The turbo has long been a staple of cyclists’ training routines and indoor cycling is now more enjoyable and realistic than ever, thanks to the growing popularity of smart trainers and training apps. The latest generation of indoor bikes take that up a notch.
If you’re growing to love cycling in the great indoors (particularly given the current coronavirus restrictions), maybe it’s time to consider a dedicated smart bike.
Unlike the turbo, it will package up all that you need to ride indoors in one bundle. And you won’t add increased wear and tear to your outdoor bike and its components, or need to fiddle around to hook it up to the trainer.
Unlike the spin bikes you might see in a gym, the latest generation of smart bikes are designed with dedicated cyclists in mind, so you can expect accurate power measurement, a highly-adjustable position, variable (and automatically-controlled) resistance and road-like feel.
In fact, smart bikes were one of the emerging trends we spotted at last year’s Eurobike trade show, where we saw brands like Wahoo and Stages joining established indoor bike manufacturers like Wattbike by launching new products.
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Smarter than the average exercise bike
Whereas an indoor exercise bike will usually have limited, manual adjustability to resistance, indoor smart bikes use similar tech to smart trainers and aim to offer a realistic, road-like feel when pedalling.
They will measure your power output and, if you want it to, automatically adjust resistance, whether that’s to match the incline of a virtual road on Zwift or so you hit the required wattage in a structured workout.
Training apps provide a much more engaging and immersive indoor ride experience, often with a video or virtual simulation of outdoor terrain. They’ll also let you challenge your mates, embark on a training plan or simply ride against others.
A smart bike is geared towards the needs of the cyclist in other ways, too. It will be designed to handle the power that a serious cyclist can put out and there will be plenty of metrics on how well you’re going, displayed either by an inbuilt screen or hooking the bike up to your smartphone, a tablet or a computer.
That’s unlike most exercise bikes, where data displayed is likely to be limited to speed, distance and duration. If you want to make the most of your training time, a smart bike will give you the power-based workouts you need.
The best indoor bikes will offer lots of adjustment too, including saddle height and fore/aft, handlebar position and even crank length, allowing you to replicate the position of your regular bike. That adjustability will also allow multiple members of the same household to use the bike.
Do you have the space?
Unlike most turbo trainers or rollers, which fold down for storage, smart bikes are a permanent fixture.
What’s more, in order to handle a cyclist riding at full tilt or out of the saddle, smart bikes are usually heavy and have large bases, so they’re not something you will want to lug around. Nor will they fit in the bottom of a cupboard when not in use.
With that in mind, you’ll want to make sure you’ve got the space for a smart bike, with an electricity supply close by so it’s setup ready to ride.
Plus, all that tech is pricey – a dedicated smart indoor bike will set you back at least £1,500 and a lot more for the latest crop of machinery.
The flip side, of course, is a dedicated, high-tech training tool ready to jump on to at any point.
Seven smart bikes available now or coming soon
Smart bikes were a thing at last year’s Eurobike show, with models launched by a host of well-known cycling brands.
Here’s a rundown of the smart bikes currently available or close to launch.
Wahoo Kickr Bike
The latest addition to Wahoo’s attempt at indoor training domination is the Kickr Bike. It builds up Wahoo’s well-proven smart trainer tech from the regular Kickr, but swaps the belt-drive system for an electromagnetic design capable of handling 2,200 watts.
Standing on a pivoting frame, the saddle and bar position have a wide range of tool-free adjustment to suit your riding style and bike fit measurements.
Wahoo has also built in simulated shifting and braking, and you can customise your gear ratios and the shifter buttons to replicate your real world bike’s set-up.
Regardless of whether you’re a Shimano, SRAM or Campagnolo rider, you can program the Kickr Bike’s buttons accordingly, or go for something else altogether. Crank length is user-adjustable too.
Another clever feature is the ability to tilt the frame, so you can simulate climbs and descents, or plug the Kickr Bike into a training package like Zwift to do this automatically as the gradient of your virtual road changes. The Kickr Bike can replicate inclines of up to 20 per cent, and descents down to 15 per cent.
With climbing recruiting different muscles from on-the-flat riding, you should get a more comprehensive workout.
The Wahoo Kickr Bike provides plenty of functionality then, although that comes with a £3,000 ($3,500) price tag.
The Kickr Bike is available now and you can read our full review here.
