Wahoo is unique in that it offers 3 wholly different platforms for how to ride stationary, all of which are “smart” and each of which has its mission. Cost and ride quality do not scale together in this case. For example, if I’m riding tri indoors I’m happier on a ROLLR than I am trying to get a KICKR Bike set up for aero position riding. Cost no object, the ROLLR is better than the KICKR Bike, even though I buy 5 KICKR ROLLRs for the cost of 1 KICKR Bike. As someone who’s ridden quite a bit on all these platforms each one is optimized for particular use cases.
I’m a big supporter of the smart bike. Any smart bike, really. I like them all, but the Wahoo KICKR Bike has been ahead of the curve by offering a number of features not available from Tacx or Stages, most notably ascend/descend. But does that feature matter?
Let’s step back a bit to say that there are 3 things that make an indoor cycling experience more lifelike: steering; motion platforms; and incline. Steering has mostly been an Elite thing, that is, of the Big 4 trainer makers (Wahoo, Tacx, Saris, Elite) that latter company came out with the STERZO Smart and that lets your trainer steer in any game where steering is enabled (e.g., Zwift). Wahoo offers steering but only on its KICKR Bike. Steering is a bigger deal with offroading in Zwift than for, say, tri bike riding.
Motion platforms, a number of companies have them, and to enjoy the whole enchilada Lucy Charles-Barclay famously put her Wahoo KICKR Bike on a Saris MP1 platform. Wahoo’s KICKR has the Axis Action Feet and they’re simple but pretty effective as a proxy for a motion platform. They’re better than platforms that don’t offer damping in their side-to-side motion (in my opinion). The Axis Action Feet (pictured above) are just about right for tri bike riding where there is no sprinting and very little out of the saddle riding.
Finally, we get to rotation around the sagittal plane which is a fancy way of saying incline. Nobody has this but Wahoo and if you want this should you get it via the KICKR Bike or via the Climb (that's a KICKR Climb above that my bike is mounted on, with a Wahoo Headwind in front of it)? Why mess around with the KICKR plus the Climb when you can just get the KICKR Bike?
After all, the bike has so much more going for it: virtual gearing (choose any gear combo you want); never a miss a gear; change your position and optimizing it (if you want) indoor pursuant to making changes on your outdoor bike; and then of course you keep your outdoor bike for outdoor riding (no taking the bike on and off the trainer).
Well, for one thing, money. Upsy-downsy is available via the Climb at a much cheaper price, $600, if you already have a conforming smart trainer. Let’s say you don’t have one of those. A KICKR, the latest model which is Version 6, sells for $1,300. A Wahoo KICKR Bike sells for about $4,000, so you could get a his & hers pain cave set up with incline (2 new KICKRs + 2 Climbs) for the cost of one KICKR Bike. Me? I’m all about the KICKR Bike for all the reasons I’ve laid out in numerous articles past but money doesn't grow on trees and that's why I don't own a KICKR BIKE.
Economy is a good reason to go the route of the Climb, and KICKRs made over the past 5 or so years (KICKR 2018, V5 and V6) are all compatible with the CLIMB (as well as the CORE and the Snap made over the same time period, since 2017). But there is a rationale for the KICKR + CLIMB beyond the cost. Here’s what tips the scale in favor of the KICKR + Climb for many here: if you like to ride your indoor in the aero position. Mind, it should be in the aero position or you’re better off on a road bike. But if you feel that the tri position is the best way to train indoors smart bikes are just horrible for that. Stages has a bar-end shifting option, but you can’t put pursuits on smart bikes because of all the electronics baked into the road shifters. I just haven’t found an elegant way to ride aero on a smart bike.
This is where standalone smart trainers are superior to smart bikes. You might not find the Climb a compelling addition to your pain cave if you’re riding in the aero position, but I still like it. For as long as there’s been a Slowtwitch (we’re in year-24) I’ve been the outlier on what I feel is the most efficient way to climb on a tri bike. With incline as part of your indoor experience you can put this to the test, especially with Zwift’s holographic feature recently launched. You can ride up Alpe Du Zwift on a tri bike ascending the way you want to, and then try it again riding “with” the prior you, this time asending the way I think you should. (We can see if I'm right, or if I'm full of horsepucky.)
Finally, there is Wahoo’s KICKR ROLLR (pictured above). It’s pretty cheap compared to certain other options; you get to ride your real bike; no disassembly required so you get to also use your real bike as your real bike (on the road); and you get a little bit of the life-likeness of riding on a platform, since the rear wheel can scoot back and forth on the mandrel in the rear. The KICKR ROLLR is a vastly underappreciated unit, especially as it’s sold for between $700 and $800. It may be the best smart option for those who want to ride indoor on a tri bike. The one thing I’d do is put a junky front wheel on your tri bike – the more metal the better, the heavier the better. You're probably fine regardless of the wheel you choose, but out of the abundance of caution, better this than your carbon aero wheel and that's because of how your bike remains upright in the ROLLR, shown in this image below.
The KICKR ROLLR has no upsy-downsy and there’s no way to put incline into that unit. Nevertheless last winter I found myself getting onto the Wahoo KICKR ROLLR as often as I got onto any other trainer in my pain cave.
If you’re in the market for new smart training hardware think about what matters to you. If you’re going to ride aero indoors, then two things necessarily follow: a smart bike is not a good choice; and your big screen needs to be near the ground. This means a TV stand that has rotation in an axis that few do (I did find some that fit the bill). If incline matters to you, the Climb is much cheaper than getting a KICKR Bike (as much as I love smart bikes). The Climb also allows you to ride your own bike and if you’re testing saddles and positions while riding both on the flat and up a hill a KICKR + a Climb is pretty effective for this.