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Kinetic R1 Smart Trainer Review – Zwift Gear Test

Over the last few years, the direct mount smart trainer has been recognised as the gold standard when it comes to indoor bike training. Kinetic has long relied on the Rock and Roll system to differentiate from rivals, but the lack fo a direct mount trainer has been a sore point. Not any more!

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Kinetic R1 Smart Trainer – Review

Hold on, didn’t the Kinetic R1 already come out last year?? Yes, it did, but an entire product recall and broad revisions have meant that 2019 is the year of the Kinetic R1 launch. Let’s see what the extra time in the oven has done!

Before we go any further, I think it is important to highlight how unique Kinetic is in the turbo trainer world. Perhaps in two ways. First as a company, Kinetic is actually an offshoot of the MUCH larger Kurt Manufacturing – producing die-cast components for fields from hydraulics through to aerospace. Even Boeing and SpaceX are customers of Kurt!

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In fact getting some of the development photos for the Kinetic R1 was complicated, as several of the sites where the design was worked on are under the Official Secrets Act in the USA, and photography of anything there is strictly forbidden.

But thankfully not all of them, hence I’m managed to get hold of a few factory photos. One of the reasons why I was so interested in the actual development process of the Kinetic R1, was that the hardest part of bringing the new unit to market was transferring over the Rock and Roll system from the Kinetic Rock and Roll Smart Control, to the R1. Which let’s face it, is where a large proportion of the comparisons will be made, as whilst the Kinetic Rock and Roll does have a devoted following, it has not been a competitive unit in the direct-drive market. Hence with the Kinetic R1 is so important to the company

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When you look at the range of movement that the Rock and Roll chassis is able to go through, it makes sense why other manufacturers, like Tacx, have been happy to have trainers like the Neo 2 which are solidly planted, yet have a small degree of flexibility in the design of the materials

In order to create a new frame which was able to support a direct drive unit, and also have the Rock and Roll system incorporated Kinetic and a local design company White Board took a hacksaw to the existing design. I mean literally – a lot of old rock and rolls were cut up in order to be able to iterate on the fly.

An issue which became apparent during testing was the location of the front Rock and Roll pivot. Previously this had needed a cantilever system, but had the side effect of causing more of twisting movement when in direct drive, rather than a pivot movement

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The team were given the design brief that the Kinetic R1 had to “feel” as if the rider were actually on the road and that meant finding an engineering solution to the pivot side to side. Further Kinetic Rock and Rolls were sacrificed to the cause, Cutting up old models as it was easier to iterate on the form, essentially as this method allowed changing the elastomers, cutting and welding to quickly produce different footprints. This is how it was determined that in order for the rocker to be effective, and not to cause instability, additional vestigial legs, as we see in the final unit, were needed

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One of the engineering prototypes I was lucky enough to see was an all-black unit. With the Elite Drivo, people had always clamoured for a black unit. Comparing the dark Kinetic R1 and the regular production colour we have, I’m glad that the green has continued on. Wahoo and Tacx already do enough in black, we need extra colours in our indoor cycling caves!

So that’s the background to the Kinetic R1 development, let’s have a closer look at the trainer.

Kinetic R1 Smart Trainer – Design

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Kinetic comes out of the gate, or should that be box, very strongly. The green of the Kinetic R1 is echoed in the eco-credentials shown in the shipping packaging. Obviously, when moving very heavy turbo trainers around with relatively delicate electronics inside, most manufacturers opt for polystyrene or similar materials. I’ve not seen cardboard used like this before – nice work Kinetic!

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As with every turbo manufacture which is NOT Wahoo, the Kinetic R1 comes sans cassette.

