Elite has really hit the gas on smart trainers this year. Launching three new units. The Elite Direto X being the most advanced of the three. Will Elite be able to maintain their previous mid-range dominance in this Elite Direto X Review?
Elite Direto X Smart Trainer Review
TLDR: Elite Direto X shows Elite knows how to make a terrific technology at bargain prices. But Elite may offer better value for some in their own lineup
TG SCORE: 4/5
OK let’s be clear before we get stuck into this Elite Direto X review, the Direto X is not a brand new product, but an update, or perhaps more accurately an evolution of the Elite Direto – A unit which practically set the benchmark for the mid-range budget smart trainer.
Two years further down the line from the Elite Direto launch, other manufacturers have responded with the Tacx Flux S, and the Wahoo CORE and Elite have thrown their own competition against the Direto X with the lower cost Suito trainer. What has Elite done to keep the Direto X at the top of the pile? Well we have got a slightly tweaked case colour, but perhaps in the most subtle of ways
The internal changes are similarly evolutional. The core of the Direto X remains the OTS power meter which has seen great service in both the Elite Drivo and the Direto. For the 2019 update we’ve:
- Improved accuracy of +/- 1.5% Direto’s Optical Torque Sensor (OTS)
- The old Direto is still competitive at +/- 2%, but the Direto X is now closing the gap with Elite’s accuracy champion the Drivo II.
- Gradient simulation has increased from 14% to 18%
- Achieved by beefing up the strength of the internal brake which is required to produce the greater hill inclines
- Tweak the internals to reduce the noise from the trainer
- One of the ways this has been done is pulling the internal fan wheel from the unit, as was seen on the original Direto when I did the Elite Factor Tour
Elite is clearly happy now with the current state of the ANT-FEC and Bluetooth FTMS protocol given their unambiguous inclusion in the product information details, but I do think it is interesting the specific logos for FMTS remain absent on the Direto X, merely a Bluetooth logo. Perhaps I’m reading too much into things there
So without further ado, let’s get the Elite Direto X out of the box, and get testing!
Elite Direto X – Design
But before we get stuck into hardcore testing of the Elite Direto X review, we need to get things unboxed, look at what ships with the unit and put on our style critic glasses to appraise the Direto X’s slight facelift. In the box, everything sits, well and the easier approach to getting things out is to simply grab the Direto X by the handle a the back of the unit and heave. I saw heave, at 15kg the Direto is far from being the heaviest unit on the market and is quite well balanced when it comes to moving it about
Inside we have got the three turbo separate legs, four bolts and allen keys to attach them to the trainer, and adapters for thru-axel compatibility. Power supply, training skewer and paperwork including manual.
Compared to the original Direto we now have included a small wheel riser block which is required in order to allow for Elite Direto X to accept longer rear cages, often seen on MBT frames
The one thing which ISN’T included in the box is a cassette. To my mind, this is one of the ways that Elite are differentiating the Elite Suito as an entry-level trainer from the Direto X, which they are pitching as a more higher specced, advanced level unit, with only a few aspects now separating it from their top of the line Drivo II. The theory being here that riders starting out on the indoor cycling scene will be happy to use an included cassette, whereas other riders will want to select their own cogs… or maybe even don’t use a Shimano setup, in which case they will be likely going to change the freehub as well
Be careful not to bin the paperwork when you open up the Direto X, 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. You’ve also got trial codes for The Sufferfest, Rouvy and Kinomap. Interestingly enough, we no longer have a Zwift in the box. Perhaps this is the first reaction from manufacturers to Zwift setting up a hardware division, and having a job role specifically looking at teardowns – i.e. reverse engineering
Even after 2 years on the market, I think that the Elite Direto X is one of the most stylised turbo trainers out there. The Flux, and Core are definitely function over form type trainers, as is the Suito. But with that intricate nylon/fibreglass composition on the drive wheel on one side looks quite compelling…
The non-drive side looks almost drab by comparison, and a little bit portly. From a design perspective, I find it really interesting how the differences in the two sides have worked out
To be honest, the first thing you need to do before we can really start the Elite Direto X review, even before putting the cassette on, is assembling the trainer. That involves attaching the front three legs, into the slot at the front of the trainer
Everything needed for the leg installation is included in the box. You’ve obviously got the four bolts, but also the allen key.
