Some products take longer than others to come to market. The Tacx NEO Bike Smart has been a particularly long gestation. So, time for the full Tacx NEO Bike Smart Review!
Tacx NEO Bike Smart Review – Everything You Wanted to Know
TLDR: Is it that good – Yes. Is it truly silent – Yes. Is it perfect… NO!!!
TG SCORE: 4/5 (!)
It’s finally here!! I’ve been working up the Tacx NEO Bike Smart Review since JULY this year, now that seems like quite a long time. BUT if you are talking about dropping nearly £2500 on a bit of kit. Regardless of your pocket depth, you want to know that you are spending your hard-earned cash well.
Tacx NEO Bike Smart Review – Design
If you are reading this then you likely already known that the Tacx NEO Bike Smart is essentially a Neo 2T wrapped in a bike suit, with the addition of a few nice and adjustable touch points
So let’s tour around the smart bike and see what we have got – starting off with the cockpit, we have an excellent little display. I think it deserves to be highlighted that the display can be powered, and illuminated by the rider, without plugging into the mains, using the same tech as the Tacx NEO
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 – then 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, but it would have been nice to have continued to have the power visible, as it stands I still drop a Garmin in the little tray in front when riding on Zwift etc
To be fair, it isn’t actually the end of the world using another head unit as there is still a benefit to running an additional cycling computer, as the Tacx Neo has the same Cycling Dynamics capability as is present in the Tacx NEO 2T
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 ??
Firstly both ports will give 2.4 Amps of charge, meaning that your tablet will actually charge. But more importantly, is that you can charge whilst riding your bike and NOT need to be plugged into the mains!! Oh yes!! Now that’s what I call a great feature. Sure I might not really be having a great ecological benefit as I spin the NEO Bike, certainly not enough to offset 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.
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 Smart 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 so that they brake level can be used for other functions, such as perhaps deploying a Zwift powerup?
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
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 downshift button several times when I started riding it. 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
I can confirm now, that with over 1000km of riding on the Tacx Bike, I’ve adapted to the shifters and not have issues missing the button now. As I have used them, the slightly Tonker Toy styling which I wasn’t a great fan of initially has started to make sense. The whole of the shifter is sealed, so you are not going to have issues with sweat ingress here. When you are dropping £2500 on a smart bike, you want something which has longevity to it. Sticking with the drive train currently, as there is no cassette or front gear set up now, you have a smaller front end, with the internal belt going from the front crank to the rear enclosed in a casing mimicking a classic bike cover guarding
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 given the size of the unit, what that will mean I don’t know. This is going to be a universal issue in the future with smart bikes. What is going to be needed when it comes to smart bike servicing, who will do it, what will be considered warrantable when it comes to sweat corrosion etc?
As with all previous generations of Tacx Neo, the Tacx NEO Bike Smart has a front 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
Whilst Tacx has increased the side of the light output with a lens changes, it is nice. But still not going to get in a tizzy over it. HOWEVER, Tacx has now illuminated the rest of the drive train too and it looks sooooocool. 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 and the rear of the unit red, it looks really cool. As esports is 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
Staying at the rear, where you would normally find the gear cassette, there is nothing but the silver disc was are used to from the Tacx Neo previously. Just like the Tacx NEO 2 T the magnets have been changed ever so slightly in their lay-up. Originally the magnets were positioned vertically
In the latest iteration of the NEO internals, the magnets are now at a slanted angled, helping to reduce the sound profile, but also to aid in the reduction of “tyre slip” sensation which was occasionally seen on the NEO
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 responsive as I’ve seen on my Di2 setup. When riding the KICKR bike the changes in that unit 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.
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, unilluminated cog at the bottom. That’s because the NEO bike is able to run a 12 cassette simulation on the rear. After all the hardware doesn’t have the change on the bike for that!
Tacx did originally have a smooth change of the gears 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, but I’m pretty confident I would not have been a fan
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 a max of 2200 watts will also carry over unchained.
