars if manual control is more your thing.
Gradient changes tend to come in steps at each whole-number percentage, rather than a more linear grade. Of course, infinite gradient points would be quite data-intensive and whole-numbers is more than incremental enough for a realistic road feel. That said, the actual movement of the Climb is smooth. Even on the rolling roads of certain Zwift courses, the Climb keeps up with the gradient changes without becoming a bucking bronco.
Like the Kickr Headwind, and to a lesser extent the Kickr smart trainer, the Kickr Climb is very much a luxury in that it's not essential to achieve a successful indoor training session. However, unlike the others, there's nothing out there that can do the same job for less spend.
At £499.99 / US$599.99 / AU$799.99 / €549.99, it's hard to justify it as a value proposition, but if you're looking to increase that real-ride feel (while remaining indoors), the Kickr Climb arguably offers more realism than any piece of software can. The physical benefits of using the Climb are genuine; different muscle groups are tested as if you were riding real ascents.
For the casual indoor cyclist, the potential benefits might not seem worthy of the investment, but for the dedicated indoor warrior looking for the biggest training stimulus, the Climb should be the next addition to your indoor training arsenal.