TACX Flow Smart Trainer – Unboxing, Building, Ride Review


The TACX Flow Smart Trainer – Is this the new contender for the cheapest interactive Smart trainer on the market today? Worth having a look at. Today, let’s go through the unboxing, build and my first ride of this lower end unit or entry-level unit. Is this the new stocking stuffer for this year for someone just getting into Zwift? Ok, let’s go through the specs, see what its all about and then we’ll get stuck into the box. So the specifications on the side of the unit here, Well first of all, it is the smallest box I’ve actually seen an interactive Smart trainer packed in. That’s quite tiny. Probably about seven or eight kilos nothing too much. So the specifications on the side here – electromagnetic break, six magnets, control is automatic which means it’s an interactive Smart trainer. You will get ERG mode. And interactive hills on Zwift and those levels on any other software that you use. The roller diameter 30 mills. But here’s the specs we’re after and I’ll compare it to the Vortex as well at the same time. So the Vortex, this is a little brother to the Vortex. Maximum power at 40 kilometers an hour, 800 Watts The Vortex comes in at 950. Max slope grade simulation on here is 6%. The Vortex is 7%. The flywheel weight on this is the same as the Vortex So 1.65 kilos with an effective weight of 11.81 kilos. Calibration process is spin down so this is a wheel-on trainer. We’re not going to get Direct Drive Smart trainers just yet at this price point so wheel-on trainer suitable for all bikes 26 to 29ers FEC plus Bluetooth control. Everything we expect Power accuracy plus or minus 10%. Same as the Vortex. Ok cool. There’s the specs, there’s its comparison up against its bigger brother the Vortex. It’s a few hundred dollars well maybe $150 cheaper depending on what market your in. But this is limited on what market you can actually buy these in. This is only sold in a few retailers. So it may not be an option, but if it is let’s have a look what it’s all about. Ok, time to unbox, get this built. If they’ve actually put a Smart… I’m keen to see, this is a small box. If they’ve managed to squeeze a Smart trainer in here, I’ll be impressed. Ok, let’s go. Ok, getting into the unit… we’ll go from the top. Oh, looks like a lift and pull. Well I guess that’s the direction that it comes in. Right so… Ok. Front Wheel Riser, that’s very handy. The unit itself, ok. This looks almost assembled, that’s very handy. Oh, I take that back, it’s almost assembled. Let it snow…let it snow. Ok, oh sneaky little manual in the side here, that’s all the directions. Back in there’s not much to it, so let’s have a look what we have. We’ve got the Front Wheel Riser. We have the resistance unit put down there. We have the power cord. It’s an Aussie power cord. Perfect for what I need. And in here we have the build kit and a strong steel skewer. wheel-on trainers, always advisable to use a strong steel skewer. Leave the lightweight ones for race day. Indoors, that’s what we’re after. So we’ll get that unboxed and the frame itself… pretty sturdy looking thing and very similar to that of the Vortex Cool. Looks good. I’ve managed to make it snow in here, so let me tidy that up a little. We have the bolts and the Allen key itself for installation looks to be about a 4 mill Look let’s go to the manual this time so we do it once and we do it right. So I’m just gonna crack the manual. First thing I can pick from this manual here there’s two positions to install the resistance unit here – Position 1, Position 2 Position 1 for 700/Race which is the road bike that I’ll be installing today. So Position 1, Position 2. Position 1 indicates it’s the higher one. Position 2 is the lower one. Ok, the lower bolt Other than that, all looks straightforward, so let’s get the resistance unit installed in Position Number 1. Ok So that’s that. Ok, so the resistance unit, it’s Position Number 1 the top one here. Little bit of playing, oh that’s the actual unit they’re pivoting ok, so that is fine where it is. Ok, we snug those up. There we go. Ok, let’s have a look from the back. Looks like, and we have the standard installation method there and underneath here, is the tension control. So once the bike is on there that’ll move up and down just a little bit there we go just to make sure it’s nice and tight on the wheel. So you can see that moving a lot more now. So what we’re gonna have to do, we’ll get the bike installed. Get the Tensioner on here in this correct spot See how we go. That’s a bit light on there so I need to adjust this out a bit let that out a little, locking it in here. There we go locked in. The Front Mount here. Make sure the rear tyre is nice and