A lick of new paint and some changes under the skin, doesn’t sound like much in the world of smart turbo trainers. Has Tacx done enough to keep the Tacx NEO 2 in the game? Read on for the lastest Tacx NEO 2 review to find out!
Tacx NEO 2 Review | ZWIFT GEAR TEST
When the Tacx NEO first debuted it was a very unique creature, a true direct drive smart turbo trainer, no pulleys to cause problems, and 32 neodynium magnets giving tones, well 125kg, of electromagnetic fly wheel whilst looking like a prop from Star Wars
In spite of this, or perhaps because of these choices, the Tacx NEO has always been a chalk or cheese product. Zwifters have either been in love with it, or not. A few initial teething problems in 2016 have not been forgotten by some, but Tacx has otherwise has grown a loyal fan base. But what about the Tacx NEO 2, is this a unit that people who already own a NEO should consider as a potential upgrade? Let’s see!
Tacx NEO 2 Review – Device Design
So what is in the box on the Tacx NEO 2?
- Tacx NEO 2
- Dead tree manuals,
- One month free of the Tacx Desktop App (which allows you to use the Tacx NEO 2 pedal analysis features)
- Power pack and lead
- Quick Release Skewer
- Thru Axle skewer and adapters
I think that it says a lot about the current direction of the road bike market that we are now seeing manufacturers including both the quick release and a full range of thru axle adapters in the box, and not requiring them as an after purchase by the user
Looking around the Tacx NEO 2 on the outside… you are not going to see any changes from the previous NEO save for the addition of the blue underside
That and a small swap to the straightforward Shimano Hub coming pre-installed
Previously, the pre-2017 Tacx NEO came with an EDCO hub which was compatible with EVERYTHING – well, Shimano, SRAM AND Campagnolo cassettes anyway, but this did also make for a slightly tricky installation. The hub shipped with the Tacx NEO 2 is compatible with Shimano and SRAM only, with a Campagnolo and SRAM XD body now sold separately. This has improved installation, but it still remains worthwhile reading over the cassette installation instructions
As another change from dropping the EDCO hub, is that you don’t have to faff around using the proprietary locking ring – my OCD much prefers using the lock ring which matches my cassette
The Tacx NEO 2 case is made from the same type of plastic as riot shields, meaning there is a degree of flexibility built into the case. As everything on the Tacx NEO 2 is made in-house at the Tacx factory, the company was able to design in a 5deg of sway with the materials.
Some people may prefer the “locked down” feeling of the Elite Drivo II but I tend to find it is a more comfortable Zwift session using the Tacx NEO 2 due to the movement. To be fair when it comes to movement the Kinetic Rock and Roll really is king if you want free movement in a trainer – but I appreciate that we are talking about two VERY different machines here, and many people prefer a direct mount trainer like the Tacx NEO 2 rather than a wheel on unit
On the top of the Tacx NEO 2 there are the vents for the internals. People have commented in the past of “electrical” smells during the first few big rides with the Tacx NEO – this is NORMAL, and I’ve seen the same with the Tacx NEO 2. The reason is the capacitors for the electromagnets burning in and is normally on electrical items of this nature.
On the RIGHT, or drive side, of the Tacx NEO 2 is the large disc which covers the electromagnetic brain of the NEO
The 32 neodymium magnets from which the Tacx NEO 2 draws its name are arranged around the perimeter of this metal disc
These then interface face with the electromagnets on the inside of the drive unit giving the resistance as you cycle.
As well as acting as a resistance unit, when the Tacx NEO 2 is plugged into the mains the unit is also able to generate a force, trying to simulate the pull of gravity – frankly, this freewheeling simulation is one of the aspects I most like about the Tacx NEO 2
With every other turbo trainer, when you are using Zwift and going downhill, the resistance decreases, so you legs spin out faster, but if you stop, so does the turbo. There is no inertia effect.
When the Tacx NEO 2 goes downhill – magic happens. You actually get a freewheel effect. When you stop peddling, even take your feet out, the unit receives the FE-C / FTMS instruction from Zwift, not only releasing the resistance on the unit but also putting a small amount of assistance into it, so you get the freewheel/gravity effect.
