If you're planning to buy a fully-featured indoor trainer to use with Zwift and similar apps, then the excellent CycleOps Hammer should be on your shortlist. It has a smooth, realistic pedalling feel, accurate power measurement, high maximum resistance, and an air of reassuring solidity. It even folds away for more compact storage.
It's also quiet, and a doddle to set up, but it's a very long way from cheap. Whether it's good value will depend on how seriously you take your indoor training.
Feel & response
The first thing you notice when you start pedalling a bike attached to a CycleOps Hammer is how natural it feels. That's partly due to the 9kg flywheel, partly to the general cleverness of the electromagnetic resistance unit. CycleOps has been in both the home trainer and power measuring games for a long time, and it shows.
The Hammer is the closest indoor trainer I've used to feeling like you're riding on the road, and it's become my first choice for indoor training.
Like all fully-smart trainers, it can be used either for 'just riding', responding to the virtual gradient in your virtual world, or in ERG mode, in which your training software sets the resistance and you just pedal. ERG, by the way, is short for 'ergometer', which is a bit odd as an ergometer measures power rather than determining it.
The Hammer responds within a few seconds to changes in target resistance in ERG mode and maintains the resistance level well if you stand up to take the pressure off your bum. I've found some smart trainers take a while to adapt to a change of position, which can leave you flailing as the system catches up with the extra force you're putting through the pedals, but the Hammer performs well, staying close to the programmed resistance unless you absolutely flog it.
CycleOps claims an accuracy of +/- 3% and it closely tracks power readings from other power meters, with no odd spikes or gaps.
The Hammer pretty much Just Works™, but for £1,000 it damn well should. Mount your bike on it, plug in the power supply and your ANT+ antenna, fire up Zwift (other training apps are available) and you're off.
To calibrate the trainer, you'll need CycleOps Virtual Training. There are versions for iOS, Android and Windows. You pedal up to 29-36km/h, spin along for a few seconds, then let it coast down, and voilà!
To update the Hammer's firmware, you use either the Windows or Android versions of CycleOps Virtual Training or the iOS version of the CycleOps PowerTap Mobile app. Mine came with the latest firmware anyway, so I didn't need to get into this.
Training with the Hammer
As is my wont, I used the Hammer with Zwift. CycleOps Virtual Training is the obvious alternative, and deserves a review on its own. It has a ton of features including the ability to follow a route of your own while watching your own video. You can use it with other manufacturers' trainers too, so we'll try to take a full look at it another time. It's a subscription service, on the same model as Zwift or TrainerRoad, and costs from $10 per month, depending how long you sign up for.
With Zwift and similar applications in ERG mode, the Hammer can provide the resistance necessary to make you ride at your target power for a session or interval. Or, you can run in non-ERG and just have your software tell you off for being a slacker.
The Hammer can communicate with your computer and other devices via ANT+ or Bluetooth. You'll need an ANT+ dongle like this £11 Anself widget to use it with a PC or Mac.
Like other fully-smart trainers such as the Tacx Neo and Flux, Elite Drivo, and Wahoo Kickr, the Hammer transmits your effort level to a nearby computer or other compatible device and can be controlled by that device using Bluetooth or the ANT+ FE-C protocols. If you're riding virtual hills, it varies the resistance accordingly, and likewise if you're following a training session.
The resistance is varied by an electromagnetic brake, with that 9kg flywheel smoothing the pedalling action. It'll provide up to 2,000 watts of resistance and simulate a slope of up to 20%.
I was slightly disappointed to find that the Hammer doesn't read cadence; for that you'll need an ANT+ cadence widget.
To keep you informed of what it's up to, the Hammer has a multi-colour LED on the body of the unit. Flashing green means it's switched on, solid white tells you it's being controlled by an ANT+ FE-C device, while solid blue means a Bluetooth device is in control, and so on.
The only assembly necessary is to fit a cassette. As usual with direct-drive trainers, this requires a lockring tool and a chain whip to hold the sprockets and so stop the unit from moving as you tighten the lockring. The Hammer will only take Shimano cassettes, but 11-speed Shimano cassettes work with 11-speed Campagnolo systems, and you can get 10-speed cassettes with Campagnolo spacing and Shimano spline pattern.
Beyond that, there's no assembly required. You fold out the legs, unsnap the front wheel rest from underneath, and away you go. There are height adjusters on the legs so you can get the Hammer stable on uneven ground.
If you need to move the Hammer around, CycleOps has thoughtfully provided a handle on the top. It weighs 21.3kg so you're not exactly going to be taking it jogging, but it's easier to live with than the awkwardly shaped, handle-free Tacx Flux. For the extra £500 at RRP, it should be.
CycleOps also includes the necessary adapters for 135mm, 142mm and 148mm dropouts, as found on mountain bikes and, increasingly, on road, cyclo-cross and gravel/adventure bikes with rear thru-axles.
You get a guide to assembling the Hammer, and a crib sheet to decode what the flaschenblinkenlight on the body is telling you. What you don't get is much information on the trainer's functions, not even to the extent of the manual telling you to download apps to calibrate the trainer.
Pop into Jessops and buy yourself an SLR camera such as a Canon 80D, which costs £1,099 with a kit lens. In the box there's a 526-page manual, detailing all the functions of the camera. A modern SLR is a far more complicated beast than even the cleverest smart trainer, but it seems insulting that for twelve hundred quid you have to go ferreting around websites to find out much more than how to fold out the legs and fit a cassette.
