Last year at Eurobike Tacx announced their intentions to make a smart bike, the blend of an indoor trainer and a bike. Similar to a ‘spin bike’ in looks, but under the hood totally different. It’d have full resistance control just like their Tacx Neo trainer, while also having handlebars and shifting like a bike. Much of the focus on smart bikes has been spurred on by Zwift aiming to capture a wider indoor training market.
At the time though the concept of the Tacx bike was more rough sketch than final. No specific pricing was announced, nor was it near shipping. They said it was something to look for at Eurobike 2018.
And thus, here are: Eurobike 2018. They’ve now got pricing and shipping details, as well as a fully functional unit that’s very close to being final production quality. With it, the unit gained functions like realistic shift feedback that makes you feel like the gears are actually moving below you. It also gained a small display to help clarify gearing and other critical stats, as well as gaining fans that change speed based on how hard you’re working.
Finally, to be super clear – this is not a review, and certainly not an in-depth review. This is a brief look at the final bike with merely some brief riding time last week on it. I don’t even dive into aspects like testing power meter accuracy, or other apps beyond Zwift, or configuration of the virtual shifting. All that will come in due time with my usual in-depth review closer to shipping. So hang tight for that! In the meantime, you’ve gotta check this thing out, it’s surprisingly cool.
The Final Specs:
So let’s get right into the specs and what this bike features, since that’s what you’re all here for. Of course, before we do that, sometimes it’s just easier to watch a video on it, so I put together an overview of a short ride on the bike, where I walk through from front to back all the nuances and the details of the bike.
As you can see, it’s not only quiet, but also essentially a Tacx Neo bundled into a bike. Except, that definition skips over the nuance of some of the more bike-focused features like adjustable crank lengths or virtual gear shifting with virtual gear combinations.
So to start, let’s just do some bullet-point style specifications. I like bullet-points because they’re easy to convey a crapton of information without a crapton of flowery words:
– Priced at $2,599USD/EUR (+/- $100-$200). EUR pricing is set, but USD pricing still in flux a bit. GBP is 2299GBP
– Availability set for fall 2018 worldwide, but volume will be limited initially, so may be tough to get until winter.
– Has the same specs as a Tacx Neo Smart in terms of resistance/accuracy, so +/- 1%
– Max power resistance is 2,200w
– Can run with or without power cord, self-powering
– Handlebars have shifting control buttons like normal bikes, for virtual shifting
– Shifting can be configured to replicate any chainring/cassette combination
– Handlebars also have brakes (both sides), to allow braking, or potentially even turning
– Contains a small display (powered by you) that shows gearing/power/heart rate, and other metrics
– Includes dual position-configurable fans that can be controlled by HR, speed, or manual
– Has a large clamp system for holding a tablet
– Has a small tray for placement of phone or M&M’s
– Includes two 2.0 AMP USB charging ports below the small tray, for powering phone/tablet
– Internal battery charged while you ride to charge ports and display
– Customizable saddle height/position, handlebar height/position
– Ability to change out handlebars or seat for your own if you want
– Ability to add clip-on aero bars
– Adjustable crank lengths built-in: 170mm, 172.5mm, 175mm
– Q-Factor is standard road-bike q-factor
– One glorious water bottle holder
Phew…got all that? Good!
As you can see, it’s an impressive set of specs. If we look briefly at how it compares to the WattBike Atom released last year, the core additions are heavily focused on user experience aspects that shine better in apps like Zwift than ERG mode. For example, compared to the WattBike Atom you’ve got:
– Added feedback that you’re actually shifting (a vibration of sorts)
– Added USB ports for charging tablets that run apps like Zwift/TrainerRoad
– Added brake levers and I’d argue better shifting buttons in terms of feedback
– Added a display for core data metrics to be displayed
– Added fans up front to keep ya cool
– Ability to customize virtual gearing to match your bike/what you want.
– Doesn’t require power cord
– Crank lengths adjustable, versus statically set
– Q-Factor matches road bike, versus wider stance
There are a few minor things the Wattbike Atom has though that the Tacx Neo Bike Smart doesn’t. For instance, it doesn’t include aerobars like the Wattbike does. With the Wattbike you get regular handlebars as well as aerobars in the box.
