For years the Wahoo KICKR, in all its forms, has been one of the top-rated turbo trainers. But Wahoo had no smaller units. With the release of the Wahoo KICKR CORE can Wahoo also compete at the economy end of the market?
Wahoo KICKR CORE Review – ZWIFT GEAR TEST
TLDR: Small, questionable power meter, not as quiet as competitors3.5/5 TG
Cycling is expensive. In many ways, indoor cycling is even more so, with the Wahoo KICKR, Elite Drivo II and the Tacx NEO 2T all coming in around the £1000 mark. The gulf between the high-end trainers and the more affordable end of the market has previously – let’s not mince words here – huge. Particularly when it came to Wahoo, where your options were the full-fat KICKR or their wheel on offering the Wahoo KICKR Snap.
Whilst there is nothing wrong with wheel-on trainers, and they certainly do have their place – frequently seen in the warm-up areas of events, allowing athletes to simply drop their bike on, and start spinning.
When it comes to the sound profile, power accuracy and trainer responsiveness using indoor training software, the wheel on trainers allow you to get spinning, but just don’t compare to the more complex, and by extension heavier direct-drive units.
Over the last few years, Elite and Tacx have been striving to distil down the essence from their top trainers into more compact, and comparatively wallet-friendly direct-drive units. The Tacx Flux was the first to go down this road, with a few well teething issues apparent from the downsizing.
Finally, Wahoo launched a small, economical trainer, the Wahoo KICKR CORE. Is it a competitive little brother or is the £699 asking price a little too high for a cut-down KICKR? Let’s dig into the Wahoo KICKR CORE review
Wahoo KICKR CORE – Design
Wahoo states that the Wahoo KICKR CORE is one of the quietest trainers they have produced, so let’s get things unboxed and have a look at Wahoo’s most petite trainer! The first cost-cutting change from the standard KICKR becomes clear when you open the box
One of the things which have set the full-sized Wahoo KICKR apart from its competition is that, until the launch of the Elite Suito, it was the only trainer to come fully assembled and cassetted up in the box. Certainly if you were looking to buy, unbox and ride then the KICKR was the turbo to go for. The Wahoo KICKR CORE has made to obvious economies when you open the box. Firstly that “some assembly in required”
Second is that Wahoo are no longer including a cassette in the box, just a bare, unloved hub. If I’m honest I don’t actually mind that as a cost-saving as I like to ensure I’m running the same cassette on my trainer, as on my wheels. However, it is interesting that Wahoo chose to drop the cassette from their lower-priced, or entry trainer, as mentioned, Elite is taking an opposite approach with the Elite Suito, with everything ready to go right out of the box. Just like the original KICKR.
What is it in the box, well obviously the trainer, but we’ve also got the front and rear legs, four bolts and plastic bolt caps, skewer, and axle adapters.
