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Elite Direto Smart Trainer Review | Zwift Gear Test

The Elite Direto is the latest turbo trainer to come from the Italian cycling company, but the turbo trainer market has changed considerably since their top of the range smart trainer, the Elite Drivo, launched. How will their junior direct drive model fair in 2017? We need a Zwift Gear Test!

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Elite Direto Smart Trainer Review | Zwift Gear Test

In the pantheon on smart trainers, there have been thousands of words and discussions about which is “the best” smart trainer. Each of the Elite Drivo, the Tacx Neo and Wahoo KICKR, can probably lay claim to that title in some way, largely as they are all direct mount turbos.

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Last year, Tacx released the Tacx Flux and caused a bit of a ruckus, by surprising the market, and budget-conscious Zwifters; with a direct drive turbo trainer 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 Direto to market. I’ve been testing a pre-production unit since I visited Italy, but have been waiting for the final production unit before releasing a full review…

Elite Direto Review and Zwift Gear Test on TitaniumGeek

Not to spoil the ending on this Zwift Gear Test, but I’m going to be REALLY interested to see how the market reacts what Italians has produced with the Elite Direto!!

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 for cyclists 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 Elite Direto development – which you can read about during my Elite Factory Trip here and also here if you are interested in the technology behind the Elite FLY bottle

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Elite Direto Design

Without a doubt, the Elite Direto is going to polarise opinions when it comes to the looks of this turbo trainer. While the intricate nylon/fibreglass composition drive wheel on one side looks quite compelling…

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From the other… with the expanse of plastic on the frame, it can look a bit slab sided by comparison

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But before we get into the nitty gritty of the trainer, we really need to take a look in the box – now having moved over to a production unit, we can see the retail box – along with the new Elite mat, which we’ll come to in a moment

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The Direto is protected by expanded polystyrene during transit, the unit itself is in a plastic wrap to protect it from any stray polystyrene flakes

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So here is the obligatory unboxing picture:

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Inside we’ve the three turbo legs, four bolts and allen keys to attach them to the trainer. Power supply, training skewer and paper work including manual. It’s worth while noting that there is no cassette in the box with the Elite Direto, so you’ll have to factor that into your purchase price.

Be careful not to bin the paperwork this time, as it contains codes for one year access to the Elite MyTraining app, which lets you get to the advanced features such as pedal analysis. After the first year, it’s a rolling £10 annual fee.

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Once unboxed, the first steps are to attach the trainer’s arms.

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The central arm is fixed with two bolts and doesn’t move. The two outer arms have a single bolt, and then two feet. One that can be loosened to allow the arm to be deployed, and the other, at the far end of the leg, to adjust the stability of the trainer.

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 the most stable turbo on the market given the width – esp as some people are not keen on the wobble built into the Tacx Neo

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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 regarding space.

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Although the thumb screws to move the legs, are underneath the legs, which is a minor irritation for me personally, as you have to tip the trainer over on its side before you can access them.

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By comparison, I still find the KICKR legs the easier to move and get into place, just push top button, and then swing them into place.

When the arms are deployed, you can see that the Elite Drivo has the widest footprint stance of a trainer to date, a title which was previously held by the Cycleops Hammer.

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In fact, the Elite Direto has such a leg span; it was wider than their branded turbo trainer mat! As a result, they have had to release a new, larger mat.

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Which does look very similar in texture to the Wahoo KICKR mat… with the old Elite mat on the top

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Although the bright red does lighten up a small room, I’m still sticking to my current recommendation on turbo trainers mats, based purely on size alone, as the Elite mat is still a couple of centimetres narrower and shorter

Power is dealt with by a plug socket on the underside of the Direto, above which, we also have the three status lights for BLE, ANT+ and power

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We have the same cable management system under the Direto as on the Drivo to stop someone pulling the power cable out mid ride.

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Here is also one of the niggles with the Elite Direto, the power cable is a little short. But because it is a straight plug with wire coming out of it, you can’t even change to a longer kettle lead

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To put things in comparison, the KICKR and SNAP power cables are nearly twice as long!

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Once the unit has been assembled, you need to add on your own cassette to the Shimano free hub

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Finally, add the correct skewer/axle accessory for your bike, and you are good to boot up Zwift and get riding!

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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)

Looking at the spec sheet, I think you can see a lot of points where the Elite Direto is going to prove to be so disruptive in the marketplace.

If we think of a turbo trainer like as car, lot’s of people want to own a Ferrari, but even those who have the money to buy rarely get even remotely close to the limits of what the machine is capable of. The same is true with turbo trainers.

People want the big numbers, but how many people can, actually hand on heart, claim to be able to break 1400 watts? More importantly how many of those people can deploy that during a Zwift race?

Ok, given the huge range of Zwift user base, I can actually think of three well known Zwift riders, that might be able to break that 1400 barrier, Tim Cartwright, Scottie Weiss and Shane Miller. =But even so, probably not during a race, which is basically what we are talking about.

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There may be people who initially scoff at the fact that a turbo trainer manufacturer would even consider ensuring their that unit works on a game. But since Zwift came out of beta, the concept that turbo trainers are purely a thing for “training” is well and truly dead. Just take a look at the ferocity with which results are contested on Zwift, and how the community has set up Zwift Power to get an oversight on the races that happen on Watopia.

Heck people are beginning to organise live Zwift races with athletes travelling to locations to compete on Zwift

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So even with that in mind, the spec sheet does suggest that there two areas where Elite has “hobbled” the Direto – presumably in order to get people to still consider the more expensive Elite Drivo. So what does the Direto lose out to the Drivo on? The 2.5% accuracy and the 14% max gradient, esp as the maximum gradient on Zwift is currently 17% on the way up to the radio mast.