Of course, all these extra features cost you extra cash. In the case of the Wattbike it’s only really sold in the UK, and the price there is 1,499GBP. Whereas the Tacx Neo Bike Smart is slated to sell in the UK at 2,299GBP. And of course, the more prudent issue: The Wattbike is actually available today, versus the Tacx bike is at best a few months away for those lucky enough to nab an early spot.
With that, let’s talk about my first ride experience.
First Test Ride:
Of course, the key thing with smart bikes is how they feel. We talked about all the specs up above, but none of that really matters if it doesn’t feel right across all the apps. That was sorta the challenge with the Wattbike for me. It was awesome for me with ERG mode and overall functionality, but when it came to Zwift it kinda fell apart because of shifting in particular. So the inability to know what gear you were in (partially solved since), but more importantly feel the gear changes was tricky.
It’s something you take for granted with your bike – when you shift, you feel it. You feel the click of the levers (or even the button press of Di2 is still tactile in nature). You feel the drivetrain briefly release tension for a split second as it moves between rings or cassette cogs. But with the Wattbike, none of that happened. It was like a fart in the wind, somewhat unknown.
So jumping right into it I adjusted the saddle height on the Tacx bike quick and easy and was off and running. The fans weren’t quite final and were the only piece in the system that felt a bit beta to me (as they admitted). But it was merely because the bolt wasn’t firm enough, so they kinda floated too much. But that’s a trivial fix.
The fans are designed to pair to your heart rate sensor or trainer speed, enabling you to simulate going downhill faster. I suspect though that novelty will wear off quickly, and folks will just leave them on full blast. Still, having the option is appreciated.
Next, while there was a tablet holder I used my a phone to bring up Zwift. I did this simply because I wanted to record the Zwift session for the video.
Note that below the tablet holder is 2x2AMP USB ports for charging. These charge based on your pedaling power, or you can simply plug the bike in too.
Within Zwift I paired up the bike via Bluetooth Smart, just like any other trainer – no different there really.
Once I did that though the onboard display on the unit re-adjusted itself to a paired down version that minimized the information and focused on core metrics like the actual gearing and my power. Essentially it wasn’t just re-duplicating everything on the Zwift screen, but really just the information you cared about. Still, I think this is super useful, and you see the same thing on the new Elite bike as well. It’s another differentiator between the Wattbike and the Tacx bike.
The gearing will be adjustable down the road, so you can program the chainring/cassette if you want to replicate your exact bike setup. Want a configuration that’s better for climbing? No prob. And Tacx is looking at doing the same for replicating Di2 vs eTap and other shifting methods, so that it feels identical to you from a ‘how to shift’ standpoint. Again, these are the little details that matter.
What’s most astounding on the entire bike though is that when you shift you feel it between your legs. That’s because the Tacx bike has the ability to ever so briefly (for a split second) pull back on the resistance, so it simulates the exact same feel that your shifting does on a bike where for that split-second there’s almost no resistance. It’s mind-bogglingly cool, and exactly what Wattbike is missing. Part of this is the way the Tacx Neo (and thus the Tacx Bike) is designed from an electronic resistance standpoint. It’s effectively the same underlying technology leveraged in the Neo’s ability to replicate cobblestones and other bits of terrain.
I’d say at this point that for other smart bike manufacturers, some sort of feedback like this will become a requirement to be successful in the market. In my limited time riding this, it was without question the missing gap on Zwift that the Wattbike needed. While other companies can implement this virtual gearing realism in different ways, implementing something is required – otherwise Tacx will simply win every conversation and test ride about it.
Now I will say that the only caveat with shifting is that I wish the buttons themselves were a bit crispier. I want a ‘click’ on the buttons (as well as the feel of the drivetrain). Whereas today the Tacx bike lacks the click but has the drivetrain replication right.
