Lonely cycling in the basement doesn’t have to be. Smart ergometers make cardio training attractive. TechStage showcases inexpensive alternatives to Peloton.
Winter time is the tough season for cyclists. Alone in the basement on the old exercise bike until the wallpaper pattern has burned into the retina is boring. Or not? Smart devices are set to revolutionize endurance training. This not only strengthens your cardiovascular system, but also provides more motivation with the connection to virtual worlds and networking with others.
The new generation of equipment wants to combine an interactive cycling experience with classic endurance training. In contrast to treadmills, these are easier on the joints and a sweaty and more entertaining alternative to the cross trainer. The software and hardware has improved a lot and is rapidly being further developed. There are options for all types of training needs and budgets. In this guide, we take a closer look at some of the best fitness equipment for working out.
Ergometer, exercise bike or indoor cycle?
The terms ergometer and exercise bike are often used as synonyms. In fact, there are technical differences and even different standards in the EU. Classic exercise bikes use a manual or electronic magnetic braking system to adjust the resistance. The resistance changes as the magnet approaches the flywheel. This usually happens in different stages. An exercise bike is limited to basic functions and is therefore cheaper and better suited for beginners.
An ergometer uses an electronically controlled magnetic brake. This can be continuously and precisely adjusted in watts. The set resistance adapts to the cadence. The maximum resistance that can be achieved is significantly higher than with home trainers. The precise control of the resistance also allows gentle cardiovascular training.
An indoor cycle is a rather spartan training device. The resistance control is done manually. The advantage: If you take part in a spinning training session via video, you can adjust the strength quickly and easily.
Inexpensive models for beginners from 120 euros
Anyone who can do without the networked, virtual journey with others will find an inexpensive alternative for less than 300 euros. Most devices use a computer with an LCD. This shows the distance covered, the estimated calorie consumption and the selected resistance or training program.
An important criterion when buying is the flywheel mass of the impeller. The higher, the better and smoother the device runs. A flywheel mass of at least 5 kg is recommended. If you want to connect your ergometer to a fitness tracker or pulse belt, you need a model with Bluetooth. Corresponding models are already available for prices starting at 350 euros.
Foldable exercise bikes are particularly space-saving and therefore ideal for small apartments. Models such as the Ultrasport F-Bike, the Sportstech X100-B or the X-Bike from UNO are available from 120 euros, but these are less stable and usually only have a 2 to 4 kg flywheel.
Most bicycle ergometers in this price range have sensors in the handles for heart rate measurement. An example of this would be the Christopeit Sport AX3000 for 265 euros. With this device, you set the resistance on the computer or, alternatively, you can use one of 21 training programs that automatically adjust the levels at certain intervals.
Alternative to Peloton: Smart ergometers
It gets exciting with an ergometer with app connection that connects to the computer, tablet or smartphone. Thanks to the current performance data, you drive through a virtual world while the program shows the pedal force, speed and cadence on the screen.
The resistance adapts to inclines, descents and sprints, resulting in a dynamic driving experience. If you drive along the simulated route in this way, you can feel every uphill and every downhill section. Software platforms such as The Sufferfest, Zwift, RGT, Ride Social and others provide the social component and motivation. This is how you connect with other users via the Internet to take part in online races or workouts in real time without having to leave your home. Other interesting services are Kinomap, Bitgym, Rouvi or Ride Social. These apps display virtual routes on a tablet or smartphone (Android or iOS). In this case, a tablet holder on the ergometer is recommended – or you can use a smart TV via screencast.
A prerequisite for this is that the ergometer is compatible with the app and has a computer-controlled adjustment of the resistance. For a corresponding app, there are also fees for a subscription. Depending on the provider, these are currently between 8 and 12 euros per month. If you pay quarterly or annually, it will be cheaper. A free alternative would be a video clip on YouTube with a recorded route that you follow. But you have to adjust the resistance yourself.
The great appeal of services like Peloton is the shared cycling experience. You train at home in spinning courses, but you can encourage each other or compete with others. However, the cheapest Peloton bike costs 1,500 euros – there are also fees of 39 euros per month.
