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Wahoo Kickr turbo trainer and KOM bundle review

1 Apr 2020
Verdict:

The Wahoo Kickr is not cheap but has a realistic feel, low noise, superb third-party App compatibility

Cyclist Rating: 
Price: 
£1769.96
For 
• Realistic • Quiet • Easy to store
Against 
• Slightly expensive

While we are all under the constraints of a lockdown, the Wahoo Kickr and KOM bundle brings as much of the outdoor experience to your indoor training environment as possible and might offer more benefits than you’d immediately think.

It would be easy to view the Wahoo Kickr Climb – a motorised, Bluetooth connected unit that replaces the front wheel and automatically tilts the bike up and down according to the road gradient in third party apps such as Zwift, and the Kickr Headwind – a similarly-automated Bluetooth fan unit that alters the wind speed according to your effort and speed – as expensive gimmicks.

After all, the training doesn’t get any more effective with these additional reality features…does it?

Well, according to Wahoo, the answer is yes. Beyond just adding the next-level of virtual reality to your indoor training environment having the bike alter its angle as you climb means that you are also recruiting your muscles in a very true-to-life way, which ultimately will have a more specific training benefit, over purely laying down your watts in static fashion on a stationary trainer.

Not to mention the Wahoo Kickr Climb also allows you to ride in or out of the saddle, as you like, so your riding and training take on a more realistic feel in this regard too.

Here’s what else we discovered, in our in-depth review…

Wahoo Kickr turbo trainer and KOM bundle in-depth review

With its new Kickr, Wahoo has really only tweaked a few details from the outgoing model; namely a quieter belt drive system, a marginally heavier flywheel, plus a new rubberised handle.

The latter not only enables a more secure hold with sweaty hands, but also its position balances the unit much better as you lift, which might seem like the tiniest of details but does mean less chance of it taking lumps out of your shins when you need to shift the Kickr around.

In a nutshell, the original model had very few niggles to correct, so it’s a case of, evolution not revolution, ‘if it aint broke….’, and all that.

Best of all, though, Wahoo hasn’t hiked the price.

Buy the K.O.M. bundle now from Wahoo Fitness

The latest Kickr remains the same, at just one penny shy of £1k, but additionally there are now two completely new bolt-on products we’re going to take a look at here: the Kickr Headwind (essentially a Bluetooth Smart controlled fan unit) and the Kickr Climb, an incline simulator that takes virtual reality training to the next level.

We’ve put the full K.O.M. bundle through its paces to find what you’re getting for over £1700 of your hard earned.

What you need to know:

K.O.M. Bundle consists of:

Wahoo Kickr Smart Trainer (2018 edition): £999.99
Wahoo Kickr Headwind: £199.99
Wahoo Kickr Climb: £499.99
Wahoo Kickr floor mat: £69.99
Complete System: £1769.96

Wahoo has a solid reputation for its smart trainers and the previous Kickr Smart Trainer was a firm favourite (both with us, and generally), especially amongst those seeking a more interactive training experience with third-party applications such as Zwift and Trainer Road etc.

As you’d expect there are very few Apps the Wahoo Kickr will not sync up with and, to be fair, if it doesn’t connect with them there’s probably a reason, i.e. they’re not really worth using.

How you use the Kickr Smart, though, is up to you, and to be clear here it doesn’t need to be paired with any third party Apps at all to be an outstanding indoor trainer.

As a standalone direct drive unit (which means the bike connects directly to it with rear wheel removed, as opposed to the rear tyre driving on a roller) the Kickr Smart has a really realistic and stable ride feel, delivering accurate (+/- 2%) power data.

That said, we can’t deny where the Kickr Smart really shines is in the world of virtual training, especially with the addition of the new Kickr Climb and Headwind accessories, with which you’d be hard pushed to imagine a more realistic riding experience on an indoor trainer.

Price and competition:

At a penny shy of £1k the Wahoo Kickr Smart trainer is certainly at the top end of the pricing spectrum, but there are indeed trainers a few hundred pounds more expensive, for which it’s hard to see what extra benefits they are providing.

