Another year and another crop of turbo trainers. While we’re still waiting for TacX to release the Flux, Elite got in with an early punch bringing a slew of new turbo trainers to the market. Here is a full blow by blow Zwift Gear Test looking at the new Elite Drivo Turbo from just about every angle
For the last few years, when it comes to smart turbo trainers, the discussion has basically been “TacX Neo or Wahoo KICKR?”. Other smart turbos are available, but these two products have been the big beasts in the indoor trainer and Zwift jungle. As a result, this year we’re seeing the launch of several other direct drive turbos coming to market to try and steal some indoor cycling customers from the existing trainer royalty
The first big release has been the Elite’s top end direct drive Drivo trainer
Whilst Wahoo marketed the KICKR on its realistic feel, TacX touted the Neo’s responsiveness and near silence. In contrast, Elite has decided to promote the Drivo on a platform of precision, and in doing so have adopted a design philosophy of “size doesn’t matter if the product is good” creating a real beast of a machine, to impose over the KICKR and an impressive level of accuracy
The Drivo is currently one of the most expensive turbos out there, coming in at around £1099. Elite argue the pricing by touting a 1% accuracy with the Drivo. However the guys at Elite are still not happy with the 1% figure for their top of the line toy and want to be better – whilst discussing with the team, they revealed that they are trying to push the envelope even further by targeting an accuracy of 0.5% via a possible firmware update! Now that would really give Elite something to crow about in the current turbo trainer market.
So how have they achieved this feat? Simply by focusing their engineering strategy for the build of the Drivo towards accuracy first and foremost. At the centre of the engineering, strategy is this core of the Elite Drivo
The above gizmo is called the Optical Torque Sensor (OTS) which is a system that measures torque based on minute amounts of axle twist, indicated by the positions of the 24 fins, and read by a laser. The key advantage being, that unlike a foil strain gauge based system the OTS it doesn’t need continued physical recalibration, well not when it’s being used with the relatively low power output and intensities a human can generate. The OTS is at least 8cm long, and from my very accurate method of just holding it in my hand, weighs around 250grams. The point here that the OTS is actually a mini version of large scale torque sensors used in many industrial applications, the design is always going to be too big and bulky for an on-bike power meters however it was perfect component for Elite to bung inside a trainer where size and weight is less of a restriction
A crucial point is the OPTICAL in the OTS name. As there is no strain gauge, there is no source of heat, and so in addition to not needing recalibration, the OTS has no need for temperature compensation. Something which has been independently verified by German test labs, and which Elite are very proud of:
However, the pursuit of accuracy has meant that there have been some areas where sacrifices have had to be made. Previously Elite have been very proud of their Elite Turbo Muin II as the quietest trainer on the market. One of the ways this was achieved was through an almost silent grooved belt – although this approach had a tendency to slip against some of the smooth pulleys, affecting accuracy, if not the rider experience.
As a result, Elite have changed to a two belt drive system, which cannot slip, and ensures that the flow of force is uninterrupted from the rider to the power meter. Elite is quick to point out, it would have been easier, and quieter, to stick to a single belt design, but accuracy would have suffered. Naturally, the double belt system has increased the level of noise the Drivo makes – not that the Elite Drivo is loud, but we’re certainly not talking Tacx Neo quiet here – but we’ll talk more about that later
The whole approach to the Drivo has been this accuracy theme. Before each Drivo is allowed to leave the factory, the unit has to undergo a 15minute physical calibration to ensure the long-term accuracy for the end user. Suggesting nothing is left to chance.
Testing, design and accuracy are great, but the real question is, how does the Elite feel on Zwift, where the units are realistically going to do most of their miles…??
So the Elite Drivo arrives in one big ass box.
As well as the turbo we’ve got a slew of other bits of paperwork
And a card from a well-known cycling simulation company 😛 – when you log onto Zwift with an Elite Turbo, you now get the Elite jersey for use in the game.
Plus Elite has also included DVD’s with their own indoor workout software – given the lack of DVD player on my Mac; they have stayed in the wrapper
In the little brown box, we had
all most of the gubbins needed to get your Elite Drivo up and running. Specifically, we’ve an ANT+ key (v. generous and nice addition) an Allen key, three different axel stands to actually connect your bike, and two washers for the cassettes.
