Unless you’ve been under a rock, you’ll have noticed that indoor training has changed ….. and changed a lot. Years ago the fluid trainer ruled indoors, offering some ride feel but not much else to compel you indoors at any time of the year other than thick fog or ice.
Today, products like the Tacx Neo (amongst others) bring a level of sophistication and technology to transform what you think about riding indoors. Smart trainers like the Neo promise accurate power measurement (using built in power meters), computer controlled resistance, the ability to simulate real world riding (climbs, descents and with the Neo – surfaces too) that when combined with Zwift make indoor training almost as fun as riding outside.
After spending two years and riding 6,000km on a Wattbike, I’ve been won over to indoor training as you can see here in this summary of some of the benefits of indoor training.
The lure of the trainers like the Neo, is to use them with some of the cutting edge software tools like Zwift and Trainerroad and make the training experience more immersive as well as more effective as training tools.
It’s worth considering some of the Neo’s key features before we move onto using it with training platforms.
There are several that stand out as potential reasons to pick a Neo over it’s competition:
- The ability to generate up to 2200W resistance with 1% accuracy and no calibration
- The ability to mimic climbs of up to 25% gradient as well as descents
- The ability to mimic road surfaces changes thanks to the design of the motor systems (with full electromagnetic control)
- A computer controlled brain that monitors and adjusts the motor up to 1000 times per second
- The ability to be used with or without mains power
- The quietest indoor trainer available
- Full Bluetooth Smart and Ant + (FE-C protocol) connectivity to connectivity to a wide range of software platforms and devices
It’s an impressive list of features and the cost for all of that is £1,200 in the UK. However the “street price” is just over £1,000 –almost matching a number of key competitors from Wahoo or Elite, whilst offering more features.
If you’ve been doing your research on the internet and reading about the Neo, or smart trainers in general, you’ll probably have concluded that the Neo is considered the state of the art in smart trainers right now – with the strongest motor, high accuracy, no calibration and the ability to mimic surfaces as well as climbs and these were all reasons I was keen to try it out.
Initial riding impressions
Since I handed back the Wattbike during 2016, I’ve not been clear about the power I’ve been riding at whilst on the turbo. I’ve tried “Virtual Power” on Trainerroad and Zwift and on my old Fluid trainer but they didn’t even feel close to the “truth”. Getting on the Neo and I found straight away that I felt I was back in the power range that I used to experience on the Wattbike – so that’s a big tick for me.
More impressive was how quiet the Neo is. I have a real issue with noise – lots of noise drives me crazy. The Neo is fantastically quiet. My bikes drivetrain or my cooling fan are both significantly louder than the Neo in use – irrespective of the Watts you’re riding at. That’s a huge win for me. If you live in a converted flat – no one’s going to notice the sound of a Neo. You can easily chat with someone while riding the Neo.
The Neo is a very easy product to connect with. Using either Ant + or Bluetooth, I’ve had no problems connecting to my PC or iPad with the Neo – it’s been very easy and quick.
It’s also the first direct drive trainer I’ve used and I found it very easy to put my bikes on (I’ve tried two so far) – one mechanical and one Di2 – both 11 speed.
In the around 10 hours riding time I’ve put in on the Neo so far, it’s been very impressive. I’ve already mentioned it’s lack of noise and the power measurement, another delight has been riding workouts in ERG mode. ERG mode adjusts the power/resistance to the target amount in the software you’re using. So if I’m using Trainerroad and the software changes the power target from 130 to 150W, in ERG mode, I just keep pedaling at the same cadence and the Neo adjusts the resistance automatically. It’s a delight to use – smooth and quick to adjust. Pick the cadence you want to ride at and the Neo continually adjust the resistance and power output. The only difficulty it’s caused me so far was on a Zwift workout that had 600W sprints for 10 seconds at time – I found it very hard to push 600W and couldn’t maintain my cadence. Fortunately they were over quickly but I could have ended up “locking up” and not being able to turn the pedals.
Riding on Zwift has been transformed over using a “dumb” trainer – especially with the surfaces modes. The boardwalk one feels incredibly realistic to me – the cobbles less so, but there’s a noticeable vibration and increase in rolling resistance. It’s very impressive. Gimmicky you might argue but it definitely adds to the experience. Also climbing on Zwift up hills/mountains feels surprisingly realistic and you can feel the resistance come off as you descend too – it’s a terrific experience.
Compared to have a dedicated bike – like a Wattbike, you still need to have a spare bike to use and this might make it difficult if there’s more than one person in your household who wants to use it. Particularly if you’re not both/all running the same number of gears (e.g. 11 speed).
Its heavy and bulky and doesn’t have a handle (but then neither does my old fluid trainer). You won’t want to be carrying it around at 22kgs weight!
Due to the shape and design of the Neo – you do need to use a riser block for your front wheel. Helpfully one shipped in the box to me.
You’ll also need to supply a cassette. The Neo ships with a dual compatibility freehub made by Edco, that allows you to install either Shimano/SRAM or Campagnolo cassettes. If you’re running Shimano like me, that’s an extra £30 for a 105 level cassette unless you already have a spare.
There’s a lot of tech in this roughly £1,000 trainer. If like me you believe in indoor training and want something state of the art – the Neo has already won me over. For a small premium over a Wahoo Kickr or a Elite Drivo, I think the Neo offers more than enough to justify that additional spend. This is going to be a very hard product to give back at the end of the test period. The Neo is a pleasure to use and with your chosen training software, a very compelling package indeed. It certainly makes heading for the garage for a work out much more appealing.
Of course, there’s also the new Tacx Flux to consider, which retails for £700, a significant saving over the Neo (and it’s competitors). It offers the same connectivity and a computer controlled resistance unit but a less powerful one that can’t mimic the surfaces either. If you’re budget can’t stretch to the £1k mark, then the Flux, is probably your winner. It can provide 1500W resistance and simulate climbs of up to 10% (rather than 25% on the Neo). You won’t be able to mimic big climbs as well as you could on the Neo. It’s up to each of us to decide how much we can or want to spend.
My early impressions are that the Neo, is a worthy top of the range choice and I’m looking forward to spending more time on it.
If you’d like to see more about the road feel feature, check out this video:
If you want to check out prices or order one, these retailers are worth checking: Tacx Neo at Chain Reaction: http://tidd.ly/584dd5f3 (In stock) also at Evans http://tidd.ly/5713fa63 and Wiggle: http://tidd.ly/fccd0ebb
Find out more from Tacx here: https://tacx.com/product/neo-smart/
Edit March 24th 2017: I’ve now published my final conclusions on the Neo here
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