I’ve tried to demonstrate this in the video below. The important part is listening to the sound that the Tacx NEO 2 is making. The slight whine – I think it’s unreasonable to call the sound from the NEO a noise – increases as you go downhill.
Now it’s possible some riders on Zwift will consider this to be an unfair advantage. This might be argued as you have less resistance to push against on the downhills, but this is a much more realistic and a truer simulation of going down the hill IRL, where gravity does help you. So yes its an advantage, but only in the way that a rider using a carbon fibre bike, will see less flex, and thus get slightly more power transfer than someone using an aluminium or steel bike. Heck, even comparing someone with a direct drive, vs wheel on smart turbo, there are advantages
At the back of the Tacx NEO 2 is the power port which is required for the downhill drive function. Part of me wishes that for this new unit Tacx had put a small battery in the unit which could be charged from the normal cycling, and allow the Tacx NEO 2 to be completely wireless
At the front of the Tacx NEO 2 is a downwards facing LED lights which powers on when you start to ride, and changes colours as you go up the power zones. I originally thought this was quite a gimmick, and frankly a bit of a waste of money in the development of the product…However the more I have used it, there more I’ve found it a nice little gimmick. Don’t get me wrong, its still a gimmick, but its fun to try and push into the 500watt range in order to try and change the LED’s to red. The fact the LED’s shine forward is also a nice touch, so you can easily see them shining when you are flat out on the bars
One of my few irritations with the Tacx NEO 2 is on the sides or wings. There are four locking sections which keep the wings held down.
Seems reasonable enough, however, in order to unlock the legs, you have to access four switches under the unit
There is no other way to describe these approach other than irritating. You need to stand the Tacx NEO 2 on its side, or back, in order or to release the catch. Whilst also holding the unit in such a way that it won’t rock back and re-engage the locks.
When folded up, you now get these large blue wings at the side, and whilst overall I prefer the new blue when the Tacx NEO 2 set up, the original does look more svelt
Folded up is another design flaw to the Tacx NEO, still present – it’s just a pain in the neck to move around. The Wahoo at one point basically did a while update just to add a handle! With the Tacx NEO 2 the wings continue to look like handles, they are not. You’ve no space to get your fingers in, and will only get them munched by the cassette. You have to bodily pick this thing up
Tacx NEO 2 Review – Specifications
The big manufacturers this year have really pushed there spec sheets, but I think the great analogy there is buying a 200mph sports car in the UK, where the speed is limited to 70mph. Yes, you’ve got an impressive spec sheet, but can you actually use it in real life, or are you essentially playing VERY expensive Top Trumps?
Tacx is trying to get a consensus between Elite, Wahoo, Kinetic and themselves as to how would be the best way to present slope presentation and maximum power in a way that is directly relatable to the end user
For example, Chris Pritchard STOMPED out >1300 watts at the end of a Christmas 32KM Zwift race the other night. Now he might not be Christ Froome, BUT he did use to cycle for the Scottish National Team.
Most cyclists, just don’t have legs this powerful, so max watts becomes less of a relevant decision driver. What is MORE relevant is the speed at which a cyclist has to be riding, in order to generate a set slope. The slower speed a rider can maintain and still generate a set slope i) is more useful, but also speaks more to the power of the trainer brake strength.
Ok, with that brief look into the future of spec sheets, what has Tacx actually published with regards to the Tacx Neo 2?
- Communication: Bluetooth, ANT+™, ANT+™ FE-C, BlueTooth Smart Trainer Protocol – both ANT and BLE can be used simultaneously
- Max Slope Simulation: 25%
- Built-in sensors: Power, Speed/Cadence, Advanced pedal analytics, Left/Right balance
- Max Wattage: 2200w @40kph
- Freehub: Shimano, 9/10/11 speed compatible – no cassette in the box
- Power Accuracy: +/- 1%
- Flywheel: 125kg
- Max User Weight: 125kg
- Weight: 21.5kg
- Other Bits: Road Feel, Front LED power indicator lights
- Compatibility notes: bikes with 130, 135, 142, and 148mm width rear fork Quick release adapter for 12mm x 142, 12x 142 thru-axle hubs
I do think there is a small element of spec sheet polishing going on here, with the Tacx Neo 2 just edging out the Elite Drivo II with 25% vs 24% Max Slope Incline.