The inclusion of two spacers allows the Elite Drivo Turbo to be fitted with a selection of 9/10/11 speed cassettes on the included Shimano freehub, so most peoples bikes should be able to fit
A Campag free hub is also available, but that is a separate purchase item. Personally, I think this approach is better than the slightly odd dual hub used on the TacX Neo – but I suppose that is easy to say when you are a mainly Shimano geared household!
What isn’t included however is a wheel skewer – a bit of an oversite there, especially if you don’t happen to have a spare one, oh and then you’ll also need to find a cassette. Frankly, I think the inclusion of an ANT+ dongle is actually much better for people than the addition of a cassette. You WILL need either Bluetooth or ANT+ in order to connect your turbo, but many people prefer to use certain cassettes, so any stock item is likely to be relegated to a bits draw. The lack of skewer though is still a bit daft in my opinion.
Elite also threw in a very antiquated looking cadence sensor. It’s a nice inclusion if you don’t already have one, but the nature of the Elite Drivo Turbo, and it’s price tag, it does look a little out of place, and actually I would have preferred a skewer in the box instead!
This cadence sensor isn’t even really needed; the Drivo can read the pulses in your pedal stroke, and calculate a cadence from here. The reason for the inclusion is that Elite plans to release pedal/stroke analysis software, which needs to know exactly the location of the pedal – which needs a dedicated sensor such as this.
There are also a couple of plastic feet in the box. Elite has come up with a devilishly simple way of allowing you to adjust the height of the trainer by rotating the large plastic feet, which go other the ends of the Drivo’s arms
As the attachment point for the feet is not central, you adjust the Drivo’s elevation just by rotating them round. I have, to be honest, it’s a very simple and highly effective approach, giving you three settings from about 3cm high…
…to flat on the mat. In all configurations, the Elite Drivo is a very stable device; you are not going to be knocking this easily
The Tacx Neo, on the other hand, gives you no option for adjustment of height or position. It just is. Which is a fair assessment generally for the black monolith. It just is!
Then there is the Elite Drivo itself – The Drivo isn’t particularly small when setup
However part of that may be due to the fact that again Elite have focused on the end product, not the size. So we have a large unit, but it feels very nicely balanced, with a useful handle when it comes to picking the unit up and moving it around.
By comparison, the TacX Neo is A PIG to pick up and move around. Just don’t do it. The handle on the Wahoo KICKR gen 1 is sturdy, but the weight distribution does make the unit rather unwieldy when moving it.
Regarding moving about, the Elite Drivo Turbo does pack down reasonably well
It takes up a little more floor space lengthwise than the KICKR but is also sits a little lower
Maybe it’s just me, but the does anyone else think the Elite Drivo look a little like an animal when folded up??
In terms of packing down the Elite Drivo Turbo, it’s again a very simply process with two steps. You can release the vertical metal support by fiddling on the underside for a red lever
The second step rotates the horizontal arm off and down the side of the unit when the retaining bolt there is unscrewed
Of the big three, this is certainly the easiest to collapse completely. The KICKR’s screw bolt can take a while to undo, although the KICKR arms are simplicity itself to unlock. Whilst the Neo’s clasps underneath it’s wings are frustrating to access. With the Elite Drivo Turbo, everything is nice and simple, looks like a bit of a running design theme
Further around to the back, we’ve the power socket.
I’m not a great fan of this large opening as there is a lot of exposed circuit board visible. Now while the Elite Drivo Turbo is not exactly going to be out in the rain, there is going to be a fair bit of sweat flying around. An open port is one thing, but exposed circuit board like this, I just think might be asking for trouble. A bit of tape over the hole sorts things nicely though – call me paranoid, but turbo sweat eats bikes, I don’t want to give it a chance to eat the circuitry!
By comparison, there is a very well thought out cable management system, mere centimetres below the opening, because we’ve all tripped over a cable and yanked a device hard. This approach should protect the internals well
On the top side of the unit, we’ve got the status lights, for Power, Bluetooth, and ANT+.
The lack of status light was always one of my big bug bears on the Wahoo KICKR gen 1. I just want to know that everything is ok when I’m having a connection issue!
One final word on the design front. The white plastic I think is actually a great choice, as is reduces the visual size of the Elite Drivo Turbo, making the unit seem to take up less space in a room, yet still lets you show off what it can do
However, there is one part where, for want of a better phrase, the Drivo just looks cheap.
