Saturday, November 24, 2018

2018/2019 Trainer Updates

It's time for an update on the indoor training market.  I've written a few blog posts over the years about trainers, along with a series of articles on Zwift for Slowtwitch.  It's an area I really enjoy following, as I feel there is a lot of development going on.  In the cycling industry, some of the biggest developments and innovations are in indoor training.  These advancements are helping you (or your competition!) build a bigger engine more intelligently and more efficiently.

The last time I wrote about the trainers themselves was in late 2016.  At that time, there was a big influx of new smart trainers with a lot of promise, particularly in the lower end of the smart trainer cost spectrum ($500-$600).  That batch of trainers had some challenges getting out the door.  We saw products launched that didn't ship for several months, other products that needed to be sent back for hardware updates, and most products had one or more other annoyances that had to be corrected via firmware updates.  After about 6 or 8 months, it seems like we finally had a solid group of products.

I had the opportunity to spend some time on several products, although probably not long enough to warrant a decent review.  Overall, my experiences were good.  Some of that credit goes to the hardware, while much of it goes to the software.  Look for some software reviews coming soon, but for today, we're focusing on the hardware.

Here is a quick look at the smart trainer options available from Vector Cycle Works this year (click on any of the images for a bigger view).  In this case, when I say "smart trainer", I mean the types of trainers where the resistance can be controlled by your software of choice - Zwift, TrainerRoad, Sufferfest, Rouvy, Road Grand Tours, FulGaz, etc.  These are the types of trainers that increase the resistance when going up a hill on a course or enforce a target wattage during a hard interval in a structured workout.  There are some trainers labeled "smart" that have built-in speed and/or cadence sensors to provide information to your software, but the resistance cannot be controlled by the software.  We'll try to cover those in a subsequent post.


CycleOps has tidied up their smart trainer lineup since we last looked.  They dropped a couple of first generation smart trainers and now have two products - the M2 and H2, which are the successors to the Magnus and Hammer, respectively.

I have set up several Magnuses (Magni?  Magnata?  What is the plural of Magnus?) and M2s now and feel like they have been a great product.  Of the trainers I can sell, the Magnus became a top recommendation because it has a solid frame, dependable mounting system, great compatibility with the various software options on the market, and a smooth power profile while coming in at the $600 price range.  The M2 is a nice refinement.  The only reason I don't use the Magnus or M2 in the studio is because the Kinetic Road Machine I use is a bit more flexible when it comes to the variety of bikes I get in the studio.  The CycleOps products are pretty much "set it and forget it", which is great for most people - just not for a bike fitter!

H2 - $1,199.99

The H2 is CycleOps' direct-drive trainer.  This direct drive trainer will simulate up to a 20% grade and provide up to 2000 watts of resistance with +/- 2% accuracy.  It has a 20 pound flywheel to provide a road-like feel, and weighs 47 pounds total.

The H2 incorporates ANT+ and Bluetooth 4.0 for connectivity to all your devices.  It can also work in "headless" mode, so if you are not plugged in, it can still be ridden with a feel similar to a At 20 mph, the noise level is 64 decibels.

M2 - $599.99

The new M2 is a nice refinement of the very solid Magnus and has become my "go to" product of choice.  

The M2 provides up to 1500 watts of resistance and can simulate up to a 15% grade.  The M2 is both ANT+ and Bluetooth 4.0-compatible, operates at 69 decibels at 20 mph, and will fit a wide variety of bikes (although you'll need a <2" rear tire on your 29er).


Kinetic rolled out their software-controllable Smart Control products in late 2016.  The Smart Control products have one major shortcoming - they have Bluetooth and even a USB connection but don't have native ANT+ communications.  That is now changing with their new Control series of trainers, which add ANT+.

You may find Kinetic's product naming conventions a bit confusing.  It basically works like this:

  • Smart - these are traditional trainers with the built-in InRide speed sensors to provide information to your software, but do not allow the software to control the resistance.  We will cover these in another post.
  • Smart Control - the first generation of resistance-controllable units, which are Bluetooth-only.
  • Control - the second generation of resistance-controllable units, which are now ANT+ and Bluetooth.  Yes, they are still Smart, and even a bit smarter than the Smart Control.
The cool thing about the Kinetic products is that you can buy the Smart Control or Control resistance unit by itself and update your existing Road Machine or Rock 'n Roll trainer.

There is one more Kinetic product on the horizon that isn't listed here - the R1.  This is their brand new wheel-off trainer that incorporates the Rock 'n Roll technology.  Once we get a bit more detail from Kinetic, we'll get that updated here.  If the supposed $1050 price tag is true, this could be pretty sweet.  In the meantime, there is a somewhat hidden intro website available, and you can also read DC Rainmaker's review here.

Road Machine | Smart Control - $512.00

Kinetic has taken their tried and true Road Machine frame (which is what I use in the studio) and replaced the resistance unit with the Smart Control unit.  It has a 14.4 pound flywheel, maximum resistance of 1800 watts at 30 mph, and can simulate the resistance of a 10% grade.  The price has dropped from $649 to $512 with the introduction of the Road Machine | Control.

