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Tacx NEO Bike Smart Early Review – Worth the Wait?

We’ve been waiting a while! Reportedly held up by legal regulatory issues, but the Tacx Neo Bike Smart is now in the wild! Here is a first impression Tacx NEO bike review

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Tacx NEO Smart Bike Hands-On​

As we move into the 2019 trainer season Tacx has finally been able to ship their halo product. The Tacx NEO Bike Smart. Although you’d have thought in 2 years it has taken to ship they would have managed to get the name right! When the design study (non-functional) was first revealed at Eurobike in 2017 we had the Tacx Neo Smart Bike.

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In 2018 Tacx had a soft launch at Eurobike, after which I popped over to the factory to have a play on the pre-production model – still called the NEO Smart Bike. Having a go on the prototype was a bit of a mindset change for me about the concept of smart bikes. In 2017-2018 there was a lot a talk about how we “needed” smart bikes. I really didn’t really see it. But the riding the Tacx Neo Bike for the first time convinced me that a smart bike could be a good idea

A sentiment which was confirmed with the eye wateringly expensive ($14K) Elite Furoipista. I’m more than happy to accept when I make the wrong call!

Then for Tacx at least, the clock seemed to stop, with it taking until 2019 for the Tacx smart bike to be sat on shelves (well, stacked on the floor is more accurate) and currently winging it’s way to people who had placed orders over a year ago! Whilst the trainer has moved forwards, from a naming perspective things have come out slightly backwards – with the smart bike now called the Tacx Neo Bike Smart

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Talking with Tacx, I think I can see why the name change as occurred, and why it may be related to the delay. A delay that seemed absolutely bonkers as the prototype was pretty much finished!!

As I’m sure you recall, in 2019 Garmin purchased Tacx – with only a minimal brand change to “Tacx a Garmin Company”. As an apparent indication that Tacx would remain as Tacx, rather than being consumed in it’s entirety and then the trainers sold under the Garmin banner, as “Big G” has done in the past

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The acquisition, from a red-tape perspective, is apparently where the delay came in. Tacx, by comparison to Garmin, had a much smaller number of distribution channels. Garmin naturally wanted to increase the availability, and thus sales, of their newly acquired smart trainers and insisted on the Tacx and by extension, the smart bike was pushed through all available Garmin distribution channels. The problem here being that Tacx had never before supplied these channels and in requesting regulatory approval for their new smart bike – ran into a snag. It’s classification.

To cut a regulatory, and red tape story short, Tacx basically had to prove that the Tacx Neo Smart Bike was not actually a spin bike. Sounds strange, but due to the lack user-controlled brake on a spin bike, the Neo Smart Bike, (which the regulators considered a spin bike) couldn’t be sold on a trainer license. So Tacx spent the best part of a year fighting to get approval for the Tacx NEOBike smart to be sold, as is, and the recognition it is not in fact a spin bike. Thus meaning it didn’t have to comply with spin bike regulations.

My belief is that somewhere along that road, a name came about to ease some of those issues. Just so that we are all clear, for the rest of this post, I’m going to refer to the artist formally known as the Tacx Neo Smart Bike, as the Tacx NEO Bike. ‘kay?

Tacx NEO Bike Smart Hands-On​ – Specification

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Normally I like to delve into the product design side of things first, as that is more my bag. But given the tail of changes we’ve just been talking about, let’s get the spec straight, so we all know what the Tacx NEO bike is packing.

  • 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
  • Max Torque:
    • 88Nm
  • Max brake force
    • 260Nm
  • Power Accuracy:
    • +/- 1%#
  • Flywheel:
    • 125kg
  • Max User Weight:
    • 125kg
  • Weight:
    • 50kg
  • Other Bits:
    • Brake levers
    • Button shifts – sealed
    • “Shimano style” shifting currently
    • Custom gearing ratios
    • Road Feel, Descent Sim
    • Front and “cassette” LED power indicator lights
    • 2x USB charging ports – WHICH YOU CAN SELF POWER!!!
  • Price: £2500

Anyone recognise those vital statistics? You should do – ok maybe it’s more that I should recognise them as they are basically the stats from the Tacx NEO 2T. Previously it was the Tacx NEO Bike which was derived from the Tacx NEO, but the inverse happened here. For the final releases, it was the NEO BIKE which gave rise to the NEO 2T

Building the Tacx NEO Smart Bike

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Let’s be clear, before my next comment. The Tacx box did its job and protected the Tacx NEO Bike whilst in transit. You can see there are several areas where the courier has given the packaging somewhat less than special attention.

