Direct Drive Trainers

The road season is over. Cross is in full swing. It’s only a matter of time before we in the north have to start thinking about dusting off the trainer and preparing for a long winter of indoor riding. With so many advances in indoor riding in the last few years, however, things are a little less boring than they used to be –not to mention more effective. Apps like Trainer Road have substantially enhanced the effectiveness of indoor training while Zwift has greatly decreased the bore factor. The advances in trainer technology, too, have made an impact on the way we train indoors. In the past 2-3 years direct drive trainers have benefitted greatly from these tech advances and in this post, we’ll go over some of the models currently on the market.

Elite Turbo Muin/ Real Muin

turbo-muin-elite-turbo-trainer-super-quiet_2_0_0At lower end of the price range is Elite’s Turbo Muin models. Elite is one of the few companies to offer two models of direct drive, each at differing price points with differing features. At the core they are essentially the same trainer. The aesthetic design is essentially the same (aside from colour). Both feature pulley systems and a built-in cooling fan (for the resistance unit, not the rider) and a folding support stand which allows for easy storing.

The cheaper model, the Turbo Muin, features progressive fluid resistance (silicon oil) and no electronic transmission (bluetooth and Ant+ are the standards). There is, however, a built in magnet in the unit so that a speed sensor can be attached for measuring speed and estimating power. This allows the trainer to be used with both Zwift and Trainer Road’s virtual power systems. Since it is a progressive system, the resistance cannot be controlled through external devices.

It boasts a whopping 2500w+ max power output at 60kph. This is great for pure sprinters and pursuiters who want to do high output speed work. The 5.9kg flywheel is a hefty beast that increases the road feel significantly. As for noise, DC Rainmaker reports that the Elite Turbo is surprisingly quiet given the pulley system and cooling fan. It is compatible with both shimano and campy systems (Campy users require an additional purchase) but does not come with a cassette.

3-turbo-muin-ottima-rotondita-pedalata_0The higher end version of the Muin is the Real Muin, which features the same fluid resistance unit in addition to a magnetic unit to simulate climbs up to 18% grade (at 15kph). It also transmits speed and cadence via bluetooth and Ant+. Like it’s little brother, it cannot be controlled via external devices. Elite claims that the unit has downhill simulation but there is little information on how it works or its effectiveness.

Both units rely heavily on Elite’s My E-training software. While it is a robust platform, the unit relies on software based power calculations, which means that a third party head unit, like a Garmin, will not pick up power from the unit, only speed and cadence. This is somewhat limiting for those who prefer to use a head unit in front of the TV, rather than setup a computer. With Elite’s software, riders can simulate races and courses, and export ride data to Training Peaks, WKO+ and other training metrics software.

While a little behind the most current technology in terms of resistance and device compatibility, the Turbo Muin, available for $600-800, is an excellent choice for the budget conscious rider who still wants to some connectivity with external devices and apps. Elite has done a great job with their proprietary software suite and that alone make this trainer worth a second look. The higher end version, however, features a significant jump in price without an equivalent boost in features. Retailing at $1300-1500 it just doesn’t compare to other direct drive units in the same range.

Wahoo Kickr

Wahoo-KICKR-Power-Trainer-Trainingsrolle-schwarz-u-05ec658af9aa105ea064761c8100c475The Kickr is the first direct drive trainer to allow open use of third party apps and devices to control resistance. Since its release it has been one of the most popular models on the market.

It features electromagnetic resistance and a 5.6kg flywheel for realistic road feel. It has built in power, speed, and cadence sensors on the 11 speed model (10 speed model requires external cadence sensor). The unit features a pulley system not unlike the Elite models but generates less heat than a fluid unit therefore eliminating the need for a cooling fan.

The resistance unit can be controlled by third party apps like Trainer Road as well as Wahoo’s own proprietary system and it transmits data through both bluetooth and Ant+. Because of the built in power meter external head units can be used to measure power. Some Garmin Edge units also have the ability to control the resistance of the unit. The Kickr has a max wattage of 1900w at 25mph, which is a little less than the Turbo Muin but still enough for even the most rigorous sprint intervals.

The unit itself is rather bulky and does not fold away easily. What it lacks portability it makes up for in functionality. The popularity of the wahoo has lead to its widespread functionality across many different platforms. Most importantly, Zwift and Trainer Road. Trainer Road will control the resistance of the kickr so that you hit your target power every time.

The wahoo retails for anywhere between $1000-1500 depending where you buy it.

Tacx Neo

712-eFYCpnL._SX425_Tacx has been lagging behind in the direct drive market. Whereas the other big brands have had units out for several years, Tacx’s first foray into direct drive is just arriving on the market this fall. Fortunately for them, the wait will probably be well worth it. Their system is arguably the most advanced of all direct drive trainers on the market albeit the most expensive. Their unit features the portability of the Elite Turbo Muin with the functionality of the wahoo kickr (and then some). While not a lightweight device (47lbs) it folds up like a suitcase and so is less awkward to store than even other foldable trainers.

The resistance unit is a powerful electromagnetic system and requires no belts or pulleys. The unit is truly direct drive. Unlike almost all other trainers, the Neo features no flywheel. Instead there is a simulated flywheel effect using a powered motor. This allows for dynamic action of the flywheel making the unit feel much more like the road than ever before. It also means that the unit can similate not only uphill grades (up to 25%) but also downhill descents of up to -5%. With a 2200w max output, the unit will appeal to not just the die-hard climber but also pure sprinters and pursuiters. When the unit is not connected to a computer, the resistance unit will behave like a progressive fluid unit.

Speed, cadence, and power are built into the unit just like in the kickr and it broadcasts both Bluetooth and Ant+ frequencies. Both frequencies allow for control of the unit –just like the kickr. A cassette is not included with the Neo but it natively supports all Shimano cassettes. Some Campy models are supported (most of the Veloce 8 slot models are not supported).

At $1700-2000 in price this is one of the most expensive units on the market. Is the it worth the cost? When comparing it to the Wahoo, functionality is similar but more robust. And with Tacx you get a product designed by people who have been making trainers for years and whose reputation for quality is nearly unsurpassed. It’s much quieter than the Kickr (see DC Rainmaker’s video for comparison). If you already own a Kickr, you probably won’t need to upgrade to the Neo. But if you’re in the market for your first direct drive or want to upgrade to a software controlled unit for Trainer Road and Zwift, it might be worth the extra money.

Other Units

Other mentions for direct drive are the LeMond Revolution and Cycleops Silencer. While both of these may be decent trainers, they lack even the basic functionality we’ve come to expect from direct drive units. The Silencer does not support speed sensors so cannot be used for virtual power. It uses an outdated magnetic resistance unit with a handlebar mounted lever with 5 resistance settings. The price for both is comparable to the Elite Turbo Muin, whose functionality by far exceeds both of these models. Some of Tacx’s lower end turbo trainers have more features than the Silencer and LeMond for nearly half the price. If Cycleops wants to stay in the game, their unit needs a major overhaul.

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