The central leg has two bolts to it, as it remains fixed in position, whilst the side legs have single bolts, but also an adjustable rubber knob, to lock the legs in place when fully deployed
As with the Elite Direto before it, the legs on the Elite Direto X fold out almost to 90 deg from the side of the trainer giving an exceptionally stable platform for riding. So stable in fact that the previous Direto actually donated those legs up the product change to the Elite Drivo II when it had its facelift
With the Elite Direto X built, let’s take a quick tour around the unit and whilst we are there highlight some of the changes compared to the older Direto. The changes overall are subtle but significant. First off, is that the side panel on the unit has now been trimmed down to allow for the longer rear cages. This has also been made possible by the removal of the wheel which was previously housed here
The actual material of the case has changed, not only in colour but in surface texture. The Elite Direto had a slightly lighter, softer touch coating, which did scratch ever so slightly if you were to knock into the trainer
By comparison, the Elite Direto X has a rough texture across it, making it much easier to keep a grip on the integrated handle, and seemingly, over the couple of months I’ve been testing this trainer for the Elite Direto X Review the unit has certainly been less troubled by scratches
On the forward-facing, non-drive side of the Elite Direto X we have the three status lights, ANT+, BLE and power. Pretty self-explanatory really
Directly under the lights is the power socket, there is a little cable retention system there to prevent you from yanking on the trainer if you trip over the wire. The same system is used on all the Elite trainers, and if I’m honest, I see how it would protect the trainer, but just moves the damage to the cable. I’d much prefer an easier cable release as on the Saris H3
Elite has pitched their Suito trainer as a svelte little number than can easily be packed away, however, the Elite Direto X, and it’s fore barer are not exactly wide units when folded. I certainly find them easier to squirrel away than the Tacx Flux S
There is one aspect that I do dislike on the Elite Direto, which has not been changed on the Elite Direto X. The retention screws for the legs are underneath the trainer, rather on top, which makes tightening them a bit of a pain
Another annoyance, although perhaps a very personal one, it that Elite continues to use power transformers with some of the shortest cables in the industry. Wahoo KICKR, and Tacx NEO units have cables nearly double the length. Personally, I feel that a smart trainer power adapter should have a cable at least the length of an indoor cycling mat. I’m very lucky, I now have four plug sockets on the wall beside where I test, however in my previous house the plug socket was in front of the bike area, meaning that all Elite trainers needed extension cables.
Right, with that little overview out of the way, let’s get into the details of the Elite Direto X
Elite Direct X Turbo Trainer Preview – Specifications
- Bluetooth, ANT+, ANT+ FE-C, BlueTooth Smart Trainer Protocol FTMS
- Slope Simulation:
- (Direto 14%, Suito 15%)
- Built-in sensors:
- Power, Speed/Cadence
- Max Wattage:
- 2100 W @40kmph and 3250 @60kmph
- Suito (1900w @40kmph, 2900w @60kmph
- Direto (1400W of power @40 kmph and 2200W @60 kmph)
- 2100 W @40kmph and 3250 @60kmph
- Power Accuracy:
- +/- 1.5%
- Direto +/- 2%)
- Suito +/- 2.5%
- +/- 1.5%
- Flywheel: 4.2kg
- 3.5kg Elite Suito
- 4.6kg Elite Direto,
- 5.4kg Wahoo CORE,
- 6.7kg Tacx Flux S
- 14.5kg Elite Suito
- 15kg Direto 15kg
- 840 x 650 mm – unfolded
- 300 x 650 mm – folded
So the Elite Direto X bests the Elite Suito and the original Direto in every way… except for flywheel weight, which is an interesting finding.
I think that for many people it will be the slope simulation that informs purchase trends, as many people ride Zwift at the default 50% hill simulation. ie. Zwift’s steepest section is only 20%, but you’ll only need a trainer capable of 10% slope generation if you are running 50% hill gradients in the software.
