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Kinetic Road Machine 2.0 Fluid Review

Kinetic Road Machine 2.0 Fluid
Best Buy Award
Price:   $349 List | $339.00 at REI
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  Affordable, simple, durable, fast setup, portable.
Cons:  No smart trainer features.
Bottom line:  A simple affordable fluid trainer with solid road feel.
Editors' Rating:   
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Manufacturer:   Kinetic

Our Verdict

The Kinetic Road Machine is a simple fluid drive trainer that is foolproof and easy to use. The robust design and excellent road feel set it apart from other non-smart trainers we tested. An affordable price with solid scores in all of our comparative testing fields makes it the obvious choice for our Best Buy Award. Make no mistake, this may be an affordable product but it is by no means an inferior piece of equipment. If you are not interested in the more technically advanced smart trainer options like the Hammer Direct Drive then this is the trainer for you.

Looking to upgrade?
The InRide sensor allows the Road Machine to be used with Zwift and other applications  the Jet Fluid Pro does not have an option for application connection.
For $399 (compared to $349) consider upgrading to the Kinetic Road Machine Smart, the same trainer we tested with the Kinetic inRide sensor, that allows for connection with Zwift and TrainerRoad. For the tech-savvy rider or the obsessive data collector, this trainer is an awesome way to get a little more out of one of our favorite trainers.


RELATED REVIEW: The Best Bike Trainers of 2017


Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results

Review by:
Curtis Smith
Senior Review Editor
OutdoorGearLab

Last Updated:
Saturday
May 20, 2017

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Kinetic have been in the stationary bike trainer business for a long time. Their lime green trainers reside in many private pain caves. Prior to the widespread rollout of smart trainers, most riders would tell any inquiring new rider to get either a Kinetic fluid trainer or a CycleOps. The Road Machine has been out for several years and is one of the best fluid trainers on the market. It boasts a burly steel frame and a heavier than average flywheel. You don't need a plug or a smartphone app, just mount up your bike and ride. Changing gears on your bike adjusts the resistance. There is a lot to be said for the simplicity of a fluid trainer and this is one of the best.

Performance Comparison



The Kinetic Road Machine is a basic fluid trainer  but the road feel is superior to the CycleOps Jet Fluid Pro.
The Kinetic Road Machine is a basic fluid trainer, but the road feel is superior to the CycleOps Jet Fluid Pro.

Connectivity and Power Accuracy


The Road Machine does not measure power as tested, so it receives a low score here. Kinetic does offer a little device called the inRide, which is a sensor that reads the speed of the tire drum. The resistance of a fluid trainer is based on wheel speed. As the tire drum turns it turns an impeller in the fluid chamber of the resistance unit, the faster the speed of drum the higher the resistance. So by knowing how many watts it takes to move the drum at a given speed the inRide sensor can calculate power data and send it to applications like Zwift and TrainerRoad. We did not test the inRide sensor and it adds $50 to the price of the trainer. Based on our experience with tire drive smart trainers, it is likely that the power data is not all that accurate.


Tire pressure, and the amount of pressure applied by the tensioning knob to the tire, drastically affect the power readings of other tire drive trainers and without a calibration mechanism to filter out the effect it is difficult to see how a device such as the inRide could be all that accurate. But if you are determined to get on Zwift it is an option. What we can say is that by comparing speed and power numbers at the start and pegging our workouts on the Road Machine we know that the resistance unit is very stable. Meaning resistance is not affected by heat buildup to any measureable extent. In contrast, the CycleOps Jet Fluid Pro showed changes in resistance as the temperature of the unit increased, the resistance also increased. This effect quickly leveled off, but it supports the Kinetic claims of temperature stability of their silicone-based fluid in the resistance chamber.

The Road Machine does not connect to any apps or provide power data  just a fluid resistance unit that provides smooth resistance.
The Road Machine does not connect to any apps or provide power data, just a fluid resistance unit that provides smooth resistance.

Portability


Low weight and a compact size when folded up make the Road Machine one of the highest scoring products we tested with a score of 9/10. The Jet Fluid Pro and the Tacx Vortex are both lighter and score slightly higher. The Vortex is also easier to carry than the Road Machine due to its innovative wheel block that doubles as a carry handle when clamped in the quick release mechanism.