On the top is what I can only assume to be a vent. It MAY be that this piece of plastic is designed not to sit flush
However it does look slightly like an issue with the plastic casing production rather than design – I’ve seen this on several Elite Drivo Turbos, to greater and lesser extents making me think it’s not a design feature per say. *** Update *** Elite came back to me, saying my test unit is a pre-production unit, and the production versions are much tidier.
Many will say I’m just being OCD…which is probably true, so I’ll just leave things here!
- Communication: Bluetooth, ANT+, ANT+ FE-C
- Slope Simulation: 24%
- Built in sensors: Power, Speed/Cadence
- Max Wattage: 2000watts (good luck hitting that specification ceiling!!)
- Freehub: Shimano
- Compatibility notes: bikes with 130-135mm hubs and QR skewers, or 12mm x 142 thru-axle hubs,
- Max weight of user: 113kg
- Power Accuracy:1%
- Flywheel: 6KG
- Weight: 21kg
Using the device
So once you’ve attached your preferred cassette, it’s off to the races!!
Plug the turbo in, and there is a whirring sound. I’ve come to think of it as an initialisation sound, as the unit prepares itself for use
The sound covers an internal calibration, but it’s common for people to still stress about the need to calibrate power meters before a ride, especially on the Event Start line on Zwift. Don’t worry about this on the Elite Drivo, to the degree that you can send a calibration from your Garmin – and if you do… you’ll find yourself looking at this screen for a while
Which will then be followed by this:
Then a brief moment of panic as your brain goes, “Argh, just out of the box and my £1000 turbo is broken!!!” DONT WORRY. The Elite Drivo DOESNT ACCEPT CALIBRATION COMMANDS, so this is something to take off your mental checklist before a ride. Just accept that the autocalibration function will work!
The next thing that comes to mind is what about firmware updates? So where is the Elite app? Jolly good question! If you type Elite app into the Apple App Store “elite” is a relatively common term in there. 15 apps scrolled through and still nothing for the turbo!
There is even one app for “Elite Fitness Downtown” with a logo which looks suspiciously like Elite’s, but one thing there doesn’t appear to be AN ELITE app. This is because perhaps even more confusingly Elite’s own app, doesn’t feature the brand’s name, and is called “myEtraining“… I’ll leave you to ponder why
Once inside, connection to your Elite Drivo Turbo seems relatively straight forward – scan the QR code on the leg, and we’re away.
I wish more companies used QR codes for connecting their devices initially; it would make life so much easier!
At this first connection point, you will also be asked to connect any other Bluetooth sensors you have to app, as you can also use the myEtraining app as a stand-alone cycling software.
You can view the Elite Drivo Turbo firmware version in the app, but I can’t see any way of checking if there is an update available. Hopefully, it is something the app would alert you to? ***Update*** apparently a new app update is in the works to improve the app further.
Using the Elite Drivo Turbo on Zwift
I’ve found that the Elite Drivo Turbo seems to be very…aggressive, in deciding that it wants to broadcast over ANT+, switching off Bluetooth relatively rapidly. However, I have found that if I connect specifically via Bluetooth within a minute of so of turning the Elite Drivo Turbo on, then everything goes smoothly
Hopefully, this is something which could be improved over time with a firmware update, as it’s a slight mar in how easy everything else on the Drivo is – assuming Elite tweaks their app in order to make it slightly more user-friendly.
Ok setup issues aside. The Elite Drivo Turbo is great. Is it SOOOOO smooth? Using a KICKR on Zwift feels a little binary, “On hill/Off hill”, the inertia of the KICKR can at times be a little shocking. With the Drivo I actually was concerned that things were not working properly on my first spin on Zwift, as I didn’t notice any of the usual feedback of going up a hill, as the Elite Drivo Turbo was that smooth. However on the start of Watopia KOM, hitting the 8.5% climb, the resistance built noticeably, but in a very smooth manner, kind of as you’d find hitting a hill of this nature in the real world
But I also need to clarify this above statement about smoothness, that is not to say there is any perceptible lag when hitting the hills. With an early KICKR firmware, there was quite a technique to riding on Watopia’s undulating hill sections, where there was a lag in resistance, allowing you some free effort. I’ve not noticed anything similar on the Elite Drivo.
