Okay, I’m a geek and I like toys. Earlier this year I decided to give the new Wahoo Kickr a try, and thought I’d share my thoughts on how it compares to the tried and true RacerMate CompuTrainer (CT).
This isn’t a review of each product, but rather just my thoughts on each after using the Kickr for about 5 months and the CT for about 3 years. For great reviews on each, see:
- Wahoo Kickr
Here’s what I see of the Pros & Cons of each:
CT – Pros:
- Software & hardware well tried. Not a lot of hiccups. Once you have the system, no additional or ongoing costs.
- It has a lot of courses preloaded. It also has real course video options, so you can actually see the real course. The courses give you some idea if how the real course will feel, although its not 100% (I did a comparison of the real and profiled Ironman CDA course on my website). Can race against a previous workout you did, defined wattage pacer, etc.
- There are free websites available to create ERG files, which allow you to dial in program in specific wattages and times to create workouts. This is what I use for typical weekly workouts prescribed by my coach.
- It will do a Spinscan analysis, allowing you to get a left / right leg analysis. I’ve used this before and after bike fitting to analyze the improvement.
CT – Cons:
- “Old” technology. Doesn’t communicate on an open protocol, although its been around long enough that several software companies have written drivers that talk to CT. Graphics are simple… like a cartoon. Runs only on Windows.
- Unless you use something like CT Ant software, it won’t work wirelessly with your existing Ant cadence /speed sensors. CT Ant is software you purchase. CT Ant requires additional setup, and has some hiccups of it’s own (occasionally missing cadence points).
- When I’ve tested my CT against my power tap power meter, my power meter always runs higher wattage than the CT. I think this is due to friction loss in the wheel. Not a big deal… I think this is probably true with most trainers.
- My biggest CT issue has been with tire problems. I’ve literally melted down several tires on the CT. I’ve had the same happen with trainer specific tires too. I sent it back to RacerMate at one point, and they worked on it. It was better, but still happens at times. I’ve seen this in the web, and have a local friend who has experienced the same issue. I think it’s more if a problem on longer high power rides. I also think lining up your rear wheel relative to the trainer is important.
- New technology. Both Ant+ and Bluetooth smart. Open protocol for future software. Can be controlled from Mac or Windows computers.
- Feels more realistic or road-like, in that it coasts much longer than the CT.
- No tire issue, as it it doesn’t use one.
- Some software and drivers can be done using iPhones or iPads rather than full computers.
- Not the same selection of software or courses. I use Trainer Road to create workouts (which also works for the CT too), but that costs $10 per month subscription. I’m evaluating PerPro Studio, a third party software that doesn’t require a subscription ($100, available for both Kickr or CT), which does include workouts and courses. Neither display riders on a course, like a CT. There are other paid options available, such as Strava. It appears that more an more options are available for the Kickr, as they make the drivers readily available (as opposed to CT who does not make their protocols available to third parties).
- A little more buggy, using Ant communication protocol, which is used for windows machines. It loses power control usually once or twice per hour for me for a minute or two each time. I didn’t have this issue when using a Mac and Bluetooth smart. This is a frustration that I haven’t been able to fix… I’m not sure if it is the Kickr or Trainer Road.
- Feels like it reacts faster in ERG mode (setting specific power levels), meaning it is a little less forgiving. If you slow down it ramps power quickly, which makes setting specific watts at higher power more problematic (or at least harder to maintain physically at higher wattages).
Overall, both have been good products for me. But, that doesn’t mean they have been without problems. In fact, I’ve had both back to the factory. The CT went back because of it’s habit of eating tires. The Kickr because it had a bad bearing.
In the end, I am happier with the Kickr, and glad I made the change. I simply could not work out the rear tire problem… it was eating too many tires and ruining too many rides (stopping to change tires). This isn’t really a problem for rides less than 1.5 hours… but over that I just didn’t have confidence that my tire would last. I also think RacerMate’s decision not to share their communication protocol will be a bad decision. They took several years to develop their latest software (which I bought… RacerMate One) and frankly it’s not that much of an improvement over the old software. Their lack of native Ant integration is silly, given the dominance of the Ant sensors on the market. It’s a solid product that has failed to evolve effectively, given the increasing competition, and the market will move past it.
