The Tacx Neo 2 Smart is one of those rare products whose first sequel is an all-around improvement that genuinely adds value and isn't just a cash grab from an earlier success. The list of improvements is fairly substantial with the most interesting new feature being their incredibly useful L/R (left/right) power and stroke analysis. Riders are able to see the accuracy of each stroke in real-time using the Tacx Utility app. Tacx also updated this machine with powerful hardware with more memory to accommodate future developments, which is pretty intriguing. By making the Neo 2 Smart even better, this product holds onto our Editors' Choice Award for being the best bike trainer we've ever tested.
Tacx Neo 2 Smart Review
Compare prices at 2 resellers Pros: Even quieter, L/R power and pedal analysis, greater compatibility, super responsive, real-like
Cons: Bulky, premium price, pedal analysis doesn’t support Mac or antiquated mobile devices, weight
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Our Analysis and Test Results
Tacx has released the Neo 2 Smart. This updated version features a redesigned cadence sensor, all-new pedal stroke analysis, L/R power data, more internal memory, and additional axles to accommodate wider mountain bike designs. It's also quieter, smoother, and has more responsive resistance control than its predecessor.
Connectivity and Power Accuracy
The first thing to note in this realm is that it dependably connects to at least 12 other major third-party apps, in addition to its own training app, which is more robust than some of the competitors. You'll also need to use Tacx's training app to take advantage of the new pedal stroke analysis. There are efforts underway to extend that functionality to other training platforms like Zwift, but for now, you're confined to the Tacx ecosystem. But with that new feature, you're able to look at the distribution of your power and efficiency of the stroke so you can see where your weak spots are (we all need to work on those under-developed hip flexors, don't we?) and whether you have one leg doing all the work while the other freeloads.
Like most other controllable smart trainers, it uses Bluetooth Smart and ANT+ FE-C protocols to allow resistance control and communication across a wide range of software and devices. We had no problem getting it connected to the Tacx Cycling app, Zwift, or TrainerRoad, but be sure to spend some time looking into the capabilities of your devices and potential upgrades, dongles, and adapters needed to get the communication flowing.
It ranks at the top based mainly on its broad connectivity and app support, but also its power. The claimed accuracy of 1% generally jives with our testing, though the accuracy can fluctuate a bit more in ERG mode when you're transitioning between blocks or in free mode when you make a big change, like a sudden sprint or hit a substantial elevation change. It's still not a huge discrepancy and doesn't seem to be significant enough to throw your numbers off.
And where it does vary, it still only equates to a few watts of variation every so often - not enough to seriously impair performance measurement. It's also extremely convenient that it comes calibrated and doesn't require you to recalibrate all the time.
Earlier we mentioned Tacx's unique virtual flywheel. Not only is it quiet and powerful, but it also provides an incredibly realistic ride, especially when it's plugged in. The electromotor allows it to simulate all sorts of terrain, including boards, cobble, and dirt trails. It even mimics descents, allowing you to spin with limited resistance like you would out on the road. That technology also allows it to have quite superior resistance changes so that you don't get that unnatural braking effect when hitting hills and slopes found in many other models.
As great as other models may feel, they are not on the same level as the Neo 2 Smart. Its wide, stable base eliminates vertical movement, yet its frame rocks back and forth a bit to allow more natural movement with your strokes. It's really easy to open it up or launch sudden attacks without being too hampered by a stiff frame, though it's obviously not going to be be quite as good as the open road. Despite that, its superior road feel was a major factor in earning the Editors' Choice Award. If you're going to be spending northward of 2 to 3 hours in the saddle inside, you want to be on something that feels almost as good as the road and the Tacx hits that mark.
The firm frame and wide wings create an extremely stable base, making it much easier to feel comfortable getting into a ride. The slight play built into it allows the drive to sway and move a bit more naturally so you can better stand and plow, unafraid of a little rocking. In this, there are few others that can match.
It comes with a static front wheel support. To replace the front wheel support you can buy the Neo Track, which uses a pivoting front wheel support and ANT+ to allow steering in training apps. Check that your grade and speed will work. It comes with a freehub that fits Shimano and SRAM 9-11-speed cassettes (except SRAM 11 XD). For Campagnolo you'll have to buy a separate hub and even then, you might have some limitations on groupset years, speeds, and levels. After the trainer and Campy freehub arrived, we discovered it did not fit our ca. 2010 10-speed Centaur cassette.
After much weeping and gnashing of teeth, we were able to find a compatible loaner from a LBS that got us rolling. Even with that frustrating dance, it's worth noting that universal bike hub shouldn't be assumed. We always recommend a bit of research along with knowing your bike's specs before making a purchase decision. You'll also notice that nowhere did we say the Neo 2 came with a cassette - you're on your own there, so make sure to anticipate that and procure the right one before the trainer arrives and be sure to get a chain whip, lockring removal tool, and wrench. And if you're using 10-speed, you'll likely need to use one or two of the included spacers.
It also comes with a quick-release skewer and fits 130mm rear axles for road bikes and 135mm for mountain bikes. There are adapters for a range of other widths. They now include adapters for 142 and 148mm axles. We suggest checking out their site or contacting them directly to verify that your bike will fit if you have a nonstandard frame.
