Choosing Your Wahoo KICKR Direct Drive Turbo Trainer
The value of regular, structured turbo trainer sessions has never really been in doubt, but now, more than ever, indoor riding has been a godsend for those struggling to ride outdoors. We take a look at recent updates and compare two of Wahoo's most popular direct drive turbo trainers, the ever-popular KICKR Smart Trainer with WiFi and its stablemate, the KICKR CORE.
Few indoor trainers can claim to have had the exposure at the biggest international bike races that the Wahoo KICKR has. As Team Sky/Ineos in its various guises dominated the Grand Tours, their riders were regularly filmed, photographed and interviewed diligently warming up or down on Wahoo KICKRS outside the team bus, lending huge credence to the importance of turbo trainer use.
Coupled with this, the rapid rise in online apps such as Wahoo RGT, TrainerRoad and Sufferfest which connect to the trainer for a far more immersive and motivating experience, has led to an all-time high in the popularity of indoor riding.
How does the Wahoo KICKR Smart Turbo Trainer with WiFi differ from its predecessor?
The upgrades to the KICKR Smart Turbo Trainer with WiFi are significant and improve both the connection stability and ride feel. The addition of WiFi reduces the chances of dropouts, while improving the range compared to using Bluetooth or an ANT+ connection. Adding WiFi into the mix means firmware updates are now automatic. This provides peace of mind and ensures data transfer speeds are up to 65% faster. Another neat touch is the build-in odometer that allows the user to keep tabs on the trainer's lifetime mileage.
A new ERG Easy Ramp feature works with you at lower cadences, should you need to get off the trainer for instance, and helps you get back up to speed and the required watts over a 10 second period.
What are Wahoo AXIS Feet?
The idea of mounting the KICKR on squishy feet might seem trivial but the benefits of the AXIS feet are actually quite profound in terms of how the trainer feels to ride. Out on the road, even when seated, a bike is never locked in a fully vertical position as it is on a trainer, so more muscles are recruited for power, balance and stability. Perhaps of even greater importance is the benefit when undertaking longer sessions indoors - most smart trainer riders know that much more than an hour or so can start to feel quite uncomfortable down below, even if day-long outdoor rides are never an issue.
Again, this is related to the locked-in position of the bike so all the pressure and friction is focussed on a small area rather than being dispersed over a wider area as the rider shifts around in the saddle constantly, so the movement afforded by the AXIS feet makes riding indoors more comfortable.
Handily, the AXIS feet are available separately and are compatible with the 2018 KICKR, so this upgrade can be retro-fitted.
What are the differences between the KICKR Smart Trainer with WiFi and KICKR CORE?
The second direct drive model in the Wahoo KICKR range is the more affordable KICKR CORE. This looks very similar and still works well with online training apps, but there are a few crucial differences between it and the KICKR.
Does the accuracy and calibration differ?
When it comes to accuracy the KICKR is now +/-1% while the CORE’s is a more standard +/2%. This might sound trivial, but when training gains are also measured in similarly small increments, greater accuracy is always beneficial. Another difference is the calibration. The CORE cannot auto-calibrate, unlike the KICKR, therefore, the CORE should be calibrated manually every week or so using Wahoo’s smartphone app or other online tool to ensure accurate power measurement.
How does ride experience differ?
When it comes to ride experience the KICKR has a larger, 7.25kg flywheel compared with the CORE’s 5.4kg. This makes the resistance and ride feel of the KICKR smoother and more akin to riding outdoors. Should you wish to work on your climbing, the maximum incline that the CORE can replicate with resistance is limited to 16%, whereas the KICKR can manage 20%, great for any fans of hilly routes. For the sprinters, the KICKR also has a clear advantage when it comes to maximum power, as the CORE tops out at 1,600 watts but the KICKR offers 2,200 watts. However, 5.4kg, 16% and 1,600 watts still make for a fantastic trainer and most mortal riders definitely won't feel short-changed by the CORE's abilities.
How easy is it to adjust the trainers for different wheel sizes?
A key feature on the KICKR Smart Trainer with WiFi is the AXIS feet, and as these feet do not fit on the CORE, so the trainer is locked vertically in place. This isn't really an issue for short, hard sessions, but anyone planning longer indoor rides might well appreciate the benefits that the AXIS feet bring. Although both trainers are set up for 700c wheels, the KICKR can be raised or lowered to suit smaller or larger wheel sizes without the need for a separate front-wheel block.
How easy is it to store the Wahoo KICKR Smart Trainer with WiFi and KICKR CORE?
Despite being the bigger, heavier unit, the KICKR has the advantage when it comes to portability as its legs fold in without needing unbolting as the CORE’s do, and it has an integrated handle too, so for anyone who has to put their trainer away between sessions the larger KICKR is actually much more convenient.
Both models are fantastic options, and a world away from the noisy, fiddly and tedious turbo trainers of old. The KICKR Smart Trainer with WiFi has clear improvements over the older model and the CORE, but it does come at a financial cost, so the CORE represents excellent value for money for riders who don’t require the KICKR's specific benefits. They both provide an immersive, beneficial and enjoyable experience, whether used online or with the Wahoo app.