Wind trainers have been essential to the winter riding experience for a very long time. The advent of the smart trainer is the latest step in the evolution of these humble training tools, and the Tacx NEO is a smart trainer that lives up to the title.
It’s a direct drive model, meaning you need to remove the rear wheel of your bike to use it. Since it weighs in at 21 kgs there’s the added benefit of making setup a CrossFit-like affair, toning legs and building biceps. (Kidding. But seriously, it’s heavy!) It can operate both with or without a power supply. It’s perfect for when there are gale force winds outside, you need to train and Vector still hasn’t restored power to your area post-storm. A phone/tablet/computer is still a necessity to get things up and running, though. Bear in mind that without a power supply, only the basic functions are available using electricity generated from your pedalling—but it’s more than serviceable.
This probably isn’t the trainer you’re going to put in the back of your car for warming up before a time trial, but that’s not the point of the NEO setting up inside when the weather decides to throw a tantrum is what the NEO is made for. You see, it’s more of a cycling simulator than a trainer. In fact, I’d argue it’s probably the closest thing possible to truly riding your bike in the comfort of your own home (unless you live in an indoor velodrome, in which case, go you!)
This is where hooking the trainer up to a device comes into play, as this allows you to download virtual courses filmed on some of the most famous rides in the world, and ride them yourself through Tacx’s app. No CGI reconstruction here: it’s actual footage that runs in time with your pedalling. It will also work with Zwift, TrainerRoad or any other software you have a personal penchant for.
As cool as that is, it’s not a unique feature in and of itself, as smart trainers have been around for a while from a multitude of manufacturers. In fact, Tacx themselves make several other smart trainers that are cheaper than the NEO. But where the NEO makes its mark in is how it carries out its smart trainer functionality.
First, some numbers. A maximum torque of 85Nm. A power output of 2,200 watts. The ability to simulate climbs with gradients as high as 25%. A flywheel effect that, without pedalling, keeps your wheel spinning at a speed corresponding to the terrain in the video. It’s all very impressive. The NEO even builds in a feature that makes the trainer vibrate slightly when your video involves off-road terrain, to simulate the feeling of riding on cobbles and gravel.
Translation: this thing is a lot more fun to ride than your regular wind trainer.
The software pairs naturally with the trainer for an immersive experience. It didn’t take much mechanical dexterity or technological literacy to pair my laptop up, and once I set up my bike I was away: Climbing through the French Alps, cruising along Italian coastline, and just about everything in between. There’s a decent range of courses available to suit whatever you feel up for. It all felt very natural and enjoyable, adapting to whatever speed I chose to ride at. I even caught myself grinning at some points, not something I usually associate with riding a static trainer.
I think that says it all, really.
Now to the elephant in the room. There’s no getting past how much this thing costs. For similar money, you could buy a mid-range alloy bike to be your winter beater instead. The way I see it, that’s kind of what you’re doing when buying one of these. You’re not just buying a wind trainer, you’re buying a viable alternative to a winter training bike to help keep the mileage up when the weather turns to custard, because as a simulator that’s what the NEO is meant to emulate. It allows you to keep riding year-round without the need for high vis, bright lights and a king’s ransom in thermal wear. And in my opinion, it will continue to deliver long after the novelty wears off. There are cheaper options for sure, but if you want the gold standard for what smart trainers are capable of, you’d be hard pressed to look past the Tacx NEO. It’s that good. Period.
Words: Robin Page
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