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Hands-on Gear Review
Wahoo Fitness Kickr Review
Cons: Heavy, expensive.
Bottom line: A top of the line direct drive smart trainer that narrowly missed out on our Editors' Choice Award.
This well-designed direct drive smart trainer narrowly missed an Editors' Choice Award. It scored high in nearly every area of our comparative testing but ultimately could not match the superior road feel of the Cycleops Hammer. A maximum resistance level of 2000 watts combined with the ability to simulate grades of up to 20 percent hint at the intended target audience of this trainer. This is a tool for the serious athlete who puts a premium on accuracy and control.
RELATED REVIEW: The Best Bike Trainers of 2017
Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
Wahoo has cemented itself in the top tier of smart trainer brands, with quality products and an intuitive proprietary application that makes using their complex trainers manageable even for the technologically averse athlete. The Kickr sits at the top of their product range and has proven to be one of the most popular smart trainers on the market. The Kickr is supported by a vast pool of third-party applications, and it performed admirably in our comparative testing.
Connectivity and Power Accuracy
The Kickr is the highest scoring product we tested and earns a 9/10. The Wahoo fitness application is by far the easiest to use of any of the proprietary applications included with the trainers we tested. We had no problems connecting to the mobile application on IOS or Android devices, and the automatic firmware updates are awesome. The Hammer Direct Drive also scores highly here, but we give the edge to Wahoo, mainly because the CVT application that comes with the Hammer Direct is not compatible with Mac computers. Connectivity with both Trainer Road and Zwift was seamless and really set the standard for our expectations from the other trainer brands.
Power accuracy was also excellent, with continuous steady readings within one percent of our Quarq crank based power meter used during testing. The Hammer Direct was equally impressive with similar accuracy. Tire drive trainers such as Tacx Vortex showed more variability in power readings and had more drift from baseline accuracy during long sessions on the trainer. Our only complaint with the Kickr is that it seems to lag a bit behind the instantaneous changes in power displayed by the Hammer Direct during sprint like efforts. We feel that this is not necessarily a measure of decreased accuracy on the part of the Kickr, but more likely a difference in the way the trainer smooths data for display. If power accuracy is of great importance to you then you can not go wrong with the Kickr.
The Kickr is not a lightweight piece of equipment, at 44 pounds it is one of the heavier trainers we tested, but it is three pounds lighter than its closest competito,r the Hammer Direct. The legs fold up, making for a relatively small package, making it easy to store or transport in a car. Our testers found it marginally easier to carry than the Hammer Direct due to a well-placed carry handle and a slightly less obtrusive shape when folded. The main downside to the Kickr is its lack of resistance when not connected to power. You can spin on it, but the resistance tops out in the 120 watt range. The Hammer Direct provides a bit more resistance, at 250 watts, but neither is a great tool for a pre-race warmup. The only smart trainer we tested that does offer a solid level of resistance without power is the Tacx Vortex.
The all-steel frame of the Kickr looks solid and durable. It stands in stark contrast to the fully encased design of the Hammer Direct. While aesthetically we like the look of the Kickr, the Hammer Direct seems better suited to protecting the electronic components and resistance unit than the Kickr. The Kickr also has the unique ability to lower the height of the cassette, to better match the height of various wheel sizes, which provides a level ride regardless of wheel size. The Hammer Direct does not have this feature.
Accessories and Compatibility
Unlike the Hammer Direct, the Kickr does not come with a front wheel block. It does come with a Sram 11-speed cassette. We initially liked that the cassette was included, but after using the included cassette we ended up removing it and replacing it with a higher quality Ultegra cassette that provided much better shifting performance.
Despite using a Sram drivetrain we were unable to get the cassette to provide reliable shifting. One unique accessory that is only found on the Kickr is a cadence sensor that attaches to your shoe. We initially had trouble getting it to pair but discovered it was shipped with a dead battery and a new battery resolved the issue. While having a cadence sensor is not a necessity, it is a nice feature.
The Kickr is compatible with 130mm and 135mm quick release rear hub bikes, and like the Hammer Direct, it will also work with 142mm through axle frames. However, you will need to purchase the 142mm axle separately for the Kickr, they are included as standard equipment with the Hammer Direct. The **Kicker is not compatible with 148mm(Boost).
The Kickr offers standout road feel and is only eclipsed by the exceptional perfect 10 score of the Hammer Direct. In our roll-out test, the Kickr took 53 seconds to slow to a stop from 200 watts, compared to the 2:30 time of the Hammer Direct. Flywheel weight likely plays a role in this as the Kickr flywheel weighs 12.5 pounds compared to the massive 20-pound flywheel found on the Hammer Dirrect. Both trainers have really good road feel, but the Kicker just does not have the same level of inertia and smoothness found on the Hammer Direct.
Again, the Hammer Direct has much smoother, more life-like resistance changes in both SIM mode and in ERG mode. The difference is much more pronounced in SIM mode when transitioning onto a steep slope, but even in ERG mode the Kicker can not quite match the smooth transitional feel of the Hammer Direct. There is, however, a noticeable difference between the Kickr and the Kicker Snap that is our highest rated tire drive trainer, with the Kickr being much smoother.
Rider Power Output Changes
Sharp increases in rider power output tend to send smart trainers into catch-up mode as they try to increase resistance to balance the incoming load. The Kickr does a good job of mitigating the slam on the brakes feel but is still outmatched by the Hammer Direct.
The Kickr is the highest scoring smart trainer we tested for setup.
The trainer comes out of the box essential ready to ride. The application setup is fast and simple, compared to all other smart trainers tested. With the cassette pre-installed you will not have the additional step of adding a cassette that you get with the Hammer Direct, assuming you have an 11-speed drivetrain. The **Kicker does need to be set for wheel size to provide a level setup, but this is a fast process and one you will only need to repeat if you are switching types of bikes on the trainer. The legs easily fold out by pulling up on the blue lock pins and snap into the open position. All that is required to get onto riding is placing your bike on the trainer, which is essentially the same process as putting a wheel on your bike. We did have some difficulty dialing in shifting with the included cassette and ended up swapping to a higher quality Ultegra model, but this is not necessary. Initial calibration takes a few minutes and then you are set to go.
Once the initial setup is complete there is not much ongoing maintenance, other than a monthly recalibration. Compared to tire drive models like the Kickr Snap and the Tacx Vortex that require daily calibration, the Kickr is as simple as it gets.
The Kickr is best suited to cyclists looking to improve their performance with consistent controlled off-season training. Ideally, this trainer would remain in the pain cave, as it is not well suited to a warmup where electrical power is not present. This is also a great trainer for the athlete who wishes to use their mountain or cyclocross bike on the trainer as it eliminates issues with knobby tires on a drum that you get with tire drive models.
The Kickr is the same price as the higher scoring Hammer Direct Drive, but we feel that it represents a good value. It comes with a cassette, which can save you a bit of money if you don't have a spare laying around.
The Kickr solid direct drive trainer that blows away the majority of the competition. It is truly only rivaled by the Hammer Direct, and despite not winning our Editors' Choice Award we would not hesitate to recommend it to a friend.
Other Versions and Accessories
Kickr 142x12 Thru Axle Adapter
-Adapter for 142x12 Axle
Wahoo Fitness Bike Desk
— Curtis Smith
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