Some people have mentioned that they have had issues with the Tacx NEO Bike generating the road feel on Zwift. Firstly this is an issue on the Zwift side of things, as I can confirm that Road Feel certainly works in the Tacx Desktop App – which that Tacx was touting their pedal analysis doughnut from the Tacx NEO Bike at Eurobike with it, would be a bit of a facepalm if it didn’t
But I did double-check, and running through the tarmac of the Ocean boulevard, across the wooden bridge, and onto the gravel, did not provide any changes road feel on the NEO bike. And I can confirm, that is the case both on ANT+, and Bluetooth
As well as acting as a resistance unit, the motor inside the Tacx NEO Bike Smart is also able to simulate the pull of gravity when you are on a downhill – frankly, this freewheeling simulation and the Road Feel has always made the NEO series of trainers one of my regular riders, and the units I’m mentally comparing to when writing reviews. These two features make the simulation a little more immersive, if not realistic. I’ve always found the KICKR Climb tests to pull me “back to the real world” when it is engaging and is one of the few major differentiators between the KICKR Bike and the Tacx Bike
Generally, my time on the Tacx Neo Bike in terms of Zwift riding, and TDA for that matter has been excellent. ERG mode rides have not resulted in me being buried, and I’ve seen great responsiveness on some of the deeper sections around Watopia. Overall, a lot for the time, I have forgotten that I’m on the NEO Bike, and when it comes to smart trainers generally, that is one of the highest compliments I can give for the Tacx NEO Bike Smart Review
Tacx NEO Bike Smart Hands-On – Specification
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.
- Bluetooth, ANT+™, ANT+™ FE-C,
- Bluetooth Smart Trainer Protocol
- Both ANT and BLE can be used simultaneously
- Max Slope Simulation:
- Built-in sensors:
- Advanced pedal analytics,
- Left/Right balance
- Max Wattage:
- 2200w @40kph
- Max Torque:
- Max brake force
- Power Accuracy:
- +/- 1%#
- Max User Weight:
- 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
Does 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 release now shipping to riders, it has been the NEO BIKE which gave rise to the NEO 2T. Ok enough paper work on with the Tacx NEO Bike Smart Review
Adjusting the Tacx NEO Bike
People who have followed TitaniumGeek know that I have a bit of an irritable knee. It is one of the reasons I was a vocal early adopter of the Stryd foot pod, was that I found if I am cautious, and control my power when running then I get less discomfort when running. However, cycling is always a bit hit and miss
So far I have had FIVE bike fits, FOUR different bikes, THREE MRI’s, numerous pedal types, and more physio than I would like to cost up.
Yet, the knee remains grumpy and tends to be more upset on a turbo trainer than outside.
Whilst using the Tacx NEO Bike I have found an area where I think that the smart bike might have a role which is not being exploited yet:
On a “locked down” trainer such as a Wahoo Fitness KICKR, and Elite Drivo II normally I can do 30-45 mins and then I get a little discomfort. I can extend further if I’m a “live” trainer like a Tacx NEO 2 T and can easily get over an hour without much bother on the Kinetic R1 or on the Elite Nero Rollers. I’ll likely have a little swelling even when on the rollers, it isn’t the end of the world, but I’ve always been jealous of the 3-4 hour turbo warriors
So I’ve been playing with the Tacx NEO bike now since September, and regularly tweak the position on it. On what felt like that twentieth tweak, afterwards, I rode 30mins, no issues, which is odd as the Tacx NEO Bike Smart is VERY rigid, and no flex, and would expect it to cause irritation at that point. However, 45mins came and went, and I was still going strong, but crucially no aching. 55mins in and my ITB band on the RIGHT leg said hello, (Yes I hit 35 and apparently became scrap on legs) but then that died down again. 88 mins later I got off the bike as I needed to get back to typing here… and I had no issues with the knee!!!!
One of the reasons why I say that the smart bike, it’s likely underused by the bike fit community, is you are relatively limited, during a bike fit. You get 30- 60 minutes, to test out various configurations, when actually for many people, such as myself, the issues don’t arise until you have been riding for at least that long riding in the saddle. Yes, there are many parts of the bike fit that you can do at home, but parts such as stem and crank lengths I’m not easily addressed at home and are certainly expensive components to buy and test.
