Tacx Vortex Smart interactive turbo trainer - review - Road Cycling UK

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Tacx Vortex Smart interactive turbo trainer – review

Interactive turbo trainer with free app which will leave you few excuses come the race or sportive season

The Tacx Vortex Smart is one of three new interactive trainers from the Dutch firm for 2015. It has an electro-magnetic brake and a downloadable app to link the trainer with your smartphone, tablet or laptop/computer via Bluetooth or ANT+, bringing with it a host of features to spice up your indoor training.

The Vortex Smart (£399.99) sits between the Satori Smart (£299.99), which has a magnetic brake and, like the Vortex Smart, a maximum resistance of 950 watts, and the Bushido Smart (£624.99), which has an electric motor brake with a maximum resistance of 1,400 watts. All three are compatible with the Tacx training app.

Of course, you could always stay indoors…

On to the Vortex Smart and setup from the box is pretty straight forward. There’s a bit of a fiddle with two Allen key bolts to get the trainer set up up for 26″, 29″ or 700c wheels and that process could be simplified given the hi-tech features elsewhere, but it’s no great hassle.

You then drop the two supporting legs so the trainer sits firmly on the ground or training mat and the rubberised feed add more stability to an already robust structure. It’s not a complicated job and if you know your way around an Allen key then you’ll be fine.

The Vortex Smart is supplied with a front wheel stand which does exactly what it should – provide support and stability for your front wheel when you are burying yourself in a turbo session. The last thing you need to be doing is falling off.

The rear wheel is clamped in place using the usual quick release common with most turbo trainers, and ensures a rock solid and adjustable fit for most bikes.

Our test model also came with a training mat and turbo-specific tyre for your rear wheel, though these are both normally sold separately for £59.99 and £39.99 respectively.

The mat is grey (a practical colour considering the sweat it’s likely to soak up) and able to take a deluge of sweat. It should also be relatively easy to clean with a hose or jet wash once the time comes.

Meanwhile, the tyre is made from a firm solid blue rubber compound to save your regular softer tyres from being eaten up by the metal roller.

The tyre is easy to install without levers, which is handy if you only have one set of wheels and have to swap tyres, but if you have the budget for a turbo trainer in this range then a spare wheel (even second hand) to swap in specifically when using the turbo is well recommended.

Our test model also came with a training mat and turbo-specific tyre for your rear wheel, though these are both normally sold separately for £59.99 and £39.99 respectively.

We also received a tablet/smartphone holder (£34.99), which means you can have your device at your fingertips while training.

The clamp itself is a little fiddly to install onto the bars, and although very adaptable felt over-complicated compared to the very clean lines of the actual turbo trainer. A minor aside, but as a package, it’s something which could use some refining.

The mount which came with our trainer was a little fiddly to install – but that was one very minor gripe in what is an excellent all-round package

As the Vortex Smart is a electro-magnetic trainer, you need to plug it into a power source – something to consider if you want a turbo to use away from a plug socket, or to warm-up for a race.

  • Specification

  • Price: £399.99 (training tyre, mat and wheel stand sold separately)
    Website: Tacx
    UK distributor: Fisher Outdoor Leisure

Tacx is a Dutch firm (all of their turbo trainers are made in the Netherlands, as we saw during a factory tour in December 2013) but the plug comes with a three-prong adapter for the UK market. Plug it in, wait for the turbo’s LED to turn green to signify it has made a connection and you’re ready to go.

The app itself is fairly in-depth for a free download. To fully utilise the trainer’s features you need to use an iPad 3 or 4 (with up-to-date software), rather than a smartphone, which is only able to access limited features.

The app comes with one pre-installed training video (when using an iPad) and there are others to purchase and download, from the Spring Classics to mountain ranges.

Whether these are a distraction or an inspiration is more dependent on the aim of your session, but they do make for an additional element of interest when on the turbo for extended periods.

In use, you get counted down and the ride begins, with speed, watts, calories burned and time displayed. The whole system is clean, intuitive and effective, and while not a totally immersive experience, you can connect the iPad to a larger screen if you want to add to the scale and drama.

The app comes with one pre-installed training video (when using an iPad) and there are others to purchase and download

You can also ‘free train’, setting a slope (up to seven per cent), heart rate or wattage to train to. If you set heart rate or wattage then the trainer will automatically adjust the resistance to keep you within the relevant zone and hold you at that effort, which works well for structured training.

You can also create your own workouts, where the wattage increases or decreases at pre-set times, depending on your requirements for the session – ideal for intervals. These sessions can be saved for easy access next time you jump on the turbo. If you really want to put yourself through the mill then the app also has pre-installed fitness tests.

The Tacx reacts to your speed, increasing resistance as you speed up

Aside from all that, the Vortex Smart also works well as a stand-alone trainer when it isn’t connected to your smartphone, tablet or computer, reacting progressively to your speed.

This means that when your speed increases, the resistance increases as well, and this progressive approach makes for simple and effective (but nonetheless hard) turbo sessions. Realistically you could use the Vortex Smart as a standalone trainer until you have the relevant gadgets to make full use of its interactive features, but in reality that’s where the value lies.

When sat on the bike the turbo has a very planted feel and some casual rocking side-to-side out of the saddle produces no movement, with the structure itself solid and reliable.

The trainer has a maximum resistance of 950 watts (for a ten-second sprint, or 750 watts for a one-minute effort), so it’s likely to be a match for most riders. My first session was a nice ten-minute warm up, followed by a tabata pyramid for another ten minutes, with a warm down to finish. So far, so painful.

The feel of the Tacx Vortex Smart is really smooth and almost ‘not there’

The feel of the Tacx Vortex Smart is really smooth and almost ‘not there’ – quite a change from my old magnetic Tacx trainer.

The Vortex Smart’s interactive features and data feedback from sessions are really encouraging and helpful, and I found myself more inclined to do a turbo session when motivation is otherwise waning.

Riders with a structured training programme are particularly likely to appreciate the ability to create your own sessions to heart rate or wattage, and the videos also add another dimension and help to motivate you further.

Conclusion

The Tacx Vortex Smart makes a host of excellent interactive features available at a competitive price which, relatively speaking, isn’t going to break the bank. In terms of value, with a turbo trainer that often comes down to just how much you’re likely (or inclined) to use it.

However, the added features and interactive elements of the Vortex Smart are likely to encourage more frequent, structured training sessions, if my experience is anything to go by. As a package, it’ll leave you few excuses for not being on form come race or sportive season.

The interactive features of the Tacx Vortex Smart can be useful for boosting motivation

Pros

  • Robust, stable feel
  • Interactive features great for motivation
  • Unobtrusive feel to turbo when riding

Cons

  • Tablet/smartphone holder (sold separately) fiddly to install

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