December 28, 2012 by IowaTriBob
With my first off season officially started I’ve tried to stay outside on the bike and run as long as possible. Unfortunately the Iowa weather took a turn for the worse earlier this month and we got hit by our first winter storm that left several inches of snow on the roads and trails. Although I’ve found I can still enjoy a good run outside, road biking is out of the question for me. So indoors I headed with the goal to find a great indoor solution that can help me not only maintain but improve my biking over the winter months.
My first thought was to just use the local YMCA’s stationary bikes and maybe even pick up a spin class or two to keep me going. However I quickly realized that this just wouldn’t work for me. The bike setup just didn’t feel the same and the workouts themselves seemed more focused on getting a good sweat on vs. working on particular skills and endurance that would help me improve my bike leg going into next season.
This led me to begin looking at indoor bike trainers that allow you to use your bike and ride in the comfort of your own home. There are numerous models available including simple rollers to mechanical trainers (consisting of wind, magnetic, and fluid types). Popular brands include CycleOps, Elite, Kinetic, and Minoura.
Although the mechanical trainers were more in line with what I was looking for I really wanted to find something that would help me determine my ride statistics, help me understand my power output, allow me to program in workouts such as hills or intervals, and provide some entertainment value as I plan to spend countless hours in the saddle. This really narrowed the field down to two choices for me; Computrainer and Tacx.
Both systems are similarly priced (and quite pricey I must admit) with the Computrainer Pro at $1629.00 and the Tacx i-Genius Multiplayer at $1595.00.
Both the Computrainer and Tacx systems share several features including:
- Displaying and saving multiple ride metrics such as speed, power, cadence, heart rate, and distance.
- Virtual reality modes that let you see the terrain you’re riding and race against a virtual training partner (or yourself if you’ve previously saved a ride).
- Real life video modes allowing you to ride on actual video recorded routes and races.
- The ability to create your own programs, routes, and workouts that the trainers will automatically run so you can just enjoy the ride.
The Tacx system has some distinct advantages including:
- Its designed as a Virtual Reality trainer with excellent graphics and ride simulations. This fact is apparent just by visiting their website (especially compared to the Computrainer website).
- Wireless controls and ANT+ integration stop you from having cords along your bike or on the floor.
- Integrated brake system on the resistance motor including a downhill drive to simulate a downhill section.
- The ability to steer as your riding a course or virtual session.
- Race real-time with others over the Internet.
Although fewer, the Computrainer has some of its own advantages as well, including:
- SpinScan technology that analyzes your pedal stroke efficiency.
- Proven and rock solid equipment that has been the standard for years.
- A solid following by many of the coaches and elite riders allowing easy to find pre-built training programs and integration with existing training platforms.
Just on research and website reviews alone, Tacx would seem to have a clear cut advantage over Computrainer. Unfortunately for Tacx the real life issues begin to stack up pretty fast. In researching further I could find nothing but complaint after complaint on the Tacx Training Software (TTS). There have been numerous versions with 4.4 out in late November and 4.5 just released this month. Regardless of the version the issues continue to remain the same; the software is buggy at best and doesn’t work for a large number of customers. Even in DC Rainmakers review he had to stop as he encountered and error message shortly into the review process. Other users have posted:
“Now buggy software is something we are all used to, but imagine you are 30, 40, or 80 minutes into a 2 hour training ride, and all of the sudden the Tacx craps out on you. You lose your training data, and your computer crashes, causing you to prematurely stop your workout. Of course this presumes that you are lucky enough to actually get the software running — because that in itself can be miraculous depending on what version of TTS you are running.”
“So I upgraded to TTS 4.5. I’ve just done another GPS ride and went to stop the ride close to the end and guess what? The !*%£”!* thing CRASHED AGAIN and lost all the ride data! AARRRGGGHHHH! I’m sitting here now, dripping with sweat, steaming with anger. It’s a real challenge to keep my language in the polite zone! The whole thing, Fortuis, TTS, etc is completely worthless if ride data is lost. It’s simply an outrageous shortcoming of some very crappy software.”
“I’ve been using TTS for years. I’ve seen most TTS 2.x versions, pretty much all of the TT3.x versions and now TTS 4. The common theme remains that the TTS software is behaviourally unstable.”
Now the last thing I want to do is to spend this type of money on a trainer only to have to deal with troubleshooting issues and support nightmares. For me this made the choice pretty easy – Computrainer Pro.
The Computrainer might not have some of the fancy bells and whistles or graphics that the Tacx system has but it’s a proven trainer and is considered the standard in performance and improvements by most. It has a large following and very few support issues or complaints that seem to not get addressed quickly. I’d much rather focus my time on riding and measuring progress than becoming a beta tester or hoping that every ride finishes and saves properly.
Armed with the above data and hours and hours of research, I placed my order with Santa earlier this month and had the Computrainer Pro arrive yesterday. I’ll post on my setup experience and first couple of rides soon….