Tacx Neo 2T Smart Review
Cons: Power output/response can lag, pricey, heavy, somewhat of a pain to move around and set up
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Our Analysis and Test Results
It's really hard to beat the Neo 2T Smart. When you train using a 2T you get to play with all of the cool features like pedal stroke analysis and feel the road texture in virtual simulations. Among all the bike trainers, it gets you closest to a real road experience right from your living room or wherever you set it up. We say "pretty close"… We'll spend the rest of this review explaining exactly what that means by examining its performance across the most crucial metrics.
Connectivity and Power Accuracy
The Neo 2T uses the same communication protocols as its predecessor: Bluetooth Smart FTMS and ANT+ FE-C. There doesn't appear to have been any degradation in quality here. There are some reports of difficulty connecting to some of the indy training platforms like Zwift and some features not coming through when using ANT+, but that was most likely a platform issue, not a Tacx issue. At any rate, during our testing, we had no such issues. One of the great strengths here is that you can swap over to Bluetooth if you're having connectivity issues ANT+. With the new Bluetooth FTMS protocol that has emerged in the past few years, you shouldn't have too much trouble making the jump.
Aside from the actual protocols, Garmin (which acquired Tacx in mid-April 2019) has worked hard to improve integrations with 3rd party apps. If you're a user of Garmin computers, you know that one of the biggest strengths it has is its crazy compatibility across 3rd party apps. You can do so darn much with it because there are tons and tons of apps that you can download (or build yourself, of course). It looks like there's potential for that in Tacx's future as the 2T expands its compatibility with some of the features that were previously confined to the Tacx Training App, like Pedal Stroke Analysis.
One frustrating note here is that Mac users won't have access to this bounty. Tacx generally doesn't support Mac - its use has to be facilitated through 3rd party platforms like Zwift. We hope the Garmin development opens it for Mac users soonish.
Power data comes through just fine. There's the slightest of lags, which can be annoying in ERG mode if you're doing short sprints and need to hit a highish target for just a few seconds. It's even more annoying if you have a cadence target, but it's doable. As with the earlier versions, the power accuracy is accurate within 1%. We were not able to disprove that claim and found it to be the most accurate of our bunch - another major contributing factor to it winning our Editors' Choice Award. And as with its predecessors, one of the coolest features of the bike trainer is that it retains all of its performance capabilities even when it's not plugged in, so you can still get in a ride if you forget your plug or aren't near an outlet, like roadside. The only thing that you won't get is the simulated descent.
This is an area where the Neo 2T really sets itself apart. Its big flywheel goes a long way to creating the inertia needed to simulate a real ride. Just like being out on the bike, when you first get on and start pedaling, you need to put a little back into it to get the bike rolling. Same thing if you let off the gas for a bit and slow a bit. You need to put energy back into the wheel to get back up to speed. The big flywheel works a treat for that. But there's a little more that goes into it.
The flywheel is the primary bit of machinery that facilitates the ride. In addition to that, there's a fair bit of tech and programming to smooth over the rough spots (or simulate rough spots). The 2T uses Dynamic Inertia, which uses some sort of algorithmic space magic to do with weight, speed, and angle of incline to adjust and compensate to simulate real-world physics. This is what allows it to convince you that you just flew down a descent and then sprinted up the next hill when you're doing rollers on a virtual course.
It's not perfect, but we found it to be the best among the trainers we tested. It's near enough to make you forget you're on a trainer for a bit. Another cool bit of finessing from Tacx comes through the redesign of their motor and its magnets. It's slightly quieter than the Neo 2. The new design reduces movement from vibrations and air displacement, so it's also a little smoother. In addition to reducing general vibration, the new, more powerful motor actually shakes and vibrates more intensely when you're going over rough terrain like boards, cobble, and gravel in simulators like Zwift and Tacx. And of course, there's no change to the simulated descent. Just like in the real world, you can coast down a hill and don't need to pedal to keep your wheels spinning. Just remember that this feature won't work if you're not plugged in. With all these sweet attributes, it's really hard to have eyes for any other trainer.
In terms of the overall structure of the Neo 2T Smart, it's really one of the better designs. It's fairly simple, quite straightforward, and very stable, with just enough side to side play to allow you to move a little with your bike if you're up out of the saddle. It sways with you as you crank, improving the natural feel and possibly even saving your frame from the stress that would otherwise be going directly into it as you stand and kick.
Its weight isn't ideal, but that's unavoidable in the high-performance bike trainer world for now. The flywheel's inertia determines so much of that machine's performance and weight is how you get there. The result is that it's the most natural-feeling trainer on the market, in our judgment.
In this third iteration, the overall design remains mostly unchanged, but has a few updates. Most notably, it has a new motor, which is more powerful to improve ride feel during sprints and climbs. It improves the smoothing in ERG and allows for greater resistance at lower speeds. This is a welcome change, as the earlier Neo 2 had a bit of weakness in those areas. In side-by-side testing, we were definitely able to feel the difference. It's not dramatic, but you'll appreciate the improvement. Almost all trainers struggle with ERG and big, sudden changes in power requirements or output. This is a step in the right direction.
As many of the other major trainer companies have done, Tacx has also decided to expand its axle compatibility for their products. The Neo 2T has made alterations so you can also fit 142x12 and 148x12 without buying adapters. You'll still need to buy one if you're riding 135x10 or 135x12.
