In this post I review the Wahoo KICKR smart trainer and explain why it has converted me from a VERY unenthusiastic indoor cyclist to a pain cave addict.
Let’s get this out of the way: I am not a qualified reviewer of smart trainers. My experience is limited to, er, this trainer, which I’ve been using for the past 5 months, and the old wheel-on turbo it replaced.
I’m a pretty average road cyclist in his forties. I just want to get a bit fitter and make the process of doing so as entertaining and convenient as possible.
Also I use the KICKR almost exclusively with Zwift. There may be the odd blind spot when it comes to integrating with other training apps and devices.
So I present my thoughts on the KICKR in that context. Feel free to find useful or ignore as you see fit.
Watch The Video Version Of This Post
Yes, I also published a YouTube review of the Wahoo KICKR and *yes* you can watch it.
Why I Bought A Wahoo KICKR (Over Other Smart Trainers)
My trusty non-smart trainer of over 10 years was made by Elite and I’ve been very happy with it. Even if I’ve not always been happy on it.
I did consider upgrading to an Elite smart trainer, the Direto, say, or the Suito, but ultimately decided to go with a Wahoo.
I like how Wahoo prioritise ease of use when designing their products. Plus I hoped it would integrate well with the Wahoo gizmos I’ve already got. Which as it turns out is an irrelevance as I almost entirely use it with Zwift via my computer or iPad.
Also I could do without another app on my phone and another user account cluttering up my email inbox.
So, focusing on the Wahoo line up.
I discounted the KICKR SNAP because it’s a wheel-on trainer and I wanted to try the full direct drive experience. The ROLLR for similar reasons. Also, because: weird.
In the end I went for the full KICKR rather than the KICKR CORE because:
- I ride and train at such an elite level now;
- I need the superior accuracy to fine-tune my training; and
- It had to have the capacity to withstand walnut-cracking power spurts from my leg guns.
Which is, of course, bollocks.
I’m paying for it with money generated with my blog and this YouTube channel, which feels sort of like play money and, most importantly, is somewhat opaque from scrutiny by my wife.
So I thought I’d treat myself to the higher end trainer.
Good news though: I’m happy with the decision.
Version I Bought
To set the context, I bought my KICKR new in early 2022, so this is the V5 version. In other words, the current one.
What Is It?
The KICKR is an indoor cycling trainer. You attach your bike to it, sans rear wheel, and pedal against resistance provided by a flywheel located in this circle-y bit:
More than that, it’s a smart indoor trainer, which means that said resistance, the bit that makes you work harder on the bike, can be controlled by another device.
That could be a workout programmed into your bike computer, or a software app like Zwift or TrainerRoad.
The KICKR uses the ANT+ FEC protocol, said the historian, as well as the Bluetooth equivalent, so pretty much any smart trainer controlling app or bike computer can pickle your pain buds.
This broad compatibility extends to the bikes you can attach. The height of the trainer adjusts with this little blue strut thingummy to accommodate wheel sizes from 24″ to 29″. Which should cover most most road and mountain bikes.
So it’s a bike trainer for the masses. Provided those masses have a chunk of disposable income. I’ll come on to that later.
Setting Up The Wahoo KICKR V5 2022
The KICKR comes largely built up, as you’d hope.
All you need to do is fit a cassette appropriate to your bike – the KICKR doesn’t come supplied with one, screw on your desired level of squidgy feet, and you’re pretty much away.
Here are some shots of me putting it together and I’m mechanically incompetent.
You can probably tell from my straining, it’s heavy. This is not something you’re taking in your car to warm up ahead of a sportive. Sure, no one takes an indoor trainer to warm up ahead of a sportive, but if they did, it would not be a KICKR.
The legs on the Wahoo spread out like a mansplainer with huge danglers when in use but can be tucked in if needed, presumably for easier storage.
My wife hasn’t yet told me to tidy my toys away, I don’t let her in my pain cave, well not this one, so my KICKR lives in legs akimbo mode. But if floor space in your gaff is at a premium, you do have the flexibility to push your whole setup closer to a wall when not in use.
Tech Set Up
In terms of technological setup, well… there really isn’t much to do. It was so easy I barely remember it.
