It’s five in the morning and your significant other is still dead to the world, but your alarm is going off. It’s time to get up. It’s time to train. There’s a small problem, though; your current trainer is a little on the loud side, and not everyone enjoys the dulcet tones of interval training before the sun rises. What are you to do? Get a quieter trainer, that’s what. While you’re at it, throw in power, too. Where does that leave you? Why, at the Tacx NEO Smart, of course.
The NEO Smart is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the quietest smart trainer we have ever tested. It might also be the most advanced, as well. Combining a massive aluminum flywheel with thirty-two neodymium magnets, the NEO will produce resistance all the way up to 2200 watts. Two-point-two kilowatts. It will simulate a road slope up to 25%. Beyond having ANT+, as expected, it also has Bluetooth Smart. There are apps for Windows, iOS, and Android. If you don’t use training software already, Tacx provides it. If you do use training software, it integrates seamlessly with all of the major players. The NEO will even continue to function, albeit without some of the more advanced features such as motor braking, without being plugged in. We suspect that you, like us, will leave it plugged into the wall. But it’s nice to know the option is there, we suppose.
You will find that the unit is fairly hefty, even if it folds up into a pretty compact footprint for storage. At just a shade under 50 lbs, it’s a pain to move around – more than twice the weight of our bikes in race trim! But that weight is incredibly well distributed. When folded down, the wings are huge; well over two feet in width at the widest point, and that large of a base gives the trainer a fantastic amount of stability when riding. Further, the trainer itself seems to have some flex built-in, so that it never lifts a leg during hard intervals, or when you’re intentionally trying to rock the bike like you would on a mountain climb. The NEO doesn’t care what you’re doing; it just isn’t going to budge. There aren’t many trainers who can boast about that kind of ability to withstand abuse and not move an inch, but Tacx has managed it for the NEO Smart.
For our part, we deposited the NEO Smart in our pain cave, installed a cassette on it using their supplied lock ring, plugged it in and didn’t even try to move it afterwards. It’s sat there since; our trainer bike firmly attached with the supplied skewer. Getting a bike on and off is a little tricky, but once you remember to shift all the way down to the smallest cog, it isn’t too bad. Horizontal dropouts, such as those on tri bikes, always make wheel changes a little bit more difficult than a road bike’s vertical dropouts. This time, you’re just changing a wheel that weighs fifty pounds.
It isn’t really fair to fault the NEO for being a weighty device; it is heavy because it needs to be. The flywheel alone is several times the size of the Jet Fluid Pro we have sitting next to it, and offers an entirely superior experience, powered or not. All that rotating mass creates a much more realistic feel when riding, and it’s as close as we’ve felt to actually being out on the pavement while still managing to be indoors. As you increase your wattage, the resistance applies almost instantly, but smoothly, too. Your legs register the change, but not like you’ve hit a brick wall, and you don’t suddenly go freewheeling like a mag trainer will do when you overpower it. The NEO simply responds to your input with a silky smooth ramping of resistance, and now you’re holding steady at a higher wattage than before. No muss, no fuss, just power.
Speaking of power, if you’re training on the go with the NEO for whatever slightly implausible reason, there’s a feature we think you’ll quite like. When the unit is unpowered, you still get power data transmitted over ANT+ and Bluetooth, because the unit uses your pedaling to generate electricity. Sure, the trainer is in resistance mode for those workouts, but even being able to get data at all from a smart trainer while it isn’t plugged into the wall is a pretty major feature for those who need it. Oddly enough, we discovered this halfway through a trainer session, when the power went out. Lucky for us, the trainer just switched from Erg to Resistance mode and our TrainerRoad session kept right on going. We weren’t just impressed; we were immensely grateful that we wouldn’t have to repeat the workout all over again.
