Indoor trainer kings Wahoo have revisited the design of the Kickr and released the kickr Climb, their much-vaunted variable gradient fork mount. Luke Meers tested both units.
Here we’re looking at two exciting products: the new 2018 Wahoo Kickr and the Kickr Climb unit which allows for simulation of physical gradient to match simulated resistance.
The new Kickr
The Wahoo Kickr can probably lay claim to being the unit that really set the early benchmark for direct drive smart trainers. The robust build, simple design, easy connection and compatibility means it has remained as a market leader. As expected with such a good product, the changes from previous units are evolutionary rather than revolutionary.
However, these changes should be enough to see the new Kickr remain as a benchmark trainer.
In my experience, Wahoo have led the way regarding some of the software-based aspects of their products. Connectivity with the Kickr has generally been simple and effective and the well designed feedback/control loop has resulted in an accurate and responsive system. Connectivity of the new unit is via both ANT+ and Bluetooth.
These wireless functions can be connected in parallel to a range of third-party apps and devices. There are lights on top of the unit to give a helpful visual confirmation of connected status of both Bluetooth and ANT+ protocols. The impressive ride feel of the Kickr has been further improved with a larger and heavier flywheel, calibrated to give precise inertia and improved dynamics. This was noticeable during testing, with rapid yet smooth transitions between resistance levels.
Some handy supplied parts with the new unit include an 11-speed cassette and a range of adapters to allow for compatibility with lots of bikes, including thru-axle models. The unit also comes with a cadence sensor (external).
The new Kickr boasts up to 2200W and/or 20% gradient of resistance. Power measurement is no longer via direct strain gauge measurement (like the first generation Kickr).
Improved Power Accuracy
Instead power is determined via the resistance of the electronic braking unit itself. This is potentially less direct but requires less processing too, thus allowing for faster response times. Wahoo claims the power accuracy (quoted as +/- 2%) has improved from the original unit. The data from my rides indicate that this may well be true.
The Kickr gave readings within 1% on average of my crank-based power meter, and the power curves matched closely over a range of power levels and effort types.
Probably the biggest change, however, is the dramatic reduction in noise. The Kickr is now firmly in the same camp as the Tacx Neo, which is a big statement. It seems like the bulk of the noise now comes from the chain itself. For me the noise was never a big issue, as once I have my fan pumping, it becomes quite noisy regardless. For those in close proximity to sleeping family members though, this might be a big tick for the new Kickr.
The Kickr Climb
The Kickr Climb is the new product on the trainer block. It replaces the front wheel of the bike and moves the front axle up and down to simulate grade changes. The moving front axle means the whole bike pivots around the rear axle.
The Kickr Climb has enough range of movement to simulate gradients of up to 20% and descents of -10%. It is surprising how far up this unit goes.
The bike feels stable on the Kickr Climb, even at high gradients. The unit is effectively designed to rock a little at the base to give enough movement of the front axle. This is necessary due to the arc bike makes when pivoting around the rear axle.
The Kickr Climb is a wirelessly connected device but, contrary to what I intuitively assumed, it is not controlled via the external app controlling the trainer. Rather it connects to the trainer itself and is controlled based on the resistance levels fed from the trainer.
Thus, if the trainer is simulating a high resistance, the unit moves up, with decreasing resistance it descends. Sounds simple and works very effectively. The Kickr Climb is only compatible with Wahoo Kickr and Snap trainers, and only 2017 models onward.
Operating the Kickr Climb
The Climb pairs simply and quickly via a proximity connection. It has a simple remote with three buttons which can be mounted on the handlebars for quick manual control of the gradient or clipped on top the Climb unit. When in ‘unlocked mode’ the Climb is controlled by the trainer; when ‘locked’ it is manual only. The response time is great and it is really quite fun to ride around a virtual world such as Zwift and have the gradient simulated in real time.
This really is a great step forward in making indoor training an immersive experience.
So are there any negatives? Only a couple. I found that on Zwift, for example, many courses I ride are largely on grades between -3% and 3% and I often wouldn’t even notice the Climb doing its thing during these rides unless I was watching for it. Only when gradient changed by more than about 3% in a single movement did I really notice it. This wasn’t really a drawback, but was interesting to note.
The Kickr Climb is not a cheap bit of kit. At just under $800, it is a hefty price to pay on top of the smart trainer you have already purchased. However, for many, the Climb will be worthy of the pricetag. It really does add to the indoor riding experience and allows the user to train in specific positions (such as seated, steep inclines).
The new Wahoo Kickr and the Kickr Climb, together make an enjoyably immersive and varied indoor training experience. Wahoo continues their path of innovation and product development and these two units are examples of their ability to deliver quality products to the cycling market.