For many people (myself included) indoor riding is something you HAVE to do; not something you WANT to do. It is a necessity dictated in no small part by where you live and what hours you work and your family life (kids in bed equals training needs to be QUIET). Some are fortunate to spend the majority of their time outside, enjoying their two wheeled time while laughing inwardly at the poor athletes that have to spend most of their time riding indoors (or in some cases those who CHOOSE to ride indoors).
But as traffic levels increase with mounting safety concerns attached and with the knowledge that “winter is coming” an indoor cycling setup can be an invaluable tool to have in one’s arsenal. There are several different types of indoor riding but for this review we are focusing on the “smart trainer” segment and taking a look at the Wahoo Kickr.
The Wahoo Kickr trainer, which retails at $1099, is certainly not an inexpensive piece of training equipment (but MUCH cheaper than the CT). With that relatively high level of expense comes an extremely high level of quality and durability. The trainer itself weighs about 50 pounds (~20% of which is the flywheel) creating a very sturdy platform, lending itself to an incredibly smooth ride. You will not budge this unit, even at 1000+ watts of power (the trainer can go up to 1900 watts, by the way).
The trainer also features a unique “leveling” system in that the trainer adjusts according to what “size” bike you have (wheel size) so if you have a 650c sized bike you adjust the trainer and it “levels” without having to use a front block, which is a surprisingly nice feature. There are many adjustable levels from which to choose.
The trainer itself is easy to setup as you simply remove it from its box, stand it up, plug it in, and calibrate with your bluetooth 4.0 device (most newer apple devices and some computers using a specific usb plug-in). Once you have set it up you can install any ant+ stick into your laptop or desktop or iPad (some compatibility issues arise with older devices) and use your computer as the “head unit” or you can obviously continue to use the iOS device with Wahoo’s “free” apps or one of the many paid apps that utilize the Kickr’s electromagnetic resistance profile and integrate seamlessly with the smart trainer.
One of the most obvious and readily apparent benefits of the Kickr is that it is a “direct drive” trainer. What that means is that you install your bike on the trainer unit with no rear wheel; the trainer takes the place of your rear wheel (consequently, no need to adjust tension like with all other trainers). Maneuver the trainer’s skewer (included) into your bike’s rear dropouts while placing the chain around the cassette (included on the Kickr) and, as Emeril Lagasse would say, “BAM.” You’re ready to kick it up a notch (pun intended). The trainer is also both 10 and 11 speed compatible.
Without going into detail about the plethora of application options available to the user and their seamless integration with the Kickr’s brain, it will suffice to say that you will not be bored while using the Kickr. You can ride existing “Strava Segments” (any segment in the world is open for business), use virtual training programs (Trainer Road and PerfPro Studio are two of the most popular), or just simply login and use “Erg mode” and the free Wahoo Fitness app. This type of compatibility and open-source app development just simply doesn’t exist with other long-standing “smart” power units like the CompuTrainer. That is not to say the CT unit is not great (it is), but the future-proofness, so to speak, of the Kickr speaks for itself whereas the lack of development on the software side of things for CT does some speaking but not in an altogether positive manner when based on the context of the unit’s future “usability.”
Consider as an analogy that there are three “main” smart phone systems: Android, iOS, and Windows operating systems. The Windows system is kind of like the CompuTrainer in that it is FANTASTIC (seriously, it is a great phone) but there is little to no app development because of its lack of popularity. The Wahoo system is like the Android/iOS in that it will be constantly updating and changing and improving over time.
Realistically, the people choosing or contemplating a Wahoo Kickr purchase are also likely considering other smart power trainer units like the CompuTrainer and/or the CycleOps Powerbeam Pro trainer. I don’t know that you can possibly make a “bad” choice when choosing between those three options. The truth exists, however, that the Wahoo - as of now - seems to offer the user the MOST options both for current use-case scenarios and future ones..
Either way, at the end of the day, you are still riding indoors. Which (in this reviewer’s opinion) pales quite mightily in the face of the beautiful outdoors. That being said, there are times when you just HAVE to get in the work inside and the Wahoo Kickr plus associated applications is the best, closest thing to outdoor riding that I have found. But that’s not all, as the Kickr itself is a phenomenal training tool. It doesn’t HAVE to be a “dang, it’s raining or freezing outside” substitute for outdoor riding. Due to its fantastically sturdy construction and open-source software design the unit can, at times, be EVEN BETTER than riding outdoors. No traffic, no distractions, no safety worries, no wasted time at the store-stop, etc. If you want to ride one hour, you can ride one hour and only “spend” a little bit over that in terms of overall time commitment, especially when compared to going to a gym or even riding outside.
The Kickr is a great tool to add to your stable of gadgets and gizmos. An effective, powerful training tool with a suite of software options would lend itself to any athlete’s improvement.