A cheaper alternative is Zwift for 15 euros per month. The service is primarily designed for real bikes mounted on a roller. But there are ergometers that are compatible with Zwift. These include the Asviva S14 Bluetooth Indoor Cycle or Schwinn Speedbike IC8 for 950 euros. The Schwinn model even works with Peloton and Ride Social. Another alternative is the fitness app Inspire. The Hammer Inspire Speedbike is available from 800 euros. The Sportstech Speedbike SX500 for 650 euros uses Kinomap.
Bike as a smart home trainer
For classic endurance training at home, you can alternatively stretch your own two-wheeler onto a roller or mechanism in order to pedal stationary against a manually adjustable resistance. Listening to music or zapping on TV can help distract you.
Nowadays, however, smart is also possible with ready-made, fixed training programs that automatically control the driving resistance after a previously recorded lap. An app connection ensures joint training in virtual worlds. In combination with a monitor or television, you follow your tour idol. This also helps to overcome the weaker self.
A radio connection to the end device is essential for this. The smart training device transmits data on cadence, speed and power to the respective receiver. The heart rate comes from a chest strap or a heart rate monitor. Bike computers can record the data just like a real ride. Current models communicate with Bluetooth and ANT+ at the same time, so direct communication between the different devices is possible.
A wheel chock is helpful to bring the front wheel to the same height as the rear wheel. A large rubber mat to minimize noise and protect the floor is also recommended. Towel or special sweat catcher protect the bike from the corrosive liquid, which should flow in streams.
Before buying, you should check the technical connection dimensions to ensure that it is compatible with the two-wheeler and the circuit. In the case of trainers with direct drive, cassettes from SRAM, Shimano and Campagnolo with eight to twelve shift levels can usually be fitted and bicycles with an over locknut dimension of 130 to 148 mm fit. For example, the T Direct Drive Smart Trainer is also compatible with 142 × 12 mm and 148 × 12 mm axles using an adapter. But there are also exceptions, special hub systems and disc brakes can be incompatible. Be sure to search through the manufacturer websites or try them out.
However, only a few manufacturers explicitly approve their bikes for use as home trainers. If you’re afraid of scrapping your valuable carbon racing machine, get an old aluminum or steel frame and build it up. The weight and components are secondary when training in the living room. The saddle, handlebars and seating position have to fit, nothing more. This protects the expensive racer and increases the anticipation of the first spring ride. All that’s needed now is a suitable place for the and good ventilation to keep it from overheating.
Safety warning: If children or toddlers of crawling age are in the house, it is essential to prevent them from approaching unnoticed during a training session. Fast rotating parts can have fatal consequences.
Cadence, speed and power are measured via various sensors and transmitted to the receiver via radio (ANT+, Bluetooth LE) or cable and recorded. It is also advisable to feed in the heart rate. Together with body weight and height, personal performance data is determined more precisely.
The recipient can be a training computer or the training app (Zwift, TrainerRoad, Wahoo) running on the smartphone, tablet or computer directly. If the receiving device only understands Bluetooth and the signal from the trainer only comes as ANT+, a USB dongle is required that converts the ANT+ signals into Bluetooth. You also have to be careful with the number of Bluetooth channels that can be used at the same time. For example, a fourth-generation Apple TV that runs the Zwift app excellently in 4K can only process three Bluetooth channels at the same time. However, one channel is already occupied by the remote control, so only two channels remain for cadence and power. With a workaround, smartphone and ANT bridge, this limitation can be circumvented.
The Viiiva heart rate belt, which only has a heart rate monitor but also an ANT bridge, is flawless and practical. You can connect the ANT+ sensors from the trainer to the heart rate monitor and it then bundles all data, including heart rate, into one Bluetooth signal. This also works with all other receivers that do not understand ANT or have too few reception channels.
Conversely, the exercise bikes are controlled via the app via the feedback channel. This used to be done using proprietary protocols, but today all smart models understand both ANT and Bluetooth transmission standards.