clean. It’s not too bad We also need to check the pressure of the tyre. Ok, I’m using a standard road wheel or road tyre today, and I’ve usually gotten the best results from around 100 to 105 PSI So tyre pressure to 105 PSI And the tyre is nice and clean after being outside. Perfect. So the manual here doesn’t specify how many turns, it just says “ensure the cylinder presses firmly against the tyre”. I’ve used a few of these trainers in my time, so let’s try and get this optimally pressed against the tyre for no slippage. Let’s have a look. Ok, by default here. Yeah, we’ll need to turn that knob a few times, so let’s… …get things moving. Let’s try that. That looks ok. I’m going to jump on the bike and do a few pedal strokes to make sure there’s no major slippage… as we start off. Ok. That looks ok to me. So bikes now on. It’s nice and sturdy. That tension looks correct. Time to plug it in and the first thing I always do once things are plugged in and turned on, we’ll check for a firmware update to make sure we’re on the latest firmware for this unit. Now the units powered up we’ll jump on to the TACX Utility connecting via Bluetooth, checking for updates so connect to the TACX Flow Update and yes, there is a firmware update for this unit so we hit update on that. And we go through the update process. Ok, and we’re done. Probably about 4 or 5 minutes to get that firmware installed but we now have the latest version of the firmware for the TACX Flow. And the TACX Utilities is the same application we’ll use for the unit calibration after we clip in and roll for a few minutes So there’s the unboxing, the building the firmware updating, the installation of the bike correctly on here with the correct tension. Everything looks good to go. That was about 10 minutes from out of the box to getting the bike on and that other 5 minutes or so to get that firmware updated to make sure we are spot-on. No bugs, no firmware issues. Good to go as of right now. Time to get clipped in and give this a test with the Lama lab test in Zwift using ERG mode and we’ll look at the power numbers, we’ll talk about the ride feel, and we’ll see if this IS a contender for the cheapest Smart trainer to look at. Ok, it’s the following day and still winter outside hence the big jacket and more indoor sessions today. Ok. In summary the unit held up quite well in the sprints. Nice and stable unit The maximum resistance though in those sprints was around 800, 900 Watts. It wasn’t going to go any further than that before it just started to let go and just spun out So if you’re a maximal wattage monster, 1500 Watts + this is probably not the unit for you. But still it packs quite a bit of a punch. I was using the Garmin 820 to record the data off the Flow itself and the Elemnt Bolt to record the data from the PowerTap P1 pedals. Now the PowerTap P1 pedals for me are the truth. It is the correct wattage. They’ve proven themselves over many, many tests to be very stable and very accurate for what I need. So, that’s my source of truth for wattage for today and most other training videos that I do. So over to DC Rainmaker’s analysis tool and comparing the two files here. Now here’s an interesting one I always do at the start No calibration, just set everything up and go… how close is it out of the box? Surprisingly good. Definitely within plus or minus 10%. These power estimators on these kind of trainers though won’t get this instant spike. So you can see there’s a small little spike row stood up on the pedals for just a few seconds Didn’t quite capture that. But just riding along, just riding on not too bad and a slight bit of lag there from the Flow which is in the blue. Ok, once the thing was calibrated, it was over to the 20-minute test. Now the 20-minute test I do these days is 200 Watts for 10 minutes and then bump up to 220 Watts for the last 10 minutes. Something interesting happened here, it still appeared to be warming up. The PowerTap P1 pedals there, my source of truth for this appeared to drift down, down, down and that was the feeling that I got as well . It was a little harder and it got a little easier at about 7 to 8 to eight minutes into that interval. So I don’t think my warm-up protocol was enough for this unit. So usually just 10 minutes of riding along is usually good enough this may need a little bit of a maybe a 1-minute sprint 30-second sprint to really warm up. But this indicates here, that it was drifting down till about the 8-minute mark or so and then becoming more accurate. My warm-up wasn’t good enough. And then that’s pretty close definitely well within the 10%… that’s stamped on the side of the box. So the 20-minute test, that’s a thumbs up from me on that one. Into the sprints. Hmm, ok, you