Wahoo Kickr Bike first ride review
Smart bikes are the latest trend in indoor training, and Wahoo is leading the charge with a dynamic bike that mimics undulations in road gradient.
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When you hit climbs and descents inside Zwift, the Wahoo Kickr Bike automatically tilts up and down to mimic the undulations, as well as smoothly adjusting resistance plus measuring your power, speed, and cadence to interact with the game. In short, it’s a bit of an indoor revolution. And, no, it ain’t cheap!
Smart bikes are the latest trend in indoor training. They combine the resistance control of smart trainers with the convenience and stability of dedicated indoor bikes. What is unique about the Kickr Bike is the gradient-adjust functionality.
Basics: A unique smart bike that interacts dynamically with Zwift, FulGaz, TrainerRoad and other indoor riding software
Pros: Automatic angle adjustment; great ride feel with a big flywheel; accurate power measurement; best-in-class shift lever feel and function
Cons: Price; a bit of wobble when really flailing on the bike
Wahoo Kickr Bike tilt features and stability
The Kickr Bike pivots hydraulically at its center to pitch up to 20% and down to -15%. You can do this manually with the buttons atop the levers, or, the main selling point, just allow Zwift or FulGaz to drive the simulated undulations.
The vertical movement is smooth, moving from level to 20% in about 3.5 seconds. On some Zwift courses with rapid kickers, like the Titans Grove, the Bike can be just a half second behind the gradient changes if they are steep and you’re going fast. But on the whole, the Bike floats up and down right along with the course. It’s cool.
With a big tripod base, the Bike is stable under normal riding, even when you are going hard. If you really rock back and forth on the Bike, you can get it to move a bit. Similarly, the handlebars are stable under normal pedaling, but you can get them to wobble if you really yank on them side to side.
In total, the stability is halfway in between a bike on a smart trainer and a dedicated gym bike — but you are getting a dynamic ride experience unlike either of those.
Kickr Bike ride feel and power accuracy
The Kickr Bike feels great to ride. The inertia of the 13lb flywheel helps make initial accelerations feel normal as well as keeping ‘momentum’ once you are up to speed. But the real magic is in the motor and the hardware driving it, which quickly fine tunes resistance to match third-party input from the likes of Zwift.
I have done 5,000 miles on Zwift on a number of smart trainers over the past few winters. Wahoo seems to have found a great sweet spot with the Kickr Bike feel in that resistance is controlled, but with a bit of wiggle room. Sometimes, smart trainers can lock you into a resistance level where you can feel a bit stuck with a certain cadence, and small undulations in your power output don’t feel natural like they do out on the road. The Kickr Bike minimizes this issue.
Similarly, doing workouts on ERG mode is the blessing and the curse of smart training. It’s cool to have the machine automatically set the prescribed wattage, so you just pedal through the intervals. However, if you fall behind on cadence, especially on high-wattage intervals, ERG mode on some smart trainers quickly punishes you, making the resistance feel enormous. (This is because smart trainers use the basic “power=rpm x torque” equation, where low rpm translates to high torque.) The end result is that you sometimes just can’t pedal, and you have to wait until the game recognizes you have stopped pedaling, and it resets the ERG mode. It’s annoying.
Here, the Kickr Bike is quick to forgive, recognizing when you have fallen off target power, releasing the ERG lock and letting you keep pedaling until you can get back to the prescribed power, then restarting ERG.
Bottom line, ERG-mode workouts are much more user-friendly on the Kickr Bike than many smart trainers.
Much like Wahoo’s Kickr smart trainers, the Kickr Bike delivers eerily smooth power lines when using workouts. It’s gratifying to see tidy bar graphs — “I’m doing exactly what is prescribed!” — but it’s not exactly realistic. This is caused by a smoothing algorithm.
I tested power measurement with a pair of Garmin Vector 3 pedals, which I have in turn tested against other meters and other smart trainers and found to be reliable. The Kickr Bike and the Vector 3s read within 1% of each other, in both workouts and standard free riding in Zwift. In my experience, that’s a reassuringly close alignment.
In terms of noise, I measured the Kickr Bike at between 55 and 65dB when at 200w. There is a pretty big swing in sound based on cadence; faster pedaling means a bit more noise. Still, even at 65dB it is on the quiet end of smart trainers.
Initial set-up and ease of adjustment
The Bike is easy to set up, with quick-release adjustments for height and fore/aft adjustment for the saddle and the handlebars.
The Wahoo app can be used to get the fit right, by taking a picture of your bike. In my experience, the app got most of the measurements in the correct ballpark except the saddle height, which was way off. But honestly it’s easy to set up manually, by leveling the bike, setting the saddle height and fore/aft off the bottom bracket, then setting the stack and reach of the bars.
One selling point of smart bikes is the same as standard indoor bikes: It’s easy to swap between multiple users.
The app also lets you set up your virtual gear selection, and shifting type (Shimano, SRAM or Campagnolo). The levers feel great in shape and function, easily surpassing the options from Tacx, Wattbike and Stages, which also make smart bikes. Shifting feels similar to shifting an actual bike, with quick changes in cadence and, notably, in sound.
An LCD screen on the top tube shows gear selection and gradient. The screen often ends up obscured by a towel, in my experience. I suppose its location on the frame instead of the cockpit allows you to swap out the stem or bars for your own, if you so desire.
There are five effective crank lengths to choose from, which really lets you replicate your outdoor-bike fit.
Kickr Bike initial verdict
It is cool? Yes, I think it is. Riding an undulating bike that you can shift, with a fairly natural pedaling feel, accurate power measurement, and smooth resistance control is a novel and engaging experience.
How will it hold up over the long term? We will have to see. Wahoo, like all smart trainer makers, has experienced some product issues over the years that meant users had to exchange a faulty trainer for a new one. Wahoo has great customer service, but the logistics concern of having to return a full-size, 90lb smart bike is valid.
In my limited experience, the Kickr Bike is a blast to ride, has accurate power measurement, and besides the novel tilting feature, also offers a sophisticated ERG workout experience.