Should you make the change? Hmmm… If you are not having the tire problem and are relatively happy with what you have, stay with the CT. Keep in mind, new hardware, new software, new setup with a Kickr… not everything always goes smoothly. If you have the tire issue, or are simply geeky and like new things, I think you’ll find it worth the change. Plus, you still may be able to sell your CT on Ebay at a reasonable price. If you wait and the market passes CT by, the value will diminish with time.
If you are interested in the Kickr, the DC Rainmaker link (review) above has a discount available from Clever Training for $100 off the retail price. (Disclosure… I bought both of these products and get no incentive whatsoever by any manufacturer or DC Rainmaker’s site… these are just my opinions.)
In terms of customer service, both Wahoo and RacerMate were fine, but not perfect. Wahoo was quick, shortly after I sent the video above they identified the bearing issue and sent me another Kickr under warranty. They let me keep the old one until the new one arrive, so it didn’t interrupt my training. The downside was they didn’t pay for return shipping on the old unit… and it weighs 59 lbs. I felt this was a little lame after paying for shipping on the original product.
RacerMate was nice enough to cover shipping costs and even sent me another Continental Trainer tire (which eventually… after a year or so… melted down). But, it took them a long time to agree to take it back. They told me it was the tire I was using (which was the same kind as they replaced), that my settings were wrong, that my wheel wasn’t round (I tried multiple wheels/tire combinations), etc. It wasn’t until I sent them a video documenting the wobble in the spindle where the tire sits that they agreed to look at it. They replaced parts, sent it back and it worked better thereafter, although never completely solved. I think it may be an inherent problem of having a small spindle creating a deeper tire deformity and high wattage / longer rides that create excess heat that eventually melts the tire. Note that I have not had this happen on my regular trainer, a Kurt Kinetic, where I’ve done 3+ hour rides… no tire issues with the larger tire spindle. In the end… not having a tire on the trainer is a distinct advantage for me.
Here’s a video of my bad bearing for the Kickr:
Here’s some pictures of my tire eating CT:
Update, February 2014:
I continue to be pleased with the upgrade of the Kickr over the CT. Since trading out the Kickr with the bad bearing, I have had no other issues with the Kickr. I have also noticed that the communication/power loss issues I experienced earlier happen very infrequently now… almost non-existent.
I have tried several options for software for the Kickr over time. Here are my thoughts on what I’ve tried:
- TrainerRoad. This is my day to day training software for the Kickr. Creating workouts is fairly quick and easy. They have some nice pre-canned training plans, as a fairly large library of existing workouts. Again, the issues I had previously with signal losses seems to have been overcome in the software upgrades along the way.
- Cycleops Virtual Training software. I also subscribe to this service, primarily due to the ability to ride outdoor courses. The service allows you to access rides all over the world, and some have video associated with them. When riding without video, you can also choose a Google Maps option, which is like a fly over viewpoint. I wouldn’t say the library is extensive, but you can add rides to the library, which become available to everyone (via TXC file and some modification). The quality of the rides depends on who downloaded the ride and whether they smoothed out the natural variations in the original GPS files. Files without smoothing tend to have quick variations in slope… somewhat unrealistic of real roads. Here is an example of the Alpes d’Huez ride I did on Garmin. This was a neat ride in that it has video, but it wasn’t smoothed well so it has some quick slope changes. Here is a course I created in Norway, as I’m thinking about doing the Ax Tri in 2015. I was able to download someone else’s Garmin file from a previous race and use it to create a new course. I then smoothed the GPS file (as part of the Cycleops software) to avoid unrealistic power spikes (i.e slopes going from 8% to 18% in a few feet). The really cool thing is that it gives me a chance to train climbing for extended distances, and helps me to get a general idea of how long the climbs are likely to take me in the race. I subscribe to the iPad version only, and have used it in both Ant and bluetooth modes, and didn’t have problems with either protocol (I use a Viiiiva HR strap that will send both bluetooth and Ant protocols, and have both an Ant and Bluetooth cadence sensors on my bike). The software was easy to use on the iPad (I have an iPad Air), and surprisingly it had no problem running the courses with associated video. Note that to create courses, you need to download and install software on a PC… unfortunately no Mac options. The software does have the ability to create structured workouts, like TrainerRoad (even on the iPad), although I haven’t tested this option personally. The software allows easy uploading of completed rides to mapmyride, Strava, RunKeeper, and TrainingPeaks, right from you iPad. Note that when you ride an outdoor course, it even uploads the simulated GPS data as well. They do have the option to try the software before you commit to the service. Overall I think it’s a neat platform to be able to do both structured rides and outdoor simulated rides.
