Smart bikes are a piece of equipment you might be familiar with.
A smart bike is an indoor bike that has a built-in resistance trainer.
They are similar to smart trainers, but are slightly different and offer more benefits.
In this article, we’ll talk about the benefits of a smart bike and what it is and why you might want to purchase one.
The Best Smart Bikes in 2020
OUR TOP PICK
|Tacx Neo Bike Smart|
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|Wahoo Kickr Bike|
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BEST VALUE FOR MONEY
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1. Tacx Neo Bike — Best Smart Indoor Training Bike
The Tacx Neo Bike was designed to be silent, accurate, and realistic. All the ideal characteristics you’d like to have in a smart bike.
The top features are
- Dynamic Inertia
- Silent bike
- 2200 watts
- 25% incline
- Accurate power measures of +/- 1% deviation
When you see this bike in a sports store or online, you’ll notice right away that it has a lot of “room” for customization. You can adjust the pedals, saddle, handle bars and crank lengths to your outdoor bike. To adjust the bike’s set up, you can either do it manually or use the control buttons. Whatever makes it easier to switch among riders.
The second feature you might notice is the display. The bike has a 4.5-inch monitor that can show your data and is easy to set up. And, if you’d like you can charge your smartphone or tablet or even both with the two available USB chargers built on the bike.
Once you have the bike out of the box and set up, you’ll want to take a few notes on the bike’s components. And, for those curious, the set-up time shouldn’t take you more than 30 minutes. Just follow the directions.
The bike’s power supply is similar to the Tacx’s smart trainers, except the bike has more power. But you actually don’t need to plug it in to use it.
You can still power most of the features used on the bike just by pedaling. If you do plug in the bike, you get the downhill drive feature and the power for the USB ports. If you regularly use those two features, then I’d suggest leaving the bike plugged in for your workouts.
The crankset has a lot of flexibility so that you can get the perfect fit. And, makes it easy to adjust if you have multiple users in the home. For those curious, the crank can go from 170mm to 175mm.
And, you’ll notice that inside the crankset and the fly wheel there are lights, which activate when you pedal.
For adjustments, this bike can adjust the saddle (tilt angle and forward/backward movement) and handlebars (up/ down movement and forward/backward movement), which is marked with a ruler. This makes it easier. Some memorize or write it down somewhere.
At the front of the bike, you have the bike’s console where it has its display, small tray for storing your phone, food or anything else
The display has two programs. One program will just display whatever training app you sync to the bike. And, the other will display all your stats which includes your gearing and shifting.
To shift on this bike, you’ll do it on your handlebars like your outdoor bike. The smart bike has two blue shift buttons, which also have incline buttons and a brake. The brakes do work and you’ll feel resistance on the fly wheel when you pull on them.
When you shift on this smart bike, you won’t feel a difference but the bike’s technology will mimic the feel internally. The bike will essentially delay the motor for a fraction of a second, which is almost like an outdoor bike.
The Dynamic Inertia feature is worth mentioning in detail. It’s hard to simulate all parts of climbing and descending hills on an indoor bike. However, this bike nearly mimics riding on hills to a “T”. The bike gives you a sense of accelerating while going down a hill. It’s good practice to control the speed without the risk of falling off your bike.
To indicate the change in gears to you, it will be displayed on the monitor on the bike.
The smart bike can accommodate clip-on aero bars if you wish to practice with them. However, the technology is not up to speed for time trial/triathlon aerobars. You won’t be able to shift in aero as you’d do on your outdoor bike.
The smart bike does support most training app and is compatible with ANT+ and Bluetooth Smart to display your stats and store them on your preferred training app.
Athletes who have bought this bike like it because it feels secure and stable. And, it seems to be durable, although this is a first-generation bike, it’s hard to judge durability. On the bike and during workouts, it is very responsive and generates a lot of power. The display is great and is easy to read, which is great if you need to read stats during your workout. Since the display doesn’t depend on a specific training app, it is compatible with nearly every app. Triathletes love the USB ports, which makes it convenient to get a workout in and charge their devices at the same time.
