(The Gear Loop) - The advent of software like Zwift, TrainerRoad and SufferFest have made indoor cycling training infinitely more enjoyable, but take a straw poll on the subject and it’s highly likely you’ll find most still prefer getting outdoors on a real bike.
That’s all well and good, but the frigid winter months force most dedicated roadies indoors, where an indoor smart trainer or turbo trainer is a necessity to keep up a good level of bike fitness. Simply wheeling your existing machine onto one of these things is one option, but having a dedicated set up like the Tacx Neo Bike, Wahoo Kickr Bike or Wattbike Atom is arguably the finest way to train.
Here, we’ve been testing Garmin’s Tacx Neo Bike Plus - an update on its existing and very popular static bike that sees things like revamped ergonomics, customisable electronic shifting and increased USB port power added to the overall package.
Alas, you’ll be asked to part with an additional £1200 for the pleasure. So are these changes really worth it? We’ve been busy shielding from the cold to find the answer.
Garmin and Tacx have worked very hard to create an indoor cycling experience that feels realistic, with impressive road feel and palpable gear changes to name just a few. As you would expect, it works with all of the major indoor training apps and software, offers a quiet riding experience and proves nicely customisable for multiple users. It’s so very expensive and we don’t feel the updates are totally worth the hefty price hike.
Tacx Neo Bike Plus
- Mimics road feel
- Highly customisable
- Takes indoor training up a level
- Fans are noisier than flywheel
- Not the neatest design
- Why is it so much more expensive?
In the Loop
Everything you need to know about the Tacx Neo Bike Plus in brief:
- Can be used with or without power
- Zero-calibration required
- Dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart support
- Max incline: 25 per cent
- Max power: 2,200W
- Power accuracy of +/-1 per cent
- Five crank positions
- Adjustability of seat post, bars and saddle itself
- Simulates road feel (cobbles, dirt and cattle grids)
- Simulates gear changes from three major manufacturers
Styling and features
On the surface, not much appears to have changed with the Tacx Neo Bike Plus. It still comes in the same gigantic box, it still requires manual assembly and it still looks largely the same as its outgoing model once you’ve spent 30 minutes or so bolting the brute together.
It weighs 50kg in total, so don’t expect to be picking it up and moving it around the house. Instead, it has casters at the rear, but it still takes some effort to find and appropriate place to lift it and wheel it.
This is because the design of the Tacx Neo Bike Plus sees much of the functionality weighted towards the front. Ahead of the redesigned handlebars (more on those later), you’ll find a tray for holding stuff, a 4.5-inch display that shows performance stats and then two protruding fans for cooling.
To these eyes at least, it looks a little odd and certainly isn’t as svelte as the Wattbike Atom, nor as streamlined and functional as the Wahoo Kickr Bike. Plus, as we previously mentioned, it makes it a pig to move around, as there’s no obvious (read non-delicate) place to grab and lift without squatting under the protruding fans and either lifting by the bars or the bike’s legs - a recipe for a pulled back muscle.
Aside from this, the general styling and layout is very similar to the previous generation model, which leads us nicely on to…
Dig a little deeper and you’ll notice that Garmin/Tacx has added a number of upgraded or completely new features. The first and arguably most important is the improved ergonomics and added adjustability.
Crank length options are now up from three to five, with swaps as simples as unscrewing your pedals and mounting them in a new position on the beefy cranks. It’s all labelled, so super easy to get this right.
What’s more, the handlebars, shifters and brake levers (?!) are now more realistic than ever, cleverly mimicking the lever set-up you’d find on something like a Shimano Di2 groupset.
The seat post has also been shaved so it is slimmer, reducing the risk of leg rub that some customers complained of on the previous iteration.
There is also increased USB port power, with two options discreetly stashed underneath the storage tray offering 2.5W or 12.5W outputs, so you can now power thirsty tablets and other high-performance devices.
Finally, it is also now possible to head into the Garmin Tacx Training accompanying app and customise the way the shifting feels, selecting from Shimano, SRAM, and Campagnolo, which is insane when you think about it, but is really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to "realism" features. The bike also simulates various road surfaces, from cobbles to cattle grids.
That said, it doesn't support Zwift steering, nor is there any of the side swaying you find when you add Motion Plates to some of the Tacx Neo products.
Cleverly, the Tacx Neo Bike Plus can be used without power and, if you’re willing to sacrifice some of the controllable aspects when using software like Zwift, offers a perfectly good and adjustable workout wherever you are.
This is because your pedalling essentially generates enough power to run the onboard performance stats display, as well as allow for gear changes and increases in simulated gradients from the various buttons on the shifters.
That said, most are going to plug it in to get the full experience and power output, pairing it with a favoured third party app for a truly virtual experience.
Garmin offers its own in the Tacx Training app, but it’s fairly basic compared to the paid-for competition. Here, you get several training programmes, a handful of challenges and the ability to ride "real tours" of places like the Netherlands, Mallorca and parts of the United States, but it’s really just watching a first person video of a car or bike crawling said route.
The gradient of the course itself will see the Tacx Neo Bike Plus adjust its resistance for a realistic feel, while riding over cobbles, rutted terrain, bridges and cattle grids results in a vibration through the cranks that adds to the realism, but it isn’t as immersive as something like Zwift. But it all syncs nicely to the Garmin Connect ecosystem if you're already deep in that with other sports and activities.
Also, Garmin's virtual riding videos looks terrible on a smartphone - you really need a large tablet to do it any sort of justice.
On that note, the Tacx Neo Bike Plus comes with a rubber clip and mount at the front that’s easily adjusted for various sizes of tablet and there’s the aforementioned USB ports underneath to keep things charged. Bear in mind, you have to be using the bike to ensure these ports are active, so don’t expect to leave your device charging overnight.
Pair it with a favoured training app and the bike really comes alive, offering an incredibly powerful and realistic riding experience with supremely accurate power outputs.
There is barely any lag in resistance changes when using something like Zwift and cycling through the gears is about as close to real life as you get. Attempt to swap cogs when stamping on the pedals and you’ll feel a real tangible kick as the gears change. Be smoother with the shifting and the bike sort of rewards your efforts with a smoother change. Really clever stuff.
The bike itself is very stable and will easily handle the hardest of sprints, while those ugly fans on the front provide a good level of cooling. Their speed and intensity is directly linked to your effort through the cranks, but they may not be powerful for those warmer sessions or for those with well insulated pain caves.
The Tacx Neo Bike Plus offers an impressively realistic indoor training experience that syncs effortlessly to a plethora of third party apps and software. It’s powerful, smooth and very quiet compared to indoor trainer competition, while the adjustability makes it suitable for multiple users in a household. That said, it’s fantastically expensive and ridiculously pricey compared to the outgoing model. The changes on the Plus are welcome, but hardly worth the extra £1200 in our opinion.