- I also have purchased the Strava segments app for my iPad. It can be entertaining for a while, but I haven’t found it useful for significant training purposes. Essentially the software allows you to ride existing Strava segments. The benefit is that there are a lot of segments available. The downside is that most of the segments are relatively short… meaning to get a workout in you need to keep picking segments to ride. The other issues I had were again that much of the GPS data is raw and tends to jump in slope quickly. After playing with the software a bit, I did find an option to be able to smooth the courses as part of the playback, which helped quite a bit. The last issue… and this isn’t limited to Strava, but I believe is a Kickr software setup issue… is that I am not able to define my own aerodynamic profile. If you go into the Wahoo software on a mobile device, you can set up what type of bike you have (road, Tri bike, etc.). But, it defines your CdA and essentially your aerodynamic properties. So, when I try to ride Strava segments where I’m KOM, I can’t come even close to my existing speed / times, even if I put out more power. Again, I don’t think this is a Strava Segments issue in particular, but I was able to see this clearly when riding against my local segments. Overall, it’s mildly entertaining, but I’d rather use the CycleOps software above for outdoor ride simulation.
- PerPro Studio. I wasn’t able to really get enough time on this software in the demo mode, so I eventually purchased it to really see how it worked with the Kickr. Overall, it reminded me somewhat of the old CT software, in the that user interface is a bit dated. It also has a lot of setup options, and not everything is intuitive. It allows you to use old CT courses, create courses, create workouts, etc. Here’s an example of my ride of Escape from Alcatraz, which is an old CT course. Again, some of the same limitations exist here as the other options… un-smoothed courses create quick power spikes (note the 800 watt spike), and even though you can change some aspects of riding, you can’t define a specific CdA. Overall, with the outdated graphics and somewhat cumbersome interface, I’d recommend one of the first two options above instead.
- VeloReality. In the notes below, I had some comments on VeloReality trainer software, so I gave it a brief trial. Overall, I think it may be a good option, with some current limitations. It has both workout mode and video mode, although I tried the video option only (of Alpe ‘d Huez). My overall impression was that the graphics were excellent… which was also part of the problem. Although the laptop I use in my exercise room is a 64 bit machine running Windows 7, the HD video graphics proved to be too much for my computer and brought it to a halt part way thought the ride (froze up). Up to that point, the video was the best I have seen for an outdoor simulation (not shaky, no side to side motion, etc.), and the software was easy to operate and intuitive. From the comments below, it looks like they may be considering a standard definition option to lighten up the computer requirements, and may be building their video libraries. Although I didn’t get to the steeper sections of the ride before my computer crashed, I didn’t see any weird power spikes due to un-smoothed GPS data in the ride. With the software being free and the videos at less than $15 each (much cheaper than the old CT real course videos), this may be a nice option to consider if you have the computer processing power available.
Overall, the software options continue to grow and improve for the Kickr. I’m sure there are many other great options out there, beyond what I have tried in the list above. Please let me know below if you have questions or comments.