(The Gear Loop) - There’s something deeply satisfying about walking in to a room and seeing a prized road bike fully assembled and ready to ride.
Wahoo’s latest Kickr Rollr allows for exactly this scenario, as rather than removing the rear wheel and bolting it on to a smart trainer’s built-in rear cassette, you simply slide said bike’s wheel on to a set of rollers and clamp the the front wheel in place.
Et voila! One stunning and rather professional looking set-up that’s not only safer than traditional rollers (anyone who has tried them most certainly has fallen off at some point), but also benefits from all of the connected facets of a modern smart trainer.
However, with a lack of built-in power meter, the system falls behind some of its "wheel-on" smart trainer rivals and proves a bit of a pain if virtual training and racing is your cup of tea.
Wahoo's interesting take on a smart roller system certainly looks the business and proves easy to set-up, dismantle and swap various bikes in and out. But unfortunately, it’s not as gloriously simple as a set of "dumb" rollers, nor is it as good as the latest batch of smart trainers. A lack of power, speed and cadence sensors, the inability to simulate steep climbs, potential rear tyre wear and a noisy riding experience means we would be tempted to plump for Wahoo's (or a rival's) moire affordable "wheel-on" smart trainers instead.
Wahoo Kickr Rollr
- Rollr system is easy to set-up
- Can be used without power supply
- Smooth ride feel
- Power meters sold separately
- Takes up a lot of space
- Powrlink Zero Speedplay pedals are overly complicated
In the Loop
Everything you need to know about the Wahoo Kickr Rollr in brief:
- Wheel size: 700c up to 2.1 in wide
- Wireless tech: Ant+, Bluetooth, Ant+ FE-C
- Electromagnetic resistance
- Flywheel: 10.5lbs (4.7kg)
- Max power output: 1500W
- Footprint: 80cm (31.5in) x 170cm (67in) in longest configuration
- Weight: 23kg
Features and set-up
First thing to note is that the Kickr Rollr comes in a very large and very heavy box. There’s a lot of cardboard, plastic and polystyrene to get rid of, while the Wahoo box itself is a real pain to store if you’re the type to keep packaging just in case.
That said, the system itself isn’t overly massive and it comes pretty much ready-assembled, with the user required to attach the front and rear sections, screw in two bolts and then plug the whole thing into the wall.
With power, the familiar-looking Wahoo flywheel that’s attached to the two metal rollers at the rear will act as a controllable, using Ant+ and/or Bluetooth to connect to smartphones, tablets and desktops for use with a variety of virtual training platforms and apps.
Anyone familiar with pairing smart trainers to things like Zwift or Trainer Road will be familiar with the protocol and we found it all very easy to get things going on our desktop set-up. Although you will have to invest in an additional table (see pic above) for housing a tablet or smartphone.
That said, users will be limited to very basic training unless they add a power meter to proceedings. This can be something you might already have attached to your bike, you may own power pedals or a system that’s built in to the cranks of modern, electronically-shifting group sets.
Wahoo offers its own Powrlink Zero Speedplay pedals as a purchase bundle, which would be great if they weren’t such a faff to set up and a pain to use. But we will get on to that later.
Perhaps the most obvious thing that sets the Kickr Rollr apart from other roller systems is the ability to clamp the front wheel in place, which not only makes it much easier to get on and off the bike, it also negates any need to perfect balance and the fine art of using traditional rollers.
The front section neatly fold flat for storage, too, and it’s very easy to disconnect the front and rear sections if you’re chucking it in the car to use as a warm-up system when racing.
The rear rollers also mean that most road and gravel bikes with 700c wheels will fit, without the need to ensure your groupset is compatible and potentially making minor but very annoying tweaks to gear indexing etc.
Despite the ability to adjust the length of the system to suit varying frame sizes, the set-up won’t accommodate bikes with smaller wheels and beefy suspension, which could rule out use with some mountain bikes. The Wahoo Kickr Rollr also isn't compatible with Kickr Climb incline simulator.
Wahoo was unable to build a power meter into its Kickr Rollr set-up, so accurate readings are going to be down to whatever you have built into your bike. Without this, you won’t be able to use Zwift, Trainer Road or Wahoo’s own Systm app effectively.
Thankfully, we also got hold of the Powrlink Zero Speedplay pedals to bolt on, which easily connect to the Wahoo app and quickly become recognised as part of the Rollr system as a whole when connecting to third party apps.
Admittedly, we have not had much experience with lauded Zero Speedplay system and wholeheartedly feel they are the most contrived and complex things on the planet.
Simply bolting the cleats onto the bottom of the shoe requires a multi-page instruction manual and the patience to deal with numerous tiny screws. Once fitted, the cleats are bulky and awkward (although easy to walk in), while adjusting float is a trial and error pain in the bum that requires taking the shoes on and off multiple times.
Even when happy with the set-up, we found clipping in and out of these clipless wonders took a lot of getting used to. Part of the appeal is that the dual-entry pedals allow the feet to find a more natural position, but they are going to divide opinion regardless. We'll stick with shimano, thanks.
Performance and ride feel
Cycling fans have to part with big sums of money to get a truly realistic and accurate smart trainer, with the likes of Wahoo’s own Kickr and the Tacx Neo 2T both costing around the £1,000 mark.
Tacx is one of the longest serving indoor trainer manufacturers and its Neo 2T is arguably up there with some of the best you can buy, offering a realistic rocking motion at the rear and the ability to simulate different road surfaces through the trainer.
But the Wahoo Kickr Rollr arguably goes that one step further and offers the kind of smooth rolling and natural lateral sway that you can only get from riding on the road... or on rollers.
Ramping up power is silky smooth, sprinting out of the saddle is safe and comfortable, while spinning the legs at frantic cadences is easy. In fact, the trainer, flywheel and rear rollers cleverly match and react to whatever inputs you make and prove more comfortable to use over extended training sessions.
If only it were slightly quieter, it could take the crown as one of the best and most natural feeling indoor trainers out there, but it’s not, and it makes a fair old racket, so warn your housemates before buying.
That’s not where the issues end for us either, as a huge majority will be using their indoor trainers with virtual software and we found the need to supply your own power meter a bit of a farce, especially considering Wahoo’s Kickr Snap offers something built-in and has the same flywheel and resistance settings for half the price.
On the subject of resistance, the 10.5lbs (4.7kg) flywheel used here provides 1500W of max power output and can only simulate gradients of 10 per cent. The Kickr, by comparison pumps out 2200W and doubles that max incline simulation.
So, if you’re a fan of realistic climbing via Zwift and the like, you’re going to have to adjust the Trainer Difficulty to max in the game to ensure it uses the Rollr’s maximum outputs and you actually feel those hills in your thighs.
We get it. We understand the convenience of being able to swap in any road or gravel bike you desire, without the faff of taking off the rear wheel, messing with thru-axles and generally getting oily digits. We also understand the realistic road feel, the ability to smoothly crank up the wattage, go hell for leather and the ease at which you can unclip a favoured bicycle and head out into the wild. We also get the handsome looks, even if it requires a large space to house them. Our biggest bugbear surrounds the price, especially if you have to purchase a power meter as well. It’s very expensive when you compare it to Tacx, Elite and even Wahoo’s other "wheel-on" indoor trainers, and most of those are more powerful and have built-in speed, cadence and power sensors, making them immediately superior for use with virtual training platforms.