While not particularly difficult to carry, the Road Machine lacks a convenient handle or balance point to carry from. A lack of reliance on electrical power for resistance is another factor that led to a high portability score. Most of the smart trainers we tested require electricity to provide a functional resistance level. If you need a trainer for pre-race warmups, then a fluid trainer may be a better choice than a smart trainer. One of the exceptions is the Tacx Vortex that provides progressive resistance up into the 400-watt range with no electrical connection.

The Road Machine folds up into a compact package  but the lack of a handle or good balance point make it a bit awkward to carry.
The Road Machine folds up into a compact package, but the lack of a handle or good balance point make it a bit awkward to carry.

Design


A burly steel frame and some unique design features earn the Road Machine a score of 8/10. The overall design is excellent; this trainer is capable of handling years of frequent use. Highlights include a heavy-duty frame that we found to offer greater stability than the lighter weight CycleOps Jet Fluid Pro and the Tacx Vortex.


The clamp mechanism that holds the rear quick release is less refined than the lever style closure found on the Jet Fluid Pro, but it is very durable and offers a huge range of adjustments. Both sides of the clamp are threaded and have large comfortable knobs for dialing in the tension for a stable ride. The drive side knob has a quick release lever that allows it to be released once the majority of the tension is off. Tire drum tension is set using a threaded knob that draws the drum up against the tire. The system is solid and foolproof, but not quite as easy to use as the clutch knob found on the Jet Fluid Pro, which takes the guesswork out of tire tension adjustment.

The small knob on the resistance unit is used to tension the drum against the tire.  Though it is not visible from the outside  the resistance unit is filled with silicone fluid. The metal fins are designed to dissipate heat.
The small knob on the resistance unit is used to tension the drum against the tire. Though it is not visible from the outside, the resistance unit is filled with silicone fluid. The metal fins are designed to dissipate heat.

One standout feature necessary to mention is the innovative design of the resistance mechanism. Most fluid trainers, including the Jet Fluid Pro, have a drive shaft that extends from the roller drum into the fluid chamber. Seals prevent fluid from leaking from the chamber. Kinetic uses an entirely different approach. Rather than a drive shaft that penetrates the fluid chamber, they use a system of magnets that transfers the rotational force of the roller through a separating wall to the impeller inside the fluid chamber. The result is a virtually leak-proof system, with no seals that are prone to wear and failure. We should note that we had no issues with seal failure on our Jet Fluid Pro from CycleOps during testing. However, many of our testers have extensive experience with CycleOps fluid trainers and have experienced seal failures with the lower priced Fluid 2 Trainer. The Kinetic system is a superior design, and we have never had a fluid leak on a Kinetic trainer, even following years of use with our personal units.

Accessories and Compatibility
The Road Machine Comes with a quick release skewer that will work with 130mm and 135mm quick release frames, which covers most road bikes as well as older mountain bikes and cyclocross bikes. If you have through axles you will need to purchase a Traxle adaptor that meets the spacing requirements for your bike. The tire drive design is best suited to road bikes. Using a mountain bike or cyclocross bike is possible, but we recommend fitting a slick tire to your wheel rather than using a standard knobby tire. A knobby tire creates lots of vibration during use and tends to slip on the drum during hard efforts. Knobby tires also accelerate wear on the drum and can cause undue wear to your expensive tires. Due to the design of the Road Machine, the rear tire is elevated off the ground to allow it to spin freely against the drum. We recommend that you use a block to elevate your front tire to give you a level ride. It is possible to use a piece of wood, but the Road Machine is best paired with the Kinetic Riser Ring, which provides a more stable platform for the front tire as well as a three different height adjustment levels that simulate riding on an incline.
The Road Machine is best suited to use with a road bike but will work with any bike that has a 130mm or 135mm quick release rear hub.  Kinetic sell an adaptor for bikes that employ a 142x12mm thru axle.
The Road Machine is best suited to use with a road bike but will work with any bike that has a 130mm or 135mm quick release rear hub. Kinetic sell an adaptor for bikes that employ a 142x12mm thru axle.

Road Feel


The Road Machine is designed to provide a progressive resistance curve that mimics an outdoor ride. Resistance increases as rear wheel speed increases allowing the user to change resistance by shifting gears on their bike. In general, smart trainers provide superior road feel. Smart trainers use complicated protocols to interpret changes in grade when riding in SIM mode. They have the ability to simulate inertia and eliminate or reduce resistance in the pedaling dead spot to create a more realistic ride feel. A fluid trainer relies on a flywheel to generate inertia.