It uses 32 neodymium magnets (which you can find at any hardware store) to create a virtual flywheel that performs better than any of the other models we tested. It has the added advantage of allowing the machine to run even when not plugged in, so long as you're pedaling. The design also reduces power loss because it's an electromagnetic field that controls the motor, cutting down on transmission inefficiencies. It also has the advantage of reducing noise, so it's quieter. The updated Neo 2 Smart has more powerful hardware under the hood than its predecessor, along with added memory. These additions set the Neo 2 up to be compatible and ready for software updates as they become available in the future. Sweet.
We think the Neo 2 is really well designed, but it's not perfect. A few issues we have include lacking proper handles and being a pain to collapse. We should also mention the lack of attention to some of the smaller details, like limited corrosion-resistance in the metal locking components. It's obviously necessary to wipe and dry every inch of your bike and trainer to improve longevity and performance, but at a certain price point, you should expect those components to be of a higher grade material that will do a better job of resisting the elements it will inevitably encounter: sweat and air.
This is one of the easiest trainers to set up and maintain in our bunch. The biggest pain is the first step after unboxing where you need to install your cassette. We noted in the Design section that you need to pay careful attention to cassette compatibility and axle width. Assuming you have the right components and cassette tools, you shouldn't have much of a struggle. If you're new to bike mechanics, we'll leave cassette removal and installation instructions to your LBS or search engine.
Once your cassette is installed, there's not much else that needs to be done. Ever. Simply release your rear wheel, unscrew, remove, set aside, and treat the trainer frame like a new wheel, placing the rear derailleur and chain over the cassette, straighten it up, and use the new skewer (if you want) to tighten it down. Use your hand to pedal it through and get it on track, and you're good to go.
You'll notice that in general, smart direct drive trainers take more time for setup than tire drive. That's largely because most direct drive trainers require you to install extra components like cassettes or supports. In addition to the cassette installation, you also need to install the legs and then perform periodic calibrations. The legs and calibration are pretty simple, but it still means it's not quite as quick to go as the Tacx Neo. Tire drive trainers tend to also be quick and painless to set up, since they are much simpler machines.
The takeaway here is that if you are just looking for the most basic of trainers that's ready to go as soon as you open the box and rarely needs upkeep or love, your best bets are going to be at the two extremes of the price spectrum. The basic tire drive trainers are built like tanks and are ready to go as soon as you open the box. The most advanced direct drive is built something like a next-generation Humvee and is ready to go after a bit of tinkering and then rarely has to be touched again.
The Neo 2 Smart folds up into a nice, neat form that can be stowed away easily. Its two stabilizing platforms collapse and fold up, reducing its width to just 10 inches. The struggle here is figuring out how to move its 47 pounds into a storage spot. We suspect most riders will be able to manage a 47-pound trainer, but it does make moving it around more arduous than some of the other models, though you'll find a handful of tradeoffs there. It's worth noting that optimal performance is delivered when the machine is plugged in. It is able to power communication and control based on your power generation, but you lose descent simulation and if you stop pedaling, you lose all power functions, which might be inconvenient to some. That said, you can still take this to warm up at the starting line or to a campsite and get a good ride in without serious performance limitations.
The one thing we wish Tacx would fix is the portability. When you unlock the wings for storage or porting, the thing tends to collapse immediately, and it drops on your innocent, unsuspecting foot (insert displeased grimace). Before you install a cassette on the hub, it looks like the folded wings will make useful handles, but after the cassette is installed, it becomes clear that the right handhold is actually just a sneaky meat grinder. Tacx would be best served by taking the hint from other models and add secure handles somewhere while figuring out where to reduce weight and pad that collapse.
For riders looking for a lighter trainer that can be carted around more readily, you will likely need to look at tire drive trainers. Portability is the main tradeoff with the Neo 2 Smart, but for the performance upgrades, we are able to overlook this drawback.
This trainer is for riders who need unmatched adaptability, app support, responsiveness, and road feel. It comes at a premium, so it's probably best suited to serious riders looking to get a lot of hard use out of their investment.
Yes, it goes for a premium, and there are trainers out there that are almost as good. But that's the tradeoff - other trainers just aren't quite there, especially in road feel, connectivity, power, and reliability.
Riders who have done the tire drive thing know the struggle with replacing tires and missing training data. They also know how hard it is to sit on a dumb trainer for hours on end, pedaling faster and shifting to simulate terrain changes manually. Enter: the Tacx Neo 2 Smart. It simulates terrain changes sensationally well - and even jostles and bounces a bit when you hit cobbles and planks on Zwift. It also gives you not just highly accurate power and cadence data, but now even gives you the breakdown of power for each pedal! That's enough to satiate most training data junkies, but the Neo 2's also has more memory and hardware than it needs in anticipation of future capabilities, so we can only imagine what they'll cook up for us over the next few quarters. This is far and away the best smart trainer out there. We expect most riders to be as thoroughly impressed with it as we are.
— Ryan Baham