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Hands-on Gear Review
Tacx Vortex Smart Review
Cons: Not accurate for power measurement, poor road feel, lacks stability.
Bottom line: An affordable lightweight smart trainer.
The Tacx Vortex 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 solid training tool that is somewhat more versatile in terms of being used as a warmup tool compared to other trainers we tested.
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Our Analysis and Hands-on 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 apart from the other smart trainers we tested with its lightweight design and ability to function without power.
Connectivity and Power Accuracy
The Vortex uses both ANT+ 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 it is a way to control trainer resistance and perform calibration. We had some difficulty getting the Vortex to pair and perform software updates, quite the contrast to the ultra simple and easy experience we had using the Wahoo application with the Kickr Snap. 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.
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. Comparatively the Kickr Snap had a variance of around five percent. 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 our Quarq readings.
This is where the Vortex shines. At 22lbs it is one of the lightest trainers we tested, even lighter than the nonsmart Kinetic Road Machine. In addition, to the light 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 Vortex is also the only smart trainer we tested that 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 to only have one trainer and want to be able to use it for home training sessions and take it to races for warmup.
The Vortex features a lightweight metal frame that is far less robust than the steel tubular frames found on the Kickr Snap and the Kinetic Road Machine. As a result, it is much lighter in weight, but also less stable under hard out-of-the-saddle efforts.
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.
The road feel of the Vortex does not compare to the Kickr Snap or the Hammer Direct Drive. The flywheel weighs a paltry 3.6lbs, 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, compared to the amazing feel of the Hammer Direct with its 20lb flywheel.
Resistance changes are abrupt in both SIM and ERG mode. If you are looking for a road-like experience we recommend the Hammer Direct or Kickr. 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.
Setup is a bit more involved with the Vortex than with other trainers we tested.
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 like the Kickr Snap that does not require any tools to assemble. Once the trainer is assembled the bike is clamped by the proprietary skewer. We found it a bit harder to get the bike in position as compared to the Kinetic Road Machine or the Kickr Snap because the throw in the clamping mechanism is shorter 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.
Much like the other tire drive smart trainers we tested, the Vortex requires frequent calibration before every ride. Trainers such as the Kickr only require a monthly calibration, making them much easier to use on a day-to-day basis.
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.
With a price tag of $550 the Vortex is the most affordable smart trainer we tested, and despite some power accuracy issues represents a great value due to its versatility.
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.
E-Thru Trainer Axle
— Curtis Smith
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