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Tacx Vortex Smart Review

A lightweight smart trainer that's easy to transport but doesn't amaze in road feel performance.
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Price:  $430 List | $341.32 at Amazon
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  Portable, lightweight, resistance without electrical connection, affordable
Cons:  Not accurate for power measurement, poor road feel, lacks stability
Manufacturer:   Tacx
By Curtis Smith ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  May 20, 2017
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48
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#7 of 7
  • Connectivity and Power Accuracy - 30% 4
  • Road Feel - 30% 4
  • Design - 20% 5
  • Setup - 10% 5
  • Portability - 10% 9

Our Verdict

The Tacx Vortex Smart provides progressive resistance without being plugged into electrical power — something few lightweight and portable smart trainers do. However, it requires power to provide controllable resistance and power data. It doesn't win any awards for power accuracy or road feel, but it is a reliable training tool that is somewhat more versatile when used as a warmup tool compared to other trainers we tested.


Compare to Similar Products

 
This Product
Tacx Vortex Smart
Awards  Editors' Choice Award  Best Buy Award Top Pick Award 
Price $341.32 at Amazon
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$1,000.00 at Amazon$1,200 List
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$799.99 at Amazon$279.99 at Backcountry
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Pros Portable, lightweight, resistance without electrical connection, affordableEven quieter, L/R power and pedal analysis, greater compatibility, super responsive, real-likeHigh power accuracy, low noise, great road feel and overall designGreat price for direct drive, quiet, consistently accurate, relatively lightQuick setup, easy operation, durable, stable, communicates with training apps, low noise
Cons Not accurate for power measurement, poor road feel, lacks stabilityBulky, premium price, pedal analysis doesn’t support Mac or antiquated mobile devices, weightCadence data can drop, Campy and 10-speed hubs are a pain to matchLimited gradient and power, difficult to get Campy componentsLimited max resistance, roller can heat up and accelerate tire wear, no power data, no control
Bottom Line A lightweight smart trainer that's easy to transport but doesn't amaze in road feel performance.An already excellent, life-like training machine somehow got even better.Updated firmware and functionality place this one back near the top of the market.All of the best smart trainer features without the premium price.This trainer sits at the crossroads of great value and high functionality.
Rating Categories Tacx Vortex Smart Tacx Neo 2 Smart CycleOps H2 Smart Elite Direto CycleOps Fluid 2
Connectivity And Power Accuracy (30%)
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Road Feel (30%)
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Design (20%)
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Setup (10%)
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Portability (10%)
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Specs Tacx Vortex Smart Tacx Neo 2 Smart CycleOps H2 Smart Elite Direto CycleOps Fluid 2
Type Tire drive Direct drive Direct drive Direct drive Tire drive
Weight (lbs) 22 lbs 47 lbs 47 lbs 33 lbs 21 lbs
Compatible Platforms-TrainerRoad, Zwift Yes, Both. Also Tacx Smartphone App, Rouvy, and The Sufferfest. Yes, Both. Also Tacx Desktop, Rouvy, and The Sufferfest. Yes, Both. Also Rouvy and The Sufferfest. Yes, Both. Also Kinomap, Rouvy, and The Sufferfest. Yes, Both. Also Rouvy and The Sufferfest.
Communication Protocol ANT+ FEC, Bluetooth Smart ANT+ FE-C, Bluetooth Smart ANT+ FE-C, Bluetooth Smart ANT+ FE-C, Bluetooth Smart ANT+ BlueGiga USB
Dimensions L-H-W (inches) 27" x 15.5" x 26.25" 22.6" x 29.5" x 21.7" 31” x 18.5” x 19.5” 33" x 25.6" x 2.7" 28" x 21.5" x 15.7"
Storage Dimensions LxHxW (inches) 23.5" x 9" x 15.5" 24.4" x 10.2" x 17.3" 8.5” x 18.5” x 19.5” 11.8" x 25.6" x 21.7" 20.5" x 9" x 20.75"
Power Comparison 30watts, 10-15% 1-3 watts, 1% 1-3 watts, 1% 3-5 watts, 2.5% 10 watts, 5%
Decibel @ 230 Watts 58.6 dB 65.8 dB 60.9 dB 74.8 dB 64.7 dB
Roll Out Time @ 200 watts 6 seconds 21 seconds 26 seconds 13 seconds 15 seconds
Flywheel 3.6 lbs, 26 lbs virtual Virtual 20 lbs 9.3 lbs 3 lbs
Additonal skewer included No Cassette included No Cassette included No Cassette included Skewer
Axel compatibility 130mm, 135mm compatible || 142mm adaptor available through Tacx. 130mm, 135mm compatible || Adaptors for 142mm and 148mm available through Tacx. 130mm, 135mm compatible || Thru-axle compatible for 142mm and 148mm. 130mm, 135mm compatible || 142mm thru-axle available, 148mm requires Boost adaptor from Elite. 120mm, 130mm, 135mm compatible || Thru-axle available for 142mm and 148mm through CycleOps.

Our Analysis and Test Results

Tacx is no stranger to bike trainers; they have been at it a long time and the Vortex is one of their more affordable and popular models. It stands out with its lightweight design and ability to function without power.

Performance Comparison


The Tacx Vortex is a lightweight compact tire drive smart trainer that will appeal to those who place a premium on portabiltiy.
The Tacx Vortex is a lightweight compact tire drive smart trainer that will appeal to those who place a premium on portabiltiy.

