Tech Review: Wahoo Kickr Trainer
One of the greatest pieces of equipment ever to find its way into my cycling and athletic arsenal is my Wahoo Kickr. I say this as someone who has been riding it for a few years now and have been using it well before I was ever involved with this site, so I speak from a place of confidence. If you are looking for a top notch home trainer that simulates real-world conditions, then you’d be hard-pressed to look anywhere else. This may sound like a huge endorsement, but let me take you through my experience and the benefits.
Out Of The Box And The Set Up
First off, trainers are broken down into various categories and their price is usually indicative of the quality and the performance of the model. You have your traditional wind trainers, fluid trainers, rollers, etc. and then you have your full size stationary bikes and spin bikes. The Kickr falls into the former class in that you make use of your existing bike on the trainer, but it also deviates in a very distinct way in a way that puts it into more of a performance category. To put it simply enough, the Kickr is driven by a computer. The unit’s onboard system is controlled by a Bluetooth connection to your iOS or Android device or even a laptop.
The first thing you do when you get your Kickr, after pulling it out of the box of course and plugging it in, is mounting your existing bike. That process is as simple as removing your rear tire and hooking your chain and rear axle onto the Kickr’s rear cassette and securing it with the built in skewer. The Kickr makes use of your existing rear derailleur and provides its own cassette. Most people don’t realize this, but cassettes are universal and while the gear ratio is lower on the Kickr, it’s still plenty wide enough to offer a breath of possibilities for a wide variety of resistance levels. The other advantage here is that you don’t need to depend on a specific training tire or worry about wearing down your existing wheel and tire. Connecting the Kickr to the bike takes less than a few minutes depending on how quick you’re able to release your rear tire and remount, after that the rest is simple.
The next part offers you a wide variety of possibilities. First off, the Kickr itself shows up as a smart trainer device over Bluetooth much like a powermeter on your normal road bike. The Wahoo app will be the first place to start to get the Kickr fully set up. It should show up almost immediately within your app. Next, you can also add additional devices as well. For instance, I also use a Wahoo Tickr X heartrate monitor and a Wahoo cadence sensor all of which transmit over Bluetooth as well and are also instantly picked up by the app (their entire suite works so well together). This gives me a wide array of data to use to modify and evaluate my workouts. After all the devices you want to use are connected within the Wahoo app, I would then suggest just doing some simple tests to make sure the resistance is scaling up and down properly. This is a simple as tapping a plus or minus button within the Wahoo application. So get on the bike, start pedaling, and then change the resistance. You should immediately feel it.
After all this is said and done and you have tested connectivity, then you are ready to roll, literally. While you can use the Wahoo app for all your training needs, and I will walk through that, I would also like to show you a few others that I really have come to enjoy and really keep your workouts interesting.
An Open Standard
Wahoo was smart enough when they developed the Kickr to make the interface an open standard much like other high-end trainers. This means application developers can write specific applications that can make use of and control all of the features of the Kickr. This to me is also what makes the Kickr so much better than so many other products on the market. The ability to have your trainer work differently and use other applications ensures those workouts will be more interesting over time.
There are a few tools that I think make the Kickr even better and I tried to explain it to people, but a Kickr needs to be ridden to be believed. At its core, what their system does is control the resistance level of the situation you’re presented with inside your training application. So if you were climbing a hill, then you need to gear accordingly. You will need to get out of your saddle and get into your smaller ring. It will force you to make decisions just like you do on the road or it will literally come to a stop underneath you just like you would on your bike.
Wahoo Fitness App
The first tool is the Wahoo app which works like most any other fitness app you’ve ever used prior. You can control your resistance manually and the app does a good job of storing your data and building historical trends based on that. It’s honestly an okay place to start and you know out-of-the-box it works perfectly with the Kickr. That being said, I have three great recommendations for training products that you should be using instead.
