This review has been a long time coming! The Neo has been available for close to eight months now so there's already a ton of reviews detailing the technical specifications, low noise, and general build of the unit. All important things to cover, but there isn't many that dive into the actual user experience.
What are the ins and outs of the Neo? What's the ride really like? And the #1 question, how does it compare to the Wahoo Kickr?
I haven't set out to do a head to head comparison between the Neo and Kickr, however I'll be making a lot of references to the Kickr as it is the #1 competitor. To assist Google search indexes I'll include the keywords "Neo vs Kickr" and "Kickr vs Neo" in this paragraph. :)
To get the standard things out of the way first, here are a few links:
Tacx: Neo Official Product Promo Video. Lots of polish. Everything you expect to see and hear.
DCRainmaker: The Tacx NEO Smart Trainer. Covering unboxing, technical specifications, and a few quotes I'll revisit in further detail below.
James Gill's TitaniumGeek: Tacx NEO Long Term Review.
Tacx Official FAQ - Tacx Neo Common Q&A.
- Unboxing and setting up was straight forward and simple. No assembly required.
- Cassette installation on the Edco MultiSys freehub (Shimano and Campagnolo compatible) was straight forward. Shimano lock-rings are now supplied with newer Neo units.
- The unit is heavy. That's ok with me. I don't plan to move it around on a regular basis.
- Some people mention the plastic shell looks cheap. I really like the look of the unit. Star Wars meets Tron with some Fast and the Furious neon lights for effect.
- Owning a Neo means you're inducted into the The Flat Earth Society, like it or not. There's no 'feet' to adjust or level the unit. You'll have to get creative if your floor isn't level.
- The glowing lights under the Neo are nice visual for the pain cave, but are of no real use. I could imagine them being more interesting in a spin room full of Neos where you could tell how hard other riders are working (blue = easy. red = in the red zone!).
- The unit can be used without power. The energy you're putting into the Neo from the bike will power the unit. That's pretty cool. As for using this unit outside for warm ups? That idea isn't all that practical. The unit is too big to haul around, it's heavy, and it isn't waterproof. I'll be sticking to my LeMond Revolution or CycleOps Fluid2 trainer for warm up duty.
- The Neo will not accomodate all bike frames. Tacx have templates to print and measure your frame available here. My Shiv TT bike is reported as being incompatible. Looks like it'll work with the 135mm spacer and a front wheel prop. Check your own bike(s) before purchasing!
- The height of the Neo cover makes it a little trickier to put your bike on/off than other direct drive trainers. Not a huge drama, just something that's not the same as the others.
- "Neo leans to the right" issue. Yes, it does. The Neo has maybe 20mm of play side to side when the bike is mounted. This is more 'wobble' than most trainers. Due to the offset of how the bike is mounted, more to right, you'll feel the bike move more right than left. This isn't a major issue, but it is noticeable.
If your number one priority is low noise ergo sessions then the Neo is your answer. It is perfect for apartments or those who don't want to disturb the family at 5am. There is a low level hum that comes from the Neo. It's so low your drivetrain and the fans in your pain cave will mask it.
DCRainmaker also has a video up on YouTube that demonstrates the sound of the Neo vs the Kickr perfectly.
You'll be a full 25mm (~1 inch) higher off the ground on the Neo compared to the Kickr or LeMond Revolution. The supplied front wheel block from Tacx goes part way to propping up the front wheel enough to feel natural. Telephone books are my wheel prop of choice.
This could be a seperate post in itself. I'll keep it short and sharp.
My testing showed the Neo lining up within a few watts of my Quarq (calibrated with a 20.000kg certified weight). I got a second opinion from the doctor - Dr Stephen Lane from HPTek who performs step-tests on athletes more regularly than I have hot dinners. Two thumbs up from him too after testing with Power2Max, SRMs, and SRMs with oval chainrings (out by the estimated offset using those, data junkies you know the deal).
Not having to calibrate or perform a regular spindown is win with the Neo.
Nothing will beat the buttery smooth feeling of the LeMond Revolution. As for smart trainer road feel the Neo is pretty good, and getting better with recent firmware updates. User TarmacExpert over on the UK TimeTrialling forums has performed some detailed analysis of the Neo that is well worth a look if you want to dive deeper into this topic.
Road Surface Simulation - Feel The RUMBLES!
Downhill Drive - Not so fast.....
A much talked up feature of the Neo is the downhill drive simulation, where the Neo turns the freewheel on simulated descents when plugged into a power source.
"when the NEO Smart is plugged into the wall – the trainer will even ‘propel’ you forward if you’re on a virtual downhill grade." Bike Radar. August 2015.
No it won't. It'll turn the freewheel but this has ZERO EFFET on 'propelling' you forward.
All training apps calculate your virtual speed primarily from your power and the virtual gradient. This is completely independent of how fast your ergo flywheel is spinning. If anything, Downhill Drive is a slight hinderance if you need to keep your wattage up on descents as there's less resistance to push against. Setting the 'Trainer Difficulty' in Zwift to 50%-75% goes a long way to assist in this area. For full details of Trainer Difficulty feature within Zwift, see this ZwiftBlog article.