Connectivity and Power Accuracy


The Vortex uses both ANT+ FE-C and Bluetooth Smart communication protocols, which give it a good deal of versatility for communication with computers and smartphones, and provides a platform for third-party application compatibility. The Tacx training application is offered in both an IOS and Android version, but it is very basic with no structured options. Essentially, the app is a way to control trainer resistance and perform calibration and that's mostly it. We had some difficulty getting the Vortex to pair and perform software updates. Following some trial and error, we were able to get the mobile version up and running. Tacx also offers training software, but it is PC only with no Mac option. Connecting with Zwift and Trainer Road proved to be trouble-free.

The Tacx Vortex paired easily with third-party applications  but the Tacx training application proved to be a bit buggy during testing.
The Tacx Vortex paired easily with third-party applications, but the Tacx training application proved to be a bit buggy during testing.

Power accuracy is not a strong point with the Vortex. When compared to power data from a Quarq crank-based power meter, we consistently had a variance of around 15 percent, making it one of the least accurate smart trainers we tested. In addition, we experienced substantial drift during long workouts. All of the tire drive trainers we tested showed some drift, but the Vortex showed more extreme swings in data with power numbers drifting out to 30+/- percent of our Quarq readings.

Road Feel


The road feel of the Vortex does not compare to the heavy hitters tested. The flywheel weighs a paltry 3.6 lbs, making it the lightest in the test, and the lack of inertia is noticeable. The Vortex feels more like a fluid trainer with adjustable resistance.

The Vortex has a very small diameter tire drum and a resistance unit that relies on software to emulate the large flywheel effect of other trainers.  As a result  the road feel does not quite to compare to trainers like the Kickr Snap.
The Vortex has a very small diameter tire drum and a resistance unit that relies on software to emulate the large flywheel effect of other trainers. As a result, the road feel does not quite to compare to trainers like the Kickr Snap.

Resistance Changes

Resistance changes are abrupt in both SIM and ERG mode. The Vortex is an effective tool for training, but it lacks the refinements of the higher-end smart trainers we tested.

Rider Power Output Changes

The Vortex tends to feel as if it is overloaded or struggling with the input when a sudden increase in power occurs, such as a sprint. The resistance eases up initially followed by a sensation of too much resistance.

Design


The Vortex features a lightweight metal frame that is far less robust than the steel tubular frames found on some of the competition. As a result, it is much lighter, but also less stable under hard out-of-the-saddle efforts.

The Tacx Vortex is quite portable  but the frame lacks the stability and robust steel tubing found on other trainers we tested.
The Tacx Vortex is quite portable, but the frame lacks the stability and robust steel tubing found on other trainers we tested.

Accessories and Compatibility

The Vortex is compatible with 130mm, 135mm quick release axle bikes with 26" to 29" wheels. It is also compatible with 142mm thru-axle bikes with an adapter that must be purchased separately. The Vortex comes with a steel quick-release skewer that must be used in place of the stock quick-release on your bike. A front wheel block is also included and doubles as a carry handle when not in use.

Setup


Setup is a bit more involved with the Vortex than with other trainers we tested.

Initial SetUp

The Vortex comes out of the box in several pieces and requires a bit of assembly. The resistance unit must be attached to the frame with several hex bolts. When the resistance unit is attached, you must also select what wheel size you will be using; there are several mounting positions based on the wheel size you will be using. This design also necessitates the need for tools when you change to a bike with a different wheel size. This is a downfall to the Vortex compared to other trainers that don't require any tools to assemble. Once the trainer is assembled, the bike is clamped by the proprietary skewer. The throw in the clamping mechanism is shorter with the Vortex, so there is less space to position the bike between the ends of the clamp. We also found the dial that increases drum tension on the tire more difficult to access than other tire drive trainers. Calibration is similar to other tire drive smart trainers and is done with the Tacx training application.

Assembling the Vortex was a bit more challenging than other trainers we tested.
Assembling the Vortex was a bit more challenging than other trainers we tested.

Ongoing Setup

Much like the other tire drive smart trainers we tested, the Vortex requires frequent calibration before every ride.

Portability


This is where the Vortex shines. At 22 lbs it is one of the lightest trainers we tested. In addition to the low weight, the front wheel stabilizer block doubles as a carry handle when clamped in the skewer clamp. We love this feature as it makes carrying the Vortex far less awkward than other tire drive trainers like the Kickr Snap.

The Tacx Vortex is a standout for its portability  with an integrated handle and the lightest overall weight of any trainer we tested.
The Tacx Vortex is a standout for its portability, with an integrated handle and the lightest overall weight of any trainer we tested.

The Vortex provides a progressive resistance magnetic resistance curve with no power. We were easily able to hold up to 350 watts during a pre-race warm-up. This is a big advantage if you plan only to have one trainer and want to be able to use it for home training sessions and take it to races for warmup.

Best Applications


The Vortex is best suited to the rider who wants smart trainer resistance control and interactive application but also wants to be able to use the same trainer for pre-race warmups without the need for electricity. The compromise is less accurate power data and road feel that does not match the higher end of the smart trainer market.

Value


The Vortex is fairly affordable, and despite some power accuracy issues represents a decent value due to its versatility. That said, it's not the best for the money.

The Vortex has a decidedly different look and design compared to other tire drive trainers.
The Vortex has a decidedly different look and design compared to other tire drive trainers.

Conclusion


The Vortex is a competitively priced smart trainer that is portable and offers loads of versatility for use without power. It does not have the road feel or accuracy of the best trainers on the market, but it is a great option for the rider on a budget who wants a versatile smart trainer.

Accessories


E-Thru Trainer Axle
-Thru axle kit for use with 142x12mm hub bicycles.

Curtis Smith