Hands-on Gear Review

Tacx Neo Smart Review

A premium smart trainer with excellent road feel, control, and measurement.
By: Ryan Baham ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Jul 30, 2018
Price:  $1,370 List  |  $1,299.99 at Amazon - 5% Off
Pros:  High functionality, real road feel, quiet, stable, folds up neatly, convertible to Campagnolo
Cons:  Pricey, heavy, not as easy to carry, doesn’t accommodate older phones
Manufacturer:   Tacx
87
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#1 of 8
  • Connectivity Power Accuracy - 30% 9
  • Portability - 10% 6
  • Design - 20% 8
  • Road Feel - 30% 10
  • Set Up Time - 10% 8
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Editors' Choice Award

Our Verdict

The Tacx Neo Smart is undoubtedly the platinum of trainers. There are other top trainers that are close, but the Neo offers just enough premium to be slightly untouchable in an "I daren't look at the sun" sort of way, earning it the Editors' Choice Award. It uses a unique electromagnetic simulated flywheel to deliver the most realistic road feel on the market. It folds up into not much more than a few books for easy stowing and will take up to 2200W, enough to satiate almost anyone. If you are willing to pay the premium, you will be thrilled.

There's no denying the Neo Smart's daunting price tag, though. This model is an investment. For those looking for the broad functionality of a smart trainer with good connectivity to third-party apps like Zwift, but at a friendlier price, we suggest the Best Buy-winning Elite Direto.


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Our Analysis and Test Results

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Performance Comparison


The Neo Smart is the best choice for serious riders and those that don't accept compromise in their equipment.
The Neo Smart is the best choice for serious riders and those that don't accept compromise in their equipment.

Connectivity and Power Accuracy


The first thing to note in this realm is that the Neo Smart dependably connects to at least 12 other major third-party apps, in addition to its proprietary training app, which is more robust than some of the competitors like Elite. 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. As a frustrating example, the Garmin ANT+ dongle will not talk to the Tacx app.


It ranks at the top primarily based on its broad connectivity and app support, but also on its power. Tacx claims that they are accurate to within 1%, though we found it tended to fluctuate a bit more than other top trainers like the CycleOps Hammer and Elite Direto, up to about 2% on average. That still only equates to deviating by a few watts every so often - not enough to seriously impair performance measurement.

The Tacx Neo is controllable through Bluetooth Smart and ANT+ FE-C and never drops.
The Tacx Neo is controllable through Bluetooth Smart and ANT+ FE-C and never drops.

It was also extremely convenient that it comes calibrated and doesn't require you to have to recalibrate all the time. The rider ready for a premium trainer will be happy with the Tacx.

We found a fun Pink Floyd easter egg while testing the Neo Smart on Zwift (requires knowledge of the Animals album cover).
We found a fun Pink Floyd easter egg while testing the Neo Smart on Zwift (requires knowledge of the Animals album cover).

Portability


It folds up into a nice, neat form that easily stows away in many places. 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 laborious than some of the other models, though you'll find a handful of tradeoffs there. It's also worth noting that optimal performance is delivered when the machine is plugged in. It can 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 a campsite and get a good ride in without serious performance limitations.


The one thing we wish Tacx would improve is the portability. When you unlock the wings for storage or transport, the thing tends to immediately collapse 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 a sneaky meat grinder. Tacx would be best served by taking the hint from CycleOps and adding secure handles somewhere while figuring out where to reduce weight and pad that collapse.

To fold the Tacx Neo  you need to reach under its supports and press the buttons  but be prepared to it to immediately collapse  possible on your foot or finger if you're not careful.
To fold the Tacx Neo, you need to reach under its supports and press the buttons, but be prepared to it to immediately collapse, possible on your foot or finger if you're not careful.

For riders seeking a lighter trainer, you likely need to look at tire drive trainers. The Tacx Vortex Smart is exceptionally lightweight, has plug independence and features a carrying handle. For a heavier trainer, though, the Tacx Neo Smart outperforms the rest.

For all its greatness  the Tacx Neo is not the easiest to carry (note placement of cassette relative to hand) or the lightest (in fact  at 47.3lbs  almost the heaviest).
For all its greatness, the Tacx Neo is not the easiest to carry (note placement of cassette relative to hand) or the lightest (in fact, at 47.3lbs, almost the heaviest).

Design


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. The Kinetic Rock and Roll Smart Control is an interesting tire drive design that allows a ton of movement for climbing and standing attacks, suited to riders that throw their bike around quite a bit.


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 a ca. 2010 10-speed Centaur cassette.