As this is the first generation smart bike, there are factors that triathletes don’t always like. There was a consensus among triathletes for things that could be improved. Most did not like that there is loose wiring on the front of the bike. And, although most of the bike is easy to set-up, the pedals are difficult to install. Additionally, the adjustments are clunky. Even though the smart bike has shifters on the handle bars, they don’t feel as realistic as road bikes.
I’d recommend this smart bike if you are looking for one that is very realistic and is compatible with any training app. The downhill and uphill resistance mimics a road bike very well and there are very few complaints about that design feature. I’d also recommend the bike if you want a very real shifting experience. Tacx has done a great job designing that feature and it shouldn’t be overlooked.
2. Wahoo Kickr Bike
Wahoo makes one of the best smart trainers and bike trainers on the market. So, its newly designed smart bike should be meet its brand’s standards.
The look of the bike resembles the Tacx’s smart bike, which means it’s an electromagnetic piece of equipment. But it’s in an L-shape.
The bike’s components are the most innovative you’ll see compared to other smart bikes.
The fly wheel sits in the back of the bike and is very quiet. If you wish, view videos of the bike in action. You’ll barely notice the fly wheel is even there.
Next, beneath the entire bike, you’ll see two wheels. These don’t do any functional uses for workouts on the bike. But, if you need to move the smart bike around the house, it’s easy. You wouldn’t need to take it apart like other smart bikes.
If you look between the crankset and the wheels for moving the bike, you’ll find the actuator for the CLIMB feature. I’ll discuss this later in the section.
About the crankset, it’s a five-holed arm that lets you adjust the crankset to 165, 167.5, 170, or 175mm. You can use the pedals from your outdoor bike to make it feel like you’re riding outdoors.
Adjusting the bike to your body is really innovative and simple. There are a couple different ways to do it and it depends on your style. You can adjust the reach, stack height, setback, stand over height, and crank length on this bike. For more information on what each of these measurements is, you can go to Wahoo’s website. They can better explain it.
You can set up your bike manually using the measurement from your outdoor bike. Or, use the app.
The Wahoo Fitness app has instructions to guide you as you match your smart bike to your outdoor bike seamlessly. On the app, you can use your GURU, Retul, or Trek bike professional fit report to get your smart bike measurements.
If you don’t have a GURU, Retul, or Trek bike, no problem. You also have the option to take a picture of your bike and you’ll be guided in the app from there.
The third option on the app is to measure your height, inseam, and position on the bike.
Whatever option you choose, it shouldn’t take long to adjust the bike and start riding it.
Once you’ve made all the adjustments, it’s easy to start you’re next workout. It works with most training apps such as Sufferfest, Trainer Road, Strava, Zwift, and Rouvy. You also have the option to have a “free” ride and just enjoy being on the bike.
Riding the bikes feels very similar to being on the road. The fly wheel and built-in hill grades make the bike feel “real” but what really sets the bike apart from others is its shifting.
The bike can match the gear set from the “big name” brands since the smart bike has a programmable virtual group set. Just select the one that you have on your outdoor bike.
With this bike, you can select the gear ratios, which include the number of speeds and tooth count on the cassette.
To shift on the bike, you do it as if you’re riding outdoors. Right on the handle bars, you have controls that are accessible and easy-to-use, which makes it seamless to get through different gears. Of course, this is all simulating what it feels like to shift on your outdoor bike. You can also manually manage grade changes with the bike’s extra buttons for even more options.
You can see what gear and hill grade you’re in with the digital display on the bike.
To change the hill grade on the bike there is a button on the handle bars, which lets you learn how to climb hills more efficiently if you’re doing a “free” workout on the bike.
While riding, the bike provides riders with accurate power measurements with reliable data storage and analysis for every type of rider. You can connect your power meter, bike computer or smartphone to the bike via ANT + or Bluetooth Smart to record and store your results safely.
The bike, as mentioned earlier is nearly silent because is has a belt-driven motor.