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Which is a little bit of a shame as getting the cassette mounted on the Kinetic R1 was a REAL challenge. There was just something stopping the first three cogs sliding all the way on, meaning that the last 3mm couldn’t slide on

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After about 30mins of trying to put the cassette in and being concerned that I’d forgotten everything I knew about bike maintenance, and took the freehub off to compare to one of the other turbos here. Yes, it was an 11-speed hub. No, I wasn’t being stupid. I actually found it easier to take the freehub off and install the cassette that way. Certainly a little odd. After a discussion with Kinetic, they highlighted that there have been some issues with the bodies on the hub, and have changed manufacturer. A new freehub was dropped in the post, and I can confirm things slipped on easily after that

In the box, along with the eco-packaging (seriously impressed there) we’ve; the Kinetic R1, QR skewer,m the manual, charging brick, 30 day trial with Rouvy and Sufferfest (I wonder how long that will last now that Wahoo is the owner?) the gubbins for 10-speed cassettes, and thru-axle adapters

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On the side of the Kinetic R1, half covered by the company logo is the flywheel. Which looks the same as we’re used to on the Kinetic Smart Control, just in a different skin

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On the drive side, you can see the prodigious handle. The handle seems such a small thing to talk about, but on the Kinetic R1, the handle has great ergonomics in a “D” shape, meaning you can choose to grab it by the top flat section, or by the longer back of the “D”. Whichever is easier for yourself

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Looking from the side of the Kinetic R1, you can see the elastomers which form the basis of the rocker plate.

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If you flip the unit on its side, you can see the nuts underneath for adjusting the resistance to the rocking motion. You also get a good idea of how stable you are going to be able to make the Kinetic R1 with its six points of contact with the floor. People often feel that large contact points are better, whereas, in fact, you’ll get a better experience with more, smaller points, especially if they are adjustable ones at that. With the Kinetic R1, four of the points can be adjusted, to ensure that any rocking of some the unit is by design and not from an unstable floor

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When deployed there is almost an insectoid appearance to the Kinetic R1 – perhaps triggered by the colour scheme as I appreciate that it is missing a set of legs to be an insect, but at least I didn’t say it looked like a spider!

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Across the top of the trainer, you’ll see the PowerGrip belt, which is practically which is also seen on several other trainer brands

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Finally around the back of the trainer is the power socket, USB port – which DID give a wired sport. With the current firmware, the USB port is inactivated, which isn’t really a surprise as only one piece of software ever supported it. It does, however, cause me to pause to wonder how much of the Kinetic R1 is actually just a repacked Rock and Roll, rather than a completely new design

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An argument could be made that with the advent of eSport with Zwift and Rouvy there may be a need for hardwired trainers in order to improve latency. I have personally attended Zwift events where trainer hiccoughs have lost racers, who had been predicted a podium, the entire race. So, on the one hand, I can see why Kinetic kept the port, but not why it was left open – there are a lot of tinkerers in the cycling community who would have loved to have a play with it.

Kinetic R1 Smart Trainer – Specifications

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  • Communication: Bluetooth, ANT+™, ANT+™ FE-C, BlueTooth Smart Trainer Protocol – both ANT and BLE can be used simultaneously
    • A WIRED CONNECTION IS AVAILABLE – just not with Zwift
  • Max Slope Simulation: 20%
  • Built-in sensors: Power, Speed/Cadence,
  • Max Wattage: 2000w
  • Freehub: Shimano, 9/10/11 speed compatible – no cassette in the box
  • Power Accuracy: +/- 3% – possible improvements with firmware updates
  • Flywheel: 6.3kg
  • Weight: 21.5kg
  • Other Bits:
    • Rocker motion can be adjusted
    • Compatibility notes:
      • Bikes with 130, 135, 142, and 148mm width rear fork
      • Quick-release adapter for 12mm x 142, 12x 142 thru-axle hubs

Kinetic R1 Smart Trainer – Manual

I don’t often use the manuals on the devices which comes through TitaniumGeek. Not out of hubris, but because I feel that devices should be intuitive. If I have to use the manual there is normally a reason, which I then feedback. I do have to draw attention to the Kinetic R1 manual though for just being impressive.

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There are no assumptions, you are walked through the entire trainer setup. Seriously, David Simpson, the Kinetic Marketing Manager takes personal pride in the manual and frankly, you can see why!

The Kinetic R1 Manual can be found here. Frankly, just for interests sake, I suggest you check it out!

Kinetic R1 Smart Trainer – Using The Trainer

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OK, so before a full Zwift Gear Test, only a couple of things to mention here, and they relate to ERG mode. This is pretty much the hardest test for trainers. I’d strongly argue that Zwift’s Jon’s Short Mix is one of the best ways of looking at a trainer. The plan hits hard and fast, ease off, allows for a series of intense, and then even more intense sections, and getting in a steady-state too.