Sprints are a major factor in Zwift races, so what happens when you drop the hammer? Again, there is a slight smoothness to the acceleration, but not in a negative way. You surge nicely, but it also doesn’t feel like you’ve just stood up, and hit a lump of resistance.
I’ve been using the work smooth a lot to describe the responsiveness on Zwift, it’s just triggered perhaps a better word, especially given the Elite turbo the Drivo evolved from – FLUID! I actually prefer this feeling to the rough response of my KICKR! I didn’t think I’d be saying that!
Using Zwift, I noticed a cool little trick with the Elite Drivo Turbo, as soon as you close Zwift, be it on the laptop, or running Zwift iOS; the Elite switches itself off. Within seconds. You get what I have come to regard as the Initialisation/Shutdown noise, and then everything automatically switches off
If you are lucky enough to have a permanent Zwift setup, this is going to be on of those features which just makes life a little easier, something less to think about after a race or a group ride. However, I couldn’t seem to wake the Elite through the reverse, having to toggle the plug switch
I think now would be a really good opportunity to talk about turbo trainer noise – so VIDEO! A lot of Zwift users were attracted to the TacX when it came out due to the very quite sound profile – you can check out my Neo vs. KICKR sound test from last year here
Given that the Elite Drivo Turbo doesn’t even attempt to come close to the Neo’s near silence, it seemed reasonable to face off against the Wahoo KICKR Gen 1 again.
So all power tests have been performed on Watopia on Zwift and are compared against the PowerTap C1 chain ring, which we know correlates well with the KICKR power readings
Daniel Schmidheiny from @TeamEXperimental will also be dropping some data in shortly, comparing an Elite Drivo Turbo with BePro power meter pedals.
The first overview of data from a 60min Zwift ride, shows things appear to track reasonably well. It should be noted that we’ve recorded two drop outs with the Powertap early on
Let’s zoom in somewhat to a few of the climbs, as we can see, that almost perfect alignment between the two sensors
Normally you are going to see a small amount of lag or lost wattage to due to drivetrain losses on a turbo power meter compared with a hub ward power meter, but even on sudden ramps in order to overtake other riders, we’re looking at very clear correlation between the spider based PowerTap and the Elite Drivo Turbo
Looking at the accuracy readings of the Elite Drivo Turbo compared to other power meters. I think it’s fair to say that Elite has managed to nail their accuracy claims.
I do want to add a few more tests, but for the time being, I’m very impressed.
In terms of a Zwift Gear Test: The Elite Drivo responds beautifully on Zwift, smooth is definitely the order of the day from Elite, the effect is one of the best simulations I’ve ridden thus far. Much more so than my KICKR, which as a generation 1 machine feels as very “sharp” on Zwift, you really feel like you “hit” hills on the KICKR where are on the Elite Drivo Turbo you approach them as in real life.
The turbo sound/noise: In my opinion, there is nothing to choose between the Elite Drivo Turbo and the Wahoo KICKR in terms of volume. However, the Elite has a less harsh note which might influence purchasing decisions, it’s easier on the ear than the KICKR scream. However, if the sound is your issue when the Neo is probably the way to go.
Elite have certainly made a great trainer in terms of competing with the two big devices, the Neo and the KICKR on the market.
At the end of my Zwift Wahoo KICKR vs. Neo showdown, I was very on the fence between both units. However, based purely on the feel on Zwift, I’d probably put the Elite Drivo Turbo in front of the generation 1 Wahoo KICKR – that is a critical point, as the gen 2 KICKR is out now with improved responsiveness, we’ll have to see if that is enough to bring the fight back to Elite
As to the Neo… I continue to have my doubts about. It’s a fantastic bit of kit, but what is the longevity? Elite commented that the huge complexity of the Neo virtual flywheel, with a hugely increased number of possible things to go wrong, is a significant factor in their choice to stick with a big, heavy flywheel. Plus its nature of the balanced chunk of steel that is the flywheel gives the Elite it’s nice smooth feeling.
It’s a shame that I can’t praise the Elite app in the same way, as it’s just far from smooth and actually comes over as very 2010 in feeling
Bottom line: A strong 4/5. The Elite Drivo Turbo is not bringing any major new tricks to the Zwift party, the the Neo’s road feel, but of the three, Elite probably doing the best overall job of simulating Watopia’s hills and giving you a good ride on Zwift, and that’s what I’m looking for – I just hope that we see the cost to entry falling below £1000 before too long!