Wahoo has made a name for itself both with outdoor products as well as indoor training tools. You get the perception it’s a cool brand with its marketing campaigns and its ‘Wahooligan’ squad of pain cave racers. That is no doubt why it now calls itself the ‘leader in workout apps and connected fitness’. I’m not sure how you substantiate those terms but if you talk to anyone about a smart trainer, the Wahoo Kickr is certainly the first name that springs to mind. The brand has just released its latest and greatest version of the Kickr direct-drive trainer, but rather than looking at this as a brand new Kickr, it’s probably better to think of it as an update or ‘facelift’ to use an automotive term. What you have here is essentially a Kickr 18 with a few physical updates and some software improvements, but that’s nothing to complain about as the price for the Kickr V5 2020 is exactly the same as the outgoing model.
Starting with the physical changes, the most notable are the new Axis feet. They allow for 5 degrees of lateral motion or sway providing a more natural feel to the ride. They are mounted on screws that allow you to adjust for uneven surfaces (like the wooden deck I was riding on) and spread the pressure so you don’t leave indents on wooden flooring if you don’t have a mat underneath.
Could I feel a difference with the new feet? Not instantly. I couldn’t feel a difference right away but after an hour of stationary riding, I’m usually very uncomfortable and fidgety from being stuck in the same position for so long. Here, the slight side-to-side movement aids in providing some relief to your undercarriage allowing you to spend longer periods on the trainer before it becomes unbearable. It doesn’t feel like you’re on one of those moving platforms, but provides improved long-term comfort.
Just above the power connector is a new input port. It looks a lot like a telephone jack. It’s an RJ25 connection, which after some Googling, tells me I can connect three landline telephones to the Kickr - Stoked! It’s more likely that this will serve as a way to connect the Kickr via a wired route rather than Bluetooth or ANT+, although why Wahoo didn’t go with a standard ethernet cable for this purpose is a little confusing. Apparently an adapter will become available later that will allow for ‘hardwiring’ the Kickr, no doubt something the hardcore racers will want considering Bluetooth’s tendency to intermittently drop connections. This may still take some time to implement as most apps (Zwift for example) don’t have the option to connect via cable currently.
That’s it for the physical changes but there are some notable software changes implemented for the Kickr 20. Accuracy has been improved from +-2% to +-1% and anyone who trains with power knows that it doesn’t matter what Watts the power meter reads out, it’s all about how accurate it is against itself. At 1% accuracy, it puts the Kickr on a level playing field with the best power meters and smart trainers in the world, something the Kickr has been missing from its spec sheet for some time.
It also has a built-in calibration that continuously calibrates the trainer and adjusts for temperature and the age of the trainer making sure it remains perfectly accurate over time. The Wahoo app still lets you perform a spin down and even asks you to do it the first time you connect the trainer to the app but it’s more just to let the user feel good about having done a manual calibration. The continuous calibration system is also said to make it more difficult for e-sports cheaters to tamper with the trainer calibration.
Set up and ease of use
The Kickr is one of the easiest direct drive trainers to set up. It requires zero tools, not even an Allan key. The legs swing out to the side and lock in position with ease while the height of the Kickr can be adjusted for the type of bike you have (24-inch road and MTB, 650C, 26-MTB, 700C, 650B and 29er). It comes with an 11-speed road cassette too, which can be either Sram or Shimano. Set up is as easy as plugging your bike on and commencing pedalling. Before you start pedalling, you might want to plug it in and that proved a bit of an issue. The plug options supplied with our model were a UK 3-pin or a round 2-pin that doesn’t seem to fit into any 2-pin plug I have. Thankfully, all my years of travelling turned up a UK plug adapter and I was good to go. Just make sure of your plug type before you walk out the shop.
The Kickr is a heavy piece of kit weighing close to 20kg but has a convenient handle to improve its mobility somewhat. Unlike some of the competitors, the Kickr’s moving parts are on display - you can see the belt and flywheel spinning. While this may look cool at 500 Watts, it also looks like something a small child would want to grab onto just as you’re lining up that finish line sprint.
A final tip would be to get a riser block for the front wheel. I know some prefer to ride without one but having a wobbly front wheel feels unstable and odd indoors, especially when laying down monster Watts in a final sprint.
Ride and feel
Connecting the Kickr to your favourite riding application is simple via Bluetooth or ANT+ connections. The resistance change when faced with climbs and rolling hills is easily one of the best out there. The Kickr reacts quickly to the gradient changes, even over spiky terrain it felt accurate, adding and releasing resistance in a split second.
It’s also very quiet when pedalling, the belt drive system means the only sound you hear is the chain on the cassette and the familiar clunk when shifting. The freewheel ‘clicking’ is as loud as a standard road bike’s freehub sound but it does go on for quite some time after you’ve finished pedalling.
While the Kickr V5 2020 is just an updated version of the 2018 model, the price is identical to the outgoing model. You’re essentially getting these updates for free (or the same price depending on how you look at it) and they are useful updates. The improved power accuracy will attract those referred to as athletes and the ‘anti-cheating’ calibration system may make it the trainer of choice for the incoming wave of e-sports professionals.
The biggest pull factor behind the Wahoo Kickr has to be the ‘ecosystem’ you can upgrade. There are the Headwind fan and the Climb accessories that further enhance the indoor riding experience and with the new direct connection RJ25 jack available, it might allow for further accessories to be installed such as a steering system or simply a way to use your old landline telephone for Discord?
At R25k, the Kickr is an investment you need to be committed to, but if the national lockdown has taught us anything, it’s that the cost doesn’t matter that much if the need is there and a quick look at the classifieds for smart trainers will show you, there’s still a need.