Now I reiterate that the box and packaging DID protect the Tacx NEO Bike, but I ended up with a quite a bit of broken and fractured polystyrene. Note how the packaging is on it’s side. Due to the weight of things, this is how the box needs to be opened

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Tacx have managed to get the box to match the dimensions of a bike box, which does help with moving the unit around when it arrives. That, however, doesn’t reduce the weight of the packaging. Be warned if you are going to be moving this box around. Get two people involved.

On which note, I’m not really one for unboxing videos. I often find the packaging some of the least interesting parts of doing a review. HOWEVER, given the size of the box, and well, events with this particular unboxing. I thought it would be worth while sharing

I need to make this next point, I need to be crystal clear. My injury was an accident, and certainly not due to the Tacx boxing or anything such as that. I was picking the bike up, from flat, as you should. Slipped slightly when moving and lost grip on the bike. Sometimes an accident is just that!

Update: Of the initial x-rays of my big toe – two showed no fractures, however one did have a line, which we considered to be an artefact, so we’ve put the injury down to bad bruise. HOWEVER, I’ve been contacted by the hospital again about the artefact x-ray and will be having repeat films this week.

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That might all seem a little OTT after all, lots of people break toes. HOWEVER, the great toe is actually an important fracture and needs more care than just neighbour strapping – which would be the treatment if it was another toe, and frankly, I’d have just done with my doctors kit. However, I’m not allowed a home x-ray kit, something to do with nuclear material, a lack of license and risk to public safety – seems a bit unfair to me, so back to the hospital I’ll be going!!

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Just in case, I would ensure that you have a vacuum handy and some long thin allen keys. Whilst the polystyrene over the house really isn’t an issue, having polystyrene within the Tacx NEO Bike isn’t a good thing. You make sure you are able to give it a very thorough clean. THEN give it a short spin <1min, as that will move and blow out more of the white balls that may have dropped inside the shell. 

 

Ok the tribulations of dropping a 42kg of an unassembled trainer on your foot notwithstanding, here is what you get in the box:

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We’ve got the core of the Tacx Neo Bike. Acutely angled front legs, shallow back legs with wheels. Front fans. Saddle. Handle bars and shifters. Plus two Tacx boxes.

Box number 1 has all the of gubbins that you need to bolt the Tacx Neo Bike together. Literally, there are four large bolts in the box. We’ve got the two, manuals, both manuals contain different languages, which makes sense. What seems a little odd, is that both have an English language section at the front! The tablet holder if you don’t for some reason want the fans. All the needed tools. Power pack. Quick setup if the manual looks like too much og a read. Crank length adapters, and finally the Tacx TDA trial.

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OK, Engineering geek out. The Tacx smart bike comes with two options for the set up when it comes to bar and stem height, reach, and saddle position. You can either use the installed Hex headed bolts if you confident of your position, and don’t expect anyone to use the smart bike other than you. The other option is the adjustable handles. To be honest, given the benefits associated with being able to make on the fly micro adjustments to get the perfect fit, I’d suggest swapping these hands in right away

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Box Number 2 is more of a goodies box. You’ve a Tacx towel, bottle cage, bike sweat band, and Tacx NEO bike branded bottle. Nice little add on for a £2500 bike. Although, I’m a little surprised not to see included pedals as you get with the Wahoo KICKR Bike. The cynic in me does wonder how long the goodie box will last, as Tacx, under Garmin, is divesting from making the broad range of products that they used to, and will concentrate on trainers and bottles. So no more bottle cages, jockey wheels and tools

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Inclusion of the sweat protector is great. Until you realise that it robs you of one of the best parts of the Tacx smart bike. The design means that there isn’t a typic cross bar. Now on the face of it, who cares…

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Now think back to the last insane 60-90 min race you did on Zwift. Last time I did an event like that, I lifted my leg over the crossbar and had some of the worlds worst cramp. Perhaps this is a personal problem which the physio needs to look at, but getting off a bike IRL post-race is much easier than dismounting your same bike when on a trainer.

By having the crossbar too low on the Tacx NEO getting on and off is much easier. It’s very easy to dismiss this as a small design that doesn’t really matter much. But if you think beyond the normal fit cyclists, having the smart bike easier to get on and off means that the market opens up to other people in the household, who might have never even considered jumping on a bike. My mother is in her late 60’s. The chance of getting her to sit on any bike on the trainer is an emphatic zero. After showing how easy it is to get onto the NEO smart bike, I think she’s actually considering giving it a go. If nothing else, that’s a huge change from “Get lost!! I’ve not been on a bike in years!”

