Making turbo trainers is one thing, but building accurate and robust trainers is an entirely different matter. Elite recently opened their factory doors to me to see what goes into building an Elite trainer, and to take a look at their latest trainer the Elite Direto
Elite Direto Preview – Elite Factory Tour
Elite recently invited me to see their setup in Europe, starting off with a day in Croatia to see how the Elite Fly bottle is produced, and the technological advances which meant it took THREE YEARS to design and create a water bottle.
While seeing the Elite Fly bottles being produced was very interesting, it wasn’t the main reason for my trip, that was to see the Elite Direto, a new direct turbo trainer that Elite is launching this year into the sub £800 bracket this year.
Elite is currently comprised of 50 employees, nestled in the Veneto region, on near to the banks of the River Brenta. The company has been building cycling accessories since 1979, and in 1989 moved into their current headquarters, which really does deserve a paragraph in its own right… as Elite is based in a limestone furnace!
Whilst parts of the factory look exactly as you would expect of any modern technology company:
Other parts of the factory, frankly look like an Italian stately home! There is even a small museum inside!
The overall appearance of the factory is all the more impressive when you see the photographs of how the old furnace was a derelict husk when it was purchased by the company
But what of the new Elite Direto? The reason I’ve come to the Elite Factory. In the pantheon on smart trainers, there have been thousands of words and discussions about which is “the best” smart trainer. The Elite Drivo, the Tacx Neo and Wahoo KICKR, can all probably lay claim to that title in some way, largely due to the fact they are all direct mount turbos.
Last year, Tacx released the Tacx Flux and caused a bit of a ruckus, by dropping a direct drive turbo trainer on the market for under £600 bringing that feature away from the big three! Now a year down the line, it is time for Elite to bring their baby direct drive unit to market.
Pitched a touch higher than the Flux price, with an RRP for £749, there are a few bits which have been added to the spec sheet to justify that £150, and may make for some interesting discussions in the Zwift Communities.
So this is merely a preview article based on my short time testing the Direto in Italy, I’ll be releasing a more in-depth Zwift Gear Test when I have had more chance to play with the unit back into the UK. With that in mind, let’s kick off with the specs for the new turbo trainer
Elite Direto Specifications
- Communication: Bluetooth, ANT+, ANT+ FE-C, BlueTooth Smart Trainer Protocol – both ANT and BLE can be used simultaneously
- Slope Simulation: 14%
- Built in sensors: Power, Speed/Cadence (Advance pedal analytics from this)
- Max Wattage: 1400watts
- Freehub: Shimano, 9/10/11 speed compatible – no cassette in the box
- Compatibility notes: bikes with 130-135mm hubs and QR skewers, or 12mm x 142 thru-axle hubs,
- Max weight of user: 113kg
- Power Accuracy: 2.5%
- Flywheel: 4.2Kg (Drivo 6kg)
- Weight: 15kg (Drivo 21kg)
What is the benefit to ANT+ and BLE used contemporaneously? A typical example could be: training with Zwift on iPad and getting training data on your Garmin device, which you’ll be able to do at the same time now. But this isn’t something that is just for the Direto, but will be rolled out other Elite turbos in the 2016-2017 model year via a firmware upgrade later in 2017 (I am looking for clarification if that means there is a cut off on Drivo models to get the update)
Elite has been very aware of how Zwift has changed the turbo trainer market, as responsiveness and rider feel is now a much more prominent point when it comes to buying, and thus designing a turbo. As such, if you look around the testing halls at Elite HQ, you can see other manufacturers turbo trainers sulking in their holding silos which have been used for reference and comparison during the Direto development
As well as feel, it’s now recognised that turbo trainers are moving far beyond the concept of purely being for “training” and warming up. Just take a look at the ferocity with which results are contested on Zwift, and how the community has set up Zwift Power in order to get get an oversight on the races that happen on Watopia.
As such the Drivo has the widest footprint stance of a trainer to date, a title which was previously held by the Cycleops Hammer, which is something you really notice when you get out of the saddle and sprint for finish line on a more narrow trainer
As you can see, the width of the Elite Direto is such that Elite is now having to produce a new turbo matt… something I’m actually quite pleased about, as I like the brightness of the mat in my small pain cave, but also find their current mat, simply too narrow to catch the huge amounts of sweat I regrettably produce!
The legs on the Elite Direto, will be one of the points to which people won’t pay much attention to, until they swap to another trainer. This unit is very planted, and might just be one of the more stable turbos on the market.
When it comes to folding the Elite Direto up, the legs are narrower than the body, so you are not paying a premium for that foldability in terms of space.
Although the thumb screws to move the legs, are underneath the legs, which is a minor irritation for me personally. I still find the KICKR legs the easier to move and get into place, just push and swing
Visually I think a lot of people are going to focus on the exposed disc at the top of the trainer, which does actually look very neat to my mind. The grey colour comes from the nylon 40% fibreglass composite used, to give three characteristics of temperature resistance, light weight and resistance to deformity under load.