If you ride Campagnolo  be sure to buy the Campy hub when you order the Neo.
If you ride Campagnolo, be sure to buy the Campy hub when you order the Neo.

After much weeping and gnashing of teeth, we were able to find a compatible loaner from a local bike shop that got us rolling. Even with that frustrating dance, it's an improvement over Elite Direto's hard to find Campy hub — be sure not to buy the ubiquitous Elite Muin hub on your first try like we did. You'll also notice that nowhere did we say the Neo 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 other widths, but you'll need to purchase them. We suggest checking out their site to see if your bike will fit if you have a non-standard frame. In this regard, it is comparable to the highest scoring Wahoo Fitness Kickr and CycleOps Hammer, except the Hammer includes the 142mm axle but doesn't come with the skewer.

After installing a newer 10-speed Campy cassette with a spacer and messing around with the barrel adjusters for a few minutes  we were ready to ride.
After installing a newer 10-speed Campy cassette with a spacer and messing around with the barrel adjusters for a few minutes, we were ready to ride.

It uses 32 neodymium magnets (which you pick up at any hardware store) to create a virtual flywheel that performs better than any of the other models we tested and 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.

We think the Neo is incredibly well-designed, but its score is kept down by a few problems, namely, lacking proper handles and being a pain to collapse. Those looking for a much more manageable smart trainer would have an easier time with the CycleOps Hammer or Wahoo Kickr. But if you want to just set the trainer up in a room and never touch it outside of rides, the Neo should still be at the top of your list.

Road Feel


The Neo Smart's unique virtual flywheel is not only 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.


Its design beat out the other models in the lineup, but we conducted a roll-out test anyway to see how long it would take the flywheel to stop after hitting 200 watts. Generally, the longer the roll-out, the heavier the flywheel and the greater the inertia provided by the flywheel, which translates into a more realistic ride. The Kickr, for example, has a 12.5-pound flywheel and takes 53 seconds to come to a stop while the Hammer has a 20-pound flywheel and takes a whopping 2 and a half minutes. It is no accident that they both score near the top for this measure.

The Tacx Neo allows you to pedal smoothly  even when using ERG mode and hitting crazy walls  making it one of the most forgiving and natural-feeling trainers out there.
The Tacx Neo allows you to pedal smoothly, even when using ERG mode and hitting crazy walls, making it one of the most forgiving and natural-feeling trainers out there.

As great as they feel, they are not on the same level overall as the Neo 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 natural to open it up or launch sudden attacks without being too hampered by a stiff frame, though it's not going to 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 premium Tacx Neo Smart (left) and affordable Direto (right) go head to head to tease out the best qualities in each.
The premium Tacx Neo Smart (left) and affordable Direto (right) go head to head to tease out the best qualities in each.

Setup


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. That's the primary reason the Best Buy Elite Direto lags in this category. 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.

The Neo is fairly easy to set up  but you'll still need a few tools to get the cassette(s) on and off. At the very least  a chain whip  wrench  and cassette-removal tool (Campy has a specific size that other tools won't fit).
The Neo is fairly easy to set up, but you'll still need a few tools to get the cassette(s) on and off. At the very least, a chain whip, wrench, and cassette-removal tool (Campy has a specific size that other tools won't fit).

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 never has to be touched again.

Best Applications


This trainer is for riders who need unmatched adaptability, app support, responsiveness, and road feel. It comes at a premium, so it's best suited to serious riders looking to get a lot of hard use out of their investment.

Value


Yes, it goes for a premium ($1370), and there are trainers out there that are almost as good. But that's the trade-off - other trainers aren't quite there, especially in road feel, connectivity, power, and reliability.

Conclusion


Tacx is unabashed about this trainer's premium, but it has every right to that boldness. The Neo Smart delivers enough to satiate any rider out there. Its top limit of 2200W isn't likely to be tagged, and you can simulate some of the cruelest climbs in the world with a maximum grade of 25%. Across gradients and power ranges, it maintains the best road feel among the trainers, going so far as to simulate boardwalks, cobbles, and other rough terrain with its electromotor, movement measurements, and predictive adjustments. It has the added luxury among smart trainers of maintaining a good deal of its functionality without external power, meaning you can take it on trips where power sources are limited or warm up before races without worrying about finding a plug. This is hands down the coolest, hardest hitting, most helpful trainer in the bunch, despite some of its inconveniences. It squarely deserves the Editors' Choice Award. Any rider willing or able to plunk down the cash will be emphatically pleased.

Ryan Baham

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