Which is probably an effective time to shift over to looking putting the bike together. In some ways, I think the Tacx instructions miss a vital step – putting the front legs on.

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These are the most difficult part of the construction. Not terribly so, but once they are on, everything else is plan sailing.

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Personally, I found having the bike upside down the easiest way to do this. But I would strongly suggest it is done on a trainer mat. No so much because you’ll damage the NEO bike, but that the metal runners onto which you’ll be putting the seat and the handlebars are more likely to scratch the floor

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You can then steady the bike and install the back legs. Which are much wider and have the small wheels on the back

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Just before you flip the trainer over, it is worth while making sure that the front wheels are loosened slightly so you can easily adjust them if needed. You DONT want to have to flip this thing up again!

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With the bike standing on its own, you can slide the saddle rail (saddle comes installed) on the the bike rail. At the rear of the rail is a metal puck which when tightened from underneath presses up on the saddle rail to keep it in place

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Under the bike rail section, you can see the screw which you’ll turn in order release the saddle rail

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If you are confident in your bike fit measurements, or don’t want to have anyone else using the bike, you can leave the bolts in. If however there will be someone else using the bike you can swap out to the screw handles for easier adjustments.

Whilst the Tacx Neo Smart Bike looks smoother and I’ve suggest better without the handles in place. Even if you are confident with your bike fit I’d still run them for a month or so, as you may find that there are aspects you could improve on. When once happy, swap back to the simple bolts.

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An identical setup is used for the front handlebar rails, and their height.

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The finishing kit is Fizik bar tap, and Sella Royal saddle which is a nice touch

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I think the Sella Royal Saddle is okay. Certainly for rides of an hour, it’s adequate, but personally, I’ve swapped back to my Specialized Body Form saddle. As I’ve mentioned in the past you really shouldn’t listen to other peoples opinions on saddles, as all our butts are wildly different

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The handlebars come without the fans or the on board computer plugged in. You need to put the back plate on first, before the screen is plugged in.

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Now that might seem a little odd. But Tacx also include a tablet mound which doesn’t include the fans. Now the fans are the loudest piece of the whole Tacx NEO bike, but even so, I’d be very surprised if many people didn’t install them

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The fans are attached with four screws leaving the head unit and the fan cable ports exposed

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The fans plug in with 35mm cables and as with the whole of the Tacx Neo bike setup is exceptionally simple

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The fans themselves can be adjusted closer and further away from you on their arms. The slider on the back also allows for pitch to be adjusted

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Personally I’ve found that I’ve left the fans slightly unscrewed so that I can move then around when riding. Whilst I like the fans, both when connected the heart rate or the internal speed sensor. They are really nice to have directed to the face, BUT I feel I’d be straining the word to breaking point to describe them as barely adequate for cooling purposes.

I wouldn’t describe them as noisy. Not be a long stretch, but I may have been more accepting of their airflow if they were silent to match the bike. As it is some people will probably want an additional fan too

The next piece of cockpit setup is attaching the rubber strap for the tablet holder. I was really surprised to see such a flimsy bit of rubber as the tablet hold on a £2500 smart bike

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However perceptions can be misleading, and the strap seems to work very well. It is easy to get the tablet into and out of the strap, and as the bike has so little movement to is, there is no risk of loosing it

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What I do find bizarre and rather an oversight is that the channel for the tablet isn’t wide enough to accommodate the tablet and a relatively thin case. The channel is only 10mm wide.

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Although I don’t tend to ride with a tablet, whilst my iPhone X in the standard Apple case does fit. It is rather snug

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The whole of the cockpit here has several little “huh?” parts to it. Yes I appreciate that there is slack needed in the cables to allow for the handlebars to move forwards and back. Would it not have been possible to have this wiring internal. Or a hooked channel into which is could be tidied up? Similarly a back plate to hide the wires from the fans when installed. This might sound like needless nit picking, but let’s not forget this is a £2500 device, and is marketed to be one of the most complete cycle training devices available.

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Which brings me to another nit whilst we are doing the install. The handles. WHY ON EARTH ship with handles that are not able to clear the bike frame?? I’m sure there is going to be a sensible answer about lever strength and appropriate tightness of the seat height adjustor. But I’d have much preferred just to have to turn with a little more force.

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I’m going to reiterate, that I prefer and like the handles. But this is again £2500 it should look slick. The handles have a spring within them, so you can turn them independly of the bolt in order to have them align. In order to have everything aligned, it means that the bottom handle has to point up. Maybe it’s my OCD playing here, but this shouldn’t be something I’d discussing!

