The age of the indoor smart bike is finally upon us, but can you really justify the huge cost?

John Whitney ponders the benefits of having a smart bike in permanent residence

The age of the indoor smart bike is finally upon us, but can you really justify the huge cost?

Persuading your non-riding partner that the purchase of a bike costing upwards of three grand is a sensible idea is a tall order, but at least it comes with the promise of getting you out of the house. But what if this bike weighs as much as a Tour de France-climbing domestique and will only leave the house upon your next move?

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That became a pertinent question in September at the 2019 Eurobike trade show – the world’s biggest gathering of the bike industry in Friedrichshafen, southern Germany – which this year witnessed the launch of a flurry of indoor ‘smart’ bikes.

The smart trainer market is booming. The rise of online training game Zwift, combined with tech developments redefining what’s possible with a turbo trainer, has transformed indoor training from a lonely, garage-dwelling pursuit into a gamified, immersive experience.

The top-end units, such as the Tacx Neo, were – and remain – very expensive, at around £1,000 and they required you to attach your bike to them. Then, in 2017, Wattbike launched its Atom (now £1,599.99), a smart bike for cyclists.

At this summer’s Eurobike, the smart bike market surged. Tacx’s Neo Bike, first seen as a concept at the 2017 show, finally starts shipping in late 2019 for €2,599, but has bells and whistles, such as simulating the feel of changing gears and going over rough surfaces.

Crank power meter makers Stages launched its StagesBike ($2,600-$2,800), with a max resistance of 3,000 watts (if you hit that, be sure to give British Cycling’s performance director a call). And to bring you back to that $3,500 bike of the intro, Wahoo launched its Kickr Bike, featuring built-in incline simulation and, what everybody needs while pedalling nowhere in their living room, front and rear braking.

You’re perhaps wondering, ‘Wouldn’t I be better off buying a Tacx Flux S smart trainer for around £500 and splashing the rest on a really good road bike that, might, you know, take me up to the top of Alpe d’Huez, rather than its digital copycat Alpe du Zwift?’ Nobody could argue against that being a savvy division of disposable income.

Wouldn’t I be better off buying a trainer for around £500 and splashing the rest on a really good road bike that might take me to the top of Alpe d’Huez rather than Alpe du Zwift?

Then again, by using a smart bike, you’re protecting your bike from being damaged by the stresses of turbo sessions over the long term. It’s not just your body that’s under the pump during full gas turbo workouts.

Not all manufacturers recommend using a carbon bike in a turbo trainer. Specialized, for instance, suggests using an old metal bike for turbo work. The good news is that, starting with Model Year 2020, the manufacturers are testing and certifying all road bicycles for common trainer use, although bikes prior to this are “not designed or tested for trainer use and may be used on trainers at your own risk”.

Besides the dire potential for permanently junking your cherished carbon steed, there are other factors in a smart bike’s favour that are less serious but no less vexing. Such as attaching and detaching your bike from a trainer, over and over again. Frankly, it’s tedious. Or perhaps I’m just lazy. But if manufacturers are concerned about the forces involved when using a bike in a turbo, the constant (and variable?) tightening of the two may have an effect over time. You’re also more likely to use a smart bike that’s in permanent residence.

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Look again at the Wahoo Kickr Bike, with its futurist industrial curves. It looks built to survive not just the winter, but a nuclear winter. Add versatility to their durability and their effectiveness in transforming what you’re capable of doing outdoors, once you get out of your front door, and a smart bike is yet another valid inclusion in one of the few ‘Rules’ of the Velominati that we can agree with, namely the ‘N+1’ ideal number of bikes equation, where N is the number of bikes you already have.