saw the sprints before in the video. There’s a bit of a lag there in the power and that’s indicated right here. So you can see there the maximal power is over a 1000 Watts there on the PowerTap P1 pedals. The Flow couldn’t quite register that and it was about 4 seconds later, that it did register. You’re not really robbed of too much power but that timing if you’re trying to respond super quick, there’s going to be that little bit of lag there. And the second sprint there, it’s probably more obvious here with the two smooth power curves. So you’re not robbed of too much power that you’re robbed of a little bit of time. But it’s also, you’re paid back down the road. Standard fare for these kind of trainers. So now into the ERG mode 20-second intervals. This is really interesting. It confused me, but I sorted it out by the end of what was going on. Ok, deep dive into here. What we see the first four blocks there, that should read in the first four blocks about about 150 350, 150, 350, 150, 450, 150, 450 so you see where I’m going there. I’ve got 150 as the baseline as the sort of the rest periods. 350 for the first two intervals and 450 for the next two intervals. That wasn’t happening. Now usually with these trainers you have a wattage floor, where you’ve got to slow the flywheel down so it can grab that resistance and apply the correct resistance for you. This didn’t kind of work like that. This was capped out at 325 or 324. There is a slight separation here with the power accuracy between the two. I’ll ignore that for now But it just wasn’t supplying the correct resistance in the little ring. So what I thought I’d do just as an experiment is put it in the big ring and ramp up that flywheel speed. Now this is counter-intuitive if you know how the other trainers work, you’ve got to slow the flywheel speed down. With this one, I ramped the flywheel speed up and guess what? Bang 350 spot-on for the first one and the second one Bang 350 it was spot-on. Next one, couldn’t quite reach the 450 so I was a little confused. So for the third set, usually I do one set of these and it’s ok For the third set, I put it back into the little ring I saw the same phenomena again. It couldn’t hold 350 and then I put it in the big ring for the last two and surprise, surprise it held 450 Watts where it should have. So I guess the lesson here is that when people say you don’t need to change gears in ERG mode you kind of do for these lower end units. You’ve got to learn how to ride ERG mode with these lower end units and their little intricacies of how they work. They’re all a little different. If you want ERG mode just to bullet a gate, ram into ERG mode, doesn’t matter what gear you’re in Just get it done. Then this isn’t the training for you. You need to go to the higher end for that and just ride through ERG mode. But these lower end units have compromised and this is one of them – figuring out how ERG mode works. And then post that, I do a 400 Watt effort for about a minute or so. You can see the purple there on the pedals sitting around 400 Watts, and there’s a bit of separation there of around 30 Watts. So about 7.5% power delta accuracy difference, but that’s within spec, remember the spec deemed within 10%. So I guess in summary there, the unit once warmed up was pretty accurate in ERG mode for 200 Watts sustained. Those up and downs were very interesting so you got to watch your flywheel speed and learn how to ride ERG mode with these shorter intervals. Sprints little laggy, didn’t rob you of too much power though But overall not too bad. I think the summary there is you get what you pay for, for sure. So is this the cheapest, interactive Smart trainer on the market? Yes. Do you get what you pay for? Yeah. You’re not gonna be able to barrel through those ERG mode intervals. You’re going to have to learn how the unit works. You’re going to set everything up. Make sure everything’s calibrated That’s the compromise you’re going to have with these cheaper units. So if your budget can stretch to the Vortex? Definitely go ahead with the Vortex over this one. But if this as an entry-level, first dip your toe in the water for only a few hundred dollars, it’s a pretty good interactive Smart trainer. If you’ve got your own power meter half of these problems go away because the power can come from your power meter You can do things like power matching and all that. So we’ll leave it there for today. Thanks for watching and your comments below. Let us know if this is a stocking stuffer for you or for a friend. Definitely the cheapest Wheel-on interactive Smart trainer with compromise, so watch that. Ok. Thanks for watching. We’ll see you soon

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