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Hands-on Gear Review
Wahoo Fitness Kickr Snap Review
Cons: Heavy, needs electric power for use, lacks versatility with boost hub spacing
Bottom line: Best tire drive trainer in the test.
The Kickr Snap earning it the highest overall score of any tire drive trainer we tested. This smart trainer uses your rear tire to turn a highly evolved controllable electromagnetic resistance unit. Tire drive trainers have advantages and disadvantages when compared to the more expensive direct drive trainers like the CycleOps Hammer. The primary advantage of a tire drive trainer is a more affordable price point, and the Snap was a favorite among our testers and is the clear winner of our Top Pick Award for Tire Drive Smart Trainers. If the price of a direct drive model is a non-starter, and you want an advanced reliable smart trainer then look no further than the Kicker Snap.
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Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
Wahoo is far from the first brand to release a smart trainer. They are, though arguably the first brand to bring the Smart Trainer out of the gym and into the homes of cyclists in the USA. The Kickr Snap is a solid product that brings Apple computer like ease of use and intuitive design to the smart trainer and related applications. The electromagnetic resistance unit can create up to 1500watts of resistance, and simulate a grade of up to 12%, more than enough most non-super human athletes. Excellent road feel and a robust design won our testers over, and set it apart from the tire drive competition.
Connectivity and Power Accuracy
We applaud Wahoo for adopting the industry standard and including both ANT+ FEC and Bluetooth Smart communication protocols, as well as the ability to transmit on both simultaneously. The Wahoo Fitness mobile application proved to be a favorite amongst our testers for its extremely simple operation and navigation features, but also for the near instant pick up and pairing when used with both IOS phones and Android devices. We should note, that the functionality of the application is quite limited as compared to the CVT mobile application used on the Hammer Direct Drive.
The Wahoo fitness application is limited to user controlled target power setting in ERG mode, resistance changes, and a SIM mode that will simulate grade or wind resistance. It does keep track of time, speed, cadence, and heart rate. Comparatively, the CylceOps CVT application, as well as the Kinetic application, allow for more interactive training sessions with predetermined interval workouts and access to video simulation of outdoor rides. We did not find the simple nature of the application to be a great detriment to the Snap, as most of our testers preferred to use third party applications such as Zwift and TrainerRoad anyway. When it comes to ease of use the Wahoo Fitness application is unmatched.
The Snap scores lower than both the Hammer Direct Drive and the Kickr direct drive model when it comes to power accuracy. Wahoo claims power accuracy to be +/-5%, but during initial testing, we had quite variable power numbers ranging in the +/-15% range despite following the recommended calibration procedures. During ongoing testing and after performing multiple advanced spin down tests we began to see power accuracy fall within the +/5% range. Compared to the Tacx Vortex also a tire drive trainer, the power accuracy is much more consistent. We found that the Snap even if it was reading high or low compared to our Quarq crank based power meter would hold the percentage of discrepancy at a steady level throughout the training session. The Vortex shows a much greater amount of power drift during a long session, with the power accuracy decreasing as the ride progresses, and is most pronounced during long sustained threshold efforts. So what does all of this mean to you? The bottom line is that tire drive trainers, in general, lack the accuracy of a direct drive unit, but if you are going to go with a tire drive unit, the Kickr Snap is the most accurate option.
At 38lbs the Snap is not exactly what you would call lightweight. That said, the Hammer Direct Drive is almost 10lbs heavier, and the [[Kinetic Rock and Roll Smart Control is a half pound heavier still. Weight is certainly a factor in overall portability, but our testers found felt that the awkward nature of carrying a trainer with no discernable balance point was more of a detriment than weight. The Kickr direct drive model weighs 6lbs more than the Snap, but we found it to be easier and less awkward to carry and thus it scores higher than the Snap. To be fair, we found all of the tire drive trainers to be relatively awkward to carry due to the unbalanced nature of having the majority of the weight sitting on the side of the resistance unit.
Another factor that we take into account is the ability to use the trainer without a power connection. This comes into play for those that plan to use their trainer as a tool for warmups prior to races or events. The Snap, like most of the smart trainers we tested, does not offer much in the way of resistance when not connected to electrical power. The Vortex is the one exception, due to its design that uses both electromagnets as well as traditional magnets for resistance. You won't hurt the Snap by spinning on it with no power, but you also will not get much out of it. The Vortex gives a nice progressive resistance curve even with no power, and the non-smart trainers we tested like the Kinetic Road Machine are an even better option for the pre-race warm up because they require no power connection to function. The Snap is best suited to your home or office training sessions with easy access to 110v power.
The overall design of the Snap is solid and well thought out. We appreciate the durability and sturdiness provided by the all steel frame, and gladly accept the increased weight of the unit for the benefits of a burly frame. The Snap was amongst the most stable tire drive trainers we tested, with notably less flex and wobbly than the lighter weight Tacx Vortex which has a much less robust aluminum channel frame. We would like to see some sort of adjustable leg option to accommodate floors that are a bit out of level, as many of us are banished to the garage for our suffering sessions. Both the Kickr and the Hammer Direct Drive have adjustable legs and provide a more stable feel on an uneven surface. We also have to give Wahoo a nod of approval on the power cord design.
Unlike most smart trainers, the female end of the power cord is exposed on a short pigtail of wire, which prevents the plug from being damaged by a torsional pull that could occur if one were to trip over the cord, not a huge deal, but it is a nice touch on an obviously well thought out product. Our only other gripe is the exposed nature of the resistance unit which is prone to get splashed with sweat and sports drinks when you are really getting after it, but the only trainer we tested that has a protective case around the electronic bits is the high scoring Hammer Direct Drive.