Tacx Neo 2 Manual
Tacx Neo 2 user manual can be found HERE
Tacx NEO 2 Review –Using the device
Once you have installed your desired cassette, that is all you need on the hardware side of things.
Whilst Tacx does offer a slightly narrower range of compatibilities, some if that is related to the casing. Tacx have made some changes to their case over the years to better accommodate TT bikes, but broader bike compatibility, out of the box is seen with Wahoo KICKR. Frankly, even with a normal road bike, I’ve found the height of the Tacx Neo frame gets in the way slightly when swapping bikes on the trainer
Whilst there is no calibration function needed on the Tacx NEO 2 before actually going for your maiden spin on the unit, you’ll need to download the Tacx Utility App for two reasons. Firstly to check that there are no firmware updates waiting for you
But also as it will allow you to access the Isokinetic and Isotonic training modes – which you can read about the training uses for here
You also need to input your specific weights, for if you use the Tacx Desktop App – may as well do that all together
With everything installed, upgraded, and inputted correctly, let’s get on with the actual Zwift Gear Test – the first part of which has to be looking at the sound
Tacx NEO 2 Review – Sound Test
As I have discussed before, the sound test here is carried out with the iPhone, in the same room, at a similar distance from the trainer on all the turbos – and the microphone directed towards the trainer.
However for interpretation, it is important to remember that decibels are only part of the story, the nature of the sound is a massive factor in perception, not just volume. ie is the sound a high pitched whine (very irritating to my mind) or a deep rumble (less annoying for me personally, but will travel further in a house)
The Tacx NEO was without a doubt the quietest ride in town. It is difficult to put my finger on it, but it sounds like the note from the Tacx NEO 2 has changed slightly, it is deeper somehow, which at the same time makes, in my opinion, a less intrusive noise. Have a watch and see what you think
Let’s look at the data away from the video, as you can see the Tacx NEO 2 remains remarkably quiet. What is interesting is that there appears to be a plateau in the volume between approx 300-400 watts. As we know that the Tacx NEO 2 is fully direct drive, I’m actually attributing more of the noise profile here to the bike drive train
What will be interesting is to see that the sound profile is on the Tacx NEO Smart Bike, given it has a belt drive, and no chain, with the focus being to making a truly silent trainer.
One further point to make with regard to the noise, there ARE instances where there is quite a bit of noise which emanates from the trainer, this is when the RoadFeel is engaged
Tacx NEO 2 Review – RoadFeel
RoadFeel, is as the name suggests a firmware setting which allows the Tacx NEO 2 to simulate different road surfaces.
This is possible as the system controller inside the Tacx NEO 2 is able to make millisecond changes to the electric currents going through the electromagnets forming the drive unit. The variations result in different patterns of resistance can be programmed so that different vibrations are transmitted through the NEO 2 giving the simulation of different road surfaces.
You get a shift in noise tone from the Tacx NEO 2, to go along with a change in the vibration pattern as you pedal, really making the different terrain on Zwift a more immersive experience. But this does impact on the silence of the Tacx NEO 2 – for example on climbing the snow to the Zwift radio tower, the simulation sounds as though the unit is grinding due to icy terrain – however there isn’t anything wrong with the trainer, it isn’t grinding internally!
NB when my review unit arrived, there was a minor discrepancy in the application of RoadFeel on certain surfaces on Zwift, which really impacted on the immersion. HOWEVER this has been resolved with the latest firmware update, so shouldn’t cause users an issue.
Some people don’t like the RoadFeel system, personally, I’m a big fan, but if you don’t, then it is just as easy to switch it off from the Tacx App. RoadFeel combined with the Down Hill drive, in my opinion, make the Tacx NEO 2 the most interesting unit to ride on Zwift. I say interesting, as some people have made comments about the feel of the ride, commenting that the Tacx NEO 2 feels dead compared to the KICKR. I think this comes down to personal preference, which is why I always advise, if possible, try before you buy when it comes to turbo trainers
Tacx NEO 2 Review – Power Meter Accuracy testing
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 the latest Zwift build and using the Jon’s Mix workout, so we have a consistent benchmark between all the different turbos which have gone through Zwift Gear Tests on TitaniumGeek
Here the power tests have been performed against the PowerTap C1 chainring, and the Garmin Vector 3 pedals, both of which we know correlate well with all other power meters which have been through the TG testing and thus can be considered reliable when compared to a third power meter in a turbo. The Tacx NEO 2, like the Elite Drivo II doesnt, require calibration, so were run, as came, out of the box.