I opened the Wahoo app on my phone, linked it to the KICKR, which automatically downloaded the updated firmware, and, er, that was it.
It was similarly easy to connect to Zwift, both on my computer via ANT+ and more recently to my iPad via Bluetooth. Each time I loaded up Zwift, made sure the KICKR was plugged in and it just appeared there ready to select.
And it doesn’t require much effort to keep it running smoothly and accurately. Firmware updates happen automatically when you open the Wahoo app, not that I’ve seen one yet. The KICKR auto-calibrates to ensure power recording accuracy remains ‘on point’.
So it scores highly in the ‘not being a hassle to get working’ stakes. And when it’s working…
What Do I Use It For?
Indoor cycling. Next!
So far I’ve ridden on the KICKR 46 times and 100% of those sessions have been on Zwift. Absolutely zero of those rides have been on a mountain bike.
I’ll be honest, I love the combo of the KICKR and Zwift. It integrates seamlessly.
If you’re in a race or ‘ride about mode’, I doubt that’s what they call it, resistance changes in response to gradient and whether you’re drafting other riders. In a workout, ERG mode kicks in and resistance changes according to whatever power levels the workout requires.
The connection between the trainer and Zwift, either using ANT+ and my computer or Bluetooth and my iPad, has always been very stable. The KICKR connects automatically and instantly when I fire up Zwift. As far I’m aware I’ve had no signal drop outs.
And then it just works. Doing it’s thing. Resisting. Causing me unreasonable amounts of pain. Pain which I paid 100s of pounds of cash money for…
So what’s it like to actually ride? Does it have good ‘road feel’? Will the velo metaverse replace cycling in meatspace?
So many questions…
Riding On The Wahoo KICKR (And How Is The Road Feel?)
Bluntly, the KICKR is fantastic to ride.
I don’t have the trainer experience to get the nuances in this field but the KICKR feels light years better than those rubbishy exercise bikes you get in gyms and a significant step up from my old Elite unit.
The KICKR reacts quickly and automatically to resistance changes, whether that’s part of a structured workout or in response to the gradient increasing on my Zwift route.
Changes feel smooth and natural, as much as kicking up to 395 watts for a 30 second ball buster can be described as smooth and natural.
In terms of climbs, the KICKR will simulate gradients up to 20%, which I think is enough to handle any wall on Zwift.
Wahoo says the KICKR’s 16lb flywheel, with it’s ‘precise inertia’, recreates the sense of riding outdoors, which I assume is the ‘road feel’ people talk about. The roads I generally feel are rough and potholed, but if yours are all freshly-laid tarmac then the KICKR does an excellent job of mimicking them.
Unrealistic resistance and freewheeling behaviour is one of those things you don’t really notice on a trainer until it feels wrong and distracting. I’ve not found the KICKR distracting so it must be close enough to real world outdoor riding for me.
I just get on and ride and enjoy it. As much as that’s possible.
Riding Out Of The Saddle
I’d guess I’m not unusual in spending most of my time on the indoor trainer riding with my buttox affixed to the saddle. Part of the reason for training on the KICKR is to build the muscular endurance in my legs over sustained efforts.
But I have, from time to time, found myself dancing on the pedals. To give my legs a quick break, because the workout instructions demand it or because Kate Bush kicks in on the stereo. And the KICKR feels very stable when I do so.
The trainer has these ‘squidgy feet’ at the end of each splayed out leg. Wahoo calls them Axis feet, which I suppose sounds more on brand.
The feet are a new feature with the V5 version and provide a bit of ‘give’ to allow the trainer, and therefore your bike, to rock side-to-side slightly as you ride. It comes with three different pairs, at varying squidge levels, to suit varying rider weights.
I’ll be honest, the effect seems pretty subtle and I don’t have experience on older rigid KICKRs to compare it against. But there’s certainly no harm in having them as an interim solution before you upgrade to one of those expensive rocker plate contraptions.
Finally, on upright riding, there has been the odd time, when I’m really laying down Thor’s hammer, that the KICKR has wiggled forward a fraction on my trainer mat. Perhaps my riding style involves a little too much…
But it’s nowhere near as bad as on my old Elite, which would wander around my pain cave uncontrollably, and it hasn’t detracted from my enjoyment, let’s call it that, of using the trainer.