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Literally, the very first ride on the new Kinetic R1 was using Jon’s Mix through the Titan’s Grove on Zwift. I really don’t know which was tugging my attention more, the dinosaurs on the screen or the power numbers coming from the Kinetic R1

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There has been a wiiiiiiiide range of issues regarding the power reporting from the Kinetic R1 when the first iteration was launched. Everything from seeming to having widely different calibrations from one moment to the next, to reports of over reading and under reading.

Currently, I’ve had the latest version sitting in the test cave for a few months now, but why have I delayed this review? There has been a bug found the firmware which has affected how the unit power meter function, and I thought I’d wait… and then I waited… and waited and now finally the new firmware dropped months later – which was NOT an impressive showing from Kinetic.

So with that in mind, let’s have a look over my previous PM data and then with the current firmware after all a Zwift Gear Test needs to be thorough

So first Jon’s mix test… and the original firmware results from the R1 were sufficiently poor, that I didn’t feel it was a worthwhile use of time digging into them given that we have new firmware!

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ERG Mode

But before we get into the numbers of power meters, I think ERG mode needs a positive mention here. My immediate feeling on the Kinetic R1 was that the Kinetic team have done some SERIOUS work on the ERG mode. There are very few fields left to really make large strides in it comes to smart trainers. The Tacx Neo 2 is pretty much the last word in silence. Elite with the Drivo II has managed to get accuracy to high with their OTS power meter that their engineer has said they see no benefit fighting beyond the 0.5% margin, as the very TESTS that measure the error are not more accurate than that! Wahoo has accuracy and reliability down. So where does Kinetic come with regard to ERG mode?

Kinetic’s ERG mode is probably the most responsive I have ridden to date.

The Kinetic R1 is not perfect. I still ran into the “brick walling” phenomena when in the 700 watt+ sections, when I was doing the workout. So how does square with the above quote?

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Erg “brick walling” is something that the Kinetic team have specifically focused on with the new release of the Kinetic R1, and it’s all to do with magnets or specifically controlling their response. If the electromagnet comes on too aggressively, this is when the rider gets buried and you simply can’t turn the pedals. By vastly improving the speed of the electromagnet a target resistance comes on quickly, appropriately, and sharply, but without burying the rider. Here is the point that matters to me – on the Kinetic R1 if the rider starts to get buried, then the power is immediately ramped down, to allow the rider to keep going. Being buried on a ride is annoying, but being easily able to abort that event, and return to regular riding is a huge bonus

One of the reasons for this focus is that tech support is spread through the company – Jason Overman is the official product manager but also has to spend a proportion of his time handling tech support on the phones. As a result signals regarding areas that might need to be tweaked in the firmware can be noticed more easily and quickly incorporated into code. Whilst I don’t doubt the notice Kinetic take of feedback, I’m far from convinced about their ability to update firmware quickly

So yes, ERG mode, in the most aggressive way, is not perfect, but the riders is rescued much faster than I’ve seen on other trainers, and I think that is a huge improvement. Looks like there are still a few areas for trainer manufacturers to polish, but all sounding so good for the Kinetic R1 at the moment doesn’t it! But what is that noise?

Kinetic R1 Smart Trainer – Sound Test

There are many great areas about the Kinetic R1. There are also a few rough edges. There are also some shocking bits. I’ll let you decided where you would put the sound profile on that list

It’s not just the straight forward noise of the trainer which is the problem, but also one of the cooling fans. Whilst it is a little difficult to see, there is a tiny fan behind the rear grill. It looks like a simple computer cooling fan, and to put it simply, it feels as though someone tried to save costs by buying the cheapest fans that they could

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Unfortunately, you can really tell. The fan essentially starts running when you begin your work out, which is not such a major issue. Especially, as you’ve just seen, the Kinetic R1 is not exactly a quiet device. The problem comes after your workout. Then, the fan continues to run. I have had the fan running up to 45mins after a work out has completed.

