You know a product is a good one when we dread sending it back at the end of the review cycle. Fortunately, we typically get at least a few good months with a product before we have to give it back. However, sometimes a product is only available to us for a short timeframe, which means we’re boxing it back up before we know it. Unfortunately our time with the Wahoo KICKR falls under the later description. While it was at the AG office for just a few weeks, we know that Wahoo has a winner on its hands.
The Wahoo KICKR
The Wahoo KICKR trainer is a cassette-based trainer (you have to pull off your wheel to mount the bike) with integrated power meter that supports Bluetooth 4.0 and ANT+ to communicate with iOS, Android, and a whole host of other devices. That’s a bit of a mouthful, so let’s break that down further.
To get going, you’ll need to mount your bike via the KICKR’s attached cassette. The KICKR ships with either a 10-speed or 11-speed Shimano\SRAM cassette, depending on your purchase. If you’re looking to ride with 8- or 9-speed Shimano\SRAM or Campagnolo, you’ll need to provide your own cassette (and in the case of Campagnolo, swap out the freehub). If you have had any experience swapping out a wheel, mounting your bike will be simple. Pull the skewer and wheel off, line up the cassette with your derailleur, and mount it. Once mounted, simply insert the KICKR’s supplied skewer and lock it down. We typically use trainer tires whenever we are doing indoor work and found that mounting a bike onto the KICKR was easier and less time consuming then swapping to a trainer tire. The only catch is if you are routinely switching between 10- and 11-speed bikes. In that case, you’ll have to swap cassettes or simply choose to ride with the wrong cassette. We rode an 11-speed bike on the 10-speed cassette when we were pressed for time. It worked, though shifting was not precise and the derailleur sometimes swapped gears on us. Overall, we wouldn’t recommend this shortcut for long term use.
One of the features Wahoo has been touting across its product line is combination Bluetooth and ANT+ support. For those not familiar, Bluetooth and ANT+ are the preferred transmission protocols for syncing your wireless fitness devices. Garmin typically supports ANT+ (though newer Garmin’s now support Bluetooth as well), while Suunto favors Bluetooth. But either way, Wahoo has you covered. We paired the Wahoo with both our Garmin 500 Edge and iPhone 6 with no issues.
Speaking of Bluetooth, Wahoo’s fitness app is available on iOS and Android and provides not only full metrics from the KICKR but control as well (for our purposes, we conducted all of our testing on the iOS platform). The KICKR has four modes – level, resistance, erg, and sim. Level is similar to the exercise bike at the gym – you can set it anywhere from 0-9 with the degree of difficulty going up with each level. Resistance allows you to manually set the percentage of resistance. Erg allows you to set and hold the specific target power output. And finally, sim mode lets you simulate slope and\or wind. The KICKR enables you to get even more specific by setting your bike type as well as your tire rolling resistance. Unfortunately, due to our limited time with the unit and our own predefined workout schedules, we didn’t get as much time to play with the modes as we would have liked. Instead, we spent most of our time in the “level” mode using the trainer is a more ‘classic’ fashion. However, the little bit of time we played in the erg mode was brutal, which was just what we had in mind. Ideally, we’d love to have the KICKR in town for the lead up to some of our fall ‘A’ races to train with the sim mode for wind. But that will have to wait for now.
The KICKR’s control isn’t limited to just iOS and Android devices. With either Bluetooth or ANT+ (via a USB dongle) the KICKR can be controlled via almost any computer you have in the house. Take a look at the device compatibility guide below.
The KICKR also isn’t limited to Wahoo’s own app. By using open protocols, Wahoo has opened up the KICKR to a limitless number of apps. Wahoo has their own app comparison guide here.
One thing worth noting about the KICKR is that it’s heavy. Expect to put some effort into pulling it out of the box, and honestly we think that’s a good thing. We hate nothing more than having a trainer that rocks on us, and with the KICKR, that was not a problem. Once the KICKR is out of the box unfold the legs and set the trainer’s height. The height is adjustable for 24″ RD, 24″ MTB, 650c RD, 26″ MTB, 700c RD, 650b MTB and 29″ MTB. Now it’s time to plug it in, mount the bike, and download the app.
Now if you are like us, you may think you’re finished—and technically, you are. You can ride the KICKR to your heart’s content. Although you may be in for quite a surprise when you review your metrics. We know we did double takes when one of our editors started putting out Tour-level power numbers over an hour of riding on the KICKR. And that’s when we remembered the last crucial step – calibrating the power meter. All power meters offer some type of calibration mode after setup or travel to get back to baseline. However, not all offer one as simple as the KICKR’s. Simply locate the calibrate option in the Wahoo app to perform a spin down. Then just pedal the bike up to 23 mph and let it coast (spin down), and you’re done. Wahoo recommends a calibration any time you travel or every two weeks.
Smooth. That’s the way we describe riding the KICKR. The levels provide a consistent road-like feel as the speed increases. You can check out the power curves below, but riding is believing, and the curves were extremely consistent with what you’d feel on the road. The default setting for the KICKR is level 2. So for those who just want to plug and play, that’s the curve they should expect.
We spent most of our time using the iOS app with our iPhone 6, and while we weren’t blown away with the metrics visualizations, it provided more than enough detail for use in our daily workouts. But the little we played with control was a whole different story. The app was great for making small changes to resistance or levels. Want to go hard for 5 minutes? Grab the phone, tap a few times, and you’re all set. We were big fans of the easy on-the-fly adjustments.
At $1,099 the KICKR isn’t cheap but still falls in line with other similar power trainers on the market (while undercutting the Computrainer by several hundred dollars). While four weeks wasn’t enough time to give our full blessing, more than one editor started giving serious thought to purchasing a KICKR for their own pain cave.