The last few notes on design and compatibility focus on cassettes. This is super important if you don't want to end at least 1 day super pissed at your trainer and engineers in general. The Neo 2T comes with a hub body that's compatible with Shimano and SRAM 8 - 12 speed. We grouped these together because Shimano and SRAM basically follow the same design standard for their groupsets, so you can usually ride a Shimano cassette with a drivetrain from SRAM without much hassle.
Campagnolo, on the other hand, is not as easy. If you want to ride with your Campy cassette, you'll need to buy a Campy hub from Tacx. Super important note: For the 2T, buy the T2875.51 CAMPAGNOLO hub. You might only be able to find it on the Tacx site. Don't just type in "Campy hub Tacx" and buy the first thing that pops up, because you'll probably end up buying the T2805.51, which will absolutely not fit the 2T…which is a fact we found out to our undying chagrin.
Here's another thing we found out: you can probably get away with riding Campy 11 speed on an 11 speed Shimano cassette. Just be careful and be ready for clicking, cruddy shifting, and maybe a subtle feeling of disappointment. You'll have better luck if you match component speeds (10 speed with 10 speed, 11 speed with 11 speed, etc.).
You'll also need to buy a separate hub body for SRAM XD and XD-R. The T2875.76 SRAM XD-R body works for 11 and 12 speed SRAM XD and SRAM XD-R cassettes. If you're riding Specialized SCS, you're probably SOL, as there's no hub that will fit that system. No matter what you ride, make sure to check whether you need spacers or not. Unless you run 12 speed, you probably need to use them.
Controlling for direct drive, the Neo 2T is the easiest trainer to get set up and rolling. We specify that because it can be a bit of a PITA to put on the cassette, especially if you need to throw on a new freehub, as we mentioned in the design section. If you have your cassette ready and your lockring and wrench all laid you, you can probably get yourself set up and ready to go within 15 minutes. If you're easily distractible or not much of a mechanic, set aside an hour.
After unboxing, assuming you ride Shimano or SRAM, you can put the cassette on the Shimano hub that comes with the trainer. If you ride Campy, SRAM XD, or XD-R, you'll need to have already purchased a hub body specific to that cassette and you'll just need a hex key/Allen wrench to unbolt the hub that's on there and install the new hub.
If you run a 12 speed groupset, you likely won't need to use the spacers, but anything lower and you'll want to use the spacers that Tacx includes in the goody bag.
Once you've lined up all your splines and have your lockring tightened down, you're basically ready to go. Grab your bike, shift into your smallest cog, and pedal it through with your hand to get the chain down there, remove your rear wheel, and line it up over the trainer, throw in either your skewer or the skewer Tacx provides (we didn't notice a difference). Plug it in. Now you're broadcasting Bluetooth so your phone, tablet, or computer can pick it up. If you want to use the ANT+, you'll need a device that can read it, which requires a dongle in your computer's USB port in the PC world.
One of the biggest day-to-day strengths of the 2T is that you never have to calibrate it. You don't need to spend 10 minutes warming the machine up then doing a roll-down before you can rely on your data…until the temperature changes or the next 30 days go by. It's good to go straight away.
In terms of the ongoing maintenance and set-up, it's really hard to beat the 2T. The biggest pain is removing your rear wheel or swapping out cassettes and/or hubs. That's true for any direct drive trainer. The big advantage here is that you never have to worry about wearing down your tires and replacing them every couple hundred miles.
Portability has a few factors that go into it. We primarily look at the effort that goes into moving the machine around, the breakdown of the trainer, and the practicality of taking it somewhere. Scores are a triangulation of those factors with a little real-world judgment.
So…the Neo 2T is heavy as hell. It's one of the heaviest out there at 47 pounds. You won't be comfortably taking this machine with you on road trips or stuffing it in a suitcase. Furthermore, if you do choose to run around with it, the legs fold up to give you the illusion that it's easy to carry, only to find that the fingers gripping on the drivetrain side will get slashed and greased by the cassette if you grab the natural spot for your hands. It's not ideal…
On the plus side though, it folds up quite compactly to stow in your pad when it's not in use. And as we mentioned before, it does have that sweet capacity to run on your power if you're far away from a plug. So long as you're pedaling, you'll get all the premium performance you'd get otherwise, except for the downhill simulation.
When it comes to high-end bike trainers, the Neo 2T Smart is the top of the line. You're paying not just for the closest approximation of road riding as possible, but also for broad support across platforms and apps. If you're a serious rider with the means, it's hard to imagine riding anything else.
Our goal at OutdoorGearLab is not necessarily to go straight to the top-shelf with our selections, but we do want to find the best bike trainers out there, so where else would we look to find the best of the best? Enter, the Tacx Neo 2T Smart. This bad boy/girl (clumsy M.I.A. reference) is widely regarded as the best trainer on the market and we have to agree with the crowd on this one. After spending hours on it and comparing its ride to many of the top competing trainers out there, we're compelled to fully endorse that consensus.
When it comes to premium features and performance, you're going to have a very hard time finding anything to directly compete with the 2T. It doesn't even need to be calibrated. It should come as no surprise then, that it won our Editor's Choice Award.
But as great as it is, this is a review meant to draw out everything we can about bike trainers. We pull out every speck of detail we'd want to know before shelling out for our new training buddy, so if we found something that pissed us off as a user or some credible grievance we found in our research, you already read about it somewhere in the details above (you read all of that, right?). There were some power drops and of course it's a big ass heavy thing, sure. But for the smooth transitions, buttery strokes, high-powered performance, and sweet integrations, it's crazy not to walk away with the Neo 2T Smart.
— Ryan Baham