The KICKR RUN: A Game-Changing Treadmill

Wahoo Fitness launched a treadmill this morning that offers much more than you could imagine just by it looking at it. Yes, it inclines and you can run a 4-minute mile on it. That’s great, but I’ve got a treadmill that does that and it’s nothing unique.

What the KICKR RUN Smart Treadmill does is automatically, and immediately, adjust its speed based on your proximity to the treadmill’s electronics and dashboard. The treadmill’s “high-speed motor reacts in milliseconds to your position on the running surface.” This is called the RunFree Mode and it works as follows.

Imagine you are drifting backward on the treadmill’s run surface. This unit slows down. But only enough to keep you in the center of the run surface. If you creep forward, the treadmill speeds up. It manages this through what it calls its “time-of-flight” sensor. While I have not run on this treadmill – it debuts at the Boston Run Show beginning this weekend – I have interviewed those who have and they rave about its performance. (We’ll test this for ourselves as our editorial team demos this device at that show in Boston.)

This means you don’t have to control the treadmill’s velocity through buttons or dials. You just run. The treadmill takes care of the rest. (It has a velocity control if you need it, but you rarely need it.)

The biggest implication, for Slowtwitchers, is Zwift Run. Zwift has never allowed the game to influence treadmill behavior. Plus, treadmill makers have never let the game control their treadmills. Interestingly, it was Wahoo that first almost made that possible. It developed a almost a decade ago and later sold to North Pole Engineering, which that company calls the GEMRetro. It connected to a treadmill’s CSAFE port and made a dumb treadmill smart, by giving Bluetooth connectivity to – say – an AppleTV running Zwift. But Zwift would not allow the game to be in control of a treadmill. That was a unrealized hope.

The KICKR Run finally licks the problem in a much more precise, robust, fun and safe way, through RunFree. As Zwift runners encounter a change in elevation, the KICKR RUN, for the first time, actually inclines correspondingly. With any other treadmill this would require the need to slow the treadmill down, manually. Not so with this treadmill. Your proximity on the run platform tells the treadmill to moderate its pace. It finally solve the problem keeping Zwift Run from the same functionality enjoyed by those of us who cycle on Zwift.

This treadmill also features a “lateral tilting capability” and on this I’m less clear. (More on this as we begin a thread on our Reader Forum, for those who test this treadmill and can comment on its function.)

Just as Tesla became a car conceived through the lens of Silicon Valley rather than Detroit, treadmills have always – to me, as I spoke to these companies – appeared like a smokestack economy in their approach to their industry. The KICKR RUN seems like a Silicon Valley approach to the industry. I expect this device to work much like the others in Wahoo’s ecosystem and that ecosystem has always been Wahoo’s secret weapon. Device charging, USB-C ports, WiFi connectivity an easy integration with Wahoo SYSTM and Zwift Run are of course part of the feature set.

When you talk to Zwift developers they call their product "the Game." For all its promise it has never caught on in running as it might’ve, because the Game has lacked a dimension. Literally. The 2D Game has become 3D. With Zwift, the Game has always been a-pedal. Now, the Game is afoot.

This should place pressure on other platforms and on treadmill companies. Wahoo + Zwift = a 3D, fully immersive in-game stationary running experience. It will also put pressure on Zwift to fast track the development of more run-friendly courses. For example, my favorite run course in Zwift was Repack Ridge and that course has since been retired from the Game. Zwift could perhaps bring this back if only as a Run route. It will also need to engage runners with courses that begin at the point where off-road and elevation changes take place in Zwift.

The KICKR RUN’s RunFree mode is important and impactful in its own right, game or no game. But it’s a terribly important moment in treadmill development, as it unlocks the gamification of stationary running.

The price of the unit has not yet been revealed (DC Rainmaker suggests $5,000). Here’s more on the KICKR RUN at Wahoo’s own site.