As such, we’d say the Kickr Smart seems to be acceptably priced given its high-quality construction and solid performance especially with such a stacked list of features and available add-ons.

More expensive alternatives:

Tacx Neo 2 Smart Trainer £1199.99
Elite Drivo II Smart Trainer £1199.99

The same price or cheaper alternatives:

CycleOps H2 £999
Jet Black Whisper Drive Pro Smart Trainer £849.99
Elite Direto £769.99
Wahoo Kickr Core smart trainer £699.99
Tacx Flux S £549.99
Kickr Snap trainer £499.99

Design

The latest Kickr Smart trainer, released back at the end of last summer, still looks a lot like its predecessor and in many ways, that’s because it is.

It’s more a case of refinements to the overall experience than a complete redesign. Wahoo offers superb compatibility with all the current frame and industry rear axle standards, across road, mtb, cyclocross and gravel bike platforms, with various adapters included in the box.

The base is also easily adjusted to accommodate different wheel sizes (with no tools required). We’ve tested the Kickr Smart with a variety of different bikes and it never took more than a few minutes to switch settings and be ready to go.

It’s a small thing - but nonetheless important - that the power lead is very generous in length. It means you don’t need to be parked right next to a wall socket, which is an appreciably nice touch.

The Kickr Headwind is a neat looking fan unit. Some might say it’s staggeringly expensive at £200 (for what is essentially just a fancy fan) but if you want the most realistic ride feel, then it does add to the overall experience as it will automatically (either in line with heart rate or speed, you decide) increase or decrease its fan strength accordingly.

Ergo, if you ride faster it blows faster (up to 30mph) adding an ultra real-life dimension to your indoor sessions, not to mention of course, keeping you cool.

The same goes for the Kickr Climb. It’s sleek and unobtrusive generally, and very simple to connect to the bike, essentially taking the place of the front wheel (again adapters for different axle standards supplied).

Like the Headwind fan, once again it’s not cheap but is all about the deliverance of the most realistic indoor riding experience, so I guess its perceived value will vary according to the expectations of the individual.

The climb can be adjusted manually if you’re using the Kickr in Erg mode to simulate gradients – ascents up to 20% and descents up to 10% - or when paired to a third party App, such as Zwift, it will automatically mimic all aspects of the road according to the virtual world your following - not just the climbs but descents too.

Aesthetic appeal is hardly a high priority for an indoor trainer (unless of course, you’re leaving it set up in the centre of your living room), but we think the new Kickr is undoubtedly one of the smartest looking packages and it does fold away neatly for ease of storage too.

Features

The updated design includes an improved toothed drive belt, which Wahoo claims helps to makes the new Kickr Smart 14% quieter than its predecessor. There’s a slightly heavier flywheel – now at 725g – too, helping make this version provide, according to Wahoo, its most realistic ride feel yet.

It has all the connectivity you would expect of a top end trainer; Bluetooth Smart, ANT+, ANT+FEC which means it’s possible to use the Kickr with practically any tablet, smartphone or PC laptop etc. (although worth noting some laptops may require an additional USB ANT+ dongle for full compatibility, but these can be picked up cheaply; from around £15 on Amazon).

Generously, Wahoo supplies the Kickr Smart with a Shimano 105 11-speed cassette, which means it’s ready to ride straight out of the box (assuming you’re running 11 speed Shimano, or Sram, that is).

It’s compatible with most other options too in the 9-11 speed range, but worth noting a Campagnolo cassette would not fit the freehub, so would require a compatible cassette from a third party brand, but that is ultimately not a huge problem.

Also, note there is no 12 speed Sram compatibility at this stage (although we’re certain Wahoo will have a solution soon).

Oddly the Kickr Smart does not yet have its own in-built cadence sensor, but Wahoo does at least include its own WahooRpm2 pod in the box, which must be attached to the crank arm of the bike if you want to measure/record cadence values.

