Bkool’s Smart Air Lite may be the more affordable version of the flagship Smart Air direct-drive trainer (£1099.99 / $1,442 / AU$1,989) but still packs in up to 2,000 watts of resistance and can simulate up to 20 per cent gradients from its unusual enclosed design.
Pulling the Air Lite out of the box it’s obvious that the Spanish brand likes to do things a little differently with its large, enclosed freewheel that curves from the base to resemble the shape of a half wheel.
The design is taller than most and it’s a heavy piece of kit weighing 23kg, but that’s not always a bad thing in the trainer world because it can improve stability when in use. However, it does mean that it’s not very easy to lug around and there’s no handle either, unlike other trainers.
Initial set-up is easy and involves simply unfolding the two outer stabiliser legs into its V-shape footprint. It stands 56cm tall and with the legs open sits at 58cm wide x 69cm long. While it may be taller than many smart trainers with the legs folded, the narrow design does make for easy storage.
The Air Lite doesn’t come with a cassette in the box, so you will need to add this in to your budget and purchase one before you’re ready to start pedalling. Once a cassette has been fitted, a regular 11-speed quick release bike slots straight in with ease.
The system will work with Shimano and SRAM 7-, 8-, 9- and 10-speed cassettes as well, and is compatible with Campagnolo set-ups and most thru-axle designs – however adaptors for these don’t come in the box.
Bkool’s Smart Air Lite turbo trainer. Simon Bromley/Immediate Media
Plugging in the power is simple and there’s enough length in the cable that you shouldn’t need an extension lead. Connecting the Smart Air to Bkool’s Simulator app is easy too as is connecting to ride software such as Zwift via ANT+ FE-C and Bluetooth Smart.
It all just works as you’d hope and without any difficulty or issues – which you’d expect from a brand that also works in the world of software.
Bkool Smart Air Lite ride
Jumping on the bike the ride feel is noticeably different due to the trainer’s Rocking System, which has been designed to replicate a more realistic ride feel with a degree of side-to-side movement. Its not as extreme as something like the Kinetic Rock and Roll Smart Control but you certainly notice the rocking, especially when compared to trainers with a more solid ride, such as the Wahoo Kickr.
The curved main tube of the Air Lite, which produces its ‘hanging’ design, not only allows a certain amount of movement that adds to the ride feel, but also reduces the load and amount of stress on the bike.
Once pedalling, the Air Lite is relatively quiet. Any thoughts about the large case causing sound to amply were instantly quashed and all the internals do a good job of making things almost silent. It’s not the quietest trainer out there, but you’re never going to upset the neighbours with the noise.
The unit is capable of replicating up to 2,000 watts and speeds of up to 70kph, so there’s never a problem with running out of power or speed. It also replicates gradients of up to 20 per cent.
Pedalling in the saddle is a joy and the natural ride feel is good thanks to the flywheel and hanging design. There’s plenty of resistance available from that 2,000 watts and this feels good, with changes running smoothly and naturally and no choppiness.
Out of the saddle is a completely different sensation and where you feel the rocking most. It’s a little disconcerting at first and the rocking definitely feels strange if you’re used to a more static trainer ride feel, but you soon get used to it.
The ride feel of the Smart Air Lite did divide opinion with some testers though, with some liking the natural movement from the inbuilt rocking system and others preferring the solid feel of more rigid trainers.
The design is a little different to other similarly priced trainers. Simon Bromley/Immediate Media
If I really smashed it out of the saddle I did find the frame itself rocked in a negative way. The main frame covers a smaller footprint to the Bkool’s top-end Smart Air, but for most people this is never going to be an issue.
With regards to power accuracy, Bkool says that the Air Lite has a margin of error of less than 3 per cent, which was about bang-on when compared to my Garmin Vectors.
Bkool Smart Air Lite overall
The Bkool Smart Air Lite is a solid performer. It’s in a competitive market of mid-range smart trainers and the ride feel is the big point of difference to other trainers, but it won’t be for everyone.
I like the ease of use and the general ride feel, and it’s also relatively quiet and folds small for storage.