No, Tacx hasn’t managed to make riding your bike indoors fun but its new NEO Smart turbo trainer does look like it’ll make the experience a lot less taxing than usual (pun intended). The innovative design is claimed to be truly silent with an electronically generated road feel that’s not only more realistic than anything out there but better at simulating the agony of a real climb, too.
We’ve got one inbound so we’ll find out soon enough but here’s a look at some of the interesting features in the meantime.
True direct drive with heaps of resistance
Like the Wahoo Kickr, the Tacx NEO Smart is driven directly by your bicycle’s chain with cogs mounted to a built-in freehub body. There’s no rear wheel required, and the versatile Edco freehub body will accept Shimano, SRAM (non-XD) or Campagnolo cassettes.
There's no flywheel built into the system on the Tacx NEO Smart
Unlike the Kickr, though, the NEO Smart has no internal mechanical transmission whatsoever, nor is there a heavy flywheel built into the system. Instead, the mechanism is essentially one giant electronic brake.
According to Tacx commercial director Simon Tacx, the realistic feel comes about purely from careful programming. There’s no calibration required and – at least when the NEO Smart is plugged into the wall – the trainer will even ‘propel’ you forward if you’re on a virtual downhill grade.
The powerful brake can generate loads up to 2,500 watts to satisfy the most powerful sprinter but more impressively, it’ll also produce up to 450 watts of resistance when traveling at just 6km/h (3.7mph) to better simulate climbs of up to 25-percent grade. A bit of movement built into the folding frame is designed to allow some side-to-side movement when out of the saddle for an even more realistic feel.
Tacx is claiming some monstrous resistance numbers for its new NEO Smart
Even better, the NEO Smart will work with or without AC power. Those peak resistance figures will require that the unit be plugged into the wall, and that downhill acceleration or coasting sensation needs external power as well. Tacx says that just the act of pedaling will generate enough energy for the system to be fully operational otherwise, however, and will still connect to external software. When it isn't connected to anything at all, the NEO Smart will simulate riding on flat ground. Combine that with the folding frame and reasonable 20kg (44lb) weight – about a kilo lighter than the Kickr – and that should make the NEO Smart a decent choice for warming up on-site at races, too (and in fact, Alberto Contador supposedly used one at this year’s Tour de France).
Sophisticated electronics with built-in Bluetooth and ANT+, open-source software
Turbo trainers today aren’t just about fancy hardware; it’s just as important to support the latest interactive software to encourage you to actually stay on your bike not only in the dead of winter, but in the dreary basement or garage where most users have these things set up. Thanks to on-board ANT+ and Bluetooth Smart wireless protocols, Tacx says the NEO Smart will work not only with the company’s own virtual reality software but also third-party environments such as from Zwift, Bkool, Kinomap and TrainerRoad.
Both wireless formats can also operate simultaneously, meaning you can connect two devices at once (including a Garmin computer). Alternatively, those wanting a simpler operation can just run the NEO Smart using their smartphone or tablet computer.
According to Tacx, the NEO Smart will connect to just about anything you'd want it to
Users shouldn’t need a separate power meter, either, as the NEO Smart will supposedly accurately measure your output based on motor feedback, plus calculate your cadence based on your pedaling action.
Not surprisingly, such sophistication won’t come cheap; Tacx is still finalizing retail prices but estimates that the NEO Smart will cost around US$1,600 / €1,400. Production units should arrive in stores around the first week of September.
For more information, visit www.tacx.nl.