Tacx Flow Smart Trainer Review
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Tacx Flow Smart Trainer
|Price||$369.99 at Backcountry|
Compare at 2 sellers
|$499 List||$174.93 at REI|
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$70.75 at Amazon
$33.78 at Amazon
|Pros||Easy to set up, affordable, smart controls||Affordable direct-drive trainer, good responsiveness, quiet||Quick setup, easy operation, durable, stable, communicates with training apps, low noise||Quick setup, easy to move around, light, simple design||Very affordable, light, easy to carry, store, and move around|
|Cons||Loud, lower accuracy than direct-drive trainers||Lack of handle, less accuracy than more premium models||Limited max resistance, roller can heat up and accelerate tire wear, no power data, no control||Louder, unrealistic road feel, low max power, no controllable features, not supported by many popular training apps||Limited resistance, cable shifter, durability and quality issues|
|Bottom Line||Our favorite tire-drive trainer with smart trainer performance and top-notch portability is offered at an excellent price||The Zwift Hub brings direct-drive features to an affordable price point to help you crush indoor rides||A simple, affordable, and highly functional tire drive trainer with the option to use it with training apps||This is the trainer you get when you’re just trying to get your legs spinning without paying a ton||If you like to save money, this trainer works to get the legs spinning|
|Rating Categories||Tacx Flow Smart Tra...||Zwift Hub||Saris Fluid 2||BalanceFrom Bike Tr...||FDW Bike Trainer|
|Connectivity and Power Accuracy (25%)|
|Road Feel (25%)|
|Specs||Tacx Flow Smart Tra...||Zwift Hub||Saris Fluid 2||BalanceFrom Bike Tr...||FDW Bike Trainer|
|Drive Type||Tire drive||Direct drive||Tire drive||Tire drive||Tire drive|
|Weight||21 lbs||33 lbs||21 lbs||19 lbs||17.6 lbs|
|Type of Trainer||Smart||Smart||Smart||Standard||Standard|
|Communication Protocol||ANT+, Bluetooth||ANT+ FE-C, Bluetooth FTMS||ANT+ BlueGiga USB||None||None|
|Dimensions L-H-W (inches)||26.6" x 25.6" x 16.1"||19.5" x 24" x 18.1"||28" x 21.5" x 15.7"||22"x22"x15"||23.9" x 20.1" x 7.6"|
|Storage Dimensions LxHxW||22.2" x 16.1" x 9.7"||19.5" x 24" x 18.1"||20.5" x 9" x 20.75"||22"x22"x15"||23.9" x 20.1" x 7.6"|
|Power Comparison||10 watts, 5%||5-7 watts, 2.5%||10 watts, 5%||N/A||N/A|
|Roll Out Time @ 200 watts||6 seconds||42 seconds||15 seconds||5 seconds||5 seconds|
|Flywheel||3.5 lbs, Magnetic||10.3 lbs||3 lbs||5 lbs, magnetic||5 lbs|
|Axle compatibility||130mm and 135mm, adapters available for other widths||130mm and 135mm skewer and 142mm and 148mm thru axles||120mm, 130mm, 135mm compatible || Thru-axle available for 142mm and 148mm through CycleOps||130mm and 135mm || May need 3rd party adaptors for 142mm and 148mm||130mm and 135mm || May need 3rd party adaptors for 142mm and 148mm|
|Additional Notes||Skewer||8, 9, 10, 11, or 12 speed HyperGlide cassette included||Skewer||Skewer||Skewer|
Our Analysis and Test Results
The Tacx Flow Smart Trainer is one of a few tire-drive trainers with smart control and connectivity features. It brings an interesting blend of features and portability. We go further into those features and their performance in our testing.
Connectivity and Power Accuracy
Like most smart trainers, the Tacx Flow uses ANT+ and Bluetooth Smart to connect with training apps and transmit data. Connecting to laptops/iPads/phones was easy in our testing, and we did not experience any connection issues during rides.
For a tire-drive trainer, it has solid accuracy. However, you'll find significantly more variance if you compare it to a direct-drive model. We observed power readings within 5% of our Favero Assioma Duo power meter pedals during our testing. This matches what the manufacturer advertises. If you're looking for an extremely accurate trainer, this isn't the trainer for you. We found that accuracy worsened during intense sprints, workouts, or Zwift rides. Considering this is a tire-driven model, and there are drivetrain power losses as well, we were impressed by the accuracy of the power readings overall. This is a great trainer to monitor performance, and it does very well on long steady rides.