At this price an indoor trainer had better be extremely good. The Hammer is. It's easy to use, has a great, smooth feel and provides accurate power readings. You can fold it away when you're not using it and it's relatively easy to carry (insofar as anything that weighs 21kg is easy) which makes it easy to live with.
I've some minor criticisms of details, but I stress they are minor. The Hammer performs its core function extremely well.
Like its direct competitors, it's a long way from cheap. You have to be very, very serious about your training to spend this much on an indoor trainer. But the Hammer is competitive with its main rivals, especially at the typical market price of £888 rather than the £1,000 RRP, and it's backed by a company with unrivalled experience in both power meters and home trainers.
If you are willing and able to drop almost £900 on a smart trainer, then the Hammer must be on your shortlist, and if you do go for it I'm sure you won't be disappointed.
Fully smart indoor trainer with smooth, realistic feel and excellent performance
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road.cc test report
Make and model: CycleOps Hammer Direct Drive SMART Trainer
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?
It's an indoor trainer, for, er training indoors.
CycleOps says: "The Hammer redefines indoor training to create the ultimate riding experience. One that's versatile enough to handle the most intense interval sessions as it is the easiest of recovery rides. Simply put, the Hammer is the perfect addition to any athlete's toolbox.
"This direct drive style bike trainer eliminates the tire-to-roller contact, and is capable of replicating any outdoor ride from conversational group rides to rolling hills to pain face inducing 20% grades. All of this is done with a smooth, road-like-feel thanks to a massive 20 lb. precision-balanced flywheel that replicates real world inertia better than anyone else. Paired with our innovative, rapid response electromagnetic resistance system and you've got a bike trainer that can cover large resistance changes in a blink of an eye at a whisper quiet 64 decibels. Plus, the Hammer's revolutionary axle compatibility gives you the freedom to choose any thru-axle or quick release bike now and for years to come. Simply add a cassette, pop off your rear wheel, connect to your favorite virtual training software and prepare to Hammer away."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Noise level at 20 mph is 64 decibels, quiet enough to ride in a library.
PowerTuned using PowerTap technology for accurate power readings.
Thru-axle compatible for bike frames with fork widths of 142 or 148.
Quick-release compatible for bike frames with fork widths of 130mm and 135 mm.
Integrated dual ANT+ FE-C and Bluetooth 4.0 technologies.
Compatible with a wide variety of devices and virtual training application, including CycleOps VirtualTraining, Zwift, TrainerRoad and many more. Contact us with questions about compatibility with other software.
20 lb precision balanced flywheel provides quiet, vibration free and true-to-the-road riding experience.
Fast response electromagnetic resistance ensure most responsive resistance and maximum power available.
Robust design is capable of handling up to 2000 watts at 20 mph and can simulate up to a 20% climbing grade.
Direct drive design directly connects the bicycle to the resistance unit, eliminating tire wear. Integrated front wheel tray adds stability to ride without taking up any extra storage space.
Internally cooling technology ensures accurate ride data even during the hardest of workouts.
Integrated front wheel tray adds stability to ride and nests within the trainer when not in use.
Folding legs provide widest footprint of direct drive indoor bicycle trainers on the market for added stability and easy storage.
Includes a Shimano splined freehub for compatibility with Shimano 8-11 speed cassettes.
Accessible and balanced handle allows for smooth, anyone-can-carry transit of the trainer.
Over the air (OTA) firmware updates via Bluetooth 4.0 devices ensures the Hammer is up to date.
300 lb (136 kg) maximum load – excluding bicycle.
Cassette not included.
Dimensions when Open L*H*W: 31'x18.5'x19.5' (787.4x469.9x495.3 mm).
Dimensions when Closed L*H*W: 8.5'x18.5'x19.5' (76.2x469.9x495.3 mm).
Weighs in at 47 lb (21.3 kg).
All of our trainers are tested to the combined weight (rider and bike) of 300 lbs.
PowerTuned using PowerTap technology for +/- 3% accurate power readings.
Transmits power and speed data.
Cadence sensor sold separately.
ANT+ and BlueGiga USB sold separately.
Heavy and very reassuringly solid.
At full RRP, you'd probably buy a Wahoo Kickr 2 instead. But you can find the Hammer for £960 at just about every significant retailer, which makes it competitive with the Kickr, and cheaper than some other rivals. That's a very fair price for the quality and performance.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Extremely well. It's easy to use, provides a wide range of resistance, and features such as the folding legs and handle make it easy to live with. It's also quiet, which helps if the family is watching TV in the next room or you have downstairs neighbours.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
The smooth feel. While you can't quite close your eyes and convince yourself you're riding on the road, it's as close as any home trainer I've tried.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
It'd be nice if it read cadence to avoid the faff of having yet another sensor.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes. In fact, I have.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your score
The CycleOps Hammer is an excellent indoor trainer. It's not quite perfect – it needs to measure cadence for that, and come with a decent manual – but it's better than the Tacx Flux Smart, which is nevertheless a very good trainer for the money.
I've pretty much disregarded value for money in awarding it four and a half stars. If you've decided that training indoors is important enough to justify spending a grand on a fully smart direct drive trainer, then the relatively small price differences between the Hammer and its rivals probably don't matter much to you.
About the tester
I usually ride: Scapin Style My best bike is:
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, touring, club rides, general fitness riding, mountain biking
Acknowledged by the Telegraph as a leading cycling journalist, John Stevenson has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.
He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.
Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc editor Tony Farelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.
John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.
He joined road.cc in 2013 and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.