Yes, Tacx has their own training utility – and it’s actually pretty good. The app has a lot going for it, it runs on Android and uses Bluetooth so you don’t need any weird dongle or whatever. It’s got a ton of really good workouts in there, and if you don’t have a training software that you like before you buy the NEO, we wholeheartedly recommend giving it a try for a while. After all, it’s free and works flawlessly. But Devon got to test out the NEO, and he uses TrainerRoad, so that’s what he continued to do. It worked out for him in the end, but took a little bit of fiddling to get it right.
Two Months with a NEO and TrainerRoad
(Some of what we’ll talk about here may pertain to other training software, some won’t. If you use some other software and aren’t sure if the features we’re talking about pertain to your setup, they probably don’t. Plus, Devon has a tendency to get some weird bugs. Your mileage, as they say, may vary.)
Setting up the NEO with TrainerRoad was a little more frustrating than it really ought to have been, if we’re honest. The NEO hooked right up over ANT+ though a Garmin USB stick, and onto calibration we went. There, you’re supposed to spin up to 20mph and then freewheel down, whereupon the software will tell you that it has made its calibration and away you go. Except, and here’s the important bit, the NEO Smart doesn’t require calibration of any sort. So the calibration never finishes and you’re left sitting there like an idiot, trying to do it several times. Learn from Devon, the NEO doesn’t require you to calibrate it; it’s smarter than you are and that’s all there is to it. Well, smarter than he is, at least.
The next problem we ran into, let’s be clear, was not the NEO’s fault. It was simply exposed by moving to a trainer with power and drove us batty for a couple weeks. Once again, learn from Devon’s mistakes. TrainerRoad has an excellent feature called Power Match, where you can tell your smart trainer to match its resistance to the power output from your bike-based power meter. We happened to be using a Power2Max Type-S, and thought that since we had it, we might as well use it. Apparently there’s some hiccup between the ANT+ stick, the Type-S, and how the NEO receives power data, and on fast ramping sections, something got jumbled and the result was that the NEO was producing resistance for about 10% less power than the interval would call for. This was temporarily fixable by simply changing the trainer’s mode from Erg to Resistance and then back again, but it was certainly frustrating right in the middle of an FTP test. After trying to provide a manual offset and having no luck, turning off power match was the long-term solution. We learned to stop worrying and trust the NEO’s power data, at which point nearly every problem we had went away.
“But wait,” you say. “Won’t your power be different from your bike-based meter to the NEO?” Of course it will. But that isn’t particularly problematic. No, really. If you’re using a PowerTap hub, then the difference between your NEO and your hub should be fairly small. Yes, for any crank-based or pedal-based solution they’ll be larger, but we’re still in the low single digits. If you need to dial it in for race day, do your last FTP test using the setup you’ll race with. You can always bump it back up if you need to for your next training block.
The lesson here, if there is one, is that like all really good equipment, you ought to just use it. Don’t monkey around with it, don’t calibrate it or power match it or make it do funny things. Just hook it up and go. When you do that, magic happens.
We can confidently say we’ve never had a more enjoyable trainer session than our first with the NEO working like it was intended to. The interval starts and you can feel all the way through your legs when the trainer ramps up the resistance, and you don’t have to do anything other than pedal. If you increase your cadence, the NEO matches resistance for you so that you don’t have to change gears. In fact, while in Erg mode, we aren’t sure we’ve ever shifted other than by accident. You simply don’t have to worry about things like that; you can focus on the workout, not on the things around the workout.
Before the NEO, we had a laser focus on our power output when riding the trainer. Too high? Too low? Bouncy? Cadence too high? Are we close to the target number or way off? We don’t worry about that anymore. We just ride. Tacx NEO Smart has shown us a better way to train indoors, and we are never going back. The price tag is high, $1,599 MSRP, but it just works. 10-speed? No problem. 11-speed? Gotcha covered. Campagnolo cassette? Use the included adapter. Done. There are things we spend money on in life that don’t deliver their value; the Tacx NEO Smart far exceeds its price tag. Try one out; you’ll never go back.