It’s 2018 trainer season, and Tacx has updated their flagship trainer. The Tacx Neo 2 has been developed as a result of engineering feedback from the Tacx NEO Smart Bike and a deeper understanding of the complex magnets which go to give the unique characteristics of the Tacx NEO 2. So let’s see what is going on
Tacx NEO 2 Smart Trainer and Tacx NEO Smartbike – Preview
I headed over the Netherlands earlier this year to get some saddle time with forthcoming Tacx Neo Smartbike which was originally shown off at Eurobike in 2017 – let me be very clear, the unit seen in Germany was essentially a design mockup. Things have changed dramatically since then.
Unsurprisingly, I survived the flight – now whilst I don’t have an issue with flying per say, after an incident in Africa with a prop plane, I’m always a touch… wary when I see that my flying aluminium sky tube has propellers!
Things are going very well for Tacx as company to the degree that they have run out of factory space, and as a result are currently in the process of building a new factory just down the road in order to house their factory facilities, which with the number of products they are manufacturing has now become a little cramped
Tacx is relatively unique in the turbo trainer industry in that the whole widget is produced on site – everything from the plastic moulds to the metal tubing, and wiring looms
I’ll be honest; I was a little hoodwinked by Tacx – during our meetings, there was a huge amount of discussion on the Tacx Flux S and Tacx Flux 2, which obviously we had a poke about the inside of as well.
Once or twice there was the mention that there was a Tacx Neo 2 coming later in this year, but that it was not for public discussion, and that they were not able to show me a production version as yet. I was however asked to give my impression on a new colour change to a Tacx Neo which was sitting in the corner. “Yup I like it, now about those new Tacx Neo 2 changes you were saying…”
Ha. Ha. Very Funny. Well, now we know that I WAS looking at a Neo 2, with its new blue underwear (you can actually see it in the back of the Tacx Neo Smart bike video). I still stick to my original opinion, however – that I do really like the new colour addition. Only small, but it does refresh the overall appearance. Although that might just be my brain going “Ooooo new shiny thing.”
The same blue underside will be seen on the Tacx Flux 2 when that launches shortly
Tacx NEO 2 Preview
When the Tacx Neo first came out, there were a few gremlins in the system. Let me be clear, since the end of 2016 those gremlins have been well and truly put to bed. Reinforced by no significant issues being seen with the last iteration. Thus it seems entirely reasonable to consider that since we are talking about refinements, along with improvements to the internals, the Tacx Neo 2 should be even more polished from a reliability side.
The Tacx Neo 2 is NOT a revolution, but has taken more features from other products – specifically where pedalling is concerned. The internal cadence calculations have been improved, 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 has always been a company lead be the engineers, rather than the accountants. As a result, there are a LARGE number of prototypes in storage which have never seen the light of day. I remain particularly enamoured by the turbo trainer which could return excess power to the national grid! “Darling, I want to put the washing machine on, do a couple of laps of Watopia would you?”
The Tacx Neo gave everyone a nice surprise when a firmware update brought Road Feel vibrations to the turbo – admittedly a rather love-hate feature, but still, the ingenuity is there. The new Tacx Neo 2 as “added internals” for functionality which has not been revealed yet.
I don’t think we’ll get something as significant as Road Feel, but we may see additional training tools such as the Isokinetic and Isotonic features which can be accessed from the Tacx phone App – we’ll just have to wait and see
Visually I’ve always found the Tacx Neo to the most visually pleasing of the big five. Now I appreciate that can be a very subjective thing. I couldn’t really follow the logic the other day of someone choosing a particular pedal type over another, as one brand “Just looks ugly”. It’s probable that many people will view their smart trainer in the same way — something to put under the bike and ignore.