And, you can rely on this bike for years to come and the price might be worth it. If you have other Wahoo products such as their smart trainers, you know they’re durable. So you can expect the same from its smart bike since its made from the same materials as their trainers.
Go ahead and spin out your legs and push the limits on the bike. It will be able to handle anything from your first Ironman to your first time at World Championships.
Athletes like this bike and bought it because it has a smooth feel to it while riding indoors for the winter. The drivetrain is great and matches the most outdoor bike and pedaling the bike feels very much like real life. There aren’t any weird resistances or bumps in the pedal stroke. The adjustability is just like the instructions and website say it will be. Quick and easy. No hidden instructions riders have to figure out on their own. Some riders even go far as to say it is easier to set up than a Tacx smart bike. The uphill and downhill features are great and comparable to Wahoo’s smart trainer and Tacx. The shifting and app-based adjustability are what sets this bike above Tacx. The shifting is very quick and uses shifters just like an outdoor bike. And, the app-based adjustability is one of a kind. No other company has this technology and at this point, it’s ahead of the game.
Of course, this bike has some features that people weren’t happy about. Most triathletes didn’t like that the bike doesn’t have a place to put electronics such as a phone or tablet, which is hard if you’re using those devices to sync to the bike. Additionally, there isn’t a display holder which makes it hard to see your metrics in real-time. And finally, some complained that the shifting was placed a bit oddly.
I’d recommend this bike if you want one that is backed with the technology and design and durability of Wahoo. You can get the most of your money for this bike. If you’re looking for a bike that has a lot of flexibility and can easily be adjusted, this bike is a strong option to consider. And lastly, if you want a bike that mimics your outdoor bike almost to a “T” then seriously purchasing this bike. The only drawbacks are the display and lack of space for a phone or tablet. If those cons don’t deter you, then this might be your top pick.
3. Wattbike Atom
The Wattbike Atom has significantly lowered its price on its indoor bikes to compete with Tacx and Wahoo smart bikes. This is the only bike that isn’t a first generation model. So it’s to be expected that many things are improved from its predecessor.
And, the drop in price doesn’t cut the quality of the bike. The company has added more features and improved its technology to make training fun and efficient.
Please note, the Wattbike Atom is not available to all countries. It first started in the U.K. and is slowing expanding.
This bike in comparison to the other ones is the easiest to set up. The bike comes in a big box and all you have to do is open it. When you peek inside, you’ll see the bike in one piece.
Once out of the box, the bike is already assembled and everything is already installed, including the seat post.
The only components you have to attach are the pedals, power cable, and aero bars if you wish. The bike also comes with a few Allen wrenches so you can make adjustments accordingly.
You also have the option to use your own pedals since the ones that come with the bike are flat and not suited for triathletes.
For adjustments, you can move the handle bars, saddle, pedals, and display holder.
The handle bars can be moved vertically or horizontally to your liking. Or, you can put your own handle bars on if they fit.
The saddle is also vertically and horizontally adjusted.
And, as mentioned before the pedals can be changed to the ones you use on your outdoor bike.
The display holder can fit whatever device you use on your trainers.
The only piece that isn’t adjustable is the crank arms, which are fixed at 170mm.
To adjust the bike, you have levers and Allen wrenches to get the job done. For example, the have a lever to adjust the seat post, which slides up and down and even has metric markings on it.
However, there have been complaints that the seat post does not stay in its position. It slides down after a few minutes into a workout. To remedy this, Watt bike can send you a new seat post if this happens. And, they are working to eliminate this problem.
To “prove” how advanced this bike is, here are a few of the specs:
- ANT+ FE-C Control, Bluetooth FTMS Control for connectivity control
- ANT + and Bluetooth Smart Speed, Power Cadence for connectivity broadcasting
- Can detect heart rate and retrieve and store data with ANT+ and Bluetooth Smart to the bike’s own training app
- Fly wheel
The bike has shifters on the end of the handle bars, which is a new feature on this bike. In the same spot, you’d shift on your outdoor bike, which is indicated with two black nubs.
