We reviewed the original Bkool trainer in December 2012 and this Mk 2 version has an updated unit which is said to be quieter, more stable and more compact, and the online software has been overhauled, too.
When you unpack the Bkool, it comes with the electronic trainer (capable of reaching 1,200 watts), ANT+ key, power plug, skewer and front wheel riser block. The setup is very easy, you literally plug everything in, download the software onto a computer (Mac and Windows both supported), plug in the ANT+ USB key and you’re away.
What sets the Bkool apart from a regular turbo trainer are the simulator features. This is done through the software, which allows you to ride specific routes, shown either through a map, video or even 3D rendered graphics for most of the popular routes. These work well and when using the 3D option, you can see others who are riding the same route and ‘race’ against them. You can train with up to 100 other riders on a single route.
Bkool say there are hundreds of thousands of 3D routes available, so even the most ardent turbo users are unlikely to get bored. You choose any of these or create your own session.
Session goals can be set in a number of different ways, from training challenges to lose weight, to ride a certain distance or complete a course in a specified time. You can also choose the courses based on difficulty or length, and even set yourself virtual opponents who have certain skills or strengths.
This is all done through the website, then sent to the simulator app on your desktop, which wirelessly connects to the trainer via ANT+. This is good, but does mean that you need spend the time setting up a ride, rather than just jumping on the bike straight away.
The interactive and competitive element of the trainer is a strong selling point and I certainly found that competing against others made me want to use it and push myself even harder while training. It takes away the often laborious and dull element of riding indoors that comes with many traditional turbos, giving you a tangible reward and making if feel less like pedaling for the sake of it. Your position is also clearly displayed in the top left of the screen, complete with split distances, making you push that bit harder when you’re getting close to the ‘rider’ in front.
Virtual opponents are displayed as avatars on the screen, which you can see in the distance, and also see how far you are behind in the timing displays on the screen. To add to this, if you don’t want to overtake a rider straight away, you can catch their slipstream and make it slightly easier to pedal when behind them.
The way that information is displayed on the screen is very easy to digest. It shows your speed and power through the basic unit, and if you have the appropriate ANT+ sensors you can also see cadence and heart rate, too. This is particularly useful for those who are looking to improve their base performance ahead of the season. It also displays which heart rate or power zone you’re in to help you train specific areas, something that we here at RCUK have been big advocates of.
With the customisable training software on the website, you can see how much time you spent working in the correct training areas while also being able to see your personal bests, rankings when racing against others and average speeds. It allows for a complete data analysis option, which is particularly useful for establishing how much improvement you have made.
Away from 3D racing, the Bkool software also allows you to pit yourself hundreds of route videos, and, in the name of testing, we chose Alpe d’Huez. I can safely say that it gives you a painful reminder of how difficult the climb is. If your into pain and suffering then the Bkool has just that on tap, while if you’re training for a trip to the mountains or an Alpine sportive, then it will give you a virtual taste (and valuable training) of what to expect.
Due to the variation in gradient, you get the full experience of trying to overcome every part of the climb, in much the same way that you do when actually out on your bike. Often you find with some simulators that they will take an average gradient over a longer distance, but with this the variations can be over just a few metres, making it an intense and painful but rewarding experience.
Much of the performance of the software comes down to the speed of your internet connection. There’s some obvious lag if you’re connection isn’t up to scratch, but with a high speed connection I found that the interaction between the unit and the online interface was excellent. The software itself is free, but in order to use it fully you need to have a subscription, which is £6.50 or £8 per month, depending on whether you commit on an annual or monthly basis. The software can be used for free but this means a limit number of training sessions, no 3D rendering, more basic analytics and no video routes. As a result, if you really want to make full use of the Bkool’s interactive features then you need to subscribe, so it’s worth taking that cost into account. You can see all the free and premium features on the Bkool website.
The unit itself works well. One of the key aspects of any turbo trainer is the level of noise it creates, especially if you’re living in a flat or semi-detached house, and it can be embarrassing to have your neighbour knock on the door asking what the racket is about. Although we didn’t have access to precise measuring equipment to record sound levels, it was relatively easy to maintain a conversation with somebody in another room, even when turning the cranks fast.
The turbo weighs in at 11.6kg and attaching or removing the resistance unit from the frame is very easy. I found it particularly easy to store either in a cupboard or under a bed, which for those of us not blessed with a large house, is always an important aspect to consider.
The turbo feels very stable when riding in the saddle and, on this updated version, has added extensions on the ends of the arms on the trainer. It’s possible to stand when riding as well, but I found that it didn’t feel completely stable. Although it was never really in danger of toppling, I didn’t feel totally comfortable with the amount of movement.
The Bkool turbo trainer’s retail price of £429.99 makes it competitively priced for a turbo trainer of this quality that incorporates such a large quantity of features. The strong interactive elements add another aspect to indoor training, which certainly makes things more interesting and gave me a real impetus to use it, even after a long day at work.