In the last week I've acquired smart trainers from both ends of the pricing spectrum. The TACX Neo Smart (>AU$2000) and the Elite Qubo Digital Smart B+ (~AU$500).
I was primed to write about the TACX Neo until I rode the Elite trainer for two hours yesterday. For the price, I was so impressed I had to write this up first. It isn't all roses though. There's a few shortfalls to deal with if you're looking to buy the cheapest smart trainer on the market.
DCRainmaker has covered the specifications of the Elite Qubo Digital Smart B+ here. But how does it ride? How does it compare to direct drive trainers? What's the overall experience like on Zwift? Can a trainer 1/4th the price of the Neo provide the same indoor experience?
The good news is that it works. It works really well. The experience of "oh, did that just... wowa" is there when the road heads up and down on Zwift. The automatic resistance changes are there. On instinct you'll flick down a few gears and stand up out of the saddle on the hills. You'll be immersed. Something I didn't think possible on an entry level smart trainer. Ask anyone who's upgraded from a standard trainer to a smart trainer and they'll tell you it's this immersive experience that brings ergo sessions to life.
If direct drive smart trainers are outside your bike budget, this is a brilliant alternative. At ~AU$400 it's a no brainer purchase. If you can only find the unit at the RRP of AU$650, then hold off and budget a few $100 more for the Wahoo Kickr SNAP, for reasons discussed below. It isn't all about the hardware!
The power readings from the unit were pretty close to my Quarq from 0-250W. From 250W+ it read 10-20W low for sustained efforts. That's a pretty good ballpark for the price. If you've already got a power meter then you pair that as your Power Source in Zwift and use the Elite trainer as a Controllable Trainer for a cheap and accurate solution.
|Quarq for power & cadence - The Elite Qubo providing smart resistance.|
The roller isn't screwed in or locked into the tyre like most other trainers. The design uses the weight of the bike and rider to push back on the roller. The only issue I encountered was when jumping forward on hard hill attacks I was robbed a few watts compared to what the Quarq reported. I put this down to a small amount of tyre slip.
I thought this design would have been a showstopper when sprinting, but it wasn't. Once the roller was spun up to speed the unit worked extremely well in sprints.
Due to the design there is a small amount of forward/back movement of your bike when you ride as the tyre 'bounces' on the roller. Your milage may vary, and it'll depend on how smooth you are on the bike. You'll also need to have the trainer on a grippy surface to stop clocking up real kms into the walls at home.
The noise level isn't too bad, it's no LeMond Revolution neighbourhood blaster. The small 35mm roller and light flywheel give a higher pitch sound than a fluid trainer. I'll do a video comparing my collection of trainers under sustained load and sprints in the near future.
The roller will wear tyres. There's no getting around this on these types of trainers. The best thing you can do is to clean your tyre before every ride if you've been outside. This will keep the roller surface in good condition so it won't chew your rubber.
The Elite trainer range is extensive and the names can be confusing. The Elite Qubo Digital Smart B+ is a different product to the Elite Qubo Power Smart B+. Beware when shopping!
The Elite software for firmware updates, calibration, and their own training programs are very ordinary. One EXE to update the firmware, another to get calibration values, another to set them. I had to switch these executables into Windows XP compatibility mode as they crashed under Windows 10 (64bit). And after that, the calibration just doesn't work for me. No major issue as it was already pretty accurate and I'm able to use the Quarq for power source on Zwift.
Elite need to take a leaf from Wahoo and Tacx on this one and allow full unit management (firmware/calibration) from within the mobile app.
Locating the iPhone app isn't easy either. Search for 'MyETraining' is the tip if you want to use it.
Documentation and user support information online is thin. Once you locate an answer it'll likely be for their other similarly named trainers with different features. It's not the same as searching for Wahoo or Tacx and having a goldmine of posts on SlowTwitch appear. Having said that, there are two Elite Qubo posts on SlowTwitch raising the exact issues I have here.
The ANT+ speed/cadence sensor the unit broadcasts hasn't been compatible with my Garmin 520 either. Apparently I clocked up 250km for a 2hr ergo session. Not sure what's going on there.... even Zwift doesn't agree with the numbers it's cooking up.
I've sent Elite a list of queries regarding my concerns here. I'll update this post with the answers if it'll help others.
The good thing is that out of the box this unit just works with third-party apps over ANT+ FEC or Bluetooth, so my gripes with their software are of no major concern. I hope they're addressed in the next few updates (both firmware and mobile apps).
I'll be loaning this trainer to anyone who wants to experience Zwift with a smart trainer before committing to a purchase of their own - so that's still a big thumbs up from me.