Most tire-drive trainers don't offer much by way of road feel, so the Flow impressed us here. In programs like Zwift, the trainer adjusted resistance relatively smoothly in keeping with the virtual terrain. It performed well compared to other tire-drive units but, understandably, couldn't keep up with direct-drive models that are significantly more expensive.
The pedal feel is fine in both SIM and ERG modes. It's not impossibly smooth the way some premium units are, but it also doesn't provide a realistic buzz to the pedals. Instead, it feels like you're spinning your tire on a piece of metal… probably because you are. The lightweight (3.5 pounds) flywheel doesn't do it any favors in this department. The trainer does a good job of adjusting resistance. It tends to ramp up smoothly in ERG mode and is responsive. Overall, we're satisfied with the road feel of this trainer, especially considering its price and design.
When looking at the design, we're looking at how the unit is built and how well the technology is designed. The Tacx Flow performed reasonably well in this category.
A major highlight of this model is its simplicity. The legs are simple and robust (although the foldable white support legs show scuffs very easily). Mounting a bike to the trainer is simple- one lever to clamp it into place, then another to push the resistance unit into place. The resistance unit needs to be adjusted with a knob when calibrating. This is one area where we would like something different. The knob can be difficult to reach and can be somewhat difficult to turn.
Adjusting for wheel size can be done when setting up the unit with a few bolts that are easy to adjust. The unit ships with a block for your front wheel, which we found useful. Tacx supplies an axle designed to mount into the trainer, and installation is simple.
Regarding maximum resistance, the Tacx Flow can let you put out up to 800 watts and simulate a grade of up to 6 percent. Those numbers aren't the highest, especially compared to the direct-drive competition. However, they're plenty for most riders' day-to-day rides. Noise is our biggest complaint about this model. It is not even remotely quiet, which is what we expect from a tire-drive unit.
On the technology side of things, the trainer performed very well, managing rides better than we expected. It's great for a trainer priced in a more affordable range and is easily compatible with any platform that uses standard smart trainer connectivity. Overall, this is more than we expected from this model.
Setting up the Tacx Flow Smart Trainer is one of the highlights. There aren't many trainers we've set up that are easier. After unboxing, attach the resistance unit to the legs, unfold it, and mount your bike with the supplied skewer. We're not sure how it could be any simpler.
Once the bike is mounted and the trainer is plugged in, you can set up connections through the Tacx app, and you're ready to ride. There is one catch: you still need to calibrate the trainer. You need to warm it up for the best results, so you'll be riding for about 10 minutes before completing the calibration.
This is a simple process, but it can be a little frustrating the first time you calibrate if you aren't close to begin with. We mentioned the oddly placed knob earlier; this is where that comes in. The Tacx app will direct you which way to turn it to get closer to the correct calibration. It's important to ensure your tires have the same pressure to make this smoother. And we recommend calibrating regularly.
To measure portability, we consider how easy it is to pack up the trainer and take it on the road and get it out of the way when you're not using it.
The Tacx Flow received top marks for portability, and it's easy to see why. It's light, weighing in at just 21 pounds. It folds into a very compact rectangle with the power unit removed. The trainer tucks away easily into small spaces even with it still attached.
If you're looking for a trainer that is easy to travel with but still gives you smart trainer capabilities, this is the one for you. You can easily fit it into a suitcase or even a large backpack. Just tucking it into the closet for the evening is no problem.
Should You Buy the Tacx Flow Smart Trainer?
If you're looking for an affordable entry into smart trainers, the Tacx Flow Smart Trainer could be an excellent option. This trainer packs some premium features into a portable tire-drive design. It doesn't have top-of-the-line accuracy, so if you are doing rides where a few watts are the difference between getting dropped and hanging on, you're probably better off with a higher-end unit. But this is a great trainer for pushing your fitness indoors or on the road.
What Other Bike Trainer Should You Consider?
If you're after the portability of a tire-drive trainer, it's hard to do better than the Tacx Flow. But if you're looking for smart features in a reasonably affordable package, the Zwift Hub earned a better overall score and offered significantly better performance for a slightly higher list price. If you're looking for more accuracy and a quieter ride, the Hub could be a great fit for you.
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