It was like a perfect storm for the smart trainer market: Lockdown regulations due to Covid-19 forced everyone to say home and then allowed only limited outdoor exercise; and then winter arrived. We got very familiar with the Tacx Neo 2T over the past few months.
By Sean Badenhorst
With virtually a year-round outdoor-friendly climate, loads of stimulating mountain bike trails, a calendar with more than 700 cycling events and a nature-loving population, why would indoor training ever become more than niche in South Africa? March 2020: Cue Covid-19, a global pandemic and the ensuing government enforced lockdown and suddenly indoor training goes from niche to flippen essential!
The Tacx Neo 2T that had been set up for training –and eventually a review – in the corner of our dining area, gathering dust, suddenly became the most important device in our home. It got moved to the garage, which was unapologetically transformed from a car bedroom to a training room with the Neo 2 taking centre stage and the room being renamed ‘The Gain Cave’.
You can read in-depth reviews on the Neo 2T on a variety of specialist websites and blogs, where every tiny detail is discussed. But here are the key standouts for us:
Direct-drive trainers don’t come as direct at the Neo 2T. Excluding complete Smart Bikes, it’s the only trainer that has true direct drive. Others in the ‘direct drive’ category have a belt or rollers between the hub drive and the magnetic flywheel, but not the Neo 2T – it’s as direct as you can get. The cassette on the Neo 2 drives the motor unit that applies resistance.
Apparently, the Neo 2T is the quietest indoor trainer on the market. We haven’t ridden them all, but it’s certainly the quietist we have experienced. This isn’t so much a benefit for the rider (who usually has music in his/her ears), but the rider’s co-habitants.
It comes with a power cable, but it doesn’t need it, so you can use it anywhere. Ideal for those that need a trainer to warm up on before a race. However, if you want to experience the gyroscopic forces of freewheeling on a descent, then you need to have the power cable plugged in.
IT’S GOT GOOD RIDES
In the Taxcperience App, you get a wide range of rides and workouts you can do. The rides are real videos, which offer engagement/distraction. On Tacx Premium, which costs around R200 per month, you get many, many different rides, which include segments of famous UCI-level WorldTour races in France, Belgium, Italy and more. There are also structured training plans to suit all levels of rider as well as a few other useful indoor-training benefits like FTP tests and the ability to race live opponents.
With a range of skewers, spacers and adapters, you can fit road bikes as well as older and current (Boost width) mountain bikes. A word of caution though, when fitting a bike with disc brakes, be sure to check if there’s contact between the disc caliper mount and the Tacx Neo 2T body. Although ours didn’t, some callipers can touch. Using a washer, like a pedal washer, between the end cap and the bike frame can prevent this. We had a basic Shimano 105-fitted alloy road bike fitted. We switched fairly easily to a SRAM Eagle GX 1×12 mountain bike with a 32-tooth chainring, to get a feel for a mountain bike on the Neo 2T. Most online training apps are road-specific, so we found we were under-geared – significantly so at times – and reverted back to the road bike. But if you only have a mountain bike, you won’t know any different.
The Tacx Neo 2T is ANT+ FE-C, Bluetooth and FTMS compatible, so works with all devices, including smart phone, tablet, laptop or desktop computer. And it’s compatible with all the main indoor-training apps including Zwift.
Because it doesn’t have a flywheel, it doesn’t have a belt that requires calibration and is accurate to within 1%, according to Tacx. The Neo 2T doesn’t require any calibration. It can simulate a virtual flywheel up to 125kg in weight using it’s motor-operated resistance system and alters the feel to match the terrain. It offers up to 2200 Watts of resistance, which most of us cycling mortals will never reach…
IT’S NOT FULLY RIGID
Unlike most smart trainers, there are a couple of degrees of ‘play’ allowing the bike to lean slightly as you pedal out of the saddle.
You just need to fold the two leg sections and the Neo 2T is carriable. There’s no handle on it, but the hollowed out design of the legs gives you plenty of places to hold it.
Once set up, the Neo 2T covers an area of 75cm (long), 55cm (wide) and 58cm (tall). The stability is exactly how you’d want it to be. It never felt like it might topple or fold and this is under maximum effort out of the saddle on both a road bike and a mountain bike.
The electronics within the trainer allow the software to control and send different signals to the motor 1000 times per second! This is how it recreates the feel of different surfaces. When you’re riding on gravel, or cobbles or on wood in your App, the Neo 2T delivers the surface feel so that you really do feel like you’re riding on that surface. Even rough tar and gravel is translated exceptionally well.
Besides an excellent cadence sensor, which runs off contactless capacitive sensors built into the unit, the Tacx Neo 2T offers pedal stroke analysis via third party software or the software on a Garmin Edge device. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, we weren’t able to set this up, but will update this review once we have.
The Neo 2T has a ‘mood light’ underneath, which changes colour as your power increases. It starts out blue and changes as you reach higher watts, eventually reaching red. It’s not essential at all, but it is kind of cool.
The price ranges from R29 000 (as at mid-June 2020), making it the one of the most expensive smart trainers – the recent weakening of the Rand being the main reason. It doesn’t come with a cassette, which for some is fine because you might want your own gearing options. But, you need to factor this into your purchase. The Neo 2T freehub will work with Shimano, Campagnolo and SRAM cassettes, accommodating 8-, 9-, 10-, 11- and 12-speed set-ups.
TACX IN SOUTH AFRICA
The Tacx brand started out as a bike shop in the Netherlands, founded by Koos Tacx in 1957. In 1972 the family-run business started manufacturing rollers, which became the foundation for the company’s indoor-trainer direction. Almost everything Tacx produces is designed and manufactured in-house in the Netherlands, which goes against the grain of most indoor trainer brands – and cycling brands for that matter – that are manufactured in the East.
After being distributed in South Africa for many years by Coolheat Cycle Agencies, Tacx switched to MoreCycle as its South African distributor in 2018. But with the announcement in February 2019 that Garmin had acquired Tacx, the distribution, marketing and management of Tacx moved to Garmin South Africa.
Garmin SA’s first batch of Tacx product arrived in South Africa in mid-March, just before the Covid-19 Lockdown and promptly sold out within days. More stock has been arriving since, but due to a combination of increased global demand (with lockdowns in many countries) and Covid-19 related transport challenges, Tacx stock is landing in South Africa in smaller shipments currently.
Stores that stock Tacx in South Africa Tacx are:
Johannesburg North: Mellow Velo, Cycle Lab Fourways
Johannesburg East: Finish Line Cycles, Cycle Lab Boksburg
Pretoria: Hot Spot Cycles, Cycle Lab Lynnwood
Cape Town: Freewheel Cycology
Durbanville: Chris Willemse Cycles
Stellenbosch: Specialized Stellenbosch
Durban: Cycle Lab Cornubia
If you’re a committed cyclist or mountain biker that’s looking for an easy-to-use (and set up) high-performance smart trainer that offers an excellent outdoor ride simulation, you will be pleased with the Tacx Neo 2T, which, all things considered, is currently the benchmark of smart trainers.