There is also a 100-240V universal power adapter, and two paper manuals in the box. The thing is, Wahoo KNOWS that we are not going to read the manual
How do I know this? As just with the Wahoo KICKR CLIMB, the company has attached a massive warning label to the unit. Essentially saying “We get, you didn’t read the manual, but this thing needs to be calibrated, please download the app!” Almost makes you wonder if their customer service department has become fed up of finding people hadn’t calibrated the trainer, yet were complaining about odd readings
The manual is one of the more comprehensive, carefully walking the user through the quick release or axel installations
After you’ve engrossed yourself in the manual, and feel ready for the build. Putting the Wahoo KICKR Core together is actually exceptionally simple. Two bolts on the front leg, and two on the rear
It’s a small engineering tweak, but you’re putting a round peg into a square hole. Ok FINE, the very end of the screw is square, but you knew what I was getting at! With this small detail, it makes bolting the Wahoo KICKR CORE together exceptionally simple
The square ends mean that the bolt can’t rotate and tightening up the front and rear of the bolts with the inclosed socket set is as simple as pie
Wahoo has learnt from a few of their other products. In the couple of years that my Wahoo KICKR DESK has been in use, the exposed nuts on the wheels have developed a small amount of sweat induced, Zwift orange coloured rust
In an attempt to combat that same rust from happening on the Wahoo KICKR Core, the trainer ships with little plastic hoods to go over the bolts
Once you put your legs on, turn the trainer over, and put in the appropriate adapter for your frame. My Scott Foil has 130 mm stays, so insert the adapter, with the laser-etched 130 mm label on the outside
For my quick release set up, the second adapter that goes from the driver-side. If you Use three axles, the units can except 142 mm and 148 mm axles using the other adapters supplied
On the non-drive side of the unit is the casing with the classic Wahoo chevrons. Below the 5.4kg flywheel sit the status lights for Bluetooth and ANT+ connections
Once the trainer has been assembled, it is time to plug in and go riding. We have got a little tail of a cable at the back of the trainer. I do think this is a much better idea than plugging directly into the trainer as is seen on other manufacturers. People trip over wires, it is a fact. Having a little flexibility built in here has the potential to significantly reduce the risk of damage to the unit in such events
One thing I found lacking whilst writing the Wahoo KICKR CORE REVIEW Is a handle. Whilst the unit is very light, it’s a touch difficult to physically grapple with. I have found that a lot of the time I have put my hand under the angle of the A-frame.
That certainly is the easiest way to pick the unit up in a hand, but the reinforcing of the frame does, unfortunately, have a rather uncomfortable, and unrounded metal edge to it. But once you’ve lifted the trainer off the floor, you can readjust your grip, and once arrived at your intended destination you can easily fold the unit up
The Wahoo KICKR CORE doesn’t take up that much space. Something which is visually quite apparent when compared to its direct rivals. But as a result of this is does have a fractionally narrower footprint compared the to Elite Direto or Tacx Flux 2. When you look at the prices £699 for the CORE, £650 for the Flux 2, and £600 for the Direto you KNOW that every small difference is going to add up.
With that in mind, let’s look at the specs:
Wahoo KICKR CORE Specifications
- Communications: ANT+, ANT+ FE-C, BLE, BlueTooth STC
- Resistance type: Electromagnetic
- Metrics: Speed / Distance / Power / Cadence
- Accuracy: +/- 2%
- Wheel size compatibility: 24″, 650c, 700c, 26″, 27.5″, 29″
- Hub compatibility types: 130/135mm QR and 142×12 or 148×12 mm Thru Axle
- Total weight: 21.3kg
- Footprint (legs open): 54cm x 71cm
- Flywheel weight: 5.6kg
- Inertia: 140 (175 KICKR)
- Max wattage (at 20mph): 1800W
- Max incline (75kg rider at 10mph): 26%
There is no downloadable PDF manual for the Wahoo KICKR, but there is a comprehensive “Instructions” page on the Wahoo Website HERE
Wahoo KICKR CORE Review – Zwift Gear Test
Before starting the Wahoo KICKR CORE review, the initialy step was to download the Wahoo Fitness App – for several reasons. Firstly check that there are no firmware updates waiting for you. Wahoo is very responsive to feedback, and in the first year of a new trainer tends to push out firmware updates moderately frequently responding to customers comments.
I don’t know what issue affected the Wahoo CORE, but I had five disconnects when trying to upload the latest firmware to the trainer. A bit of an irritation, but succeeded in the end
Once you are on the latest firmware, we need to do the calibration spin down, afterall, Wahoo REALLY makes a big noise about it. G
The actual calibration process of the spin-down takes about 45 secs, simply spin up to 36km/hr, and then let the unit coast – if you are cutting corners. But the advice to warm up the trainer for 10 mins beforehand is very important to ensure the accuracy of the trainer during normal usage conditions.
Wahoo KICKR CORE Power Meter Test
To ensure we are all on the same page, let’s run through the approach to trainer testing I use here. Trainers run in two modes: ERG mode and Sim mode.