NB I’ve applied a 4-second smoothing to the data, which can be effective in highlighting subtle issues in the graphs
On the simple overview, the Tacx NEO 2 is aligning very well with both power meters, although on all “stomp” sections of the test the NEO maybe reads fractionally higher.
Zooming into graphs, no major issues detected. There is the odd quirk carried over from the NEO, that from a standstill if you drop the hammer, there is a fractional slip from the drive unit. However this doesn’t seem to happen when cycling, and I saw no evidence in the power graphs.
Tacx NEO 2 Review – Pedal Analysis
When it comes to the actual pedalling part – quite useful when on a turbo trainer, this is one of the bigger updates to the Tacx NEO 2
The internal cadence calculations have been improved by the addition of the ability to sense when you pedal passes the case, but without the use of a magnet. Clearly, pedal analysis has been one of the NEO 2 core design briefs as the cadence improvements come along with the addition of left/right balance calculations from the internal power meter. These features dovetail nicely with the new pedal stroke analysis – which I’d imagine will be a draw for people using power meters which do not support these features – the update to the Tacx Desktop App allowing 3D course generation will be the first place people will be able to access this data
Tacx have managed to improve the cadence data from the Tacx Neo 2 by producing a new sensor type inside the Neo. That in itself doesn’t sound particularly entertaining. However that technology is being adapted for another purpose within Tacx – currently embargoed – but suffice to say it is the sort of out of the box thinking which Tacx and Martin Smits are well known for!
Don’t worry though, Tacx realises that indoor cyclist is a very platform agnostic person – as such they have made the pedal analysis available to third parties. So whilst Tacx only support it with their own apps, Garmin is working on an update to bring Tacx pedal analysis data to their Garmin Edge units, which will massively increase its utility
Given that Zwift has been very resistant to user customisations of their HUD, unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll be seeing pedal analysis features on Watopia in the short term. Which is another reason to check out the 3D course generation approach in the Tacx Desktop App
Tacx NEO 2 Review –Conclusion
Rather than just using one trainer, I regularly keep the “big three” of direct mount trainers in regular use, the Elite Drivo (now Elite Drivo II) the Wahoo KICKR and previous Tacx NEO. I don’t think that I can reasonably give opinions on these trainers when asked without this. HOWEVER when I’m using the trainers with a group, I have found that I now tend to gravitate towards the Tacx NEO.
As long-term readers will know that I used to favour the Wahoo KICKR, partially as I used to have to Zwift in my front room, and pack everything away when finished – In which case, as the KICKR is a tough as nails, it’s a good choice for moving.
Now that I have been able to set up a TitaniumGeek office, the bike station can stay up all the while. Whilst the trainers are cycles through, I do that that I gravitate more towards the Tacx NEO, and have enjoyed the use of Tacx NEO 2 similarly over the last month or so. The sound, and smoothness of the drive system is compelling, and the small amount of flex is good for my knee discomfort
The Tacx NEO 2 changes are not such that I would say people should upgrade. If you are wedding to Elite, for example, the new front feet on the Elite Drivo II is a good reason to upgrade there.
What Tacx has done with the Tacx NEO 2 is pretty much set the benchmark for trainers:
- It’s the quietest turbo trainer you will buy currently
- It runs without being connected to the mains, so wins eco points
- Road Feel is just a great novelty
- New Tacx Desktop app gives you pedal analysis features
- Isokinetic training modes
- LEFT/RIGHT Pedal balance and stroke analysis
There are the as yet unrevealed features to the Tacx NEO 2, which sounds good, but you can’t really sell a product on “mystery box features”, so I’ll tag that as interesting, but not put too much weight on it.
So there we have it, the Tacx NEO 2 the first TG 5/5 for a turbo trainer. Kinetic, Wahoo, the ball is definitely in your court now!
Ok with the Tacx Neo 2 done, better get typing on the followup to the Tacx Flux – The Flux S