I won’t go too deep into TrainerRoad or any of these products because they each could really be worthy of an entire review in themselves, but where TrainerRoad really shines is in its relationship with their professional training world and their plans. You can use their tools to build workout programs and even purchase plans that will help you achieve a given goal. TrainerRoad does connect directly to the Kickr and is really designed to be more about power output than anything else. This means most of the training activities are very similar to what a professional cyclist would be focused on including power/wattage output. I do like this model and it is highly effective so if you are very regimented and want to plan to follow that focuses on power performance increases, then this is probably your tool. Its very much a heads down, pound it out and hit certain interval marker type riding. I will note the desktop version of the app also runs in windowed mode so you can get access to video content as well. One of the coolest new features is the Visual Workout Creator which lets you easily create workouts complete with drag and drop, reusable snippets, custom labels, etc. TrainerRoad is $12 per month or $99 per year.
This was my personal favorite for a long time, Kinomap provides a “real world” workout based on an existing ride catalog. From an interface perspective you are presented with a video of a ride in a given location and that is mapped against a GPX file and ghost rider. This all happens behind-the-scenes of course, so you as a user only see a video and an elevation graph with you and the ghost plotted on it. You simply start your ride and choose from a number of rides from around the world. As you move on with your workout you are faced with a uphills and downhills just like you would in the real world and you have to gear accordingly. This to me simulates the most real-world experiences I have felt on a trainer and the reason I love it is because after doing this I can go out on the road and tackle the same percent grades I’ve been riding on my Kickr in real life as well. It also let you experience a ride you never will ever potentially do in your life. From riding Tour de France routes to the Canary Islands to the hills of Norway and Japan, there are tons of possibilities in here of all different lengths and difficulties. The one drawback is that the library needs to grow and while they try and keep it updated, user’s could really help grow this experience. I’ve always kind of wanted to make my own and submit it, so I may actually try this out in the future. Kinomap is 9,99 € per month or 64,99 € per year.
Zwift launched this year and is already seeing tremendous pick up in the community simply because of its user experience and I am a convert. For lack of a better term, Zwift is a video game, but more so. It’s real world cycling challenges and difficulties put into a virtual gaming setting. It can be as simple as just hopping on your bike and starting to ride or choosing a specific workout. From a user perspective, you open the app and see yourself depicted as a little rider on the screen in a world of other riders racing by. You start riding and your avatar starts riding, you choose a workout and your avatar is put in that scenario. Other avatars from around the world will race pass or you will pass them giving you golden people to keep up with. KOMs will pop up, sprints, segments, etc are all dynamically created by their system. This experience is truly something you need to try to believe end It is honestly a lot of fun and makes the work out all that much more enjoyable. The one big drawback for me here is that it only runs on a computer, meaning Windows or OS X. I really wish they would get it together to offer a tablet-based version because my iPad is really my training tool as who really wants to sweat on their computer. I definitely have caved though and use it regularly. It has group meet-ups, tight integration with Strava, and currently goes between fictional location “Watopia” and Richmond, Virginia. Zwift is $10 per month and also, Strava Premium users get 2 months free.
Wrapping It Up
I’ve talked a lot about the Kickr and its benefits, but I’m not sure I could ever really sum up its true real-world performance increasing ability in a blog post. I would invite all of you to visit your local bike store if you have interest and try one out. Every person who has laughed at me about how well my Kickr can simulate real world situations has quickly eaten their words once I let them try it. Many of them have actually gone out and purchased their own and have never looked back. So as the winter weather rolls in and you find yourself trapped inside, then definitely consider the Kickr as your next trainer.
The Wahoo Kickr does come in at $1199.99, but to me it’s worth every penny and the performance increases I have seen using it really outweigh the cost. You an purchase it directly from Wahoo or check it out at your local bike shop.
Note, they also now offer the Kickr Snap as well as a lower cost alternative, but I definitely prefer the wheel off design of the Kickr so I would recommend spending the additional.