Wattbike Atom, it’s not just for winter
Is the Wattbike Atom the smartest indoor bike?
Traditionally winter was the time for cyclists to get fat and enjoy some down time. Then came the turbo. An awful machine that tried to suck all the fun out of well-intentioned winter training plans. While it did mean that you could keep training when the weather was bad and the evenings too dark, they were just horrible! Spin forward more years than I care to admit and now we have the smart-bike; specifically the Wattbike Atom.
First, a little history. Back in 2000 the Wattbike founders met with British Cycling’s performance director Peter Keen to discuss creating the “ultimate indoor bike”. Jump forward eight years and the Wattbike Pro/Trainer is launched at the Track Cycling World Championships. Jump again and it’s endorsed by British Cycling, England Football, Team GB, Porsche and Red Bull as their official trainer.
The Wattbike continues to gain respect as a training tool, being chosen as the global talent ID and training tool of the UCI World Cycling Centre. But it’s not until 2017 with the introduction of the Wattbike Atom that you could have one at home.
But why would you want a smart bike at home? Surely your wheel-on trainer does the job? Well, yes, but a smart-bike does it better. Having a dedicated training rig is great if you’re a single bike owner. No more swapping wheels and worrying about stress and sweat affecting your pride and joy.
The Wattbike Atom has been my first experience with a smart-bike and I was very impressed, with only a couple of small niggles. I posted a preview of the Atom previously, but below are the full specs from the Wattbike site.
Wattbike Atom specifications
|Model:||Atom (Next Generation)|
|Height:||Max. 150cm (fully extended tablet holder)|
|footprint:||124 x 50cm|
|Feet:||Rubber height adjustable|
|Integrated gear shifters:||Yes|
|Gears:||1 – 22|
|Seat:||Racing seat fitted as standard|
|Pedals (UK):||Flat pedals with toe cage fitted as standard|
|Covers:||Heavy-duty ABS plastic construction|
|Chain:||Industrial 1⁄2″ x 1⁄8″ steel|
|Belt:||T15 Timing belt|
|Seat and handlebar stems:||Aluminium|
|Handlebar height adjustability:||Range 52cm – 76cm|
|Handlebar FORE/AFT adjustability:||Range 0 – 7.5cm|
|Seat height adjustability:||Range 49cm – 75cm|
|Seat FORE/AFT adjustability:||Range 0 – 8.8cm|
|Power range:||0 – 2500w|
|Third-party connectivity:||ANT+, Bluetooth, FTMS|
|Third-party app smart functionality control:||Any ANT+FEC Bluetooth FTMS enabled app inc Zwift, Sufferfest, TrainerRoad, FulGaz, RGT|
|Gradient:||0 – 25%|
|Max. rider weight:||135kg|
|Rider height:||5′–6′ 5″|
|External power required:||Yes|
What’s it like?
So there’s a lot of info there, but what’s it like “in the flesh”? Well my demo bike was delivered to my house un-boxed; which saved me from having to house a huge box. As I was out when it came, my partner was able to wheel it in without any trouble; however I wouldn’t want to be lifting it up any stairs. Although it weighs in at 45kg, I found it easy to move it around on its front wheels. You have to tip it quite far forward to get onto the wheels, but once there it’s simple. Once it was in position any readjustments could be done even by a weedy cyclist!
Wattbike have a bike fit calculator that will allow you to replicate your bike set up. It’s pretty straight forward to do, but I must admit I didn’t use it; in my defence I was too excited to get on and try it. It’s good that it’s there though. I know during lock-down I spent a lot of time on the turbo and developed some niggles that were due to riding in a fixed position. So get your position right.
During all this moving around and position sorting my overall impressions of the Wattbike Atom were positive. It feels solid and well built, all the levers to adjust your position work well, with only the ones that allow you to rotate the bars being a bit awkward to access. If this had been my machine I would have spent a little more time tweaking the set-up, but for the time I had it, it was fine. There is one part that can’t be adjusted though – crank length – which is 170mm. This is something Wattbike are looking at and adjustable cranks may be coming in the future.
