The Tacx Neo Smart 2800 is Tacx's flagship turbo trainer and touted as "the quietest indoor trainer currently available on the market". It certainly lives up to that claim, and there is no denying the Neo is a really nice trainer, but there are a few issues that need to be ironed out before it can knock the Wahoo Kickr, king of the direct-drive trainers, off its throne.
Tacx has long been a big name when it comes to indoor cycling. It first started producing rollers in 1972 and has been making indoor trainers in Holland ever since. The Tacx Neo is its first direct-drive turbo trainer, a relatively new breed of trainer that requires you to remove your back wheel and mount your bike directly onto the trainer via your rear dropouts.
The Neo has attracted a lot of attention since its launch last year, which seems to have been helped somewhat by the popularity of software such as Zwift and TrainerRoad, and also by the exposure that other direct-drive trainers have been getting from their use by the pro peloton.
The first thing that will get your attention when you see the Neo Smart is the styling. The futuristic design is in stark contrast to many of the other trainers on the market, and it works well too. The footprint of the Neo is fairly similar to a more traditional turbo trainer but feels a great deal more stable. The Neo generally feels very sturdy and inspires a fair amount of confidence.
Something you might not notice straight away but will certainly want to try out as soon as possible is the downhill drive. When you are riding, virtually, with software that simulates a negative gradient, a motor in the Neo spins up and mimics the effect of freewheeling down a hill. In practice, this was of limited training use but it was cool nonetheless! And I often found myself freewheeling during my Zwift sessions just to watch the back wheel spin up as if by magic.
The Neo uses a virtual flywheel to dynamically control the brake force in an attempt to create the most realistic ride that it can. Unfortunately, although the realism is very good, it isn't as good as some of its competitors and you still get that "I'm on a turbo trainer" sensation. The realism is still way better than you will get from any dumb trainer out there, but when you are paying best-on-the-market prices, you expect best-on-the-market performance.
For those of you yet to experience the joys of riding in ERG mode on a smart trainer, the basic premise is that, before your training session, you decide what power output you want to achieve and at what time. You can use software like Trainer Road or Zwift to program your ride, or you can download rides you've done in the past and experience them all over again using Simulation mode.
Once you are all set up, you simply pedal at the cadence that you choose and the trainer will adjust the resistance, forcing you to stick to the pre-defined power output.
Some trainers are stricter than others in ERG mode. The Kickr Snap, for example, will only let you ride at the pre-defined power and, if you start to struggle, if your cadence starts to drop, the resistance will get greater and greater until you grind to a halt (at this point ERG mode will deactivate and allow you to slowly get back up to speed, while contemplating your failure...).
The Neo is less brutal in this respect and allows you to ride at a lower power when you start to suffer, and seems to slowly readjust the resistance as you get back up to your target power.
Despite the fact that the Neo is a little more forgiving in ERG mode, it also suffers here too. When riding at a constant power output, it feels like Tacx takes your average power for the last three to five seconds as a basis for the resistance setting. When you ride above or below your target power output for longer than a few seconds, it noticeably increases or decreases the resistance setting to bring you back in line. This results in the sensation that you are riding along a slightly undulating road, with resistance going up and down quite frequently.
I noticed that riding at sweet spot in ERG on the Neo seemed to be a lot harder than expected. This was confirmed by a higher than usual heart rate, and became so annoying that I stopped using ERG mode completely.
Perhaps the most noticeable thing about the Neo, compared with other, more traditional turbo trainers, is the lack of noise. This is due, in part, to the lack of your back wheel in the setup.
The Neo isn't completely silent – there is a soft whirring that spins up when you plug the unit into the mains. This gets a little louder during use and carries on after your workout as the unit warms down. It sounds more like a quiet laptop fan that a traditional turbo trainer and, once you start riding, will be almost impossible to notice. The loudest noise you will hear is likely to be your transmission, your fan or your own breathing...
