The Wahoo Kickr power trainer is an excellent trainer for riders who want to tightly control power-based workouts or who are looking for real-time interaction with software like TrainerRoad or KinoMap.
There are certainly a few issues with the Kickr – price and smartphone compatibility chief among them – but this wireless ANT+/Bluetooth 4.0 power trainer is in a league of its own.
The Wahoo Kickr has a built-in power meter that allows you to not only accurately measure your efforts, but also control them. When in ergo mode, you can set the exact level of resistance in watts, and then pedal at whatever cadence and in whatever gear you like. Even better, you can connect the trainer to a variety of apps or programs that control the resistance in real-time to follow along with either a specific workout or a video course.
In this regard it is similar to CompuTrainer, but with two significant differences. One, Kickr is much cheaper. And two, Kickr's open platform means you can plug it into any software, provided you have the compatible hardware (more on that below).
The Kickr has four settings: level (10 power curves), resistance (set in percentage), erg (specific wattage) and sim (a calculation of outdoor riding based on progammable slope and wind speed plus your entered physical measurements).
The Kickr is quite heavy, but it does fold nicely for storage
The first two settings aren't noticeably different from what you can achieve on a normal trainer. The erg setting, however, is the rare gem. The simulation setting we did not play with, as it seems unnecessarily complicated without any additional training benefit.
We tested the Kickr's wattage readings against power meters from SRM and Stages and found the data to be within four percent between the three.
On the plus side, the Kickr can be controlled by a variety of external sources — iPhone, iPad, Mac computer, PC computer. On the negative side, the Kickr requires an external device to control it. That, combined with the fact that it requires an electrical power source, puts it on the opposite end of the spectrum from a standard resistance trainer that you can set up anywhere, and just hop on and go.
We tested the Kickr with Bluetooth on iPhones and with ANT+ on laptops with an ANT+ USB stick. The connection was never dropped, readouts were almost immediate, and changes to resistance took between less than a second and about three seconds, depending on how drastic the change was.
One tester found one element of the erg setting frustrating. When set on a higher resistance, such as 250w, if the rider stopped pedaling for a while, getting going again required substantial effort akin to a dead start on the road in a huge gear. This can be overcome, much like on the road with changing gears, by reducing wattage before starting pedaling again. Still, it would be great to see an optional override feature for this that allows a steady raise of resistance until the desired level is reached.
Wahoo's software plays well with others. In addition to being able to control the Kickr with third-party software, you can also easily upload to your favorite sites if you use the Wahoo app
The direct-drive style works well. Subtracting the rear wheel and tire from the equation eliminates both wear on those parts and the variability in power measurement that they can cause (if measuring/applying power at the tire). The trainer is very sturdy, with adjustable-height feet locking into place, and a quick-release hub mount providing a familiar interface. Even when out of the saddle, the trainer simply doesn't move.
The sound is relatively subdued, but still plenty loud to annoy people in close proximity, especially at higher cadences and/or power levels.
In terms of digital compatibility, the Kickr works with the iPhone (4S, 5, 5C, 5S), the iPad (3, 4, Mini), MacBook Pro (newer models with Bluetooth 4.0 or older models with the addition of an ANT+ USB stick) and Windows PC (with an ANT+ USB stick). The notable absence here is anything Android; an Android app is currently in beta, and should be available soon.
In terms of hardware, the Kickr adjusts quickly to preset heights for road, 650c and 29in bikes, and the hub spacing can flip between 130 and 135mm for road and mountain spacing. No front wheel block is needed as the rear hub height matches that of the selected wheel.
Allowing third-party software to control resistance means you can 'ride' virtual courses on apps like KinoMap, with the resistance adjusted for speed and pitch as you go. This can be fun, but isn't as focused, training-wise, as something like TrainerRoad
On the plus side, the sturdy arms fold in nicely for relatively compact storage, and the solid handle is useful. On the negative side, the thing weighs a ton. Okay, perhaps not a ton, but 44lb (20kg). You are not bringing this thing to a race to warm up on; you are using it for specific power-based training indoors.
This is the most impressive trainer we have ridden to date. The lab-like ability to dial in exact wattage resistance is a huge asset. And when paired with structured workout software like something from TrainerRoad, it brings indoor solo training to a new level.
For those with the financial means, the Kickr is an excellent tool. For the rest of us, it is an exciting sign of things to come, as the competition is surely watching.