Tech & Wearables

Wahoo Kickr smart trainer review

Fifth-generation Kickr remains the easiest smart trainer to use, and new padded feet option adds comfort.

Review Rating


Pros

Virtually no set up, great feel, quiet operation, power smoothing option, padded float options, best in class for moving and storing

Cons

No surface treatments like the more expensive Tacx Neo, but still costs more than top offerings from Elite and Saris


Our Thoughts

For ease of everyday use, great feel and dependable power readings — based on my testing against other power meters — the Kickr is an excellent smart trainer.


Price

$1,200

Brand

Wahoo


Seven years after popularizing the concept of smart trainers, the Wahoo Kickr’s fifth-generation builds on a legacy with adjustable comfort touches at the padded feet, real-time calibration, and a port option for a hard-wire connection for online racing. For me, though, what’s most impressive about the Kickr is just how easy it is to use and live with, compared to other smart trainers that interact with software like Zwift to measure and control resistance.

Related:

You can read about the details of the new Kickr here, and watch my colleague Chris Foster’s unboxing video, but here I’ll just focus on my experiences testing the thing in terms of power comparison and overall ride feel. In short: It’s a smart trainer I highly recommend.

Ride feel of padded feet

Kickr padded feet
The Kickr feet can be configured in three different ways for fixed, 2.5-, or 5-degrees of float. Photo: Ben Delaney

New for 2020, the Kickr comes with tunable feet that allow for up to 5 degrees of lateral, padded rock. It’s not a dramatic wobbling, just a subtle, gentle give as you’re pedaling hard. I like it, as it seems to reduce friction at the saddle. Instead of the saddle being the pivot point for the weight of your body, now the trainer can give a little.

I’ve ridden a few motion boards like the Saris MP1, and what I like most about them is not how they feel out the saddle sprinting, but just the small amount of natural sway they offer. The new Kickr does not move as much as a platform, of course, but the benefits are similar.

You configure between static, 2.5- and 5-degrees of float. And as on previous Kickr, you can easily adjust for an imperfect floor system with heigh-adjust dials on each leg.

The rubber used may also quiet down some vibration and/or noise, but I couldn’t tell a difference.

If you have a previous Kickr, you can buy the rubber feet for $79. They don’t work with the Core or the Snap, but they do work with all previous Kickrs.

Ride feel of power interaction

I tested the Kickr on Zwift in workouts, races, and free rides. As with other smart trainers, the Kickr measures power output (and cadence and speed), and also continuously adjusts resistance in two main ways. One, it will match the conditions of virtual riding like hills, drafting, accelerating or coasting. And two, it will adjust the resistance to match prescribed wattages for structured workouts.

A 16-pound flywheel pairs with electronic braking for good ride feel, in that getting up to speed feels like you’re working against outdoor physics of gravity and aero drag, and that coasting feels like you can keep some momentum going.

Whether hitting hills or sharp increases in workouts, the Kickr quickly but smoothly transitions its resistance. I’d put it on par in this aspect with any of the best smart trainers out there.

The new Kickr has a port (the ethernet-looking port above the power cable) for hardwire connection to games like Zwift. However, Zwift software does not yet support this connection. Photo: Ben Delaney

When using Zwift, you can set the trainer difficulty level, which exaggerates or minimizes the changes for hills. I usually just leave that setting in the middle.

One challenge of the Kickr and many other smart trainers is what happens when you’re doing a workout and you fall behind on the prescribed wattage. Often, as you bog down and fail to hit a high prescribed power, your cadence will also slow, which exacerbates the situation as the Kickr goes on the formula of wattage equaling speed (cadence) times torque (the pedaling force). The end result is that you almost always have to stop pedaling and wait for Zwift or TrainerRoad to disable ERG mode, which takes about 10 seconds. Then with the resistance removed, you can start pedaling again, get back up to speed, and the ERG mode will reset.

Kickr Power control and smoothing options

When doing workouts, you have two configuration options. ERG mode, the default setting, is the primary selling point of smart trainers – it automatically adjusts resistance to the target wattage. But sometimes, especially for very short, very high-wattage efforts, ERG mode can be frustrating and counterproductive. You can toggle this on or off very easily in Zwift or TrainerRoad.

Here, Kickr power in green is shown with Stages power in purple for a structured workout. At the arrow, I turned power smoothing off on the Kickr. For this comparison and other multi-meter testing, I used Today’s Plan, which is part of Active Pass. Photo: Ben Delaney

While the above is not unique to the Kickr, another setting is: You can toggle power smoothing on and off, which makes for gratifyingly (if unrealistically) smooth power graphs.

The Kickr now has an RJ11 ethernet port for a hard-wire connection to your computer, should you be keen on Zwift racing and not keen on suffering any short but vital power drops. The software is not yet in place to support this, however. For me, my connectivity issues are usually wifi dropping out; I haven’t had any issues with the Bluetooth signal to my computer dropping out.

Power comparisons

For this fifth-generation Kickr, Wahoo claims accuracy is now within +/- 1 percent, compared to a dyno. I don’t have a dyno. But I do have a number of power meters, which I used to compare.

I found the Kickr and a Shimano Dura-Ace power meter to track right on top of each other (267 to 270w average, respectively, here), while a one-sided Garmin Vector 3 meter generally aligned. Photo: Ben Delaney

The new Kickr also has continuous calibration now that takes temperature into consideration. This means you don’t need to warm up and then do a spin-down calibration to make sure your power is accurate. You just hop on and go — as it should be.

In testing against Stages, Shimano, and Garmin power meters, I found this Kickr to be like all the previous Kickr iterations I have tested over the years — completely within the expected range of my power meters and something I’d use for training and racing. For contrast, the Tacx Neo I have found to be low compared to other meters, so when I use that, I use an on-bike meter for power (and game input) and then the trainer for automatic resistance.

Zooming in on a 6-minute section in Today’s Plan on Active Pass, Kickr power and Shimano power tracked within a single watt on average. This is an excellent agreement. Of course, you can’t say absolutely that either are perfectly accurate, but such close alignment instills major confidence in me. Photo: Ben Delaney

Living with the Kickr

Smart trainers are heavy and difficult to move. Wahoo has done the best job of any brand is making life relatively easy, with a big handle and legs that fold in without any grief. The Saris H3 is another good option in this regard.

Another commendable thing is how easy the Kickr is to get set up out of the box, particularly if you have an 11-speed quick-release bike. In that case, you just open the legs, plug the trainer in, and pop your bike on, as it comes with a cassette and a quick release installed. If you have a thru-axle bike, switching the adapters is quick and easy.

In everyday use, the thing is quiet, stable, reliable in terms of power, and there is no need to waste time calibrating. I recommend it highly.