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Ok to be fair the flywheel and inertial mass are also reduced on the Direto by comparison, but for most people, they are not really going to be aware of that difference unless they are jumping between trainers.

Elite Direto Manual

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Currently, there isn’t a downloadable manual for the Elite Direto, but there is a technical sheet here

Elite Direto Zwift Gear Test

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Once you have built the Elite Direto, it is then time to install the Elite app. But don’t search for an “Elite app”, as you’ll not find it. You need to look for `’MyETraining” confusingly! Which you can then download from either iTunes or the Google Play store

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The Elite app allows you to configure your trainer, perform power smoothing and Trainer Sensor Calibration to ensure that everything runs smoothly

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Now I say more advanced features, you can use the MyETraining as a whole standalone app, but the benefit is really seen in one of the premium features – remember I said now to throw away the paperwork that came with the unit, well that allows you to unlock the training features.

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However to get to the really juicy bit, the pedal analysis, you need a separate purchase, which doesn’t come in the box!

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On the iPad, the MyETraining app takes on a very different feel, as it allows you the larger screen real estate to perform an analysis of your pedalling technique. As you can see I’m slightly weaker on my right, injured leg, but it is really nice to have the kit on a turbo that allows me to monitor this at home, even if I have to pay another £8.99

This pedal analysis feature has trickled down from the Elite Drivo into the Elite Direto thanks to the hardware of the OTS power meter system

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So with the Elite Direto setup, installed and plugged and played, time to actually perform the testing for real. First the Sound Test

Elite Direto Sound Test

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As I have discussed before, the sound test here is carried out with the same iPhone, in the same room, at a similar distance from the trainer on all the turbos I have reviewed, so at least this is giving some degree of consistency within the tests

Remember that decibels are only part of the story, the nature of the sound is a massive factor in perception, not just volume.

Elite Direto Sound Test - how noisy is the Elite Direto? The Zwift Gear Test looks at how much noise the Elite Direto produces

Without out a doubt, we are not talking Neo or Flux level of quiet, not even close. But the Elite Direto is quieter, or certainly less noisy, than the big brother the Elite Drivo. But don’t forget a large part of the sound test is subjective. The Wahoo KICKR 2 is much quieter now, but many people still just don’t like the KICKR scream.

By comparison, to me, the Direto is more of just a mechanical noise.

Elite Direto Power meter

Moving on to the power meter test, which is what many people are interested in on for a turbo trainer. As ever, power meter testing is done using Jon’s Mix on Zwift, so we have a consistent benchmark between all the different turbos on TitaniumGeek

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One of the good parts of Jon’s Mix, for testing out a turbo trainer, is how the unit responds to the sudden increase in resistance on the three high powered sections at the start. Some turbos like the Wahoo KICKR, the change is like running into a brick wall. It is a VERY responsive unit. But how did the Elite Direto fare?

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NB I’ve applied a 4-second smoothing to the data, which can be effective in highlighting subtle issues

On the simple overview, the Direto is aligning very well with old timer power meter test – the PowerTap C1, and the new kid on the block the Favero ASSIOMA. No drop outs to note from the Direto, which to be honest isn’t surprising, turbos with their wall derived power tend to have a strong signal

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Although it is worth while noticing in the lower region, about 350 watts, the Direto does seem to be reading a little high.

If we zoom in to look at one of the areas of sharp power being deployed, we’ve a nice smooth ramp up, with the Direto only fractionally behind the two other – crank and pedal mounted power meters, which is entirely normal.

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So that is the straightforward power curves from the Elite Direto, but what is the feel during the race?

Elite Direto Race Feel

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Knowing how a turbo reacts during a race can have a major effect on a riders performance.

This is the Elite Direto’s Achilles heel if anything, I found that going through the Watopia Esses, which always prove to be a challenge for a trainer. Needing to apply the resistance quickly on the uphill, and then ease off on the downhill. The Direto falls a little off the pace here but about 1-1.5 seconds.

You’d see the same in other areas of the Zwift experience as well, but less marked. For example, on preparing to attack on a hill, your avatar winds up, but there is the briefest of pauses before the resistance bites on the turbo.

In spite of the lag, one area that the Direto has sorted is when you come to stand up out of the saddle. Given the wide stance, the unit feels VERY planted, and didn’t really object to me giving the handlebars a good tug, which was a pleasant experience!

Elite Direto Review Conclusion

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So how does the Elite Direto do overall? I think that 4/5 stars AND a recommendation is an entirely reasonable conclusion for a trainer coming in at £799. For the money, you are getting a lot of features which covers the needs of the vast majority of Zwifters.

That is the key here. The Elite Direto is not the last word in trainers. It is not all singing all dancing. But for the price, I think it is going to be hard to touch this year!

I’ll actually go as far to say, if it were not the momentary lag when hitting the hills, I’d be inclined to give the unit 5 stars!! But as it is, from an immersion standpoint, that 1-1.5 seconds just breaks the illusion that Zwift has managed to successfully create on their platform. Plus perhaps, more importantly, might have a negative effect on a rider’s race

Maybe with feedback over the next few month, Elite will be able to tweak the firmware and improve the responsiveness, we’ll have to wait and see.

Bottom line, if you can’t stomach a trainer coming in over a grand, then you should be giving the Elite Direto some SERIOUS consideration when stock is widely available in September 2017!

As every, any feedback is welcomed!

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James Gill

Author of TitaniumGeek, which started after smashing off my RIGHT elbow. Feel free to drop me a line about sports tech, medicine, or frankly anything that you want to chat about!!