Kinetic says that the fan activity is determined by the temperature within the R1, and I’ve no issue with that. What I do find surprising is that no other company is affected in this way – whether it is with regard to unit heating, or opting for such a “visible” component to reach the final product unit without being swapped out for a more refined unit

Zwift Gear Test

So on to the meat of the Kinetic R1 review – ok headline, I’m sorry but the power meter in the Kinetic R1 is just all over the place. I’ll show you the worst power reading output I’ve seen whilst attempting to ride the R1

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There is some good news, not all of the rides with the latest firmware have been that bad, but it is clear that the Kinetic R1 over reads even from a cursory glance at the graph

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If we grab a section of the steady-state graph and compare the highest readings with the lowest, the R1 is running on average 11% higher!!!!

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Even if you average out over the entire steady-state things are similar

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It appears as though part of the problem is that the R1 isn’t sensitive enough to small variations. If you look at the low power section between the two higher power sections, you can see you’ve almost a horizontal bar

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All in all the Kinetic R1 power meter is NOT something you should be using to race with. That is quite a statement to my mind, which is a shame as the rest of the unit is really quite special, and there is the quandary with the Kinetic R1, it has some factors which really elevate it over the competition and other areas where the R1 is… not really in the competition

Kinetic R1 Smart Trainer – Initial Conclusions

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I’m going to come out and say it now, if Kinetic can manage to get a handle on the gremlins and the firmware issues – we thought they had initially after they had to call a halt to the initial Kinetic R1 release in 2018, then the rest of the trainer manufacturers had better take notice. Otherwise, I can see someone in finance will be putting Kinetic on notice

Previously I enjoyed using the Kinetic Rock and Rock. BUT it was loud, with variable accuracy and in many ways the movement was excessive – I actually recently tried to get my girlfriend into Zwift, and thought that the Rock and Roll might be a good place to start. But the extremes of the movement and how little force she needed to get a lot of movement put her off. (I’ve clearly more work to do in that area, but that is very not in the scope of this post!)

With the Kinetic R1, the range of movement is similar ~ 15 degrees, BUT as you can adjust the resistance level, you can set things up so that to R1 moves with a more substantial feel when riding it, especially out of the saddle. Over my first 20mins ride I was genuinely thinking it was one of the smoother Zwift sessions I have had (whilst trying to ignore the noise). The movement does really enhance the indoor riding, but a smooth ride is only useful if the power meter within is considered accurate. As mentioned this has been one of the factors which have caused Kinetic some serious headaches, but the current firmware is still needing work

What DOESN’T enhance the experience is the cooling fan on the back of the Kinetic R1. THIS GUY IS NOISY! To clarify the below picture is after I’ve stopped Zwifting and had a stretch. The little fan is still blowing its heart, and my eardrums out. Alright! maybe a little much on the hyperbole there, but I was surprised at the volume, as it makes the unfit feel less refined than it should do.

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Normally when I write a Zwift Gear Test, I’ve got an idea of where a unit is going to feature in terms of the score, but I’m still on the fence here

The Kinetic R1 has a lot of REALLY good features. But there are still too many quirks holding it back, which come down to the hardware as software. Kinetic has a unit unlike anything else on the market – unless you are willing to sprint for a rocker plate to go under your trainer, but then you are talking serious cash.

If you have joint issues when riding indoors in the fixed position, then the R1 certainly should be at the top of your list, and in that respect, the Kinetic R1 is without peer – if you are not too concerned about the accuracy of the power meter, which is for many a HUGE caveat. Even if you take the power meter issue off the table by using a separate unit on your bike Kinetic needs to refine their unit if they feel they are going to be able to go toe to toe with Wahoo, Elite and Tacx.

With that in mind, I don’t give half marks. So the Kinetic R1 is earning a TG score of 3/5.

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But I will temper that with a TG Approved sticker, highlighting the great relief that you can get with the motion on the R1 which is not available anywhere else. If it wasn’t for the rock and roll motion making this a unique product, I have little doubt this conclusion would have been a LOT harsher. So if you are in that narrow group of people who NEED to motion, here is your unit, everyone else… look else where

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James Gill

Author of TitaniumGeek, which started after smashing off my RIGHT elbow. <br /> <br /> After learning a lot about olecranon fractures, I was introduced to the world Zwift, and slowly transitioned into writing about sports gadgets and the like<br /> <br /> Trying to keep up cycling, swimming and running whilst being a busy General Practice Doctor