But even if you have the MONEY to pay for a boatload of cranks of different lengths, it is NOT a 30-second job swapping them over. With the Tacx NEO bike, as mentioned above, it is a case of pulling out a washer, turning the adapter and you are good to go
Specifically with the Tacx NEO Bike, if the bike is mainly being ridden by one person, I think that the washer approach to crank length looks much tidier. However, if you are going to be regularly swapping crank lengths, then the Wahoo or Stages options with “hammerhead” crank arms are much simpler if less visually clean
Ultimately with a smart bike, you can rent the bike for a month, and play around to your hearts content getting micro-changes dialled in perfectly for your riding style, and you’ll probably have the best bike fit ever. I think I’ve managed to address my bike issue via the Tacx Bike using two different crank lengths – 172.5mm on the RIGHT leg, 170mm on the LEFT, combined with moving the saddle further back than on my race bike
BUT – and this Tacx NEO Bike Smart Review has a lot of “buts” in it – I supposed that is the consequence of charging £2500 for the unit, you have to look that much closer. At which point we come to the texture on the seat posts, and stem
I’m sure there must be a sensible reason behind the paint choice. But it does mean that the unit looks dirty quite easily, and can make repositioning the posts an irritation, but as with most things in life, it is easily addressed with a squirt of WD40
Tacx NEO Bike Smart – Power Meter Test
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 / smart bikes which have gone through Zwift Gear Tests on TitaniumGeek
Because the Tacx NEO Bike Smart is a closed unit, I don’t have the ability to change cranks and things to add the normal four power meters which I use for comparisons. So instead, I’ve used the Assioma and PowerTap P1 pedals and run the test twice. So there are three power meters in play which should provide a good idea if there is an outlier
So with that in mind, here are the power meter traces for two runs on Jon’s Mix. One of the reasons why there was a delay in getting this review up, was that the factory-installed firmware was causing dropouts from the Tacx Bike, making riding REALLY annoying. However, with the current firmware that has been resolved, I’m pleased to say!
On the first run of Jon’s Mix on Zwift, we’ve got a very good trace from the PowerTap P1 and the NEO Bike. No dropouts and all sections appear to stack nicely. Don’t forget that using a pedal vs a smart trainer, there is expected to be a few small variations as the power is being measured at different locations. As these graphs are quite detailed, click on the graph will load a full resolution image, giving you better clarity of the results
When we zoom in to the first raised power sections of the graphs tracking is really good. If anything the pedal power meter, is fractionally sharper, than the Tacx Neo Bike, but we are talking fractions of a second type sharper here. But I’d be happy to be racing, both on the Tacx bike here, or using the power tap pedals from this graph
Ok, the big challenge, how does the TAC bike respond going from 200 W, over 600 W and theoretically being held there for 10 seconds. Not bad, not bad at all is the answer. If anything I’m more impressed with the way that both power meters seem to be moving in tandem right the way across the power surge. You can tell the time feeding a little bit sooner, on the power meter pedals, but the Tacx seems to adapt to that over the half-second at the end of the peak
OK, one power meter down, Zwift is reloaded with the Assioma pedals, and it’s a case of rinse and repeat for the Tacx NEO Bike Smart Review
So second run and Jon’s test, both power meters reading well, not dropouts and overall a good pair of traces
If we zoom in on the both of the raised, steady-state sections, we’ve some greater variation here. Both power meters broadly agree on the highs, but as we have seen earlier, the Tacx NEO bike is a touch slower to give up its watts than that Assioma pedals,
The same is reiterated on the high-intensity sections of the course. For want of a better word, the data-trace is more granular on the Assioma. On the first peak, overall the Tacx Neo Bike is riding higher, 499 watts vs 494 watts as an average across the peak, which sounds ok, but the peak is 708 vs 683, so there is a little more at the top end
Tacx NEO Smart Bike Review – Sound Test
Now, this should be a complete slam dunk for Tacx. They have a SILENT trainer. If you remove the bike components, the chain, the cassette, the derailleur, well there is very little left to make a noise, so you should get a silent smart bike.
During steady-state riding, the Tacx Smart Bike is pin-drop quiet. I can cycle with my housemate asleep in the room next door.
Sounds like a wonderful tale doesn’t it. But in the last week, I’ve begun to develop a creak in the BB, well that is what it sounds like. In reality, I wonder if it is due to the pully system inside the bike? As it almost sounds like there is fractional slippage going on inside – this is with ~ 1000km of riding on the NEO Bike now.
The creak is not actually present during a steady-state, but as you increase up the wattage, particularly sharply and over 300watts, the noise suddenly appears. I’d suggest watching this video first, where you can see how lovely and quiet the bike is during steady-state riding
Now you have got a good idea about the baseline noise profile, and a little bit about the bottom bracket/drive train creaking here is there normal sound test video that I usually do with each smart trainer. As you can see, I described the sound profile from the creaking as quite breaking of the otherwise quiet of the Tacx NEO Bike Smart,
If we actually look at the data from the sound test, the noise profile of the Tacx Bike, it really is exceptional… when there is no creaking. Which is a little like saying that the weather in the UK is wonderful when it isn’t raining True, but doesn’t really give the whole picture
When it comes to straight forward riding, and when there is no creak present the sound profile of the Tacx NEO Bike Smart certainly blows the Tacx NEO 2T out of the water when it comes to silent running. But then it SHOULD do, given the huge difference in cost. The cost is one of the reasons the creak is so irritating. This is a brilliant bit of kit, yet costs a fortune and yet isn’t quite perfect. The Tacx NEO Bike is the quietest unit I have here at TG, yet the above issue has me grumbling considerably. I do think there is an element of “first world” problems going on… especially as until a couple of days ago, this unit was perfectly silent, and I was gearing up for a stellar review.
