The Kinetic Road Machine Smart is Kinetic's time-tested fluid tire drive trainer model with an added inRide sensor and magnet to pick up metrics like power and speed. Its reasonable price, sturdy build, and life-like road feel make it one of the best choices for tire drive trainers. It handily picks up our Best Buy Award for a Tight Budget. Read on to see how it stacks up against the competition and whether it's the right trainer to meet your demands.
Kinetic Road Machine Smart Review
Cons: Tire slips, inRide sensor less reliable, limited guidance on roller tightening
#6 of 8
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Our Analysis and Test Results
Kinetic has been in the stationary bike trainer business for a long time. Their lime green trainers reside in many private pain caves. Before 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. Now, Kinetic has gotten into the smart game, rolling out their new inRide smart sensor. The sensor can be added to any Kinetic fluid trainer along with a magnet, allowing riders to track performance metrics and enter the social riding world. In theory, this would be the perfect midpoint between tried-and-true tire drive and emerging smart tech. It is undoubtedly better to have it, but the new tech still needs some work before it's ready to perform at the level we expect. Even so, the Road Machine Smart is an improvement on that reliable base model and remains an excellent choice for any rider on a tight budget looking to keep up their riding when they can't be outside.
Connectivity and Power Accuracy
The Road Machine Smart uses the inRide Power Meter sensor to measure speed, power, and other metrics. The sensor mounts to the frame just below the wheel drum, and a magnet is placed inside the drum in a grommet just across from the sensor. As the tire drum turns, it spins an impeller in the fluid chamber of the resistance unit. The faster the speed of the drum, the higher the resistance. By knowing how many watts it takes to move the drum at a given speed, the inRide sensor calculates power data and send it to applications like Kurt Kinetic's Kinetic Fit app, Zwift, and TrainerRoad.
We had some trouble getting the inRide sensor to work. The unit that came installed on the trainer didn't seem to work at all, leading us to buy a replacement, which worked. Kinetic includes directions on troubleshooting, which suggest changing out batteries, moving metal contacts in the unit, replacing the supplied battery with a fresh battery, and other options, though there are common complaints of unit issues. Once we got up and running, it was a pain to connect to Zwift, and it wouldn't connect to our Garmin. It uses only Bluetooth Smart, which limits its connectivity for head units and third-party sites. Power readings were a bit spotty and tended to be about 10 watts lower than our power meter and other trainers, but in line with Kinetic's claimed accuracy of 5%.
If you want a wider range of application support (compatibility), more options for connectivity (namely ANT+), and more accurate readings, look into the Best Buy-winning Elite Direto. If you want all of those things on steroids or some other banned substance, we suggest looking at the excellent Tacx Neo Smart, which won our Editors' Choice Award. But keep in mind, you're paying a good deal more to get a good deal more. The Kinetic Road Machine Smart is our Best Tight Budget Buy because it gets you rolling and gives you basic training data without your bank sending you notifications for large, unusual transactions.
This smart trainer has limitations on the Android and PC/Windows side where you'll need to use your phone as a bridge to connect to Zwift, for example, while Apple/Mac users are able to connect directly from their desktop. It's not a huge deal, but it adds one more device to the equation, which can impact data transmission, especially if something unapparent is interfering with the signal. Apple users will probably be a bit happier with this arrangement, particularly if they rely on Zwift to train.
One of the great advantages of the Road Machine Smart is its low weight - one of the lightest in the bunch, making it much easier to carry and shove around. However, its design can make it a bit awkward and lopsided when carrying and shoving around. It doesn't have the clean stowing of many of the higher end trainers, especially the direct drive models. The tradeoff here is that it's incredibly stable when it's in use.
While not particularly difficult to carry, the Road Machine Smart 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 warm-ups, then a fluid trainer may be a better choice than a smart trainer. One of the exceptions is the Tacx Vortex, which provides progressive resistance up into the 400-watt range with no electrical connection and the Tacx Neo Smart, which can still operate most of its features and performance capabilities without using external power, though it will stop operating when you stop pedaling.
A burly steel frame and some unique design features earn the Road Machine Smart a score of 8/10. The overall design is excellent. It's capable of handling years of hard use and abuse. Highlights include a heavy-duty frame that offers greater stability than the lighter weight the Tacx Vortex.
The clamp mechanism that holds the rear quick release isn't the most refined, but it is very durable and offers a vast 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, even if not the simplest of them all.
One standout feature necessary to mention is the innovative design of the resistance mechanism. Most fluid trainers 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. Many of our testers have extensive experience with fluid trainers and have experienced seal failures. 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 Smart 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 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 Smart, 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 Smart pairs best 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.
It's 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 can 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 the pedals slowed or ceased such as when making a gear change. The Road Machine Smart 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.
In our Roll Out Test it took 15 seconds for the Road Machine to come to a complete stop from 200 watts, creating a decent road feel. Riders looking for superior road feel can expect to pay a premium for that luxury. If you're happy to do that, the Editors' Choice Tacx Neo Smart will impress and delight you.
The Road Machine Smart scores an 8/10 with a simple setup procedure. 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. Once you get the inRide unit paired there is no calibration outside of ensuring the roller tension is just enough that the wheel does not slip when you give it a little jerk.
With no assembly required, it's essentially ready to ride right out of the box. To prepare your bike, remove your rear wheel skewer and replace it with the one Kinetic includes in the package. 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. 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. During testing, a tire pressure of around 100psi seemed to provide the best balance of grip on the drum with smooth performance when pedaling.
The smart trainers we tested all require ongoing calibration and firmware updates. The Road Machine Smart and its inRide sensor also need occasional firmware updating and at least one calibration per ride, though two might keep you honest on longer rides. Outside of that, all you have to do is mount your bike as outlined above in the initial setup and you are ready to ride, with limited ongoing maintenance required outside of the periodic battery replacement.
The Road Machine Smart 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's 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.
The Road Machine Smart is a good choice for those looking for a functional trainer with smart features. While $349 is not necessarily cheap, it is about a third cheaper than many other tire drive smart trainers with comparable versatility. We haven't found a better machine on the market for the price of this one, which makes it our favorite for small budgets.
Because Apple and iOS users can connect directly instead of having to use their phones as a bridge, this trainer will be more useful and earn much more than its keep. The sensor's reliability may be difficult to square for some riders running, especially those running Android and PC, because of the need to use the phone as a bridge to Zwift and other third-party desktop apps. The Road Machine base model is an indestructible tire drive fluid trainer. After adding the slight price bump for the inRide functionality, it is still one the lowest priced trainers on the market. It's worth noting that the inRide sensor and app support still need a few more years of R&D and support staffing before the tech is ready for prime time. Riders looking for a solid trainer and don't care as much about recording stats or connecting with friends will be pretty happy with the Road Machine Smart. Until Kinetic is able to step up its game, those looking for a smart trainer might be better off going with the Wahoo Fitness Kickr Snap smart trainer, the Top Pick for Tire Drive or a smart direct drive, like the Best Buy Elite Direto. But anyone on a shoestring (as far as bike trainers go) budget that can't go without a functional trainer will be pleased enough on the Kinetic Road Machine Smart.
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Most recent review: July 30, 2018
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