In addition to shifting there’s braking, you can pull the brake levers to brake the bike. This has two purposes down the road. The first is to stop the bike mid-ride, but the second could be to replicate/simulate directional turning. So the idea that you could potentially brake one side or the other to turn the bike. Zwift supports neither today, but Tacx says they’re ready when Zwift is.
Like the shifting though, my second and only other complaint about the Tacx bike is that I wish the brake levers had a bit more travel distance and stopped the bike a bit faster. Given this was the first unit off the line, I suspect that’s an easy thing to address.
Circling back to some of the hardware elements, the unit has three adjustable points in the crank lengths. By using a small pod inset into the crank arms they can give you 170mm, 172.5mm, and 175mm with nothing more than swapping the pods out:
The q-factor on the Tacx bike is identical to that of a normal road bike. Additionally, you can adjust the front handlebars forward/back, as well as up/down. The rear seat post can go up/down, as well as slide the saddle front/back.
Next, you’ve got sound…or rather, lack thereof. As you can hear in my video, it’s virtually silent. There’s a very low hum, similar to a microwave operating in the background (before the ding). Sure, in my video you hear it in an otherwise totally silent room, but you can also hear my phone playing the Zwift music/soundtrack in the background, and my phone isn’t on full blast. Remember, it’s the same flywheel situation as in the Tacx Neo – so if you’re familiar with that, it’s roughly in the ballpark of that with one key difference: Your drivetrain is gone, which is typically the noisiest part of the equation.
As far as road-feel, it feels identical to that of a Tacx Neo…except with the rumble in the jungle of the virtual shifting. I’m personally pretty good with the Tacx Neo road-like feel, though some like the KICKR better. I think that’s purely a personal preferences thing.
Ultimately though, after riding it for a short bit – I’m really impressed. I guess going into it I had no expectations. I’d seen it last year at Eurobike like everyone else, but that was merely a frame of what was to come. It wasn’t much more than a barren tree. Now it’s a real product that they’re fine-tuning the production line before scaling up for real-world production in the coming weeks. Certainly my time was limited, and I’m looking forward to getting it into the DCR Cave for longer term testing across more apps than just Zwift. But at this point, I’m far more impressed than I thought I’d be.
Ultimately, as far as I can tell at this point Tacx is easily taking the crown of best indoor smart bike, at least in terms of features. While the new Elite Fuoripista is, of course, a head turner, I don’t think even if prices were equal that I’d choose it over this. Mostly because I prefer the practicality of the Tacx Neo Bike Smart with things like fans and shifting feedback that the Elite unit lacks. Meanwhile, if you compare it to the Wattbike Atom, as I noted in my review the main deal-killer there is the shifting still isn’t ideal for Zwift. Zwift has made some progress in terms of a gear indicator, but the lack of tactile feedback has always been a big challenge.
Of course, a $2,500 bike isn’t going to be for everyone. For a lot of folks, they can buy a perfectly good bike and smart trainer for that price. But as the Wattbike Atom proved, there’s also plenty of people that want an easy to use stationary unit that multiple people can jump on and quickly configure and just ride. This fits that (large) bill in my opinion better than anything else on the market.
Certainly I expect more smart bikes over the course of this season, though whether or not those companies manage to hit fall timeframes remains a big question. If I wanted a smart bike for this season, I’d probably be putting my name at the top of the list for the Tacx unit, and then deciding in early fall if that was the right choice after all the announcements have been made. Whereas if you wait till fall to order, you realistically won’t get this unit till next year according to the numbers that Tacx is looking at. As you might expect, manufacturing and delivering such a large product is a different challenge than their much smaller trainers.
Of course, Tacx has experience in massive products though. You’ll remember their Magnum treadmill (and it’s 8,000EUR price tag). That’s far more complex from a technical and logistics standpoint. So I wouldn’t assume the limitation will be experience here.
In any event – look for me to probably start riding a unit in August, for a full in-depth review likely sometime in September or so once they start shipping out units. I’m definitely looking forward to getting more time on it and digging into all the nuances.
Until then – thanks for reading (and watching)! Feel free to drop questions down below as usual and I’ll try and get them answered.