Elite Direto X Manual
Currently, there isn’t a downloadable manual for the Elite Direto X, but there is a technical sheet here
Elite Direto Zwift Gear Test
Once you have built the Elite Direto X, it is then time to install the Elite app in order to calibrate. 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
The Elite app allows you to configure your trainer, perform power smoothing and trainer Calibration to ensure that everything runs smoothly
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 not to throw away the paperwork that came with the unit, well that allows you to unlock the training features.
One of the bargain features within the Elite trainers is the inclusion of pedal analysis features, which is really useful for someone such as myself with a “grumpy right knee”. Basically whatever software I have loaded up, be it Zwift, Rouvy or Road Grand Tours, I can also run the Elite training app on my phone to monitor the power balance between my legs, as recorded by the Elite Direto X, a feature which is years past was the purview of power meter pedals.
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 and is again one of the major separators, in terms of features, from the Elite Suito
A lot of software, like Zwift, will allow you to perform an in-game calibration. So really the choice is yours as to how you go about it. When you are doing a calibration of a trainer, unlike a separate power meter, it is important that the unit is warmed up first. Hence why Zwift, Elite and various other programs will advise that a 10 min warmup has been completed before the calibration
That might seem like an unnecessary hurdle, but remember that with a smart trainer, we are dealing with magnets, flywheels and crucially resistances. All of which will be affected by temperature. Elite states that in order to get the advertised 1.5% accuracy, a correctly performed calibration is required, as heat generated from riding can have a “significant effect” on riding.
Personally I prefer to use the company-specific app for calibrations. Elite has produced a colossal number of trainers over the years – there are over ONE HUNDRED trainers which can pair with their app. As a result, they also use a clear QR code on the back of all there trainers to automatically select the correct one in the app via the camera
From there you quickly find the Elite Direto X power meter, it’s internal cadence and speed sensors and can progress to calibration. I also find it useful to ensure that I have the correct details in the advance config screen, for when using the pedal analysis
Right with the trainer calibrated and set up, time to put the Elite Direto X power meter to the test!
Elite Direto X Power Meter Test
To ensure we are all on the same page, let’s run through the approach to trainer testing I use here. Trainers run in two modes: ERG mode and Sim mode.
- Sim mode is basically just blasting around on Zwift.
- ERG mode is harder for the trainer, as the device is tasked with varying resistance to enable to you target certain wattages – normally as part of a training plan:
In order to perform in ERG effectively, a trainer needs to be able to adapt quickly in order to stop the resistance ramping too high – Often called “burying the rider” where the resistance is set too high to even turn the pedals!!
Whilst setting the resistance at an insane level might seem odd to the rider, it makes sense to the trainer’s electronic brain if you are not putting enough power down, increasing the resistance makes you push harder, helping riding hit the power target. But that can lead to a death spiral of increasing resistance which really breaks the mode. As such ERG mode is something which companies put a lot of development time, and is where some of the additional cost of the top end trainers like the Drivo II and the Neo 2T is going.
Which is why I always start off with an ERG Mode test – specifically Jon’s Mix. All sensors pair, let’s kick-off
I always start out with Zwift’s Jon’s Mix as that requires me to try – crucial word there – and hold 834 watts for ten secs (which I’m actually getting better at hitting!). I think that the recurrent phases of high power, fast changes, and plenty of warm-up time are challenging test for any trainer, and if we’re going to lock up in ERG mode, we’ll see it here
As ever the power graphs produced from the power meter on the test are compared with data from two other power meters, you need three units to determine if one is out of whack!. NB I’ve applied a 4-second smoothing to the data, which can be effective in highlighting subtle issues, and makes the graphs look, well smoother!
So here is the first run of Jon’s Mix, just the Elite Direto X internal power meter alone. Click on the graph for a larger image
So as a straight forward overview, this doesn’t seem too bad, we’ve got a couple of dropouts, but nothing particularly offensive. Specifically, the Elite Direto X didn’t attempt to bury me at any point. However there might be a reason for that, the first two power bumps look a little… blunted compared to what we might expect. Ideally, we’re looking for nice sharp, and crisp increases in power, that smoothness might suggest that the Direto X is not able to respond as quickly as we’d like.