- Sim mode is basically just blasting around on Zwift.
- ERG mode is harder for the trainer, as the device is tasked with varying resistance to enable to you target certain wattages – normally as part of a training plan:
In order to perform in ERG effectively, a trainer needs to be able to adapt quickly in order to stop the resistance ramping too high – Often called “burying the rider” where the resistance is set too high to even turn the pedals!!
Whilst setting the resistance at an insane level might seem odd to the rider, it makes sense to the trainer’s electronic brain if you are not putting enough power down, increasing the resistance makes you push harder, helping riding hit the power target. But that can lead to a death spiral of increasing resistance which really breaks the mode. As such ERG mode is something which companies put a lot of development time, and is where some of the additional cost of the top end trainers like the Drivo II and the Neo 2T is going.
Which is why I always start off with an ERG Mode test – specifically Jon’s Mix. All sensors pair, let’s kick-off
I always start out with Zwift’s Jon’s Mix as that requires me to try – crucial word there – and hold 834 watts for ten secs (which I’m actually getting better at hitting!). I think that the recurrent phases of high power, fast changes, and plenty of warm-up time are challenging test for any trainer, and if we’re going to lock up in ERG mode, we’ll see it here
As ever the power graphs produced from the power meter on the test are compared with data from two other power meters, you need three units to determine if one is out of whack!. NB I’ve applied a 4-second smoothing to the data, which can be effective in highlighting subtle issues, and makes the graphs look, well smoother!
So here is the first run of Jon’s Mix, just the trainer alone. Click on the graph for a larger image
Ok, so there are a LOT of dropouts here. Which doesn’t make a lot of sense given that the recordings are done using Garmin head units right next to the trainer. So let’s add in the other power meters. Again Click the graph for greater detail
We do have two large dropout patches here, but actually these aren’t issues with the transmission but my legs! To be more accurate, the Wahoo KICKR CORE buried me here. I actually had to stop, and let ERG mode disengage, before I was able to continue riding. This happened twice, on this ride.
Almost every time that I tried to do a workout, on ERG mode, I got buried. Such that I actually stopped attempting to complete this test. Although the ERG mode, didn’t complete. I do feel that Johns mix, has a very valid profile for trainer testing. As a result of this, I attempted to mimic the power requirement, whilst on a regular Sim ride on Zwift.
If we look at the graph a little more closely
Here we can see, that the Power meter within the Wahoo KICKR CORE, simply isn’t as sensitive as the other units are in test. If you look at the top sections, on both of the peak powers. You can see that whilst the core is not only broadly reading higher than the other parameters, there is also less variation, across the section. If anything, it feels slightly more smoothed. This is something, which may be reinforced when we look at the lower regions of the graph, where again we get much less variation in power to compare to the other three meters on test
So to check whether or not this was an issue purely with the ERG mode, or whether or not this was with the power meter overall, I attempted to replicate Jon’s Mode, whilst on a normal simulation ride across Zwift. By that, I mean that I roughly slam down three times, and three times hard
So from the first look here, we’ve still got dropouts, but no actual failure on my part, to be able to turn the pedals. So we certainly managed to confirm that the ERG mode, is causing us a few issues. Now lets overlay the other power meter traces and see how they compare
Things look similar on the same test, but for lack of the trainer locking up. What time is it is worthwhile noticing, as the dropouts continue, Is one dropout, affected the trainer, on the first of the three really high-powered sections? If nothing else, I think this may be something to put racers off. If we zoom in on this section, the CORE overall compares well with the PowerTap P1 this time (previously vectors were used) but the C1 under reads. With the urban mode off, smoothing appears to be much less apparent from the ERG
Overall, I’m a little surprised at the Performance of the Wahoo KICKR CORE power meter, and performance here, as this is not just about racing, or just getting geeky with the numbers.
