Kinetic Road Machine Smart Review
Kinetic Road Machine Smart Review
A review of the Kinetic Road Machine Smart turbo trainer.
I remember shopping for trainers about 10 years ago, and at the time, the big decision was fluid or magnetic. Rollers weren’t on my radar at all, although they were certainly around. Then, when I needed something new a couple of years ago, I snagged a great deal on a set of used Kreitler rollers. Rollers are fantastic, and I definitely encourage everyone to spend some time on a set at least one winter in their cycling life, but at a certain point, I kind of outgrew them.
Riding rollers feels exactly like riding outside, but as I got more and more data oriented and specific with my training, I found that the rollers could only offer so much. They had moulded my pedal stroke and made me a better rider, but I wanted to follow specific training plans and have all the data I could get. Rollers don’t offer that.
Which brings us to the state of the market today. There are rollers. There are still fluid and magnetic resistant trainers on the market. And there is something new, smart trainers. The range of pricing for trainers can be anything from about $100 up to around $1200. Also, don’t forget to factor in buying a power meter for your bike and the myriad of training services offered online. If it sounds a bit dizzying, that’s because it is!
Let’s simplify it a bit, though. You can buy a power meter for your bike for the price of a trainer, but you are left still needing a trainer. The power meter on the bike would mean you could use a cheap trainer, or a set of rollers, to do specific workouts. But you haven’t really solved the problem of needing a stationary trainer of some kind. Going with something like a Stages power meter plus a set of rollers would be a great option. You’d get power both indoors and out, plus a very natural feeling stationary trainer solution.
Rollers aren’t cheap on their own, though. The set of Kreitler rollers I used go for between $400 and $500, and if you want to train with power, you’d need the power meter also. You could pick up a really cheap turbo trainer for around $100 and pair that with your power meter. But every person I talk to who really hates indoor training has a cheap turbo trainer. They are terrible to use and don’t feel at all like riding your bike. There are occasionally those who do okay with just getting on a cheap trainer and doing brutal sessions while watching movies. It’s certainly an option, but I wouldn’t call it an enjoyable one.
So, if a power meter on your bike doesn’t really factor into the equation, since you still need a stationary training solution, that leaves you basically with the choice between a “dumb” trainer and a “smart trainer.” Price will obviously come into play as well, but I would call that a secondary part of the equation, even if price is really important to you. I say that because there are options at a variety of price points for whatever you choose.
When I look at the market, I see essentially two trainers that stand out to me as great choices. For around $530 you can get the Tacx Vortex Smart and for $349, those are street prices not MSRP, you can get the Kinetic Road Machine Smart. This article is about the Kinetic Road Machine Smart, though, and I’ll tell you why I landed there in a minute. Of course, there are other options on the market.
Something like the Wahoo Kickr is brilliant. For the cost of entry, though, I’d rather pick up the on bike power meter plus a less expensive trainer and spend my time training outdoors when I can. When you look at the Tacx Vortex Smart vs the Kinetic Road Machine Smart, it’s not such a simple equation. The Tacx is a bit more expensive, but not prohibitively so. What the Kinetic brings to the table, though, is a top notch riding experience. A riding experience that feels just like riding your bike outside. The resistance curve is spot on and perfectly smooth no matter what you might be doing. Yes, the Tacx is “smarter” in that it can use its magnetic brake to provide resistance in relation to what’s happening on screen, something the Kinetic doesn’t offer, but you have to flip that feature on its head a bit.
It’s something it took me a while to grasp, but really, when you think about it, that kind of smart resistance isn’t necessary if you’ve got a really good resistance curve. Let’s use Zwift as an example, because it’s the most obvious use case. As you ride up a hill in Zwift, your virtual speed will drop unless you pedal harder, or faster, and as you up your power or cadence, you also up your resistance, just like a real hill outside. Alternatively, the trainer could apply its brake and make the resistance ramp up, but the end result is essentially the same. The only time you’d notice a difference is that with the Kinetic, it would be possible to go very slowly up a virtual hill without much resistance. No getting around that, but it’s also not how I train. But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself.
Let’s step back a little and talk about what Kinetic really brings to the table with it’s new app and updated trainers. As far as the hardware, what you essentially get is the same fantastic outdoor riding experience Kinetic has been offering for a long time, but they’ve thrown in a free power meter and access to an app. The app is where the real story is.
Install the app on an Android or iOS tablet/phone, and you’ve got an amazing training tool. Everything is still evolving really fast, and I used the Android app throughout which is slightly behind the iOS app, but the basic idea is this. The app is free at a basic level that offers self-directed training. It has a bunch of built-in workouts, and if you know what your overall training arc looks like, then you can jump into it and do what you want for free.
For example, I race mostly TT, and my goals were getting faster vs the clock and getting faster when riding with my team or my friends. I started by doing an FTP test, and when I got that number, I put it in and set my zones. Setting the FTP and the heart rate zones in the profile will adjust the training programs to match your needs. Your intervals will in fact be 95% of FTP, or 110% of FTP, or whatever it is you might be doing. Once that was set, I decided what I wanted to do to meet my goals and picked the workouts that supported that.
I’ve been doing a workout called Tempo 20 which is a 66 minute workout that has two twenty minute intervals at 76%-90% of FTP as well as a warmup, a rest, and a cool down. Then, on my rest days, I’ve been using “Active Recovery 6×5” which is described as “a steady workout of varying intensity to keep your focus” and runs about 35 minutes. The app shows you a target power and a target cadence next to current power and cadence. Use your gearing to match up the two and hold it for the allotted time, which is counted down at the bottom of the screen.