Let’s ride the Wattbike Atom
Finally it’s time to jump on and ride. The power supply and on/off switch is located on the underside of the Atom, a little awkward, but no big deal. Although Wattbike have their own app – Wattbike Hub – which has loads of useful features, I mainly used Zwift. My excuse? I have problems training to numbers. Put me in a session where you just have to stare at a graph and I’ll cry off after ten minutes. Give me some pretend cyclists to chase and I’m happy; during lock-down I even managed a 100k event!
So I’m on the bike, time to connect to Zwift. What can I tell you? It was quick and easy, no dramas. The Zwift app spotted the Wattbike Atom, I clicked on the icon and off we went, simple. Put your hands on the Atom’s shifters and you have three buttons. The big red one on top works with the Hub app to switch menus, while the two smaller ones on the front work the gears. A recent update allows you to customise how the shifters act.
- 11spd Wattbike Linear (Standard Wattbike gearing)
- 22spd Wattbike Linear (Standard Wattbike gearing)
- Compact (12 Speed endurance groupset, 50/34T chainset, 11-34t cassette)
- Best for: a balance of speed and climbing ease – e.g spring classics
- Semi-compact (12 Speed racing groupset, 52/36T chainset, 11-30t cassette)
- Best for: racing and all-out speed – e.g flat stages and sprinting
- Climbing (11 Speed gravel/adventure groupset, 46/30T chainset, 11-36t cassette)
- Best for: gliding up the toughest climbs with ease
When shifting there is a slight delay, nothing huge, I got used to it pretty quick, but it is there. Your preferred set-up is saved on to 3rd party apps, so if you don’t have your own Atom – maybe your using a gym based one – your choice will follow you around.
With my position sorted and bum planted on the saddle, how does it feel? Grabbing the hoods, as I said before, it feels solid. The wide feet – which are height-adjustable – and build give a real feel of quality. Turn the pedals though and there’s a slight rumble; that’s definitely a big chain turning a flywheel. I must admit that I was surprised by that, I was expecting some kind of frictionless drive. But once you’re up and riding you don’t notice it.
Noise-wise, well it’s hardly silent, but you can hold a conversation and still hear the telly. Sitting on the Atom I had a tablet running Zwift on the aero bars, which have a dedicated tablet-holder on the end. This keeps it close enough to see and fiddle with while your on the hoods or drops. When using the aero bars however it does get a little close, but I was generally head down and suffering at that point.
So what’s my final conclusion? Well compared to using my own wheel-on trainer with 20-year old bike, it’s fantastic. Forget all the fancy software powering everything, it just feels right. And this is without putting my favourite saddle and bars on; that would come later if I had one.
And it’s not just the feel. I found the Atom to be easy to live with in the short time I had it. It was simple to manoeuvre around my, admittedly, small garage between sessions. And the ability to swap between users was so easy. Previously I would have to come down and change saddle and stem position for my son and partner and then change it back; not great. But the adjustments are so easy to make, that they could do it themselves. I guess that will come from the fact that the original machines were designed to be used by multiple users.
And another big plus from having a dedicated trainer is no longer would I have to use my own bike. Now I’m lucky enough to have a bike I can leave permanently on the trainer. It’s an old beast that I’m happy to leave to slowly corrode from my sweat. If however you don’t have that option I can imagine clamping your pride and joy onto a turbo and covering it in sweat isn’t great. Get a Wattbike Atom however and you know you can just jump on and ride.
And another benefit, if you have pets or small children that like to lurk around the rapidly spinning parts of your bike; there’s nothing for them to get caught up in! Of course they can still annoy you in the middle of an interval, but at least the danger has gone.
And the last thing to consider? The price. Let’s face it the Atom will cost you the same as a bike, a nice bike. You can get it on finance – Wattbike will arrange that – but if you are getting one it is a big investment. If you asked me would I spend that kind of money before smart-bikes came along, I would have said no. But now I’m seeing their usefulness. The ability to keep up high quality efforts despite weather, traffic, failing light or time constraints is a big factor. Also I’ll happily leave the kids for an hour or more to train in the garage, knowing that if something kicks off in the house, I’m only a few steps away. That’s some peace of mind for a parent, well worth it!
Check out the Wattbike Atom.
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