Why can no one make a decent smart stationary bike?!

HI everyone,

Just wondering what the consensus is here on a smart stationary bike?

For me, its a no brainer, if someone can produce one that works with authentic gearing changes at the key price of around £1800. This is the clincher as you are paying a reasonable premium over a standalone smart turbo.
The convenience of a clean, low maintenance all in one bike that you can just jump onto to train, with the flexibility to be used by the family through quick adjustments would make it well worth the outlay.

I was an early adopter of the Wattbike Atom and couldn’t get it sent back quickly enough - the gear changing was just terrible. If you are going to pay a premium, then it needs to work perfectly!
The Neo smart bike is on the way, but the pricing is absurd.

Is it really that hard to make one of these things? Or is the demand just not there to produce them in the volumes needed to keep the price down?
I look at things like the Lifefitness IC series of smart spin bikes - surely, with a bit of work, these could be adapted to be smart and open to work with things like TR and Zwift.
I currently use a Lifefitness GX with Powertap P1 pedals for TR - I adore it. If there was a smart version of this, I would purchase tomorrow as long as the price was reasonable.

I get that its not for everyone.
There are always the comments when this topic comes up that say “just buy a Neo” and stick a bike on it.
This is totally missing the point. If you don’t get it, then its not for you, which is fine, but don’t keep trying to push a solution that fits your needs and wants on those of us who have a clearly defined set of requirements.

I would be interested to hear if the TR team have been approached by anyone developing such a machine, perhaps for testing - I don’t expect any name for details, but just if there is any movement within the industry towards producing some new machines.

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I assume it’s the demand. Most people using such a thing would already have a bike so can’t justify paying the premium.

Your £1800 sweet spot is still in the range where you can buy a really nice trainer and still have money left over to buy a dedicated trainer bike. Getting a bike and t Rainer into my basement is far easier as well.

I think the market is just too small. It wouldn’t be a cheap product to bring to market and have low sales.

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Zwift is holding onto a licensing agreement with VirtuPro for this reason. They want to see if a smart bike can be made affordably by Tacx, Wattbike. Elite etc. If not then they’ll have a go themselves (source: Eric Mic, ZwiftCast).

You can sell a lot of stationary bikes, look at Peloton, but how to you get them to fork out the extra cash for power and smart features? Only Zwift can make it happen realistically as it’s addictive enough to get people to spend on hardware for it . Problem is, those users already have a lot of expensive kit so it’ll be a while until you can shift a ton of smart stationary bikes at a profitable volume as there is little incentive to upgrade. More stability, safer, less hassle, better looking setup? Not really huge selling points for most people who’re on a budget.

I want the Tacx Neo smart bike to do well so everyone else jumps on the bandwagon and produces a mid range version. Tacx no doubt is already working on a Flux version of it? Makes sense to me.

All very good points Shrike…I have a bad habit of always wanting a niche product :weary:

Yes, if Zwift went for it, that would certainly see the market change.
If they could produce it and offer it on a finance deal, I think that could massively increase the adoption rate.
That was how Bkool initially got me into the smart trainer market years ago, directly offering 0% over 12 months on what was a already a competitively priced trainer.
Wahoo are surely going to have a crack? If they could integrate the climb technology into a stationary bike, now that would be great!

Proform were way ahead of their time with the TDF bike - I would have loved to have tried it, but too many negative reviews and the closed system put me off.

I guess all we can do is wait and see - ill stick with my trusty spin bike in the meantime!

I was formerly a member of Athleete Lab in London where they use adjustabikes - these are similar to retul bike fit frames which can be fitted onto a turbo but with all your own finishing kit with the advantage of quickly adjustable reach, seat height, fore/aft and handlebar height. The Lab used to attach them to computrainers but I don’t see why you couldn’t put them on a wheel off trainer too as they use real drivetrains too.

Only issue is finding how or where to buy them.

As others have mentioned, it really depends on who your user base is.

Something like the Peleton is starting to catch on (based on my non-cycling friend group anyway) for fitness motivated, but not cycling focused, people

For people like us - cycling goal focused - I’m not sure there’s really a large enough market for a non-trainer focused solution. Not many gyms will want to buy a dozen such devices and likewise people training at home are more likely to prefer riding their own bike than something that, even at best, would be close to their exact geometry

If you want to eliminate the primary functional parts of a bike (drivetrain with gears, chain and derailleurs) and replace them with some other form of power transmission (belt or chain with no gearing or derailleurs), that gives the same feel of what you just tossed out… yes, it is really that hard.

You are asking for the same feel and response of a mechanical machine that is replaced with completely different components. There is likely to be some variation in feel, even in the best of circumstances. As this whole idea is essentially brand new, there will undoubtedly be some testing, building and refinement required. Something this complex doesn’t just happen and is rarely perfect from the first implementation.

An unrelated example is the simple comparison of the feel and function difference between a manual or automatic transmission in a car. We are only now getting to the point that an auto can match the basic feel (while still notably different) and improved performance (mileage and high performance) after many decades of refinement, from the smartest minds in auto engineering. Despite the relative simplicity of a bike transmission, this is still a massive task to undertake.

This perspective is purely about the technical challenge to making that substitution and ignores the practical reality of the economics that are essential to drive it and make it a financially viable product (which is a separate discussion, IMHO).