The Wattbike comes with its own app, which updates the firmware and has some structured workouts programmed onto it. Since this is a new smart bike, you can expect that the firmware will be updated more frequently.
Be sure that you program the Wattbike App to “Gear” mode instead of “ERG” mode. If you’re in “ERG”, then shifting and gearing has no impact on your workouts. It’s a small detail that is overlooked and is not well explained when you’re setting up the app, to begin with.
If you use a different training app such as Zwift, Training Peaks, or Strava it is most likely compatible. The bike has ANT+ and Bluetooth Smart capabilities so there shouldn’t be many problems setting up your third party apps.
Triathletes who have bought the bike like it because it is essentially set up as soon as they open the box. Most bought the bike because it has leading technologies that other bikes don’t have. However, the drawback for many is how well those new technologies work. Most have problems with the third party apps. While they sync to the bike easily, they don’t work well. There often is a lag in time, which is frustrating during a virtual workout. And, the Wattbike App has limited workouts programmed on its app.
Most triathletes have issues with the sizing and adjusting. The seat post doesn’t hold the correct height which means waiting for a new piece to ship. And, the handlebars aren’t easy to adjust to the seat post height.
I’d recommend this bike after these design flaws are improved. The bike has a lot of potentials to make you stronger during the off season. But some pieces need to be manufactured better and the third party apps need to be streamlined more efficiently.
Best Smart Bikes – Buyer’s Guide
What is a Smart Bike?
Let’s clear the air and be sure we’re on the same page.
A smart bike is similar to what you might see in a spin class.
But, it has more capabilities than a spin class bike.
It was built to mimic an outdoor bike during the off season.
The bike can be adjusted to fit your particular body size and you can use clipless pedals.
The bike has handlebars like a road bike but does not have real braking or shifting. Instead, smart bikes mimic those capabilities. I’ll talk more about braking and shifting in a different section.
Now, we know what a smart bike looks like, let’s talk about what it does.
The smart bike is made by the same companies that also sell smart trainers (Wahoo, Taxc NEO Bike, and Wattbike Atom). This means many of the same applications offered by those companies’ smart trainers are also featured on their smart bikes.
Why Buy a Smart Bike?
Your next question is probably “why”?
The sport can be expensive enough without high-end gadgets.
Why buy a smart bike when you already have a smart trainer?
For starters, the smart bike makes things simpler for you.
Remember, whenever you set up your smart trainer, you also need extra accessories. Sometimes, you need a power meter, triathlon watch, tablet or other monitors to track your progress or follow a training plan.
A smart bike eliminates most of the extra things you need if you’re just using a smart trainer.
There is currently one smart bike on the market that created room on its handlebars for whatever you need. It has an AUX port so riders can set up whatever device they want to display their metrics or preplanned workout. Other companies have a similar set up but not anything close to what was just described.
If you have multiple triathletes in the house, a smart bike will let multiple people use it. You’ll have to adjust the bike between riders. This would save your household a bit of money. Instead of buying multiple smart trainers, you can buy one smart bike to share.
Setting up and Adjusting the Smart Bike
When you’re shopping for smart bikes, you want to be sure that the set up is fairly simple.
In short, you’d like to purchase one that is nearly assembled out of the box. And, only requires a few steps on your part such as installing the seat post and handlebars. If you prefer, you can put your aero bars on the smart bike after it is assembled.
Just be warned the box the smart bike is delivered in a quite big. You’ll need to phone a friend especially if you need to lug it up a flight of stairs.
Once the bike is built, all you need to do is adjust it to your specific body. If there will be multiple people using the bike, there are other factors to consider, but I’ll discuss that in a different section.
Each company has the same adjustment options, which makes it easier to compare and pick the one right for you.
If you’re curious, the adjustments offered on smart bikes are
- Saddle Height
- Saddle Position
- Handlebar Height
- Handlebar Position
All similar to what you’d adjust on your outdoor bike.
All smart bike companies created their products with measurement markers (centimeters) so you’ll be sure to have an accurate fit.
