With it being that time of the year again – the time of the year when you drag out your turbo trainer with trepidation, we felt now would be an excellent time to review the Wahoo KICKR Smart Turbo Trainer.
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.
The KICKR arrived in a nice, well-packaged box. It’s compatibility spans a huge majority of apps, works via both the ANT+ communication system as well as via Bluetooth. For this test I have paired the KICKR with my Macbook Pro.
Other than an ANT+ dongle (required if you are not connecting devices via Bluetooth) the KICKR comes with everything you need. There’s a cadence magnet, an 11-speed SRAM cassette, a quick release skewer, the power supply, a manual, and of course the actual KICKR itself.
Connecting the Kickr to a device
You will need to connect the KICKR to a device via ANT+ or Bluetooth connection, but other than that, what else do you need? Other than a bike – not a lot really. You don’t need a turbo training tyre as this is a wheel off, direct drive system, and interestingly you won’t need a riser block either for the front wheel. The KICKR, has a neat system for setting the height so that you don’t need to use a riser block. Fitting the cadence magnet was easy enough, and the only construction you need to do with the KICKR is fitting the cassette on the unit. All in all, it fits together really nicely, and the unit as a whole feels impressively solid.
Once it’s on, and you’ve put your bike on it, what can you use it with? I’ve mainly used it with Zwift, but it’ll pair with anything that is ANT+ or Bluetooth compatible (e.g. TrainerRoad, Sufferfest, FullGaz etc.) or you can just use it in standalone mode using the Wahoo app on a smart phone. If you have a Wahoo ELEMNT computer you can use it to control your KICKR in workout mode. Here you (or your coach) can preprogramme a workout via a variety of different systems so that the ELEMNT controls your KICKR in the correct manner for workouts.
But, what does the unit feel like while riding? I’ve previously used a wide variety of trainers & ergometers, and I have to say the KICKR feels surprisingly good. I’m a definite fan of the wheel off systems (I’ve thus far used a KICKR and Neo) and really like how they feel. The flywheel on it feels heavy enough that you have to give it a bit of stick to accelerate it, which makes it feel great. The ‘road feel’ is excellent.
The benefit of a turbo is that not only can you train when the weather is disgusting outside, but also they’re excellent for compacting your riding into a short space of time. In general, when I look at training files from athletes I work with, across the board in terms of fitness, most people find that they coast or take it very easy between 15 and 30% of a training session. On a turbo you’re generally doing productive work the whole time – there’s no traffic lights, potholes, or animals running across the road, and no downhills where pedalling hard/fast would be folly. With this in mind you can compact really quite difficult sessions into short spaces of time. Due to the shortness it can also be easier to get in more sessions each week compared to trying to fit in longer sessions and upsetting family and friends.
If you couple the KICKR, with a quality training plan, or programme in some sessions yourself either via one of the 3rd party apps, or via the ELEMNT, then you’ve got an absolutely fantastic system for training and getting your workouts done, which will lead to you being fitter for next season.
Power and accuracy
The KICKR is fantastic to ride. I programmed some workouts into Zwift and ran them in ‘ergo’ mode. Ergo mode is a way for your computer and Zwift to control the power of your ride. For e.g. you could get it to alternate between 5-mins of 300 watts and 5-mins of 200 watts. In non-ergo mode you’ll need to accelerate and coast to bring your power up to 300 watts or down to 200 watts respectively. There’s nothing wrong with this, but as you start flagging in the harder effort you may find that you’re riding at 50 watts less than intended. On the other hand in ergo mode the KICKR is controlled perfectly – I tried several times to accelerate harder on purpose than my upper limit and the resistance was kept spot on, it’d only vary by a watt or two. This was great. With this I was able to ride quite complex interval workouts where all I had to do was pedal harder or easier without dramatically overshooting my target power. Brilliant.
Power output as reported by the KICKR was pretty much spot on. It varied only a few watts compared to the bike computer power meter. During ergo mode the measurement was differed by hardly 5 watts (my on the bike power meter computer was measuring at the cranks so you’d expect it to be slightly higher due to drive train losses – this is very normal).
In conclusion, I’d strongly suggest that the KICKR is an absolutely excellent tool to train with. It feels sturdy, and although I’m quite light, I couldn’t get it to feel unstable while throwing my bike around on it while sprinting. One point I haven’t mentioned is that the KICKR has a built in carry handle which makes moving it much easier than other turbo trainers. In short it’s brilliant and thoroughly recommended.