The Stages SB20 is an indoor training bike designed to meet the needs of the most demanding virtual riders, while providing accurate performance data and a realistic ride feel.
As a complete unit, the SB20 is considerably more expensive than a traditional smart trainer, but it’s much more stable, smoother to operate and keeps your regular bike free for outdoor rides.
Most cyclists will be familiar with Stages because of its Grand Tour-winning power meters rather than its stationary bikes, but the brand has been making quality exercise bikes on the commercial side of the market for many years now.
The SB20 is still very much at the ‘gym bike’ end of the indoor-bike spectrum when it comes to looks, but in terms of performance, it’ll happily go toe to toe with the likes of Tacx’s NEO or the Wattbike Atom.
It’s similarly priced too. In fact, the RRP has recently dropped from £2,850 to £2,249, putting the SB20 in line with most of the market’s key competitors.
Stages SB20 Smart Bike setup
The SB20 arrives in a surprisingly small, surprisingly heavy box. The claimed weight of the package is a whopping 100kg, and having wrestled it into my house solo, I have no reason to doubt that. For context, that’s approximately the same weight as a baby elephant.
The upside of this is that the SB20 is extremely robust, remaining firmly planted even during the most intense out-of-the-saddle efforts my legs could muster. The downside is that getting up a flight of stairs isn’t exactly a tea party.
For anyone who doesn’t fancy a hernia, Stages’ UK distributor Saddleback offers a ‘white-glove’ delivery service. This means that not only will someone else lift the bike into place, they’ll also assemble it. That said, the assembly itself isn’t exactly difficult.
There are two metal bars with adjustable feet that bolt onto the bottom of the unit, allowing it to stand securely. The front one is equipped with a pair of wheels so that the bike can be tilted up and rolled across the floor.
Moving the bike becomes a much simpler affair once the wheels are attached, but in order to reach that point, you’ll need to lift the unit up and onto them. A second person would make this much easier to achieve, but I can confirm it is still possible with one.
Other than that, it’s mostly a case of fixing the handlebars in place, popping the seatpost in and attaching the tablet mount to the front of the bike.
Stages Link app
The Stages Link app is a key part of the SB20 experience.
You create an account during the initial setup of the bike, which allows you to do things such as choosing your preferred shifting configuration (Shimano, SRAM, Campagnolo) and customise your drivetrain.
You can then save multiple virtual bikes, enabling you to switch your setup at the touch of a button.
There perhaps aren’t as many options as offered by the likes of Tacx and Wahoo, but there’s still lots of scope for customisation. There’s always the potential for more to be added in future software updates too.
The app also keeps track of all activities logged on the SB20 and provides in-depth analysis of athletic performance and progress.
Stages SB20 adjustability
After 100 miles around the Makuri Islands one sweaty Tuesday (a feat the likes of which I have never managed to endure on a smart bike before), I can say with confidence that the SB20’s adjustability is excellent.
The saddle and the cockpit each move back and forth on a rail, and up and down on a post. The great thing is that unlike some indoor bikes, the adjustment isn’t incremental. The bars and the saddle can be dialled in right down to a fraction of a millimetre, which makes it easy to achieve exactly the right fit.
All of the knobs and sliders used to tweak the riding position are very robust and feel smooth to operate, with the exception of the back-and-forth adjustment of the cockpit, which I found to be a tad clunky. Still, it’s not exactly a deal-breaker.
The crank arms also offer some adjustment, with four different threaded holes to achieve four possible crank lengths – 165, 170, 172.5 and 175mm. Just remember to input the correct one to the Stages Link app in order to get accurate power numbers.
Stages SB20 Smart Bike hardware
Shifting is actuated via buttons on the hoods. There are three on each – two main buttons to shift, and a third button that can be programmed for in-game steering or something else entirely.
On the bar itself, there are a further two buttons on each side for shifting from the drops. All buttons are fully customisable in the Stages Link app.
The brake levers are functional, but instead of reducing the speed of your avatar in the virtual world, they simply stop the flywheel. In fact, if you brake while pedalling it will actually cause your power to surge in the game and your avatar’s speed to increase.
In front of the cockpit, there is a rubberised pad to hold a smartphone, and an adjustable mount to accommodate a tablet. There are also two USB ports, which come in extremely handy if you’re anything like me and continually neglect to charge your devices before a ride.
Stages SB20 Smart Bike ride impressions
The SB20 may not look much like a conventional road bike, but it certainly feels like one to ride. Granted, a smart bike is never going to feel 100 per cent authentic, but the SB20 is definitely comparable to Wattbike and Tacx’s options.
The pedalling motion is smooth and feels surprisingly realistic, and overall the unit feels reassuringly sturdy and planted.
Unlike other smart bikes on the market, the SB20 has not one, but two power meters.
The bike uses two conventional Stages meters, one on each crank arm, and combines the data from both before sending it to the SB20’s onboard computer.
Some reviews mention a third, internal “power meter”, but this is actually just an algorithm that controls the flywheel.
As one might expect from such a brand, the Stages bike’s power accuracy is spot-on. I found it to be reliable and consistent, both with ERG mode activated and without.
The unit is responsive to sudden bursts of power, such as in a sprint, and Stages claims there’s up to 2,200 watts there if your legs have got them to give. Sadly, mine do not.
One issue I did notice in terms of power was a slight delay when first starting a session on Zwift. For a couple of seconds at the beginning of a ride, my legs would spin wildly until the bike realised what was going on and started generating some resistance.
The SB20 may be a bit of an elephant in terms of its weight, but noise-wise it’s more of a mouse. A gentle whir from the flywheel is the only discernible sound and that’s easily drowned out by a podcast or some music.
I read some users complaining online about a knocking noise from the flywheel, but this isn’t something I experienced at all.
One gripe I do have is with the shifting. It’s responsive enough, but I like a bit of tactile feedback when I change gears and the SB20 offers none.
Even a little ‘click’ as a button is pressed to actuate a gear change would suffice. I’m sure many people won’t be bothered by this, but for me it takes away from what is otherwise a relatively realistic riding experience.
Stages SB20 Smart Bike bottom line
Overall, I enjoyed using the Stages SB20 Smart Bike. It offers excellent adjustment, it’s easy to set up and the ride feel is pretty ‘life-like’.
The hulking weight of the SB20 made it difficult to manoeuvre during installation, but it’s a small price to pay when you consider how sturdy the unit is as a result. Besides, as long as you’re not planning to cart it up and down the stairs on a daily basis, you’ll only have to contend with its heft once.
It’s very easy to set up, and both the bike and the app are straightforward to operate.
The pedalling motion is smooth and the bike responds well to sudden changes in power output.
Gear changes could be improved with some tactile feedback at the shifting buttons, but overall the ride feel is quite realistic.
There is very little noise from the SB20 when it’s in use. There is a slight whir from the flywheel, but I didn’t experience any of the ‘knocking’ noises some users have mentioned.
The SB20’s original pricing put it in the same bracket as Wahoo’s Kickr, which offers gradient simulation.
However, the new price of £2,249, while still expensive, is much more realistic and puts the bike in the proverbial ring with more evenly matched opponents.