Erg mode is a significant proportion of riding time for some cyclist doing specifically mandated training plans, or even just joining the Zwift organised structured training rides, so this matters more than people might think
From a simulation perspective, things are much better – back to a quality you’d expect from Wahoo. The response is crisp, and pretty much where you’d expect it. You get a smooth progression as you move through the hills on Watopia. Now it is important that I highlight that smoothness of the change. I feel that this is a second a so lag on the more acute hills.
The first generation KICKR was well known for the slight lag with hills. The Wahoo KICKR CORE is nowhere near that obvious, but occasionally, such as blasting down from the Alpe du Zwift when you hit the start of the next hill, in terms of resistance coming through to the trainer, the response can be fractionally off. But you REALLY have to be looking for that discrepancy.
I think that the reason this lag is so difficult to ascertain is due to the how smoothly the CORE changes resistance, which is masking the speed at which the Wahoo KICKR CORE is able operate. That lack of speed in changes to the resistance unit, is in turn, likely one of the core reasons (get it!) that I was buried in ERG mode
In the same way that I found myself being buried several times during Jon’s Mix, I never found that the Wahoo CORE was entirely happy in ERG mode. As a result, I’d probably stick to straight forward simulation riding and racing when using the Wahoo KICKR CORE on Zwift
Wahoo KICKR CORE – Sound test
In the time that Wahoo has been bringing the CORE to market (Let’s not forget that Tacx has pushed out two further versions of the Flux, the Flux S and Flux 2 whilst Wahoo has been at the drawing board), the turbo trainer market has evolved so that just being good simulation isn’t enough, any more. Users are now much more discerning, asking for low noise profiles, smartly reactive trainers and effective erg modes. Wahoo states this is the quietest trainer that they have produced, made possible in this case by using the same V-shaped VEGA X belt system from the latest full-fat Wahoo KICKR system
So how do things sound in our Wahoo KICKR CORE review? let’s see!
I strongly disagree with the concept of just using decibels to talk about the sound a trainer makes. I would argue that the CORE is relatively quiet, but nothing near the likes of the Tacx NEO series of trainers. Or what I believe we’ll see with the Wahoo KICKR 2020 – which will likely be derived from the new Wahoo KICKR Bike, and is pretty much silent.
The Wahoo KICKR CORE has a relatively droning tone to it’s sound. I’ve found that higher-pitched trainers, such as the Tacx FLUX are more annoying. I think that is born out at the end of the video here when the freehub engages. Yes it is louder, but the freehub also has a more unpleasant noise than the trainer. Perhaps we should consider that a working standard for trainer sounds “More or less annoying than a freehub”
Wahoo KICKR CORE Review – Conclusion
Honestly, I was expecting a little more from the Wahoo KICKR CORE. Wahoo in many ways was THE company which brought the smart turbo to the wider world. Yes, Elite and Tacx where there as well, but Wahoos hand in hand pairing with Zwift has been a huge success.
Each Wahoo KICKR iteration has been a significant improvement on the last, and with each release, there has been a very nuanced debate as to which trainer is king of the indoor cycling world.
Unfortunately, it seems that Wahoo hasn’t been able to produce such a definitive trainer for its budget price. There are factors, which sets the core apart from other manufacturers, specifically that it is compatible with the KICKR CLIMB. If you are wanting to build into the Wahoo ecosystem, And still keeping tight control of your budget, you really are looking at the Wahoo KICKR CORE or one of Wahoos own refurbished / last generation KICKR
Please don’t mistake me, it’s not that during the Wahoo KICKR CORE review I found it a bad trainer, it’s just that it’s Big Brother is much more accomplished, and the CORE doesn’t seem to put the same level of challenge into the marketplace, that Elite has with the Direto.
I have a lot of affinity for Wahoo, Where engineering is clearly given a high priority. Given this is a company, which specifically released a “new” version of the Wahoo KICKR because they had added a new handle, I’m both surprised at the overall quality of the CORE, and it’s like a handle – TG 3.5 stars