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The final part of the cockpit is adding the rubber insert into the tray. Now here is the thinking which is missing on other parts of the cockpit. Getting gels, sweat and stuff all over the bike is quite normal in a race. So having an insert you can pull out and easily clean. Very sensible move

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The final bit of the setup is the pedals. Stages and Wahoo have opted for “hammerhead” designs on their cranks. Now those bikes have an edge in utility, allowing you to opt for five different crank lengths

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With the Tacx NEO Bike we have two inserts which go into the normal crank arm giving three different crank lengths 170, 172.5 and 175

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Tacx understands that people don’t read instructions, so the crucial parts about installing the pedal inserts are also written on tags, attached to BOTH sides of the crank

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Whilst I prefer the Tacx approach visually, I would have liked to have seen a bigger range here.

For the install the pedal insert goes in the inside of the crank – don’t forget to oil this part first – I don’t mean the thread, I mean the outer part. Just after doing the photos, I had a mild struggle removing the insert in order to flip it over

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There a washing, which goes on the outside between the pedal and the crank

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Then stick the crank on as normal. Now I normally use SpeedPlay anyway, but given that the GF is also interesting in having a go, they have the added advantage of selling a simple slide-on cover. I can see these potentially being quite useful for smart bike household

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Tacx NEO Bike – Design

Having set up the Tacx Neo Bike, let’s take a look at some of the features. Starting off with the cockpit, we have an excellent little display. I think it deserves to be highlighted than the display can be powered, and illuminated by the rider, without plugging into the mains, using the same tech as the Tacx NEO

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The display basically shows everything you need when riding: Heart rate, speed, 3s power, cadence, gradient and gearing when you are riding just on the bike in ERG mode

Until you connect the bike to any form of an external app – whether BLE or ANT – you get a reduced display, as the external app then takes the data. I understand why this is, in order to prevent the “My Garmin is displaying different speed to Zwift” issues. So then all the data from the Tacx NEO bike is displayed on the app.

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There is still a benefit to running an additional cycling computer however so then you can get access to the Cycling Dynamics which Tacx enabled with the NEO 2T

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If you look UNDER the screen you’ll see one of my favourite parts of the Tacx NEO Bike. TWO USB ports. OK great, but why are you getting so wound up about two USB ports? You can charge your phone and tablet… so ??

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Firstly both ports will give 2.4 Amps of charge, meaning that your tablet will actually charge. But more importantly that you can charge whilst riding you bike and NOT plugged into the mains!! Oh yes!! Now that’s what I call a great features. Sure I might not really be having a great ecological benefit as I spin the NEO Bike, certainly not enough to off set running Zwift on a flat screen TV. But still, it’s something, and great to see my watts actually going somewhere!

Moving down from the screen to the handlebars and shifters, the electronic shifters allow you to control both the gearing, and ALSO act as brakes.

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Currently braking isn’t supported in Zwift, but it will be interesting to see if it, or other apps develop a protocol which is widely used. It’s certainly good that the Tacx Neo Bike feels like it has an element of future proofing built in. As these are “fly by wire” I’ll do wonder if the brakes will be open to remapping?

On the inside of the shifters are two blue buttons which control the incline/resistance. Again remapping here for when in Zwift, would be very cool. I mention remapping, as whilst it is not available in the Tacx App yet, with a future firmware update you will be able to reconfigure the shifters to mimic SRAM and Campag. Current setup out of the box is Shimano style

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Staying with the shifters for the moment, I’m not actually the worlds biggest fan of the Tacx shifters. I have found myself missing the down shift button several times. Whether this is a problem with me, or the sensitivity of the buttons, I haven’t had enough saddle time yet to find out. But by comparison the Wahoo KICKR Bike shifters will feel immediately familiar to most cyclists, which potentially going to be a major decision driver for many

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As there is no cassette or front gear setup now. Just an enclosed casing mimicking a classic bike cover guarding

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Along with the removal of the cassette, the classic bike chain has also been jettisoned, instead replaced by an enclosed belt drive. The Tacx NEO has always been the quietest direct drive unit on the market, to the degree that actually the bike drive chain was a greater source of noise, and hence with their smart bike Tacx have swapped to a drive belt. The belt will also reduce the need to service the unit, as a standard chain needs maintenance after 5000km or approx 200 hours. Tacx is estimating that the Tacx NEO Smart Bike will need the drive train servicing every 50,000km or 2000 hours… although giving the size of the unit, what that will mean I don’t know. This is going to be a universal issue in the future. What is needed when it comes to smart bike servicing and how and who will do it?