Although when it comes to talking purely about visuals there is always going to be a caveat isnt there… I think the exposed disc is also needed visually to balance the Direto appearance, as when viewed from the other side the unit does look a little top heavy
Whereas you lose that heavy feeling when viewed with the cassette side on
The belt on the Elite Direto has also been changed in comparison to the Drivo and Kura, now using a non-toothed version, for a better sound profile, and increased in width for better power transfer and reduced chance of slipping
Elite Direto Factory Quality Control
Every Elite Drivo trainer goes through the same quality control procedures at the factory…naked. It is only after QC has been confirmed by a spin on the Lorenzo testing machine for 20 mins, that the Direto is allowed to put on its outer clothes.
The focus on accuracy is one of the things which has developed over the last five years in the world of turbo trainers. Previously 5-10% accuracy was considered reasonable, but now manufacturers are chasing that 1%, and under target, in their top of the range devices.
As such the Lorzeno machine was built specifically for testing at Elite during the design of the Drivo, and must be taken apart and shipped back to Germany once a test for servicing and recalibration. The same system is now used for Diretto testing too
Staying with the concept of accuracy, testing the power accuracy on turbo trainers is one thing, but it is even harder on rollers, and until this year has actually required a human rider to test out the calibration…on each set of roller produced… poor him!
However the Lorenzo system has also been adapted at Elite in order to be able to test out rollers with same degree of reassurance in quality. Hence the lead in QC, looks very happy showing off the new wheels, as he is no longer having to ride ALL the rollers that come through QC!
Coming back to the Direto though, once the testing is complete the trainers are put back onto pallets to await their casings.
With regard to the power meter inside the Elite Direto, the Optical Torque System (OTS), has the same origin to that of the Elite Drivo, in fact, visually to me looked pretty much identical. However, there have been a few changes, to differentiate the two trainers
Now it is the Direto that houses the standard OTS, whilst the Drivo is considered to have the OTS “Plus”. The Direto OTS power meter has an accuracy of +/- 2.5% and whilst the Drivo/Kura with the original, or now OTS “Plus” power meters have a +/- 1% accuracy.
The thermal effect of the magnetic brake has been one of the considerations when designing the layout of the Direto, as heat has a tendency to affect power meters. As such the OTS has been mounted as far away from the brake as possible and has two temperature separation points built in, first a fibreglass and then aluminium shield.
This position meaning that the OTS will experience a max of 45 deg Celcius temperature generated by the brake. Even under intense work outs. That 45 deg C then allows a 15 deg temperature buffer before the 60 deg C limit of the OTS reached, where upon the power meter would start to be affected by temperature changes
As mentioned the pursuit of accuracy has been carefully balanced on the Direto as one of the main differentiators between the new turbo and it’s larger Drivo relative
The three main differentiators between the Drivo and Direto actually look quite small for most of the Zwift riders below Cat A, as most riders are not going to be able to hit 1400watts as much as they might wish. The 2.5% accuracy, and the 14% gradient on that Elite Direto, whilst less than the Drivo, are new entrants at this price point, with the Tacx Flux being 5% and simulating a 10% slope, so from a purely Zwifters perspective, you’ve going to be getting closer to that 16% gradient heading up to the mast now, without breaking into the next trainer price point.
As the Drivo and Direto, both use the OTS system, providers can access to the advanced pedal analytics feature launched on the Drivo last year in the My E Training app.
The analysis is slightly cruder on the Direto as opposed to the on Drivo, with the Direto having power analysis measured at 12 points in the stroke, vs the Drivo’s 24, but it’s still another selling factor for people who might not have separate power meter pedals to consider
The advanced pedal analytics comes as part of the My E-Training app, Premium Package optional download, for which Elite includes a one-year access code in the box. If you want to continue using the advanced pedal analytics after then, you’ll need to pay a £10 annual fee. But you’ll always have access to the simple cadence data.
What about power testing? What about ride quality? Noise?? I had about 10km riding on the Direto in Italy, which apart from allowing me to confirm that you REALLY need a fan indoors in the Italian heat when on Zwift, I couldn’t honestly give you much more information today… why??
Why? Well I was supposed to have a preproduction model to test before this post went live, however, DHL has decided that they wanted to keep hold of the parcel that Elite sent me! Even though the warehouse is only a 45mins drive for me, they have not been able to allow me to collect over the last four days, as apparently, the trainer is in a shipping container. So whilst the unit has still been delayed by four days, in spite of my best attempts to plead and beg, I’ve not had time enough to answer those questions honestly. But rest assured, I’ll be updating with information on the responsiveness on the Watopia Esses as fast as I can!