Read more on the Road Machine | Smart Control here.

Rock 'n Roll | Smart Control - $675.00

The Rock 'n Roll challenges you a bit more than most stationary trainers, and this uses the same Smart Control unit as the Road Machine | Smart Control.  The price has dropped from $849 to $675 with the introduction of the new Control products.  I imagine this and the Road Machine | Smart Control will be phased out in favor of the new Control versions.

Read more on the Rock 'n Roll | Smart Control here.

Road Machine | Control - $569.00

The Road Machine | Control doesn't look much different than the Smart Control version, and the specifications are also similar - it has the same maximum of 1800 watts of resistance at 30 mph and ability to simulate up to a 10% slope.  The only differences are the addition of ANT+ wireless communications and a slightly smaller 12 pound flywheel.  It is competitively priced at $569.00.

Read more on the Road Machine | Control here.

Rock 'n Roll | Control - $749.00

The price of the Rock 'n Roll | Control makes me hesitate a bit, but the rocking mechanism is something that sets the Rock 'n Roll apart from the others and adds another layer of realism to the indoor cycling experience.  Is it worth $180?  I'm not sure.  If I had a Rock 'n Roll frame and wanted to upgrade to a smart trainer, I would definitely take a closer look at the Control resistance unit.

Read more on the Rock 'n Roll | Control here.


Tacx has tidied up their lineup a little bit, with 6 true smart trainers currently on offer.  They got rid of a couple of seemingly redundant products.  The NEO 2 and FLUX 2 wheel-off trainers are new generation products, the Genius Smart receives some nice upgrades at a lower price, and the rest of the lineup remains unchanged, but gets some price drops.

Bushido Smart - $619.00

I've been riding the Bushido Smart for quite a few years now.  This trainer is unique because it doesn't have to be plugged in to provide resistance - it is completely wireless, yet can provide up to 1400 watts of resistance and simulate up to a 15% incline.  I don't think it has changed much since I got it, but the price has dropped considerably to put it in line with its plugged-in competition.  The nice part about this trainer is the portability.  Not only do you not need an outlet, but it's a light trainer.  My gripe?  I'm not so sure the accuracy is all that great with some of the software packages I've used.

Read more on the Bushido Smart here.

FLUX S Smart - $749.00

This is the first generation FLUX, and I'm not quite sure if it is on the way out in favor of the FLUX 2 Smart or what.  It has an accuracy of +/- 3%, 10% maximum incline, a 15.4 pound flywheel, and a maximum of 1500 watts of resistance.  At $749.00, this is the most affordable wheel-off trainer out there.  There is one major caveat: It only works with bikes with skewers.  If you have a bike with a thru-axle, you'll need to look at the FLUX 2 Smart.

Read more on the FLUX S Smart here.

FLUX 2 Smart - $899.00

The new second-generation FLUX 2 Smart offers some nice refinements over the original.  You'll have a hard time telling the pictures apart, but accuracy improves to +/- 2.5%, maximum incline increases to 16%, the flywheel is heavier at 15.4 pound flywheel, maximum resistance jumps up to 2000 watts.  It also offers support for thru-axle-equipped bikes.  On paper, it seems like a nice upgrade.

Read more on the FLUX 2 Smart here.

Genius Smart - $799.00

The Genius Smart has received some nice recent upgrades.  It now offers up to 2000 watts of resistance and can simulate a 20% incline.  What is interesting is that it will simulate a decline, so it will actually accelerate your rear wheel to simulate descents for a more realistic experience.  As far as I know, this is the only wheel-on trainer that does this.  It is a bit on the expensive side, compared to other wheel-on trainers.  At this price, is it worth spending a bit more for a FLUX 2 Smart?

Read more on the Genius Smart here.

NEO 2 Smart - $1,399.00

The NEO was introduced in 2015 as Tacx's first foray into direct-drive trainers.  The NEO 2 offers some nice refinements, and the price drops $200.  It's an impressive unit on paper, able to simulate uphill grades to 25% (2200 watts) and downhills to -5%.  It is extremely quiet, and will also simulate different road surfaces for enhanced realism.  Accuracy is rated at better than +/- 1%.  It also includes built-in Left/Right power measurement, performs pedal stroke analysis, has a built-in cadence sensor, and incorporates thru-axle support.  Overall, this is one very advanced unit.

Read more about the NEO 2 Smart here.

Vortex Smart - $429.00

Last but not least, the lowest-cost Tacx smart trainer is the Vortex.  I like to think of this as the "not wireless Bushido" as the features are similar.  It doesn't provide quite as much resistance (950 watts maximum resistance and 7% incline simulation), but it's still plenty for most riders.  With a $130 price drop, this remains the most affordable smart trainer here by a long shot.

Read more about the Vortex Smart here.