However, one company (Wahoo) has an app integrated guide to help fit you on the bike. It’s accurate and completely operated by the app. I’ll describe how this works in full detail in the product review section.
Shifting and Gearing
This is probably the second most important section after the fit.
You really want to make sure whatever smart bike you choose mimics your outdoor bike very well. It’s crucial because you want to practice what you’ll race on.
Remember, that there aren’t any real gears on these smart bikes. The bike mimics them and tries to make it feel as if you’re on your outdoor bike.
To break it down, smart bikes are created to shift through virtual gears. And it’s best to look for buttons on the side of the handlebars, just like your outdoor bike.
You’ll want to buy a smart bike whose gears mimic the exact feel and sound that gears make when you change them while riding outside. And, if you’re really particular about the shifting try to find a smart bike whose gears also mimic the vibration you feel when you shift. If you want to take it a step further, look for a smart bike who has shifting exactly like a road bike, instead of pressing a button.
Steering and Braking
At the moment, there aren’t any apps that mimic steering and braking. It doesn’t matter what brand you buy from, it’s a feature that isn’t fully developed yet.
Each bike has a different set up to help mimic the movement of braking and steering, but I’ll address those specifics in the product review.
Triathlon and Time Trial
All the bikes allow you to set up your triathlon or time trial bars on their 31.8mm handlebar set up.
Keep in mind, none of the bikes support shifting on triathlon or time trial handlebars, at the time of this article.
Storage, USB, and Displays
Depending on what bike your purchase, you have an option of storage, USB and AUX extension, and displays for your metrics and preplanned workouts.
Be sure you buy a bike that fits your needs.
There are some without any display or USB ports, which means you need a way to see your metrics on a training app.
Other bikes have it all: storage, display, and USB ports. It makes it even easier to set-up your bike and starts training. But you might run into fewer technology glitches.
Of course, some bikes which don’t have its own display, but has room for you to put your phone or tablet. You can see your apps from there instead of hooking up your bike to a computer monitor.
“Real Life” Feel
This section is an extension of the fit and adjustment one earlier in this article.
When I talk about “real life” I’m asking myself how close does this smart bike mimics riding outdoors.
You’ll want to feel like you’re accelerating on the bike and feel the bike react when you slow down.
If you’re not sure how that feels, think of this situation. You’re on your bike at a pace where you can talk to the person next to you. Then, a fellow biker sprints past and you want to catch up.
Ideally, the bike will mimic the initial “sprinter’s burst” and then you’ll slow down to a manageable pace as you’d ride outdoors. If the bike is somewhat close to that feeling, then you have a winner.
Keep in mind, a smart bike can’t replicate everything so you’ll have to “settle” for the best that comes. And, there’s only so much you can do to convince yourself that you aren’t biking indoors during the winter.
And, all smart bikes support ANT+ and Bluetooth Smart.
But, not every bike uses the apps in the same way.
You’ll need to read the owner’s manual online or ask a dealer if you’re buying from a bike store. Your local bike store would be best if you have a lot of questions about app compatibility.
As I mentioned in a previous section, an advantage of a smart bike is that multiple people can use it.
However, there are different factors to consider when this situation does occur.
Let’s assume that the bike fits at least one rider in your multi-rider household. Well, that is good but it’s not so important.
The crucial point to look for is how easy it is to adjust the bike between riders. And, how easy it is to update the bike’s system so it knows there is a new or different rider.
Some smart bikes require that you put in the weight of the rider on a smartphone app. This ensures that the bike uses the correct inertia model. This is crucial if riders’ bodies are drastically different.
Some bikes aren’t so easy to adjust on the app especially if the Bluetooth connectivity only accepts one app at a time.
Just be sure you know how to change the rider’s data on the app. It can save your minutes in frustration.
The physical adjustments should only take you a minute if you already know your measurements.
I hope this buyer’s guide and product review is helpful to you as you shop for your smart bike. Keep in mind most smart bikes are the first generation from each of these companies. This means there is still a lot to improve on. And, you might see more technologies in future models. And, design flaws will be improved or even fixed.