If you decide you’d like to be directed a bit more, then step up to the first paid tier, for $10 a month, and you’ll get training plans designed to meet specific goals as well as Apple TV/Chromecast support. I don’t actually own a TV, so second screen viewing isn’t much of a draw, but I can certainly see a path to a more directed training plan. At some point, I’ll likely get bored of what I’m doing on my own, and it will be a great asset to be able to follow a directed training plan to take things up another level.
Then, finally, if you would like to add in Sufferfest streaming as well, that’s the second paid tier for an additional $10 a month. It’s a very concise, and valuable, set of offerings that doesn’t skimp even at the free level. It’s when you look at the whole package, app and hardware combined, that the Kinetic Road Machine Smart really shines. What’s great about it is most of those features are basically thrown in for the price of a great trainer on its own.
It’s also worth mentioning that while I just spent a considerable bit of article space describing how great the app is, you don’t actually have to use the app. TrainerRoad and Zwift both support Kinetics Inride app, so that you can use the built-in features along with either service on top of what Kinetic is offering. Of course, this leads to a couple obvious questions. First, why do you have to use Kinetics Inride at all? If you’ve read any other reviews about Inride, you might have noticed it getting called out for using a proprietary bluetooth profile. I had the same question everyone does, why don’t they use a standard profile?
It turns out there isn’t a generic bluetooth profile that makes sense to use in an application like this. What has happened is that most people in the space have coalesced around Wahoo. Wahoo has done a really good job making their API available for whoever wants to use it, and they’ve done the heavy lifting to make a great API. This has been great for the industry in some ways, but it also presents some problems. It makes a new de facto standard that is actually something proprietary, while at the same time it means that if you use the Wahoo API, you have to give up control. When there is a problem, you have to go to Wahoo and ask for help.
That’s a problem in a competitive market, but even if you ignore that fact and assume Wahoo is being completely altruistic and helping the industry, which they do seem to be doing, it still leaves your company stuck in the middle if a customer has a problem. If you are a small company with no market power, you make do, but if you have the ability to design your own solution, it makes perfect sense that you’d do so. The real solution is for those setting the bluetooth standards to define a new standard that works well for situations like this. Honestly, I don’t know enough of the details to know why the existing standards aren’t quite right or what would need to change. It doesn’t really matter, though.
The second question you might naturally consider is if the Inride power meter is really any different from just using a dumb trainer with virtual power. For the answer to that, I’m going to quote a Facebook post from TrainerRoad back in 2012, as they have done an excellent job answering the question; “The inRide is Bluetooth 4.0 only and outputs power, speed and cadence. The inRide calculates power much like VirtualPower except for a few key differences.
First, they have built-in roll down calibration. This corrects for any differences in rolling resistance with the tire/pressure combination. We plan on adding roll down calibrations too, but we don’t have the same granularity that the inRide does. Since we measure speed at the wheel, we only get a new wheel event every time a complete revolution happens. The inRide is on the actual trainer and has a much better resolution (up to a millionth of a second) built into its hardware. Even if you put a speed sensor on your trainer like the inRide, the limitations of ANT make it so we can’t be as accurate. So as far as roll down calibration goes, the inRide will be more accurate than VirtualPower. How much more accurate? We won’t know until we do some tests.
The second thing that the inRide has over VirtualPower is that it uses acceleration to determine the power output. That is, when you go from 10 to 15 mph you have to put out more power to speed up the flywheel. It has that formula built into the hardware. VirtualPower ignores the power it takes to accelerate. This gives VirtualPower a smoothing effect on power where the inRide will show more accurate second to second power as you accelerate/slow down.
The last thing the inRide does that VirtualPower does not is zero out power as soon as you stop pedaling. The inRide calculates virtual cadence much like a power tap. When it detects a cadence of 0, it takes the power down to 0. We could do this with VirtualPower, but we choose not to due to potential dropouts in a cadence sensor. The inRide doesn’t have this problem because it does this calculation on the hardware itself before it sends out data wirelessly. So in terms of accuracy, it goes power meter -> inRide -> VirtualPower. Each has it’s own unique price point and I think each is a good option for training.” I know it’s a long quote, but hopefully it helps make sense of everything.
The bottom line for me when looking at stationary trainers includes a few relevant points and not necessarily a singular answer. First of all, I think everyone should at some point ride with rollers for a while. If you are in a position to own both, it’ll be good for you. But really, it’s probably most useful at specific points in your training, and you could sell them and pick up a turbo trainer once you’ve done your time. Yes, you could get a dumb trainer and a power meter for your bike, but since Kinetic is essentially giving you power for free, and you still need a good trainer solution, you might as well decouple those two pieces when making the decision.
Then, in terms of the competition, I’d say that while the various smart trainers are great, it’s money you really don’t need to spend. Personally, I’m someone that never quite pulls the trigger on monthly subscriptions, and so, as good as the various services out there are, I haven’t taken advantage of them. The Kinetic Road machine provides power training and all the self-directed training I currently need for the price of a great trainer. That’s a great value, and in terms of what I’ve been able to do with it, I’ve raised my FTP and moved from the back of the pack on my team, to the front of the pack. I upload my rides to Strava and use the gearing on my bike so everything on the trainer essentially matches my outdoor training. It perfectly fits my needs.
It’s also worth noting that if you’ve currently got a Kinetic trainer, all current and previous versions of Kinetic fluid trainers including: the Road Machine, Rock And Roll and Pro Trainer are compatible with Kinetic inRide. Inride is sold separately as a package with a BLE heart rate monitor, and the sensors for the trainer, at a price point of $130.
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