Wahoo Fitness

For 2018, Wahoo has refined their two existing smart trainers - the KICKR and KICKR SNAP - and have added the new KICKR CORE.  There is no doubt the Wahoo products are solid and the CORE comes in at a relatively nice price for a wheel-off smart trainer, right in there with the Tacx Flux, and right in between the SNAP and KICKR.

The most compelling piece of the Wahoo product line, in my opinion, is their accessories: The KICKR CLIMB and the KICKR HEADWIND.  These are compelling because they add to the realism of the indoor experience.  I love the idea of the front end of the bike raising and lowering with the slope of the ride with the KICKR CLIMB.  At $600, it's a bit spendy.  I'm not quite as convinced the HEADWIND is worth the price tag.  $249.99 is a bit much for a fan.  A very cool fan (no pun intended), but still a fan.

The most important thing to note on these accessories is that you will need to ensure your Wahoo trainer is compatible, as these are only compatible with the 2017 and newer versions.  You can find that information here.

KICKR - $1,199.99

The KICKR has been recently refreshed for 2018, and this is now the 4th generation of this product.  The KICKR boasts +/- 2% accuracy, 2200 watts of maximum resistance, a 16 pound flywheel, and 20% maximum grade.  The MSRP is unchanged at $1199.99.

Read more on the KICKR at this link.

KICKR CORE - $899.99

The CORE is new for 2018.  I would describe it as a no-frills KICKR - it doesn't include the 11-speed cassette or a cadence sensor, has a lighter 12 pound flywheel, 1800 watt maximum resistance, and 16% maximum grade.  It maintains the rated +/- 2% accuracy and compatibility with the CLIMB and HEADWIND.  For $300 less than the KICKR, I think this is a intriguing option.

Read more about the KICKR CORE here.

KICKR SNAP - $599.99

The SNAP had a nice update for 2017.  I've set up quite a few of these, and they are a good, solid trainer.  They are not quite as accurate as the KICKR (+/- 5%), but for the price, that can be forgiven.  The competition in this price range is tough, and the SNAP is a solid choice.  The price has dropped to $599.99, keeping it in line with the competition.

Read more about the KICKR SNAP here.

Decisions, decisions...

Overall, 2018 has brought a few new products, but mostly a lot of nice refinements.  The technology in the indoor cycling arena continues to improve and give us great options as consumers.

You can further divide the controllable smart trainers into two segments - the wheel-on and direct drive trainers.


CycleOps M2 - $599.99
Kinetic Road Machine | Control - $569.00
Kinetic Road Machine | Smart Control - $512.00
Kinetic Rock 'n Roll | Control - $749.00
Kinetic Rock 'n Roll | Smart Control - $679.00
Tacx Bushido Smart - $619.00
Tacx Genius Smart - $799.00
Tacx Vortex Smart - $429.00
Wahoo KICKR SNAP - $599.99

Direct Drive

CycleOps H2 - $1199.99
Kinetic R1 - $1050.00 (estimated)
Tacx NEO 2 Smart - $1399.00
Tacx FLUX S Smart - $749.00
Tacx FLUX 2 Smart - $899.00
Wahoo KICKR - $1199.99
Wahoo KICKR CORE - $899.99

If you look at the average prices of these, the delta between the average wheel-on trainer ($617.22) versus the average direct drive trainer ($1056.71) is $439.49.  That number is a bit skewed, as there are some products here that will probably go away fairly soon and are priced accordingly.  It has also changed in that we have some newer wheel-off models that are targeting that $900 price point, compared to the $1200 range where they first came in.  Nonetheless, even with some more affordable models coming in around the cost of the higher-priced direct drive trainers, there still is a significant cost difference.

Is a direct drive trainer better?  Is it $439.49 better?  I'm not sure I can answer that - it really depends on what features bring you the value you want.  Some considerations:

  • Direct drive trainers tend to be quieter.
  • Direct drive trainers require a compatible cassette.  Not all trainers include the cassette, and some of them are junk.  I would replace the cassette right away with the same cassette brand and gear range (i.e., Shimano Ultegra 11-speed 11-25) as the cassette installed on your rear wheel.  That way, shifting will be more accurate and you don't have to mess with your rear derailleur.
  • Direct drive trainers tend to be lower to the ground - you don't need a wheel riser.  This is nice for getting on and off and for perceived stability.
  • Direct drive trainers don't wear out your rear tire.  But, they do wear out your chain and chainrings while not wearing out your cassette on your rear wheel.
  • You don't have to worry about tire pressure with a direct drive trainer.
  • You will probably get your hand greasy getting your bike mounted on your direct drive trainer.
  • Wheel-on trainers tend to be a bit more handy when it comes to swapping your bike in and out.

Hopefully, this is somewhat helpful.  If you are interested in getting a new trainer, these are all available from Vector Cycle Works.  With any trainer purchase, I will deliver it to your house (within 50 miles of Noblesville) and help you get it set up, including setup with any training software (TrainerRoad, PerfPRO Studio, The Sufferfest, Zwift, etc.) that you may be using.

Call Travis at 317-833-0702 or e-mail at if you are interested!

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