As with all previous generations of Tacx Neo, the Tacx Smart Bike has a from LED which shines out on the floor giving a visual idea of your power. Previously I’d always considered it a nicety, but never really bothered about it

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Whilst Tacx has increased the side of the light output due to the lens changes, it is nice. But still not going to get in a tizzy over it. HOWEVERTacx have now illuminated the rest of the drive train too and it looks sooooo cool. Yes, I admit, as the rider, I never see it, but if you see someone else riding a Tacx NEO bike, and they drop hammer, turning the LED, the rear of the unit red, it looks really cool. As esports are now being championed by the UCI with Zwift leading that charge, I think this external visual flare is going to play very well for Tacx when it comes to live streams etc

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Staying at the rear, where you would normally find the gear casette, there is nothing. Tacx has intentionally simulated the feeling of gear changes coming through the drive train with a slight… I don’t have the words.. a slight change in resistance as you press the shift buttons. You know it has changed, there is no doubt, and the change is as swift as I’ve seen on my Di2 setup. When riding the KICKR bike the changes there are… sharper, as in the mechanically simulated feedback. This is not to say either is better, just that they differ slightly. 

When you do change the gear, the screen highlights the changes moving down the cogs, whilst also telling you the gear and having an arrow telling you which way you are going.

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I’m set up running an 11 speed, 28 – 11 cassette set up to mimic my Di2 – those choices are made within the Tacx App But if you look closely on the screen, there is an unused cog at the bottom. That’s because the NEO bike is able to run a 12 cassette sim on the rear. After all the hardware doesn’t have the change on the bike for that!

When you do drop to either the bottom or top of your gear range, and try to change further up or down. The bike gives a brief rumble of vibration to say you’ve run out of gears. Feeling very much like the Tacx Road Feel Simulation – which is obviously active within the bike as well. Similarly, the existing power curve on the NEO 2T of 20% slope and max of 2200 watts will also carry over unchained.

Tacx did originally have a smooth change, but swapped the system we have here, as they found that simply having imperceptible changes in gearing didn’t sit right with test riders. Although I’ll be honest I would have like to have seen what that felt like.

Tacx NEO Smart Bike Hands-on – First Rides and Conclusions

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What with the “Great Toe Incident”, I have been able to ride the Tacx NEO bike, but at the moment I’m keeping at relatively gentle wattage. As a result, I’m doing this hands-on and will update later with a sound test, and power meter testing. In both of those, I try (and occasionally succeed) in breaking 800watts. I’ve certainly not going to risk doing that, not at least until my repeat Xray. So here is a collection of my first thoughts riding the Tacx NEO Bike Smart

Even with the wheels in place, moving the thing, well at least turning it 180 in order to photograph the other side is a challenge! But in moving the bike around you get a feeling of exactly how solid the construction is.

Previously we’ve talked about the stability of trainers in terms of whether they move, or how you feel standing out of the saddle. Due to the weight of the Tacx NEO bike it is stable unlike anything else I’ve ridden. Which caused me to pause. How can I SHOW the stability of something doesn’t move?? Then I had an idea… I’ll let the video do the rest for me:

What about the ride on something that stiff? I think it will benefit all rides to ensure there fit is absolutely perfect, as we’ve lost the small amount of flex we had with the NEO trainers. But in terms of spinning around on Zwift etc, if you like how smoothly everything is simulated with the Tacx NEO 2T you are going to love the Tacx NEO bike. As that’s because they are essentially the same core units, but that the Tacx Smart Bike has a lot more bike shaped plastic around it.

We’ve still got the road feel and descent control. Frankly, if you were in the market for a Tacx NEO 2 and felt that some of the reviews suggested it was more of a mild update than anything significant, if you have got the pockets to afford one, I’d certainly look a the NEO Bike. Especially if noise is an issue where you Zwift

If you ever thought the Tacx NEO was quiet… this thing is something else. Genuinely the Tacx Neo Bike is whisper-quiet, and that ISN’T hyperbole! I’m looking forward to winter when I’ll be able to cycle with the window open, and the fan off and be certain that I won’t disturb my housemate!

That’s all I can say on the Tacx NEO Smart bike from a week of riding, but suffice to say this appears to be a very good machine, but we’ll have to wait for a power meter test before I give my final verdict. But for now, I see no reason this shouldn’t be considered a great piece of kit!

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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