The Tacx Neo has always been “The comparator” when it comes to turbo trainers. The KICKR vs Neo, Drivo Vs Neo, Hammer vs Neo. That isn’t to say that it is the Neo is a benchmark design, but that it is sufficiently different compared to the other units as to be the “other option” for most people
For winter 2018 the team in the Netherlands have gone over their flagship turbo, tweaking, and tucking, resulting in the new Tacx Neo 2. The competition has moved on very far this year – with the new Elite Drivo II; Elite has come out batting hard with improved accuracy and responsiveness on Zwift. So has the Tacx Neo 2 advanced far enough to keep in the fight We’ll have the wait for the full Zwift Gear Test for that!
The case is EXACTLY the same as previously, so if you have been unable to get your bike of the Neo previously then things will not have changed with the Tacx Neo 2. Conversely, that does mean that the stability the previous unit has been known for, will also remain unchanged with the Tacx Neo 2
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
Tacx NEO 2 – Specifications
- 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
Tacx NEO 2 ManualTacx Neo 2 user manual can be found HERE
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 – It’s all in the slope
That is a relatively important point, as Tacx are trying to change how specifications for trainers are reported. The crux of this argument is that the Elite Drivo II has a wattage rated as 3600Watts @60kph whereas the Tacx Neo 2 is 2200W @40kph. In both cases the spec sheet numbers look brilliant HOWEVER you are not going to get normal people holding these wattages at these speeds. So the numbers actually have very little relevance to what the trainer is capable of, and for the rider, what they will actually experience.
The engineers would like some of these figures to be replaced with slope profiles, showing the speed that a rider has to be at in order for the trainer to simulate a set gradient.
Unfortunately, Tacx wouldn’t allow me to take copies of the trainer curves shown that day due to other products on the graphs, which they don’t want public as yet. So let’s look at an OLD trainer resistance curve to get an idea as to what I’m going on about
So the maximum gradient that the i-vortex was able to hit was 7%. BUT that 7% gradient was only possible at certain speeds. Each trainer will have a profile showing the minimum resistance, or gradient simulation it is able to hold at a certain speed. So on the above graph, the i-Vortex can produce a 7% resistance, up to about 23kph, and 270 watts. However, this is where the strength of the brake, the amount of inertia the unit can produce, comes into play. On the i-vortex the brake was an electromagnetically generated 11.81kg, so with the above graph, if you went over about 300 watts, you’d overcome the limited brake strength. By about 500 watts, the unit would only be able to generate 3% gradient.
So going back to the Tacx Neo 2, the electromagnetic brake is 125kg, hence being able to produce a gradient of 25%- but the question is, at what wattage is it able maintain this force, and what speed does the rider have to be doing?
Again, I don’t have the graphs from Tacx, but changes to the internal components on both the Tacx Neo 2 and the Tacx Flux 2 have meant an improved power curve so that more resistance is available at lower speeds.
As the accuracy of the Tacx Neo is already considered to be <1%, so the power curve has been a big focus over the last few years in order to improve the realism of the simulation for riders. This has been tested both on the workbench, and will hopefully see riders finding that when running GPX file routes on the Tacx Neo 2 that their simulation will have moved to mimic the efforts they experienced in real life.
Will this, however, have a noticeable effect on Zwift? As I’m pretty sure my legs would be the limiting factor going up Alpe du Zwift
So it makes sense that I try to work out the Tacx Neo 2 in a short, clearly subjective test, to see if I can discern a difference from the original going up the Watopia classic KOM. We’ll have to see if there is anything else needed during the full Zwift Gear Test – On which note, it will be a week or so before the full Zwift Gear Test comes out, as we all know that the temperament of a smart turbo is more than just what is written on the spec sheet!
One report that I can give so far – after doing Alpe du Zwift as the maiden ride for the Tacx Neo 2 is that the sound that the unit makes seems to be at a slightly lower pitch than the original unit, making for a better sound profile. But again, more actually testing is needed before I can make that firm statement.
On which note, time to wipe off the sweat and get back to testing.
So there is the preview to the Tacx NEO 2 – What about the Tacx NEO Smart Bike?
Tacx Neo Smart Bike PREVIEW
Ok, first things first. The Tacx Smart Bike is not finished yet. However, I was still allowed to have a play on the near production-ready version Tacx had out that day.
