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Tacx Flow Smart Trainer

8
£269.99

VERDICT:

8
10
Great virtual trainer that outperforms its entry level price
It's a bargain
Easy to (physically) set up
Consistent results
Thru-axle adaptors are extra
Calibration a bit of a faff
Weight: 
9,400g
Contact: 

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The Tacx Flow Smart Trainer is one of the best-value virtual turbos on the market, and while it doesn't quite deliver the precision and capability of some direct drive trainers, for the money it's hardly an issue. The Flow still gives you a focused training session or an immersive ride.

Online training/riding platforms have seen a massive surge over the last couple of years, but direct drive trainers start at around £500 – prohibitive for some. Happily there are a couple of saviours on the market that allow you into that worldwide training ride (from your kitchen) for well under £300.

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This Tacx is £269.99, or even as low as £199.99 (at the time of writing) which seems like a bargain.

Initial set up is pretty easy – well, the physical side of it anyway. You just remove the frame section from the box and screw the resistance unit to it, using the holes that align with your wheel size. The legs fold out, which gives a stable platform for hard efforts, and tucking them away helps you store the trainer under a bed or in a corner – ideal for those of us who don't have much space.

Attaching your bike can be a bit more of a headache, at least if you're on thru-axles and haven't bought the adaptor (£25.99) too – you only get a quick release adaptor in the box. A lot of us are riding discs these days, so I think this is a bit of an oversight. Tacx could at least include it in a bundle for a few quid on top. It's an alloy bar with a thread on the end for god's sake, it's hardly a complex part!

You do get a front wheel riser block included at least, which is a nice touch as it will keep your bike level while riding.

2021 Tacx Flow Smart Trainer - riser.jpg

With your bike fitted you need to calibrate things before you start using it, and frankly it's a bit of a pain, though it should be a one-time deal as long as you don't touch the dial and keep your tyres at a constant pressure (you don't have to do this, but a consistent pressure will give you the most consistent data).

2021 Tacx Flow Smart Trainer - hinge.jpg

First you must fine tune the roller until it has a firm bite on the tyre. The knob underneath the clamp isn't that great to use though, as the design doesn't give you much to grab hold of, and to be honest it hurts your fingers. Once sorted, you lock things into position using the clamp and open the Tacx Utility app to activate the calibration. It'll tell you to ride up to 18.6mph and then stop pedalling, letting it freewheel to a stop.

2021 Tacx Flow Smart Trainer - resistance unit 1.jpg

My first few attempts produced nothing but an error and a fair few expletives, so I took to t'internet for advice. It turns out you need to tweak the pressure of the roller against the tyre to fix it – the app doesn't tell you anything if you're too far off, so which way to tweak is a bit of a guessing game. Basically, don't try setting the Tacx up ten minutes before your Zwift race is due to start, like I did!

2021 Tacx Flow Smart Trainer - clamp 1.jpg

Once you get the pressure in the right ballpark, though the app will tell you which way you need to twiddle the knob to get it into the sweetspot.

With that done I opened Zwift and the connection between the trainer and app was quick and easy over an ANT+ dongle plugged into my PC, but Bluetooth is an option too. The ride feel is pleasantly realistic, especially at a steady pace. If you're in a group doing a training ride on something like Zwift the Tacx performs well, with subtle changes to pedalling pressure feeling responsive.

2021 Tacx Flow Smart Trainer - resistance unit 4.jpg

The low weight of the 1.6kg flywheel means the Tacx feels lacking at harder efforts though, and the maximum Wattage achievable (800W) is limiting for some interval sessions.

2021 Tacx Flow Smart Trainer - resistance unit 2.jpg

I say this as I was testing the direct-drive Pinnacle HC Turbo Home Trainer at the same time, and its 5.7kg flywheel can handle 2,500 Watts. It can also replicate up to a 20% incline for a more rounded ride feel, while the Tacx is limited to 6%. In isolation though, the Tacx punches well above its weight.

When synced to Zwift (other apps are available; Zwift is just the one I subscribe to) the Tacx gives you cadence and power readings on the screen. The accuracy is claimed to be +/-5% from a power point of view, and according to the FSA Powerbox Chainset power meter I was also testing, the Flow does a decent job.

> 10 best home trainers for 2022 – get fit indoors

It read slightly lower than the FSA virtually all of the time, averaging around 3-4% below, but the key thing is that it was consistent throughout – and that's the most important thing, rather than the actual numbers. Rapid changes in effort did see the Tacx flounder a little bit, but not so much it affected the overall averages.

2021 Tacx Flow Smart Trainer - clamp 2.jpg

It responds well to ERG mode, where you ride a training session to specific power outputs. The transitions from recovery sections to full-on outputs feels smooth, and it holds those upper Wattages well.

