Steve Shrubsall puts his hamburger habit on hold to tuck into Wattbike’s newest home trainer
As the nights draw in and the ebbing warmth of summer is replaced with an irksome north-easterly and intermittent drizzle, it only makes us human to take a look out the window and subconsciously start shaking our heads — this isn’t going to happen today, or possibly tomorrow. Hell, we may be found in here next spring having knocked the whole business on the head in exchange for a hamburger habit.
Yet technological advances have put paid to that little eventuality. It is, of course, now possible to close your door on the wind and rain and effectively train and even race in your home, garage, or shed — swapping the ambient conditions outside for a controlled and sheltered environment.
Naysayers will argue that you can’t replicate the sensation of turning a wheel outside, and that apps like Zwift are no substitute for riding in the great outdoors. No arguments here — that’s perfectly true, but when you emerge from the dark winter months with a VO2 max of 75, you’ll probably concur that there’s a place for indoor training.
Wattbike Atom: promising the earth
“The Atom is the most intuitive, intelligent and accurate indoor trainer on Earth,” asserts the back cover blurb for Wattbike’s newest creation.
Well, that’s handy, because here at Cycling Weekly we’re rather fond of the best bicycle-related products on the planet, and immediately got one in for testing to validate the Nottingham-based company’s claim.
First off, it’s heavy. Although at 44kg the Atom is 11kg lighter than the Wattbike Pro (a previous iteration), it certainly hasn’t been designed as a portable training tool, unlike turbo trainers or rollers which are compact in comparison and could easily be bundled into the boot of a car. So the Atom will need a home of its own, and despite the handy casters at the front of the base which take the weight of the unit when it’s tipped, you aren’t going to want to move it about much.
When you’ve located a likely spot, the set-up continues with a bike-fit. Saddle height covers a broad spectrum ranging from 59-85cm, while fore and aft is adjustable up to 8cm. The Atom also features fully adjustable handlebars with time trial extensions which neatly incorporate a shelf for your smart device — this will act as your screen.
There’s also the option of using your own (26mm) handlebars, and the toeclips and saddle that come with the Atom can easily be swapped for your own items.
Following the geometry tweaks it’s time to plug the bike in using the provided power pack, although the lead is a little on the short side so you’ll possibly need an extension unless you’re able to sidle up relatively close to a mains supply.
Then you’re ready to get connected. As mentioned, a smart device, either a tablet or a phone, will essentially be your head unit. Unlike the Wattbike Pro there is no built-in monitor, so in order for the Atom to actually work you’ll need to own one of these, and the bigger the better, unless you enjoy squinting.
Wattbike Atom: the ride
Initially, due to a lack of shed space, I set the Atom up in my house. This presented several potential issues, the primary one being — living in a mid-terrace — noise. Consulting the Wattbike website I was comforted that at 200 watts the Atom would emit some 70 decibels, putting it in line with the average washing machine. I would hopefully, however, be able to go a little harder than that, so family members and neighbours might have to bear the brunt should I manage to obtain WorldTour wattage for few fleeting moments.
My first ride was with the Wattbike app during which I virtually climbed Sa Calobra at circa 250W, anticipating thuds of protest on the kitchen wall as I ascended. But they didn’t transpire. My children failed to stir from their television-induced hypnosis while my wife said it sounded like an aggressive washing machine cycle — replete with the occasional anguished wail. My neighbours concurred — nary a peep.
I was now free to pedal with abandon. And this came in the form of a Zwift race which played out exactly as expected: hot, sweaty, thoroughly miserable — the key components of any race worth its salt.
Although there are myriad handholds, I spent most of the race clutching onto the tri-bar elbow pads, as I found this to be the optimum position to produce the most watts. While drafting, the hoods were effective and the drops worked well for sprints — the Atom is an extremely solid platform so you can be as boisterous as you like, with the potential to wind up some wattage PBs.
Using the time trial bars offers another position, particularly if you’re training for a race against the clock, but other than supporting my iPad they were more or less redundant.
Pedalling fluidity is second to none — the Atom apes the ride of a regular road bike to perfection, both in and out of the saddle. There was a delay in gear transitions, yes, but they are subtle and in a way preferable to the jolt of a rear derailleur.
Riding out of the saddle is a nice option and makes tackling those mountains on the Wattbike app a slightly more approachable proposition.
Indeed, having fairly recently ridden the real Alpe d’Huez, climbing the same mountain in my kitchen was a similarly challenging experience during which the hurt locker was stumbled upon and a familiar rhythm of sustainable suffering could be established — just swap snow-capped peaks for white goods and a vegetable rack.
Unlike Gear mode, which allows you to pedal as gently or as hard as you please, putting the Atom into Ergo mode means that you are bound to ride at a target wattage. Removing gears completely, riding in Ergo mode sees the bike adjust the magnetic resistance automatically, meaning that if you slow your cadence the resistance will increase, while the opposite occurs if you speed up. This allows you to reap the benefits of a flawless workout without having to think about it.
Wattbike Atom need to know
Gradients: 0-25 per cent
Wattage range: 0-2,000W
Connectivity: ANT+, BLE, Polar
Resistance type: Step motor driving
natural magnets to replicate the Wattbike power curve
Dimensions: 100cm (length), 50cm (width), 110cm (height to road bars), 150cm (height to tri-bars and tablet holder)
Rider size: 5ft-6ft 5in
Max rider weight: 135kg
Wattbike Atom connectivity and usability
Downloading the Wattbike app is a good start. By using the company’s in-house software you’ll become acquainted with the nuances of the machine and the riding features on offer. After this you can branch out into other training platforms like Trainer Road and Zwift for a more rounded and interactive indoor cycling experience. Connectivity between Atom and app doesn’t get more intuitive, with the hard and software promptly pairing up with minimal input from the user. Just turn on, strap up, and let rip. It really is that simple.
Once coupled with your smart device you can then select one of the 22 gears on the Atom and start pedalling, changing up or down either by shifters on the hoods of the handlebars (pretty much where you’d find them on a road bike) or on the smart device itself.
With 22 resistances to choose from, the shifts are subtle but not instantaneous, with a several-second delay separating each transition; not the kind of real-world performance found on a turbo trainer then, but not a huge hindrance and it does very little to interrupt ride fluidity. On that subject, the Wattbike app offers a Pedalling Effectiveness Score which gauges your ability to pedal with smooth and balanced strokes.
Should you buy an Atom? What can it do that a regular smart trainer can’t do? Well, not a huge amount actually. But if you have a dedicated space and a few hundred extra quid then this would be a very effective weapon in your arsenal.