Now I didn’t just buy a Wahoo KICKR for road feel and to look cool, I wanted to step up my training in terms of using power. So I should say some words on…
Power and Accuracy
Wahoo claims that power on the KICKR is measured, and presumably resistance calibrated, to within +/-1% accuracy.
It’s certainly accurate and consistent enough for my needs. Hard efforts between sessions don’t feel unreasonably different.
As I mentioned in my pain cave upgrade post, I’m pretty sure, i.e. totally sure, that the 35W discrepancy between my FTP measured on the KICKR versus my Elite non-smart trainer is entirely due to the woeful accuracy on the latter. The KICKR, he, or she, they, speaks the difficult truth.
If you want more analysis, check out the testing done by DC Rainmaker on his blog. Otherwise, bask in the warm glow that the KICKR is going to be more than accurate for your needs.
Whilst we’re talking metrics I am incapable of testing, Wahoo says the KICKR will generate up to 2,200W of resistance. I’ll be extremely lucky if I ever hit half of that.
Possibly a limiting factor for Olympic track sprinters then. Everyone else, including me, can take comfort from knowing that the trainer won’t break under our big kick energy.
Build Quality and Noise
Five months of riding, albeit multiple times per week, is relatively short in terms of judging how the KICKR will last over time. All the signs are good though.
Build quality is high, as I’d expect from a premium Wahoo bit of kit. Everything is still where it should be. There are no signs of wear and tear.
No squeaks or creaks have appeared… other than from me.
The KICKR seems pretty quiet in use. It’s certainly not offensive to me or to other people in my house, not that I’ve asked them.
Most of the noise emitting from my magnificent training efforts appears to come from the drivetrain of the bike mounted on the trainer.
And from me.
I can comfortably hear a TV over the top of the noise from my KICKR-based setup without resorting to headphones or subtitles.
Whilst I ride on our ground floor, solid hardwood over concrete with a rubber trainer mat, my sense is that the KICKR passes very little sound or vibration into the floor, so would be good for someone living in a flat or apartment.
My presumption is that the KICKR will continue to perform well and accurately for many years to come. Time will tell but I take comfort from the buoyant market in second hand KICKRs and that Wahoo sell refurbished ones, implying confidence in the longevity of their product.
How Much Does The KICKR Cost?
The list price of the Wahoo KICKR is £1,000 or $1,200. I paid £880 for it from Wiggle, which seems to be due to some frequent customer discount I got. Either way, it’s a lot.
Clearly there are other smart trainer options at cheaper price points. Equally clearly, I can’t opine on which is the better value as the KICKR is pretty much the only smart trainer I’ve tried.
What I can say is that I have got, and continue to get, an immense amount of use out of it.
My average session cost is now £19.13… actually that’s quite a lot. But it’s decreasing rapidly as I use the KICKR multiple times a week. And clearly it is contributing significantly to my fitness, both physical and probably mental. Not perineal.
So whilst the cost of the KICKR is pretty steep, for me it has represented excellent value for money. Your wattage may of course vary.
Bringing it all together then…
Is the Wahoo KICKR Good For Training? Would I Recommend It?
In short, yes and yes. I’ve never done as much high-ish quality indoor cycling training as I have in the last five months.
Partly that’s down to the whole training ecosystem, excuse the wankword. I have a dedicated indoor training space. My work and family constraints tend towards home-based training being more convenient than extended outdoor sojourns. I like having YouTube fed through my eyeholes whilst I ride.
But a huge part is the pleasure of using a high quality trainer, the KICKR, working seamlessly and reliably with Zwift. I would not be doing as many structured workouts and sticking pins in my gonads, sorry, regular FTP tests, if the whole setup wasn’t easy to fire up, reliable and a pleasure to use.
The KICKR is well-built, solid and stable, and whilst I’m slightly embarrassed to say it, I think it looks kind of cool. I can see it being a stalwart of my indoor cycling setup for many years to come.
So, as alluded to at the start of the post, I’m now an indoor cycling convert, a pain cave pervert.
Who needs the Peak District’s natural beauty and fresh air when you’ve got Makuri Islands, a sweaty cleft and a Wahoo KICKR smart trainer? Not this guy.
I’ll see you in the metaverse.