Without a flywheel, the drum would come to a complete stop any time pedal slowed or ceased such as when making a gear change. The Road Machine has a 7.5lb flywheel that does a good job of creating enough inertia for a comfortable riding experience. It does not, however, compare to smart trainers like the CycleOps Hammer Direct Drive, which feels almost like riding on the road. Our testers preferred the feel of the Road Machine over the Jet Fluid Pro. In our Roll Out Test it took the 15 seconds for the Road Machine to come to a complete stop from 200watts and only eight seconds on the Jet Fluid Pro. This difference in inertia is noticeable during use, and gives the Road Machine a much more realistic ride feel than the CycleOps Jet Fluid Pro.

The Kinetic Road Machine is a basic fluid trainer  but the road feel is superior to the CycleOps Jet Fluid Pro.
The Kinetic Road Machine is a basic fluid trainer, but the road feel is superior to the CycleOps Jet Fluid Pro.

Setup


The Road Machine scores an 8/10 with a simple setup procedure and is only outscored by the Jet Fluid Pro. The simple fluid resistance unit does not require calibration or application setup, making it easier to set up than the more complex smart trainers we tested.


Initial Setup
With no assembly required, the Road Machine is essentially ready to ride right out of the box. To prepare your bike simply remove your stock rear wheel skewer and replace it with the included trainer specific skewer. It is necessary to play with the position of the non-drive side skewer clamp on the trainer to ensure that the rear tire of your bike is centered on the drum. This step is similar to the procedure used on the Jet Fluid Pro as well as the other tire drive trainers we tested. The Tacx Vortex is the only trainer where we had a significantly more difficult time mounting the bike to the trainer. Because of the tighter clearance between the two sides of the skewer clamp, getting a bike on the trainer was a bit more difficult.

Once both ends of the quick release on the bike are in contact with the clamp cups, the drive side knob is turned until there is no play and the bike feels stable. Rear wheel tension is achieved by another knob that moves the drum into contact with the tire. If you cannot make the tire slip on the drum while holding the flywheel then you have adequate tension on the tire. The quick cam rear tensioning mechanism on the Jet Fluid Pro is a bit more foolproof because it will not allow you to increase tension once the preset optimal pressure on the tire is achieved. During testing, we found that a tire pressure of around 100psi seemed to provide the best balance of grip on the drum with smooth performance when pedaling.

Kinetic uses a threaded quick release clamp design  but they make things a bit easier with a release button on the threaded portion of the collar on the trainer body.  When it is released you can simply slide the threaded rod onto the bicycle quick release  then flip the threaded portion down for final tensioning.
Kinetic uses a threaded quick release clamp design, but they make things a bit easier with a release button on the threaded portion of the collar on the trainer body. When it is released you can simply slide the threaded rod onto the bicycle quick release, then flip the threaded portion down for final tensioning.

Ongoing Setup
The smart trainers we tested all require ongoing calibration as well as firmware updates. The Road Machine has none of these requirements. All you have to do is mount your bike as outlined above in the initial setup and you are ready to ride, no ongoing maintenance required.

Best Applications


The Road Machine is well suited to both regular use at home and the occasional pre-race warmup. It is relatively easy to travel with and does not require an electrical connection for use. It is a great primary trainer for those not interested in dealing with the technical challenges of a smart trainer, and would also be a great secondary unit for those looking for a travel-ready unit for their pre-race routine.

Value


As the winner of our Best Buy Award, it should go without saying that we feel the Road Machine is a great value. While it is not necessarily cheap, it is roughly half the price of most tire drive smart trainers and arguably more versatile.

Conclusion


The Road Machine is our favorite simple trainer and the winner of our Best Buy Award.
The Road Machine is our favorite simple trainer and the winner of our Best Buy Award.

For some, simplicity and reliability outweigh the benefits of a smart trainer. The Road Machine is as durable and foolproof as trainers come. Its affordable price coupled with high scores in nearly all of our evaluation categories make it a deserving winner of our Best Buy Award. It is the trainer we would not hesitate to recommend to a friend on a budget or someone who is averse to the more tech-heavy smart trainers in our review.
Curtis Smith

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Most recent review: May 20, 2017
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