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Next generation Wattbike Atom review

18 Feb 2020
Verdict:

Not perfect, but an improvement on smart turbo trainers if you have space

Cyclist Rating: 
Price: 
£1,899
For 
Ease of setup • Plug and play simplicity • Looks
Against 
Gear shifting • Still not completely silent operation • Some variation in wattage from target watts

Having been a long-time user of Wattbikes, and more recently a range of smart turbo trainers for the occasional indoor ride when outside held no appeal, I was very curious about trying the new breed of indoor bikes that combined the purpose-build aspect of a static bike with the realism provided by a smart trainer.

Setup

First things first, in terms of getting the bike into the house, you'll quickly discover that it is heavy! In my case, living on the first floor of a London flat involved manhandling the 45kg of bike up a set of stairs and around some tight corners (I would certainly recommend getting some help if something similar is required in your case).

However, once up, the large jockey wheels made moving it around and into position a breeze. It is worth manoeuvring before assembling, especially in tight conditions, as the aerobars can restrict ability to tilt onto the jockey wheels once in place.

Within five minutes, the bike was assembled with pedals and aerobars attached, plugged in and ready to go. Unlike a previous version of the Atom that I have seen, the power block attaches to the underside of the bike, which makes it awkward to get to but provides some protection from the sweat that no doubt has potential to cause issues halfway through a Sufferfest workout. Alongside this is the on/off switch for the bike.

With the wide range of adjustment, it was not difficult to get the bike mimicking my road bike setup (except the 170mm cranks that can’t be changed or adjusted). The clear markings enable quick adjustments between users.

Looks are always subjective, but I personally think this Wattbike looks fantastic, especially compared to the alternatives from Tacx and Wahoo. This is important since unlike turbos that can be folded away, the Wattbike Atom cannot be rolled out of sight, and so visually it needs to be treated more like a piece of furniture (or art?).

 

Connectivity

Connectivity is straightforward. During my time with the bike I had no problems pairing it across a range of devices – including old- and new-generation iPads and iPhones, as well as MacBooks and Windows laptops.

One disappointing aspect was the lack of USB ports to allow charging of smart devices, something I would have expected as standard on a smart bike that requires third party devices to operate.

A couple of times my workout was cut short as I over-optimistically started a workout with 30% battery on my iPad.

The bike connected faultlessly with Zwift and TrainerRoad, the two apps that I predominantly use.

 

Noise

Having a downstairs neighbour (with superhuman hearing), a smart trainer that allowed training without incurring her wrath was a top priority, something that was not always possible with previous smart trainers I've used (e.g. Tacx Neo).

Steady efforts below 240W caused no issue, and gear changes were so quiet they could almost be missed, compared with the frequent heavy clunk of changing gear on a turbo.

Sprints and harder efforts caused some concern due to the vibrations, but only once did we receive the dreaded text from downstairs asking us to refrain from using the washing machine late in the evening…

 

Feel

My most frequently used method of using a smart trainer is Erg mode – allowing the trainer to adjust the resistance so you hit the required wattage.

I find this a fantastic way to train to get the most out of any workout. On the Atom, while the pedal stroke and resistance changes are smooth, there was more variation in the actual wattage vs target wattage than I have seen with other smart trainers (even my first-gen Tacx Neo Smart).

While this could not be felt, it was evident in the resultant profiles, something that for a trainer costing this much you would expect to be better aligned.

Wattbike Atom – Actual vs target wattage

Tacx Neo Smart – Actual vs target wattage

As with many other reviews that I have read, the gear changes on the Wattbike are slow compared to real life. This is something that may be updated through firmware, but removed some of the enjoyment of using it with the likes of Zwift.

However, the ability to change gears silently, to a point I sometimes couldn’t tell if I had changed gear at all, goes some way to offset this complaint for me.

The stability of the frame allows total confidence that you won’t go flying as you’re cranking up for a sprint on Zwift. I could barely get it to rock even when specifically trying to do so.

A high standover and the inability to tip the trainer makes mounting and dismounting more of an effort than it should be for a purpose-built bike, especially for my 170cm partner (the Tacx Neo Bike, for instance, has been designed with specifically this in mind).

 

Verdict

After her first ride, my partner’s first comment – 'can we get one?' – summed up our overall feelings on the Wattbike Atom.

While the functionality is no different to that of a smart trainer, the benefits of having a purpose-built indoor bike are obvious.

Would I sell my current trainer to get one? No, but next time I am looking for a replacement – or if I were buying a smart trainer for the first time, the Wattbike Atom would be at the top of my list.