Accessories and Compatibility
The Snap comes with a steel quick release to replace the stock one on your bike. It is necessary to use this to prevent damage to the aluminum quick release skewer that is likely on your personal bike. A wheel block is also included and should be used to stabilize the front wheel and to put your bike in a level position for training. The Snap is compatible with 130mm/135mm quick release axle systems and 142x12mm through-axle systems with an adapter that must be purchased separately.
The main factor of note here is that the trainer is not compatible with 148x12mm Boost Axel systems. In fact, the only trainer we tested that is compatible is the Hammer Direct Drive. So if you plan to use the trainer with a mountain bike check your rear hub spacing prior to purchase. As far as wheel size goes, you should have no problems with 650c, 700c, 26", 27.5", or 29". The drivetrain is really not an issue as the trainer will work with any drivetrain design.
When compared to other tire drive smart trainers, the Kickr Snap is in a league of its own. Our wind down test results were an impressive 45 seconds from 200 watts in the lowest resistance setting that allowed us to achieve the required wattage. The Snap has a 10.5lb flywheel, not the heaviest in the tire drive field, but more than enough to give it a really good sense of inertia. The Rock and Roll Smart Control has a heavier 14.3 lb flywheel and achieved a longer roll out time of 1:36, but our testers unanimously rated the overall feel of the Snap higher.
The roll out test we performed during testing gives us a good baseline, but how the trainer software interprets changes in grade when using applications like Zwift and Trainer Road in ERG mode also has a huge impact on the sensation at the pedals. The noise level of the Snap was surprisingly low at 54.5 decibels, at 230watts. Despite registering the lowest noise level, many of our testers felt that the Snap was loud. Following lots of side by side testing and retesting, we still found the Snap to register the lowest decibels of any trainer in the test, but what we discovered is that despite decibel levels some trainers just emit a more annoying sound than others and the whine of the Snap was not well liked.
Below we break down road feel into resistance changes and rider power output changes.
The changes in resistance initiated during ERG and SIM mode when using applications are very different. SIM mode is designed to increase resistance or decrease resistance in response to changes in grade. When using the Snap in SIM mode, we found the ramp up in resistance to be relatively smooth, but the Hammer Direct Drive was noticeably smoother as was the Kickr but to a lesser extent. Occasionally when using the Snap we felt an almost brake like increase in resistance, but this was only on the steepest of hills using Zwift. In ERG mode, resistance increases are by design more abrupt as the software is trying to force you into a higher power output. We found the increases to be more jarring than what we experienced on the Hammer Direct and found ourselves trying to increase cadence prior to the interval change to smooth the transition, a tactic we did not find necessary with the Hammer Direct. Overall, we would rank the Snap above average and feel that most users will adapt to its minor nuances with experience.
Rider Power Output Changes
When you stand up out of the saddle and accelerate on a steep climb, with the Snap it is possible to slip the rear tire. This is not an issue experienced on the direct drive trainers we tested, but is not a unique issue to the Snap, as we experienced this with all of the tire drive smart trainers. There is a fine line between too much and too little tension between the tire and the drum. Too much and power accuracy suffers while too little leads to tire slipping. Spending the time to get a good calibration before each session on the trainer is the best way to avoid this issue, but even a good initial calibration can not account for changes in tire pressure due to a slow air leak or increases in pressure due to heat build up. Unfortunately, this is just one on the inherent issues with the tire drive design.
We separate setup into the initial portion, getting it out of the box, application setup and pairing, and bike setup. The second portion and arguably the more important of the two is the ongoing day to day setup procedures that need to be undertaken before a ride.
The Snap comes out of the box fully assembled. We appreciate this and score it higher here as compared to the Tacx Vortex which requires more assembly, including attaching the resistance unit and drum to the frame of the trainer. The included quick release skewer must be used in place of the skewer on your bike, it is designed to mate with the cups on the ends of the clamping arms. The bike is attached to the trainer by clamping the quick release in the clamps and securing with the blue colored clamp handle. When installed correctly there should be no play in the rear of the bike when you attempt to rock it from side to side. Wahoo recommends following your tire manufacturer's pressure recommendation. We did all testing with 100psi in the rear tire for consistency. The blue knob is then tightened until the tire does not slip on the drum when holding the flywheel and trying to turn the tire by hand.
The first time you use the trainer you will want to download the Wahoo Fitness application on your smartphone and pair the trainer. The application will prompt you to perform firmware updates to the trainer if necessary. Follow the instructions for the "advanced spin down test" and you are ready to ride.
Each time you use the trainer you should ensure that your tire pressure is still adequate. In addition, you will need to set the drum tension after adjusting tire pressure, or whenever you remove your bike from the trainer. For accurate power measurement, it is critical that a spindown test is performed prior to every training session. It is best to do this following a 10min period of pedaling to allow the increase in tire pressure and changes in rubber rolling resistance due to temperature to occur. These calibration steps are a significant consumer of time when you are using the trainer multiple times a week, for this reason, the Snap scores lower than direct drive trainers like the Kickr and the Hammer Direct Drive which do not require daily calibration.
The Kickr Snap is best suited to those looking for a smart trainer who are unwilling to spend the additional $600 for a direct drive model. We also recommend it primarily to riders who intend to use a road bike on the trainer. Tire drive trainers, in general, are not well suited to use with knobby cyclocross or mountain bike tires as the tires tend to slip on the drum, cause excessive wear, and make a lot of noise.
For $600 the Snap is a great value. It will get you up and running with applications like Zwift and Trainer Road without the $1200 price tag of a direct drive trainer.
Tire drive trainers do not offer the power accuracy or versatility of direct drive trainers, but the price is hard to beat. The Snap is far superior to any other tire drive trainer we tested, and if a tire drive trainer is within your budget then this is the one to get.
— Curtis Smith
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