Admittedly, that’s all of a 2-minute job, but the only hassle comes if you’re wishing to use different bikes on the Kickr Smart, as it will need to be transferred from bike to bike. It would help, in this scenario, to buy additional cadence sensors if you want to save time.

As mentioned previously the trainer can be used as a standalone unit (without any third party connections and without the Climb and Headwind accessories) and then is easily controlled via the Wahoo smartphone app or bar-mounted computer such as Garmin or Wahoo’s own Element.

Wahoo claims the Kickr Smart offers 2,200 Watts of resistance. We can’t actually validate that fact, so we’ll have to take Wahoo at its word, as there are few people on this earth that could indeed verify those kinds of values.

Performance

Arguably the most important aspect of any indoor trainer is ride feel. In this regard the performance of Kickr Smart is exemplary.

The ride feel is smooth and wonderfully progressive as you increase your effort level. It truly does feel very close to the sensation of riding outdoors.

Also important is that the trainer feels secure and sturdy, to give you the confidence to do maximal sprint efforts and the like. Again the Kickr Smart delivered. It’s solid and dependable, not at all flimsy or flexy.

It stood firm against our best efforts on the bike, and importantly it stayed put during sprints, plus there were no nasty creaks or irritating noises.

While we’re on the topic of noise; the old model was already pretty quiet, so the fact the new Kickr claims to be 14% quieter again, certainly makes it one of the quietest Smart Trainers on the market.

It’s certainly quiet enough, even during eyeballs-out sprint efforts, such that there should be no worries using the Kickr Smart in a flat or workplace, where noise might disrupt others.

Chances are you’ll be making more of a din with your heavy breathing.

Wahoo claims the Kickr Smart is accurate to +/- 2%. This seemed to check out when compared to other power meters used simultaneously, such as Quarq D-Zero cranks and a Stages crank.

Comparing the power traces showed almost perfect symmetry. If we had to call it, perhaps the Kickr Smart had the slightest (and we are talking slight) tendency to over-read.

It’s always worth performing a calibration each and every time (it only takes 30 seconds) to ensure the most accurate readings.

The K.O.M. bundle is for those that want the most realistic feel possible from their indoor training experience.

The Kickr Climb module (which replaces the front wheel) was easy to set up and just like the Kickr Smart trainer itself felt suitable stable and solid in use. It dramatically increases the realism when following set courses in virtual training Apps.

This adds an element of fun to a session as well as providing more specific training as by actually simulating climbing efforts it ensures you are recruiting your muscles in exactly the right way.

Again it’s about being as true to life as possible in an indoor training setting, and definitely not just a gaming gimmick.

The Headwind too is a great addition. It’s more than just a common-or-garden fan. Sensors control its output (or you can adjust it manually) so as either your speed or heart rate increases so too does the fan speed.

It undeniably provides that sense of realism of having wind in your face, not to mention ample cooling, that’s automatically appropriate to your effort level.

Our only small gripe with the Kickr Headwind is the power lead is not overly long, so in many situations, it will need to be plugged in via an extension lead to give you the freedom to position it for best effect.

Pairing the Kickr Smart trainer (and the accessories) using Bluetooth and/or ANT+ were both equally easy to connect and reliable and there are LED lights to show which are connected.

Buy the K.O.M. bundle now from Wahoo Fitness

Most importantly, connection dropouts were very rare, although we found if using multiple sensors on third-party apps, then it’s best to utilise both wireless platforms simultaneously.

For instance, the Kickr Smart connects almost instantly with Bluetooth but then with that connected on Zwift (for example), it seemed to us more reliable to use Ant+ for a heart rate belt and the cadence sensor. But this is really no more than a trial and error for the initial set-up and may also depend on the brand of individual accessories used.

Verdict

With the full K.O.M. bundle, you’ll be hard pushed to find a more realistic indoor experience than the Kickr Smart. It’s superb. Yes, granted, it’s one of the more expensive on the market, but it truly delivers a polished performance to justify its price tag.