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It seems like it wouldn’t take that much hacking, bodging, and duct tape to take apart a smart trainer, ditch the tire roller and frame, and attach the resistance unit to the flywheel of any number of spin bikes, either directly or via a secondary belt or chain. It would obviously be a little more complex than that, but if I can conceive of doing it in my garage I’m pretty confident that an actual manufacturer could handle it easily.
You would have all of the sturdiness and adjustability of a dedicated spin bike and the ‘smart trainer’ aspect that many of us use w. TR and others. Then you just need a screen (like on a Peloton) and some kind of interface system, or perhaps a no-screen option that would work with a laptop, tablet, phone, etc. like we have now.
I’m with you - it just doesn’t need to be that complicated.

Probably not exceedingly complicated, but I would guess dedicated ‘smart bike’ would end up costing only slightly less than a bike+smart trainer setup and have much less utility.

Even it that was easy (which it’s not) how do you handle “shifting”?

Anything is easy in theory. But making something that actually performs to expectations is where the real challenge lies. I saw a picture where someone effectively blended a spin bike and Wahoo Kickr, with a single direct chain.

It worked and was ugly, but:

  1. It only offered use via ERG mode for training,
  2. If you used it in SIM mode, it was essentially like riding a single speed.
    • Making an interface that acts as shifters, and then adjusts resistance in a way that “feels” like real shifting is a huge challenge.
    • There is a reason that the the Wattbike Atom missed on it’s first attempt (and subsequent firmware updates) and that’s because making something that is relying on adjustment of a magnetic resistance unit to then act like a more mechanical bike drivetrain… is not a direct connection.

We will have to see how Tacx does with it’s Neo Smart Bike. It has potential to be more adjustable via it’s unique setup that lacks a real flywheel. They may be applying things like the Road Feel vibrations to improve the “shifting feel”. But it will still be an approximation of resistance applied to simulate a given gear ratio.

And getting the right shifting feel also matters, and I think everyone has missed the boat with the button design and feedback with the early designs. They look clunky and don’t mimic the fit and function of the real road bike options. Some of that is undoubtedly because of patent issues, but they should be doing a better job than what I have seen and heard about them.

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I’m definitely not suggesting that something homemade wouldn’t be crude or ugly, or lack the functionality that we’d all like to have. I’m suggesting that it can be done and that all of the required technology exists - somebody just needs to put it together in a sturdy package and start marketing it.
A couple of thought on the shifting aspect; if real shifting is a must, incorporate something like a Rohloff hub in the flywheel. You add a little maintenance but you get 14 real gears between the cranks and the flywheel. As for virtual shifting, I rod one of these for about 15 minutes last week and while the road feel was bad (no flywheel effect) the shifting aspect was pretty good: https://www.technogym.com/gb/skillbike.html

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You’re absolutely right about that, but I was responding to the original post about a training bike. At present, mounting an actual bike to an actual trainer makes a whole lot more sense than anything I’m talking about.

I had the same thought - their bikes are provided by Powerwatts
https://www.powerwatts.com

I am still interested in the Atom for the reason @bsharp77 said. The price point is good for me and I want a clean indoor bike that ny wife could use as well.

I had read the early reviews about the shifting. This seemed fixable in firmware. Was it really that bad. I assume this doesn’t affect ERG mode. As I don’t have a trainer and use a gym bike I am interested to know if shifting makes much of a difference. Would you expect to be in ERG mode most of the time?

If you are mainly training and using ERG in TR, I think you will be fine. The shifting is more of an issue if you want to use Resistance mode and shift, or for any riding and racing in something like Zwift.

Response to @Adub (despite deleted post)

  1. Looks for some people.
  2. Lack of easy and wide adjustment range for multiple users of different size.

I have considered getting a trainer, but I don’t train indoors all the time. I go out every Saturday. I’m lucky where I live in the UK most weekends the weather is fine to be outside.

I don’t have a trainer so I would have to buy one and I don’t want to take the bike apart every week. Also, I don’t think my wife would appreciate the outdoor bike being indoors :slight_smile:

The Atom seemed a good compromise. The Neo Smart would just be too expensive.

Ya I deleted my post after re-reading the original post about the adjustability between multiple users part.

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Hi Baz, I think they have done some firmware work to make shifting better, but from what I’ve heard, it’s still not great. I think the big problem is lack of feedback.
If they could create a slight vibration to signal a gear change, that would put it right on track.

As you say, they have priced it really well for what it is, the watt bike name definitely gives some consumer confidence and the polar view is great.

If you want it for ERG mode only, this would be fine.

My major gripe was I wanted it for Zwift and wattbike’s own hill training app. The gears just really suck for this.
As it was the single dearest cycling purchase I’ve ever made apart from my best bike, I really expected it to be perfect, so I was majorly annoyed. Once that disappointment kicks in, it’s hard to get the stigma away from that product in my own eyes.

It’s so close to being great…considering all they’ve done, an overhaul of the shifting for a v2 version could make it a winner…everything else works fine.

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Thanks for that information @bsharp77 . When I read the reviews I felt Watt Bike were the sort of company that would respond well to feedback. An Atom isn’t in my near future so maybe there will be a v2 by then.