For completeness, here is the summary for Jon’s Mix from the Elite Direto X. Now let’s add in the other power meters and see how things compare
You can see here compared to the PowerTap P1 and C1 power meters, everything is in the ballpark. Not perfect, but certainly in the ballpark. Let’s pull a little closed into the second block
Here we can see that the Elite Direto X is fractionally blunted compared to the other power meters. Particularly slow when it comes to the initial ramp, missing out over 10% of watts at that initial power. However apart from that, it keeps close pace with the C1, but fractionally slower than the other two power meters
If we zoom in to the high-intensity areas we see the same again, simply a blunting of the power profile. As a ramp up the pressure, we get a much sharper spike from the direct power meters, but at the end of the segment, all four meters are agreeing. The issue is the blunting and the loss of watts here in the first few seconds
The same is repeated on the next spike as well
At no point however on ERG mode did I have a difficulty riding the trainer. At no point to did the unit lock up. By comparison to the Wahoo KICKR Core where I had difficulty physically completing the test, I’d prefer to how a trainer reacting poorly and robbing me of watts, than a trainer reacting poorly and locking up on me. When it comes to training, which is the purpose of ERG mode, I think that losing a few watts down the drive train, and in reaction, is better than being unable to complete the training session, or having that session stop to allow the trainer to reset
The link for this first graph set is here:
Elite Direto X Simulation mode
From a simulation perspective, the Elite Direto X is on the money as soon as you start riding. Perhaps the sound profile of the trainer plays a part here, but I would describe the feeling of riding on the Elite Direto X… as meaty.
That isn’t to say that response is lacking, far from it. There is a delightfully clear progression as you move around the Watopia inclines. All the changes were in keeping with what the rider on the screen was encountering, so abrupt moments where the Elite Direto X got lost
One such area is on the descent from Alpe du Zwift and the Radio Tower. If you barrel down here trying to get 88kph – JUST missed it – when you hit the start of the next hill, due to the simulated speed, sometimes a trainer can lag slightly in the change from -9% gradient to +9%. No issues here
HOWEVER, it is possible to argue that the change in gradient here is a little too easy. But there are classic sections on Watopia Essess along with some of the newer courses where there are fast undulating areas of the track. At those points maybe there would be a moment of delay, where you are waiting for the gradient to “catch”, but it is so brief, by the time you think it, resistance has engaged and you are powering up the next hill. Which given the stronger magnets within the Direto X, you are able to have a truer to “life” simulation of, so win-win!
What those undulations taken care of, let’s turn to the final section of the Elite Direto X review and see what kind of noise the trainer puts out
Elite Direto X Sound Test
As accuracy has been deemed to be “solved” by the smart trainer manufacturers, over the last year or so, the focus has shifted towards addressing the noise produced by the trainers – here as mentioned earlier removal of one of the fans will have likely been a factor in reducing the sound profile of the Elite Direto X
Remember, however, that decibels are only part of the story, the nature of the sound is a massive factor in perception, not just volume. As mentioned earlier the Elite Direto X feels “meaty” when you are riding it. However, that might be related to the fact I was testing this at the same time as the Wahoo CORE, which has a higher-pitched note. So before I go on, I’d advise listening to the sound profile of the Elite Direto X and the Wahoo CORE, both are which are available if you click the picture below
Now technically the Wahoo CORE is the quieter of the two, but, I was surprised at this! Returning to my point about noise profile vs simple volume. Yes, a large part of a sound test is subjective, and personally I found the Elite Direto X less intrusive for me when I was riding. Which pretty much brings us to our Elite Direto X Review conclusion
Elite Direto X Review – Conclusion
Elite has taken the existing Direto and given it a jolly good polish to produce the new Elite Direto X. The Elite Direto X is a really good trainer. An easy TG 4/5 – which I think is important for me to state at the start of my Elite Direto X Review conclusion, as Elite already had a great trainer with the Direto, making improving things a touch harder.
On that note, nothing here is really pushing the bar, certainly not from the end-user perspective. The spec sheet has improved, and we can now have longer carriage arms, but most users won’t really feel that benefit.
I would strongly argue that the Elite Direto X retains its title as the best priced, mid-level trainer available. BUT – and there is always a but – that is only because of the vast majority of the remaining Elite Direto units have now sold!
Looking for an Elite Direto X Discount?
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