Variants with a direct drive are easier to handle and cheaper. They are also available as folding versions for space-saving storage. Direct drive means that the bike is mounted directly on the roller trainer without a rear wheel, which involves a certain amount of conversion work. These trainers have a flywheel with a freewheel body for the matching cassette, which replaces the rear wheel. The bike is fixed with the thru axle or quick release, which is also used to fasten the rear wheel. The direct drive of the flywheel without the rear wheel ensures a very crisp driving experience. Neither the lateral stiffness of the rear wheel nor the slippage of the tires have a negative effect on power transmission.
As mentioned above, it is essential to ensure that the bike and roller trainer are compatible. The Tacx and Wahoo models offer the greatest variety in terms of axle widths and mounts.
Smart exercise bike Tacx Neo 2T
If you want to use different wheels on the same training roller, you may have to plan for conversion work if the wheel size, gear ratio and installation width differ. The trainers Tacx Neo 2T Smart, Flux 2 Smart and Flux S Smart as well as the H3 Smart from Saris offer the widest range of possible wheel sizes. They are suitable for bikes with wheels from 20 to 29 inch index. Some models, such as Wahoo’s Kickr, also allow a certain sideways movement, which can be adjusted via elastomers in the feet and thus offer a driving experience almost like outside. Roller trainers with direct drive are stable, offer a realistic driving experience and have all sensors already installed. They are suitable for anyone who trains intensively and can sometimes leave the built-up trainer standing for longer.
With the NEO 2 Smart (Special Edition), Tacx has launched another premium indoor smart trainer at a list price of just under 1000 euros. In principle it is an intermediate version of NEO 2 and NEO 2T. The “T” on the NEO 2T stands for “Through-Axle”. The axle system of the NEO 2 Smart (Special Edition) has been revised compared to the NEO 2 Smart and now uses the same axle as the NEO 2T to make the trainer compatible with almost all bikes, whether quick release or thru axle. An adapter set is only required for thru-axles measuring 135 × 12 mm and 135 × 10 mm. The rest of the functionality and dimensions are identical. The only difference is a slightly lower maximum torque and lower maximum braking force of the neodymium magnet brake (NEO 2 Special Edition / NEO 2T, 85 Nm / 88 Nm, 250 N / 260 N).
With the wheel-on roller trainer, the classic among roller trainers, the rear wheel drives a roller directly. In newer versions, the driving resistance is controlled via a maintenance-free eddy current brake, which can make the roller trainer smart thanks to the controllable brake. The bike is assembled in just a few simple steps. The rear frame is clamped with a quick-release fastener in the dropout area and the tire is pressed against the roller by spring tension. A well-inflated tire and a smooth profile ensure a good ride on the roller. It is best to use a tire developed for roller trainers such as the Continental home trainer or Vittoria’s Zaffiro Pro Home Trainer.
This type of roller trainer has been around for a very long time. The devices are mature and attractively priced. Wheel-on trainers are compact and quick to set up, but they usually don’t offer the range of sensors and connectivity as direct-drive trainers. They are good for not too intensive training work and when not all performance parameters are necessary. The drive via the rear wheel also limits the maximum achievable braking power compared to the variants with direct drive. Recommended smart wheel-on trainers include the Kickr Snap, Elite Turbo, and Elite Qubo Power Mag Smart.
Endurance training with the ergometer is an alternative in your own four walls in bad weather or during the cold season. If you just want to cycle a bit, you can use an exercise bike for less than 300 euros. Ergometers with an app connection can be found for as little as 500 euros.
The smart fitness devices allow virtual bike tours and enable more variety and cycling with friends or like-minded people. Boring training in the basement is a thing of the past. If Peloton is too expensive for you, you can use an ergometer that is compatible with alternative apps, such as Zwift or Kinomap. Third-party models that also work with Peloton are also conceivable.
Demanding cyclists use a real bike for training. The direct drive category is ideal in terms of stability and connectivity, as it comes with all the necessary sensors. The wheel-on devices take up a little less space when not in use and the bike is quicker to assemble. A weak point is the rear wheel and the tyre, which has to transmit all the power via a small roller. You have to be careful with the wheel-on trainers: they generate vibrations that can be heard throughout the house.