Under the right conditions the Neo will happily spin the freewheel indefinitely while your Zwift avatar has come to a halt on the side of the road. (*A recent Zwift update stopped this entertaining effect from happening)
This isn't a bug, or an error with either the Neo or Zwift. Zwift will apply a slight braking effect to your avatar when you're not pedalling to assist with bunch ride dynamics. If your virtual speed and downhill inertia isn't enough to overcome this braking you will come to a stop, but the Neo keeps spinning away like it's on a downhill. Again, not a bug, this is by design. It also proves that Downhill Drive does not itself propel you anywhere.
The Kickr does a good job of simulating descents by significantly reducing resistance and letting the heavy flywheel spin up to carry inertia. Downhill Drive provides a similar inertia feel for the Neo. It propels the flywheel forward so you have to get on top of the pedals, as you do outside on a real descent.
In summary - "In case that you don’t plug it in the wall, it won’t drive when going downhill and the cycling feeling is a little bit less good." - TACX Neo Questions and Answers
|.... a little bit less good. Um... What? :)|
That Green Jersey Smell
The first three green jersey sprints I tested the unit with on Zwift (~900W 20 seconds) resulted in an electrical odour coming from the Neo. The unit gets pretty hot under normal operation, so I suspect this is simply some bedding-in from the factory taking place. Maybe some excess glue on the heatsinks inside the unit?
A Tacx representative has posted the following statement after others reported the same,
The smell is caused by the power resistors which converts the energy from the sprints to heat. The resistors have been burned in at a high constant power level but in sprints the peak power can be much higher and this causes the smell which will reduce after repeating the same power levels. - Martin Smits
Virtual Tyre Slip
The Neo is a direct drive unit with no drive belt. It should be impossible for any tyre slip issues. Right? Under certain conditions I encountered issues with the Neo resistance backing off for a fraction of a second at the bottom of each pedal stroke immediately after maximum torque. I suspect there's some kind of resistance protection kicking in. I'm not able to quantify this with data as the sample rate of the Quarq isn't high enough.
This is a noticeable anomaly when doing low speed hill attacks. The uniform resistance of the pedal stroke is interrupted. It has been described over on the Tacx forums as the resistance becoming "mushy".
Discussion Link of this issue over on the Tacx Forums
I've been told this "mushy" issue feels like you're running oval chainrings. I'm sure this similarity is a coincidence and isn't by design.
This issue has delayed this review as I've spent a days researching this issue, testing, testing, and more testing. I've spoken to a number of Neo owners about their experience and there's a general consensus with the latest firmware updates the Neo has become troublesome for high torque sprint efforts. I have an ongoing channel of communication with Tacx direct at the moment looking into this issue and I'll update this post as things progress.
The local distributor has been excellent, and the team at Tacx have responded to my queries within a few hours. This has been extremely helpful as I've worked on this article.
Here's the real sticking point in Australia. The Neo has an RRP of $2199
Wahoo Kickr has an RRP of AU$1599 (with cassette supplied). Rumours of multi-buy discounts can bring this down below AU$1500 if your local store is willing. The going price for a 2nd hand Kickr is from $800-$1350.
In Europe the Kickr and Neo are both the same price. I'm not sure why the Aussie market is so different. Tacx will need to review the Neo price here in Australia if they're going to move anywhere near the same volume as Wahoo with their Kickrs.
Levelling the Battle - The recent Wahoo counter punch!
"What differentiates the NEO though from something like the Wahoo KICKR are two main aspects: Downhill drive, and noise. Or rather, lack thereof. First, the noise from the unit is pretty close to silent." - DCRainmaker, September 2015.
Knowing what I know now about the Downhill Drive feature of the Neo, and taking into account the recent update by Wahoo to Kickr firmware 1.4.47 that incorporates acceleration power and better simulation mode operation - The head to head battle between these two smart trainers is closer than I first thought. The only feature of the Neo that differentiates the two at the moment is the noise. And the Kickr isn't too obnoxious when it comes to that.
Straight to the Point Q&A
Is the Neo bad for my carbon frame? No. Ergos don't break bikes. Misuse does.
Is the Neo a good trainer to buy? Yes..... if you can get a good deal on one.
Is it the silver bullet of smart trainers? No.
Will I be selling my Kickr? No.
Kickr or Neo - With the Aussie price difference? Kickr.
If they were the same price? Kickr unless noise was a concern and/or you want the road surface simulation of the Neo.
Whatever Lama, I want to try one for myself! Excellent! I really encourage this. Find a Dealer Here
You didn't cover X or Y about the Neo! There's a ton of things I haven't covered, I'll add them in if there's a lot of queries. Fire away in the comments section!
Will these answers change? YES! Just as Wahoo released a game-changing firmware for the now three year old Kickr only a few weeks ago, I'm certain Tacx have a few tricks up their sleeve in the near future. I'll keep a changelog at the bottom of this article.
- First post publication.
- Updated AU $RRP.
- Import duty and taxes if buying overseas.
- Find a Dealer link added.
- Update from TACX via NEO Owners Group Re: Virtual Tyre Slip
- Zwift updated to stop infinite flywheel spinning under certain conditions.
- Quote from Tacx representative about the SMELL!
- Road Surface Simulation video added