An Expert Guide to Wahoo Bike TrainersPublished on 05/13/2023 · 7 min readNot sure where to start when looking for bike trainers? Cycling Expert Adam L. walks you through Wahoo's current bike trainer offerings so you can find your best option.
Photo courtesy of Wahoo Fitness
Wahoo has long been a leading manufacturer of cycling smart trainers. In 2022, It continues to push the envelope with both incremental improvements and new products that make indoor cycling training more comfortable, effective, and fun.
To help you with that training, I’ll break down the basics of smart trainers then explain Wahoo’s current smart trainer offerings and the pros and cons of each model. I know these can get wordy and technical, so I’ll provide a short Best For at the end of each product description that sums up as simply as possible which trainer is the most ideal for a certain type of cyclist.
What Is a Smart Trainer?
A smart trainer is a cycling trainer that can electronically adjust resistance. These trainers allow riders to complete structured workouts, train more efficiently, and ride on online platforms like Zwift. Most smart trainers have a power meter that measures rider output, and can electrically adjust their resistance to match a goal power or simulate a road.
Basic Features of Wahoo Smart Trainers
All Wahoo smart trainers, whether based around a wheel-on or wheel-off design, share a few basic features. They record speed and power (because of its roller-based design, the Kick Rollr requires a separate power meter). And, using Bluetooth and ANT connections, they can send and receive data from head units, smartphones, tablets, and Mac/PC computers. This allows the external device to control the resistance of the trainer as well as receive speed and power measurements. You can use the smart trainer to run popular training apps such as Zwift or TrainerRoad, perform structured workouts from a head unit, or “free ride” and adjust resistance with your head unit or a smartphone app. Most major platforms have their own apps, and Wahoo itself has apps available for both Android and iOS phones.
Now, on to one key feature that should be highlighted: ERG mode. This mode automatically adjusts resistance to match a goal power output. The required power can be provided by your head unit or by a platform such as Zwift or TrainerRoad. ERG mode makes structured training much easier since the trainer will adjust for changes in the rhythm of your cycling and keep your power number steady in response. This makes it easier mentally to perform quality structured workouts indoors. But do know that you still have to do the work–200 watts is 200 watts, ERG mode or not!
So, let’s dive into Wahoo’s current options that hosts these great features. One quick note: some new disc brake bikes don’t fit Wahoo trainers or require adapters. You should check with the Wahoo support site to to make sure your bike and chosen trainer are compatible.
The Wahoo Lineup
Kickr Snap: Entry-Level Affordability
At a very reasonable price, the Wahoo Kickr Snap is an entry-level smart trainer with a wheel-on design, and the bike is connected via the rear axle. A quick-release skewer is provided, but thru-axle bikes will require a thru-axle adapter purchased separately. Make sure to use the Wahoo skewer or adapters to avoid damage to your bike.
It’s also a good idea to swap to a trainer-specific tire. These tires are extremely hard and will protect your road tires from wear and the trainer drum from road debris.
The Kickr Snap features a 10.5lb flywheel that generates a maximum resistance of 1500w and can simulate a 12% gradient, a.k.a. a pseudo-steep road right indoors! Power measurement is accurate to +/- 3%. A front wheel block is also included for stability.
- Best For: Riders who are looking for a high-performance smart trainer for structured workouts and online platforms like Zwift at a reasonable price point.
Kickr Rollr: Realistic Riding and Easy Mounting
The Wahoo Kickr Rollr is unique in Wahoo’s lineup because the rear wheel is totally free. It features a “half roller” design with two drums that the rear wheel sits on and a large clamp for the front wheel. The rollers provide a more realistic ride feel since the rear of the bike can move freely as if it was on the road. Another great feature of the Rollr is the easy clamping design, which allows bikes to be mounted and unmounted in seconds, a very convenient aspect for riders who frequently switch from indoor to outdoor riding or multi-bike households.
The Roller has the same 10.5lb flywheel as the Kickr Snap and can also produce 1500w of resistance as well as a 12% simulated gradient.
The Rollr does have some limitations. It doesn’t have its own power meter, so riders need to provide their own power meter to use smart trainer functions. Also, it’s designed for 700c bikes exclusively and has a maximum tire size of 53c (more than adequate for most gravel bikes). It’s not compatible with the Kickr Climb accessory.
- Best For: Riders who want the sensation of riding rollers with the benefits of a smart trainer or want a trainer that’s extremely easy to mount and unmount bikes from.
Kickr Core: Quieter Riding
The Wahoo Kickr Core is the first wheel-off trainer in Wahoo’s lineup. As the name suggests, the rear wheel is removed and the bike mounts directly to the trainer. The trainer replaces the cassette and rear wheel, making for a much quieter ride than a wheel-on trainer. The Core is compatible with standard road and mountain bikes that use a QR axle or 142/148mm thru-axle. It requires a cassette (purchased separately), and the stock freehub is compatible with 8-9-10-11 and Shimano 12-speed cassettes, while a separate freehub needs to be purchased for use with Sram and Campagnolo 12-speed cassettes.
The larger 12lb flywheel can produce 1800w of resistance and simulate a 16% gradient when virtual riding. It’s more accurate than the Snap as well with a power meter that’s accurate within +/-2%. For context, doing an interval at 300 watts, the Snap could read from 291-309 watts, while the Core would be in the range of 294-306 watts. That watt change is not a massive difference, but the higher accuracy is certainly better, especially for heavily structured workouts.
- Best For: Riders who are serious about indoor training and want all the benefits of a wheel-off trainer at a lower price point.
Kickr: The Intuitive, Portable Original
The Wahoo Kickr, currently in its sixth iteration, is Wahoo’s top-of-the-line trainer. Wahoo doesn’t always differentiate Kickr models, so double-check that the trainer you’re looking at has the features listed below. The Kickr is similar to the Kickr Core but has a larger flywheel, different base, and software upgrades.
The Kickr features Wi-fi and wired direct connections, which might be useful for Zwift racers who can’t afford for a wireless connection to drop when it comes down to the final sprint. ERG Easy Ramp Mode lowers resistance if you stop pedaling to make it easier to get back to your goal power numbers. Other trainers can lock up and force you to hit your power numbers from a dead stop, which is often impossible. There’s also auto-calibration, which gives the rider one less thing to think about while training.
My personal favorite Kickr upgrade is the Axis Feet, which provides five degrees of side-to-side movement when riding. This makes riding feel more natural and helps remove some of the strain that comes from extended indoor rides. The Kickr is also foldable, which is nice for transport or limited storage space.
Drivetrain compatibility remains unchanged from the Kickr Snap, although the Kickr includes an 11-speed cassette, which makes setup more convenient if that matches your bike. The Kickr has a large 16lb flywheel with up to 2200w of resistance and a simulated 20% gradient possible. It also has the most accurate power measurement in the lineup with watts accurate to within +/-1%.
- Best For: Committed indoor riders who want an extremely full-featured indoor trainer. It’s an investment, but riders who are putting in a lot of miles indoors will find the newest features worthwhile.
A Wahoo for Everyone
Whether you’re looking to accomplish specific fitness goals, keep busy during the winter months, or something in between, Wahoo has a smart trainer for just about every rider. The major differences between the Kickr Snap and standard Kickr models are whether the rear wheel is used or removed and whether the frame is mounted directly to the trainer. The flagship Kickr model is an investment, but if you’re riding a few days a week in the winter, it will quickly pay for itself in performance gains and quality training. The Kickr Rollr brings the road-feel benefits of rollers to a smart training platform, but you do need to supply your own power meter.
To explore more Cycling articles as you pursue your journey in the sport, check out the Expert Journal here on Curated.