You can get Tacx-specifc software for a PC, tablet and smartphone. One notable absence from this list is Mac software, which feels like a bit of an oversight until you consider that third-party software like TrainerRoad and Zwift is by far the most popular way of using your smart-trainer these days. The type of user who is willing to pay more than £1000 on a turbo trainer is likely to be looking for a bit of high-end hardware to partner with their existing training software, so I wouldn't be surprised if the Tacx Trainer Software never gets ported to Mac. It would be a nice addition though.
You can connect to the Tacx Neo via ANT+ or Bluetooth, and you can also use it without power, in which case it acts a bit like a fluid trainer, the resistance increasing proportionally with speed. The Neo might be a little bulky to frequently take to events for warming up on, but it isn't impossible, and the only things that would really put me off using it as a travel trainer are the 21kg weight and the fact that it doesn't look very rainproof.
The Tacx Neo does look pretty impressive, in my opinion. Unfolded, it's fairly large and imposing and looks like something Batman might have kicking around his cave. It looks almost as aesthetically pleasing when folded, and seems to take up less space than a traditional trainer (probably due to the lack of a resistance unit).
It is slightly fiddly to unclip the locking mechanism to fold it away, but I can overlook this for the sake of its handsome looks.
The Tacx Neo is, in a lot of respects, a very desirable indoor trainer. It looks great and performs almost as well as the best of its rivals. That, though, is the biggest problem. Being more expensive than most of its rivals means it really needs to perform as well as, if not better than them. For me the Neo isn't quite as polished in terms of its ride and general user experience. There is part of me that would consider buying the Neo if it were a bit cheaper but, at the current price point, I would probably go for the Wahoo Kickr – or even the non-direct drive version, the Wahoo Kickr Snap.
Looks great and has some impressive details, but can't quite compete with some cheaper rivals
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Tacx Neo Smart T2800
Size tested: n/a
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
Tacx says: "The NEO Smart offers the best in power and intelligence and is the quietest indoor trainer currently available on the market. The lack of any physical transmissions means this is the first true direct drive. Road feel is simulated in a highly realistic manner, there is no loss of power. The powerful motor is able to apply resistance up to 2200 Watt and simulate slopes realistically up to 25%. It also speeds up during descents. This ensures the most realistic cycling experience, also during climbs."
The NEO is certainly a quiet indoor trainer but while the road feel might be more realistic than a regular 'dumb trainer', it isn't up to the same level as its competitors.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Resistance unit Direct drive
Realistic slope 25%
Descent simulation To -5%
Max brake power (10 sec.) 2200 Watt
Mass inertia 125 kg
Includes front wheel support
Android, iOS & Windows compatible
Apart from the slightly unwieldy leg locking process, the NEO feels like a top quality product.
The ease of set up is really convenient, but the ride isn't as realistic as some competitors and ERG mode is very frustrating.
The unit has a nice heft to it which make you feel safe, even during sprints, but I would have preferred a slightly heavier flywheel to improve realism.
Resistance changes felt a little brutal and ERG mode feels very tiring.
The build quality of the NEO is great and it looks exactly as I'd want my smart trainer to look, but there is no denying that is is expensive and, for the price you are paying, you will want it to be at least equal to its competitors. I'm not sure it is quite there yet.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
The Tacx NEO is super-simple to use and doesn't require calibration. It does what it is meant to do as a smart trainer but it could feel more realistic. ERG mode in particular isn't the best experience, especially when compared with its arch-rival the Kickr.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
The NEO looks great and is really easy to set up. It can be used with or without power and it makes hardly any noise at all.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
ERG mode was my biggest frustration and, as with all of its competitors, the inability to calibrate the power reading against your on-board power meter means that transitioning from indoor training to outdoor training still isn't where it needs to be.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? No
Would you recommend the product to a friend? No
Use this box to explain your score
It is a great product and I really wanted to love the NEO, but it is undeniably expensive and, for the price you are paying, there are better alternatives out there.
About the tester
I usually ride: Rose Xeon CRS Road at the moment My best bike is:
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, cyclo-cross, commuting, club rides