One smart bike that’s out there already and which we’ve reviewed is the Wattbike Atom. It costs £1,599 and again aims for adjustability, so you can find a similar position to your road bike, but crank length is fixed
It also builds on Wattbike’s established software from previous models to give you lots of stats and analysis, including your pedalling efficiency, as well as connecting to third party training apps. There’s simulated gear shifting too.
Wattbike has its own workouts and training plans, as well as simulations of real-world climbs including Sa Calobra in Mallorca and Mont Ventoux.
Like other smart bikes and smart trainers, there’s also an ‘ergo’ mode that lets you train at constant power. Also like other smart bikes, the Atom is heavy at 44kg.
Wattbike claims the Atom can handle up to 2,000 watts, with accuracy apparently good to +/- two per cent. The virtual flywheel can also simulate gradients up to 20 per cent.
Otherwise, on the way from Wattbike is the Atom X, which has a built-in touchscreen, while for £2,500 the Wattbike Icon builds on Wattbike’s earlier generation of trainers with a step-through design and touchscreen interface.
Tacx Neo Bike
Another recently launched smart bike is the Neo Bike from trainer maker Tacx. You may be familiar with the Neo name already from Tacx’s excellent Neo 2T smart trainer – the Neo Bike uses the same electromagnetic flywheel, with the aim of providing road-like realism when pedalling.
Again, the design has lots of adjustability and simulation features like virtual shifting, gear ratios and descent simulation.
Plus, you get a couple of optional fans built onto the bars, for airflow dependent on speed, as well as a tablet holder and USB ports.
The Tacx Neo Bike hooks up to Tacx’s own software package, while also offering connectivity to Zwift and others. Tacx says the bike can handle up to 2,200 watts, with a claimed accuracy of +/- one per cent, and simulate a 25 per cent gradient.
At €2,599, the price of the Neo Bike is on a par with smart bikes from other makers, although it’s yet to be widely available.
Like the Kickr Bike, it’s another new entrant which debuted at the end of 2019, although it’s not yet commercially available.
It too is designed to be highly adjustable to fit like your road bike, with adjustable crank length, programmable shift buttons on the levers and built-in simulation of braking and steering.
There’s dual sided power measurement and a Gates belt drive, for quiet, low maintenance running. Stages says the flywheel offers resistance of up to 3,000 watts.
The TrueBike is a neat-looking option from Dutch brand TrueKinetix.
Priced at €3,250, the company says it’s designed to offer a realistic ride feel, with an algorithm that takes into account factors including your weight.
Its flywheel-free design will provide resistance of up to 1,500 watts and simulate gradients of up to 15 per cent up or down, with 22 gears and connectivity to Zwift and other training packages.
If you’ve got deep pockets and are expecting to be hunkered down in your bunker for the long haul, there’s the SRM SmartIT.
Unlike most of its competitors, the SmartIT runs off a regular drivetrain with 11-speed shifting courtesy of Shimano 105 components. Resistance is controlled via a handlebar-mounted remote, plus it has wireless connectivity for use with third-party software. SRM says the SmartIT can simulate up to 1,400 watts.
At €5,000 + VAT, it’s suitably spendy for a product from the maker of the pros’ favoured power meter, and it’s fair to say the design doesn’t quite look as sleek as other options we’ve listed here.
It does, however, incorporate SRM’s Origin power meter, which the brand says has an accuracy of +/- 1%. That, however, does mean crank length is fixed.
The 65kg weight of the bike and stainless steel frame means you’ll probably want a home gym to keep the SRM in – but you’ve got that already, haven’t you?
Despite the adverse publicity generated by its Christmas ad, Peloton’s exercise bike is another indoor training option. Unlike the other bikes featured here, this one isn’t really designed specifically with cyclists in mind.
At £1,990 for the ‘basics’ package, it’s more of a replacement for the spinning classes at your gym than support for structured cycling workouts. Unlike most smart bikes, power is an estimate from an algorithm based on cadence and resistance – there’s no strain gauge built in to the bike.
There is, however, a built-in screen to pipe video of live daily classes to you, as well as access to Peloton’s library of five to 90-minute sessions. There’s also a monthly fee (£39 at the time of writing), though that does also give you access to community features like leaderboards, music and playlists.
Peloton is a closed system so you won’t be able to hook it up to apps like The Sufferfest or Zwift.