The Tacx Neo Smart direct drive trainer is one of most sophisticated available, though it is one of the most expensive and has a very large footprint
The Tacx Neo was a few years ago the best turbo trainer you could buy. It came with ‘the best turbo trainer money can buy’ price tag too. However, the likes of Wahoo, CycleOps and Elite now produce some decent competition for it for less money – all direct-drive, smart turbos too.
Direct-drive turbos currently offer the most realistic road feel compared to wheel-on trainers. The downside, however, is that they are generally more expensive, mainly for being ‘smart’ trainers offering power readings and being controllable by programs like Zwift.
The main issue with ‘wheel on’ trainers is that the rear wheel and tyre can wear and tyre slippage is an issue when going full gas. I’ve even punctured on the turbo before!
Included with the Tacx Neo is a front riser block, power socket and transformer, Edco lockrings and a quick release skewer. Tacx’s website has a list of compatible bikes if you are wondering, and the latest model will fit disc-brake bikes.
Note that a cassette is not included, meaning you will have to fit one of your own. Fortunately the Tacx Neo freehub is Edco, meaning that it is both Campagnolo and Shimano/SRAM compatible, unlike the Wahoo Kickr, which is just Shimano/SRAM compatible.
Wahoo will include a cassette pre-installed though – a minus point for the Tacx Neo here.
The transformer for the Tacx Neo is dual voltage, meaning it works in any region too, which is useful if you want to take it abroad.
The Tacx Neo is very easy to set up. Folding down the wings, waiting for the ‘wings’ to click into place and you’re ready to install cassette/ride.
The problem is how wide it sits – 750 x 575mm – and although this means a very stable base, one of the best I might add, it isn’t particularly London-flat friendly. It is also hard to move around because it has no natural way of holding it – there’s no handle to hold – and it weighs a hell of a lot: 22kg!
That means when folding this beast away you can frequently catch your hands or have a sudden drop of weight on you while hunched down. The release clips are at the bottom and if you release one side the Tacx Neo has a habit of falling to one side or release both and you’ve got a huge weight to bear until you try and softly place it down. Nightmare.
Other competitors like the CycleOps Hammer are better in this regard and so is the Wahoo, which is much easier to manoeuvre.
Like the Wahoo Kickr, the Tacx Neo is very quiet making it ideal for those who have thin walls or shared living. Having tested both, the Wahoo is slightly quieter I’d say. Mainly because of the ‘road surface simulation’, which replicates cobbles or wooden slats that you’ll come across these on the Zwift platform for example, it is noisier and that’s rather annoying.
Though without that feature there isn’t much between the two turbos.
A nice feature of the Tacx Neo is you can use it when it’s not plugged in. Pedal for a few seconds and it turns itself on using a dynamo, albeit with reduced functionality, something which makes it very useful for taking to races and warming up on. By comparison, the Kickr has to be plugged in for use.
Once plugged in, you can make use of the Tacx Neo’s full hardware features, controlling it in the iOS or Android apps available for smart phones and tablets.
I used the iPhone app, which allowed me to manually control the both the slope from -5 per cent to 25 per cent. In addition to this you can set a specific wattage to ride to.
This is really useful if you want to do an interval at a specified wattage – you just concentrate on turning the pedals and the Tacx Neo will adjust the resistance to match your chosen cadence. I really like this setting as it means you can watch a film and not have to stare at the numbers constantly.
The Wahoo Kickr can also perform this ergo function too. I have found the Wahoo software to be better than Tacx’s though, particularly when trying to export ride data into Training Peaks or Strava.
The Neo is better for performing out-of-the saddle efforts than the Wahoo Kickr. When riding the Kickr out the saddle, I felt I was going to damage my frame, whereas the Neo has some built in lateral movement to aid standing on the pedals. I wouldn’t recommend sprint efforts on it, but for gassing it on short climbs the Tacx Neo is better than the Kickr.
Video: Turbo trainer guide
Accuracy is good: compared with on-bike power meters, readings remained constant.
Pedal-based power meters like the PowerTap P1s or the crank-based system like the Quarq DZero will not include drivetrain wastage, which will be around four or five watts lost compared with the Tacx Neo reading – and that showed.
When doing high-power efforts the power readings were consistent too, a good sign of reliability and durability of the unit.
The Neo, unlike any other turbo we’ve tested, is self-calibrating. This means that you don’t have to perform a zero offset like you do with many power meters and turbo trainers. Wahoo for example will want you to complete a weekly spin-down test to ensure correct calibration.
Bluetooth and ANT+ connectivity means you can connect the trainer wirelessly with your computer or phone and ride along downloaded courses or complete training sessions. That of course also allows you to use third party apps such as Zwift.
Having used the Tacx Neo with Zwift, the unit adjusts the resistance to simulate what is happening on screen, and is brilliant at simulating the changing gradients, recreating the feel of anything between a 20 per cent uphill slope to a -5 per cent downhill slope.
If virtual reality training is your thing, then this is a superb tool.
However, another disappointment is that the Tacx Neo is not directly compatible with thru-axles. You’ll need to purchase a quick-release adapter to use with 12x142mm bolt-thru bikes, which has become of a standard on the road.
The Hammer and the Kickr both support thru-axles and supply the relevant adapters. That entails just a quick swap of the cones on either side.
To sum up, the Neo is a little outdated now. It once was the market leader but the likes of Elite, CycleOps and Wahoo have now come to the fore and provide equal performance with better compatibility at a cheaper price too.
However the Tacx Neo remains one of the better ones for riding and that large flywheel offers good ride quality.
The Tacx Neo is a great piece of hardware that has a really realistic ride feel and is fairly quiet, though the added feel of the 'road surface simulation' on Zwift means it isn’t the quietest we’ve tested overall. If a realistic feel is important to you, then this is a great option. The Tacx Neo is sophisticated but the likes of Wahoo, CycleOps and Elite have caught up now. Time for an update from Tacx.