Following our recent test & review of the Wahoo KICKR Smart Turbo Trainer, we now weigh it up against the Tacx Neo Smart Turbo Trainer.
The KICKR and the Neo are two of the leading direct drive turbo trainers available from Evans Cycles, both of them regarded highly by critics, consumers and pros alike.
Rick has been cycling since 1984, and since 1998, has been a professional cycling coach. Prior to being a cycle coach, he completed a degree in sports science, and started a PhD in exercise physiology. He has worked with world champions and riders at the Tour de France, through to athletes with the desire to complete their first sportive.
What is a direct drive turbo trainer?
Direct drive turbo trainers are those where you take the rear wheel off your bike and fit the bike directly to the turbo trainer (which will need a cassette on the turbo to connect with your chain). Positive aspects of using a direct driver tubro trainers include the prevention of wheel slip, which can happen with turbos where you leave the rear wheel on. Additionally, the Neo and the KICKR are also ‘smart turbo trainers‘. They’re placed in the ‘smart turbo trainer’ category because if you pair them with a training app such as Zwift, or Trainerroad, etc. your computer or smart phone can control the resistance of the turbo or automate a training session for you (so that you don’t need to change gears).
Which one is more suited to me?
Rick has selected 8 key features which are sought after in a turbo trainer, reviewing in detail the respective qualities of each the KICKR and Neo in each categories.
Both the KICKR and the Neo are really study, evidently well-made heavy units. The KICKR has a mass of 21.4 kg, while the Neo’s mass is marginally heavier at 21.8 kg. Both units are ‘solid’ and feel like they could take on tough workouts. The Neo has some ‘flex’ – where the bike will rock slightly under you, while the KICKR has a more fixed feel. Neither is better or worse. I’m not a particularly strong sprinter (~850W peak 5-sec power) and thus, I can’t throw too much power into the turbo units, but both felt very safe and sturdy while sprinting on them out of the saddle.
The Neo is billed as a silent turbo, while the KICKR is said to be very quiet. Not having access to any sound devices, I was unable to verify how loud each unit was in a scientific way. However, my ears told me that at the same power output the Neo sounded marginally quieter than the KICKR. A bit of advice that can be applied to all turbo trainers – sometimes if you can hear increased noise compared to what you are used to, it may not be your turbo trainer, but your chain in need of some lube. Even though the KICKR is very slightly noisier and produces slightly more vibration from the flywheel, the noise of both systems is outgunned by the fan I have blowing on me, and more importantly the fact that I tend to have my music on full blast while turboing. The noise of either turbo doesn’t distract me in the slightest.
I’ve a plethora of power meters, but obviously only crank or pedal based unit can be compared to a wheel off system. As a bit of a nerd, I routinely calibrate my crank based power meters with known, certified masses so that the power meter can be extremely accurate. I was then able to check the KICKR and Neo against the crank based meters. KICKR states an accuracy within +/-2% while the Neo states to be within +/-1%. In non-ergo mode I found the Neo tracked my power meter slightly better than the KICKR, but we’re only talking a difference of about 2 or 3 Watts. However, in ergo mode (where your computer or phone controls the resistance) I found the KICKR to be slightly more accurate than the Neo.
4) Ergo Mode
This is where the computer or the app you are using controls your workout in some way. I write training sessions for Zwift and have that control the resistance on the turbo. The brake within the turbo is electronically controlled – so if you’re supposed to be riding at 250W, you end up riding at 250W no matter what gear you’re in, or how fast you pedal. For example, if you’re in say 53 x 15 pedalling at 100 revs/min the computer will apply the correct braking force to keep you at 250W. However, if you start spinning at say 130 revs/min the braking force will reduce to keep you at 250W. Conversely, if you start riding at 70 revs/min the braking force will increase. Comparing the two units I found the KICKR was significantly better at keeping you at the correct power compared to the Neo.
5) Road Feel
The feel of both turbos across a wide range of power, speeds and gradients feel excellent. I had no preference on either unit while riding at a steadyish effort. Accelerating the KICKR from low speed/power to high speed/power felt like you had to work harder and perhaps more realistic, but I was slightly agnostic on it. One area where there was a difference however, was what happened when you accelerated and the effect on the power data. As you start sprinting while recording the data with a crank or hub based power meter, you’ll instantly see the power rapidly increase and then start fading rapidly as well. On the KICKR, the data would also appear this way – sprint and your power climbs (and fades) rapidly. On the Neo, there seemed to be a lag in the response, plus the peak was significantly lower than the KICKR.
6) Maximum Power and Gradients
The Neo is reportedly able to handle 2200W as a max power, and has a maximum gradient simulation of 25%. The KICKR can handle 2000W and 20%. The power is more than I can generate by a long way! And 20 and 25% gradients both hurt like mad…
7) Road Simulation and Climbs
The Neo is able to simulate real life scenarios such as riding over cobbles, gravel, cattle grids and more. It does this by vibrating the chain, and wow… Yes, it really feels like you’re riding over cobbles. It’s sort of unnerving as you’re inside but it feels like the real thing. The KICKR doesn’t have a similar function.
The Neo also has downhill drive, so that when you go downhill in, say, Zwift the flywheel turns over at speed. You can stop pedalling and the flywheel continues to spin. Again, the KICKR doesn’t do this. On the other hand, the KICKR has the option of combining the KICKR CLIMB, a device which fits to your front forks, lifting them up – to simulate a climb – as you go up a hill in Zwift and other apps. One area I found a difference in was when you were going up a gradient in Zwift. Riding up the same hill on the KICKR felt significantly easier, and I was able to ride several sprockets higher on the KICKR versus the Neo. For example, on the mountain pass in Zwift (at the same power) on the Neo I can be in 39 x 28 while on the KICKR I could be as high as 39 x 23. However, this has no effect whatsoever on your performance in Zwift. When myself and my partner tested both units we generated the same power output on the climbs. Because Zwift and other programs use power to calculate speed, the fact that the flywheels are rotating at different speeds has no effect on the speed you travel in the program.
As mentioned, both units are approximately the same weight. However, the KICKR has a handle on it. This makes carrying it relatively easy. On the other hand the Neo doesn’t have a handle and it’s a bit of struggle to easily transport it.
Both the KICKR and Neo use the ANT+ and Bluetooth connection systems which work well. The KICKR comes supplied with an 11-speed cassette while the Neo doesn’t.
The Neo’s flywheel is ‘protected’ within the unit’s case, while the Kickr’s flywheel isn’t (like most turbo trainers).
There’s virtually no difference between the two units. Both the Wahoo & Tacx turbos are absolutely fantastic and either would benefit your training. The road feel is very similar, plus they seem sturdy and well made. The KICKR is slightly more responsive to changes in power, and has the option of pairing with the KICKR CLIMB. The Neo is slightly more accurate and has the road simulating feel of cobbles and other scenarios. I preferred the KICKR in workout and ergo mode, while in ‘free-ride’ mode I preferred the Neo (mainly as I have to struggle up some climbs in my lowest gear). They’re really close. I recommend choosing one based on your preferences and go smash out your training.