A £9000 Trek bike can have a creak in the BB, but that is a relatively straight forward fix, and if not, dropping into your LBS will normally result in a fix. However, a smart bike, as we’ve seen is NOT light, nor an easily mobile bit of kit, so any problems these things develop are that much more troublesome for the rider! So naturally, I took the side off, to see that there appeared to be anything in the belts etc, but can’t see any obvious issues, and on casually turning the pedals there doesn’t seem to be any rubbing.
I reached out to Tacx who have advised thusly:
The squeaking sound is analysed and we found a solution.
[Due to] (very little) stretching of the carbon strengthened belt which runs over the aluminium pulley.
This only occurs when a high force (difference) is temporarily applied.It will not influence the lifetime, specs or functionality.Tacx NL
The issue has already been addressed at the factory, and my issue is related to having an earlier bike. Tacx are currently determining if there is a user applicable adjustment – when I hear, I’ll update
Tacx NEO Smart Bike Review – Conclusions
Believe it or not, sometimes when I do these write-ups, I don’t have a conclusion written or a firm score in mind. It’s more that I have a nebulous cloud of comments and thoughts in my mind which coalesce into a conclusion as I bang away at the keyboard.
However, it’s been a little bit different this time. After having used the Tacx NEO Bike Smart for months, I’d like to think that I’m particularly confident in my opinions, as a result, I’ve actually written my conclusion first, before putting the rest of my findings on the page. Although, it will be interesting to see whether or not those remain and changed the end of the review
Given that my conclusions haven’t changed, I suppose the question has to be what are they?
- Smart bikes work, particularly when they are distanced more from a standard bike and trainer. With the Tacx Smart Bike, you have a device, which is just sufficiently different, as to justify both it’s existence and price
- If a direct drive trainer, is luxury, compare to wheel-on trainer, then the Tacx Smart Bike is first class compared to business travel. Frivolous, but damn fine frivolity, and a luxury to which you quickly grow accustomed to. Genuinely I prefer riding the Tacx Neo bike compared to all the other trainers which are in circulation at TG
- The Tacx NEO Bike Smart is not perfect, and there is frankly no excuse for that. But let’s return to the first-class flight analogy – merely because you are provided with some nicer food, and a bit of extra legroom doesn’t change the fact you are still in an aeroplane and all the factors which come with that. The Tacx Neo Bike Smart is the same. I think it is quite likely that people will consider the smart bikes, in general, some kit of revolutionary, bike changing experience. It is not. It is, however, the most refined form of indoor cycling you are going to come across, but as mentioned it isn’t perfect here is why:
- The adjusters don’t line up and hit the bodywork
- When adjusting the handlebars or the seat, this is FAR from smooth, and sometimes needs quite a bit of force, it certainly doesn’t feel like £2500 worth of refined
- There are exposed wires at the front
- The tablet/phone mount needs to be wider
- The fans could do with a wider range of movement
BUT stepping back to our first-class flight again, those things are like complaining that you had the queue to get onto your flight, or that your reclining bed could have been wider. These are MINOR things when viewing the Tacx NEO Bike as a whole.
Don’t mistake me, the exposed wires and tablet holder issues are flat out black marks for a £2500 smart bike. But regardless of the discussions which resulted in a Tacx Smart Bike being purchased for a “home”, I honestly feel that the vast majority of these units will only, regularly used by one rider, who when their perfect settings are dialled in, will likely never change them again. Making the handles removable, and the lack of smooth movement to the adjustments only an issue during initial setup and refinement
However, if you are looking at the Tacx NEO Bike smart for a multi-user household, I think that users might get a little irritated with the controls. I’m amazed that there is a textured paint applied to the sections of the unit which are designed to be easily adjusted
There are people who have reported issues with the seat post rubbing, I personally haven’t been affected with my skinny legs, but neither has my girlfriend who has much more of a feminine silhouette than I. (It took QUITE a while to compose that sentence!!!) However, I will also be doing another test over the next few weeks with a rugby player friend, who has well, rugby player thighs, so they are wide enough that they have different hemispheres!
So there is my Tacx NEO Bike Smart Review – I’m happy to award 4/5 TG stars for the smart bike. BUT I’m going to withhold the recommended sticker, as there are a few areas of polish which should have been applied over the last year were delivery was delayed