People have been talking about smart bikes and Zwift for quite a while, but it was Tacx that was the first to show their hand at the 2017 Eurobike with what could best be described as a design study.
But now the team under Martin Smits are nearly ready to push their Frankenstein turbo trainer, exercise bike, Neo hybrid out of the door. Here’s a little bit of internal intrigue for you – Tacx chief engineer didn’t like it. He didn’t want to work on it. Yet now it is one of his proudest pieces of work.
You know what. I understand that completely. I thought the idea of a smart bike was a waste. Going backwards even. We’ve had exercise bikes before; they just became washing lines to dry clothes on. A turbo and your own bike, your own steed is a much better idea.
I’m a big enough man to say that I was wrong, as you can see in the video below
But why do I feel this way? It is an amalgamation of products that works. I’m currently hard pressed to say which bit is my favourite. It is going to be a toss-up on the fan, which can be speed linked, power linked, or get this heart rate linked. That makes the possibility of training so much better.
Due to the fans being quite close in proximity to the rider, they can project a tighter column of air, being both more effective and quieter than larger fans. They have both vertical and horizontal tilt, and can also be angled closer to the rider, or removed all together if desired
Each fan on the Tacx NEO smart bike is about a quarter of the size of the two fans that I use at home. However, I’m not going to really be able to give an opinion on how they are until I’ve been flat out in a full Zwift Race on the bike.
The internals of the Tacx NEO Smart Bike are basically the same at the new Tacx NEO 2 – but now using a belt drive connected to the crank for zero maintenance and further reduced noise profile. BUT, because there is now no cassette, Tacx is able to use the 32 Neodymium magnets (now you know where the name comes from) inside the unit to simulate different gearing setups
The benefit here being if you want to do a classic ride such as Alpe D’Huez, but have never undertaken something like that before with the Tacx NEO Smart Bike you can load up the GPX file, try the route AND with a couple of switches within the Tacx app, change your cassette. Then next time you do the training ride, try out a different cassette so that you find the optimum gear setup for your fitness level.
The electronic shifters allow you to control both the gearing, but also resistance levels and ALSO act as brakes. Something which is not currently integrated into Zwift, but that could make for a significant impact on races!
As there is no cassette or front gear setup now, Tacx has intentionally simulated the feeling of gear changes coming through the drive train, as they found that simply having imperceptible changes in gearing didn’t sit right with test riders.
The screen pretty much renders the need for an additional cycling head unit null and void. Especially as the LEFT/RIGHT pedal balance and the other pedal analytics data we have in the new Tacx NEO 2 are present in the Tacx software, and are available to other third parties – come on Zwift, give us pedal doughnuts!
But perhaps the winning aspect for me… that you can run the Tacx NEO smart bike without power if you don’t mind forgoing the downhill simulation. But even with the power unplugged, you STILL get road feel simulation; you’ll still get the full adjustable fans. But that isn’t the winning aspect for me. Hiding around the front of the unit are two 2 amp USB-A charge ports, which will allow you to cycle and charge your tablet or phone at the same time
There have previously been some mutterings that Zwift has taken an ecological, non-carbon form of exercise, and slapped a massive electricity bill to the back of it. The Tacx NEO smart bike takes the end user part if that electricity bill off the table.
The bike fit setup covers everything you’d really expect from a smart bike which is supposed to be able to fit as many people as possible. Crank length, Q angle, seat position, stem height. If you can get comfortable on a bike, you should find the right fit here.
So that is pretty much the Tacx Neo Smart Bike preview. I genuinely cannot wait to give this thing a full Zwift Gear Test now, but as yet, it is looking like the very end of 2018, probably Q1 of 2019 when Tacx will be releasing their new mechanical horse. Until then, we can dream that it will come in under the £2500 price tag people have been throwing around
What are your thoughts on smart bikes, given that we’ve seen the offerings from Elite with the Elite Fuoripista and now the Tacx NEO smart bike? Drop your thoughts in the comments below!