Value

At this price, the Tacx doesn't see a whole lot of competition. Elite has the Qubo Smart B+ trainer which impressed Dave back in 2020. I also bought one a few years back, and got on well with it. It's currently priced at £274.99.

The Wahoo Kickr Snap Turbo Trainer was classed as expensive by Jack when he reviewed it earlier this year. It's £429.99 and comes with no cadence measuring capability, plus it's sluggish in ERG mode.

Overall

While the Flow can't compete against direct-drive trainers for Wattage and incline ceilings, you really can't fault it for the money. Once the faffy calibration is sorted it's an ideal solution for those who want a simple, easy and inexpensive trainer.

Verdict

Great virtual trainer that outperforms its entry level price

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road.cc test report

Make and model: Tacx Flow 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?

Tacx says, "For year-round training and a fully interactive indoor cycling experience, the Tacx Flow Smart trainer offers everything you need. Its wheel-on design allows for easy setup and storage. It even connects to your favourite apps, such as Zwift, Tacx and TrainerRoad."

It's a good quality entry-level trainer that is simple to set up and gives reliable data.

Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?

General

DIMENSION 26.6" x 25.6" (675 x 650 mm)

DIMENSIONS WHEN FOLDED 22.2" x 16.1" x 9.7" (565 x 410 x 245 mm)

WEIGHT

20.7 lbs (9.4 kg)

HEIGHT 16.1" (410 mm)

Connectivity

WIRELESS COMMUNICATION

ANT+ connectivity, BLUETOOTH wireless technology

CONTROL BY

Smartphone, tablet, ANT+ bike computers, stand alone, computer connection via ANT+ antenna

READ OUT ON

Smartphone, tablet, bike computer, computer with ANT+ antenna

Indoor training features

MAGNETS 6 magnets

TRANSMISSION Roller, 30 mm

ELECTRICAL REQUIREMENT 110-240 V

SUITABLE AXLES

Width of rear fork: Race 130 mm, MTB 135 mm. Adapters for other widths available.

MAX POWER 800 Watt

MAX INCLINE 6%

MAX TORQUE 15.3 Nm

MAX BRAKE FORCE 45N

FLYWHEEL 3.5 lbs (1.6 kg)

MASS INERTIA 26.0 lbs (11.8 kg)

CALIBRATION Spin down

OUTPUT Speed, cadence, power

ACCURACY <5%

MEASURED SPEED

MEASURED CADENCE

MEASURED POWER

Magnets 6 magnets

Transmission Roller, 30 mm

Electrical requirement 110-240 V

Suitable axles Width of rear fork: Race 130 mm, MTB 135 mm. Adapters for other widths available

Max power 800 Watt

Max incline 6%

Max torque 15.3 Nm

Max brake force 45 N

Flywheel 1.6 kg

Mass inertia 11.8 kg

Calibration Spin down

Footprint 675 x 650 mm

Height 410 mm

Dimensions when folded 565 x 410 x 245 mm

Weight 9.4 kg

Wireless communication ANT+ connectivity, Bluetooth wireless technology

Control by Smartphone, tablet, ANT+ bike computers, stand alone, computer connection via ANT+ antenna

Output Speed, cadence, power

Read out on Smartphone, tablet, bike computer, computer with ANT+ antenna

Accuracy < 5%

Rate the product for quality of construction:
 
8/10
Rate the product for performance:
 
8/10
Rate the product for durability:
 
8/10
Rate the product for weight (if applicable)
 
7/10
Rate the product for value:
 
6/10

Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose

The Tacx performs very well, offering a realistic ride in a virtual environment.

Tell us what you particularly liked about the product

Good spec for the money.

Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product

Limited gradient levels.

How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?

It's well priced against pretty much everything on the market.

Did you enjoy using the product? Yes

Would you consider buying the product? Yes

Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes

Use this box to explain your overall score

If you want a cheap way into virtual training, this Tacx is probably the best way. It's limited in terms of elevation replication, but not so much it's really an issue.

Overall rating: 8/10

About the tester

Age: 42  Height: 180cm  Weight: 76kg

I usually ride: This month's test bike  My best bike is: B'Twin Ultra CF draped in the latest bling test components

I've been riding for: Over 20 years  I ride: Every day  I would class myself as: Expert

I regularly do the following types of riding: time trialling, commuting, club rides, sportives, fixed/singlespeed,

With 20 years of road cycling and over 150,000 miles in his legs it's safe to say Stu is happiest when on the bike whatever the weather. Since writing his first review for road.cc back in 2009 he has also had a career in engineering including 3D-CAD design and product development, so has a real passion for all of the latest technology coming through in the industry but is also a sucker for a classic steel frame, skinny tyres, rim brakes and a damn good paintjob.
His fascination with gravel bikes is getting out of control too!

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